The sun glints over Sydney’s Darling Harbour – the day is crisp and clear, blue skies beaming, a careless breeze floats over the sea and it’s freezing as all fooey. This is what it’s like on a winter’s day in Sydney, all bright and sunny except you can’t feel your fingers. What I like to do when this time of year approaches is pretend that it’s still summer, and there are a few places – like Helm Bar on Cockle Bay Wharf – that are pretty well complicit in this scheme of mine.
Sitting on the deck for lunch at Helm Bar, it is practically obligatory to order yourself a cocktail, put on a pair of dark glasses and do some serious people watching over the plebs passing below. If you get there on a sunny day you will doubtless be cheering at all the money you’ve saved on fake tans and heating bills as you bask in the glory of natural sunlight that seems to funnel itself directly onto that deck.
We stick to fresh and summery sounding cocktails, the Ginny Hendricks to start with is not so much a voodoo child, as a fluttering nymphette. It’s a great starter – a clean, refreshing concoction of Hendricks gin, aperol, cucumber, lime and grapefruit. I am Job on the other hand, is a different kind of lady altogether. One who likes Alize rather a lot, as that is the overwhelming flavour of the drink: it’s very sweet and very pretty, if you like that sort of thing.
I’m dining with an old friend who was similarly brought up in the tradition of the communal table. Hence, we order a small smorgasbord to be shared between us. We divine that the fish of the day is Atlantic Salmon and although it’s a little overcooked for my liking, the overall dish is quite tasty, coming out on a bed of crushed kipfler potato with a delightful fennel, olive, chilli and tomato salsa accompanying.
The house Wagyu Burger is probably a little less sophisticated than it could be (if you can even say that about a burger?). If, perhaps, the cheese were not so goopily melted over the burger it might be more aligned with the fresh and fuss-free ethos that characterises the rest of the food available. It’s a decent burger, but I think outshone by other items on the menu.
Unfortunately all of our food was brought out at the exact same moment, so by the time we get to eating our pot of Thai Mussels most of them are cold. Nonetheless, they are swimming in a fragrant coconut milk broth that hums of coriander, lemongrass, ginger and chili. Probably my favourite dish of the day. Luckily, as we delve into the submerged shells there are a few that have retained their warmth which intensifies those sharp Thai flavours. Plus there’s something just generally lovely about sitting back on that deck tucking into a big black pot of mussels and catching up on some good conversation.
Dessert is obviously not their thing at Helm Bar, with a couple of cakes rounding out the menu. So we are pleasantly surprised when the Flourless Orange and Blueberry Cake with a white chocolate and orange ganache turns out to be moist and dense without being too heavy. It just sits nicely at the bottom of our bellies firmly signalling the end of proceedings. Would definitely go down nicely with an Espresso martini…
Helm Bar is a bit of an oddball place – pub cum cocktail bar cum bistro. It’s tucked away next to the Sydney Aquarium and right next to the Pyrmont Bridge, so not exactly in the line of casual wandering. But they do have various daily specials that are very attractive – on the weekends the Prawntastic 1 kilo of prawns for $25 is particularly titillating. If you want a chilled out place to relax with some fresh seafood and a cheeky cocktail, head on down. Don’t expect excellent service. Do expect to recapture the vibes of summer.
Aquarium Wharf, Wheat Road
NSW 2000 Australia.
Ph: +61 2 9290 1571