Sydney is known as an expensive, culture-less city. The LA of Australia. A soulless place of activewear and suits. The domain of personal trainers, recruitment agencies; bankers. A place where students thrive in pockets but ultimately escape to pastures with more milk crates and alleyways (usually Berlin or Melbourne). A culinary fugazi.
However, despite the ‘basic’ jibes, when the sun’s out, the thermometer’s singing and Christmas is close, there’s nowhere better to be than Opera Bar or its ilk.
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Around the corner from Opera Bar (Sydney’s most iconic, Instagram-famous oyster shucker), one street back from Circular Quay, The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room is more of the quintessential weekday lunchtime Sydney oyster experience.
While Opera Bar is real estate agents, influencers; British expats who live in Bondi and work in insurance, The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room is more: well off CBD workers; lunchtime dates.
It also, arguably, offers a classier experience, thanks to the option to take your oysters with a Tanqueray gin and tonic granita, which Chef Conolly told DMARGE was inspired by Queen Elizabeth.
“They remind me of summer in an English garden, drinking gin and tonics on the lawn.”
I visited at the start of last month to get a taste of their freshly shucked Australian oyster offering, as part of their October Oyster festival.
Though the festival deal saw $1.50 oysters being served up everyday between 6-7pm, I visited at lunch where I ordered half a dozen oysters for $30.
Though I had been invited to eat for free, thanks to a Google Calendar malfunction on my end, I turned up a day earlier than invited, and was too awkward to be the guy that asks the staff “do you know who I am?”.
Suffice to say, I paid the bill myself, and also got the authentic experience of what it’s like to eat at The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room.
Of the six oysters, I ordered two with fermented chilli sauce, two with Tanqueray gin and tonic granita, one with kimchi vinaigrette and another with horseradish crème fraiche.
“I’m here for work,” I claimed to the staff upon arrival, who sat me down gently, helped me sign in, and politely found me a table despite the booking I claimed to have (I only realised my booking was for the following day after leaving) not existing.
I completed the image of ‘rich, lonely weirdo’ by sitting down by the window, uncomfortably looking at my phone every two minutes, and ordering the most expensive oysters I could find on the menu – with a side of hot chips.
Here’s everything I learned throughout.
It’s hard to embrace your inner ‘Anthony Bourdain’ this close to Barangaroo
Let’s start with an admission: I’ve lived by the coast my whole life, but I’d never eaten oysters before trying them at The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room.
So – though they were presented to perfection – after trying my first one I felt a little queasy (I’m not a huge seafood fan).
Trying to put images of the barnacle-covered Manly ferry out of my mind, I dug deep, searching for my inner Anthony Bourdain or Bear Grylls. Unfortunately, not being in the back streets of Vietnam or a greasy underground French kitchen, this proved tricky.
I tried to summon strength from an iconic Bourdain quote (“It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish”) but found myself wanting, with the next part of said sentence hovering in my brain…
“Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.”
The granita is designed to be slurped with the Oyster, not as an ‘aperitif’
Panicking after putting the first oyster in my mouth, I got cold feet, slurped the gin and tonic granita, and then was left with nothing but bare oyster in my mouth.
I swallowed, shuddered, and returned to my hot chips.
Drowning them in lemon is not the answer
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After eating my first oyster proved somewhat harrowing, and after realising I was only 1/6th of my way through the
ordeal lavish experience, I tried a new tactic: lemon juice.
I quickly discovered a hint of lemon goes well – exceptionally well, in fact – with the oysters. A great big pool, however, does not.
The longer you go about eating oysters, the braver you get
Around oyster number three I developed the tentative strength to chew.
Barangaroo business people love to move their hands when they talk
As I usually eat lunch in Redfern or Surry Hills, I felt like an amateur anthropologist in The Morrison. Maybe I’m not the weird one after all?
If I ever want to be a food blogger, I need to be more brazen about how I take photos
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Terrified of being outed as a food blogger, my quick snaps pale in comparison with other shots taken by other patrons who have posted their experience of the restaurant on Instagram (see above).
It’s more like a wine tasting than you might think
I even cleansed my palette between dressings with mineral water.
It would be better to have gone with a friend
It didn’t feel so much like ‘people watching’ as ‘people watching me.’ I can now empathise well and truly with anyone who has ever been stood up.
There is a substantial difference between a high quality and a low quality oyster
The Morrison Chef, Sean Connolly, told me via email, after my lunch, when I asked what the difference was between a cheap and expensive oyster, “When we’re choosing an oyster, we look for fullness and depth in the shell.”
“The deeper the shell, the bigger the oyster meat will be. If oysters are harvested too early they aren’t as fleshy. They’ll be skinny and not as meaty with a poor mouth feel.”
First time oyster eaters should start off gently
Chef Conolly also told me beginners should, “Start with a small to medium sized Pacific oyster,” thinking of them as “training wheels.”
“They are mild in flavour and minerality. They are sweet, creamy and less pungent than a Rock Oyster.”
In contrast, “Whilst Rock Oysters are great, they are not for the faint of heart,” Chef Connolly said.
“They are for the seasoned oyster eater. Being high in minerality and punchy in flavour, they could be more akin to a good blue cheese.”
Despite being mildly horrified at first, being an ‘oyster virgin’ this kind of experience was probably the only way I could have ever got through six of them. I’m also now ruined for life: if I was this nervous about eating some of Sydney’s best oysters, imagine what I’ll be like next time I’m offered something that’s been hanging around a while at my local beach shack?