Will it Turn Your Children into Kid Vicious and Baby GaGa?
It's easy to assume that a place like the Hard Rock Café will just be one giant cliché. It's easy to assume the staff will be dressed as dead rock stars, management will care more about the relics on the wall than the food, and you will leave feeling a bit dirty, like the gritty carpet after a gig. It's easy to assume that it's not really the type of place you should take your kids.
It's not like that at all.
Hopefully your kids won't ask you to do this at home
It was our last night in Sydney, everyone was tired and sunburned and we really just needed a meal and to go to bed. But it was our last night in Sydney, so we had to do something. We found ourselves staring up at the Hard Rock Café in Darling Harbour. I was dubious, but the 'Happy Hour' sign convinced me otherwise. At the very least I would no longer care I was sunburned.
We walked in and were met with an enormous leather sofa, separating the entrance from the restaurant like a long, padded Slash. The kids immediately flung themselves down, moaning about how tired they were. Were we going to get kicked out? No. The staff merely smiled indulgently and thrust a colouring-in kids menu and pack of crayons at each of them.
We were shown to our table, discreetly removed from the majority of other patrons by the nicest, friendliest waiter we had met so far in Sydney. You could tell he was just happy to be there.
Actually, all the staff looked happy to be there. From the people who delivered our meals to the guys behind the bar, everyone had a huge grin on their face, and what's more – they seemed genuine. And I bet they weren't even drunk, as rock'n'roll as that may have been.
The kids menu, $10.50 with a drink included, had a number of options including cheese burger, hot dog, fish and chips, and pasta in plain tomato sauce. There were even a couple 'healthier' options with chicken tenders and chicken salad. Most come with a serve of fries and the drink arrived in a collectable plastic cup. The serves were enormous, and kids were pretty impressed. Mum and Dad were even more impressed when the kids actually consumed the majority of their dinners.
The kids meals could feed an entire class of kids and come with a collectable cup
After trying and failing to get some 'strawberry milkshake' from Mum (it was a Strawberry Daiquiri courtesy of Happy Hour) they decided they would climb up on the stage and dance for their adoring fans. After a very rock'n'roll tantrum and stage dive, we set them to colouring in their kids menu while we ate our dinner.
Two things to remember when you come to the Hard Rock Café. First: it's a café and burger joint. Second: it's very American. Memphis Tennessee, to be exact, which means smoke and beans. Neither of which feature of the kids menu, which is probably lucky.
The menu is extensive, and you can get every American favourite from burgers and steak, potato skins and chicken wings, to fajitas and barbeque chicken. If you are more into Barry Manilow than Guns'N'Roses, then you have a lovely selection of salads to choose from.
Then there are the sandwiches. Now, these aren't the type of sandwiches I pack in my kid's lunchbox. These are the type of sandwich you imagine Meatloaf consuming before a concert. It's HUGE. And we're not talking ham and cheese, we're talking hickory smoked pulled pork (pork that has been slow-cooked then shredded) and toppings like 'pig slaw' and mustard and onion straws. Throw that in your guitar and smash it.
I ordered the Shang Hi Q Sandwich ($21.95) which was a round, crusty bun piled high with pulled pork, Bar-B-Que sauce, cucumber salad, mayonnaise and fresh coriander and basil. If that wasn't enough, it came with a pile of fries that would feed Slipknot, and three dinky pots: one of BBQ sauces, one of ranch beans which were so smoky I needed a gas mask, and coleslaw that was really sweet and tasty. Like the waiter.
How is this for an impressive salad (bit difficult to eat though)
My sister-in-law ordered a salad, and even though I could hear Homer Simpson singing 'you don't make friends with salad' in my ear, it came out looking like a Warhol masterpiece, with long shards of fried tortillas perched precariously on top. It was called the Haystack Chicken Salad and included lettuce, tomatoes, corn and cheese, topped with crumbed chicken tenders and enough walnuts to send a mild-mannered pre-primary child into a dither "ahhhh nuts, we're not allowed nuts" (yes, but you're not at school right now).
There is a Happy Hour most nights, where you can order 2 for the price of 1 beers and cocktails from the main bar (but strangely enough, not from your waiter). Actually, I think there might be a couple of Happy Hours each day. More power to them! You have to order two of the same, but when you are paying $9 for a cocktail rather than $18, who's complaining?
Kids (especially of the 'pink' variety) might not like the fact that the milkshakes only come in chocolate and vanilla (seriously, no strawberry milkshake? What a travesty). What they will like are the drum kits hanging from the ceiling, the scooter behind the bar, and the pin-ball machines. You can try and explain to them who Pink Floyd was (one of their guitars is hanging on the wall) but they may be more interested in the Brittney Spears costume which is encased in glass in front of the entry. Or not.
There is a stage in the middle of the cafe: perfect for kid-dancing during dinner
I can't say what it gets like late at night, as we were there are the very kid-centric time of 5.30pm, but it was a fun, loud, spacious and pretty cool way to spend a night. There was sufficient bling and glamour to amuse the kids, enough food to satisfy the men, and Happy Hour meant that no one else seemed to care what the kids got up to.
I remember going to the Hard Rock Cafe in Los Angeles when I was a kid, and I thought it was the coolest place ever. It may have been partially because I had a childhood crush on Arnold Schwarzenegger, and when we went they had a lifesize Terminator figure that you could actually win. Haha