I think it's fair to say that Sydney Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the world, and with two iconic landmarks – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House begging to be stared at day and night, it's great to find places where you can not only gawk happily but also eat and drink at the same time.
High on the roof of the Museum of Contemporary Art, situated on the western side of Circular Quay, is a café and bar which just happens to have some beautiful views overlooking the harbour. And the best thing – it's not ridiculously expensive.
The MCA Cafe is bathed in a somewhat eerie purple light
Officially called the MCA Café and Sculpture Terrace, I admit I did not notice any sculpture the night I visited. This could have been because it was so dark on the terrace that I could have tripped over Rodin's Thinker and not noticed. I totally understand that having bright lights on an external deck would interfere with staring at Sydney's nocturnal beauty, but it is also important to be able to see what you are eating.
I suggest making sure that you sit at a table with one of the rare candles, or inside which glows with a weird purple light. Luckily the friendly staff are happy to let you rearrange things between tables (ie if you need to pinch a candle), although they needed a bit of prompting to clear the tables.
This is a simple café that obviously trades mainly on its views. You order and pay at the counter, grab a number and the staff will find you when your meal is ready. The food was fine, but nothing special. The service was friendly and helpful though.
The menu is a grab bag of share plates, salads and burgers with a few larger meals thrown in. Since the café is open from 10am every day, there is a small 'early bird section' of breakfasty-type meals mainly sweet breads and muffins ($4-$6) as well as a ham and egg toasted sandwich ($10).
There are three share plates ($12-$14) plus a two person charcuterie board ($28), and selection of 'tuckshop' items which range from $12-$15 and include toasted sandwiches, soups, a burger and a pie.
The largest meals, the 'primes' include steak, roasted salmon and chicken. The most expensive dish is $24, which is rather refreshing considering $40 mains in Sydney are increasingly common. Kids get their own menu ($10-$12) and there is also a dessert menu offering mostly tarts, cakes and cookies. The menu remains the same regardless of time of day.
We ordered the cauliflower fritters with dukkah and harissa aioli ($12). I enjoyed them (my friend didn't), but they in no way resembled or tasted anything like cauliflower. Instead of the crunch I was expecting, the fritters had the consistency of runny mashed potato, and the aioli was surprisingly bland.
The charcuterie board had some (slightly blackened) toast, crackers, two types of cheese, two type of deli meat plus small bowls of olives, gherkins and cocktail onions. Everything appeared to have come out of a packet or jar – I don't think anything had been made onsite.
MCA Café is clearly not five star Sydney. It's probably not even four star, but it has a great view, and accessible prices, not to mention all the great art downstairs. It has a small wine list, which makes it perfect for an afternoon or evening gazing at some of Australia's most beautiful views.