Why is it so difficult to find a restaurant that opens after 10pm in Sydney CBD?
I find it hard to believe that Sydney is a big city yet there are not many restaurants that open late. Friends from overseas laughed at me when I told them the shopping malls here in Australia closed at 5pm. Yep, I can't defend myself on that one, it is a joke.
Do you remember the art deco Alexander's cafe across the street from Town Hall in CBD that opened 24 hours many years back? I loved that haunt. Despite the smokey air inside, drunkards and the lousy food; it is definitely an iconic after-midnight savior for those who were a little peckish. City Extra is simply too far down at Circular Quay for some midnight snacks.
The time is 11.00 pm on a Friday night, I am with Helen, Simon and Yas plus Mr & Mrs Pig Flyin, strutting down George Street in Sydney CBD in the hope of finding a restaurant that is still open for some after-meal desserts. After trying two restaurants with no luck, Mr & Mrs Pig Flying have given up and decided to call it a night, leaving us the die hard foodbloggers to go for the food hunt ourselves. A quick peek at World Square to confirm Din Tai Fung is shut after 10pm, eventually we are pretty much given up hope and settled at Cha For Tea, a Taiwanese tea house that closes at 12.30am on a friday night.
We bypassed all the Ten Ren's tea products at the shop front and made our way through to the in-house Cha For Tea cafe upstairs. The cafe is brightly lit with fluorescent lamps and everything seems painfully brighter at this time of night. Me and Helen chuckled at how the layout of the cafe resembles the one in Restaurant City computer game on Facebook with low glass wall dividers to mark out the walking path to the tables.
There are more than just your usual hot Chinese tea in the menu - flavoured ice tea, milk tea with QQ (tapioca pearls), tea flavoured crushed ice, tea with fruit, tea with fiber (ice), herbal tea, the list goes on. With over 200 different drinks in the menu, it will take us some time to make our decisions. There is also a hot menu with Taiwanese snacks and noodle dishes for those who prefer a substantial supper than just a casual drink. It is pretty busy at the cafe, and seems difficult to get the waiter's attention to take our orders. After another short wait, our drinks have finally arrived. As Helen happily settled on crushed ice, we ordered three drinks each - apple green ice tea, coffee jelly milk tea, coffee and milk tea mix, and also a mystery drink mistakenly landed on our table. The manager comes back to our table trying to rectify the missing drink from another table and scolded at the waiter who stuffed up the order. But it is too late as the water level in the glass miraculously one centimeter below the rim, oops!
Helen's dream of beautiful crushed ice with QQ also comes crashing down after being informed that they run out of QQ, and it will take another 20 minutes to cook them. Helen determines to wait for her chewy tapioca pearls but alas, the waiter comes back 5 minutes later with another bad news to tell us that the freshly cooked QQ are just enough for the drinks ordered at another table. I personally think it is an excuse as it pushes to their closing time and trying to persuade us not to go ahead with the QQ. No QQ, Helen eventually settled on azuki red bean as the alternative.
While Simon is happily cooling down with his 3 scoops Japanese matcha ice cream, he also orders a side of crispy chicken fried and share among us. The chicken pieces are heavily rendered in collagen and fat, coated with five spice and deep fried to deep golden brown. It is tasty with an earth shattering crunch, but I can feel my cholesterol level risen on each bite.
Everyone doesn't seem to be hungry, except me (hmm... that says alot) and ordered myself a big bowl of Pu-Er tea flavoured beef brisket noodle from the Specials menu. Can't say I really know what Pu-Er tea taste like, but the beef briskets have definitely been braised for a long period of time, with a strong aromatic herbal flavour and it just falls apart easily. Nicely balanced with some crunchy pickled vegetable that is sour and salty at the same time. The Udon noodle used in the dish is rather heavy and filling, I left most untouched but happily polishing off all the beautiful tender beef briskets.
I was a little ambitious and being kind to order a plate of Taiwanese meat balls to share and it is the last thing to arrive at our table way too late as we all thought they would have already forgotten about the order. Two meat balls which look more like flattened glutinous rice dumplings with the diameter of a tennis ball are dead lying in a pool of bloody chili sauce. The strong garlic smell is off putting and no one wants to touch it despite my generous humble offer. I poke it with chopsticks just to make sure it is not some alien life form and slowly split them in half revealing a gooey starchy mess of pork mince, chives and garlic. A dish best to leave untouched after 12.30am.
By the time we finished and it is already way passed their closing time at 1am. The shop is already closed with roller door half shut and we have to duck our heads down to walk out the shop into the chilled winter air. I really hope that the "sup-culture" will catch on here in Sydney and have more restaurants and cafes open till later hours to satiate us, the midnight supperers.
Ten Ren (Cha for Tea)
696 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 1887
Open 7 days, 9am - 11pm
Fri - Sat, opens till 12.30am