Sydney Olympic Park is primarily known as a sporting and entertainment hub, with many considering there’s nothing of any real significance left to discover. However, tucked away behind that more familiar precinct is the old Newington Armory, currently on 52 hectares, a third of its original size when it was established around 1897. It’s a little known historical gem, with well over a 100 heritage buildings that remain virtually untouched since the Navy removed all the remaining munitions and handed the site back in 1999 to allow construction of the athlete’s village. Located adjacent to both the Parramatta River and historic main gates of the former site is the Armory Wharf Café, housed in an award winning LahzNimmo building which attempts to interpret and integrate the surrounding landscape. It’s perhaps a touch stark for my liking, but I accept that challenging architecture is as subjective a medium as food.
A slightly awkward starter to navigate, the cold avocado gazpacho ($11) is served in a large glass garnished with two marginally under seared scallops on a skewer, aesthetically balanced across the rim. Whilst the elements worked texturally, just a fraction more seasoning and pan time, with more effective presentation, would complete the dish. Layered in a glass with thin grissini sticks, but more accessible, the pickled octopus and vegetable salad ($10) absolutely zings from the preserved juices. Similarly, the obviously well sourced cherry tomatoes absolutely explode with flavour. For those needing something more substantial on a plate, look no further than the traditional English breakfast ($15/$18 with sides), with lashings of eggs, bacon, tomato, mushrooms, chipolatas, sautéed spinach and house made baked beans, all sitting imposingly on and around slices of thick casa panotte toast. Granted, it’s a mother load of food, but all the elements have been well executed and it’s available throughout the day.
With a compressed wine list comprising 5 sparkling/2 rose/10 white/11 red /4 sauternes backed up with 6 beers, varietal options are kept fairly basic. The 2009 Coldstone Pinot Grigio ($6) & 2008 Freshy Bay Chardonnay ($8) won’t threaten gold at any shows, but are poured generously by the glass (200mls+), and like most of the list is priced in the diner’s favour. Given the turnover of covers, service is vibrant and attentive, although I remain unconvinced about their two toned brown attire, which just looks tired and drab. It may seem minor, but it’s obvious enough to catch my attention as they tirelessly work both the busy room and well patronised camouflaged terrace.
The crispy squid ($20), too often a hit and miss prospect, is quite thickly battered but perfectly spiced and seasoned, and cooked precisely to provide a lovely textural counterpoint. Garnished with large slightly soggy onion rings, a far more pleasant mango and pineapple salsa, and a particularly memorable mild yellow chilli aioli, there’s just enough playful re-invention by Chef Ivan Martinez to make it worth a revisit. Wish I could say the same about the over shredded Middle Eastern lamb leg ($23), served with a salad of tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumber, parsley and sumac, which desperately needed a wetter element to offset the surprising dryness from the confit process. The Riverine sirloin ($25/300g/mbs2+), although nicely char grilled, is done just slightly past the level ordered, but the chips are above average and the sweet corn and capsicum pickle is a nice twist that reinvigorates the dish.
Deconstructed Black Forest in a glass ($9), a rich decadent chocolate mousse topped with tangy summer berry compote is totally unapologetic, with two savioardi biscuits protruding like exclamation marks to such indulgences. More celebratory in style, the raspberry sorbet ($10) positively zings when the sparkling Zibibbo pink rose is added at the table. The white peach slices are sized and set for visual effect, but perhaps could have been better portioned for a little more coherence once the theatre from the fizz settles. The well extracted Allpress ($3.50) confirms the faith shown by a steady stream of locals who park their bikes and re-charge before heading back to the extensive bicycle track network that covers the area.
Whilst a little more overall consistency on the plate is required, The Armory Wharf Café under the ownership of Damian Leonard, commendably aspires beyond typical Café fare, offering a Fri/Sat dinner service during summer to showcase those ambitions in a more tranquil twilight setting. With the rapid development in nearby Wentworth Point, Newington and Rhodes, I foresee an expansive culinary future, given its rapidly evolving and decidedly cosmopolitan demographic who are clearly appreciating this area’s post Olympic renaissance.
Blaxand Riverside Park, Jamieson Street, Newington
Mon-Fri 8.30am to 4pm, Sat-Sun 7.30am to 5.30pm