In 1998 Oprah Winfrey was famously sued by Texas cattlemen in a response to a comment she made on her show several years earlier. In response to the “mad cow” scare that was going on at the time Oprah had said, “I’ve eaten my last hamburger.” She was later cleared of libel by a jury but one would have gotten the impression that Oprah didn’t eat meat anymore.

After arriving in Sydney we walked around our new neighborhood checking out the food shops. When people heard our American accents they recommended we try a famous butcher shop named Victor Churchill that was just up the street. They all had the same refrain, “It’s where Oprah went when she was here.” Our closest connection to Oprah is that Michael was a classmate of Dr. Oz’s before he was Dr. Oz. But we were looking for a butcher anyway so we went to Churchill’s.

The original Churchill’s butcher shop opened in 1876 and has been operating ever since. They are consistently ranked as the premier butcher in all of Australia, and we’re talking a country that likes its meat. We learned that when Oprah made her mega-farewell tour of Australia in 2010, along with 300 of her fans, she stopped in at Victor Churchill’s to sample some of the wares. Since she was on her way to the airport at the time she couldn’t get a few steaks to throw on the barbie, but she did try some of the charcuterie.

Churchill’s is a throwback to a day when working in the food industry was a well-respected profession; that’s still seen in countries that value their cuisine, such as France, where butchers and bakers serve as apprentices for years, often starting as teenagers.

Wagyu beef at around $95 per pound

The shop recently underwent a $2 million renovation. Stepping through the front entrance, with its metal doorpulls shaped like a string of sausages, is like walking into a carnivore’s dream. On the left side of the store white apron-clad butchers work behind a wall of glass, chopping away and preparing the day’s prime cuts. Next to them the ageing room is on full display as carcasses of meat, hanging from hooks dangling below a ceiling height conveyor, gently swing around the room. The stone walls, timber beamed ceiling and Italian marble slab floor all contribute to the Old World effect.    

Meats and other goods are displayed in humidity-controlled cases made of glass, wood and copper that would not look out-of-place in Tiffany’s. The first thing we noticed was the quality of the meat. It ranged from standard pasture-fed beef to cattle that had been grain fed for 300 days (to increase fat marbling and flavor) and then aged for up to six weeks.

The next thing we noticed were the prices; the highest end beef is the Wagyu aged Scotch fillet at ninety dollars per pound. This beef is so well marbled that it’s hard to tell where the meat ends and the fat begins; it looks like a Jackson Pollack painting rendered in meat. Okay, that sort of sounds disgusting but in person it’s not.

Little Rocky couldn't resist pounding the meat

We were celebrating a special event and had decided that instead of going out to a pricey dinner, we would indulge ourselves by buying a steak from Churchill’s and throwing it on the barbie. Despite the special occasion the Wagyu was still outside our budget but we didn’t exactly settle for chopped liver. (Although they do have that in the form of fine pates.)

We purchased an aged sirloin steak that had been grain-fed for 300 days. Feeding on grain instead of in the pasture increases the marbling that is so desired. This was priced more reasonably; for 22 bucks we got a steak that was big enough to share. Throw in a side of potatoes cooked in duck fat and some veggies and we had ourselves a mighty fine steak dinner.

We’re sure the meal would have gotten the Oprah seal of approval.

From Larissa ~ Last night we went to the Night Noodle Market in beautiful Hyde Park in downtown Sydney.  This is an annual event that runs for ten nights during the Crave Sydney International Food Festival.  Over forty food stalls dish out all varieties of Asian goodies (noodles and beyond) under trees strung with red paper Chinese lanterns that cast a warm glow over the affair.  Dining options included Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese and probably some other cuisines that have eluded my knowledge of geography. One that stood out was the wonderfully named “Thais R Us.”

There were many choices—from sushi to Singapore noodles to salt n’ pepper calamari.  We opted for Indonesian; Michael ordered Mie Goreng, stir-fried egg noodles with chicken, shrimp and veggies.  I went for a Satay combo—grilled beef and chicken on a stick smothered in a dark brown peanut sauce and sprinkled with toasted coconut.  I’ll admit that it didn’t look as appetizing as Michael’s noodle dish. In fact it didn’t really look appetizing at all, I won’t repeat what Michael said it looked like, but it tasted great. 

Indonesian Mie Goreng noodles

Attempts to go back and try some other stalls were thwarted by the swelling crowds.  The Sydney Morning Herald estimates that 125,000 people visit the Night Noodle Market over its 10-day run.  It’s one of the most popular events in the month-long food fest, probably because it’s easily accessible and relatively inexpensive.  Other events include cooking classes, lectures and specialty menus at various restaurants. Food choices at the Night Noodle Market are mostly between $3 and $15, which makes it a relative bargain in this expensive city, and a hit with all ages.   

The atmosphere was a cross between a big-city happy hour and a Sunday family picnic. A DJ spun tunes, adding to the festive mood. Two Chinese musicians dressed in native garb gamely strummed out traditional songs in one corner, attracting the more sedate in the crowd.   Families spread out blankets, broke out the juice boxes and let the kids run around on the grass.  Clusters of teenage girls still in their school uniforms joked around using chopsticks as hair ornaments.

Chopsticks are the new "must have" fashion accessory

Eventually we found a stall with a break in the action, so we zoomed in to see what we could scoop up.  Our efforts were rewarded doubly—the food was probably the bargain of the whole fair, and it was dessert!   For $2.50 we tried a warm, freshly baked sweet roll by a Malaysian chain called PappaRoti. A coffee-flavored cream is swirled over the top of the dough before it is placed in the oven. The cream bakes into the light and fluffy dough that also had a hint of a buttery filling. We decided to live large and get a sweetened condensed milk sauce to dip it in for an extra $2.50.  Yum.

Malaysian sweet roll

Prior to coming to Sydney we had been told that Australians are quite sociable.  We have found that to be true—everyone has been easygoing, friendly and relaxed, like they are on a permanent vacation.  Strolling around Hyde Park in Sydney, on a warm clear October evening amid tantalizing aromas, delicious food, good music and friendly people it’s easy to be in a good mood.  Sydney is a mellow, and tasty, place to be.

Related Post: Is the Sydney Fish Market a tourist trap?

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