THE BRIGHTON-LE-SANDS SOUVLAKI PICNIC

If you’ve ever shot-gunned the window seat on a flight into or out of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, chances are you will have seen Brighton-Le-Sands. If not, on your next flight to or from Sydney, look out the window on take off or landing.

I have always been curious about the name of this suburb. Anything with two hyphens and sounding a little French and fancy must have an interesting story, right?

Well, not really. As it turns out, the area was originally named after the famous seaside resort Brighton in England. In the late 1880s, it was the hot spot for entertainment and vacations – there was a tramway from Rockdale to Lady Robinson Beach, a ferry, public swimming baths, a substantial picnic area, a race course and the Brighton Hotel (which was on the current Novotel site). Because it was a huge success and so popular, the name was changed to Brighton-Le-Sands to avoid confusion with the English Brighton.

Brighton-Le-Sands is well known for its large Greek population and home to what Mark had promised me was the best souvlaki around.

Here is our itinerary:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food:     Souvlaki Bar

Picnic:   Brighton Beach

Coffee & Something Sweet:   Mezes

All we needed to pack was our blanket, a tea-towel (in place of napkins, which I forgot) and a plate for serving (not essential, simply for nicer photos) and we were good to go.

FOOD:

SOUVLAKI BAR

78 The Grand Parade, Brighton-Le-Sands

Apart from being very popular at 4am on the way home from a night on the town, souvlaki (or souva) is one of those deliciously simple meals that has been around since ancient times. Seriously – excavations in Greece have unearthed firedogs, which are stone barbecues with receptions for skewers, that date back to the 17th century BC!

So with centuries to hone the souvlaki craft, you’d think it’d be perfected by now?

Correct – and one place that has done so is Souvlaki Bar, a no-frills but popular takeaway joint located on the busy, main strip of Brighton-Le-Sands.

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There are sizzling spindles of meat rotating for the yeeros which may tempt you, but what you’re after is the deliciously warm, and custom-made souvlaki, which are cooked on a flat grill in front of you. There is a choice of chicken or lamb, and they toast the pita bread over the souvlaki, so that it infuses with the delicious smoky flavour from the cooked meat.

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You can choose lettuce, tomato, onion and tabouli as well as a range of accompaniments including hummus and tzatziki. They also finish off each pita with a fresh squeeze of lemon, so that there is a tangy element to cut through the seasoning.

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All your choices are laid out on your pita bread before being rolled up securely in greaseproof paper. Then out comes the skewer so that it is ready for eating.

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The souvlaki rolls are smaller than kebab rolls so we got three between the two of us – one with chicken and tzatziki, one with chicken and hummus and one with lamb and hot chilli sauce.

There is limited seating inside Souvlaki Bar and although it has some Greece-style artworks for “ambiance”, we suggest you do takeaway and head across the road, as it is conveniently located directly across from Brighton Beach. Hurry, so that you can enjoy while its hot!

PICNIC:

BRIGHTON-LE-SANDS BEACH

The Grand Parade (opposite Souvlaki Bar)

Here is how we set up our picnic on the grass overlooking Brighton-Le-Sands Beach (or Brighton Beach – I need to confirm this with a local):

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I recommend keeping the souvlaki roll in the bag to keep mess under control! Just tear off the paper as you go and tuck in.

Brighton Beach is not a traditional Sydney beach. It’s a little more industrialised as it looks out over Botany Bay and the Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport. But contrary to those with opinions on Sydney beaches, I don’t think this really makes it any less pretty or fun. In fact, I think it makes it more interesting.

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There’s also something quite charming about the Brighton-Le-Sands area. It could be to do with the surrounding 1960s / 1970s apartment complexes which somehow, give me a bit of deja vu and an impression of a simpler time (albeit, a time before I was born, but one I can relate to).

And even though its located on a main and busy strip, the beach area manages to be quiet and peaceful with perfect spots for a picnic amongst the surrounding pine trees.

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We sat and watched the planes come and go which was quite meditative. We imagined what all the people would be doing inside and where they were going and coming from. Apparently plane spotting is a thing, so if you’re a plane spotter, tee it up with a souvlaki picnic here.

After whiling away the afternoon, I got the idea that being a Greek area, there would probably be some good baklava around. Baklava, if I haven’t mentioned, is one of my favourite desserts. I know I talk a lot about favourites, but so you understand the scale, I would say I like baklava better than ice-cream. Which is a huge call. So without knowing where we were going, we ended up finding baklava and something better!

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Facilities

→  BBQ facilities: Nil

→  Shelter: √

→  Toilets

→  Dogs:  – we had some friendly beagles come up for a pat (they smelled souvlaki).

→  Parking:  – we parked in a side street – the actual road is busy so you may have to do some driving around the back streets. You may be able to get parking in Bayside Plaza.

→  Walking:  – there is a board walk and we spotted lots of walkers and runners – may have to come back for a run!

COFFEE AND A LITTLE SOMETHING SWEET:

MEZES

Shop 36, Bayside Plaza, Corner Grand Parade & Bay Street, Brighton Le Sands

If you studied Greek mythology in high school, you may have come across the story of Tantalus, son of Zeus who was a bit of a glutton. It’s said that Tantalus was invited for dinner with Zeus on Mount Olympus and enjoyed the god’s ambrosia and nectar so much that he stole some to take back and share with his friends, the mere mortals. This enraged Zeus who punished Tantalus by making him stand forever in a still pool of water up to his neck and over his head hung a branch laden with fruit that the wind wafted away whenever he tried to grasp them. And this is where the word “tantalise” comes from.

So there’s a slight possibility that I may be facing some risk of punishment with the Greek secret I am about to disclose (and if you’re Greek, I can’t see this being a secret, so forgive my ignorance).

After searching for baklava and almost giving up, we discovered something else – loukoumades.

Loukoumades (pronounced “loo-koo-MAH-thess”) is a pastry made of deep fried dough soaked in a sugar / honey syrup and sprinkled with nuts and which tastes like love and happiness.

I’m sure these delicious donut-y puffs are old news to some lucky people who grew up with a yia-yia who made these, but it was my first experience and needless to say, I was blown away.

Here they are, along with baklava which we purchased from Mezes, a waterfront Greek restaurant which happily provided extra large serves to go, along with takeaway Lavazza coffee.

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And here’s a close up if you’re not yet salivating:

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Loukoumades also have quite an interesting history. In the ancient Olympic Games, one of the prizes awarded to victorious athletes was “honey tokens” – fried balls of dough covered in honey – and this is considered to be the earliest mention of any kind of pastry in European literature. They are best eaten hot and while still crispy and we enjoyed ours together with the baklava and our coffee. You can thank us later 😉

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Check out the Mezes website for more details.

Final Note

Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t, but we’re a little behind schedule on this blog post.

It’s because WE GOT ENGAGED!

Mark surprised me with a proposal on a beautiful Sunday morning during our “ritual” at the place that kicked off The Picnic Press and that will now forever be “our” place – Paddington Reservoir. It’s been such a wonderful wave of excitement and happiness and, to top it off, we are now down to a single-digit countdown for our holiday!

We intend to keep reporting back via The Picnic Press from picnic locations in Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Croatia, Prague, Vienna and Berlin and anywhere else in between. Although we have the best intentions to keep The Picnic Press regularly updated, it will be silly of us to guarantee any real consistency as there is a strong likelihood that we may get carried away exploring and having fun. But we do promise to keep our Facebook page and Instagram account (@thepicnicpress) regularly updated with photos so you can check out where we’ve been!

Arrivederci friends! We look forward to seeing you in Europe!

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L&M

P.S If you love Mark’s photos, check out his other work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.

THE HYDE PARK LUNCH BREAK PICNIC

Do you stop for lunch?

I have to admit, I am someone who frequently takes my lunch break at my desk in front of my computer. I multitask eating with responding to emails, paying bills or doing other personal admin tasks (and, if I’m honest, that turns into watching YouTube delights like tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos!!). It’s all under the guise of trying to be “productive” and get s#*t done, but how productive is it really?

Research conducted by ING Direct last year found that I am not alone. Working Aussies are increasingly eating lunch at their desks.

This is contrary to advice from professionals that have found it’s absolutely beneficial to take a lunch break. In fact, it’s a proven way to increase productivity and help sustain energy levels and focus into the afternoon. It’s also adds balance to the day to counter stress. If you’re one of those people who says, “I’m too busy to stop for lunch”, google “benefits of a lunch break” for some science behind why you need to step away from the desk.

With that in mind, we decided to swap stale air-conditioning for fresh air and fluorescent light for sunshine on our next lunch break and enjoy some time out in the park instead.

There are some added benefits to this lunch break picnic strategy: Sunshine tops up vitamin D levels, necessary for maintaining bone health and wards against disease, and also, it generally makes you feel happy. In addition, exposure to green environments, like parks, has been proven to improve health, increase wellbeing, and reduce stress. (You can read about it here).

Ergo, the Hyde Park Lunch Break Picnic. A wellbeing all-rounder.

Here’s our itinerary:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food:     David Jones Foodhall, Market Street

Coffee:   Metro St James, Elizabeth Street

Picnic:   Hyde Park, Elizabeth Street

FOOD:

DAVID JONES FOODHALL

65-77 Market Street, Sydney

David Jones Foodhall is a gourmet emporium located under the DJ’s mens section on Market Street.

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The Foodhall showcases fresh produce and finest food from Australia and around the world. It has a wine bar, oyster bar, panini bar, cheese and antipasto bar, noodle bar, grill bar, sushi bar, espresso bar and juice bar. It’s un-bar-lievable! 🙂

If you’re looking for a healthy and delicious lunch, there is an abundant range of gorgeous and enticing salads on offer:

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Plus, you can pick up some fresh fruit for an afternoon snack:

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For our Hyde Park Lunch Break Picnic, we couldn’t go past the fresh Vietnamese satay chicken & young coconut rice paper rolls and Peking duck pancakes from the cutely decorated MissChu mini-tuckshop, famous for its Vietnamese takeaway.

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As you can see from the bag below, MissChu is described as “Queen of Rice Paper Rolls”, and I’d have to agree. The rolls are fresh and tasty and came with a lovely spicy dipping sauce to complement the satay flavour. Oh, and the Peking duck pancakes? Yes, my only complaint was that we should have ordered more!

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Because we’re all for raising our endorphins today, we also got a small treat to go with the coffee we planned to order.

In my first full time job as a sprightly 21 year old, I worked in a building close to DJs. I learnt a lot in that job, including that David Jones Foodhall makes the best chocolate covered fruit. Ever.

There’s a huge range of all kinds of delicious fruit lavishly dipped in milk, dark or white chocolate including strawberries, figs, bananas and dates.

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I know we are trying to be a bit healthier on our lunch break, but it’s still fruit, right? We deliberated a while before deciding on dipped strawberries in milk chocolate with crushed pistachio nuts, dipped strawberries in dark chocolate and slivered almonds and a chocolate covered fig.

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You will see the huge range of chocolate covered stuff as soon as you enter from the stairs on Market Street. I dare you to resist these on your way out.

The other great thing about the Foodhall is that you can also pick up items for dinner, should you need to, so it saves you time running around after work. There is a range of take home items, like fresh pasta, and prepared meals, as well as fresh veggies, meat and fish. It’s multitasking at its finest!

For more details, see the David Jones Foodhall website here.

COFFEE:

METRO ST JAMES

110 Elizabeth Street Sydney (just behind St James station)
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Metro St James has been described as a “Parisian bistro meets New York cafe”, due to its French influence and location just behind St James train station. It’s situated in an elegant sandstone building which has maximised its pretty outlook over the leafy Hyde Park and St Mary’s Cathedral.

I first heard of this cafe when they ran a promotion last year where you could pay for your coffee with a kiss. The kiss had to be real, staff weren’t involved and it was all designed to promote love. How very French! The promotion is no longer running, but the coffee will warm your heart nonetheless. Merci, Metro St James xx.

PICNIC:

HYDE PARK

Elizabeth Street (near Market Street), Sydney

Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest park and a tranquil setting in the middle of Sydney’s CBD. It’s a popular escape for office workers who want some fresh air or a quick siesta under the huge, leafy trees.

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Park Street splits Hyde Park in half and the two sections are officially referred to as Hyde Park North and Hyde Park South. We picnicked in Hyde Park North this time, as it’s within easy distance of the David Jones Foodhall and Metro St James.

There are several monuments that stand guard in Hyde Park North, the most notable of which is the Archibald Fountain, with its commanding bronze Apollo.

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The fountain is in an ideal location to enjoy some of Sydney’s tourist sites. To the left of the fountain, you have a view of the Sydney Tower (or Centerpoint Tower), which is the tallest building in Sydney.

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To the right of the fountain, you overlook St Mary’s Cathedral, an English-style gothic church and one of Sydney’s most treasured historic buildings offering a unique space of solace and prayer within the bustling city.

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Some of the beautiful gardens within Hyde Park

We set up our picnic so that we could fully appreciate the view on each side.

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Taking an important call from the “Editor in Chief” – aka my mum 🙂

Our MissChu rice paper rolls and Peking duck pancakes were delicious and just enough so that we felt satisfied but not sluggish.

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The David Jones Foodhall chocolate covered strawberries were absolutely necessary and completely worth it.

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As soon as we found our spot on the grass in Hyde Park, we already felt more relaxed and refreshed.

We watched kids shriek with delight and chase giant bubbles made by a busker.

We saw people going about their business and realised the world doesn’t really revolve around us today.

We had real and genuine interaction with laughs and hugs instead of sending smiley faces and “xox’s” via email.

We felt our senses awaken by inhaling the crisp air and feeling the sunshine warm our backs.

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We left feeling happier and more human and ready to take on the rest of the day.

Facilities

→  ToiletsPublic toilets are available.

→  Parking / Transport: There is parking in the Domain Car Park, but we suggest leaving the car at home and making use of the train as Museum and St James train stations are beneath the park. Bus services are also available, as the park is bordered by several major roads.

→  Bike: You can’t really do any hard core cycling in the park, so bike parking is available.

→  Dogs: There aren’t any off-leash areas, but I saw a few dogs being walked on a lead.

See the City of Sydney website here for more details.

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See how fun getting out on your lunch break can be? We spotted these people dancing!

Final note

As someone who has worked long hours, I understand that taking a lunch break can feel a bit self-indulgent when you have deadlines pressing, clients chasing you, or a huge task to complete. A lunch break picnic may not be feasible or realistic every day. At the very least, get outside for 15 minutes to get some air and re-centre.

If you’re normally desk-bound or running about doing personal errands, try once a week (at least) to lock in some quality time for a lunch break that you will actually enjoy – not some half hearted attempt at your desk or on the run, which ends up being counterproductive.

A lunch break picnic is a more fulfilling option and the fresh air and sunshine will stand you in good stead to face the rest of the afternoon. It’s also far less stressful than claiming a sticky table at a bustling and overcrowded food court. Time seems to move slower too, so even 30 minutes of actual rest will feel longer than an hour of running around or online shopping ‘al-desko’.

Invite your colleague, friend or partner along, or if you need some time out, take a good, fun book or magazine and some nice, deep breaths.

We’d love to hear if a lunch break picnic makes a difference to your day. Are you more focused? Less stressed? More productive? Happier? Please also tag us on your Instagram pics, and we’ll share with our community: @thepicnicpress #thepicnicpress.

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Next week on The Picnic Press: We set up our picnic blanket in the beautiful town of Berry, on the NSW South Coast.

See you then! Now back to work…

L&M

P.S If you love Mark’s photos, check out his other work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.