On a fine Sydney afternoon, our chat with the principals of Café Nice is not happening. The sun streams through the windows, picking up the yellow highlights in the paintwork and the glints on the mirrors and the wings of the framed specimens in the butterfly room. A vast cruise ship docked at the quay, visible past the ferry terminal, provides the distant backdrop, and the striped blue awning billows gently.
The problem is, no one wants to leave. Corks are pulled on more bottles of rosé, les desserts are given another look, and it looks like the interview is just going to have to wait. It's that sort of place.
The afternoons, says proprietor Barry McDonald, are what Nice is all about. To recreate the magic of Nice (and, by extension, the magic of Café Nice), he says, the lazy sun of the later day is where you have to start. "I think that's part of the feel. Preferably outdoors. And you've got to have a rosé."
The restaurant, on the Circular Quay site that was once home to Merrony's, is a step westward, thematically speaking, for McDonald, who is best known for his Fratelli Fresh providore brand and its Sopra restaurants. In opening Café Nice with his daughter Nina Gravelis, McDonald is tipping his hat to a place he loves, and, with the aid of Sopra chef David Young, channelling a side of French cooking that doesn't find much expression in Australia.
"I don't think anyone else in Sydney is doing this kind of food. What we're trying to show people is that it's not really French food, it's Niçoise. And there is a difference. It's a lighter, fresher food - a lot of olive oil, a lot of vegetables, a lot of seafood." It's not what we're used to in terms of French food, he says, but it translates well to an Australian setting. "Café Nice is all about casual food, casual dining, beautiful light French wines and a bit of fun."
Café Nice, 2 Phillip St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 8248 9600.