The nation’s already quite stopped, but the Melbourne Cup is still going ahead this year. And while we may see a more restrained event for 2020, with less loose units tackling policemen into bushes and the kind of antics that end up plastered all over social media, those epic race day-long lunches are still on the cards – at least for Sydneysiders.
The harbour city may still have some common sense restrictions in place, but there’s still plenty to go around when it comes to spots for leisurely office lunches and/or boozy hangs, whether you’re genuinely in it to back some winners, or you’re just keen on the food and downtime.
Below we’ve rounded up a few of the best Melbourne Cup day lunches and events going down on race day. Most of them should book out fairly fast, so we suggest rounding the office together and making a decision well ahead of Tuesday 3rd November.
Grain Bar, The Rocks
Pop into the Four Seasons if you want to kick up the office race day lunch to something beyond the standard house beers and spirits. This whisky bar will have a $109 free-flowing beverage package for 3 hours, kicking off at 1 PM and generously including Moet & Chandon Champagne, a selection of craft cocktails, white and red wine, and bottled beers. Those after something more food-focused can pop next door to the hotel’s Mode Kitchen & Bar, but if you’re fine with small bar bites, you’re all set.
Barangaroo House, Barangaroo
All three venues inside Barangaroo House will be offering their own take on the Melbourne Cup lunch, at three vastly different price points. The Rooftop Smoke bar has the best of them, with $185pp netting you a parade of shared plates like crudo and cheeseburger sliders, plus a 2-hour drinks package from 12 PM started by a glass of Veuve Clicquot on arrival. If more substantial food is what you’re after, the middle floor restaurant, Bea, will load you up on steak tartare, scotch fillet, burrata, shared desserts and more.
Aria, Circular Quay
Gourmand favourite Aria Sydney should be the top pick for long-lunchers looking for a more extensive wine list to dig into over the race. A breezy $220pp will net you a four-course meal designed especially for the day, bringing in dishes like maremma duck with glazed walnut & nectarine, pasture-fed beef fillet with spinach, celeriac & green garlic, and a chocolate, raspberry, jersey milk & clover dessert.
El Camino Cantina, The Rocks
Lively Mexican joint El Camino is setting up a multi-zoned space on Melbourne Cup day, spreading 20-large screen TVs throughout the indoor-outdoor venue. The usual proceedings will take place from 12 PM to 2 PM, including prizes for best-dressed guests, sweepstakes and “live entertainment”. Though the $79pp two-hour drink package is the real seller here, with ten exclusive varieties of margarita coupled with house beer, wine, sparkling, and a decent spread of food like spicy buffalo and BBQ chicken wings, seasonal tacos, nacho bowls, and churros.
G.H. Mumm’s Virtual Tasting
For the first time ever, G.H. Mumm Champagne – the official Champagne of the Melbourne Cup Carnival – will be hosting a special, and interactive, virtual tasting event on race day. Not only is it a nod to the uptick in COVID-safe virtual events this year, but it’s a digital cork pop that’ll give the team a tasting of two of the brand’s most exclusive Champagnes – The Grand Cordon and Grand Cordon Rose. Streamed live from the Sydney Opera House from 1:30 PM on the day, the 90-minute ticketed event will be hosted by G.H. Mumm Brand Ambassador Manu de Madre and is priced from an easy $34pp for team bookings.
Lexus x Neil Perry Picnic Boxes
Lexus Australia and Neil Perry have partnered up to bring Melbourne Cup lunch to home-diners this year, curating extravagant picnic hampers for racing aficionados. Various premium produce from local providores and growers have been sourced by Perry to mirror the kind of hospitality that’s usually found at the Lexus Birdcage on race day. Picnic dishes like first harvest salmon pearls with chive and crème fraiche blinis, prawn cocktail sandwiches, beef tataki with soba noodles, and tea smoked duck will come in the $250 box, while a separate $132 beverage box will add a bottle of Mumm Cordon Rouge NV Champagne, four spring cocktails, and a Squealing Pig Rose from Central Otago, NZ. The boxes are available for both Melbourne and Sydney and are also being prepped for Derby Day (31st Oct), Oaks Day (5th Nov) and Stakes Day (7th Nov).
ivy Pool Club, CBD
For a minimum spend of $2,500, your group can grab their own section of ivy pool club, with full table service coming from the recently reopened Uccello, now overseen by young chef Nigel Ward. Uccello’s sharpened coastal Italian focus should be on full display with a Mediterranean style spread including antipasto, salads, pizzas, and a good selection of drinks.
Fratelli Fresh, Darling Harbour
The sizeable Fratelli Fresh down at Darling Harbour will soak up those leisurely Melbourne Cup vibes with nine large-screen TVs beaming the race alongside a four-course lunch and drinks package set between 12 PM and 3 PM. The long-lunch worthy menu of ten spritz flavours, frose and rose, alongside grazing platters, buffalo mozzarella, slow-cooked lamb shoulder, roast chicken, and ocean trout.
QT Sydney, CBD
Like they do with most major events, QT Sydney has put up their considerable State Suites for hire on race day. For a minimum spend of $1,100, your group gets five hours in the room, which sports an 80-inch TV and a secluded balcony overlooking the Sydney CBD. Drinks will be on consumption, but you’ve got all the mac and cheese croquettes, hot dogs and fried chicken you could possibly want.
The Newport, Newport
The Newport’s sprawling courtyard will have a big screen set up for race day and a $160pp drinks package of NV Chandon, Furphy and a few selections of wine. And that’s it. But that’s all you really need if the office is keen for a big cup day session on the Northern Beaches.
If Newport’s boozy cup day session isn’t as appealing as a staggering amount of food, take the office to Bert’s instead. The highly dependable Jordan Toft has curated an extensive menu completely worthy of a long lunch, where $250pp gets you a glass of 2010 Dom Perignon or Kirin on arrival, and everything from caviar and handpicked mud crab, to Brooklyn Valley rib eye, steak tartare, and a valrhona chocolate mousse tart.
Pier One Sydney Harbour, Walsh Bay
Surely the most lavish Melbourne Cup day celebration in Sydney, this one will have you forking out $5,500 (for a group or 10) to Pier One Sydney Harbour for a private suite. The luxury hotel is running the Admiral Suite Private Party package for the big day, letting your group take over for 4 hours with a private waiter serving up a “luxe barbecue menu” as well as canapés, grazing boards and drinks from a “feature bath” loaded with bottles of G.H. Mumm. After that’s all done, 2 guests can stay overnight in the suite to make a full day of it. More modest celebrations will also be taking place elsewhere in the hotel, from $1K-min-spend booths on the pier, to a $250pp lunch at The Gantry Restaurant.
The Argyle, The Rocks
The Argyle promises to have the “CBD’s biggest screen” set-up in that lofty courtyard of theirs, along with a food and drink package that’s priced at $79pp and tracks Pimm’s, gin spritz, and pink G&T along with house beers and wine. Eats will be taken care of with charcuterie boards, gourmet sandwiches, fruit platters and Eton Mess for dessert as the package stretches from 1 PM to 3 PM.
Alpha POP, The Rocks
A pop-up of the long-standing CBD restaurant, Alpha POP has got a Greek feast waiting for Melbourne Cup day, planning a lunch $145pp. A glass of Champagne on arrival kicks it all off, leading to a stacked menu that includes taramasalata with grilled pita bread, Sydney rock oysters, halloumi saganaki, spanakopita, lobster macarronada, slow roasted lamb shoulder, baklava, and loukoumades.
Merivale’s star farm-to-table restaurant, Fred’s, is another one for a Melbourne Cup lunch that values good food above all else. Head Chef Danielle Alvarez has curated a menu just for the day, priced at $250pp with a glass of 2010 Dom Perignon or Kirin on arrival. Sure, it’s not about parking up right in front of a massive screen to watch the action, but the food should be a worthy distraction – pig’s head croquettes, yellowfin tuna carpaccio, charcoal-grilled king prawns, tagliatelle with pork and duck sausage ragu, wood-oven braised lamb shoulder, smoked Andean gold and ricotta ravioli, and desserts like vanilla & buttermilk panna cotta, and chocolate & salted caramel tart.