Top Ibiza club and music brand finds a home in Darling Harbour.

Café del Mar

The Rooftop Terrace of Cockle Bay, 201 Sussex Street, Sydney
(02) 9267 6700 or

Story: Jen Temm

The view from the wrap-around balcony at Café del Mar may not be the glistening Mediterranean — but just wait. Proprietors Alex Daniel and John Zappia have big plans for the Australian-franchised brand that include bringing those famed beach sunsets to patrons of the new Cockle Bay venue. More on that later.

For those who have made the trek to Ibiza, the original Café del Mar (or ‘Sea Café’) is a partygoers’ institution. Set on the beach of Sant Antoni de Portmany, it opened in 1980 and is famed for its sunset views and chillout music, released annually as popular compilation albums. And while the stylish Australian version offers a greater emphasis on dining, homage is paid to the original from the stucco walls, open kitchen and sail-draped dining tables right through to the chilled music lounge bar vibe of the original with DJs spinning discs Thursday to Sunday nights.
Daniel and Zappia bought the Australian rights to the brand from Café del Mar from founder Ramon Guiral in 2008 and opened last November with a multi-million dollar celebrity-studded launch at the former site of Coast restaurant. With the irrepressible Spanish-born celebrity chef Miguel Maestre as its brand ambassador, the venue became a go-to destination for locals and travellers with large group bookings flooding in within weeks, according to Daniel.


“We’re talking 27 to 45, well-dressed people with a bit of extra cash that want some attention and don’t necessarily want to go out on a Saturday night to listen to Cassian or Miami Horror playing a big venue on a Saturday night,” he says. “They’re not interested in hopping up and down next to all these sweaty kids — but they still want that sound and they still like going out, they just don’t want to do it at 2am at Goldfish in Kings Cross.”
Designed by The Society Inc’s Sibella Court and Kelly Ross from The Gentry, the venue flows from its entryway and lounge area down the length of the main dining area to a private dining room and out to an extensive balcony overlooking Darling Harbour. Close attention has been paid to hundreds of tiny details, from the rustic, broad European oak floorboards, repurposed from an old Belgian bridge, to the $1000 golden swan spout fittings in the opulent hotel-style bathrooms (so admired that a couple have been wrenched from their moorings and stolen, much to Daniel’s consternation).
With music such an integral part of the Café del Mar brand, the same attention to detail has been brought to the venue’s audio and AV, installed and managed by Showtime. The zoned system includes discreet high-powered QSC loudspeakers throughout the indoor and outdoor areas, controlled by QSC’s Core250i processor. Managers simply select the zones, input and levels from an iPad or their smartphones.
“It’s a very, very high quality system,” says Showtime’s Asher Daoud. “It had to be something with enough output, quality and clarity that can be adjusted to suit based on input, and configurable based on the layout, whichever way that might be as they switch the DJs and seating around.” The system can also be beefed up for large events and for live music, with Daniel establishing an ensemble of musicians and aiming to produce and stream Café del Mar Sydney music.


And those spectacular White Isle sunsets haven’t been forgotten. The AV stage of the installation is underway to bring them to Sydney patrons: three Panasonic PT-DZ770 projectors have been mounted to face the balcony with dropsheets that will cover a 13m span to project the Spanish sunsets as well as live content, including DJs direct from Ibiza’s Café del Mar, potentially a huge drawcard during the colder months.
“Projecting the sunset during the winter here is the biggest factor,” Daniel says of the AV. “Winter is notoriously difficult for the restaurant industry but I’ll have my summer sessions with the Ibiza sunset, we’ll have some warm cocktails run through siphons with flames. The caption will be that ‘the sun always sets at Café del Mar’.”
“It’ll definitely be a standout,” Daoud adds. “You’d be hard pressed to find any other venue of this sort with something like this.” Daniel agrees: “We’re not Pontoon and we’re not Home nightclub, but we’re not just a restaurant either. The sound and the AV is so important, you can’t just put in six speakers and throw on a CD.”
The no-expense-spared approach is paying off: the venue’s busiest day drew 600 patrons who ate a kraken’s worth (35kg) of head chef Ben Fitton’s signature starter, 24-hour black ink-marinated salt and pepper squid. Customers are already vying to book the venue out for next December’s party season.
And the proprietors’ vision for the brand doesn’t end here. Darling Harbour already attracts more than 25 million visitors a year and the scope of potential business in future is immense, with major developments in the area over the next five years. It’s all about opportunity and Daniel says they’ll be making the most of it with a larger slice of real estate, a café and Café del Mar Sydney-branded products.
“This is the most visited attraction in Australia,” he says. “Don’t worry about the Opera House, don’t worry about the Harbour Bridge: it’s all about Darling Harbour.”

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