We’ve drifted beyond the Marly’s sphere of influence, so no stop for a quiet Dogblister tonight. Instead it’s straight on to the renovated and spit-polished grunge of the Newtown Hotel. Up the stairs, past the big lion mural, stepping carefully over the lion tracks, to The Animal. No burgers tonight, this place qualifies as a restaurant, even though it is in a pub (Refer to Rule #6). As pubs go the Newtown is loud and dark, and upstairs, The Animal is louder and darker still. We are after a table for five – I tried to book but the website is one of those annoying impenetrable ones that makes you want to drive a fork through the forehead of the person who designed it. So, unable to make a booking we are living on the edge, just turning up and taking our chances.
“No worries,” says the young man who greets me at the front desk, “I’ll just check with the boss”, a young woman, whose rank seems to be indicated by the number and quality of her tatts. I have now been joined by Jamie, and we wait patiently while the gatekeepers poke at a screen and conduct a rapid fire discussion. Eventually we are told, “That’s fine but we’ll need the table by 9:15.”
Suits me, I’m usually in bed by then.
The decor seems to consist of bare brickwork, horse heads, and faintly glowing dangly light bulbs. What little light there is, is provided by a single tea-light candle. We are soon joined by Strop, resplendent in a bright red dress. Wendy and Matt are both running a bit late so we decide to get on with ordering. Jamie pulls out his iPhone and deploys the flashlight/magnifier app in order to read the menu. I have left my head-torch at home so I have to wait for him to interpret the menu for me. Apparently we are in Greek spit-roast territory here – which is a fine place to be. As we are hungry, and because we have no idea when the others will arrive (it depends on a complex formula involving chaos theory as applied to the interaction of friday night traffic, Sydney buses, and Newtown parking), we decide to go ahead and order. We choose a kind of banquet menu for the table which promises roast lamb and lots of other goodies.
Have I mentioned the music? It is loud and very bassy. And the restaurant is full, so everyone is shouting to be heard over the music. Every now and again I think that I recognise a tune. “Is that Echo Beach?” I wonder aloud, but no one can hear me.
Food starts arriving very quickly. First some delicious hot bread, warm olives (this seems like one of those “why doesn’t everyone do this?” kind of ideas), and yummy taramasalata. While we are fighting over these, haloumi and meatballs join the fray. We are just wondering if the others would even notice if we ate all the haloumi, when they spoil the fun by arriving. Damn.
We are inexplicably provided with some trendy little tuna tins – an empty one which is presumably for the olive pips, and one with a mysterious black substance. Wendy wonders if it is an ashtray (and in the dark it could well be) but it turns out to be some exotic variety of black salt. Squid-ink salt perhaps? Bitumen dried salt? God knows, I’m still coming to terms with pink salt.
We are moved quickly on to mains. Lamb, potatoes, beans, and a Greek salad presented with a big slab of fetta balanced on top of the tomatoes and leaves. Conversation is suspended. All is good. All is excellent.
Conversation gradually re-merges as the plates empty. The music is getting louder (could be Echo Beach again – not so far away in time – or maybe Led Zeppelin) and Strop is the only one who is not leaning forward and cranking her head sideways to try and hear what is being said. This is because she has elegant new bionic ears that target the speaker and create a special little space-time vortex to carry the conversation straight to her receptors. There is a fair amount of “Oh, aren’t they small” and “You can’t see them at all,” type comments when she shows them off. We’ve come a long way since my grandmother had to carry a suitcase full of batteries and valves around with her in order to hear.
Dessert comes in two bowls to be shared. It consists of cake, orange slices in syrup, and a white frozen substance that doesn’t seem to be Streets’ vanilla. ”Froyo?” Strop suggests. Jamie is put to the task of dividing it up as he comes from a large family where accuracy of portion allotment was a key to survival. The dessert doesn’t last long.
We toy with the idea of retreating to the balcony for a cocktail, to get away from the unrefined sounds of Robert Palmer and The Power Station inexplicably playing Echo Beach, until we realise that the balcony is where all the smokers are.
Oh well, time for home then. And perhaps a couple of whiskies.