I feel as if I am spending far too much time thinking about street numbers. Bench’s address is 503-511 King Street, so does it come before or after Europe Bar and Grill, which is number 506? And any way who gives a flying proverbial. Well, me really, because we are saving Europe B&G for a special outing with Monica who is heading home soon. So this week we visited Bench, accompanied by young Tessa, who is currently lodging in the penthouse suite (attic).
When I arrived, having first stopped for a refresher at the Botany View Hotel, Strop had occupied a seat in the window looking out onto King Street. She was busy perusing the cocktail list to celebrate Bench’s “Attitude Adjustment Hour”. Her first choice wasn’t available because some bastard had drunk all the tea-infused vodka. Her second choice might have been called a Lemon Fizz, while I chose a Day’s Thunder, which seemed to be missing a preposition. Despite its grammatical disability, my cocktail was excellent – white rum, grapefruit juice, lime, and ginger. Very infreshing. Unfortunately Strop’s cocktail turned out to be a bit of a fizzer.
Wine Bar always seems an old-fashioned term to me, a hang over from the 1970s. Maybe they are making a bit of a comeback, like fondu. I always imagine wine bars as having oak barrel furniture and red flock wallpaper, but that might just be because in the dim and distant past I worked on a television show called Number 96, which had just such a wine bar set.
Bench is nothing like that; the décor is a kind of industrial chic with lots of burnished metal to reflect the garishly coloured lighting. Despite the industrial look, the vibe is relaxed, and it’s not trying too hard to be hip, which is a refreshing change on King Street. It is a place where grown-ups can feel comfortable and more importantly, a place where they can hear what is being said. There is music of course (Shaft!), but it is not too loud.
When Tessa arrived we had a quick little frenzy of photo taking, then got down to ordering food. Bench has a tapas menu with lots of tempting sounding treats. although Strop reckons you can’t beat the classic tapas dishes (patatas bravas, chorizo, etc). The food on offer looked all right to me though, and Strop and Tess had no trouble choosing our first round of food: lamb cutlets, Peking duck, hand cut chips, and arancini balls. A half litre carafe of rosé was ordered as well, to replace our cocktails.
While we waited for the food Tessa regaled us with snippets of gossip from her school’s awards ceremony, which had occupied most of her day. Mindful of the serendipity and not much else, I bored her and Strop by telling them about a scene in the book I’m writing where a teenage girl getting an award from a government minister, squirts him all over with pig blood as he hands over her certificate. I was shocked by how un-impressed they were.
The Peking duck pancakes were small but tasty, with a nice piece of succulent duck in each. The three cheese arancini balls were crisp on the outside and gooey inside. The chips were just regular chips, nowhere near as good as last week’s (but then they did come a lot faster). The lamb cutlets were tasty and succulent but perhaps a little large. Mine flopped around dangerously, spilling the rich capsicum and tomato sauce, as I tried to eat it using the built-in bony handle.
I was left in charge of ordering for the second round of tapas. Tess and I had a long discussion about whether the ginger beer batter on the tofu was enough to make it edible. I reckoned that in the interest of science it was worth doing the experiment. Tess was sceptical, but I figured that Strop would eat them if no one else did. I also chose the other balls: zucchini and fetta; and nachos. The nachos got a big vote of approval from Tess even though she reckoned she wouldn’t eat much as she was now quite full. But I still wanted nachos.
The zucchini and fetta balls were tasty but not as crunchily satisfying as the arancini balls, and unfortunately the tofu was still tofu, despite the crunchy outer layer. The nachos were yummy though, but then when are nachos not? These ones came with shredded chicken and guacamole.
Despite the lurid purple lights I am seriously considering making Bench my regular pre-quest drinking hole. It is airy and pleasant, and doesn’t remind me of Number 96 at all.