We’re going out for dinner and I’m nervous. Not covid nervous, Valentine’s Day nervous. I’m expecting crowds, booked out restaurants, purveyors of crappy roses, magicians, even. Due to a series of entwined exigencies now lost in the depths of time, Strop and I managed to exchange our wedding vows on St Valentine’s Day. It is an error we are still paying for. You simply cannot go out for a quiet wedding anniversary celebration on Valentine’s Day, so we usually shift the date to avoid the crowds and complications.
But not this year. This year is our fortieth. Just let that ruby-coloured number sink in a moment. Forty years married. To which should be added The Years Before—a period of indeterminate length—during which we hung out with sufficient intensity as to produce a baby girl. Makes you feel old just thinking about it.
So, our fortieth—our Ruby Anniversary—and we’re in Sydney. King Street beckons. Strop has romantic notions of taking Painting the Bridge back to where it all started, but I don’t think Izote Mexican still exists.
Romance seeps away. Pragmatism builds a bridge. Thai La Ong is still there, and one thing you definitely cannot get in Bermagui is decent Thai food.
This will be a family affair. We are to be joined by a daughter, a granddaughter and a nephew. The Stropolina, the Lagilou and the Chippy.
First off, Strop and I embark on a nostalgic walk from Newtown Station along a sultry Enmore Road to see what has become of the place since we stopped paying attention. It seems a bit tidier. A bit quieter, maybe. Hard to tell really, as it is still the middle of the afternoon. Some new joints. Some survivors.
We end up at the Warren View where things have changed. Covid measures are serious here. There are separate in-and-out doors. The young woman behind the bar wants to verify our log in. Us old folks from the coast aren’t used to quite so much covid-tainted reality. The beers have changed too. Lots of funky, and probably very hoppy, hipster beers from pop-up breweries are available. Watermelon flavoured! Probably rhubarb too. Or turmeric. The very helpful bar person directs us to beverages that suit our individual needs and we proceed through to the renovated beer garden where Strop proceeds to break her knee on an over-sized steel girder holding up our table. It could easily hold up the harbour bridge but has been given lighter duties, no doubt in the service of irony. (Ha!)
The beer garden is airy and feels more spacious than on previous visits. The covid marshall wears a jaunty high-vis sash, and the place is full of families and young children, some of whom are intent on driving their prams, and their hovering fathers, to the edges of navigation. I am tempted by the offerings on the blackboard, but Strop reins in my impulsiveness by reminding me to save myself for Thai La Ong.
On that self-righteous note we drink up and head for the pre-dinner rendezvous at the Courty. Where we run into the Chippy just getting off his bicycle. Timing, eh?
While he finds a convenient pole to chain up to, Strop and I form an orderly queue outside the pub. Covid rules. Numbers restricted. Scan here. Wait there. Some people go out. Some go in. More people go out, we go in. For our convenience, and to avoid crowding around the bar, we can order with our phone. What a wonderful world. Just download the app, create a log in, nominate a payment method, no, not that one, try again, what was it you wanted? Beers. Anything else?
It took a while—about as long as it took for us to start doubting that the system actually worked—but a jug of Coopers and three glasses arrived eventually. Cheers.
Having mastered the system, and anticipating delays, we order more beers. And chips.
The Stropolina and Lagilou arrived. Cheers. Lemonade. More beers. Cheers.
Eventually we peeled ourselves off our stools and headed onto a twilit Kings Street. The crowds were a bit of a freak out for us country folk. Narrow pavements. Single-file negotiations. Strop and I rubber-necking, playing spot the difference.
“Didn’t this used to be…” “Yeah, but look, that place is still there.” “Is it open?” “Hard to tell…”
Definitely no frozen yoghurt places. Still a few burger joints. Plenty of Thai. Perhaps a bit more Turkish.
And Thai La Ong was still there, right where we left it.
Not as busy as in pre-covid days. Almost empty, in fact. It was still early because we were dining with a two-year old, but I imagine that the absence of international students has devastated the cheaper end of King Street’s restaurant business.
But looking on the bright side, they had plenty of room for our little party and Lagilou wasn’t going to disturb any intimate romantic dinners. After a while we realised that there was a steady stream of helmeted take-away riders coming and going. That’s where the customers were—at home, watching Netflix.
Complimentary prawn crackers arrived and were devoured. Then we had to remember the rules of ordering.
Number 37. Ginger Stir Fry. With chicken.
Mussaman curry. Spicy rice with pork belly. Pad See Ew. Duck salad. Boiled rice.
Strop and the Chippy distracted Lagilou with drawings of motorbikes until the food arrived.
Duck salad—know what I mean? Ma-ate, you don’t get that in Bermi. Pad See Ew, yum. Pork belly, yes please.
The only real disappointment was the Mussaman which was tough and overly sweet.
We wended our weary way back along King Street in the wake of Lagilou, who wielded a rainbow flavoured icecream cone as if it was a wand, bestowing blessings on all, and asking “What’s your name?” A fitting end to another memorable episode of the quest.