On Friday night Alicia and I decided to go to Sydney’s famous cocktail bar and restaurant, Bayswater Brasserie. The guidebooks made this place sound hot; they all wrote about a famous green curry and awards like “best cocktail bar of 2008.” That really wasn’t very long ago! As an added plus we would check out the surrounding neighborhood, King’s Cross, apparently a lot of fun. I called and made a reservation for 6:30. I know that’s on the early side but we wanted to walk there directly from a day exploring town and thought we might be hungry/bored. It’s actually surprisingly easy to suddenly get bored around 5:30-6:00 because all of the shops in Sydney do an annoying thing where they all close. What do people do if they need something after they get off work? Anyway, it’s very bad for our ability to be fashionable late-diners since Alicia’s house is all the way across the water from downtown, probably a two hour round trip to reach, after taxis and ferries and changing outfits at home, from the King’s cross area. Not worth it.
We showed up at the Brasserie and before going inside quickly put on makeup and smoothed our hair on some benches nearby. Yeah, not the classiest thing ever but necessary for entering an ‘institution.’ We walked inside, primped and excited, to find an indoor-outdoor patio dining room with a nice breeze and rows of perfectly white tablecloths and dark wood chairs, and about four other people in the restaurant, total! We both looked at each other and the perfectly set expectant but lonely tables with sheepish grins. Were we the only ones aware that this was an institution? That felt somehow unlikely. I walked up to the hostess to admit that I was the dummy who had actually made a reservation for those oh-so-desirable tables.
Traveling, in concept, makes you so cultured and cool in the eyes of friends and relatives, but it just makes you damn un-cool in practice. You are left disconnected from the habits of an entire population yet attempting an impossible schedule of assimilation. Left to the mercy of information from tour books and websites, you unrealistically assume that it is a simple thing to know the best possible thing to be doing at every second. On my journeys from home to home, well to two of them, one thing is clear: many people spend a lot of time at home. They, like you, are not completely sure, beyond museums and city sites, where to bring you. The usual neighborhood places are suddenly maybe not quite good enough to be ambassador of an entire city and so there is a great fumbling of plans and ideas. Alicia and I have adopted the stumbling around for hours approach that sometimes rewards us with a place like the Ampersand Café and Bookstore on Oxford Street. But travel-foo can only align so often, most of the time you feel like the blind packmen gorging themselves on anything and everything along the path of a computer course with both bonus points and the killer larger packmen things.
I don’t mean to say that Bayswater Brasserie is in any way a bad restaurant. It really did have amazing cocktails! I had a kind of re-imagined margarita with vodka, lime, and mango. Alicia ordered a combination of slow gin, rum, fresh citrus, and apricot liquor. Our waiter was especially attentive—maybe because he was bored—although I’m not entirely sure we appreciated his extra attention…When we asked what type of cocktail to order he beckoned us back to the ultra swank, ultra empty, cocktail lounge where Andy, the mixologist, raised his eyebrows at out presence over his cedar bar. He greeted us with a kind of blasé that made it clear he was used to the overzealousness of our waiter but not too impressed with two twenty two year olds in bright day dresses. As our waiter went on in a very thick Asian accent, about the “famous cocktail bar,” I stood utterly mortified in the doorway. I’d picked a restaurant that was clearly not a place frequented by people who knew better, and worse, we had blatantly labeled ourselves silly tourists, ogling the cocktail menu, dining so early, making a reservation. Now we stood in front of Andy, expected to do what? Grovel? Speak with him about his famous cocktails, of which we knew only that they were well endorsed by Eyewitness tourism books? For some reason I felt like a French gourmet caught appearing to be ordering in MacDonald’s and was having a serious crisis of my foodie dignity.
Thankfully, Alicia and I slowly settled into the fact that we had the restaurant to ourselves with the help of the small but strong cocktails and the salty, warm olive bread, also “famous.” These olive breads really are quite delicious and cute. They look like cinnamon loaf but instead of swirls of sugar and raison there are juicy marinated olives that spiral through the soft slices. Then our mains, barramundi and salmon were good too, although green curry was suspiciously missing from the menu. In the end we spent about four hours at the Brasserie, ordering two more glasses of wine and a plate of Australian cheeses. We had a wonderful wine-buzzed girly conversation about boys. Don’t even think I’ll now reveal any of those details. As we were walking out, content and now pleased with our experience, wondering why such a nice place was so empty, our chirpy waiter yelled after us, “tell Andy goodbye.” I panicked. Not another encounter with the awkward distance between hype and reality! Alicia saved the day, “We’re saying goodbye to you and you can just send it along.” Ultra cool, ultra collected, a tasteful exit to, actually, a tasty night.