For those who have just joined us, I’ve arrived safely in North Sydney and am about to head out into the weather for dinner…
I added one complimentary umbrella and a lovely black and white knitted cap with a crocheted flower and I headed out into the storm for what I was assured was the short walk to the Lobster Pound Restaurant and I was Quite the Picture. Which lasted five seconds until I was nearly blown sideways by the wind and had to forge my way along the ‘10 minute’ walk to the restaurant. Grey, dark, windy and wet. And it got wetter. And wetter as the rain had learnt to multi-task and sweep in under the umbrella. It was only luck and the extreme politeness of Canadian drivers that I wasn’t drenched by the deep puddles in the road. Seriously these drivers stop all the time for everything and everyone. I don’t know how they ever get anywhere but I’m grateful. So after trudging, head down, I made it. There was the big sign.
And a really run down looking building with a smaller sign telling me that the restaurant was around the back. It was. And it was closed. I did not accept this. It shut at 8pm the sign said. It was 7:30pm. I knocked. No answer. I walked away but my brain would not let this go as I gazed down the street and realised I didn’t know what was down there, how far it was and it was bloody wet and my boots were beginning to get wet. So I kept going back to the door and peering in. Like something out of a Dickens story. If his subjects of choice were well dressed middle-aged aged women who think they are still in the heart of Melbourne’s never sleeping restaurant district of Brunswick Street. I had mascara on. In the rain. There was a woman talking but she didn’t see me on account of she was clearly fighting with someone. This didn’t stop me flapping my arms harder to catch her attention. On my third return she drove out in a huge ute – they are all huge – and didn’t even glance at me. Why should she? She’s a local who knows better. I’m beneath her gaze. So I called the restaurant. Because there was no helpful black plastic phone. And the soon to be known as The Venerated Leslie said that no, they closed at 8pm. It was now 7:40pm. Yes, but the kitchen was closed. Oh. Ok. I walked away. I came back. I called again. ‘Do you know somewhere else I can eat?’
I saw her through the glass and she came out and started telling me where was good, what was open. And breaking the news that they were only open Wednesday to Sunday so I’d missed my chance to eat there, ever. Then, behold, more valiant than any Mountie (not that I’ve seen one yet – like the puffin, this breed eludes me), appears Richard The Chivalrous Chef. ‘I tell you what, you come inside and I’ll cook you something but it will have to be “Chef’s Choice”’. He looked at me, a sad but valiantly fashionable and utterly useless creature and said ‘You’re too much of a lady for me to send you into town – it’s a bit rough down there – come in, you can pay me by donation – how’s that? Are you allergic to anything? What kind of food do you like?’
No. I eat anything. Whatever you give me is fine. Do you have wine? The malbec sounds lovely, thank you.
So then I got this:
That is blackened halibut, a lobster claw because Richard wasn’t sure if I’d get to try it in Nova Scotia and I had to. Mashed potatoe with julienned vegetables and a salad with maple dressing – which is the only way I want to ever eat salad, ever again. It was beautiful. I have never taken a picture of food because I like to think I am better than people who do that – yes, yes, I know, I’m a vile person with a really weird bag of measuring sticks and now you know. And now I’m not. I’m at one with the rest of the human race, again, and I could not be happier. Look at that food! Look at that lobster claw. Oh! And then there was Snow Crab. Did you know there are lots of different types of crab? Well there are. Leslie and Richard told me and Snow Crab is Leslie’s favourite seafood of all the seafoods. And this is a woman who has run a restaurant with Richard in Vancouver for 17 years before moving here with her husband, a local, seven years ago. And Richard’s favourite seafood is the Moreton Bay Bug and I’d just been telling Leslie about it and she never knew this about her husband – oh glorious evening of insight and revelation and gustation. And the Snow Crab was delicious. Flaky and sweet and really – it was better than the lobster. I asked about the music jam night at the newly opened Theatre Pub in town and if it was worth going. Richard said, by this time he’d had a chance to work out that I may dress pretty but tough really doesn’t throw me, that I’d be fine but he wanted me to know what I’d be in for. ‘You’d be the centre of attention with your accent , they’d all buy you drinks but there’d always be the one idiot yelling out if you knew Crocodile Dundee. Hang on, I’ll call them and see what’s going on.’ So he did and found out no-one had turned up because of the rain.
I learnt from Richard and Leslie these things:
They have two styles of cooking, one for tourists and one for locals. The locals like their steaks well done and it drives Richard mad because he uses really good steak. The tourist menu is superb – the bountiful seafood, then there is ‘Korean style steak’ – okay then! It’s an eclectic mix of what Richard loves to cook from his decades of experience in big city restaurants.
This is, or was, a fishing and mining town – Leslie told stories of how there used to be really big families, 12, 13 kids and how kids as young as nine went down in the mines. This is a tough town that has always worked hard – when coal was booming and the oceans were teeming with fish and when the mines closed and fishing dwindled they kept working hard, just for less return. Like our own Silver City the locals refer to outsiders as ‘from away’ – Leslie is still known and will always be known as ‘from away’. They don’t have kids and Leslie said if they did they’d be taken away because ‘you have to feed them right?’ The restaurant is their life and Richard proudly tells me that, like Crocodile Dundee, he bagged himself the gorgeous blonde tourist and brought her home. We both look at Leslie who smiles and we nod. He did good.
Then Richard refused to take what I wanted to pay, telling me this wasn’t Melbourne. We haggled. We split the difference. I’m ashamed at how little it was. Then he drove me home with a packet of his mother’s choc chip (gluten free) cookies because I did not have room for dessert. Of course he did. So that was my first night in North Sydney.