"What! We're going there for lunch?"
When I'd invited Geet to accompany Lox and I for lunch at Oceanic Cafe, no doubt she'd had lovely notions of a cosy little eatery, a whooshing espresso machine in the corner, maybe a cute barista with a raised eyebrow and a knowing smile, and a menu filled with smoked salmon bagels, roasted vegetables on Turkish, and baby salad leaves crumbled over with goats cheese.
Instead she's staring at online pictures I've pulled up of Sydney's oldest intact cafe, meaning the decor, furniture and menu have remained unchanged since perhaps the 1920s.
The shopfront certainly looks that way. A general sense of dilapidation pervades the air, from the peeling paint on the walls, to the sagging ceiling near the entrance, to the olden booth seating that flanks the dining room. The hastily written white-paint menu has gone from the windows.
We squeeze our way into the pew-like seating, fully aware of how much fatter we are compared to the lithe-like creatures from yesteryear. We perch on narrow benches, conscious of the unrelenting discomfort of the hard-back seating, and become aware of how our wider girths force us to sit that much closer.
The speckled blue and white laminate tables are scratched heavily, and there's even a noticeable dip where the salt and pepper shakers have been pushed from their side post towards the middle and their seated requester. There's a smell of grease in the air and behind us we notice an open bag of potatoes, half-peeled, the potatoes resting patiently on yesterday's newspaper.
Our presence in the cafe causes some consternation with the lady who shuffles over to take our order.
"You might want to go up the road. They've got more things on the menu there," she says nervously, when she tells us there are no rissoles available today. She looks down briefly at the ground before announcing "I've got sausages, chops and lamb's fry. The rissoles are frozen. They ain't cooked yet. You can have sausages instead."
We nod obligingly.
"You know they're $9 chops," she sqawks to Geet when she places her order. "They're not the $5 ones. They're $9, okay?"
I'm keen to try the lamb's fry. "Lamb's fry? That's liver, you know." I nod again.
The smell of oil and lamb fat increases as the mother and daughter team bustle in the tiny kitchen out the back. A lone construction worker enters. He sits facing the street, quietly placing his order with the apparent ease of a local.
Our meals are preceded with side plates bearing two slices of fresh fluffy white sandwich bread. A pat of butter comes in a little silver dish.
Lamb loin chops with onion, chips and peas $9.00
Chips, peas and onion gravy accompany all our meals. The chips are hand cut into wedges, fried to a golden brown with darker uneven splotches. A ladle of onion gravy is mildly sweet and sour, a jumbled cascade of bright green peas are sweet and juicy.
Lamb's fry (liver) with onion, chips and peas $5.00
My lamb's fry is cut into chunky slices, and pan-fried to a rubbery crisp. I swap half for one of Lox's beef sausages, which is also well-cooked and has such a crunchy skin I'm convinced it's been deep-fried as well.
Sausages with onion, chips and peas $5.00
Lox and Geet both relish the chips which are almost meaty in flavour, albeit heavy with grease. It's a funny flashback too, to be eating a meal that threatens to slide off the plate with every jab of your fork. The novelty of a small round lipped bistro dish is instantly apparent, a marked contrast to the usual expanse of never-ending white in a trendy square shape.
Hand-made chips with sandwich bread
It's like a step back in time in this living history museum. It's a memorable meal not just for the food, but the characters, the atmosphere, the stories the walls wishes it could tell.
Here's to it surviving for many more years to come.
312 Elizabeth Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 1885
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7/01/2007 10:31:00 p.m.