The first Australian city I visited and stayed in was Perth. We stayed with my first wife’s cousin. It was a stepping stone to a round the world jaunt – Bangkok, Teheran, Istanbul, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles and places in between.
Many of my acquaintances did their overseas experience when they finished their varsity courses. I didn’t. I caught the travel bug later. I visited many places, but the one I felt most at home and comfortable in was Sydney. Several visits confirmed its charm. I was lucky, always sunny weather, a sparkling harbour.
The sails of the Opera House and the strength of the Harbour Bridge were eye-catching. The history of the Rocks area was appealing. The zoo was fascinating. The ferries were adventure. The Blue Mountains were different from our mountains. The city was containable, walkaround was easy and the bookshops were treasure troves. Shows at the Opera House were exciting.
Patrick, Anne’s youngest son, shifted to Sydney. We visited him. He planned a career in the hospitality industry. Later, I on an education visit, took him to Doyle’s famous fish restaurant for a midday meal. It was the last time I saw him for he died in an accident a few months later.
Sydney suddenly became a no-go area. And then Anne won a raffle – a thing she rarely does – a trip to Sydney to hear Pavarotti sing. It was almost as if we were meant to go back.
Pavorotti was superb. It was a glamour evening.
The other thing about that trip was I’d been given a year’s subscription to Gourmet Traveller magazine. It was at the beginning of my cooking phase. Just before we went to Sydney there was a cover article about the restaurants of Sydney. We did our research.
There was an article about Tetsuya’s, a new restaurant in the suburb of Rozelle. Tetsuya was Japanese. He’d arrived in Sydney at the age of 22 years and started work as a café dishwasher. He'd progressed to his own place. The day we arrived in Sydney we rang up. We were lucky, there’d been a cancellation so we fluked a booking.
The place was so obscure the taxi-driver got lost. I map-read him to the place. I wish I’d kept a diary. It was the nicest meal I’ve ever had. My main was ox-tail wrapped in won-tons. Dessert was a mango and gorgonzola mascarpone tart. It was BYO. I’d bought a bottle of good Australian red. The waiter treated it deferentially. I’m sure he thought ‘cheapskate’.
Anne forgets what she had. But she recalls scrumptious flavours. There was a mouthwatering sorbet between courses. It was a meal to remember. We did not realise it at the time. But we had dined at the establishment of one of the great chefs of our era.
Later, Tetsuya bought the Suntory resturant in Kent Street in the heart of the city. There are now huge waiting lists.
We dined well for the rest of that short visit. I am pleased we made it. My lasting memories of Sydney now include the finest singing I’ve been privileged to hear and the finest meal it's been my joy to eat. After that visit we had no desire to go back.
The 2018 Book Council Lecture
2 days ago