Road food

A long time ago The Age paid me to fly to Sydney and have dinner at Tetsuya’s. The dinner cost about a grand, the booze about half that again, and of course they had to pay me for my words. I wrote a two thousand word essay at a buck a word. Spent a lot of time talking about the truffle butter. I’ll do that for a dollar a word.

Long story short, it was a great meal and I recall it fondly. (I also recall Duran Duran were sitting at the next table, but that’s hardly Tetsuya’s fault). 

Funny thing is, I remember my breakfast at a cafe in North Bondi the next morning just as well. Poached eggs, crispy bacon, grilled tomato and hollandaise on a toasted English muffin. None of the technique or super premium ingredients from the previous evening’s meal. But every bit as enjoyable with a decent coup of coffee.

I was put in mind of the contrast a couple of days ago in Pottsville, a small seaside town in northern NSW, and home to Pipit, Ben Devlin’s Tets adjacent noshery. I fucking love Pipit. I love it for all the same reasons I loved eating at Tets’ and every other high end, super-premium greasy spoon joint I ever strapped on a feed bag. I love meals I couldn’t possibly imagine on my own, never mind cook. I love to contemplate the absolutely neurotic fetishising of every detail, from sourcing to plating to insanely obscure wine matching. I just love the fucking magic of it. And then, when I’m done, I’m just as likely to make my next feed a lot burger with a beer, or a ham-n-cheese toastie.

I don’t think the appreciation for these things should be a one-way street.

I last ate at Pipit during the the last Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, which I’m pretty sure was the very last festival I attended before Ms Rona had her way with us. To be honest, I was a bit worried that Devlin might have struggled to stay open – because so many places have closed.

But, turns out, no worries.

He was still rattling the pans in the open kitchen, still holding fast to his very particular philosophy of ethical and sustainable dining. The first time we’d pulled in there, I was a bit taken aback by the bowl of raw veggies that came out early. This time I was ready. The leaves and shoots and root vegetables are always super fresh, full of their own flavour, and pretty much perfect carrier vessels for whatever Pipit’s saucier has created. 

This time, they turned up with a couple of pleasingly bizarre sides. A sort of tiny taco made of nasturtium leaves, watermelon and tuna sashimi, and a pastry cup filled with tomatoes and a salty, smokey seafood praline. Recalling that review meal in Sydney, the sourdough with macadamia butter was so fuck-off brilliant that I would have been cool to just fill up just on warm bread and butter.

But that would have left no room for the potato noodles with lobster, lemon and green garlic, the crispy skin duck breast, or the crab thingy that I forgot to make any notes about. I do recall it was crunchy, sweet, salty and a little bit mystifying. But good mystifying. Not QAnon Jewish Space Laser mystifying.

I loved it all, but within a day I was pulling up a chair at Payu Thai in Yamba, and tucking into a big messy bowl of Pad Thai with local prawns that was just as satisfying, even though ‘real’ Pad Thai would never come with little trees. Likewise, the burger shop behind the pub at the top of the hill will be trousering my hard earned in the next couple of hours and I’ll probably be putting away a fair bit of pizza down in the village before I’m finished.

Is there a point I’m trying to get to here?

I dunno. I just feel that we get ourselves all worked up over stuff and differences these days that really isn’t worth getting worked up over. It should be possible to enjoy All The Things, or at least your favourite things without having to go to war over other people’s things.