It was a running joke that Keith, Alison, Will and I would one day go on a 50s-style double-date. You know, just like in Archie comics or on Happy Days, with us all sipping milkshakes out of heart-shaped straws and hoeing down burgers and fries between sitcom-style punchlines. With a jukebox blaring the kind of classic old songs used in musical montages for coming-of-age films.
(We’re not quite yet noirish and ironic enough for something like the Jack Rabbit Slims diner in Pulp Fiction – an adrenalin shot spiked through the chest ain’t really our idea of post-dessert fun.)
We couldn’t really think of any place in Sydney that fit our 50s-diner description though, so short of dusting off a time-porting Delorean that happened to be in the garage, we cheated and went for a comic/sitcom-style double-date with a 2008 twist – I guess in the same way fancy chefs will do a “deconstruction” of a classic dish – a tiramisu that’s made of choc panna cotta and mascarpone or a bouillabaise cooked in a coffee percolator, etc.
So we were going to have cheap and greasy Chinese food and then go out for ice cream sundaes after. Except we were photo-swayed by the Japanese restaurant next door to our pre-ordained noodle-and-dumpling joint (those cheesy food pics plastered on windows do work!). So that’s how we ended up dining in Menya in Chinatown instead.
The place was pretty busy and the waitress at the counter said there would be a bit of a delay, suggesting we might not be prepared for how long and toe-tapping the wait would be. “Five or ten minutes,” she warned us, giving us leeway to totally back the hell out of that big dining hold-up. I love how ridiculously polite the whole exchange was. Being pretty hardy people, we were ready to sit out a whole handful of minutes without food. (Especially as Will once waited two hours for a table at Longrain.)
In one of those sickly moments of couple-synchronicity, Will and I both opted for the Vegetable Japanese Curry Set ($11), which came with a satisfying bowl of ramen on the side. (Perfect – because everyone always wants a little noodle fix, but can’t always commit to a mega-bowl stacked with wheat curls.) I’ve never had Japanese curry before, so I enjoyed its sweet and light riff on the usually savoury-rich template. And the perky and tart shreds of pickled vegs on the side also gave it a nice kick. It was a good dish but I totally admit to having Meal Wandering Eye and was jealous of other diners who had these multi-compartmentalised dishes, with extra niches and hollows for sauces and salads and rice. There’s nothing better than a meal that has all its components herded up and neatly filed away into cubicle-like order – so hyper-civilised! I guess it’s also precautionary too, in case some agedashi tofu puff or mound of teriyaki gets way out of control, and wants to hurl over the plastic borders of its tray in a crazed prison break.
After dinner, we walked to Passionflower for dessert. It reminded me a little of the hotfooting that takes place between the stages of a Progressive Dinner Party (a phenomenon that I’m a big fan of, though it is sadly out-of-fashion). You do need to set aside a bit of belly room for a visit to Passionflower, because the desserts can be as stomach-filling as mains. So we made sure we “under-ate” at Menya, in order to heighten our greedy-guts possibilities when it came to sweets. Alison went for the most goth dessert I’d seen – a big glass of black sesame ice cream and agar and condensed milk. It was a rather classically Asian dessert dish – which seems to be geographic tone of the menu. (Incidentally, talk of condensed milk also brought up everyone’s childhood addiction to sucking tubes of that cloying goodness dry. Lordy.)
I went for a Geisha San ($14): made of scoops of green tea and lychee ice creams, with lychee pieces and orange compote. It was plain refreshing fun.
As we spooned through our desserts, we watched a family of six share a huge bowl of scoop-scattered ice creams. It made you think that all family matters should be convened through gelato consumption. (And maybe all UN conferences should be moderated through mounds of cookies & cream, vanilla, choc and passionfruit ice? Imagine how relations could improve between countries real tetchy with each other.) It was like something out of a sitcom – except there was no cheesy laugh track and they really didn’t seem to be really talking to each other. Sometimes the quiet rush of sugar says just enough.
Menya, Shop TG8, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket, (02) 9212 1020
Passionflower, Atrium Street Level, Capitol Square, 730-742 George Street, Sydney (02) 9281 8322