I left the hostel early on Saturday morning and headed towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They offer organized “bridge climbs” and I had decided to do that as my big adventure for Saturday #26. It’s an insanely expensive tourist attraction ($225 – $325 depending on time of day) but I’m treating it as a Christmas present to myself. (The iPhone was a pre-Christmas present in case you’re wondering.)
My first stop was a pretty little café overlooking the water in Woolloomooloo. I ordered Eggs Benedict for $17 and received two perfectly poached eggs. At least they would be considered “perfectly poached” had I ordered them rock hard, which I did not. The eggs arrived on two pieces of toast sans crust. The toast was so small that a poached egg completely obscured it. A side dish contained no more than four teaspoons of Hollandaise sauce.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the waitress had told the chef, “We got a biggie on Table 5; hold the pan fries and easy on the Hollandaise.”
There was no potato. No side salad. No garnish. Not even a radish or some parsley. Coffee was another four bucks. At least there’s no sales tax in Australia so I got out of there just $21 lighter.
Later in the afternoon I stopped at an upscale pub called The Bourbon. I sat on the crowded patio and waited about 20 minutes before I even saw a staff member. When I caught the uniformed-woman’s attention and asked for a Brooklyn Lager, she barked, “Order at the bar.”
I would have considered something like “You can order at the bar” or “Sorry, I can’t take orders but they’ll be glad to help you at the bar” to be appropriate responses. Even if it was the bar’s policy, “Order at the bar,” just sounded rude. Perhaps the woman was just having a bad day. There can’t be much money in tips when the place doesn’t really offer any service and you’re left to clean tables after customers have left. I didn’t feel like sticking around to share her bad day so I got up and left.
A few doors down the street I came to the Sugar Mill. By now I knew the drill: order your food and beverage at the bar, pay cash or incur the wrath of the bartender for making him/her operate the Visa terminal, then take a highly visible number to your table and wait for the food to be delivered. I ordered Tiki Chicken on a Bun with fries. It was the Special of the Day.
When the server (and I use the term loosely) delivered the basket of food to my table she plunked down two large steak knives with wooden handles. You hardly need a steak knife to eat a 3.5 oz piece of boneless chicken when it’s served on a bun the size of a football. I politely asked for a fork and some ketchup for the fries. “By the back wall,” she said, pointing vaguely towards the end of the bar.
None of these complaints are life changers or even day-changers. I can walk up to the bar and pay by cash every time I order a beer (they don’t run tabs), and I can roam around a crowded restaurant until I find three small packs of ketchup sitting on an otherwise empty shelf in the hallway leading to the bathroom. Eating fries with my fingers wasn’t going to a problem when there wasn’t enough ketchup in the whole joint to make a mess.
I fully expected and got similar service in countries like Peru and Bolivia. The difference being that in South America I didn’t pay $9 for the cheapest drink on the menu and I certainly didn’t pay $17 for a tiny chicken thigh (yes, thigh) on a bun.
Don’t get me wrong; I am thoroughly enjoying Sydney. I’m enjoying 25-30C temperatures in the last week of the year. Other than servers, I find the people to be incredibly friendly. And I’m sure I will enjoy the city some more when I return in time for Mardi Gras in early March, but for now I’m looking forward to spending six weeks in New Zealand. I will spend Saturday #27 – the first Saturday of the New Year – in Auckland.
Oh, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb? I was in no shape to be climbing bridges after a liquid lunch at the Sugar Mill. The bridge can wait until I return.