It's been a while between Steak N' Chicks Tuesdays, but I think we more than made up for it this month. Do you know how I know? I wore a bib. That's a sign that I'm very, very serious about eating. It's possibly also a sign that I have a dribble problem, but that's neither here nor there.
This time 'round, we were looking for a place with an outdoor area and summery food to match the temperate climate at this time of year. We were looking for a casual atmosphere, a good wine list, an affordable bill and as many bi-valve molluscs as we could cram into our faces. An impossibly tall order, you say? Not at all…
28th November 2006 – Bungalow 8, King Street Wharf.
I have some considerable reservations about the King Street Wharf strip. It all feels so brand new, and the bars and restaurants that crowd its length run the whole gamut from Too-Cool-For-School to Someone-Just-Vomited-On-My-Shoes. Every now and then, though, I'll have a brilliant time there, and this was one of those. Bungalow 8 is a big, open space with a massive outdoor area, a kitchen at one end and a bar that runs most of its length. Outside is sheltered enough to protect diners and drinkers from sudden, pelting rain (as it did last night), but open enough to get some mild breeze fluttering through one's glamorous, fashionable hair. I have no idea how anyone stays warm here in winter, but the cane chairs, chunky exposed beams and blocky outdoor couches scream Summer to me. Although the place was heaving, it still seemed spacious and relaxed.
As usual, I can't move on without mentioning the little chick's room, and the loos here are like a lot of loos in newish Sydney venues – shiny, blockish, dramatically lit, with taps that need instructions and a basin that looks like it's going to leave a wet smudge on your crotch. But doesn't. Quite nice – earthy tones, funky locks on the doors, but (as I discovered too late), not up to scratch on the old keeping-the-toilet-paper-refilled front. Nothing humbles a girl faster than a shouted plea for paper over a cubicle wall.
A good mix o' chicks – Me, Alex, Alyson, Di, Claire, Ella and SNCT virgins Milly & Rose – meant that as usual, conversation and wine egged each other on in a competition to be the most fluidly copious. More than one of the chicks had only eaten salad at lunch in order to leave their stomachs as ready as possible for disgusting amounts of food, which is the kind of forethought I really admire in a contemporary glutton.
The place was packed. Tuesday night is a popular night here, and I was very glad we booked ahead – easily three hundred people were fed and watered over the space of about three hours. The crowd was generally young and mixed, consisting of people from all walks of life who seemed to share a penchant for the Sucked Mango haircut. It's over, people. Let it go. Atmosphere was buzzy but not overwhelming, and if I hadn't been deep in both conversation and a pot full of mussels all night, I probably could have put in a good stint of conscientious perving.
I have never seen so many waitstaff in my entire life. The bar and kitchen area looked like it had just had a box of uniformed teenagers shaken open over it, swarming as it was with the keen-eyed, youthful help. Possible low-level brain activity was more than made up for with incredibly fast, efficient service. Empty glasses and teetering bucketfuls of empty mussel-shells were swiftly and effortlessly disposed of and (the best bit) replaced with fresh 'uns, and despite being almost overwhelmingly numerous, the staff were all so lithe and snake-hipped that they could swoosh past you with a tray full of empties and you'd hardly even feel the wind in their wake.
There are few phrases more deliciously titillating in life than "All You Can Eat". Tack the phrase "Mussels and Chunky Fries" on the end, and you've got a slice of gastronomic heaven. Tuesday night at Bungalow 8 is All You Can Eat Mussels and Chunky Fries (AYCEMACF) night, and I'm now a complete and subordinate slave to the concept.
I've been wary of mussels in the past – I've had some ineptly-cooked samples in the past which were unimpressive, so I'll usually order something else if given the choice. Also, being an emetophobe, I cringe at stories of one bad mussel turning unfortunate people into three-day chunder monkeys. All of my concerns dissolved the moment someone lifted the lid on their pot of gloriously-scented, black-shelled nuggets of liquoury loveliness. Fantastic.
On AYCEMACF night, you order your mussels from the bar, pay your eighteen dollars, and get a fetching blue wristband, the adhesive from which, in retrospect, should not be brought anywhere near one's delicate smattering of arm-hair. Virtually as soon as you've plonked your buttocks back on your seat, you're presented with a big black pot of steaming Tasmanian mussels, a side of "chunky" (jury still out on definition of "chunky") fries and a basket full of torpedo rolls. Mussels come in five different varieties – Thai Green Curry, White Wine, Laksa, Provencale, and Tom Yum. Based on aroma alone (and helped a bit by the fact that I tasted a bit of everyone's dinner. For the review, you understand..), I'd recommend the Asian flavours, although all were tasty.
Alyson had the subtle white wine variety, but loudly coveted Di's Tom Yum for its more intense flavour, and because Di was making appreciative grunting noises. In like, a really ladylike and sophisticated way, of course. Alyson noted that it didn't matter what flavour you had, dipping the bread in the broth afterwards was the business. Alex had the Laksa mussels, which came with delectably massive chunks of ginger and lemongrass, whilst Milly, Ella and I had the Provencale, with wedges of warm tomato and flecks of bacon. Rose and Claire, who said thousands of quotable blog-gems all night, didn't have the mussels, opting instead for great mountainous plates of salt-and-pepper squid. Granted, their meals looked a bit like they were brought to you by Colonel Sanders, but one taste (for the review, you understand) proved I was reading a book by its perfectly-spiced cover. Chips (still not comfortable with the misleading "chunky fries" thing) were not the highlight. Unseasoned, lukewarm and powdery. But oh my lord, the mussels were good. Bib-worthy, even.
After a good half hour of the sounds of slurping, lip-smacking and the clink of empty shell against empty shell, our pots were removed, and we were asked if we would like some more. Yes, we said.
Special mention must be given to what was (hopefully) a sign of freshness and authenticity. All of us (but mostly Ella), fished a small number of tiny, curled up crabs from our mussel-pots. It's as if they knew that there weren't enough risqué joke opportunities afforded by a bunch of girls at a table eating de-bearded shellfish from Tasmania – now we all had crabs. Phnar! Final crab tally at the end of the night was a massive 15 crustaceans.
The Summarising Bit
Nobody looks good in a bib. Nobody.
This is an excellent, excellent way to spend a Tuesday night, particularly if you start starving yourself around Sunday evening. Table manners are difficult to uphold when you're wrist deep in a bucket of mussels, which is exactly how it should be – this place is about really diving into the fresh, fresh critters with unabashed gusto, and mopping up the spoils with crusty bread afterwards. A couple of perfectly-suited wines on the list too, including my first Pinot Grigio.
There's certainly a novelty element to AYCEMACF Tuesday, but it's competently backed up with really good food (meh to you, chunky fries), and quick service. There were only a few things missing, which I've listed below:
· Nobody made a model of the Taj Mahal out of the empty mussel shells;
· Nobody made any of the empty mussel shells look like they were talking;
· Nobody put on a tiny crab puppet-show – there were easily enough collected to stage a mini-crab Idol; and
· Nobody invited Clive Owen.