The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room is located where the Brooklyn stood for many years at the corner of George and Grosvenor Streets. The Brooklyn was always a popular haunt of journalists from several then nearby and now defunct publishing houses. Towards the end, the Brooklyn hosted RnB nights and became more of a low rent pokie den then a destination venue for a night out. I won my first poker machine jackpot — around $150 — at the Brooklyn in 2000.
I had eaten at The Morrison once before, the night of Black Caviar’s 25th and final win in the autumn of 2013. Furnished with wood panelling, stools and an island bar, The Morrison has a Chicago during Prohibition feel to it and was something of a trendsetter, having opened well before the speakeasy fad gripped the Sydney CBD. There were five of us that Saturday night last year and the food and service were very good. One of those five was my companion when I returned last night after wandering around VIVID Sydney for a few hours. We were looking for a nice a la carte meal at 8:15pm and were in the mood to spend some money.
When we entered The Morrison, we asked the hostess for a table for two and she said it would be a short wait. Like when you’re waiting for a seat at a casino poker table, she took my mobile phone number and said she would text me when it was ready.
My companion and I headed to the bar for a stand-up drink while we waited. A glass of on-tap Kosciuszko Pale Ale served in a pretentious ‘schmiddy’ costs $7.50 each and I was happy to note that payment could be processed via PayWave. The beer tasted pretty good and the atmosphere was lively. We were having quite an intellectual conversation about whether expectant parents of disabled children should be able to terminate the pregnancy and why Christians don’t want to die immediately so they can go to heaven and it quickly become 30 minutes without any message on my phone. I had taken to holding my iPhone 5s in my hand and impulsively waking up the screen every minute or so, not unlike a recently dumped lovelorn loser waits for the heartbreaker that never apologises.
Eventually, a different waitress came up to us to say that she’d noticed us standing around for a long time. She asked if were waiting for a table. We replied we were; it seems the text message system is more for show than utilitarian value. Apparently the original hostess had finished her shift but she would soon have a table made up for us. It was a good table — perhaps the best in the venue — set adjacent to the window overlooking George Street. I was sat facing Circular Quay while my companion looked up George Street towards Wynyard Station.
When a tall, bald waiter delivered our menus, he made it clear to us that we had very little time to make a decision as the kitchen was about to close. He took the salt and pepper off the table with him at this time. When he returned 30 seconds later he demanded our orders. We ordered a mixed dozen oysters to share; I chose the grass fed eye fillet, cooked medium, with no sauce; my companion also ordered the eye fillet, well done. We were encouraged to order sides as these steaks would be served sans fixings on a large white plate. We elected for the duck fat chips and the green leaf salad. I took off my RRP $449 personally engraved Sennheiser headphones, placed them on the table, and excused myself to walk up the two flights of stairs to use the restroom.
When I returned, I was given some bad news:
“They are out of chips,” my companion said.
“There are no chips?”
“The waiter says the kitchen has run out of potatoes.”
“Can’t they just go out on the street and buy some more?”
“It could be that we are at the precipice of the next potato famine. I ordered the Brussels sprouts instead.”
Now colour me entitled but when I go to an American-style restaurant on a Friday night for dinner; a place with steaks and burgers and fish and chips and chips on the menu, I expect there to be chips available. I don’t care that they cost a ridiculous $10 per serve, which nominally works out at around 75 cents per chip when they are served in those ridiculous conical ornaments festooned with faux newsprint, which is as suitable a repository of fried potato as it is a contraceptive device — I really don’t care about that — all I care about is that when I order a tiny piece of meat for $30 that I have something starchy to mop up the sanguine secretions post gorging. Sure, Brussels sprouts served with jamon crumbs, whatever that means, is a suitably pretentious alternative and it too cost $10, so it was at least a decadent vegetable option, but I just wanted to eat some fucking chips.
It didn’t take long for our oysters to arrive: they were served on a bed of ice with a small dish of Balsamic in the spoke position. There were three lemon wedges, two forks and one spoon. There was no salt and pepper, as the limited condiment selection had already been cleared, and instead of Tabasco sauce we had to make do with a private label New Zealand brand of hot sauce called Kaitaia. Unlike Tabasco, which is quite watery, Kaitaia is gluggy and its spicy taste lacks subtlety and nuance. The skill of Tabasco is its initial piquant hit, which recedes quickly, allowing you to savour other tastes. Kaitaia lives for too long in the mouth. My first oyster tasted of Kaitaia, the rest were quite delicious. Because there was only one spoon, we had to take turns serving Balsamic. We ran out of lemon.
The night was progressing pleasantly and the conversation had turned to the ridiculous format of the upcoming 2015 Cricket World Cup. There was also a discussion of Australia’s chances as the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I said that Australia as a collective force seems to be underestimating how good Chile is. Luis Suarez having knee surgery had adversely affected my tip of Uruguay winning the whole thing.
When the steaks arrived, my companion ordered another Kosciusko while I asked for a nice Merlot to accompany my eye fillet. It was dealer’s choice: the server-cum-sommelier fetched me a glass of the Even Keel out of Orange, in New South Wales. At $15.50, It was the second most expensive Merlot on the menu — there is also a $24 glass out of the McLaren Vale — but I guess he thought that would be eating too much into his tip. It tasted pretty good.
Turns out ‘jamon crumble’ is French for tasteless, unnecessary breadcrumbs that get on everything. The Brussels sprouts were okay and my Mum will be pleased to read that I ate several of them. The salad was revolting: full of too many large, cabbage style leaves that added nothing to the dining experience. Our steaks were cooked to our specifications and my companion and I agreed they were sumptuous.
By this stage, the tall, bald waiter had been replaced by a surly and ethnically ambiguous young girl — think Jessica Alba but minus all her positive attributes — her hair had been tinted in a reddish brown and she was wearing fake eyelashes so she looked like a sex worker. She treated us with the sort of insouciant ambivalence that you normally only find at Centrelink counters, RTA offices and myriad Pacific Islands during the afternoon in summer. She really did not care. Her heart was so not into her job that I would surprised if it were in the same city as her person. She was a true credit to apathy!
Having cleared up our empty plates, she thrust the menu back on the table, saying that if we wanted dessert we would have to order it right now. She lazily pointed at the pitiful dessert menu — just two items — and made it as clear to us as possible that we were not welcome to either the chocolate brownie or the cheese board. She stole my headphones off the table.
Having successfully convinced us not to order anything sweet and visited her kleptomania on us, she brought us the bill: $179. We didn’t leave a tip.
Thirty seconds to one minute after leaving, I realised I didn’t have my headphones. I ran back to the restaurant. I know from the time on the receipt and the time I arrived back, when I checked my phone, that four minutes passed between when my credit card payment was transacted and my return. That includes the time it took the waitress to walk to my table, collect my signature, my companion and I to collect ourselves, put on jackets, say goodbye, walk 20 metres up the street and then return.
I had a rushed conversation with a woman purporting to have a management position among the wait staff. She was not someone I had spoken to earlier in the evening.
“I was here literally minutes ago; we were sitting there,” I said, pointing at the table five metres away.
“Well nobody has handed the headphones in,” she said.
“Have you spoken to the wait staff about it — they were on table and then after the waitress cleared it they were gone.”
“She didn’t say anything”
“Have you asked her properly?”
I realised now that this was all in vein. The shutters were up and there was no way the restaurant was going to admit one of its staffmembers had stolen a pair of headphones. I left my name and number with the manager (?) and departed again. A different staff called me today to say she had a note to call me to say she didn’t have my headphones.
Had the staff not stolen my headphones I would thoroughly recommend The Morrison for a nice meal, provided you arrive before the nightly re-enactment of Ireland’s greatest tragedy and bring your own Tabasco sauce.