Everyone knows first is the best. To wit: the 1986 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the initial chip from a packet of Salt and Vinegars; Home Alone; Mickey Rooney’s original wife (of eight); the chicken; the egg. Add to this illustrious list, Wilson’s, the self-proclaimed ‘first Lebanese restaurant in Sydney. Est 1957.’ It’s cold, the horse’s birthday and dinnertime in Redfern on the night we walk in. My first impression? Brown. From the chocolate-brown carpet, to the mission-brown laminate tabletops, with matching vinyl chairs, and the ceiling, tented with dirty-brown parachute fabric. Literally dirty, with blooming rust stains. Strangely, suspiciously phallic shapes weigh the parachute down in random spots, raising questions as to where the rest of the body is kept. But first is the best and we barrel on accordingly. From the word doc menu we order vine leaves ($9.50 for 8), the mixed entrée of hommos, baba ghannouj, tabbouli, falafel and tahini ($16, serves two) and a mixed grilled plate of shish kebab, shish tawook, kafta, shawarma and sausages ($35, serves two). ‘Do you think I should stop drinking coffee?’ I ask. ‘Yep.’ He replies. ‘Are you just saying that?’ I press. ‘Yeah.’ It’s a routine conversation, comforting in it’s familiarity. ‘Do you think I’d make a good spy?’ I wonder, so often looking for opportunities to diversify my portfolio. ‘Because of your agility, firearm skills and composure under pressure?’ The vine leaves are served warm, with a cool yoghurt dip; they are mild, with a soft breath of cardamom. ‘I think I could be a good cater-waiter, don’t you?’ I continue, considering a casual, cash-paying weekend job. ‘What, because of your unwillingness to talk to people? Your whisper-quiet voice and discomfort in social situations?’ We take delivery of a plate of smoky, earthy dips and lemony-tart tabbouli, with a basket of flat bread and a plate of pickles. We both love pickles. The meat plate is hot, a bed of flavourlogged white rice piled with tender chicken and beef. Tasting of the grill, lemon, salt and faintly of cinnamon and fresh herbs, it’s brown and finished quickly. ‘Another person called me “weird in a good way” today. Do you think I’m weird?’ I query. ‘No, you’re not weird.’ I’m pleased. ‘Of course you are, you weirdo!’ He recants, noting my blush of vindication. I’d ask him anything, because there’s no one who’ll give me a more honest answer. He made the call that jump-started my stalled career; I cried and cried on his shoulder when I thought my heart could never hurt more; he gave me a home and his heart when my life came unmoored. He’s the first friend I’d call, and concurrently, is proof of the opposing rule, ‘first the worst, second the best…’ In the beginning, almost ten years ago, he looked witheringly from my under-cut bob haircut down to my ugly shoes and asked, ‘who’s this freak?’ Then ordered me to, ‘stop staring, you freak.’ He still tells me to stop staring, but six times out of ten it’s for my own safety.

Wilson’s Lebanese Restaurant


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