When I lie in bed at night, I wonder who reads my stories. Outside my circle of friends, who text and email and call to heap too-generous praise, I wonder who reads until the end. I wonder how the stories make them feel. Maybe hungry, maybe happy, maybe a little bit sad; I hope they feel something. I wonder about my grammar, unchecked by subs, if it is (was?! were?!) correct. I wonder if they’d tell a friend or come back next week to read again.
On a chill autumn evening, mid-week in Marrickville, our dinner plans are dictated by curiosity. On the normally suffocated-with-traffic Addison Road we score a park directly outside our destination, the street quiet with the cold and the dark. Through plate glass the bright room is empty, tables, chairs, art and ornaments arranged with the careful consideration of people passing time, keeping busy.
Inside, the quiet waitress offers us a table for two in the window, by the door, and earnestly checks on our comfort before leaving us with menus. South American muzak plays softly but is deafening in the hushed room. We talk in whispers and start with Causa D’Pollo: a traditional mashed yellow potato terrine, seasoned tender chicken fillets, lemon juice and Peruvian aji Amarillo (hot yellow chili), served with homemade mayonnaise and avocado ($18).
From our table I can see directly in to the kitchen and watch as the chef pours his all in to our entrée – his only order and sole focus. My heart aches for him. The quiet waitress stands by to observe his final flourishes, before delivering the creation to the table. Exquisitely beautiful, soft pastel layers adorned with a crown of flowering herbs and swirl of pale lilac mayonnaise, the terrine is nothing I imagined. The potato is waxy and well-salted, the ‘seasoned tender chicken’ does exactly what it says on the box, with aplomb, and mellow, fleshy avocado and piquant mayonnaise are woven evenly amongst the layers. The whole lot is tart and lemony, impossible to resist and a pity to dismantle. It’s a dish that’s completely new to me, yet laden with nostalgia.
As we wait for our mains, two smiling women arrive and greet the quiet waitress with hugs and laughter before settling at a table close to the kitchen; friends stopping by to eat and heap well-deserved praise.
In good time the Steak A lo Pobre of beef fillet fried with Peruvian aji Colorado (dried red chili paste), served with fries, steamed rice, fried egg and a small salad ($22) arrives. The skirt steak has a pleasantly pink heart, the fries are in fact thick batons, under-seasoned but damn good potato, with a mound of white rice topped with a fried egg hat to sop up the minerally, smokey sauce. Our quiet waitress hovers close to her friends as they pick at a whole roast chicken, watching us furtively. The Lomo Saltado cubes of beef fried with Spanish onion, fresh tomato slices and parsley is also served with the double-carb combo of ‘fries’ and steamed rice ($20). The elements are each fresh and uncomplicated, however wanting salt.
Baked milk and rice pudding are beckoning to us from the dessert menu when our quiet waitress apologetically admits that tonight there is only ice cream on offer. I wouldn’t bake a cake with no one there to eat it, either.
As we leave the empty restaurant and brace ourselves against the cool night, I wonder if our $80 is enough. I wonder if it’s enough for these two quiet, proud people to open the doors again tomorrow. I wonder what they wish for as they lie in bed after a long, lonely service. I fall asleep full of warming food and hope for Mancora Peruvian Restaurant.