I took Grad and Lilian’s advice over the weekend – I went and had some fun. And I think they were right – it was probably just what I needed. Our friend J was having his birthday lunch at Kingsley’s down at Woolloomooloo wharf, so after cramming our usual Man Town Saturday routine into just a couple of hours (run, swim, breakfast with the papers in the courtyard, and stocking up at the farmers’ market), Llew and I donned some glad rags and set forth to make merry. It was a perfect afternoon for it, too, warm and sunny, and the assembled company – twenty of J’s good friends – was in the revelling way.
It was one of those great group things that doesn’t always happen: an ideal blend of people we already knew, so it was excellent catching up, and people we didn’t, so it was lovely chatting to interesting new folk too. Wine and conversation flowed, and our laughter clattered around the walls of the mezzanine area we had all to ourselves (there was another group in the adjacent private dining room, but short of their artfully tousled, highly chemically treated hair, we didn’t see much of them). Kingsley’s is a steakhouse, so as you’d expect it was all about the bleedin’ beef. Mine was excellent: eye fillet, medium rare. Delish. As was all my food. And wine. And I had plenty of both.
Still, all this being true, yesterday I couldn’t help but reflect on the eye-watering bill. I should have seen it coming, but it was still a very sobering shock when we were told the per person price. I think I audibly gasped. Put it this way: I’d gone to the ATM before arriving, having roughly estimated the cost, and I didn’t even have enough to cover one of us. I felt particularly sorry for Llew – I didn’t mind being stung half as much after vigorously partaking of every single thing on offer – I’d say that personally I gave that tariff a fair nudge – but Llew had a conference call 10 pm Saturday night, so he wasn’t drinking. Etiquette and commonsense demand people just suck it up in this circumstance, because that’s group dining and get over it, and these things really do come around one way or another, so please don’t start whingeing that you didn’t have dessert or that you want to work out what you had individually at a table of twenty people, because by Christ, this will be the ONE THING I will never, ever forget about you, and I can tell you right now that it won’t be a trait recalled with affection. Yes, bill haggling/squabbling/complaining is a pet peeve of mine – can you tell? So of course we just coughed up, of course, of course, but it simply meant that our combined ‘couple total’ was enough to make me… well, cough! And maybe cry a little – or more like muffle a scream into my white napkin. Ouch! That smarts!
But let’s analyse the way the restaurant actually managed this cash coup, because it was pretty smoothly done, that neat way they parted us from all those coconuts over the course of an afternoon. Perhaps we can all turn this knowledge into future profit ourselves someday, because there’s no doubt about it: these guys are making a killing. And I know how they do it. First: the menu. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Yes! It was a three-course set group menu, which worryingly didn’t include a price. Uh oh! Sound the alarm! Limited options ensure far less wastage, and most items on the menu were simply prepared and available in bulk, for example undressed oysters and whole eye fillet. Dessert was pavlova, an ingenious cost-saving option for the house because it’s made of egg whites and sugar. Second: wine and water. Now, these restaurateurs are NOT SILLY – talk about a captive audience: the birthday boy innocently chose four wine varieties from the list to be served with the meal, and henceforth the waiters kept producing fresh bottles whether we were in need of more wine and water or not. No questions asked! It was just like magic! Because who wants to be the one pooping the party by bringing this to everyone’s attention? Well, not me, even though I did start getting a little bit nervous, so of course wine and Italian mineral water verily flooded the table. Very shrewd: we couldn’t finish it all by the end.
Still, I’m a very firm believer that you have to do these things once in a while, particularly with good friends who want to share their birthday or some other milestone with you. I had a brilliant day (and night, because of course we carried on, first to the nearby Tilbury and then to the swishy swish Republic building apartment of two of J’s friends), and I know J did too, so if it means Llew and I are locked inside sitting on our hands for a week or two while our bank balance recovers, well, what of it? Sometimes the most important thing is just getting out there and living life, and goodness knows we’re giving that particular theory a bloody solid crack.