Special dispatch: bills, Sydney, Australia
433 Liverpool St
Sydney, NSW 2010
+61 (2) 9360 9631
by Sunni Sidup
There are certain unquestionable truths that you grow up with as an Australian. Christmas will always be scorching; Vegemite is a perfectly decent thing to eat; thongs are things that you wear on your feet; Richie Benaud will dominate the airwaves in the summertime; Asian food is cheap and resolutely delicious; suntans are a right; ‘mate’ is a suitable greeting for people you don’t like or even know; and somewhere, along the line, your family members are likely to have come from somewhere else.
It’s not until these family members come to visit – curious to get a glimpse of their antipodean cousins – that you begin to question such naturalised notions. Suddenly the eating of Vegemite is scorned; ‘thongs’ are deemed wholly inappropriate attire; red-faced relatives look uncomfortable wearing shorts to Christmas lunch. Everything you once thought was normal is now, apparently, not. And this extends to your breakfast garnish.
It has recently been brought to my attention that Australian cafes cannot serve breakfast without a side of rocket. This is something that most Australians likely will have noted but never questioned; we are far too busy merrily chomping the bitter leaf down with our poached eggs on soy and linseed. Malcolm Eggs, the editor of this blog and, incidentally, the person who observed this strange phenomenon, has asked me to get to the bottom of it. I asked friends, waitstaff and everyday Australians why we felt the need to garnish our breakfast plates with fancy lettuce. Here is what they came up with:
1) Rocket is to spinach what Australian Breakfast tea is to English Breakfast tea: essentially the same thing but with our own stubborn take on it.
2) It’s a cheap way to fill up a big plate. And Australian cafes love a big, white plate.
3) Rocket is an aspirational lettuce. It reflects our dreams of home ownership and quarter acre
4) Rocket is peppery, robust and dynamic – like all most Australian men.
5) Like quinoa, macchiatos and merguez, a little bit of rocket (sorry, arugula) makes us feel cultured on a daily basis.
6) Rocket is just the contemporary version of semi-sundried tomatoes and pesto.
7) It’s a lifestyle thing, y’know?
None of the above is particularly enlightening. So ingrained is rocket in our daily consumption that we have come to think of it as a desirable – perhaps even essential – condiment. No one that I spoke to was averse to the dear old leaf. But then no one had paid much attention to it either. Like sands through the hourglass, so rocket was slipping by unnoticed: a constant, but insignificant part of our daily Australian lives.
I knew there was only one place I could go to put this theory to the test; that quintessentially Australian stalwart of the breakfast dining scene, bills. Opened by Bill Granger (the Flaxen-haired, forever-barbequing, food magazine pin-up) in 1993, the original bills in Darlinghurst is still the veritable breakfast of choice for Sydney’s early risers.
Located in an area of Sydney once colloquially known as ‘Razorhurst’, these days the bills morning crowd are more ‘push-bike’ than ‘Push’ gang. On a Saturday morning the place is full of shiny, happy people. There is not a hangover in sight. Lycra is the attire of choice. Soy lattes are ordered freely. A chef darts out and returns with a bag of green leaves. I order a stack of sweetcorn fritters; my companion a ‘full aussie breakfast’. We sit back and wait for the rocket onslaught to begin.
But lo – what is this? We both get spinach with our meals. The woman at the table next to me has boiled eggs with a side of salsa. A trendy youth across the room orders a wagyu beef burger which comes without any form of lettuce. The only green side option on the menu is avocado. I feel as though my brain is going to implode. My faith in Australian stereotypes is shattered. You can discount everything I have written above. Who am I? Where am I? And why is there no rocket!?