Moby Doyles or The Fish (and chips)

“Aye, aye! And I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up.” – Captain Ahab

I woke as early as is reasonable for a cultured man on holiday, with but one thing in mind: The seeking and finding of Doyle’s on Watson’s Bay, before lunch! After a quick breakfast of granola bars, milk and coffee…ahh coffee… I set off from Bondi Beach YHA (a very fine place to stay) and boarded the first available bus to the point.

As the bus lumbered to a halt at the Watson’s Bay terminus I leaped to my feet and grabbed for my bag in hasty anticipation of the lovely battered white fish, and deep fried potato chips that were surely nearby, in space if not in time. I was carrying my full bag; the 20pound big bag along wit the daypack, as I had to move down south to Cronulla after this quest was complete. In my enthusiasm for fish, I wrenched my thigh muscle while trying to hoist the bag onto my shoulders just as the bus stopped. Of course physics being what they are the bag chose to continue on a little after the bus decided to stop, and it took a small fraction of my thigh muscle permanently away with it…I’ll heal, in time. But it is no time to tarry now, licking our wounds. If my deep study and preparation are to bear any fruit I must get off the bus and fine this legendary Doyle’s.

The bus terminus is at the top of a rolling little park just above the city facing side of the point and I staggered down towards the sea now in desperate hope that Doyle’s would be there near the waters edge.

We approach through the park and its splendor of foliage, look there, at the edge of the wharf, can it be? It looks suspiciously like a chip shop, cant make out the name yet. Wanting to sprint, but now feeling the injury of my right thigh, I take a gentlemanly stroll down, down, towards what fate has in store.

YES! Alas, this may not be proof in the efficacy of prayer, nor proof of a divine creator who aids men in their quests, but certainly that sign, that delightful painted clapboard sign, is as beautiful a sign as any Joan of Ark may have seen. “Doyles Fishermans Wharf” in pearl white letters over a sky blue background, and just below, a promise as powerful as the rainbow was to Noah, another sign: “Order Here”!

I had arrived. I approached with a spring in the step (even though my leg had commenced to complain of its ill treatment), to the counter where the lovely seafaring maiden was waiting to take my order.

It was too early for lunch, just 11am, so I asked in a nervous squeak (being afraid that any misstep might cost my a chance at ordering later) is there a locker nearby where I can store my bag? The fishwife (I am sure she must have been) said in the most lovely, down-to-sea accent: “Aw New The’rse no lockah ‘round heeyah” (she could have been from any English speaking fishing village, the accent was not Boston, Cockney or Australian, but rather ecumenical in that regard. “But if ya loik I could ask the boss if we could look after yo bag foh ya.” “Oh yes please” I said and after a moment she came back and told me all would be well, in time here astute observation would be proven correct.

I headed back up the hill to the Sydney Harbour National Park and had a stunning one-hour (and given the thigh strain, difficult) hike. It is really quite beautiful there, and in my meandering I stumbled on one of Australia’s Naval Bases. The MP was polite in turning me away from the restricted area, and onto “the path all the joggers take.”

With the lovely village explored, the rocks by the sea thoroughly trodden, time consumed, and hunger piqued, I sidled back down to that lovely fishwife to deliver my order. “One Seafood Combination please, with fresh scallops, calamari, prawns, fish and chips…and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.”

Doyles has two shops, a table service on the beach (about 100 feet away) and the wharf casual chip shop. They both have the same food and stunning view of Sydney, so save your coin unless you are entertaining, and eat your fish-n-chips the way nature meant for you to – casual style.

The meal? Honestly the Noosa Heads Surf Rescue Club in Queensland still has my award for best of the best, I think it is the atmosphere more than anything. Doyles is very good, and the adventure of finding it made it even more enjoyable, but it is a bit touristy with buses and ferries full of tourists coming in.

After lunch I collected my bag and generously tipped the fishwife for her invaluable service. She seemed surprised, but hey, that is my entire life possessions for the coming month in there, well worth ten AUD for the service.

Once sated I quickly boarded the bus to the train and the train to Cronulla, Sydney’s most southern beach town. Cronulla is not much to speak of, run down and apparently the host of a race riot in 2005, also home of a very long and dune-infused beachhead, as well as a National Surfing Reserve, and apparently the former home of 7 women who perished in the Bali Terrorist Bombings. Other than that, it has little to offer. The YHA there was unremarkable in every way, and if I could live it over I would have stayed elsewhere. Though I will say if you do find yourself in the area, the Italian restaurant, Fratelli De Mare is excellent, and my breakfast today at Kaffenio was also very good.

This afternoon I made my way back into the city to Glebe, where I am spending my final night in Sydney. Glebe is a quite and comfortable little area with row upon row of antique houses, and a mile long street of cafes and art shops, very pleasant and kind of newage-ish, actually a good sedate finish to a rather anxious and exciting first week on the road. I started my tour of Glebe with a stroll past Sydneys other bridge, (who’s names escapes me and is probably as unremarkable as the bridge itself); to the very promising Sydney Fish Market. The Market was great fun, and while I skipped past the many fish-n-chip offerings (my appetite sated, at least temporarily) I dined on fresh-cracked oysters and a fresh seafood and avocado pizza. I was surprised to find that Sydneys fishing flee it owned by connected-looking Italians. Grandma Gigante would have been proud.

My visit to Sydney was a mixed bag, some lessons learned, some unease remaining, interesting adventure, and more than a dollop of “what am I doing?” Henry and I are both suffering separation anxiety, but we agree to soldier on for now. Tomorrow I jump a morning flight to the top of Australia, Darwin.

Surprises, Both Kinds.

On Sunday November 16, 2008 I woke up early, broke my fast with some simple whole-meal toast and quahog jam. Then I hiked over to the nearest supermarket to buy packable food for a special journey. This leg (so short that it may only be a small toe) of my adventure required that I supply myself with enough food for at least dinner and breakfast, perhaps lunch as well. for where I was going, had no food (I can here my father yelp in horror now).

I checked out of the Sidney Railway Square Hostel, leaving behind my dorm bunk, and as I now note on my credit card statement, a double charge (remedy will be sought for that soon). I hauled my pack and self to the Central Station for a train to Circle Quay. From the Quay I rode the Manly Ferry (like a lot of Aussie names and terms, that sounds odd; perhaps a cross between a butch biker and a flaming queen?). Manly is a nice small coastal village (also something to do with the war effort, Major) round the Horne of the Sydney Harbour North Head.

I had a simple lunch in Manly at Nando’s, some faux chicken peri peri “quick service” chain. Meh, I have had better chicken and I have had much better peri peri, but still, it served its purpose as fuel well enough.

From Manly I rode the 156 bus for an hour-long journey through the beach suburbs of north Sydney until I reached the Church Point Warf. From Church Point I boarded the adorable and aptly named Church Point Ferry for a half hour ride through the waters of Morning Bay to Halls Warf, which is a half dozen planks nailed together and situated just below the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. From the Warf I had a 15-minute climb up into the forest for a nights stay at Sidney’s best kept secret: The Pittwater Youth Hostel, which is nestled on a hill at the edge of the National park with gorgeous, views overlooking Pittwater and Morning Bay.

As I arrived I met the only other quests staying that night, The Holmes’s, a retired couple from Michigan. It was Middle-American night at Pittwater YHA! We shared a delightful evening hike around some of the goat tracks on the hill and then we all helped to prepare a nice dinner (who says too many cooks spoil the broth? How many is too many?). With a tasty meal of baked penne (or Mostachiolli as Grandma would say), a bottle of red wine, and interesting talk of the world, all the while sitting out on that hill above the water; this was by far the best night I have had on thisjourney, and it will be hard to top.

In the morning, the hostel manger Michael, offered to take us all on an afternoon sail around the bay, I was sorely tempted to stay another night, and part of me regrets that road untraveled; but alas I had a date with Bondi Beach and what I have been told is the best fish-n-chips around.

After a quiet breakfast in the morning woods, and a gentle hike up to the nearby lookouts, I headed down for the multi-legged journey back to Bondi (ferry, bus, ferry, bus this time).

I arrived in Bondi at about 2:30 and quickly set down my gear and went in search of those fish-n-chips. Before I go further, I have to say that I think the Aussies have taken this classic British dish to new heights. Somehow Aussie fish seems fresher, the batter less greasy, and the chips are cooked crisp, not soggy. But that ain’t nothing compared to what our cousins down under can do with calamari and chips. I am known for my tasty, Italian-style baby calamari fritti, and with good rights too, I admit I make it very well indeed. And I say with all my heart, if I can’t eat my own calamari I’ll take any Aussie version in a New York second.  Mmmm that tender, sweet squid meat battered and sizzled gently in piping hot oil. Can’t be beat, really.

When I was planning my journey, a former Sydney person told me that Doyles in Bondi is the bee’s knees of the fish and chip hierarchy. And not just him, but more than a few guidebooks as well. Doyles, the one and only, must, I can has Doyles Fish and Chips?

So you see, I have taken this fish-n-chip recommendation seriously; one could call it a quest, and not be called out for hyperbole. And if the stars shine on me today, maybe even calamari and chips. Just maybe, if I am so blessed.

I set off and I walk. First up and down the beach, then the beach road. No Doyles.  I divide and quarter the town, as if I am searching for a lost child in the woods. No stone is left unturned.  No Doyles! It is nearly 4pm, me hungry. No Doyles! I’m about to break-up, quick iPhone, GPS, search Doyles, Must have Doyles. GPS tells me (at great expense) that Doyles is actually up the point from Bondi Beach another several miles. I break down, and cry. A kind girl with an American accent offers me a mediocre burger, famished and delirious with grief I accept. Burger consumed and spirit broken I return to my room to plot my revenge and eventual visit to Doyles on the beach.

Actually I didn’t return to my room straight away.  It was a bit too cool and cloudy today for a swim, and I am not that excited about sea swimming or surfing anyway. I am an avid reef snorkeler, but other than that I don’t do many water activities. So instead I take the very long and striking beach walk. Up and down and in and out of sandstone coves south from Bondi, on and on. I never did reach the end. Quite a beautiful coastline, somewhere I could imagine retiring too some day, were it not for all the icky surfers.