When you dine alone, the staff are extraordinarily kind to you – their kindness, in fact, hinging on pity. After all, to be the sole diner amongst couples and groups of friends is a terribly depressing thing. Such was my experience at Josie Bones in Melbourne from start to finish, and – may I be frank? – thank God. For all the meals I’ve had alone, I am still the most awkward solo diner you have ever seen. Probably because I’m inherently a very awkward person.
It’s really quite hard to say what the outstanding factor of Australian food is. The molecular gastronomy techniques are now commonplace throughout the world; the use of dry ice, powders and sulphates passé. In fact, any of the ‘fine dining’ I sampled could’ve been eaten anywhere in the world. But what did catch me off guard were the ingredients, which are fresh and perfectly cooked. Perhaps that’s what was so appealing about Josie Bones: good, honest, simple food with no frills and thrills – just an explosion of taste.
I walked past three times before I finally went in, the knot in my stomach making its way up to my throat. Once seated, I immediately buried my head in the menu. My eye was drawn to the trotter fritters and the kangaroo sirloin – but how big were these items? There was no indication of starter or main course size and, being alone, I was of course determined not to look like a pig. “Err, would I be totally greedy if I ordered both the trotter fritters and the kangaroo sirloin?” I asked the waitress, and she laughed, shaking her head. She explained that they were grazing plates so weren’t too big, and it was ideal to have two or three. I made my order and settled back uncomfortably, while trying to appear as though dining alone were second nature to me.
The trotter fritters soon arrived, beautifully crisp sage leaves atop golden brown breadcrumbs, all nestling upon a whisper of romesco sauce. I gingerly cut into one – very conscious of the fact that the staff were all watching me – and popped a bite-sized piece into my mouth. Oh God. It was delicious. I turned into a human vacuum cleaner and polished off the plate in about 30 seconds flat. I looked like a crazed woman as I put my knife and fork down. They must’ve seen the mad glint in my eye, because only a few moments later the kangaroo arrived.
Kangaroo is remarkably similar to beef but more tender. This was cooked beautifully. I tried to slow down but my brain was failing to communicate with my mouth. A goat’s cheese-stuffed zucchini flower, battered and deep-fried, was the perfect accompaniment, but the dots of almond gazpacho I could do without; I still lapped it up. One of the waitresses came over to ask me how I was enjoying my kangaroo and I mumbled my praise through a mouthful. She beamed, telling me about the other items on the menu. She recommended the octopus and bone marrow cigar, and now the other staff were rallying around, agreeing, smiling. “We’re spoilt for choice,” another waitress smiled, and I swallowed my last mouthful. “Um…could I order one more thing, please?” I asked tentatively. “The, uh, octopus and bone marrow cigar?”
Barely five minutes later, my final dish was placed in front of me. The staff were watching expectantly. “That smells so good…” one of them sighed wistfully. My knife cut through the crunchy exterior of pastry; liquid bone marrow oozed out onto the plate. I speared a portion and popped it into my mouth.
I’m pretty sure that at this point time stopped. All that existed was the plate in front of me. It was ridiculous; it was beautiful; it was love. I ate far more slowly, savouring each bite. I no longer cared that I was dining alone, if anything I was glad: nobody here to interrupt my sordid affair with this crispy, tender, delicious food, and the tangy sharpness of the accompanying mango salad. I finally put my knife and fork down, and time resumed. The waitress came over and looked me in the eye. “Did you love it?”
I smiled languidly. “I loved it.”
I had a small glass of white wine and was now so full I felt it was probably time to make a move. The bill arrived with a small plastic barnyard animal sitting on top of it and was more than reasonable at around AUS$50 (including my wine). I paid happily and scrawled a note of thanks on their comment card, before raising myself and preparing to head home. A chorus of thank yous followed me and I smiled gratefully, any trace of nerves gone, no knot in my stomach, just a very content and very full feeling sending a warm glow through my entire being. Yes. This is how dining alone should be, I thought, then waddled off into the sunset.
Josie Bones, 98 Smith Street, Collingwood VIC 3066, Australia. Website.