If you’ve been Down Under, visited Sydney’s Darling Harbour, admired its trademark Harbour Bridge, marvelled at Opera House, gazed at naval ships from the waterfront at Woolloomooloo, but overlooked Harry’s Café de Wheels, you should go back.
Harry’s Café de Wheels is a Sydney institution in its own right and considered a historic symbol by many. That’s a huge acknowledgment for something as insignificant as a pie-cart, because, that is really what this café is. A pie-cart with an awning, with walls covered in pictures and murals of famous faces: Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Joe Cocker and Billy Connelly are some of the indelible ones. But what would bring them to this kiosk, other than King’s Cross’ bohemia in the vicinity, that is?
The answer is a pie floater. This is a traditional Australian meat pie covered with ketchup and found floating (upside down) in a mushy peas soup. Sounds disgustingly unappetising, doesn’t it? Especially for a dish that has recently been recognized as a South Australian Heritage Icon. But wait till you take your first bite of this crusty pastry filled with chunky steak and gravy, no higher than an inch and a half. Stairway to (gourmet) Heaven, if you ask me. And if you want to get there quicker, add some barbeque sauce and maybe a dash of vinegar. I recollect a fellow gobbler commenting that visiting Harry’s was akin to takeaway eating religion.
A pie uniquely named the Curry Tiger was accorded the most preferred status by yours truly. Sitting on a bench at the Finger Wharf, slurping away at more than one of these became a favoured way of life. The seagulls were the only noticeable problem, especially as they noisily made their intentions clear to all: a share of the pie. Another speciality of this café is a pastie: mushy peas and potatoes wrapped in a crust, considered by some locals as the national dish. They both taste brilliant, even at an unearthly 5am, after an exhausting spell of clubbing.
Since 1945, Harry’s Café de Wheels has been serving meat pies to soldiers and those willing to trek down to Woolloomooloo Bay docks for the sake of adventurous taste-buds. Keeping this tradition alive, the café continues to feed hungry souls hankering for filling and inexpensive food. The one change being of a permanent nature; it is no longer on wheels. It is now a fixed structure at the Woolloomooloo Bay Area with branches in other locations.
However, for a short period in between, it did take on the moniker Harry’s Café de Axle as someone stole the wheels! Wouldn’t you have taken the pies instead? Go figure, mate.