Then I noticed that it was not open sometimes. Suddenly, I knew. When I was coming to Sydney in my last years at school or early university I had eaten there. It wasn't posh then, but it was very cheap with large servings. Now, all those years later, it was still there and unchanged.
Looking down at the old lady who always sat in the back, I said to myself that you should go. The food is remarkable value, and you still like the things that they serve.
Finally, the place was shut. I had not been there. I kept reminding myself that there must be a story, it had to be a Sydney icon of some type, but I hadn't looked until for detail until they started altering the building and the last signs of the cafe started to vanish.
Not quite Nigella.
Run by a Mother and Daughter team as a community service for those in need, the interior of the cafe is a sight to behold.
Unchanged from the original 1920's interior, there are booth style seats, roughly drawn menus that you know haven't changed in decades and specials of the day at the princely sum of $5 (the most expensive item being $9).As we walk in, they peer out from the little window to see who the interlopers are. We order at the table with the daughter, a smiling, slightly nervous woman who is a little hard of hearing but nevertheless unassuming and well meaning.
Looking around the Oceanic Cafe as we are leaving, I wanted to know more about the Mother and Daughter duo and the history behind it and Queen Viv suggests that I contact Jay Katz of Radio FBI 94.5, a community Radio station, a man who has had a long association and friendship with them through his work driving Missionbeat vans. He's friendly and happy to chat about them, eager for the rest of Sydney to know and pay respect to their efforts. The publicity shy Mum and the daughter (Christina) are of Greek descent with the mum working at the Oceanic since the 1930's. Jay says, "There were so many down and out guys and ladies for decades who had close relationships with Christina and mum. They had a wall in the kitchen full of postcards and those postcards were things from inside Long Bay (Prison) from people who would've taken stretches there. They knew just about every character and some of them they even knew them from children and their criminal history and in that sense it's so community based."
During the time they've been open, and it's a good 70 plus years, they've seen a lot of people. "They'd have chronic alcoholics there that were quite violent. Going back to the late 70s there was a character in Sydney called The Skull who was head of the National Front (neo Nazi organisation). Mike Walsh used to put him on television but I can remember sitting across from him having lunch once and he just started to get really aggressive and scream abuse at everyone and mum came out of the kitchen and grabbed him by the back of the ear and threw him out. She was probably the only person in the country that would do that" he chuckles.As I understand it from the sources, the cafe kept open because mum wanted to maintain it. When she died, that was no longer possible.I imagine there were also potential problems with the owners. That small block is overdue for gentrification, and the cafe can't have made enough money to meet full commercial rents.
Mum's funeral service was at St Spryidon's just down the road. I missed not just a chance for a last meal, but also a chance to pay my respects.