The view over the Harbour might be every bit as spectacular as that of a waterfront restaurant, but you couldn’t call Harry’s Café de Wheels a posh dining experience. It is, after all, a food van that serves pies. Yet the pies are good enough to attract everyone from celebrities to taxi drivers, to police. You never know who you might see standing at one of the outdoor tables, sinking their teeth into a classic Aussie pie.
The origins of the Australian (and New Zealand) meat pie are obscure, but it probably arose from the British steak pie. By the twentieth century, the meat pie – pastry filled with minced beef, onion and mushrooms – could almost lay claim to being the national dish. Certainly it was considered fit food for the distinguished guests present at the 1927 opening of Australia’s first federal Parliament House. (Sadly, the organisers over-catered the event, leading to 10,000 meat pies being buried later.)
Clearly, anybody who could make a really good pie was always going to be a very valued person. Harry ‘Tiger’ Edwards was one such man. The caravan café that he opened in 1938 was originally called ‘Harry’s’, and it sat near the gates of the Woolloomooloo Naval Yard, serving pie ‘n’ peas (and crumbed sausages) to all and sundry. It shut during World War II, while Edwards served with the Australian Imperial Force, and then re-opened again in 1945. In those days, the city council required that food carts move at least 12 inches per day, which Harry’s dutifully did, which is how it earned the name Harry’s Café de Wheels.
Harry’s soon attracted an elite clientele: over the years, it’s been visited by notables ranging from Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich to Sir Richard Branson, Russell Crowe, and Kevin Costner, among many others. Even Colonel Sanders, the chicken magnate, stopped off to enjoy three ‘pies and peas’, while Elton John held a press conference from inside Harry’s in 1970.
In 1975, Edwards sold the business, and it was sold again in 1988 to its present owner, Michael Hannah. He has a long history with the caravan; as a child, his cabbie father took Michael and his siblings to Harry’s for pies; in 1970, when Michael returned from the Vietnam War, he had a Harry’s pie as soon as he landed back on shore.
So what attracts people to the tiny caravan? The pies (and pasties and hot dogs) of course. The pies are made fresh each day at Hannah’s bakery in inner-city Sydney and the range includes a beef pie, a chicken and mushroom pie, a curry pie, a seafood pie, a pie topped with mashed potato, and even a vegetable pie. The icon pie? The Harry’s Tiger, a beef pie topped with mushy peas, mashed potato and gravy. The only things missing from the menu are the crumbed sausages.
But then again, not everything from the past deserves to survive. Just the tasty things – especially when they come with a water view.
Harry’s Café de Wheels
Corner Cowper Wharf Roadway
& Brougham Road
8.30am daily to 1.00am-4.00am