I experienced a fair amount of shock and an extreme amount of sadness when I was first told that Marc and Cher Thompson, the owners of Bistro Lilly in Millers Point, Sydney, took their own lives. I then read the article in the Sydney Morning Herald and wondered how a restaurant - a business, could drive two seemingly happy and vivacious people, that had a true passion for their restaurant to commit suicide.
I had known the Thompsons since 2005 when Bistro Lilly opened at the base of Observatory Tower - the tall green tower that used to be the IBM buiding in the days of old, which casts a shadow on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not only does Paul Keating call this particular residential tower home but so does Lisa McGuigan who operates Kent Street Cellars at the street level. The Bistro Lilly restaurant superseded two other cafes that came and went in the previous few years and after visiting it for the first time, I really hoped that this French-inspired cafe would be successful as I was hooked.
Being a resident of Millers Point and living across the street until 2010 enabled me to call Bistro Lilly my "local" if a restaurant can in fact be considered one, but given the amount of times that I would take up residence at the small bar, chat with Marc and Cher for hours at a time and madly try to catch up on work e-mails throughout the evening whilst drinking a tremendous amount of wine, I suppose it is a suitable qualification.
When the evening service stopped, Marc, Cher, sometimes the service and frequently the chef and I would lament about life and times outside on the patio. Not only the challenges of opening and running a restaurant in highly competitive Sydney was a topic frequently discussed, but also politics, love, lust, food, wine and ultimately tall drunken tales early into the morning.
I spent more time speaking to Mark and Cher outside late at night compared to my own parents since I officially became an adult. They were truly lovely and genuine people that I considered not only neighbours but also friends. They will be missed.
On my last trip to Sydney I made a point of walking to Observatory Tower to leave some flowers outside of Bistro Lilly. The sad part is that there is so much corporate foot (and bicycle) traffic flowing from the pedestrian tunnel that connects Kent Street, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Clarence Street and York Street that would never have had the pleasure of stopping in at Bistro Lilly, enjoying the hospitality of the owners or the ever changing degustation menu that was always great value for money.
Regardless of the Sydney dining scene losing a fantastic bistro, friends, residents of Millers Point and the human race lost some fantastic people and for that I am both sad and angry.
The lesson learned is to support your local restaurants. Take time to get to know the owners and make these public places part of the community. Sometimes the people behind what ends up on the table are what is truly remarkable about a place.
I hope Marc and Cher can rest in peace.