1977: Pieroni, upstairs in Little Bourke Street. Pre-dated the South Yarra Pieroni by a decade or so. Climb the narrow staircase and eat spaghetti bolognese for $2.20. Minestrone, 90 cents. Bread, free. Guy Grossi worked here. The occasion: I worked around the corner in Elizabeth Street's London Stores building and I ate here frequently. Other favourites were the Cambrooke Cafe, the White Hen Cafe, the upstairs bistro at the Royal Parade Hotel, Centrepoint Tavern, the London Tavern and downstairs at the Hub Hotel. No, I never went hungry. I worked hard.
1978: I'm no food snob but whoever burnt down The Swagman deserves three Age Chef's Hats. The smorgasbord was about the size of a tennis court and by the time several hundred queueing 'diners' bussed in from Cranbourne or Altona Meadows or Boronia or even Fitzroy North had pawed over it, it looked more like Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles. Cigarette stub in your portion of lasagne, anyone? The occasion: a Christmas work function. Never again.
1979: Fanny's, upstairs in Lonsdale Street. Ate: Whiting, fries and green salad. Drank: an exciting new grape variety called chardonnay, by Karlsberg, a now-defunct Barossa winemaker. The occasion: lunch with a gourmet work friend.
1980: Bim's. A vast two-storey Victorian edifice in East Melbourne, home to one of the last of Melbourne's old money, old menu, old manners restaurants where the conversation level was as quiet as the hum of the Bentleys parking out the front. The occasion: my first wife's birthday. Ate: Steak tartare. Incident: an ancient, wizened waiter was quietly polishing silver cutlery and putting it away the open drawer of a massive Victorian chiffonier when the drawer fell out and crashed onto the parquetry floor with an explosion that would have deafened an F1 driver. The hum of conversation paused for about half a second and then resumed as if nothing had happened. All class.
1981: Rabelais. Rimbaud. Rousseau. Rembrandt. Suddenly, Melbourne is full of restaurants named after dead French guys. No, wait ...