7 p.m. I was sitting staring into the west facing window of a restaurant in a small rural city in the middle of Victoria. It was another shadowy place full of dark walls and dark stained timber tables and chairs. The sun low in the sky streamed into the window through the slats of a wooden Venetian and made gold stripes on my face and the walls behind me. The stripes were hot. There were two wine glasses on the table and I poured some red wine into them and we drank and I watched some dust motes swim through the sunbeams. Tracy sat on the opposite side of the table with the sun behind her. She was a silhouette and her hair was a fiery sunset. We raised our glasses. Cheers! The children were there too, but do we have to bring them into it? Children should be seen and not heard. They agreed for once.
The place was called Capone’s and inside the enlarged ‘O’ in the middle of the word on the sign out the front was an illustration in an early black and white photographic style of a fat man with thick lips and a hat on his head. Inside there was a fake tommy gun on the wall, and menu items included 'The Soprano' and 'Pacino’s Pollo' and 'Chicago Carbonara'. The children were looking at the gun on the wall. That’s why they were quiet.
Don’t scoff. Names mean nothing. If the food’s fine I don’t care what they call it. Most pizza and pasta places play up the hokey Italian heritage. Mamma’s, Nonna’s, Padre’s, Da Vinci’s, O Sole Mio, Godfather’s, Pavarotti’s and Big Papa’s come to mind. It entertains the staff as much as the customers.
This was a Friday night and the front kitchen was buzzing and delivery boys were running in and out and walk-in customers were waiting at a bench. These places make their money from volume take-aways and home deliveries so that’s where the action is, which makes the dine-in section a relaxing place in which to eat, because they don’t hassle you or hustle you and you can take your time and watch the pizza show in the front. Also, the teenage waitress smiled at the children all night, even when they dropped spoons.
A couple of glasses of Harcourt Valley Shiraz later, the smiling teenage waitress brought four steaming dishes out of the back kitchen through a gloomy passageway and to our table in the window. By this time the sun was lower and the stripes of gold were narrower but you could still feel the heat in them.
Pieces of smoked salmon and chicken breast resting on fettucine in a sauce of spring onion and saffron and cream and pepper and garlic was ‘Martin and Sinatra’. I don’t know who was the chicken and who was the fish, and I forgot to ask. But that was Tracy’s dish. I had a jumble of spaghetti hiding fat scallops and king prawns with chilli and parsley. That was ‘Sicilian Seafood’. They could have done better with the name (‘South Side Seafood’?) but as we noted, names don’t matter. Especially when you’re on the bottom of the harbour. I didn’t have to bite the scallops and the prawns; they just exploded with hot brine at the approach of an incisor. That’s the test of good seafood. Anything you have to chew is overcooked. Top marks, chef. It was perfect and the slow burn of the chilli matched the sunlight in the window and the inner glow from the shiraz. William’s dinner was ‘Bootlegger’s Bolognese’ and Tom ate the ‘Mafia Meatballs’ and neither left evidence.
Later, the Harcourt Valley Shiraz was gone, the gold shafts were faint way up on the ceiling and small cups in the warm semi-darkness on the table held sharp, bittersweet short black coffee. Is there anything better? We walked back to our hotel past the glowing Victorian streetscape built by gold in the 1850s. Maybe there was crime in the city once.
50 Hargraves Street, Castlemaine