The crumb coating on four ovoid shapes was ragged pale gold, like tempura, and flecked with herbs. There was a dipping sauce. Is eating something deep-fried and dipped in a tangy sauce the pinnacle of eating?
William and Thomas thought so. Children like fried things. You can’t blame them. Their hands reached out. They bit and tasted, and tried to place the taste, and bit some more, and thought about it. Was it chicken? Was it fish?
Music from a band in another café fifty metres up the street floated down to us. It was playing Crimson and Clover, without the distortion.
No, William and Thomas, I replied. It is not chicken. It is not fish.
Don’t talk like a Dr Seuss book, they replied. Just tell us what the hell it is. I’m paraphrasing loosely. The never say ‘the hell’.
In reply, I picked up the menu and read aloud from it.
'Lightly fried lamb’s brains in a herb-infused batter, served on a bed of leaves.'
I put down the menu. The boys just stared, open-mouthed. Tracy visibly winced. The band played on.
Earlier, when we had arrived, I had gone inside to see if there was a table, leaving Tracy and the children on the pavement. No point the whole shooting match coming in. Two empty tables had reserved signs on them. A waitress looked at the book and frowned and checked with the busy worried-looking woman behind the bar, who shook her head, no, and said we could take a table outside. But that had been my preferred option all along. I always prefer to sit outside, if it’s not snowing, or if we’re not in Lygon Street East Brunswick, which is the worst place to dine al fresco in Melbourne.
I went outside to sell the idea in, as they say in the business. How about the warm night and the drift of ti-tree on the air with a top note of brine, and the almost full moon just getting up in the sky and pouring liquid silver on the roofs of the quiet, vast mansions along Point Nepean Road, and the soft hiss in the distance of unseen breaking waves? How about that?
Sold. Of three large timber slat tables on the pavement, one was taken, we took the middle one and the third remained empty. More music floated down from the other café. Sweet Caroline. Proud Mary. A crowd was spilling onto the street, nicely. This is a baby boomer retirement town.
A waiter brought four menus. I passed one each to William and Thomas without saying anything and they began to read. Beats John and Betty books. I asked for the wine list and the waiter went back inside, and the worried-looking woman brought it out and I jabbed a finger at it, and she went away looking slightly less worried. That's what they worry about. Time. Diners taking forever to decide on something. Diners may take all night deciding on something of course. It's their right! But I’ve been a waiter. I’ve heard all the conversations.
First diner: What will we drink?
Second diner: We can’t decide what to drink before we know what we’re eating. We might order red wine and then someone might want fish.
Third diner (possibly sarcastic, and possibly not): That would be a calamity.
First diner, to waiter: What’s the house chardonnay like?
Waiter (Thinks: What’s it like? It’s like chardonnay): Citrus and butterscotch with a just a faint oak influence. Chilled to eight degrees celsius. Presented in a chiller bucket. Sourced from our private supplier in central ...
Third diner: What about the red?
Waiter: A McLaren Vale shiraz blend. Think tobacco and chocolate. Served at sixteen degrees in 370ml crystal glasses ...
First diner: I’ll have a beer.
I was sipping a very lightly chilled Geppetto chardonnay when the first dish had come out; the deep-fried mystery that was no longer a mystery. Top marks to the place for even putting this on the menu. The nose-to-tail movement has a long way to advance. Or should I say, a long way to return. Forty years ago everyone ate offal and didn’t turn a hair. Tripe, liver, heart, kidneys. Now they scream if they see the word on a menu. A good steak and kidney pie with mashed potato is a lost art. Something about the aroma of the gravy coming through the crust straight from the oven. And my all-time favourite dish is fegato alla veneziana. It’s in this blog somewhere. I should have an index. Search doesn’t always remember.
After that there was a Margherita pizza and a Sunday roast ‘special’ and a pasta with smoked salmon and capers, and they seemed to disappear while we talked, so they must have been good. The roast was robust, a thick slice each of pork and beef that did not need a chainsaw, and there was no blanket of gravy and no waterlogged pumpkin. Margherita is the test of any pizza place. If you can do that you can do anything. They even do a fig and gorgonzola and prosciutto pizza here.
Up the street, the band was on its last number, a baby boomer standard that racheted the spilling crowd up to fever pitch and went like this: They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast/Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm and jazz/But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell ...
And then the best piano break in rock history. The retired baby boomers must have thought they had died and gone to heaven. It’s Sunday night, you don’t have to work the week, and you can buy legal mind-altering substances over the counter. All that, and they are still playing your music.
2845 Point Nepean Road, Blairgowrie