Skip to main content


Showing posts from July, 2008

Carlton bistro, circa 1980.

The chef, Cimino, was a sullen middle-aged Italian, greying and on the portly side. Shout? He hardly spoke. He had a temper, though. He threw things, just not at people. He would scowl and hurl pots across the kitchen into the sink, smashing plates and glasses along its trajectory. Crash. What got him going most of all was customers sending back perfectly cooked steaks, complaining that they were too rare, too overdone or too medium. Yes: ‘too medium’, a diner complained once, to me. I was the waiter. It was my first waiting job. I took the ‘too medium’ steak back to Cimino, reporting the customer’s exact words. He said nothing, paused and then threw it across the room, into the bin; plate, trimmings and all. Then he cooked another one: less medium. Here’s your steak, sir. It’s less medium than the last one. Whatever that means. Hope you enjoy it. Your next Crown lager’s on us. * J. was not so polite. He was the head waiter, a classic Zapata-moustached Italian migrant in his early fo

Babe: literally.

A controversial radio commercial currently on air has a three-year-old child speaking the following words: "I wish it would all stop. I wish I could close my eyes and not wake up. Then I wouldn’t care any more." An adult voiceover goes on: "It is commonly accepted that a pig has the intelligence of a three-year-old child" and calls for an end to pig farming due to what is described as horrific practices. Animals Australia describes its ad as ‘hard-hitting’ . You could describe making a child voice words that suggest it wants to die as hard-hitting, and broadcasting such as even more hard-hitting. However, you could better describe it as dishonest, misleading, repugnant and irresponsible anthropomorphism. The ultimate – if not ulterior - motive of organisations such as Animals Australia is to stop animal farming altogether. Or to stop the consumption of animal matter altogether. Creating scenarios that bring to mind the substitution of a child for the pork chop on th

Bad career move.

It was cold and the wind whipped and people on the street were bent over almost double just to make any headway. I struggled on. Lunchtime is like that. It makes you persevere, otherwise you would fall by the wayside and starve. I was back in St Kilda Road for a few nostalgic days, and it was lunchtime. Bleak? St Kilda Road is always bleak. Always was. That gentle, gracious curve past the gardens and the Shrine and Domain Road and Toorak Road is the perfect wind tunnel. Whichever way it's blowing from. Today it was blowing from the north-west. I struggled past the Willows (the Willows has been there forever but I have never known anyone to have eaten there - why?), made Leopold Street and stopped at the red light. Two haggard, bent men clutching coats to their bony frames had just finished crossing Leopold Street the other way and saw me, and a thin hand reached up from one of them and a quavery voice called out to me. Apart from the gauntness, they were just the same two I used t

"What overheads?"

Someone wrote a letter to the editor complaining that he and friends had taken five bottles of their own wine to a restaurant and had been surcharged $5 per bottle. Someone else wrote a letter to the editor, same newspaper, complaining that a restaurant charged them $6 for a bottle of water that sold for $2 in supermarkets.

Cheese and olives.

I picked up a piece of Wensleydale at the cheese counter in Leo’s, unintentionally cueing a scene that has been played out hundreds, probably thousands, of times. Sure enough, the cheese shop man did not pause. “Ah, Wensleydale! You’re probably thinking Wallace and Gromit!” he said. “I’m more the Monty Python generation,” he added, referring somewhat cryptically to the Cheese Shop sketch in which a Mr Henry Wensleydale runs a cheese shop that has no cheese in stock. Actually, he might have been younger than me but I wasn’t going to say anything. * I like a retailer with a sense of humour. It makes shopping easier, sets the customer at ease and is good for business. (Unlike a visit to Coles in High Street, North Balwyn recently when the oaf behind the checkout literally ordered me to take my empty basket and stack it on the pile at the end of the enquiry desk that fronts the cigarette counter. “Why don’t I just jump the counter and run my groceries through the scanner while you go take

Cheap vegetable peelers warming the globe: an exclusive Kitchen Hand insight report.

During my recent jaunt around the Victorian countryside, I found myself missing a vegetable peeler, one of the travel essentials I carry in a box in the boot of the car along with salt and pepper, tea and sugar, enamel cups and plates, basic cutlery and a corkscrew. I must have left the peeler in a camping ground or a hotel room. (Vegetable peelers are among mankind’s most lost items: I regularly find several each spring when I turn over the compost bin.) I called into a Coles supermarket in a medium-sized country town, I don’t know, Maryborough or somewhere, and bought a pack of three peelers. I had to buy three because they won't sell you one. The three peelers come affixed to a hanging cardboard display pack; metal-bladed and with red, white and yellow handles respectively. I took them back to where we were staying, untwisted the metal ties with difficulty, removed the first peeler – the red one - and started to scrape a carrot. The blade gave way, crumpling like the bumper bar

This season's favourite oxtail stew.

Oxtail stew polarises. People either love it or hate it. The idea, that is: why would you eat the tail of a poor beast? It's a good question, but if you're squeamish and were given a choice between that and the sheep's head soup my mother made once when I was small, I'm sure you'd opt for the tail. Here's one I made the other morning, to simmer all day. Herbs, white wine and butter combine to create a rich, aromatic and creamy sauce that really stands up to the richness of the oxtail meat. Served on creamy mashed potato it was a sublime choice for a cold Melbourne night in the dead of winter with spring still far away. Oxtail stew with herbs and white wine. Brown eight joints of oxtail in a heavy pan. Remove and set into a heavy pot. Lightly brown 100g of rindless bacon in same pan. Add to oxtail in pot. Slice two medium onions and two carrots and place into pot along with a bay leaf , a sprig each of thyme and parsley , 12 black peppercorns and a whole

All India Radio appearing at Glitch Bar and Cinema.

All India Radio is a music project masterminded by musician Martin Kennedy whose career took a new path when he travelled through the subcontinent recording sounds wherever he went. The aural harvest this yielded provided the inspiration for a genre of music that could be described as the filtered sound of a billion people and places set to the mesmeric rhythm of a heartbeat and embellished with an assortment of aural textures, sound effects, musical instruments and occasionally, the human voice. Kennedy has collaborated with Steve Kilbey, Graham Lee of The Triffids and, earlier, Ed Kuepper; and his music is in demand for television and cinema productions worldwide. How do you describe All India Radio's opus without resorting to the usual 'ambient music' cliche? I don't know, Ennio Morricone meets 2001 A Space Odyssey ? Celestial spheres meets the flash and spark of Glamdring? I'll stop there. All India Radio launches its new album, Fall , at Glitch Bar and Cinema

Six pears on a cake.

There are dozens of eating places in Daylesford these days, but I always seem to end up at the Harvest cafe, a few doors down from the IGA supermarket on the corner of Albert and Vincent. Maybe it's the huge formica tables on which you can open up your favourite broadsheet without poking the next customer in the eye with your elbow. Maybe it's the slightly bohemian air (although the coloured-wool crew seems to have migrated, like birds, across the road south to Muffy's Cafe). Or maybe it's the cake display case. A cheerful log fire was already crackling away when I pushed the door open at around eleven, which is always a good time for coffee, especially when it has been raining all morning and you ate breakfast in darkness at six o'clock. The cake display is the first thing you see when you walk in the door. The cake that struck my eye was about the size of a Vespa front wheel. Getting it into the display case must have been a job in itself. It was a pear and ginger

Winter barbecue.

The road wound down from the green highlands north of Creswick and back into pockmarked gold country, across the pleasant flat lands in between the Pyrenees and the foothills of the Great Divide, and through the villages of Blampied and Eganstown that are more signpost than town. The east approach into Daylesford is a rapid ascent, because 350 million years ago Daylesford was a volcano. It was early afternoon, a cold clear day with the bite of a north-easterly straight from the alps. I drove right into the town and turned left at a roundabout into the main street. It was busy because it was Sunday and the winter weekend tourists were in town for the spas, the markets, the coffee shops and the antiques. I drove out of the town again, south and downhill. Jubilee Lake is a mile out of Daylesford, reached by a road that winds past Lake House and forks left. This is Daylesford’s second lake, fed by Wombat Creek which leads from Lake Daylesford and further east, where mineral springs line it

The books can wait. Both of them.

If you were halfway between the Pyrenees and the Grampians elsewhere in the world you’d be somewhere in the outskirts of London or maybe even in the North Sea; but I was on a road that went through a town that was called Amphitheatre, just out of the goldfields. Amphitheatre is exactly that. It sits in a bottom of a wide bowl, the rim of which is where the surrounding hills touch the sky. It is a town like hundreds of others: small and pretty and vacant. It’s the perfect place if you’re happy to sit in the sun on the front porch of a picture-book cottage on a north-facing hill overlooking the town and read books – long ones - for the rest of your life; or write your own books – long ones - in a sun-filled study while you gaze out of a picture window at the mountains that rise away blue on all sides of the town. Because there’s not a lot else to do. But it had been tempting, because there was just such a little cottage on the sunny hill above the town and it was for sale, for about a th

No. 160.

No-one was sitting at the cafe tables outside No. 160 in the main street of Avoca. Why would they? It was about six degrees celsius with a biting westerly blowing the few leaves left over from autumn into oblivion. No. 160 is one of those ancient small-town main street shops that have a flyscreen door that slams shut behind you, dusty old shelves that reach up to an impossibly high ceiling and sawdust on the floor. We opened the door and went in. The shop had an unpolished timber floor with the remnants of a japaned finish popular in Victorian times, a counter and stools set into the window and a few wooden tables of different sizes with chairs that didn't match. A tall, dark-haired thirty-something woman was busy behind the counter. Newspapers were spread about the tables. The sawdust was gone, of course, and the shelves were no longer dusty. Who knows what they held in days gone by: hardware? sacks of flour? implements for gold-digging? manchester? hats? gunpowder? I decided gun

Avoca main street: more gold.

The butcher at number 110 had a nice array of fish in the window. I bought a pack of smoked salmon. The butcher smokes it himself in his own smokehouse. The salmon at Pyrenees Gourmet Butchers alone makes a trip to Avoca worthwhile. It was the best I've tasted and completely different to the smoked salmon you find in most other places. For one thing, it wasn't orange. For another thing, it wasn't oversalted. Of course, the butcher had meat in the window as well. After all, he is a butcher. But you have to diversify these days. Just look at any post office. You can't see the stamps for Wiggles books, Steve Parrish greeting cards, outdated street directories and useless plastic junk. I suppose you have to forgive them because who writes letters any more? No-one. I haven't received a letter in years. I bought some sausages as well. Children don't eat smoked salmon. While the butcher was wrapping the smoked salmon and the sausages I glanced around the shop and near