Tuesday 29 March 2011

Pieces of Hobart

I've become a bit sunburned in Hobart - probably not something that's often said about one of Australia's southernmost places. It may be mid-autumn but it's been warm and sunny for the past few days, neatly timed with my latest short visit to Tasmania.

Here are some snapshots...

1. The exterior of Hadleys Hotel, where I stayed for the first two nights. It was built in 1854 and is about to undergo a big 21st century renovation.

Reading the history of the hotel, I was amused to note the experience of 1912 Norwegian guest Roald Amundsen, who had just become the first man to reach the South Pole and was about to announce the achievement to the world.

Here's what the great explorer later wrote about his reception at Hadleys: "Treated as a tramp - my peaked cap and blue sweater - given a miserable little room. Then I cabled the King."

2. A cool bit of art on the side of an old building on the corner of Goulburn and Molle Streets. You can just see the outside tables of a great little cafe, Pigeon Hole, on the left.

 3. The entrance to funky new art gallery MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in the city's north. Visitors enter the underground complex by first walking across the unused tennis court you can see in the foreground:

4. This little gem is the North Hobart Post Office, built in 1913. Great to see a post office building that's both a lovely piece of architecture, and also still used as a post office.

5. And the nearby State Theatre, a cinema in which the young Errol Flynn probably caught some silent movies when he lived in the area:

6. And finally, afternoon tea at acclaimed Battery Point cafe Jackman and McRoss. Consumed entirely for research purposes... no, really.

Disclosure time... on this trip I was hosted by Tourism Tasmania.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

The Alphabet Dinners: E is for Everest

In The Alphabet Dinners series, I review the cheap restaurants of Melbourne... in alphabetical order.

In this trawl through the Age Cheap Eats book, it's inevitable that I'd be eating Indian food at some point.

So this evening my friend Julia and I alighted from the train at Fairfield Station, walked past the giant wooden statue of a dog that once electronically barked at trains, and headed to Everest.

The interior was nice enough: a suburban ethnic eatery but more spacious than some and with aspirations to grandeur in its ornate wooden furniture and decorations.

The menu was an exposition of all the usual Indian favourites, so we ordered a selection and they showed up pretty quickly.

This is the chicken tikka masala (front) and the excellent baigan bharta, a kind of thick and spicy paste made from eggplant:

The other two dishes were the yoghurt-and-cucumber dish raita, and an exceptionally hot but tasty beef vindaloo. These two were a match made in heaven, with their respective cooling and heating qualities:

Gotta say I'm more of a naan person than a rice person:

And a Royal Challenge beer from India to complete the ensemble. Never heard of it before but it was just as bland but drinkable as the more famous Kingfisher:

The food was good, not big serves but well prepared and tastefully presented.

The only problem I had in the end was the price - $80 for two people seemed a bit steep for the amount of food and the perfunctory service.

It's as if Everest was trying hard to be flash to justify its prices but not quite making it; eg there were crisp white tablecloths, but also endorsements from cricketers on the walls and in the menus.

This style confusion made the restaurant seem adrift somewhere between local Indian eatery and smart restaurant, and a little overpriced as a result.

Still, it was good food and I'm glad I had the sense to order raita to ease that very good vindaloo.

The Bill: $80.50 for two.
The Restaurant: Everest, 85 Station St, Fairfield; ph 03 9482 2583.

Friday 18 March 2011

The Warburton Quarter Revisited

Last year, for a bit of fun, I created the concept of The Warburton Quarter of Melbourne; you can read my original post here. It's the stretch of Little Bourke Street that runs from Elizabeth Street for about 80 metres to the junction with Warburton Alley and Warburton Lane, including these and the other three alleys that run to either side.

I labelled it thus because it's a vibrant little zone next to where I live, which seems to have more of its share of cool cafes and bars, and interesting shops.

But change comes to us all, even to the Quarter. Here's an update...

Manchester Press, 8 Rankins Lane
The memorable gallery/cafe Brood Box sadly closed down last year, and the space was empty for months. Then, a few weeks ago, we noticed a new sign pointing down the laneway. The new cafe, Manchester Press, makes great use of the old warehouse space by decking it out in a pseudo-industrial design. Solid timber tables, big metal lampshades, and for some reason a giant bowling pin in one corner. The coffee and food is good, with a focus on bagels.

Little Mule, 19 Somerset Place
This new shop has it all - if you're keen on both bicycles and coffee. That's right: it's simultaneously a business that builds custom-made bikes, and a place that serves coffee and food. The two combine in its simple interior, a scattering of benches and sofas with bicycles literally hanging off the walls. Great place.

Shanghai Street, 342 Little Bourke Street
This is our new favourite excuse for not cooking dinner. Situated almost directly beneath our apartment, it's a simple Chinese restaurant that does a good line in dumplings. We've used them so much now that we've graduated to the practice of ringing our order through then slipping downstairs to collect it. My hot tip is the fried pork mini-buns (item 5 to its friends).


Read my introduction to The Warburton Quarter here.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

The Alphabet Dinners: D is for Don Tojo

In The Alphabet Dinners series, I review the cheap restaurants of Melbourne... in alphabetical order.

I had a slight problem in browsing the D section of the Age Cheap Eats for this week's review: once I'd removed all the bars, cafes and places not open on a Tuesday evening, there wasn't much left.

So by near default I was meeting my friends Craig and Julia at Don Tojo, a cheap Japanese place in Carlton. Not on the famous Lygon Street, however, but a block away on Cardigan Street where presumably the rents are cheaper.

It's easy enough for Carlton's many students to find, of course, and has an attractively simple and cheap menu.

The interior is interesting too - a big industrial-type space with art splashed across the walls.

To start, a Kirin beer. Not, frankly, Japan's greatest gift to the world - Kirin is like the Japanese equivalent of Fosters, mainstream and fairly tasteless. However, it's palatable enough.

Then the teriyaki chicken don. Didn't look that spectacular but was very good - subtle teriyaki flavour, nicely cooked chicken and sticky rice, zapped up a bit by the spicy orange sprinkly stuff in a bowl on the counter.

And then the weird stuff. I ordered the soba noodle salad as an intended side dish, and it was very curious indeed. Contained noodles, tofu, tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, rockmelon, lettuce and kiwifruit. Interesting. You had to give it points for variety. Also looked quite healthy, all things considered.

A good restaurant for a cheap post-work meal, all in all. Its kitchens closed at 8.30pm so we slipped around the corner to the Carlton Yacht Club bar for a strengthening cocktail. Which cost as much as the whole meal at Don Tojo.

The Bill: $18
The Restaurant: Don Tojo, 164 Cardigan St, Carlton.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

The Alphabet Dinners: C is for Cherry Tree Hotel

In The Alphabet Dinners series, I review the cheap restaurants of Melbourne... in alphabetical order.

Pub food is always good for a satisfying informal meal out; as long as the pub is a good one, of course. The Cherry Tree Hotel is a thoroughly gentrified pub in the formerly industrial part of Richmond that lies to the west of the old Bryant & May match factory on Church Street.

In fact, I think this bit of Richmond west of the railway line which heads to South Yarra is called Cremorne. In early colonial times, before the factories, there was a train station here which people used to access a riverside circus, or so I remember reading.

By coincidence, a branch of my gym is actually inside the old Bryant & May complex, which is now a business park, so I was able to do a workout before strolling here for dinner through the rain.

It's hard to say how old the pub is. At a guess I'd say 1930s, but for all I know it's been remodelled a dozen times from an older building. The front bar is now decked out in a faintly retro manner, with lots of timber tabletops and low lounges.

What to choose from the big menu chalked on the wall? I like to show you at least a starter and a main in these reviews, but the menu here was basically divided into snacks and mains.

So first up I ordered the sausage rolls as a starter, not quite knowing what to expect. What I got was pretty simple, as you can see below - five little sausage roll segments and tomato sauce. They were pretty good for sausage rolls, but nothing to blow one's mind.

The main, however, added some much needed excitement. It was a Thai beef salad, and a damn good one. Nice tender slices of medium rare beef, fresh capsicum and lettuce, slightly crunchy noodles, lots of peanuts, lemon juice (I think),  and a nice chilli bite. Fresh, tasty, fantastic.

And to drink? A crisply bitter India Pale Ale from my old haunt, the Holgate Brewery in Woodend. Just the right match for the chilli.

The Bill: $37.
The Restaurant: Cherry Tree Hotel, 53 Balmain St, Richmond; ph 03 9428 5743.

Friday 4 March 2011

Melbourne Literary 2: The Bookish Story Continues

This week's guest blogger is fantasy novelist Narrelle M Harris, author of the Melbourne Literary app for the iPhone and iPad. Last week she shared with us a few of her favourite literary things; here's a few more...

Sisters in Crime

In Melbourne, there is a group of fabulous women with murder on their mind. The members of Sisters in Crime are lively, funny readers and writers of crime fiction, and very supportive of local book folks.

They (and their male counterparts, Brothers in Law) have given me advice, support and fellowship and a darn good laugh. They’ve also introduced me to existing writers through their meetings, and to new writers through their Scarlet Stiletto Awards.

Magic Pudding Sculpture
Royal Botanic Gardens, Birdwood Ave, Melbourne

It’s Sam Sawnoff, Bill Barnacle, Bunyip Bluegum and the Albert the Magic Pudding! As a gorgeous little statue! Hello happy literary childhood memories in 3D! The statue of these classic Australian characters is in the Children’s Garden at the entry to the Royal Botanic Gardens, and around the corner from the Observatory Cafe.

The Nicholas Building
37 Swanson St, Melbourne

One day, someone with enough money will buy this wonderful old building and refurbish it, and then all the writers, artists, publishers, artisans and generally wonderful creative people within will have to leave. That will be sad, because I will be one of their number.

I share my writing space (commonly referred to as The Garret, because every writer should have one) in this 1920s classic with three other people. I love my neighbours. I love Dimitri and Joan, who run the two manual lifts. I even love the rats who live in the alley behind the Nicholas Building. As long as they don’t actually try to move into The Garret with us.

Melbourne General Cemetery

College Crescent, Parkville
Ph: +61 3 9349 3014

I love looking for clues about the past lives of the people interred here, all these strangers I’ll never know. Some graves have a mark of their inhabitants’ former careers – jockey’s saddles, or billiard cues. Some inscriptions tell you about the person, or about the ones they left behind.

There are so many stories told in stone. Some statues remind me of the angels from Dr Who’s Blink and some make me think of zombie films. Some make me sad, some make me laugh. All of them make me think that I’d like my epitaph to read: Here Lies Narrelle Harris. Full Stop. With maybe a QWERTY keyboard etched into the marble.

Word and Way
Heffernan Lane, Melbourne

I stumbled across this installation during one of my forays into Chinatown to find the latest, hottest alleyway cocktail bar. The artwork looks like regular street signs, but offers philosophical thoughts on life, and translations of China’s Lao Tzu and Greece’s Heraclitus.

There are all kinds of wonderful, secret parts of this city, where art or architecture can take you by surprise. Before you know it, you’re having a moment of reflection on the street in the middle of a major city.  This is one of my favourite literary curios.

You can read part one of this literary guide here. If you're interested in finding out more about Narrelle's Melbourne Literary app, click here: www.iwriter.com.au/apps

Tuesday 1 March 2011

The Alphabet Dinners: B is for Bande à Part

OK, so if you cast your mind back to last week, you'll remember my new Tuesday evening pastime... picking a cheap eatery from The Age Cheap Eats guide each week in alphabetical order, then eating and blogging.

All up to speed? Good. So this week... B is for Bande à Part.

Named after a 1964 film directed by Jean-Luc Godard (or so Wikipedia suggests), this is one of those 21st century pizzerias that makes pizzas with a fascinating array of fresh ingredients. Away, tinned pineapple!

I'll get to the food in a moment. Unfortunately this so-cool eatery in a deep Carlton North shopfront suffered from some of the standard problems found in so-cool eateries and bars. To wit:
  • The door was open on a cold evening, so we were pretty cold. I'm always whinging about Melbourne cafes leaving doors open in cold weather, so rest assured this place is not alone re this particular sin (BTW my Mum was with me, visiting from Perth. Having Tuesday dinner with your Mum isn't exactly inner-city cutting-edge and cool, but what the hell.)
  • The waiters were coolly efficient rather than friendly.
  • The music was too loud for easy conversation.
  • The light was too dark to read the menu easily.
  • The menu was displayed in a tiny serif-packed font that was difficult to read in the prevailing light conditions.
Having said all that, the food was good; though you're going to have to excuse the quality of my iPhone photography this week, as the iPhone 3GS camera is pretty poor in low light.

First up was a "salad" of fried haloumi cheese served with flatbread, slices of fresh beetroot and fresh mint. I forgot to take a picture of it on its original plate, so here's half of it on my own plate. Very tasty, all ingredients making their presence felt.

A glass of the house red arrived, some species of sangiovese which was rather good.

Then the main, a large Ring of Fire pizza. Great name, though one was initially suspicious it might be one of those insanely hot dishes that young blokes eat to prove their manhood. But no, it was a nicely judged mix of tomato, buffalo mozzarella, char-grilled peppers, spanish onion, oregano and chilli oil; spicy but not crazily so. Also aesthetically pleasing, dominated by different shades and textures of red.

And here's a bonus: Mum's Mushroom pizza with tomato, stracchino cheese, mushrooms, garlic and parsley.

The generous scattering of fresh parsley made it look visually pleasing, though Mum did comment that it wasn't as flavoursome as she expected after the haloumi. That's a common drawback with gourmet pizzas, I find - they have high quality, subtly flavoured fresh ingredients, but that subtlety means they rarely pack the flavour punch of your classic capricciosa.

Overall though, a good meal and well made.

The Bill: $54 for two.
The Restaurant: Bande à Part, 749 Nicholson St, Carlton North; ph 03 9388 8950.