Friday 29 April 2011

The Alphabet Dinners: G is for Gas

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

What with reviewing Comedy Festival shows and preparing for my forthcoming Lonely Planet assignment in Poland, I haven't reviewed a restaurant from The Age Cheap Eats for a couple of weeks; and this laxity just won't do.

So I downloaded the 2011 edition of the Cheap Eats iPhone app, and since the only spare time I had this week was in the afternoon, I chose somewhere from it to eat. So this was an Alphabet Lunch, from necessity.

Gas appeared to be a new entry in the guide, located not far from the South Melbourne Market. I found it in one of the old Victorian shopfronts of Coventry Street, with the interior paint stripped back to reveal a rough collection of old red bricks with sagging mortar lines.

The fit-out was in that modern sexy industrial look (which I quite like) - bare floorboards, long workbench-like tables, completely open kitchen.

After sitting inside for a while I surmised that this was one of those benighted order-at-the-counter places that make diners queue up for service.

However, this did mean I could see all the food on offer in the glass case at the counter. One thing you have to admit about Melbourne is that we're spoiled when it comes to informal dining: all the items on offer here looked fantastic, and were affordably priced.

Choices had to be made. You know I like to show you a selection of items, but there were no clear starters/mains divisions here. So, for argument's sake, let's call the Moroccan sausage roll my starter:

Hard to say what was particularly Moroccan about it, as it just tasted like a good deli-style homemade sausage roll. Solid and filling, and it came with a side serve of exotic chutney.

Next up, my "main": a chicken sausage and halloumi flatbread, filled with a visually attractive combo of the named ingredients plus pieces of boiled egg and other tasty elements along the lines of relish and leafy greens. Toasted, it tasted just as good as it looked:

And finally, a glass of Winbirra 2008 pinot gris from the Mornington Peninsula. Plenty of body and flavor, and just right for the cafe food and the warm autumnal weather.

The Bill: $27.50
The Restaurant: Gas, 253 Coventry St, South Melbourne; Ph: 03 9690 0217.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Melbourne for Laughs

This week's guest blogger is fantasy novelist Narrelle M Harris, author of the Melbourne Literary app for the iPhone and iPad. 

She's giving tips on what to see at this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the city's biggest cultural event...

Melbourne has a reputation as a city of festivals. Drop in at any time of the year and you’re bound to fall over a festival.

In April, the festival that everyone is tripping over is the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

The three-week bonanza of stand-up, sketch, musical, theatrical and just plain strange laughs brings visitors from all over the state, the country and the world. Even non-English speaking comedians come and try their luck from time to time.

Melbourne never really shuts down, but at festival time there’s a distinct buzz in the atmosphere. With so many people gathering at the festival focal point, the Melbourne Town Hall, as well as dozens of venues across town for a good ol’ belly laugh, the atmosphere is conspicuously convivial.

Come to repeat Comedy Festivals and you’ll see yesterday’s newcomers become today’s old hands. I’ve been watching Lawrence Leung since his first show, Sucker (in fact, here's my 2001 review of the show). He’s become one of the big names now, one of those 'guys off the telly'. His show this year, Lawrence Leung Wants a Jetpack continues with his onstage theme of 'adorable geek seeks more fun geek things in his life'.

Another highlight of this year’s offerings is Russell Kane’s brilliantly funny exploration of his relationship with his father. Kane’s fey stage persona is a fabulous contrast to those moments when he channels the fierce, tough Essex man. I also like Maria Bamford’s curious and compulsive show in which she seems to be possessed by a particularly manic pixie.

I have a soft spot for political comedy, though few people do it well. Mat Kenneally’s show, based on the time he accidentally got locked into the Maribyrnong Detention Centre, is one that works and is worth seeing.

As a writer and editor, I also couldn’t resist Mark Butler’s show for grammar nerds, Grammar Don’t Matter on a First Date.  He somehow marries the intellectual humour of caring about apostrophes with the earthier humour of sex and dating... though I’ll admit my preference for jokes about punctuation.

There really is something for everyone. Sammy J’s musical comedy is always a good bet, and there are a number of 'umbrella shows' which present several acts giving fifteen minute tasters of what to expect at their headline shows. I’m also hoping to check out Deanne Smith and Andrew McClelland, among others.

So if you’re planning a trip to Melbourne, time it for the annual Comedy Festival. It'll be fun; and if you’re arriving from Europe or the Americas, you'll need a good laugh after that long flight.

This post is sponsored by JetAbroad. Visit their website if you’re looking for flights to Turkey or other favourite holiday destinations from Melbourne Airport.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

The Alphabet Dinners: F is for Fish Tank

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

It's been a few weeks since I produced a review of an eatery selected from the Age Cheap Eats guide, as reviewing shows in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival has been taking up all my time.

But here I was, back at the old stand again, and for "F" I chose Fish Tank, an upmarket fish and chippery in Melbourne's well-heeled bayside suburb Brighton.

It was a good night to be eating comfort food, for we were just getting our first foretaste of winter weather this year.

Though there's something darkly attractive about Melbourne in wintry weather - the sheen of fallen rain, the chill air that snaps you awake as you walk from Middle Brighton Station along Church Street toward the fish.

Fish Tank is an interesting joint - the front is a fish shop and there's a modest amount of seating both out front and in the rear of the shop, squeezed in next to the big white wall concealing the kitchen.

The menu was interesting - basically following the same lineaments of an old-fashioned fish and chip shop, but classier. I went for the Health Attack pack, which included the grilled fish of the day (John Dory), chips and salad.

To be honest, I don't think eateries should include the word "health" in menu items - it makes the customer feel too self-conscious and goody-goody. It's hard enough to order anything healthy in a fish and chip shop after all, without pointing it out. They should probably call it the "Biodynamic Sex Appeal" pack or something similar.

Anyway, I kinda spoiled the health aspect by adding a homemade dim sim and a potato cake to the order. Here's the resulting plate of fine food:

Hard to make this sort of food look sexy, isn't it? Anyway, it was very tasty.

And to accompany it, a Corona beer - you won't find that at your average fish 'n' chippery.

The place had no desserts as far as I could see, so I walked a few doors down to the Dendy Deli. This cafe-restaurant is a strangely retro place beneath a retro cinema; decorated with numerous booths, mirrored walks and neon signage.

For dessert I ordered the homemade apple crumble and a decaf coffee. The crumble was good, but as you might notice, huge; the waiter insisted it was "half a kilo". Impossible to finish!

The Bill: $22.60
The Restaurant: Fish Tank, 20 Church St, Brighton; Ph: 03 9592 0697.

The Bill: $12.90
The Restaurant: Dendy Deli, 34 Church St, Brighton; Ph: 03 9592 6233.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Brooch for a Comedian's Mother

It's Melbourne International Comedy Festival time, when the city heaves with performers trying to make you laugh. 

This week's guest blog post is by Melbourne jewellery creator Ali Alexander, explaining the pendant she created in connection with the annual laugh fest, and giving her top festival picks...

During the Comedy Festival one year I noticed a lot of visiting comedians hanging around town during the day. I figured that however wacky and zany they were, they all had mothers that were normal, and they all needed to buy their mothers a present from Melbourne. I thought I could make something for them, and The Brooch for a Comedian’s Mother (pictured above) was the result.

I recognised them because I like to go and see a few shows every festival. The way I choose who to go and see starts with where they are playing. I like to go to places I wouldn’t normally find myself in; I figure even if the comedy isn’t hilarious, I’ve been somewhere interesting. That includes the Melbourne Town Hall, (especially the Council Chambers and the Peter Cook Bar - which has no shows but does have beer) and Trades Hall.

This year at Trades Hall I am going to see Rod Quantock. Yes he’s been around a long time, but he is good at it and the Bella Union bar is always fascinating. The Croft Institute is a bit cold and ‘science blocky’ for a quiet drink, but I think it will be perfect for a show with guinea pigs.

A friend from the country tells me that the Victoria Hotel advertises on country television and that’s why it’s always full of country folk. I enjoy seeing things there and I’ve enjoyed Smart Casual in showcases so I’ll go and see their Story of Captain Entree.

The Swiss Club is a fun kind of place, it’s good to plan your time so you can enjoy the restaurant before you go to the gig. Hannah Gadsby is playing there and I hope to see her if there are any tickets left for her show Mrs Chuckles after her success on ABC TV's Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight.

I’ve never heard of Simon Keck but he’s playing at Madame Brussels; and as I usually just sit on the balcony there, I’m curious to see another part of the place.

The last time I went to the Athenaeum it was to see the Scared Weird Little Guys, I was in the VERY top row in a corner. It's very high in there and scary going up and down the stairs, but I laughed a lot so I am going to see them this time in their final tour.

Maybe I’ll see you at one of these places in April!

The Brooch for a Comedian’s Mother can be viewed in more detail at Ali Alexander's website.