Friday, February 27, 2009

fiddling while Rome burns

The Strand, Williamstown

It turns out I have a day off on Friday, a day with an extreme fire danger. Needing to go out into the fresh air rather than sit inside, despite the high temperatures, I head to Williamstown.

The Strand restaurant overlooks the marina and the city. On a Friday lunchtime it is quiet enough, with only two of the terrace tables occupied. I sit at the table with the best view and the further position from the crying baby, and settle in with my new copy of Vanity Fair.

The menu is short but appetising. An array of seafood, fresh pasta and steak proves difficult to choose from. I struggle to choose between a tiger prawn and rocket risotto and a seafood curry. The seafood curry wins out.

My starter, a Greek salad, is chunky and delicious, with just the right amount of olive oil and oregano but sadly missing the red onion promised on the menu. There could be a lot more feta cheese - two chunks is miserly even without considering the price.

The seafood curry, strangely, is served with risoni instead of rice, a bit like a bouillabaisse. I am put off momentarily but the dish wins out in the end. I scoop up tiger prawns, lumps of white fish, freshly steamed mussels and the odd scallop all swimming in a hot coconutty red curry gravy. It lasts an age.

Across the road a young man lets his girlfriend have a try on his shiny new motorbike. She wobbles wildly and he stops her before she topples over. Undeterred, she tries again, swerving madly behind some grasses which obscure her inevitable downfall. I, and the people at the table beside me, stop eating to watch the spectacle. The young bloke runs towards the girl, alarmed. We can't see the motorbike but can just about see the sun glinting off the top of her helmet as she sits, no doubt despondent, in the shrubbery. Moments later, he has the motorbike back on its wheels. He caresses it fondly. No sign of giving the girl a hand up. Both tables wail as a stationery van parks in front of us momentarily, blocking our view. You couldn't pay for this quality of live entertainment over lunch.

I finish my glass of Wild Duck Creek shiraz malbec and gaze across the city. The haze is partially from the weather and partially from the fires still going across the state, many today quite close to the city. My colleagues are watching the Country Fire Association fire list grow and deploying volunteers to where the people are congregating. Like Nero I sit and do what I do to relax. Today is not my day.

At just over $70, my two course lunch with wine was worth it. Discreet and friendly service, perfect setting, excellent food (notwithstanding my lack of red onion - I like red onion). I will be back for dinner some evening.

the traditional Irish-Australian barbecue

Take one Irish-Australian woman, a warm summer's evening, a pleasant bottle of 2000 Langhorne Creek shiraz, some sausages made by an Irish butcher in Sydney, a freshly-made Greek salad and a couple of steaks, and what do you get?

The perfect Thursday evening.

Monday, February 23, 2009

wbw #54 - a passion for Piedmont

It was all planned. Our monthly Wednesday-night catch-up fell on 18 February and we were good to go. Down to the City Wine Shop was the plan, browse the shelves, enlist the help of the staff to find ourselves a good Piedmontese wine, sit at the bar or outside overlooking Parliament, put the world to rights, and do our selected bottle proud.

Then, on 7 February, our world changed utterly. As the bushfires raged all around Melbourne, we got to work and didn't look back. WBW, in fact everything else in life, took a back seat. We worked fourteen hours a day, fell into bed, did it all again the next morning.

Ten days in one of us saw the diary entry reminding us of our original date. We were still swamped in Red Cross operations but decided to make our best effort to meet that night for a few hours of normality amidst the madness.

City Wine Shop was too ambitious an objective: too far away even though it is only a couple of miles. We needed somewhere closer to the office.

In the end, we grabbed a couple of hours at a local restaurant, Rubicon, on Errol Street. It has recently changed hands and the food was average at best but we didn't care.

Piedmontese wine was not in evidence on the limited wine list. No matter. We chose an old reliable, a bottle of 2006 Buckshot from Heathcote - nothing in common with the Piedmont region but the best we could do. That winery would have faced its own problems on 7 February. Much of Victoria's wine industry has been seriously affected, with vineyards gone up in flames and a lot of what is left shrivelled in the intense heat.

We sat quietly and raised our glasses, to each other, to those much more deeply affected than us, to the future.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

yarra valley after the fires

I had reason to travel to Healesville and Yarra Glen this week, ten days after the worst bushfires in Australian history hit.

Read more here.

We all want to help, so what should we do? Go there. Have a coffee. Go for lunch. Taste some wine. Buy something. Tell your friends.

We love our Victorian wines and our country towns. Now is the time to support them.

If we all promise to make at least one trip to a bushfire-affected town sometime between now and Anzac Day, spend some time and spend some money, maybe some of the local businesses will survive and life will be better for all of us.

Make your plan. It's not a stay-or-go plan. It's a Go Plan.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

weird food in tins

Check out this photo album of weird food in tins. There were others in the photos I received that I didn't think were too weird - like haggis and crocodile green curry (which I have eaten and is lovely... if prepared fresh and not eaten from a tin!).

mmmm tasty