29 November 2016

Reminder: What Melbourne Loved 2016

It's time to send your favourite to me. Really. I don't have enough for a series yet.

10 November 2016

So, yesterday happened and the lump in the world's heart is palpable.

Blessed, Matt Hickey, Olivia Monticcicolo. Phtoto by Sarah Walker

I went to the theatre and saw Blessed, a gorgeously dark and loving play by Attic Erratic (written by Fleur Kilpatrick, directed by Danny Delahunty). It's about finding the holy in unexpected places and people, which is where god always knew it was hidden. For an hour, a room full of people could be in a world that wasn't yesterday's world. It felt good.

At the party after, which was celebrating the launch of the second Poppy Seed Festival, I watched Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock) sing a song I remember pashing to as teenager and then he danced to a Madonna song with a group of 40-something women. And the world felt right for a while.

There's been a loud call to bring "What Melbourne Loved" back and today is an excellent day to remind ourselves of the power and anger and the hope and healing of theatre and art.

To take part, email me your answers to:

What was your favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016?
It could be a show, a performance, an overheard comment in an interval, a thought the next day or anything that gave you that jolt that says "this is why we do this".

I know some of you like to write a lot, but try to keep it succinct, because there's a second questions this year.

What are you looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017?
It could be something that is programmed to happen or something that you wish for.

Also send me your favourite photo of you and credit the photographer if you can.

I've just read though the past years and, dammit, we've got so many amazing people working, living and passing through this city. I can't wait to start reading and sharing. They'll start in December.

If you haven't contributed before, please do.

And please get a lot to me by the end of November. I'll keep going in December until we run out, but I need a lot to get us started. If you see something amazing after you've done yours, we can update.


12 November 2016

Review: The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple
Melbourne Theatre Company
12 November 2016
The Sumner
to 17 December

Shaun Micallef, Michala Banas, Christie Whelan Browne, Francis Greenslade. Photo by Jeff Busby

“Is she pregnant? No just fat.” Boom-boom. It’s such a good week to remind us that women are best kept pretty or pregnant.

The Odd Couple is the MTC’s end-of-year already-close-enough-to-sold-out cash-cow show with Shaun Micallef as Felix, the neat-freak cow, and Francis Greenslade, as Oscar the messy bull.

The Neil Simon play opened on Broadway in 1965 and became better known by its 1968 film and the 1970’s spin-off TV series. It’s about middle-aged straight white men with comfortable incomes, and based on the absurdity that two men could live together as a couple. When Felix’s marriage breaks up, he moves in with his lonely divorced mate Oscar in his New York appartment. To make it easy to understand the ha-ha, Felix likes doing girl things like looking nice, cooking and cleaning.

And even though this feminine side creates chuckles, it’s still stronger than the women in the play. The two onstage woman talk about taking off their clothes in front of the fridge when they are hot – silly girls – but they are very pretty and their impact on the story is minimal. There are more offstage women: wives and ex-wives who annoy the men by calling on poker night (there are four poker buddies) and are complained about, laughed at and lied to.

Sure, it was written at a time when nasty women didn’t get involved in politics or write much about peecee theatre – but why bring it back? Neil Simon is a terrific writer, but would he write this now?

There’s more to the script than easy jokes, but it’s hard to see much exploration of it. There’s plenty to reflect on about men who have been broken by the end of their marriages, but Micallef crying like a buffoon and mugging does little more than resemble emotion.

It’s as hard to see irony, reflection or self awareness on the stage. Apart from the face-slap irony that Micallef and Greenslade have created some of the sharpest political satire on television. And that it’s presented by the same company that recently gave us Straight White Men, which ripped the privileged dead heart out of plays like this, and Lilith the Jungle Girl, which put a queer heart back into anyone who has never seen themselves represented on a commercial stage.

Is The Odd Couple the commercial price for these shows? But why this show? There are lots of commercial, funny, successful, money-making plays that these actors could have done. There are plays that don’t have a cast of six middle aged white men and two pretty young women.

If it’s just harmless escapism for the subscribers, who are these people who want to escape to a world that’s dominated by middle-aged straight white men who laugh about how they deceive and trick women, and think that “Chinese” food is exotic? Are they really the people who subscribe?

At least there wasn’t a pussy-grabbing gag. But maybe that would have said something about us and now.

This was on AussieTheatre.com..

07 November 2016

Food reviews

I wrote these for Issimo magazine in 2014–15*. They're no longer online and menus and prices will have changed, but they still all great places to find a vegetarian treat in a non-vego menu.

*A long-ago time when food trucks were a novelty.

48 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea (near Ripponlea train station)

Spout is the sort of cafe that locals want to keep to themselves.

The staff are delightful, the strong house-blend coffee’s ground per cup and consistently warrants a second, the serves are generous, everything (including a daily muffin) is made in the open kitchen, and there’s always a surprisingly unique vegetarian choice.

Citrus black beans with Meredith feta and quinoa bread 
$15.50 plus $3 for a perfectly poached egg

The Middle Eastern style beans have a welcome hint of crunch from being soaked – not tinned – and the limey tang adds a freshness that instantly removes any memories of floury bean dishes. Combined with creamy oil-dressed feta, a silky egg (recommended by staff) and a flaky-yet-dense bread (that’s even gluten free), it’s a treat to go back for.


Shanghai Street
146 Little Bourke Street (they now have shops all over, including a great one in Windsor)

If you think Melbourne foodies argue about the best lattes, wait until you ask about the best dumplings!

Vegetarians always have fewer choices but, containing the search to Chinatown in the city, Shanghai Street’s vegetable dumplings are the consistent winner.

Fried vegetable dumpling 

Made in an open kitchen (no frozen dumplings here), the serve of 15 is enough for the hungriest dumplarian and each is so plump that it’s impossible to eat one in a mouthful.

With your table-made soy, vinegar and chilli dipping sauce, the steamed ones are addictive, but when a dumpling is so amply filled with the greenest of greens, with a hint of tofu and chewy wood fungus, there’s no guilt in indulging in the fried – just let them cool down before biting in.

Borsch, Vodka & Tears 
173 Chapel Street, Windsor

It’s easy to get lost in the menu pages dedicated to vodkas, but the name of this favourite Windsor restaurant insists on soup as well. And the tears are those of joy to find vegetarian dishes among the goulashes.

Vegetarian Polish borsch with porcini mushroom uszka 
$14.50 (or $11.50 for lunch)

Unlike some borsches, it’s a clear broth. Served in hand-painted bowls, its purple is like the last glimpse of a pink sunset in a darkening blue sky. It’s sweet like the beetroot it’s made with but balanced with a lemony tang, which all comes together with a dunking of light rye bread – never skimping on the butter! Then there’s the real indulgence: three hand-made uszka dumplings with an earthy porcini filling that turn this soup into the one I want for my last meal.


Taco Truck
Various. Today’s dish on High Street, Northcote

Forget food vans that only offer soggy chips for vegos because Melbourne’s food trucks have made lining up on the footpath and eating on a patch of grass a gourmet delight.

There are two Taco Trucks touring the inner suburbs. It’s not super cheap or fast, but every meal is made to order, is served by happy staff and redefines dated ideas about Mexican takeaway. And there’s always a vegetarian taco.

Taco plate with house-made corn chips and guacamole 
Potato taco with jalapeno ricotta, slaw and salsa verde

Take a large first bite to include the crisp salad and mildly spiced cheese before feeling the crack of the deep fried taco with its chewy and soft potato filling. For heat fans, there are sauces and always upsize with corn chips and fresh guacamole, which tastes like it’s straight from an avocado tree.

Taco Truck Facebook page

Magic Cuisine
Centro Shopping Centre, Box Hill. In the fresh food market.

If there’s anything disappointing about vegetarian eating in Melbourne, it’s steamed buns. Sweet custard and red bean buns are plentiful, but savoury ones are harder to find.

Magic Cuisine, in the Box Hill shopping centre, offers pre-packaged Malaysian-style marinated goodies, coloured jellies for drinks, and three steamed buns: pork, veggie and red bean.

Veggie Bun 
$2.00 each

Made in the kitchen you can see, each bun comes fresh from a steamer. The dense white bread is warm and soft and filled with a mix of mushroom, black fungus, bean curd and bok choy that, without spice or sauce to distract, surprises with its mix of flavours and textures – and instantly made me feel like I was in Kuala Lumpur.

Being palm size, each bun is a substantial snack, but you’ll need extras to take home.


Supper Inn
15 Celestial Lane, Melbourne

If you haven’t had a three-course meal at Supper Inn at 1.30am, you’re not a Melbournian.

It’s at the top of a dark stairwell, at the end of a small dark lane that’s filled with bins. First-timers think you’re joking or trying to murder them. But it’s always full and I’ve never been there after midnight when there wasn’t a table of people in football scarfs, even when there hadn’t been a match.

The wood panelled d├ęcor, menu (and maybe the staff) haven’t changed much since it opened in the 80s and the Cantonese menu hasn’t always welcomed vegetarians, but there’s one dish that’s made it to the main menu.

Deep fried eggplant, beancurd and beans with spicy salt and chilli

The eggplant is melt in your mouth, the bean curd’s slightly chewy and the beans still have crunch  – and it’s batter coated, deep fried and covered with chilli, spring onions and a spicy salt. The quality isn’t consistent, but at its best, you’ll have to order a second serve because everyone wants more.

Tuck Shop Take Away
273 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield

Take Away’s owners have, between them, worked at Fat Duck (yes, Heston’s), Attica and Vue de Monde. Now they’ve revamped a sad corner milk bar into a cooler-than-school-ever-was Tuck Shop where they flip burgers.

If the steady lunch crowd and extended waiting time is anything to go by, their burgers must be flipping brilliant. But my test is the veggie option.

Veggie Wedgie with Cuts

First, always order cuts (chips). Hand cut and triple cooked, they are greasy and salty and make you remember what chips are meant to taste like.

The Veggie is served exactly like its non-veg counterpart, but with a pink lentil, brown rice and beetroot patty. The patty is missing some chew factor, but it’s not what makes this treat memorable. From the butter-grilled, sesame-sprinkled brioche bun to the crunchy iceberg lettuce, it looks like the memory of childhood burgers. And with pickles, a very special mayo-tomato-mustard sauce and melting bright yellow cheese, it tastes even better than it looks.

Tuck Shop Facebook page

Naked for Satan: Naked in the Sky
285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

A visit to Naked for Satan is already such a quintessential Melbourne experience that it’s hard to believe it’s only four-years-old.

Resist the plates of pintxos at ground level (next time) and find the lift to the rooftop, where the views stretch from the city to the Dandenongs to the balconies of nearby apartments.

The bar menu has about 15 tapas treats, plus cheeses, sweets and heaven-blessed house-made vodkas. The vegetarian offerings are limited, but irresistible.

Mushroom Parfait with onion jam, smoked almonds and radish

Never has a square of grey been so moorish. Intensely mushroomy, it’s also so creamy that it’s best to not think about the butter in it. And there’s plenty of crunchy bread to experiment with to find your unforgettable combination of parfait, sweet onion jam, smoky almond and fresh salad.


All photos by A-M Peard