Wednesday, 29 April 2009

HOT: Ezard, Adelphi Hotel, 187 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000

It seems that the GFC really has hit the fine dining scene in Melbourne, as even two-hatted Ezard is offering a discount voucher in the Entertainment Book this year.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to get a discount on very good food, I suggested that we take RM's uncle Ian out to dinner as a thank you for letting us camp out at his house while our rental nightmares got sorted out.

The service in the dimly lit narrow underground restaurant was impeccable from the start and the wait staff were all dressed stylishly in slim Prada (or Prada-esque) suits. Without too much thought, we decided to splash out on the 8 course tasting menu ($135), starting with a wasabi and sake oyster shooter that required a Heimlich manoeuvre and ending with a classic Chinese style roast duck. On the way, we veered from Japanese to Italian to Thai, with my highlight being the crab wonton resting in a pool of fragrant coconut and lemongrass laksa and sprinkled with tiny pops of wasabi beads and finger limes.

(Unfortunately I can't share any photos to accompany this post, as my official photographer thought that it'd be daggy to take a camera to such a salubrious establishment.)

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

NOT: Fernwood Women's Fitness Clubs, 475 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000

I know that it's very ungrateful of me to NOT a gym where I'm getting free membership, but this blog is all written in the spirit of honest criticism.

The Flinders Lane branch of Fernwood feels small and dingy, and I think it's because there are no windows except the narrow frontage. They have all the usual equipment, but the class timetable is pretty sparse and the early morning class is at 6:45am, way too early for me. As a member you have breakfast for free and the change rooms look clean and provide things like hairdryers and deodarant.

Overall, if I was to pick a city gym, I don't think this compares well to Genesis.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

HOT: The Audition, Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton 3053

While in London, I really gained an appreciation for the opera - so I was excited to hear that Cinema Nova were screening The Audition, a behind-the-scenes documentary about New York's Met Opera auditions.

The story follows a group of hopeful young opera singers as they prepare for the grand final - a chance to be one of six winners of a bursary and recognition of their world-class potential. Although I am definitely not a professional musician, my years of piano exams and piano competitions meant that I could respect and relate somewhat to the experience of these young artists. You work long and hard, often solo, to prepare for a single moment - and you can't rely on anyone else when you're on stage, alone with your instrument.

To me it was quite clear from the start who some of the winners would be - their personality, drive and vocal quality was striking. However, it was still an interesting journey, and of course I got to hear some wonderful music.

HOT: Shark Fin House, 131 Little Bourke St, Melbourne

Trust me - the best yum cha in Melbourne is from Shark Fin House. Don't get it confused with Shark Fin Inn, also on Little Bourke - they're in the same group of restaurants, but House is superior. You'll be able to work out which is which, as House always has a line of eager eaters waiting for the doors to open at 11am on a Sunday. They also have an inflexible rule where they will only hold your table for 15 minutes, and all diners must have arrived by then - and they will call you a couple of times during the week to confirm your booking.

Eating at Shark Fin House is an adrenalin sport. You have to be attentive to pounce on a trolley as it exits the kitchen, newly laden with steaming bamboo baskets (note that in my view there is no savoury-to-sweet order in yum cha - you eat what is fresh at the time, even if you start off on egg tarts). You have to catch the eye of the trolley lady to make sure she doesn't take the path to the table of 12, who will inevitably haul every single steamer of roast pork buns. Be decisive, don't ask too many questions about what stuff is and don't be afraid to shout for attention or to stand over a trolley possessively to claim your dim sum. Basically, take me along or someone else who speaks Chinese!

Also, a word of warning - don't ever get shunted up to the third floor. I didn't even know a third floor existed and RM and I think we've worked out why - it's because I'm Chinese. RM has been seated in the third floor before (along with all the other gweilo - just check out the people on the lift going down) and we have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps the third floor gets the leftovers, the least fresh food? Hmmm.....

Friday, 24 April 2009

NOT: Little Cupcakes, Shop 7 Degraves St, Melbourne 3000

Aww - I feel dastardly giving cute candy-striped Little Cupcakes a NOT. But really, it's only because their red velvet cupcake ($4) didn't compare favourably to the red velvet cupcake from London's Hummingbird Bakery. The cream cheese icing and the flavours were right, but it was just a bit too crumbly for my taste. Perhaps it was just that batch - I'll give it another go next time I'm enroute to Flinders St station.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

HOT: Alain de Botton and Michael Leuing, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, RMIT, Storey Hall. Swanston Street, Melbourne 3000

My book club buddy Jane has a keen crush on the author Alain de Botton, but I'd never really understood what it was about his big bald forehead and boring jumpers that she found so attractive.

Well, now I have to agree with her - if nothing else the man is delightful to listen to. He's on a worldwide tour to promote his latest book 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work' and he conducted a free talk and discussion with noted cartoonist Michael Leunig at RMIT.

But first, let me give you my impression of the interior of Storey Hall. What a monstrosity. The walls were tessellated into lime kindergarten puzzle shapes, juxtaposed against camo-brown padded asylum walls or flying into an angry flourescent pink background above the stage. Jutting out from one side was something like the opaque roof of a green and white spaceship. At ground level, classical columns supported a carved balustrade, all painted mint green. I don't know whether the designers were trying to evoke rainforests, gumtrees or what, but I hated it.

Alain de Botton made up for the ugly surroundings. The topic of his book is particularly pertinent for me right now because I'm currently conducting my job search with a back-to-basics view - I need a job which pays a wage so that I can live. The job doesn't have to be the perfect, I don't have to adore what I'm doing and it's certainly not going to define me or be my source of self-worth. He spoke eloquently and amusingly about his reasons for writing about the topic of work and some interesting findings arising from his research - I won't give too much away except to say that it really encouraged me to read the book. I could have listened to his mellifluous English accent for the full hour, but after about 20 minutes we got some slightly shambolic comments from Michael Leunig and then Q&A from the audience.

HOT: ********, * ***** **, Melbourne 3000

Dear Mum

I think I've just found my wedding dress! Right now I can't say where the shop is though, as RM also reads this blog. Let's just say it's from my ever-reliable dress shop - every time I've needed a special occasion dress I've popped in 'just for a look' and come out with something wonderful, in exactly my size. And this dress? Well, it's white and long and just right.

Love Jetsetting Joyce

HOT: Koko Black, Shop 4 Royal Arcade, 335 Bourke St, Melbourne 3000

In need of a chocolate boost, I ducked into the artisan chocolatier Koko Black and discovered that they've developed a product which taps into a lucrative market - students.

I remember that as a uni student, I would regularly take a Fruit 'n' Nut into lectures, as it helped me to stay awake under a lecturer's droning. Koko Black's Student Fare is basically a fancy version of a Cadbury's chocolate bar - fruit and nuts pressed into three large buds of dark chocolate for $5.75.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

HOT: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon St, Elsternwick 3185

It's not often that I'd say that a film adaptation is better than the book, but to my surprise that was the case for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

I really didn't like the book, mostly because I thought the protaganist Bruno was rather annoying and frustratingly dim about what his Nazi commandant father did for a living, and that the 'farm' next door was a concentration camp. So I didn't have any expectation that I would enjoy the movie.

However, in the film, the big wide eyes of Asa Butterfield managed to convince me that perhaps an 8 year old could be that innocent, even right up to the end (which I won't give away). Also, Vera Farmiga impressed me with her portrayal of his mother as she moved from pride to disenchantment to anguish.

Some reviewers have criticised the film for sanitising the horrors of a concentration camp, but I think director Mark Herman has achieved the right balance here, as the whole purpose of the storyline is that it is told from the perspective of a child who has the truth hidden away from him. Perhaps he is a useful symbolic counterpart for all those citizens of Nazi Germany who deliberately chose not to see or to know.

HOT: Phillippa's Breads, Pastries and Provisions, 1030 High Street, Armadale 3143

Philippa Grogan is the doyenne of her eponymous artisanal bakeries in Melbourne, and her breads and pastries are right at home in chi-chi Armadale.

Although I really did fancy one of her expensive cakes for lunch, I opted instead for a pasty ($7.50) as I was starving and in need of carbs. It was an extremely good example of pasty-making - a fragrant buttery pastry, recognisable vegetables in the filling (not just a grey mush) and served with a spicy tomato relish.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

HOT: Mark Watson, All The Thoughts I've Had Since I Was Born, Melbourne Town Hall, Cnr Swanston and Collins Sts, Melbourne 3000

Sometimes, quantity does equal quality. UK comedian Mark Watson sold out his 7:15pm session at the Main Hall of the Melbourne Town Hall, and with good reason as his show was the best act we saw in this year's festival. It wasn't pee-your-pants-funny, wow-that's-so-clever-funny or that's-really-cute-funny, but pretty much straight-down-the-line-stand-up from a likeable guy. And there's nothing wrong with that.

HOT: Mr Tulk, State Library, 328 Swanston Street, Melbourne 3000

The State Library's resident cafe, Mr Tulk, is not just a mere sideline to the books - I've often eaten at the cafe without stepping foot into the library, my only reading material a copy of The Age's weekly Epicure section.

The light-filled space is decorated with the jewel colours and scarpering curlews of Spike Hibberd's mural, the lines of which echo the wrought iron grilles covering the high arch windows. My choice of seating is always the large communal table, where I can linger over their delicious muesli with poached fruit and yoghurt ($10.50), with plenty of space to spread out your choice of broadsheet or tabloid.

Monday, 20 April 2009

HOT: Genesis Fitness Club, Level 2, 50 Lonsdale St, Melbourne 3000

In a bid not to start sagging at 30 or to have my wedding photos recording unsightly bulges for posterity, I've decided to join a gym. Well, sort of. Budgetary constraints and a lack of certainty in my living and work locations mean that I'm actually being a guileless gym tart by lining up a series of free trials at various gyms around the CBD.

First up is seven days at Genesis Fitness Club. Their website looked a bit cheap and amateurish, so I was surprised to find a bright, clean, spacious and well-equipped gym, with lockers that use a pincode instead of the ones where you have to put a coin in (which you never have with you, or forget to retrieve at the end). I've already been to the yoga and pilates class, and I'll be making sure I get the most out of this week's gym membership by also trying out Bodypump, Cardio Blitz and spin classes.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

HOT: Ganache Chocolate Lounge, 250 Toorak Rd, South Yarra 3141

The master chocolatier from Koko Black has defected to South Yarra to open his own chocolate store and cafe, Ganache Chocolate Lounge. The cafe tables and leather sofa make a cosy retreat from the South Yarra shopping strips and the selection of handmade chocolates and gelatos are a nice alternative to a restaurant dessert.

RM and I both liked their strawberry and chocolate chip gelato, dusted with chocolate flakes ($3.50). We also took home a bar of distinctively creamy dark chocolate with almonds ($6.90), which we devoured over more episodes of Mad Men.

HOT: Cosi Bar Ristorante, 68 Toorak Rd, South Yarra 3141

Cosi's gone upmarket since I was last there, regularly devouring their fabulous pancakes for breakfast. The light-filled restaurant still has the lovely courtyard area, but the tables are now covered by white linen tableclothes and the food is much more formal.

That's not necessarily a criticism, it's just not what we were expecting for a lunch over the Sunday papers. Linen tableclothes seem to dictate a ban on reading matter at the table and an effort at proper conversation.

So, to the food. RM's duck ravioli ($27.50) was delicious, with the pasta at a proper al dente texture. Unfortunately, neither he or I were fans of the oily sauce, but only because we should have known better than to order a dish with brown butter and not because it was badly executed. My pork belly ($36) was definitely on the dry side, but I liked it in combination with the creamy roast apple and the fresh tang of the finely julienned carrots, fennel and green apple.

Combined with their gracious laughter when I broke the pepper grinder, and the Entertainment Card discount, a lovely meal.

HOT: Tulpan, Cinema Como, 299 Toorak Rd, South Yarra 3141

I made a pretty easy bet with RM that a film set in Kazakhstan would involve two things - steppes and camels. In the first second of Tulpan, both of these appeared to set the scene for the domestic drama of the young man Asa, his sister, her stern husband and brood of adorable children, his friend Boni and Tulpan.

Tulplan is the name of the faceless young girl who Asa wants to, and needs to, marry so that he can have his own flock of sheep and build his home on the steppe. When she refuses to marry him, supposedly because of his big ears, she comes to represent all of his unattainable dreams of a happy and prosperous shepherd's life, with a wife and children waiting for him at his yurt. The story moves at a leisurely pace, following the shepherd's day to day existence framed by the unending horizon of the dusty steppe, the onimous stormy skies, the wild, twisting sandstorms and the simple, infinite cycle of life and death. It's a beautiful piece of work.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

HOT: Mary and Max, Hoyts Melbourne Central, Cnr Swanston and Latrobe Sts, Melbourne 3000

Mary and Max is the highlight of my 2009 film-going so far. This claymation debut feature film, written, directed and built by Adam Elliot (of Harvey Krumpet), is an endearing and touching story about two social outcasts and unlikely penpals. Mary is a funny-looking, bespectacled kid from Mount Waverley, who has no-hoper parents, no friends but does have a keen curiosity about the world. Max is an middle-aged, overweight, chocolate-hot-dog eating loner from Noo Yawk, who has difficulty connecting with the world and who often finds himself 'confuzzled' by the behaviour of others due to him having Asperger's syndrome. Through the years they keep up a sometimes witty, sometimes sad and always honest correspondence, enclosing some chocolate each time as a sign of continued friendship.

As the two friends travel through the ups and downs of their lives - love, death, marriage, public accolades, depression, divorce, alcholism and even a lottery win - they know this truth to be self-evident; that all people want to feel connected to other people, and that friendship and love are things which should be valued and respected above everything else.

In addition to the wonderful story, the film is clearly a labour of love for Elliot. Claymation is a notoriously time-consuming and finicky form of animation, and his eye for detail is apparent everywhere - from the Collingwood jersey worn by the school bully, to the gravestone at the cemetry saying 'RIP Adam Elliot'. He has imbued the drudgery of suburbia, the loneliness of a metropolis and his dung-coloured clay characters with such love and human spirit that the very fitting ending had me tearing up.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

NOT: Samson and Delilah, Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton 3053

Oh Lord. Samson and Delilah was a long, depressing and earnestly worthy film about two Aboriginal kids leaving their isolated community, losing their way (literally and metaphorically) then finding their way home again (literally and metaphorically). The movie was framed by the harsh, bright heat lamps of the outback and filled with dust, dirt and deprivation. I applaud the writer and director for highlighting the harsh realities of what it's like being young and Aboriginal, an outcast from society, but there was very little in either petrol-sniffing Samson or good-hearted Delilah that I loved, related to or wanted to support.

HOT: Brunetti, 194 - 204 Faraday Street, Carlton 3053

The original Carlton Brunetti is bustling at all times of the day - it seems that Melbournians just can't get enough of their coffee, cakes, breads....and for me, the Italian hot chocolate ($4.40). The properly bitter and thick hot chocolate simply does not compare to the insipid powdered mudwater that is trotted out at a lot of cafes (including once, to my horror, a ragged Cadbury sachet was used). It's still not quite thick enough for my liking, as I like to be able to eat my hot chocolate with a spoon, but it did nicely soothe my cough-stricken throat.

Update 27 April 2009: Pitstop lunch for $8.50, a nicely toasted baguette with salami, rocket, cheese and artichokes.

HOT: Aesop Facial Treatment , 153 Toorak Rd, South Yarra 3141

During my teen years, I was lucky enough to display smug, blemish-free skin while everyone else at school was bulk-buying Clearasil. My luck changed though when I hit my last stressful year of school and for years later I was stuck in a quagmire of testing, searching and discarding skincare products - until I was Saved By Aesop *light shines from the heavens*.

To be more specific, I was saved by Maria, who works at the Aesop South Yarra store. Maria is the queen bee of Aesop's facialists, having been lured out of retirement by the founder of Aesop to develop a series of facials for his products, and who also trains every Aesop therapist. There are only two people in the world I trust with my skin now - Maria and Ingrid (ex-Aesop therapist at Liberty in London).

The whole Aesop facial experience is calmly luxurious. When you enter, you are handed a light sarong and then given a choice to shower before the facial. You then lie back on the super-comfortable bed, snuggle up with a duvet and a cashmere throw, and let Maria do her magic. Basically, I trust her to do whatever she wants with my skin - she not only uses Aesop products, but will incorporate fresh 'botanical booster' ingredients, while at all times giving a sure and steady massage. This time she decided to give my ravaged skin an antioxidant Vitamin C boost. Not cheap for $150 but a lovely treat.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

HOT: Dralion by Cirque de Soleil, Grand Chapiteau, 453 - 507 Docklands Drive, Docklands

I love the arts, but for some reason I've never been gaga for circus (and particularly dislike burlesque). As far as circuses go though, Cirque de Soleil produces some of the best shows and this year they've brought their big top to Melbourne for Dralion.

Dralion takes the Chinese circus tradition and mixes it with Western dance, music and acrobatics. As such, you get your usual tiny girl contortionists and boy acrobats flipping and spinning somersaults (although they do it through tiny hoops, which is particularly impressive as they need to be very precise). It is intermingled with a spectacular trampoline act where pairs of acrobats bounce, spin and twist their way up a wall with perfect timing, an extreme juggler, an elegant aerial pas de deux and of course sprinkled with some good old-fashioned clowning around.

Boys and girls, don't try this at home.

HOT: Don Don, 321 Swanston St, Melbourne 3000

The history of my enduring love for Don Don began with Jenny, who was then working at ASIC (which is close to Don Don's Little Lonsdale St branch). She raved about the cheap and hearty Japanese food and fast service, such that I would occasionally schlep my way up from my office on Collins St just to eat there.

The second phase of Don Don love was during my secondment at Sensis, where I was across the road from its Swanston St branch. The tiny little restaurant was always cramped and busy with many office workers and students, and I'd eat there frequently at lunch, or pre-movie, or take away home.

Two years on, and the formula still works, although the days of $5 dishes are no longer. Cath and I met up for a quick Sashi Don, a large bowl of rice filled with crunchy radish and cabbage, pink ginger, pickles and a large rosette of raw salmon. Great value for $8.30.

Monday, 13 April 2009

HOT: Dogs Breakfast Trading Company, 245-247 Johnston St, Fitzroy 3065

I'm not sure why you'd call your stores such an unappealing name as Dogs Breakfast, but its name belies an appealing store if you're into homewares and replica furniture.

Unsurprisingly, I was browsing thoroughly aisle by aisle, picking up fabulous things like plastic microwave containers and sheet sets. RM flitted around uninspired until he spotted the 50% off Nood (New Objects of Desire) zebra magazine rack, which should go perfectly with our new black-white-silver apartment.

HOT: Lost and Found Market, 12 Smith St, Collingwood 3066

RM has been very patient with my new found penchant for retro lamps, so off I dragged him to Lost and Found Market. This indoor market is smaller than Chapel St Bazaar but runs on the same idea - stall holders have a small space to display their secondhand wares, ranging from clothes, accessories, furniture, books and prints. Obviously you need to have the patience to trawl through a lot of stuff, but there were lots of treasures to be found. Kartell cabinets and stacking tables, old school desks, Planet lamps, and a red toy car all caught my eye, but luckily RM was much more practical than me and we didn't end up buying anything

Sunday, 12 April 2009

NOT: Andrew Lawrence – My Contemptible Life in a Gutter of Abject Desolation, Vic's Bar, Victoria Hotel, 215 Little Collins St, Melbourne 3000

The title of Andrew Lawrence's show really said it all - it was an hour of twisted, pessimistic comedy. That's not to say that it wasn't funny - RM and I decided that it was moderately funny, in that we didn't feel like we'd been ripped off by paying $20 a ticket, but it's not like I was peeing my pants or marvelling at his cleverness, and it's not a show that I would recommend to others. As RM said, perhaps he'd be funnier in the UK, where the audience would be more likely to be right into misery humour.

HOT: Grill'd, 157 Chapel St, Windsor 3181

Grill'd don't just produce any burgers, they pride themselves on producing large, healthy and tasty premium burgers (a la Gourmet Burger King). From what I could see their clientele seemed to be mostly single males between the ages of 20-35, so it was only natural that it was RM's first choice for a lunch spot.

Despite not being their target market, I enjoyed my Hot Mama beef burger with salad, harissa and tzatiki. The beef patty was a bit overcooked for my taste, thus lacking juiciness, but still the quality of the meat was evident. At the time of ordering I was given the choice of hot or burn ya face off hot....and I can confirm that the latter is really very hot in a masochistic kind of way. RM similarly enjoyed his Zen Hen chicken burger with satay sauce, although I'm not sure whether he realised there was herb mayo in it (he has a deathly fear of mayonnaise). We also shared a small portion of chips, which were properly fried and sprinkled with herbs. Eating with our hands, letting the juices run down our fingers, basking in the Sunday sun - it was the perfect weekend carbo-loading lunch.

Update 9 May 2009: Saturday night in front of America's Next Top Model meant it was Burger Night! So to our nearest Grill'd in QV for a Sweet Chilli Chicken and a highly recommended Bombay Bliss.

HOT: Chapel St Bazaar, 217 Chapel Street, Prahran 3181

Poking around a market is the perfect Sunday activity for me, and luckily RM was happy to indulge in my new-found passion for retro furniture. Chapel St Bazaar, a treasure trove of unusual vintage everything, yielded not one, but two wonderfully restored and reasonably priced 60s lamps - a blue one for him, a red one for me. I was thrilled with our purchases, but unfortunately it just got me started on the whole retro furniture thing. We've just begun our season of Mad Men, and while I enjoy the story and like the costumes, I've developed the annoying habit of squealing 'lamp!' 'chair!' 'table' every time I spot something I like...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

HOT: Max Brenner, Level 2, QV Square, 210 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne 3000

Is this the beginning of an outrageous new trend in Australia - charging extra for eating and drinking on a weekend?

The 10% surchage that Max Brenner slap onto your bill on the weekends didn't seem to deter the hoards of people, mostly young and Asian, queueing up for their dose of chocolate as they perched on the low wooden stools. For a take-home chocolate dose, the cafe also displayed a tempting wall of beautifully packaged products and individual handmade chocolates.

Whilst we read the papers and commented on Natalie Imbruglia's improbably puffy lips, RM cradled his hug cup of Danish toffee chocolate ($5.50) and glanced covetously at my warm chocolate babka with chocolate sauce ($6). Both delicious, both indulgent and the perfect Easter treat.

Update 23 May 2009: If you're in need of a chocolate hit from Max Brenners, I recommend that you stick to their hot chocolates, souffle and babka. Their $4 choc chip cookie was dry and worst of all, not chocolatey enough.

HOT: Pacific Seafood BBQ House, 240 Victoria St, Richmond 3121

The original Pacific House is the dingier older sister of my previous local Chinese, Pacific House in South Yarra. As its name suggests, the Cantonese restaurant is best for two things - seafood and Chinese BBQ. We ordered a delicious BBQ duck rice, an ok char kwey tiu with too many onions and an enormous mound of snow pea sprouts stir-fried in garlic. All good until our plan for a cheap Chinese meal was unexpectedly derailed - the snow pea sprouts cost $17, almost as much as our other two dishes combined!

HOT: IKEA, Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre, Cnr Victoria St and Burnley St, Richmond, 3121

So it's Easter long weekend, what are your plans? Facebook tells me that 'Jane is going to Paris', 'Michael is heading to Munchen', 'Ev is eating mochi in Japan' 'Caroline is getting ready for Stockholm' and 'Isabelle is in the Alps'.

And Jetsetting Joyce? She is going to IKEA. I've officially checked out of Life.

Being unemployed means that this is my third trip to IKEA in a week - but only because I wanted to lay the groundwork for RM's visit so he wouldn't have to deal with my in-depth specification, colour, style and price analyses. By my third visit I could just say 'what do you think of that' 'NO' 'and that?' 'NO' 'what about this?' 'YES'. It made for a remarkably argument-free furniture shopping first date.

IKEA does have some cheap, good stuff if you're setting up home. Like the Malm headboard, the Norden gateleg table, Solsta sofabed, Expedit TV unit, Lamplig chopping board and Idealisk colander. Unfortunately, it seems that everyone else wants to set up their home to look just like ours, as almost 50% of what we liked wasn't available by the time we got to the self-service section. Humph. Guess it'll be a fourth trip to IKEA then.

Friday, 10 April 2009

NOT: Big Laugh Out, Melbourne Comedy Festival, Federation Square, Melbourne 3000

Things that are not comedy:

1. Repeatedly asking someone their name.
2. Any form of mass audience participation (except cheering), especially hand clapping games.
3. Dressing up in a paper mache whale costume.
4. Squealing ear-piercing whale sounds over a microphone at Federation Square.
5. Chanting 'dum de dum de dum de dum' over and over and over again while dressed up as Alice in Wonderland.

Just because it's family comedy doesn't mean that you're allowed to be not funny! Some of the acts in the Melbourne Comedy Festival's Big Laugh Out were so dire that RM declared it 'worst comedy ever'. At least it was free.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

HOT: Pho Dzung Tan Dinh, 208 Victoria St, Richmond 3121

Victoria Street is Melbourne's mini-Vietnam, which means the strip from Hoddle St to Church St is lined with numerous pho (sliced beef noodle soup) restaurants, all propounding to sell the best bowl in town. Selecting a restaurant can be a bit daunting for the uninitiated - life's too short to be eating bad pho.

The only place I recommend is Pho Dzung Tan Dinh, otherwise known as Laughing Cow, Laughing Chicken. This sticky, white tiled restaurant has my parents' approval, my Chilean friend Oscar enjoyed it and more importantly, my Vietnamese friends Huy and Jenny rate it for being tasty and authentic. On a Wednesday afternoon, it was filled with a brisk trade of Asians (always a good sign) and gweilo in the know, all ferociously slurping up bowls of steaming noodles piled with fresh mint, bean sprouts and chilli for under $10. If your budget can push over $10, give the 3 and 4 colour bean drink a try too.

HOT: Stelios, above 54 Bridge Rd, Richmond 3121

Long ago when I first moved to Melbourne, I asked my flatmate whether she could recommend a hairdresser. She immediately launched into an enthusiastic PR spiel for her hairdresser, known as Stelios (only one name required, like Madonna). My haircuts gained such widespread acclaim that at one stage literally ten of my friends were getting their hair cut by him - including the infamous Huy virgin-headshave, which launched the beginning of many bald man smouldering photos.

After being away from Melbourne for two years, I was relieved to discover that Stelios was still working. His salon sits above the Biba salon in Richmond - there's no sign and he doesn't advertise, as his loyal clientele keep him busy enough. My visit was the same as usual - vibrating massage chair for the hairwash, organic hair products, minimal conversation (as I like to use the time to catch up on my trashy magazine reading), careful snipping and shaping, ending with a ruffle of Sebastian clay for that bed-hair look. $75.

Monday, 6 April 2009

HOT: Babka Bakery Cafe, 358 Brunswick St, Fitzroy 3065

When I was a kid, every trip to Melbourne involved a pilgrimage to McDonalds because I was deprived of filet-o-fish and fried apple pies in deepest, darkest Tassie.

When I grew up, every trip to Melbourne involved a pilgrimage to Babka Bakery Cafe because I loved the food and the friendly neighbourhood atmosphere. I was happy to see that it had not changed in my time away, and as participant of the 2009 Hot Cross Bun challenge, it came out with flying colours. Their buns had the right amount of fruit, lightly spiced and only $2.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

HOT: Cookie, 252 Swanston St, Melbourne 3000

While this blog is new, many of the entries are of old Melbourne favourites.

I've been eating and drinking at Cookie ever since it was first launched as Kookoo. Kookoo was threatened with legal action by Koko at Crown, which meant a hasty, and still-evident, paste job on the dining room wall to reinvent itself as C-O-O-K-I-E. Over the years, it has been the site of after work Friday night drinks, Ev's birthday dinner, Amanda's hen's night and pre-Rooftop Cinema meals, and it has consistently served fresh, delicious and reasonably priced Thai food on kitsch dollar-shop plastic tableware.

Its high ceilings and funky atmosphere were the perfect place for a Sunday afternoon lunch. RM and I had eaten too many blue peanut M&Ms at the cinema, so we decided on two medium dishes - the duck jungle curry and the crispy fish salad. Our sighs of appreciation of the balance of sweet, sour and salty flavours were mingled with some gasp-inducing heat - just the way we like it. Two dishes + steamed rice = $45.

HOT: Elegy, Kino Cinema, 45 Collins St, Melbourne 3000

I've renewed respect for Penelope Cruz ever since her scene-stealing performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and of course Ben Kingsley was Ghandi - so Elegy already had the signs of a quality film.

An adaptation of a Philip Roth novel, the story mainly follows the relationship between cultural critic David Kepesh (Kingsley) and his young student Consuela Castillo (Cruz) as he is captivated by her beauty, woos her, falls in love despite his refusal to acknowledge their relationship, grows in jealousy and insecurity, and finally redeems himself. While my words are a slapdash description of the storyline, the film is tender, touching and thought-provoking. RM also tells me that if you're familiar with the writings of Philip Roth, the themes dealing with masculinity, aging and sexuality should be no surprise.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

HOT: Laksa Me, Shop 1, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne 3000

The name of Laksa Me was enough to strike fear into the heart of RM, who has a severe case of slurpynoodlephobia. However, I'm on a one-woman crusade to cure him of this unfortunate ailment, as I don't believe you can be a true Orientalist without eating the myriad of noodle soups which are part of Asian cuisine.

This unpretentious restaurant serves Modern Asian cuisine, which on their website describes food with Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, Singaporean, Vietnamese and bizarrely, Italian, influences. We started off with The Age recommended vegetarian parcels, which didn't really blow us away - it was kind of like eating fried air. Next up was a tutorial on slurpy noodle eating based around a brilliant My Mum's laksa and then a spicy chicken mince dish, which was much more appetising than it sounds. Three dishes = $28.

HOT: Chocolateria San Churro, 277b Brunswick St, Fitzroy 3065

The aroma of chocolate hits you before you even reach the door of Chocolateria San Churro, a specialist Spanish chocolate cafe which does fantastic long strips of churros with your choice of white, milk or dark dipping chocolate. Although Jen found a hair stuck to one of her churros (the waiter responded with 'cool'), it was a delicious end to our fleeting Melbourne catch-up.

HOT: Alimentari, 251 Brunswick St, Fitzroy 3065

Who knew that a pork sandwich could be so good?

Alimentari is a bustling little cafe which serves an array of salads and sandwiches to the lunching crowd on Brunswick Street. You wouldn't think it was that exciting, but wait until you bite into their focaccia with roast pork, celeriac, celery and raisins, accompanied with some blood orange juice. $9.

Friday, 3 April 2009

HOT: Russell Kane - Gaping Flaws, Melbourne Comedy Festival, Roxanne, 2 Coverlid Place, Melbourne 3000

Russell Kane is the UK's latest bright young comedy talent debuting at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. While he was pretty funny, his inexperience still shows and a week later I can't remember any of his jokes. He spent most of the time pacing the stage and delivering rapid fire quips, but there were definite lulls in the energy where you could just see the audience waiting, waiting, waiting for a punchline. Granted our session was only his second performance, so maybe he's warmed up by now.

HOT: Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe, 122 Bourke St, Melbourne 3000

Ever since I started using the dichotomous system of HOT/NOT, some of my readers have argued for a graded rating system. I have always held steadfast against such wishy-washiness, until I had dinner at Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe. For the first time in the history of HOT OR NOT I have seriously contemplated the creation of a third category - not HOT, not NOT, but an indifferent shoulder shrug - the OR.

After much deliberation, I've decided to stick with the tried and true formula. So Ito gets a HOT, despite being a place I'd neither recommend or dissuade others from trying. It's cheap, it's clean and the food is passable Japanese. Meh.

HOT: Pinnacle Outdoors, 382 Little Bourke St, Melbourne 3000

Disaster! I lost my Nalgene-on-the-go on the go in Sydney airport, so I needed to replace it asap. In amongst the big name outdoor stores on Little Bourke Street is the friendly family-run Pinnacle Outdoors. I had a long discussion with the owner about BPA free and non-BPA free bottles, Nalgene vs Camelback, screw tops and flip tops - and he gave me a discount on my bottle for listening to him! That's customer service.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

HOT: City Wine Shop, 159 Spring St, Melbourne 3000

So, the end. Or rather, a beginning....

Tonight marked the official end of my two years' journey overseas - I was back in Melbourne for good. I didn't have a job, a permanent place to live and half my friends weren't around any more. RM and Tranzie were waiting for me at City Wine Shop to mark the occasion.

RM and I turned up at the restaurant and on a balmy night, we were lucky to find an outside table. I said to RM 'oh, let's grab another two chairs for Tranzie' and he responded oddly 'oh, we'll just grab the chairs when they turn up'. Then a bottle of Mount Pleasant turned up at the table, even though I didn't drink wine. More oddness. Then RM walked out with a large package and I thought to myself 'oh goody, a welcome back to Melbourne present - I bet it's a Kitchenaid!'.

Little did I realise that I would only receive the Kitchenaid if I said yes. Well, what's a girl to do? Both the man and the machine came with a lifetime guarantee and without even a second's thought I knew that my life would only be complete if I could have both.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur - we were a bit stunned by our new found engaged status. I think the spaghetti with meatballs might have been quite good....