30 October, 2007


"Well I'm sorry Miss Poster Girl for the Workers' Party, but until I get that, uh, toehold in the burger industry? I gotta little time to suck. I'd rather check into a shelter than deal with her shit."
Troy (Ethan Hawke) in Reality Bites.

Hotel Lincoln

91 Cardigan Street, Carlton; 03 9347 4666

The Hotel Lincoln is one of Melbourne's best value eateries. In what can at times be a slightly confusing setup, they offer both bar food and a restaurant menu, with both available, via table service, in a kind of in-between room 'twixt the bar and glossier restaurant. The bar menu is under $20 and on Mondays is extraordinary value at $10 for each dish (this Monday just gone, however, was the last such Monday for the year unfortunately). The restaurant features slightly more glamorous dishes between $20-$30.

We savoured three samples from the bar menu. I'd tossed up against the chicken risotto with asparagus, but went for the whitebait hotcake with avocado and chilli jam. The visual presentation of this dish was wondeful. 'Hotcake' undersold this burger of whitebait, cunningly perched on a layer of avocado, then showered with mung beans, red chilli and fistfuls of fresh and refreshing coriander. The dish provided an ample amount of food, but without leaving a residual heaviness. Astonishing at $10.

The salted cod fritters took third place in the looks department, but they more than made up in flavour. Wonderfully cripsy balls (which took us all by surprise after the description as 'fritters) were filled with a creamy cod mousse. As a staple pub food, one would hope the bangers and mash at a place with a kitchen as commendable as the Hotel Lincoln's would be something special. These didn't disappoint. Two incredibly meaty pork sausages, studded with fennel seeds, were served on a wodge of spot-on creamy smooth mash.

In addition to this fabulous food is an extraordinary wine list. They offer six or so reds and whites each by the glass, and they are both carefully chosen and competitively priced - a Hugel Riesling blend for $6, Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris for $6.50, a Marlborough Sav Blanc and Gewürz for around $7. They also do Te Whare Ra Gewürztraminer, which is one of my favourite wines. The staff are friendly, knowledgable and the crowd, not surprisingly given they're in a place of good food and drink, are happy.

29 October, 2007

'The Shadow of the Wind' - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I came to this book via a promising serendipity. It was on my list of books to read, following a favourable review and the fact that it was set in Barcelona. Quite by chance I then also noted its Italian title after its cover caught my eye in a bookstore in Mantova, without realising it was the same book. Such coincidence boded well...

Unfortunately, the book didn't match its promise at all. I spent the majority of its 500+ pages staring through the holes in the plot, dangling annoyingly by the tiniest of hooks, which kept me attached to the ending, but at the same time unsure as to what it was the reader was meant to be waiting to find out.

To be fair to the author, I think the book suffered somewhat in translation. There were some very clumsy metaphors, as well as sentences that in context simply didn't make sense. I don't know, however, if it was the author or translator who was responsible for some very cliched chapter climaxes, that often seemed to be for the sake of pretty words only, rather than as a useful contribution to the plot.

Worst of all though, there is one line amongst the overly-long prose that in fact renders the premise of the book as contradictory. In the first chapter the protagonist selects a book at random from the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books', a book which we are later told was put 'where it could never be found'. So how did he find it? And if the only reason was so he could unravel this repetitive mystery, then I think the story was elongated purely to justify its existence, rather than because such complexities were necessary.

By all reports this book was a very strong seller (it does have International Bestseller splashed across its cover). To be honest, that should have been a warning - it does seem to be that what sells in massive numbers is being bought for enjoyment, rather than the possibility for analysis and hence avoids layering and subtley. And the bigger the publisher, the worse the editing. A review of the most recent Booker Prize winner noted it was good for a complex book to have such an impetus towards sales - otherwise something that invited reader involvement would languish.

25 October, 2007


"For, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any condition be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself"

This is from the Declaration of Arbroath, which asserted Scottish independence, and is penned from Robert the Bruce, hero of Scotland

And why wouldn't you fight to save a land like this?

13 October, 2007

Red Box

317 Sydney Road, Brunswick; 03 9387 8699

Saturday café lunches are sadly a rare thing for me – they’re normally prevented by one or both of a big fry-up on my part, or pancakes at Tasos for SG after shopping at Psarakos. But on this occasion we stepped out of the ordinary and chose Red Box on Sydney Rd to indulge our midday tastebuds.

Red Box does an all day breakfast, which encouragingly includes a ‘hangover pasta’. It’s done with eggs though, rather than lashings of chilli, which are my preferred hangover treatment! There’s a lot of Mediterranean influence on the menu, but they throw some red herrings in there, such as ‘toad in the hole’, which is actually chorizo peeking through an omelette. Though untried, their ‘sausage roll’ looks fantastic – it is in fact a doorstopper chorizo sandwich served with chips and salad.

I’m still craving European foods and Epicure’s Greek special had me focussing particularly on the Hellenic during the week. Hence my lunch of the choice was haloumi and saganaki, served with rocket and sourdough.
The advertised rocket was only included in the salad, which mirrored the garnish on SG’s fish and chips, so I felt justified in asking for some extra to be brought out to fulfil the menu’s promise. I needed the roughage to break up the dairy and carb, and also to balance the cheese’s saltiness with that peppery rocket flavour.

SG’s trevally was, in his words, ‘flavoursome but not too fishy’. It amply filled its crispy batter coating, which wasn’t too oily. The chips were very tasty (which makes that sausage roll an all the more promising choice on a return visit). The fish came with a homemade tartare sauce, chunky with capers, which actually went a treat on the sourdough under the rocket and Greek cheese.

Red Box serves good, fair trade, organic coffee. They also have a lovely wine list, with an intelligent selection by the glass ranging from $4.50 to $7.00, including a Hunter Valley Verdelho which was a great match for my meal