Tuesday, February 22, 2005

By Request: The HRB’s Top 10 of the Moment (it may all change tomorrow)

Feel free to piss and moan about this, because God knows by tomorrow I’ll have changed my mind completely. But, as the request has been made and I am titillated by the concept (and easily baited it would seem), here’s my current Top 10 (in no other order than that dictated by the random firing of synapses in what passes for my brain):

Paesano (Italian - West Hobart, 6234 2111). Good stuff: risotto, calzone, gourmet pizzas, cheap. Not so good stuff: size doesn’t make it an attractive dine-in option, but they do describe themselves as ‘specialising in take away’
Steam Packet (“Modern Australian” - Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hunter St, 6210 7700). Good stuff: the food, the service, the wine list. Not so good stuff: a couple of teething issues, but getting there on the whole.
Novaro’s (Italian – Launceston, 6334 5589). Good stuff: it’s all good baby. Not so good stuff: nah, still can’t think of anything
T42 (“Modern Australian” - Elizabeth St Pier, 6224 7742). Good stuff: view, staff, food, coffee, wine list. Not so good stuff: mostly just the evening bar clientele (T42 is a bit of a “scene”)
Sen’s (Asian/Yum Cha - North Hobart, 6236 9345). Good stuff: duck, wonton soup, yum cha, steamed bok choy, custard tarts, cheap. Not so good stuff: take away (unless ordered from the a la carte menu), wine list could be better.
Stillwater River Café (“Modern Australian” – Launceston, 6331 4153). Good stuff: don’t get me started, I’m dribbling already. Not so good stuff: Price, but it doesn’t have to be expensive (unless I’m there, then it’s Family Violence Act time for my wallet)
Siren’s (Vegetarian – Victoria St, Hobart, 6234 2634). Good stuff: vegetarian with imagination. Not so good stuff: Vegetarian Nazism (check the “rules” on the menu)
Satis (Bistro-style Café, not open for dinner – Sandy Bay Rd, Sandy Bay, 6224 0551). Good stuff: the tea, the coffee, the teapots, the cakes and bickies, the bruschetta. Not so good stuff: it’s for sale.
“The Local”, Peppermint Bay (“Modern Australian” – Peppermint Bay, Woodbridge, 6267 4088). Good stuff: great day trip destination, view, venue, food’s good and not expensive, excellent wine list. Not so good stuff: tourists with loud voices/mobiles. (I can’t comment on the main restaurant at PB.)
Mai Ake (Thai - North Hobart, 6231 5557). Good stuff: prawn cakes, bbq octopus, stuffed chicken wings, prawn choo chee, larp gai, basically cheap but good Thai. Not so good stuff: Has lost something since the move to bigger premises, but always a great meal.

If you’re on the list, don’t get cocky. By naming you guys up, you now risk being shot down in flames by a gaggle of people who think you suck. But I like you. Don’t stuff it up.

Kafe Kara (Bistro/Café, Hobart). Now open for dinner Fridays. Has always been good for lunch
onetwelve (‘occasional venue’). Hobart’s legal answer to a speak-easy. Cheap drinks, good music, good community events. Watch out for gigs by The John Wayne Instruction Manual (classic funk) and the occasional jazz gig. But you need to be in the know. Go to http://www.onetwelve.blogspot.com/ to get yourself on the mailing list.
Bush Inn (Counter Meals, New Norfolk). Nice view, typical pub fare. Australia’s oldest or longest running or some other bloody “old” status pub. Nellie Melba stayed and performed there. I reckon it’s haunted.
Magic Curries (Indian, Battery Point). Good curries, bad name.

Missing in Action:
These are places that I don’t feel qualified to comment on (yet), despite excellent reputations, because I’ve never been or I haven’t been for ages or I was so incredibly pissed when I did go. But keep your eyes and ears (and taste buds) peeled: Lickerish (Modern Australian, North Hobart), Red Velvet Lounge (Café - Cygnet), Mitsuno (Japanese - Sandy Bay), Franklin Manor (“Modern Australian”? - Strahan), Calstock (French - Deloraine), Criterion Café (Criterion St, Hobart).

And that’s your blooming lot (now you know what happened to Peter Cundall after the fall).

Happy dining!
GW ;-)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

What Happens When an Amulet Doesn’t Work?

Once upon a time there was a lady who was having a baby. Her belly was big and round, tight as a drum. The baby was only weeks away. So her friends decided she needed a celebration with cake and cups of tea and presents. A baby shower, it’s called. They rang around until they found a place that promised to provide room for them to talk and laugh out loud, drink their cups of tea or glasses of champagne, oooh and aaaah over little baby presents, and munch on delicious cakes. The girls asked “Can we come at 3?”, the restaurant said “It would be better for us if you could come around midday, that way there will be lots of cakes for you to eat”.

How delightful. Written invitations were sent out to all the pregnant lady’s friends, who promptly replied. Such was their great excitement and joy.

But then a week before the celebration, or thereabouts, the restaurant called and cancelled the booking. They said “We have too many lunchtime bookings. Maybe you could come around 3?” The ladies frowned and scratched their heads in wonder. Too many lunchtime bookings? Weren’t they a booking too? Weren’t they promised room to talk and laugh out loud, room to drink cups of tea or glasses of champagne, room to oooh and aaaah over little baby presents and to munch on delicious cakes? And weren’t all those lovely cakes going to be more plentiful at midday rather than at 3?

The pregnant lady’s friends put their heads together and scowled a little. “We’ve already sent out the invitations, we’ve already got all the RSVPs. We’ll need to tell everyone of the changed booking time. This is a problem.” So the ladies sent out fresh invitations announcing a change of venue, not time. They weren’t happy with having their booking seen as less important than other bookings. “How rude”, thought they.

But one of the ladies decided to play detectives. She rang the restaurant and played confused. “I’m confused”, she said. “I thought we were coming to eat cake with you, but now I think we have to go elsewhere because you have too many other bookings. I’m so confused.” The man on the telephone was most helpful. He checked the bookings list and said “Yes, we have a cancelled group booking. There’s a squiggly line right through it. But it doesn’t say why the booking was cancelled. We don’t have any other bookings at that time”. The lady’s eyebrow arched high above her left eye. “Oh, really. That is so confusing”, she purred. “But thank you anyway, you’ve been most helpful.”

The ladies had their baby shower yesterday, at another venue of course. They had lots of room to talk and laugh out loud, and to sip their glasses of champagne. But they didn’t have any cake at all. Instead they had an enormous lunch. They munched on pizzas and chicken, on seafood and dips. They talked and laughed about the other silly restaurant, and how glad they were that they hadn’t gone there. There were lots of presents for the pregnant lady, whose belly moved up and down with each laugh as she tore off the wrappings to see the gifts inside. She was surrounded by loving friends who cared about her and her baby. She was wrapped in joy. A happy ending after all.

Imagine. Eighteen women charged with champagne and indignation, feeling defensive on behalf of their pregnant friend. Imagine the power of these women as they march about Hobart furiously declaring their anger at the shabby treatment of their friend with the tight round belly. Imagine how this story will grow along with the growing child, how the baby shower was less important than other bookings. Other bookings that didn’t exist at all. Thank you to one of those cranky indignant ladies who regaled me with this story in great and glorious detail last night over a debriefing champagne. "Class act", she seethed, "Dumping a pregnant lady’s booking in case more money could be made from walk-ins. What’s next, strangling small furry animals?"

Amulet n. Something worn on the body as a charm against evil (Collins Australian Pocket English Dictionary)

How ironic.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I’d Eat the Crutch Out of a Low-Flying Peking Duck

In fact I did.

It was fresh from the duck-hangery and still warm when brought lovingly home to me. It was sweet, it was tender, and it was spicy in a star anisey kind of way.

In the past I’ve instructed you all to give the bain-marie at Sen’s a very wide berth. In fact, I would say that unless you’ve sat at a table at Sen’s and ordered from the menu (or the specials board) you deserve what you get and have no right to tell me that Sen’s sucks. I still stand by this mantra. And now my love of Sen’s simple and cheap food for the soul has been strengthened by their blessed duck. To know that this is my rescue from cheap Butter Chicken when I want a Friday night at home has made it all the more sweet. I’m craving more as we speak.

But this long weekend it didn’t stop at the duck (mercy me). On Sunday we had what some may call a “delicate condition” going on. I’d been carousing into the wee hours of the morning and was craving something far more than stroking my own forehead could provide. I needed soothing in a big way, and the only way to get that kind of soothing (from the inside out) is a big bowl of Sen’s wanton soup. Clear broth, bok choy, prawn and pork wantons floating like bloated goldfish. Heaven.

When I have to agonise over menus that make me freeze with petit mals of boredom, it’s so comforting to find that Sen’s (with a little touch of traditional Chinese music to welcome the Year of the Rooster) can still pull the goods.

See, sometimes it really is just the simplest things. And not a mash in sight!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Now Listen Here Young Lady!

I’m in so much trouble.

She pointed her finger and waggled it at me ferociously “Who the hell do you think you are!” I frowned a sulky frown and pursed my lips and scuffed my feet on the floor beneath me. It was worse than the dressing down I got in Grade 10 Home Economics.

On that sordid occasion Mrs Fatso (really, that was her name!) had been standing behind me just as I felt the need to announce how much I hated her daggy menu for our school formal. “Fatso” I declared “wouldn’t know an exciting menu if it jumped out and bit her dimpled arse”. Oops. Mrs Fatso clipped my right ear (I should have sued) and sent me to the back of the room to read Margaret Fulton and write an essay on the gentle art of menu design. Bloody hell she was harsh!

Look, I’m the first to admit that I know jack shit about menu design (I’ve blanked out that essay’s content) or food science (I failed Home Ec). But I do know what does and doesn’t excite me, I do know what does and doesn’t taste good (to me!), and I’m not afraid to tell. But that doesn’t make me right (or wrong if you disagree with me). It’s just my opinion.

I have a mouth, and sometimes it runs away with me. Worse yet I can type as fast as I think (show off!), so I have a wee tendency to regret my actions from time to time. Should I shut down the HRB, banish myself to a dungeon and not come out until I have learnt to be a silent and penitent shadow of myself?


But, the idea of “Hobart Restaurant Bitch” is to have a bitch, not be a bitch. And I don’t want my big mouth to get in the way of a valid restaurant experience, therefore I do not accept freebies or invitations to ‘review’ (the “invitation” from Henry Jones wasn’t actually an invitation), I do not book tables under Georgie Weston or HRB, and I do not reveal that I’m a “reviewer” (mostly because I’m not a reviewer’s arsehole). See, I have ethics.

So there I was this morning getting a bloody good dressing down, having flashbacks by the boatload and feeling right sorry for myself. “Who the hell do you think you are,” she asked again, finger still waggling, “some bloody expert or something?” Hmmm, maybe she had a point. But like my rebellious teenage self, there I stood, sulky and shitty and wanting to fight back. “Expert? Hey, it’s just my OPINION!”. “Who are you talking to?” my husband asked, startling me so that I jumped and dropped my toothbrush on the floor. I looked back at the mirror, she was still there and now sprayed with toothpaste. Oops.

Call me crazy, but I suspect that, like me, you guys like to eat out occasionally, preferably without having your wallets ripped out through your botty holes or your taste buds bludgeoned to death with the boredom stick. I’m sorry if we don’t see eye-to-eye on all things. But I’m not sorry for expressing my opinion. As a consumer with a voice I can say what the hell I like. But via the HRB you get to say what the hell you like too. And that means all of us hungry little consumers can have a say.

And that’s the point Belvedere … as long as I can face that scary bitch in the mirror tomorrow morning.

GW ;-)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Gondwana (sigh)

Jason, Jason, Jason. Where have you sent me? Gondwana … theme restaurant in a time warp. Great Southern Land meets dull 80’s menu.

We struggled with Gondwana’s selection, I’m afraid to say. It took us a rather long time to wade through the options. Unlike Stillwater where a degustation takes the agony of choosing out of my hands, at Gondwana the agony of choosing was not about being spoilt for exciting choice. It was a comprehensive enough menu, but just plain uninspiring.

Calamari … could have been Fish Frenzy, could have been Rockerfellers, could have been my Nanna’s kitchen (admittedly my Nanna does rock with a deep fryer!).
New York Cut of Ocean Trout … perfectly cooked but bland fish (trout just doesn’t compare to salmon in my books, unless it’s raw) sitting on, you guessed it, A BED OF MASH (yawn).

God I sound hard to please. The truth is I’m not! Really! If you have a whole commercial kitchen and a plethora of fresh produce at your feet, there is no excuse for not dazzling my tits off! Seriously!

The most exciting item presented to us was the little “palate cleanser” … vodka and apple juice with a tart little dollop of sorbet. Sheer delight.

Look, the service was good. And laughing boy seems to have grown up and was actually rather pleasant. We were well looked after, we were offered tastes to assist in our wine selection, and so on. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the failings of the menu. The food was not bad, it was just a bit ho hum. And I had such high hopes!

I’d write more, but to be honest I can’t be bothered. Like our be-shackled mates of days gone by, when it comes to the Great Southern Land, we couldn’t wait to escape.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

How Do We Learn to Love Wine?

You know how when you’re a kid you love Kahlua and Milk but wine stinks? How do we reach the point where wine becomes pleasant (alright, an obsession)?

I have two very distinct wine-related memories from my childhood. The first is a scene from Daddy Long Legs (an appalling film with Fred Astaire and the revoltingly saccharine Leslie Caron). It is a balcony scene where ol’ Fred and young Leslie are having breakfast and they clink their OJ glasses together. That subtle act is misconstrued by nosy parkers as evidence of an affair (surely paedophilia) because “nobody clinks orange juice”. Hmmmm, I thought, at the age of 7, don’t they? So I promptly made sure to clink my OJ, my coke, my raspberry cordial, but definitely not my water! The second wine-related childhood memory is even more obscure. I recall another charming quote whereby a man states: “A woman’s breasts should fit inside a champagne glass (no, not a flute you tit), as more than a handful is a waste”. Maybe it wasn’t a film, maybe it was Oscar Wilde. Maybe it was my friend Beryl. Can’t remember.

The point (I hear you beg)? The point is, how did these snippets of information feed into my psychic template of the enduring grandeur of wine and champagne? Dunno.

Regardless, at the tender age of 15, I rather precociously and memorably announced to a bunch of 70-year old golfers that the Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec on offer was “not bad for a cocktail”. I recalled at the time that the words on wine labels usually denoted the variety of grape from which the wine was derived … hence the ‘cocktail’. What I was doing drinking wine at 15 with 70-year-old golfers is another story (and not as sordid as you might think!).

Now as a supposed grown-up, I find that my wine knowledge has not expanded exponentially with my increasing years. For example … I recently discovered that sometimes wine labels do not denote the grape from which the wine is derived (shock, horror) … sometimes wine labels tell fibs!!! One of my all time favourite cab savs, for example, is actually a petit verdot (gasp!).

Well. But does it really matter what’s in wine, how it’s made, which type of oak (if any) it’s barrelled in, what the sugar content is, or whether the vintner is a cross-dressing Albanian nun? Who cares, as long as it tastes good, right? Well kind of … I do wish Tamar Ridge well for the sake of the region, but knowing what’s in it (Gunns $$) I can’t bring myself to like it because I can’t bring myself to drink it. What a dilemma!

And what of the wine epiphany … the discovery of a joy-inducing wine that becomes one’s personal holy grail? Alluring, tempting, intoxicating, and yet unattainable (just like me really). Such was my tale of woe, twice. Recently with Lalla Gully Sauvignon Blanc (see my bit on Stillwater River Café), and in the past with a Moorilla Cabernet Sauvignon.

Aaahh, the Moorilla. It was 1993 and there used to be a little wine cellar around the corner from Salamanca that had the most wonderful array of secrets and lies. I found a bottle of Moorilla Cab Sav … 1986! It was only $18! Naturally I bought it, but a word from a wise man made me too scared to drink it (“Only $18 for Moorilla … be careful, be very very careful”). So I was careful. I took it to a family function with half a zillion cousins who I don’t particularly like. Opened the bott. Splashed it about the place like a great big show-off, and downed the one sip left for me in one great gulp. Oh my god. What had I done? It was honestly the best wine I had ever tasted.

It took me another 10 years to realise that no matter how much I pestered, Moorilla were not going to magick me another bottle of the stuff. Quel domage.

These days I still know little more about wine than I did at 15. My palate and nose have been educated, but not my viticultural knowledge banks. But I still know what I like. I like wine. And champagne. Who could ask for anything more?


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The HRB Needs the Info!

Right. Why is it that great food and wine events just sneak up and bite me on the arse? I’m fairly sure I don’t have my head completely in the sand (up my arse maybe, in the sand, no). Why did the five fat Tuscans get booked out before I could organise a table? Why did I not realise Launceston's Festivale had become good? (Or that it's on the same weekend as a FANTASTIC Festivale de la GW?) Why didn’t I know that I’d already missed the fruit wine festival the other weekend? Why, why, why Delilah?

I can take responsibility for my own failings. Sure, I read the paper, but obviously not with all my eyes! And then I get the emails … Hey Georgie, what did you think of xyz? Crikey … did someone forget to tell me that I'm omnipresent, omnipotent, and all those other omni’s (mmmm … champagne).

If Maggie Beer is a guest chef somewhere ... I need to know. If they've taught dolphins to find truffles ... I reckon I'd need to know. If seven sexy sirens are hacking out haggis in Howrah (don’t ask me, I just write this stuff) … I need to know. And if eight maids are milking … I’m probably watching the late movie on SBS … and don’t really need to know.

Please. Have you no’ heard of email laddie? Such a simple concept really … IF YOU LET ME KNOW … I CAN LET OTHER PEOPLE KNOW TOO. It’s called marketing!

p.s. check this out (thanks for the tip boys!) ... I think I'm in love ... http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1147-1191979,00.html
GW the HRB ;-)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"Is Not ... So There!"

I do so love to be admonished when I'm wrong. I love even more to be argued with for the sake of a good barney. And above all else I love an "is not ... so there!".

Here's an "is not ... so there!" that popped up this afternoon:

" ... the food at prosser's is about 100 times better than the stuff you get at kellys or mures,the new year's eve menu was not overpriced,the reason the that table had crayfish was because they phoned up and asked if was possible to have two for new year which it was. "

Well. That clears that up.