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Somebody. Please! Just... turn... it... off......

Somebody. Please! Just... turn... it... off......

As acknowledged weeks ago, Bruce and Fran held out little hope of Masterchef Australia replacing the hefty hole left by Biggest Loser. The main issue then was the levels of arrogance displayed by the three male hosts. In the ensuing weeks, the pain of watching them has been intensified by Channel Ten’s presentation – essentially an inability to allow a sentence to end without pausing for

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dramatic effect then foisting Real Stock ads on us.

It’s started to impinge on everyday life. Before adding milk to his coffee in the morning Bruce has to open the door of the fridge, look inside pensively, then grab one of the free ad rags stuffed into his picket fence and spend three minutes flicking through it before finally deciding that, yes, he will put the milk into his coffee. Fran, on the other hand, has started talking to herself. It begins with the morning alarm clock:

“Now Fran, it’s 6.15am, that was your first alarm call. It means that later on this morning you are going to have to get up and go to school,” she says, before depressing the snooze button and adding: “You now have five minutes to go. That’s five minutes to go.” At which point, Bruce has to restrain himself from turning over and smashing her annoying, bald little head with his fist.*

Sadly, the program has become to them what COPS was in the early 1990s to Bill Hicks: the sore tooth that you can’t stop touching. Every time Mini-Me appears with his snear and yells some inane encouragement (yesterday to declare that the reputation of Australia itself rested on their ability to make dim sum) or Jabba the Hutt does another impersonation of the over-indulged eight-year-old posh kid trying to please mummy before morphing into a lecherous version of the lizards in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas‘ acid-tripping bar scene, Bruce begins yelling while Fran starts writhing uncomfortably on the sofa next to him like a smack addict convinced there’s something under her skin.

YET THEY WATCH IT EVERY BLOODY NIGHT!

At least Police Chief Wiggum appears to have settled into his role, revealing a pleasant, encouraging nature and a willingness to leave the scripted, excruciatingly pointless, tension-building links to his co-hosts.

According to a TV column by Debbie Schipp in yesterday’s Herald Sun the Twittersphere is awash with people commenting on the show. Who can blame the Twits? After all, if you’re full enough of your own self-importance to believe people need to know your every thought (says the blogger – oh the delicious irony…), then why not emit your shrieks of despair and anger in 140 characters or less: “GET YOUR FACE OUT OF THAT PLATE, YOU BALD SLOB!” perhaps or “WHEN’S PRESTON’S LIZARD TONGUE GOING TO FLICK OUT AND GRAB THAT SPARE SPRING ROLL?”, even “SOMEONE PLEASE COME AND PLUNGE A STEAK (sic) THROUGH MY HEART”.

But hold on – apparently that’s not what they’re saying. Oh no, there’s a group of people discussing Preston’s cravats; one columnist apparently would like to marry him. She should talk to Fran, who’s taken to watching it with a sick bowl close at hand for the moments when he attempts to smile and/or slurp up an extra piece of food.

That said, who didn’t smile when Simple Sam won last night’s dim sum challenge, hey? And, according to my watch it’s only 275 minutes until tonight’s eliminator. Gives me plenty of time to poke this sore tooth. Ow…

[* She’s not bald]

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The Sunday afternoon visit to the laundrette had already thrown up an amusing little piece of Collingwood. The first of the tumble dryers to finish its cycle contained nothing but pairs of Levi 504’s in shades varying from very black through black to very dark blue and dark blue. All the same size, all clearly belonging to someone who was 1) dedicated to their look and/or 2) afraid of making choices of a morning.

As Bruce was folding them carefully on the table (after resisting the urge to fold them incorrectly so they’d all have creases down the front – not so cool now, hey, Levi boy!) the acrid smell that had welcomed them into the shop appeared to get stronger.

“It stinks in here,” said Bruce.

“Oh my God,” said Fran. “Those clothes are on fire!”

True enough, smoke was rising from a pile of dishcloths, overalls and aprons at the end of the table. Bruce pulled them apart: an intense heat was burning inside. It appeared someone was trying to start a fire.

“Jesus. I’d best go and get some water,” said Bruce, racing next door to Cavallero, bumping past the returning owner of the Levi’s as he went.

Three buckets later – and with a month of airing his clothes to get rid of the smell to look forward to – the smoke had subsided, half the laundrette was filled with puddles and a load of destroyed fabric lay scattered on the floor.

“Ah, I told them never again,” said the Chinese lady in charge of the laundrette who had just appeared from the rear door.

“Who do they belong to?” asked Bruce.

“James’ place. You know, the Greek one on Johnston Street. They did this before,” she added, resigned to a ruined Sunday afternoon.

Bruce and Fran returned the buckets to Cavallero where they were offered coffees for their troubles, although not before the Levi’s man had stolen their place in the laundrette queue. Opportunistic bastard. Another Smith Street dweller had also come in by this stage, seemingly unpeturbed by the stench from the smoldering pile, and continued with her washing.

It left Bruce and Fran pondering two things:

  1. Are Collingwoodians so laid back they’d have left the laundrette to burn to the ground?
  2. How spicy must the hot dishes be at Jim’s Greek Tavern?

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“There’s a couple of specials on this evening as well,” explained Pelican’s Kiwi waiter, before launching into lengthy and detailed descriptions.

One was a salad containing quince, roquefort cheese, walnuts and leaves, the second a rather fancy fish platter featuring lightly battered oysters with a rich aioli, scallops and a couple of slices of sashimi topped with roe. Both sounded the equal or better of the dishes on the menu – and would compliment Fran’s favourite Pelican dish: the Moreton Bay bugs with hot chilli and garlic oil dressing.

Soon afterwards, the Kiwi returned to take our order.

“We’ll have the Fisherman’s Basket,” said our companion.

Everyone stopped. The waiter looked at him in mock horror.

“Did you just ask for ‘the Fisherman’s Basket’?,” he asked incredulous, as the table conjured images of rubbery, deep-fried, heavily battered and breadcrumbed, unidentifiable fish pieces on a mound of chips.

“Er…” replied the companion, chuckling with embarrassment. “I ust heard ‘cheese’ and ‘fish’ liked the sound of both.”

As he cleared away the last of our plates (by this stage emptied of meatballs, saganaki, bugs, quince, oysters, baba ganoush and the rest, all of which went down a treat), the waiter was still shaking his head.

“Fisherman’s Basket indeed.”

Still, by this time three bottles of wine had been polished off (the Sauvignon Blanc proving superior to the Reisling, much to Bruce’s surprise) so Mr Pub Grub enjoyed the ribbing. What’s more, he and his partner were extremely grateful to have been introduced to the Pelican, in Fitzroy Street, something of a St Kilda institution with its scattergun approach to tapas, wide selection of wines and great location close to the promenade – one of the few places Bruce and Fran miss since moving north (Banff pizzas, Mart 130 and the Taphouse pub in Carlisle Street the other major notables). And, come 2.45am, he wasn’t the one dropping his trousers on the Big Mouth dancefloor like a grinning 16-year-old leaving Fran to explain to the very friendly, but thoroughly bemused bouncer that, yes, unfortunately this man was indeed her husband.

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“Don’t drink too much. I’ve got you tickets for tomorrow” said the text.

Too late. It was already 10.30pm and The Drones were mere yards away, several pints of Goat Hightail had been quaffed (at $10 a pop – Jesus, Corner, what are you trying to be? Riverland?) and a week long booze drought was being broken.

(With hindsight, it would have been sensible not to crack into Jaegermeister chasers once a Kev Carmody cover had closed their set in style, at which point Bruce concluded that his initial impressions of Gareth Liddiard’s mob at Falls, namely “What the fuck is that noise?”, was a little hasty, although in his defence it was early afternoon and the poor lad had fully extended himself the previous night…)

Still, cruising through the Anzac Day game the following afternoon while still drunk from the night before with assistance from the odd glass of wine is one thing (no more shall Carlton Draught be purchased unless under pain of death – and then only maybe). Heading for an evening of fine dining while the last remnants of said booze are threatening to wear off is another.

Who'd have thought these guys would taste so good?

They made it – and were given pride of place at the front of Provenance for the new(ish) restaurant’s second tasting evening, this time based around quince and quail. Thankfully, the quince cocktail (a fruity little martini number) was first up… and several of their fellow guests were equally under the weather in a bout of unwitting, yet welcome, empathy.

So: Provenance. Run by a young whippersnapper of a boy. Aiming to bring exquisite but simple food to Smith Street for little money. Even offering champagne breakfasts in a spot wedged between 7 Eleven and the Australian Cleanskin Group and in easy shouting distance of the Collingwood soup kitchen. Ambitious, no?

Anyway, without wishing to come over all Jabba the Hutt and pretending to genuinely know something about food, here’s what ensued:

  • a minestrone-type soup with a quail and chicken stock and added kidney beans that acted as much as a welcome cleanser as anything for Bruce (i.e. it wasn’t wine, meat pie or chips with chicken salt a la MCG);
  • a nicoise salad featuring seared quail legs and a couple of delicious quail eggs (delicious, apparently, cos they’re fatty as hell. Shame they’re not bigger – like a savoury Cadbury’s Creme Egg but tiny);
  • two seared quail breasts on a bed consisting of such wonders as celeriac, roast beetroot, pumpkin, some form of quince – and stuff (the waitress’ description not mine – and this is not a complaint: charming honesty works every time in Bruce and Fran’s neck of the woods. Also, please refer to the opening line of this paragraph);
  • an Eton Mess (the gift from God that is panna cotta topped with a layer of quince jelly and a mountain of the sweetest cream and meringue laced with roast rhubarb);
  • and a cheese platter featuring Gorgonzola – no wonder Wallace used to get all steamed up about it – and a millefeuille of quince paste and young Spanish manchego that deserves to feature on every cheese platter from now until Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung plays out at the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe.

It was marvellous (and only $75 a head including a glass of wine with each course). Bruce might have added a little something to the quail in either the salad or main course stages to differentiate between the two but then again the philosophy at Provenance is all about simple pleasures so what does he know. The matched wines also proved a good way of staving off the hovering hangover clouds, ensuring that they only kicked in once the crew had decamped to Dirty Little Secrets and fallen asleep.

Sadly, when he checked the papers the following day, Collingwood had still lost the Anzac Day game in the final few seconds and his guernsey (courtesy of a birthday gift from Fran who must have some hidden agenda to turn her husband into a full-on bogan) remained winless for another week. But, thankfully, the memory of the millefeuille kept the hangman’s noose at bay.

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Not since Robbie Coltrane first appeared on British screens as Fitz in Cracker has Bruce sat down to watch a television series in its entirety. Prior to that it was Twin Peaks. 24 has passed him by, as have The Sopranos, Desperate Housewives, Lost and all their ilk (although he did squeeze in four instalments of Australia’s Greatest Athlete).

Under much pressure and insistence from friends that the first series was awesome – and out of a mild interest in Australia’s criminal past – he made an effort with Underbelly – A Tale of Two Cities but after a promising start found interest waning quicker than that miscast blonde bint could get her wappers out.

Biggest Loser on the other hand had it all. Well, it had huge people getting semi-naked on a regular basis, constant reminders that Bruce wasn’t exactly a model of health, a couple of likeable characters, lots of unnecessary, tear-stained breakdowns and, best of all, regular reruns of the time Cameron fell off the running machine. While not an avid viewer by any means, Bruce did check in regularly for the weigh-ins and even took part in a final night party of sorts (involving, naturally, a mountain of pizza).

Throughout the final weeks, every ad break trailed the forthcoming Masterchef, which posed the question: “Could this fill the huge gulf left by Biggest Loser?”

Another contestant bites the dust

Another contestant bites the dust

Sadly, after checking in to this evening’s episode, in which the penultimate 50 was cut to 20, it would seem the answer is a resounding “NO”. Admittedly, it featured no cooking, only a parade of people waiting to be patronised by a panel who dared to chide more than one for arrogance. Pot. Kettle.

Perhaps some lovable rogue will present him or herself from the morass to distract from the presenters and redeem the show (although there is something undeniably hypnotic about the sway of Matt Preston’s amazing throat-gunt – perhaps an animated version could be sold as merchandise by Channel Ten to help send troublesome children to sleep). However, it seems there will be far less fun to be had watching the travails of a score of ambitious cooks trying to produce fantastic food than a group of people whose only ambition in life thitherto appearing on TV was to eat a fantastic amount of food.

EDIT: For more recent thoughts on the show, click here

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Q-Q-ca-choo

G’day, G’day does occasionally dip its toe into the world of food / bar / cafe bloggery, although most of the time it forgets.

Maybe one day it’ll catch up and be filled with a torrent of them (Gigi Baba’s – small, but exquisitely tasty portions, staff – hmmm; Woodspoon – what was all the fuss about, exactly?; Peko Peko – a much better Japanese bet; N&J’s Thai Cafe – your best when your budget’s tight and you can’t be arsed to cook; Grumpy’s Green – great local craft beer, lovely, lovely staff, superb little beer garden, dangerous coffee vodka; and so on…)

In the meantime, Bruce and Fran have been finding themselves at Provenance more than anywhere else in recent weeks, whether for coffee and pistachio-topped croissant, spot of brekkie or a tasting platter (mmm… diggin’ that cured trout, haloumi and black pudding) and glass of wine.

provenance-collingwood-platter

They’ll be attending Saturday night’s Quince this, Quail that tasting event (and are rather excited about it), which will no doubt be worthy of reporting back. In the meantime, here’s what a doppelganger has to say about it…

Quince this, Quail that @ Provenance

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prince-albert

Quite how one goes about raising two children aged three and under while renovating an old pub then turning it into the hottest property in the area within weeks of opening is beyond Bruce. And indeed Fran.

Bruce struggles to maintain any semblance of order on his desk, let alone in the rest of his life (hence the phone call this morning asking if he was close to arriving for his 9am meeting – no, he was still wearing his dressing gown on the phone to the UK) while Fran, were she to be a character in a computer game a la Tekken or Soul Blade, would reward gamers who unlock her special move by pressing X-A-A-UP-L2-B-B-DOWN-LEFT-CIRCLE CLOCKWISE-A-B-hold L1-X by taking both sets of house keys with her to work and leaving said gamer locked in their house for the day.

Still, Jessie and Ash Bettenay have managed it with some style, turning a manky old man’s pub into the glorious bar / restaurant it always deserved to be and they’re lovely people to boot.

They deserve their spot in Epicure today. Anyone heading to Willy for the day (and why wouldn’t you) should pop in. And, while you’re there, don’t forget to pop in to Blunt’s Boatbuilers on Nelson Place to say hi to Greg – another lovely person doing wonders with a rare piece of Williamstown history.

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