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Posts Tagged ‘collingwood’

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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Quite why Bruce and Fran hadn’t ventured inside the Birmingham earlier is hard to fathom considering the new owners placed a sign in the street declaring proudly:

NOT SHIT ANY MORE

around the time they moved to Collingwood. Perhaps it had something to do with the Eddie Izzard supermarket theory that shoppers are always guided into the fresh fruit section first rather than toiletries so your initial thought is “Everything here is fresh, I will do well here” as opposed to “Everything here is made of poo”. (Interestingly, when you enter the Safeway / Woolworths in Smith Street you walk into a wall of toilet paper and baskets of tuna – poo and smelly fish – hmmmm….).

Still, spotting a review of a band called The Parking Lot Experiments on Mess and Noise Bruce decided to break his poo pub duck on the strength that their name is taken from one of the Flaming Lips weirder moments. And, despite the fact the only non-crap tap beer (Cooper’s Pale) ran out after his first drink, it did appear to be quite NOT SHIT: comfy sofas; pool table; big slabs of art featuring legends of music; decent jukebox; handy outdoor area; lights turned down low enough to make a detailed judgement of NON SHIT-ness slighty trickier.

The band room certainly had character; coming so soon after the dining room at the Edinburgh Castle helped prepare Bruce: the old sofas, tatty wooden walls, kids sat expectantly on the floor and lack of a stage made it reminiscent of the back room at your grandparents’ – you know, the one they’ve never got round to decorating since the 60s.

The kids did eventually stand up once the band were playing (some even stood on the sofas – IN THEIR SHOES – which the grandparents would never have stood for, no matter how much they liked spoiling you) and revealed Bruce to be the oldest in the room by an aeon. Still, he was there wasn’t he, generation terrorists? So many appeared to be friends of the band that at times it felt like he’d gatecrashed a private party in a school common room.

ParkingLot

But what of the Experiments? Ramshackle in setup (the aforementioned lack of stage, amp stacked on milkcrates, drums sat on possibly more milk crates) and often also in sound (in particular the vocal harmonies that occasionally bordered on caterwauling).

Yet what tunes: from wistful freaky folk to pounding electro-indie that recall anything from the Lips to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, fellow Melburnians Kes and beyond. Impressive drumming on a sparse, unusual set up, entertaining playoff between the keyboard / organ and guitars, otherwordly lead vocals, odd lyrics, moments of yelping lunacy and boundless imagination. Exciting, weird, wonderful and bursting with potential.

Well worth heading there armed with five bucks for the final night of their residency next Tuesday (26/5). Might even try one of the Birmingham’s NOT SHIT $6 pizzas.

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The Tote Hotel was the venue for Bruce and Fran’s first ever gig after moving Down Under: the fantastic Mistletone showcase that introduced them to the likes of the eerily wonderful Kes Band and Beaches’ psychedelic riffs.

They’ve been back many a time since – and never left sober. What’s more, friends have just signed up to the Toters’ footy team and helped them to a huge victory over Old Bar – vengeance for a heavy defeat the year before – in the Renegade Footy League, one by playing, the other by pouring beer.

Dedication to a (lost?) cause

Dedication to a (lost?) cause

Yet, two weeks on from displaying a dedication to the Tote Hotel some might say was beyond the call of duty, the owners announced that as of Monday, one of Melbourne’s most iconic music venues was to close. A licensing issue was at the heart of it, leaving the venue closed from May 6 until today, which resulted in more than 30 bands being cancelled and a loss in takings of several thousand dollars. The cause – some minor paperwork issue involving the hotel’s last change of ownership – had been resolved a fortnight ago but the State Government’s licensing folks hadn’t signed off the approval to reopen, apparently. Hence, as of yesterday, it was closing from Monday, all future gigs had been cancelled and staff were told they would no longer be needed.

This morning everything changed: the Tote is open for business once more and bands are being rebooked.

It means that the owners, staff, bands and patrons of this unique piece of Melbourne’s musical heritage – with its awesome jukebox, the mankiest carpet in town, free bbqs for the inner suburbs’ waifs and wastrels, bands every night of the week and a crap TV in the main bar – survives to fight another day… at least until the current lease is up in November.

Thank God for that. After all, where else is this guy going to find a footy coaching job?

Toters2

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In the wake of Bruce’s announcement that he and Fran were pinning their flag to the Collingwood mast after attending the 14-goal smashing of Geelong last year, they were warned to expect a rollercoaster ride (and were met with equal levels of scorn and delight from non-Pie and Pie fans).

The following weeks seemed to bear it out: defeats when they were expected to win; a decent streak ended by North Melbourne in a game that they had led handsomely after half time; a comfortable finals victory away in Adelaide followed by a depressing defeat at the MCG to the Saints on which Bruce had splashed the cash to attend.

Still, this season started with hope. Admittedly, the cack-handed McGuire did himself and the team no favours by declaring the flag was there for the taking (followed almost instantly by the NAB Cup Final demolition at the hands of Geelong, as if the likely Premiers were saying: “What was that, Eddie, you bumbling buffoon?”).

Fran even delighted Bruce by presenting him with a Collingwood guernsey on his birthday, 24 years after he last owned a replica shirt:

Man Utd 1985 home shirt - memorable for the pointy white bits on the shoulders

Man Utd 1985 home shirt - memorable for the pointy white bits on the shoulders

Perhaps this in itself was a portent of things to come: after all the Man Utd of 1985 – Jesper Olsen, Remi Moses, Frank Stapleton, Arthur Albiston to name but a few Old Trafford legends… – was another team that consistently flattered to deceive; a club with a big past and a colourful, but rarely successful, present.

Round 7 of this year’s AFL season marked the one-year anniversary of Bruce and Fran’s Collingwood odyssey. Fittingly, it pitted them against St Kilda, the team they had originally decided to follow by virtue of living there when they first arrived from the UK, only to decide after attending some early matches that the Saints fans lacked even a modicum of passion and that they would look elsewhere.

Going against conventional wisdom (and reason), Bruce even tipped the Pies to finally bring the Saints’ winning run to an end, despite the knowledge that Stumpy (Didak) and Dead-Eye Dick (Anthony) would be missing and that Travis T (Cloke) would again be starting. Had he known that Davies and Medhurst would also be missing, well, who knows, but still, is it any wonder the promising start to his fledgling tipping campaign has becalmed in recent weeks?

On the subject of Cloke, despite constant assurances that he was a remarkably promising teenager and does have the natural goods, his performances since the aforementioned flag-to-mast nailing session bring to mind nothing more than this (just insert “Travis T Cloke” for “war poems”):

Sady, despite the 88-point drubbing, it appears Bruce has already been infiltrated by Pie-fan myopia – the affliction that Arsene Wenger suffers worse than most. As soon as the game had ended, he entered into text debate with a dismissive Crows fan insisting that, really, Collingwood weren’t as bad the the score suggested and, had they been able to score more goals in the first and third quarters instead of behinds (or more usually missing by 30 yards – looking at you, Rocca) while St Kilda pinged over everything from all angles then it would have been far more respectable.

Straws. At. Clutching. Rearrange.

Going back to the Man Utd shirt, however. The season after that particular shirt was replaced, Alex Ferguson joined from Aberdeen. He’s been pretty successful since. Could Buckley have a similar effect when (if?) he takes over in 2010? (And would it be too much to hope that McGuire goes the same was as another joke head honcho – Michael Knighton?)

And rollercoasters do have to go up as well as down, don’t they?

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There’s very little not to like about Eastern European food if you like meat and cabbage. It was with great delight that a far younger Bruce toured the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and more recently Slovenia and Croatia to discover that whatever their particular take on national cuisine it usually involves large amounts of meat.

Highlights included the wonderful goulash and bread dumplings washed down with a pint of Pilsner for a mere ₤1.50 enjoyed in various back alley restaurants in Prague surrounded by hearty, bearded men and heftier women. Then there was Fatal’s in Budapest. Admittedly, there was nary a restaurant in Hungary that didn’t overload your plate with meat – one platter Bruce ordered consisted of three different meats in slab form topped off with a thick garnish of roasted fat (the chest tightens just thinking of it a decade on) – but Fatal’s wasn’t for the faint-hearted. Even the French Onion soup, supposedly a starter, was an assault course of a dish, while pig’s lung made the menu too.

Budapest breakfast

Preparing a Budapest breakfast (the vegies are plastic and only for show)

On slightly shakier ground when it comes to fond memories was a farmer’s feast in Ljubljana on honeymoon. The restaurant leapt off the Lonely Planet Guide to Eastern Europe’s pages with its promise of traditional Slovenian country fare. Fran was reluctant but, as the city treated them to a downpour of biblical proportions while they walked past its front door, agreed to venture within. To this day she maintains there was horsemeat on the large silver platter, one of many barely recognisable meat-based products floating in a sea of vinegary, cabbage-strewn fat. Whatever the origins, her fright meant more food for Bruce.

So, nearly three years on from those blissful early days of marriage (in time terms only, of course, every day with Fran is bliss from start to finish) it was with great excitement and foaming at the mouth that they spotted Koliba, a Czech and Slovak restaurant opening in Johnston Street, on the Collingwood side of the Smith Street junction.

7pm on a Wednesday night and every seat was taken; folks were turned away. Criminy* – word (or curiousity) must have got around. It was simple enough inside: brick walls; wooden furniture; dolls on the wine rack – and the bottles of Pilsner Urquell (the world’s first pilsner) were a reminder to Bruce that he really should hunt it down more often.

As for describing themselves as a Czech and Slovak restaurant, they pass the Ronseal test. The food was nothing if not traditional; you could as well be in a barn in Bohemia as in Melbourne’s bohemian heartland. The marinated sausages UTOPENCI consisted of a cold, pickled sausage whose insides would have been bursting to get out had it not been sliced from one end to t’other and filled with a strip of red capsicum. The pickle had a hint of chili and a side of onions and garlic. The second starter, potato pancake BRAMBORAK with sweet and sour cabbage (had to get a cabbage fix somehow), was a thin rosti smothered in a tangy layer of gooey cabbage.

But really, it was all about the goulash. Two dishes of tender beef in a thick gravy and four doorstep slabs of bread dumplings presented quite a challenge, the sauce incredibly rich and the dumplings as bouncy, stodgy and filling as they had been down those Prague back alleys. Bruce soldiered on, ignoring the cries for mercy from his stomach, Fran had to leave two-thirds of the dumplings.

Fine dining it ain’t, but then it doesn’t claim to be. In Bruce’s albeit limited experience of Eastern European cuisine, this was as authentic as it gets. Next time, however, they’ll fast for 48 hours beforehand to leave room for more dumplings.

* A nod to Paul Wilson, of the Observer newspaper’s sports team, the worst of a particularly bad stable of sports writers who unfortunately work for the British paper with the best website. Well done, Paul, I did indeed have to Google the word to make sure it wasn’t a printing error.

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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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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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