All posts by Keira O'Brien

Meanderings about food, wine, people and places. I'm a 30 something winemaker and wine educator, food writer in hiatus, music lover and changemaker living in Hobart. Via Brisbane and North East Victoria. Also, I really like toast.

Eyes That Sparkle

For almost as many months as make a year, I’ve been working in a wine shop. From an outsider’s view, its a big leap from running an IT company. But for me it has felt easy, natural. I wanted my work to be more aligned with my passions, escape the soul crushing corporate world and take some time to decompress and work out how to take my life in another direction. I wanted to give up using the ‘w’ word. Enjoy going to work.

I love talking with people, meeting them, seeing the sparkle in their eyes when they talk about who and what they love. I am lucky that in my work now I get to see that sparkle every day. Customers celebrating with family and friends, choosing wine to share with their lover, their mates, their colleagues. Conversations that spark and fly off in many directions with passionate winemakers. Tales of the pursuit and discovery of beauty. The problems I solve for customers may seem meaningless, but they can make for a moment of reflection and joy in someone’s day. It is a pleasurable thing, to be able to do that for someone. Customers, particularly regulars are quick to share their gratitude when our recommendations have this result.

A little while ago, I got to talk with Enise and help her choose wine. At first we didn’t remember one another, and she asked for help to find the sauvignon blanc. That’s what threw me. She wanted Marlborough sauvignon blanc for her granddaughter, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume for herself and once we recognised one another she also decided to get the old and the new Adelaide Hills classics, Shaw and Smith and Marko’s Vineyard (made by another member of the Hill Smith family and to my tastes, just like Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc tasted in the mid 90′s) after I suggested she might enjoy comparing them. We had a great chat about fashions in wine, food, aesthetics as she piled sauvignon blanc of every style into my arms.

Enise has been living in Abu Dhabi but is making her home in Brisbane again. She’s an interesting lady who has worked in politics and more recently in humanitarian aid organisations. Her husband, a nuclear physicist for whom her adoration overflows, is continuing to work overseas while she directs work on their new home. She always buys him a bottle of whisky, something rare and interesting, though its some months yet until he joins here here. But Enise wants to ensure that when he’s back she has plenty of the things he likes so they can enjoy them together.

I feel privileged that from our brief interactions in the service of choosing wine, Enise has shared so much of her life and her effusive personality.

As we chatted, the lights caught Enise’s beautiful carved silver pendant, a square framing flowing Arabic script. A proverb from the Koran she told me. About beauty and trusting your heart. I wish I’d written down the words, but in that moment their beauty moved me. With a lump in my throat I told her so, and she responded, her eyes intensely on mine, illustrating the riches of Arabic culture through stories of her encounters in the region. I agreed and said how disappointing it was to see many Australian judge Arabic and people of other Middle Eastern cultures on the actions of a minority. My colleagues joined our conversation at this point as Enise’s granddaughter listened on. The conversation turned then to the treatment of refugees by our own government and the shame of detentions centres, as we expressed our disappointment and despair at the human cost of populist policy, the enormous contribution of migrants and refugees to Australia’s development as a nation and the need for action and vocal opposition. The need to find a better way and what shape that might take. How to make the leap from the way things are today, the need to start a national conversation. How to make a change we all strongly agreed is needed.

This conversation was unusual in context – from a conversation about wine – a shared passion – to a conversation of shared resolve, a sparkle in our eyes of a different kind and a fire in our bellies for change. To see our nation treat our brothers and sisters from coming across the seas with with dignity. To welcome them.

Restaurant Review: Marchetti

Marchetti at Tattersall's Arcade

Cabinet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though laneways are where the media buzz is these days, I’m all about the arcades. The much fêted laneway offers urban grit and sometimes, if there are there are the right kind of bins around, fragrant urban decay. They hide secret entries and hold within them cool bars and cafes, ready to be discovered by the sophisticated urban adventurer. Arcades are a little more genteel, with their soft filtered light and Victorian or Art Deco details. Rather than hide, they beguile passersby with the promise of aesthetically elevated havens, suckling small stores brimful of niche wares and services. A respite from the homogeny of modern malls.

Without the embrace of a friend or lover, but with only my own company for lunch recently, Marchetti at the Tattersall’s Arcade was just what I needed. With its vaulted ceilings and terrazzo floors, this small arcade just off the Queen Street Mall was built in the early 1920′s and provides an excellent vantage point for watching the comings and goings of members of the upstairs Tattersall’s Club. Sharing the same architects as City Hall, there’s a kind of quiet grandeur at work here, though on a smaller scale. The ceiling friezes adorned with horses reflect founding purpose of the club as a meeting place for wealthy businessmen keen for a punt and members of the thoroughbred horseracing industry. The name itself is borrowed from the London horse auctions founded in 1776. So some history to draw on.

Occupying a small space at the apex of the arcade, Marchetti draws from a different history altogether, though there is a distinct continuity with the level of style and sophistication surrounding it. Seating around 30, there is a central upholstered banquette in the arcade itself from which I observed couple of well heeled socialites waving and blowing air kisses to passing Tatts members. Inside, there’s more discreet seating at a counter for those seeking a different experience. The interior weaves together muted golds, browns and blues with geometric patterns, dark timber and low lighting to create an elegant space that echoes contintental styling of neighbourhood bars and cafes of Italy. It’s a welcoming space that I was in no hurry to leave. Noted for his previous work on the design of Esquire, architect Stephen Cameron again successfully creates a space which invites you to slow down and relax.

And so to the food, which could in such a location be a second thought. There’s Allpress espresso and Italian pastries like flaky sfogliatelle, served by an all star Italian female cast. An all day breakfast features Sicilian baked eggs, omeletta and toasted panino. Lunch offers a short but appealing menu with options like cauliflower and white truffle soup, polpette with napoli sauce, eggplant parmagiana and antipasto plates. I choose vitello tonnato on my visit, a favourite I find hard to go past on any menu. The Marchetti version has large rustic slices of poached veal fanned on the plate with thick slashes of salty, creamy tuna mayonnaise, jewel like tiny capers, plump anchovies and unusually, whole black peppercorns. At first the crunch catches me off guard though they add a textural interest I grow to enjoy as I eat. Perhaps one for those with less sound dental work to look out for. The plate wears a petite crown of herbs rather than the advertised rocket salad. I think they suit the dish better visually. With a glass of Caranto Pinot Noir, it makes a most enjoyable light lunch. A short list of cannily chosen wines by the glass or bottle are offered along with San Pellegrino soft drinks.

Looking for an excuse to linger a little longer, I sampled the nutella and hazelnut rotolo topped with amarena cherries and a flat white. Both impeccable, much like everything about Marchetti.

Tattersalls Arcade
202 Edward Street, Brisbane City
Phone: 07 3003 1344
Mon-Fri 7am to 4pm
Sat 8:30am to 3pm

www.marchetticafe.com

 

On Friendship and Jeremy Pringle

There is much research about the value of friendships and their positive impact on mental and physical health. Accepted wisdom says that in a person’s lifetime they will only have a handful of close friends. Rarer still are those friends who can make sense of under-formed sentences, unguarded glances and half baked thoughts or pick up a conversation where it was left off several days, weeks or even months earlier. In the five or so years that I was fortunate enough to enjoy Jeremy Pringle’s friendship, we shared many conversations, about our appreciation for wine, food, books and music and about our writing. I fell hard for Jeremy’s writing – his obvious intellect, energetic quest for integrity and his appreciation of fragile and imperfect beauty.

We first connected on Twitter in conversation about a band. Wilco had released an album and were playing at The Tivoli in Brisbane. We both attended the gig, but for a number of reasons didn’t meet until later. This was to be one of the first of many passionate discussions about music, a subject where we had many overlapping preferences, though his knowledge of both trivia and technicalities always outshone mine. After eventually meeting in person, we both confessed that we’d each put rather too much thought into selecting just the right band t shirt to suit the occasion. Over time, we discovered that in the years before we met we had attended many of the same gigs, loved many of the same albums and had a touchstone of musical training and formative life experiences that informed our musical interests. We geeked out about old Silver Jews and Pavement albums, gigs with Stephen Malkmus, Rufus Wainwright and The National and marvelled at the emotional intensity of Fiona Apple’s latest album. We agreed in a quietly intense way that the double album JP got for his last birthday, Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas’ was one of the most underrated live recordings of all time.

As Jeremy began to form a routine with his writing and his site Wine Will Eat Itself, reading and proof reading his tasting notes and articles became part of my daily routine. Snippets of background information regarding winemakers he’d met or more in depth opinions on wines he’d tasted were part of the exchange along with the minutiae of daily life. When I later became involved with running the Swirl Sniff Spit wine tasting events, Jeremy was an invaluable spring of knowledge, offering suggestions on tasting brackets, regions, producers and styles. He hosted a couple of tastings that remain in my mind as some of our most enjoyable events, a tasting of Grampians Shiraz with Julian Coldrey (of Full Pour) and an exploration of white Rhone blends with Rory Lane (The Story Wines). He was also instrumental in our decisions to host a champagne tasting with Dan Buckle of Chandon Australia and earlier a look at winemaker’s side projects with Steve Flamsteed (Giant Steps, Innocent Bystander, Salo) and Dave Mackintosh (Salo, Ar Fion) following publication of Jeremy’s first feature article in a national wine magazine which covered the same subject. On each occasion, he quietly dazzled attendees with his passion, deep knowledge and disarming humility. I felt proud to have such a clever and generous friend.

During our friendship, at seemingly alternating times, we supported one another through the loss of close friends and the derailments into depression that sometimes result. Jeremy could be hard to reach, but it was rewarding to be his friend. He probably never understood how much I valued his friendship and the perspective he could bring to a conversation, whatever the subject or its emotional gravity. Such was his habit of minimising or waving away his contribution to things. He could also be funny, with a keen sense of the ridiculous and a mischievous wit. It is heartening to see from the volume of posts across social media that so many others also valued Jeremy’s friendship and his contributions to wine writing and criticism.

As I write, I am surrounded by boxes of wine purchased on Jeremy’s recommendation and split cases we sourced together. We still had so many bottles we’d planned to share, places we wanted to eat and conversations parked for when we next caught up in person. I’ve finally begun watching ‘Breaking Bad’, one of the many TV shows and movies Jeremy recommended to me despite knowing how little TV I watch – it is of course fantastically good viewing – and will now diligently work my way through the list, perhaps skipping Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In one of our last conversations we shared a joke about beer schooners and discussed philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s analysis of Lewis Carroll’s writings, a fine example of the kind of ground a conversation with Jeremy could cover. I’m immensely sad to lose Jeremy, to lose the opportunity to read his next article, to hear his perspective on wine and the events of the day, his recommendations for music and books. But mostly to lose a beautiful and special friend. My thoughts are with his parents, Bruce and Merryl who now find themselves in a situation no parent should ever have to bear.

A celebration of Jeremy’s life will be held at 2pm, Friday 15 August at Taringa Baptist Church, 36 Morrow Street, Taringa.

Restaurant Review: Depo

Depo

It’s Friday night in Brisbane and unusually we have a reservation for dinner.

“How’s 7:30 for you?” I’d asked. “Oh hang on, they only take bookings on the hour, so what about 7?” I was booking online using the restaurants own web based booking system. Ever curious to know whats for dinner, I downloaded the restaurants mobile app and browsed the menu to see what the chefs had devised for the day. My eye was drawn to a main of ling served with grilled fennel, black olives and lemon potatoes. Different, and we hadn’t even got to the restaurant yet. More browsing of the app tells me we can look forward to sustainable fish, seasonal produce, collaboration, more than a restaurant, a gallery, events and a daily changing menu. It’s every ideal a modern hospitality venture could hope to aim for.

Collaboration and contrasts are two words that sum up Depo, a new venture for Erik Van Genderen and Alexander Lotersztain. As proprietor of Gear, a West End hub for bike culture enthusiasts, you might be surprised to see Erik on the other side of the pass at Depo, though it all makes sense once you know that he was chef and partner in Amsterdam’s highly regarded Blauw aan de Wal restaurant (translated, ‘Blue on the Quay’). Erik’s wife’s work led him to Australia around 5 years ago and he followed his passion for bikes and street fashion, stocking items that he had grown to love but hadn’t found in Australia. Argentinean born, Brisbane educated partner Alexander Lotersztain’s name is perhaps more widely familiar as a result of accolades for his work as designer on projects like Limes Hotel and Alfred & Constance. Depo’s inception came out of a serendipitous meeting of minds between Alex and Erik, and Alex’s design studio, Derlot, is perched above with the restaurant taking the ground level warehouse space.

There’s a compelling tension between the necessarily simple cooking and the hyper-detailed interior at Depo, which mixes glamour in textures and soft furnishings with a playful menagerie of bears, buffalo, deer and pigs and a riot of foraged objects. For those familiar with Loterzstain’s work at Alfred and Constance this may sound familiar, though there’s a darker, lusher palette at Depo and it’s offset by the Besser block boundary walls and open beam warehouse ceiling.

Like the interior, the menu has plenty of personality, though thats not to say it relies on culinary trickery or trends. For the most part, the food is simple, with just a few ingredients given a slight twist here and there. Given the changing menu and requirement to respond to seasonal availability, the menu is sensibly brief with an average of four entrees, four mains and four desserts at dinner and share plates for other times. A day time menu is served from 7am to 3pm Tuesday to Sunday. Wherever possible ingredients are sourced from Food Connect, fish markets and independent butchers with excellent bread supplied by Chouquette.

The cucumber soup with heirloom tomatoes and piquant cubes of balsamic jelly and a smear of goats curd bursts with cool, fresh flavours while the addition of watermelon to grilled scallops and smoky chorizo provides a lift to a classic flavour combination. Beef tartare with salmon roe and a potato ‘salad’ seems bland by comparison and lacks for the seasoning this dish requires to make it sing. However the individual ingredients are good, with good quality hand chopped beef and a quail’s egg on top. The potato salad is a departure from the usual accompaniments to this dish and adds visual interest but otherwise seems out of place. We sip on our mineral water and remain defeated in our attempt to catch the attention of the floor staff to take an order for wine. After a mix up, the right bottle of wine arrives, and is served in good quality stemware. The list is eclectic and international, though seemingly draws from a small group of suppliers. It would be nice to see this evolve with time and reflect the personality of the venue more closely. Cocktails and a small list of beer and cider are well chosen.

A combination of a sure hand on the pans and exceptionally fresh fish result in a winning combination with the ling, fennel, olive and lemon potato. This is a dish that makes an excellent case for seasonal, produce driven cooking and delights my dining companions. The duck breast with sugar snap peas, parsnip mash and orange sauce doesn’t scale the same heights, let down by somewhat tough meat and under rendered fat below the skin. The sauce is however delicate and refined and the parsnip mash provides a fitting savoury undertow. There’s quite a buzz in the room by now and the floor staff seem to have found their form.

After generous entrees and mains, I dutifully order dessert, opting for a bavarois with ice cream. Engrossed in conversation, I taste the icecream and wonder for a moment at the unusual flavour. Paired with a goats cheese bavarois drizzled with thyme scented honey, that unusual flavour is balasamic vinegar. It’s unconventional but works, its gentle acidity teaming well with the creamy bavarois and has me tasting and pondering to the last spoonful.

Depo both confounds and delights. It’s an energetic space that engages, though it doesn’t feel forced or uncomfortable. Van Genderen and Loterzstain’s collaboration is in many ways a reflection of their own ideals and vision. It’s original and attractive. Depo’s biggest test however will be in how the high ideals of this venue translate into the ongoing commercial realities of a hospitality business.

Depo
16 Horan Street, West End
the-depo.com
Phone 07 3846 6537
Tuesday to Wednesday 7am to 4pm
Thursday to Sunday 7am to midnight

www.the-depo.com

 

This review first appeared in ExtraVirgin Magazine.

Restaurant Review: GOMA Restaurant

GOMA-Restaurant

A quiet change rippled through Queensland’s cultural precinct late last year. While the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art swept into the Gallery of Modern Art with dramatic colour and movement, almost by stealth its food and beverage venues came under new management. But it wasn’t a case of running a tender and letting a contract. In a move that echoes a trend for major galleries around the world, these venues are now managed by the Gallery itself.

Arguably the jewel in its clutch of venues across the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, GOMA Restaurant is cantilevered over green space with views to the Brisbane River. A glass sheathed cube of simple lines and cool white the space is punctuated only by bentwood chairs and the filtered view beyond. Like the gallery itself, this modern design directs the focus squarely on the art.

Young, handsome and a little shy, if you met GOMA Restaurant’s executive chef Josue Lopez under other circumstances, there’s every chance you might guess he was a visiting artist. And after dining at GOMA, your conclusion might be that indeed he is. He’s worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze and Noma along with Moda, Two Small Rooms and Spring closer to home. And yet nothing in that impressive list links clearly to the food on offer here.

It’s worth noting that the location of the restaurant means that it’s entirely practical to skip the art display, should you be so single minded. From the gallery’s entry, the restaurant lies at the other end of the central mall, discretely tucked behind the escalators. Entry to the permanent exhibition space of both galleries is free. So whether you choose to make the restaurant the main event or just an opportunity to rest your feet a while is entirely up to you.

Perhaps in attempt to please all comers, there’s a choice of a la carte, set menus or degustation offered, with the option of matched wines. Degustation at an art gallery restaurant may otherwise seem hopelessly overreaching, though makes sense for those lucky enough to have enjoyed Lopez’s food during his too brief tenure at Spring. Where his highly detailed and sophisticated cooking was at odds with the simple, produce driven aims of that venue, here it seems in perfect harmony with its surrounds.

We take the a la carte route, and are made to feel a little bit special even as our orders are taken. It’s a late lunch and our young waiter has only a handful of tables to take care of, all of which are about to be served dessert. It feels almost too quiet in the dining room, so we elect to sit on the deck, lined with timber on five sides but open to the adjoining park, and beyond that, a yard full of milk delivery trucks bordered by the Brisbane River. An entree of sand whiting and squid sounds like the kind of light and fresh flavours we’re after. What we are served defies our expectations of ‘fish and salad’. Here fillets of whiting are one layer in a composition crowned by snow pea shoots, discs of cucumber and pearls of yuzu gel. It’s beautiful to look at and as you eat, a slick of squid ink and dust below adds an earthy note that sings with the explosion of citrussy yuzu. Confit rabbit with globe artichokes, truffles and tarragon is humbler in its presentation but the robustly flavoured tender flakes of meat are delicious. A glass of 2011 Spinifex Fleur Roussanne has just the right combination of funk and texture to suit the dish.

The wine list has been assembled with care that befits the food and there’s plenty of interest amongst its pages. Continuing to defy the expectations of its type, this list doesn’t rely on big suppliers and mainstream brands. Wines are poured into Riedel stemware at the table and engaged staff offer suggestions to suit the complex and unusual flavours of the menu.A choice of five mains covers seafood, lamb, duck and beef with a pleasing and substantial vegetarian option of mushrooms, smoked potatoes and truffle veloute. Where in other hands mains can be humdrum, wagyu fillet seared and presented as two batons accompanied by sweet, sticky charred onion, mushroom cream and grilled leek provides plenty to get excited about.

There’s a whimsical touch in the naming of the desserts – ‘five apples’, ‘the chocolate bar’ and the mysteriously yearning ‘I miss the beach’. Our waiter explains each dish, but even so, it’s a surprise when we’re presented with a mousse filled chocolate bar clothed in a thin layer of gold with ‘silver’ white chocolate ice cream alongside. The taste is as decadent as you’d expect. ‘Five apples’ is a pretty dish, a ribbon of pink lady apple weaving its way around the dishes’ varied textural components. This is food that delights the eye, but delivers confidently in flavour. A rare feat.

Under the stewardship of recently departed director Tony Ellwood (now Director of National Gallery of Victoria), attendances at QAG and GOMA grew to make them Australia’s most visited galleries. While GOMA Restaurant has so far flown under the radar, it’s a secret that should be shared.

GOMA Restaurant
Gallery of Modern Art
Stanley Place, South Brisbane
07 3842 9915

http://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au

Open for lunch and private functions only.

This review first appeared in ExtraVirgin Magazine.

Elva’s Cumquat Marmalade

Soaking cumquats for marmalade

She grew up on a dairy farm in Victoria, the young tomboy in a big family. Her daredevil antics and love of fun didn’t wane with age. Elva had a wonderfully joyous laugh like falling water, a technique for posing elegantly in photographs and was generous in looking after the elderly ones in her neighbourhood, even though she was older than many of them.

Her cooking repertoire ran to roasts, Yorkshire pudding, fish pies, scones and excellent Victoria sponges. Good honest English fare and favourite PWMU cookbook slices and biscuits. Those patty cake tins you see at markets and garage sales? The essential equipment for her much-loved rock cakes or ‘cookies’. Baffled by exotic vegetables, I recall, perhaps secondhandledly, her disappointed comments after cooking some eggplants she was given. “I peeled them and scraped out the seeds and steamed them. I don’t know what people see in the things!”, or words to that effect. When it came to cooking a stir fry, Elva with her practical outlook on life saw no reason not to add a cucumber when a zucchini was unavailable.

I remember the house Elva and Ron owned in Tallangatta, on the way to the Snowy Mountains and overlooking the Hume Weir. Ron had his inventions, his canoe, his fishing boat and his Fred Astaire movies, his love of singing, particularly Bing Crosby songs and his ever expanding photo collection featuring snaps of family and their many, many friends. Elva’s show winning canaries and her vegetable garden, reliably producing humorously gnarled carrots are fond memories, as are her potted cumquat trees. She started with one cumquat tree, a gift from my mother. ‘Get outta those cumquats you kids!’ she’d call as small chubby hands grabbed at the brightly coloured precious fruit. Tallangatta doesn’t provide the most hospitable climate for citrus trees and furry white clouds of aphids were a problem too. A small amount of her favourite marmalade would be made if the season was favourable, sometimes supplemented with fruit grown by others, even purchased if need be.

As their bones grew older and their considerable brood of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren began to migrate north, Ron and Elva left behind the cold winters of north east Victoria for sunnier climes in Brisbane. In time, a cumquat tree was planted. And it flourished in a way Elva’s cumquat trees never could in Tallangatta.

I’m not sure of Elva’s marmalade recipe, because the first crop of fruit came after she passed away. I’m not sure where her fondness for cumquat marmalade, obsession even, began. Perhaps it was her mother, Nanny Walker, a keen cook and gardener who planted the seeds back on the family property in Warragul. Perhaps it was when she was a cook at Methodist Ladies’ College in Kew or when she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War. Perhaps she simply enjoyed marmalade. She always did like the good things in life, particularly if they went well with butter or cream.

I thought someone should make the marmalade last year. There was so much fruit that I made it twice. Two different ways, neither of them quite like Elva’s marmalade. I don’t know if she had a written recipe, it wasn’t really her way of doing things. I used Stephanie Alexander’s method from The Cook’s Companion as a guide, enjoying the quiet and diffuse happiness of washing, slicing and de-seeding the cumquats. The silent panic over whether it would set. There was a lot of marmalade when I was done, more than I could eat myself. So I gave some of it my family, some to my friends and tucked some away in the bottom of an old cupboard. This week I’m swapping some for a jar of pickled onions. Last year I swapped some for a bottle of wine.

Soon it will be time to pick the cumquats again. To slow down and enjoy some time reflecting on my memories of Elva, her generosity and love of life and to pass on her love of cumquat marmalade to others.

Talking About Food Is Like…

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I had the pleasure last month of being invited to talk to John Beesley (aka @beeso)  of Lantanaland about food on his weekly podcast. We thought it would be a cool idea to chat over a few beers in a bar and roped in Paw Paw and Picnic Cafe head chef Rory Doyle. Rory, always one for a wry observation commented that talking about food on a podcast reminded him of the oft misattributed quote “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. It turned out that we were both wrong about who first spoke those words.

We talked about a range of subjects, some only tangentially related to food, perhaps more in the spectrum of “food culture”.  We talked about the Brisbane restaurant and bar scene, keeping chooks, whether tomato sauce should be excluded from the diet of children and serious food lovers, hillbilly butchers, and much else besides. Aside from the freefrom nature of the podcast, there were some struggles with the sound owing to our being in a bar with a bit of background noise. Beeso did a great job of cleaning up the sound. However, he was unable to do anything about my sounding rather more nasal and ocker than I sound in my own head. I’m laying the blame squarely on the beers consumed during the making of the podcast. Rory wore a very nice Parquet Courts t-shirt on the day which saw him rocket skywards in my estimation, but Beeso and I still hogged the conversation somewhat. Sorry Rory and sorry listeners. Rory is a pretty interesting person and a damn fine chef, but more on that another day.

You can listen to the podcast here. Thank you to the Mathew and the kind folks at The Gresham for letting us commandeer a corner of their bar for the podcast.

 

 

 

Four Albums, Three Recommendations

black-and-white-cosmo-banjo

One of the things I love about reviewing restaurants and running tastings is sharing recommendations with others and helping people find a good time. Of course, I’m always mindful that everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a good time, which is why good reviewing should provide a sense of the experience and some personal colour, to help the reader sense the pitch and pace and test it’s alignment with their own sense of aesthetics and pleasure.

So it stands to reason that nothing is more valuable to me than a personal recommendation from someone whose taste and experience I trust. Services like Spotify make it easier than ever before to follow through on recommendations for music. Create a playlist now, consume at leisure, never miss the opportunity to explore a recommendation again. Recommendations for books, restaurants, wine and films require a little more commitment and forethought.

A little quiet time on my recent flight from Dallas Fort Worth to Brisbane provided an opportunity to check out a few musical recommendations. If only I could recall who recommended what. An annotation feature on Spotify would be the icing on the cake.

Love Has Come For You – Steve Martin & Edie Brickell

Yes, that Steve Martin. It turns out he’s a more than competent banjo player. Brickell is known to most for her hit song ‘What I Am’ with her band The New Bohemians, though she’s released a number of albums since then. Love Has Come For You mines a seam of soft bluegrass, and conceptually it made me think of the partnership of Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch. However, Brickell’s vocal style here is more polished and less raw and emotional than Welch’s. Authenticity levels are probably about equal. The production here has more gloss where a more sparse feel would have done the album great favours. I got the feeling that Martin was concentrating very hard rather than having fun and Brickell was going through the motions at times. Not much sense of interplay between the two, as though perhaps they were not even in the same room.

13 tracks of four square banjo and some plodding material would be too much to bear we’re it not for Martins name in the credits. It’s fine as a curiosity, a simple enjoyment. And perhaps that’s as far as the celebrity bluegrass genre can take you.

I await the difficult second album.

Holy Fire – Foals

I know little about this band other than cool young things about my brother’s age seem to like them. They’re music enthusiasts of the sort that I was at their age, so I figure this I worth a look.

The first track proper ‘Inhaler’ sounds more than a little like Perry Farrell circa Jane’s Addiction. ‘My Number’ is jangly, danceable and has me humming along with some clever rhythm and bass underpinning it all. Lyrically, I think it’s a conversation in a nightclub about, well, giving a chick your digits.

As the album progresses, its mostly synth and sequencers, danceable without straying anywhere too cheesy. I caught myself doing some minor chair dancing on the plane. Fortunately the lights were dimmed. ‘Everytime’ introduces tribal drums mixed with the refrain ‘Every time I see you I want to sail away’. One of those sum of their parts bands, there’s no virtuosos in Foals.

‘Providence’ is the albums only misstep, a messy almost dubstep affair with cellos, sirens, Nick Skitz synths, psychadelic overdubbed cachophony and vaguely southern spiritual lyrics. See if you can last the full 4:08. I couldn’t.

The last two tracks are down tempo, mellow and reflective. The way a danceable album like this should close out.

Overall, Holy Fire is not a too far away from current Australian kings of this genre, Mitzi and Jagwar Ma. (Jagwar Ma’s ‘Howlin’ is my pick of the three.) If none of those names ring a bell for you, the tone of this album is a bit like something by Duran Duran, but with less pyrotechnics, and overlayed with the progressive dance dynamics familiar to anyone between the ages of 45 and 35. It’s not deep, but it’s a lot of fun and hooks you in on the first listen. And you will dance, and that’s a good thing.

Julia With Blue Jeans On - Moonface

A million miles away from Foals, this is a young man, an expensive sounding piano and an intense set of intertwining confessionals and remembrances about a girl we’ll call Julia. Vocally there are shades of Paul Banks (Interpol) at times, though that’s as far as that comparison goes.

This album is immersive. You need to sit down and listen to it a couple of times, in a comfortable chair with headphones. I can’t see myself washing dishes or baking a cake to it. But I can see myself making a completely teary mess of singing along to it, probably on a long drive alone somewhere.

Moonface AKA Spencer Krug was in a band called Wolf Parade that drew a lot of critical praise but which I never got around to listening to. A Canadian and a classically trained pianist, his playing is impeccable and his compositions here are bold and indulgent. Each note stands in clear definition, in the school of the great pianist and fellow Canadian, Glenn Gould.

It’s the lyrical subject matter though which pulls you in. You get the idea of a unevenly devoted love affair, worshipful, destructive. It’s intoxicating. Brilliance clutched from the jaws of insanity. The album concludes, I sit immobile, in silence. I’m wonder what Julia’s doing now. I hope she’s ok.

This album is a must listen. To the person who recommended it – thank you.

Expo 86 – Wolf Parade

The logical step after being blown away by ‘Julia With Blue Jeans On’ was to finally listen to Wolf Parade. I can hear that the vocalist is Spencer Krug but this is a very different use of his instrument.

I can see how he met Julia. This is sexy, swaggering and vital. At times it shares the same slightly overblown tendencies as Julia With Blue Jeans On, but with no piano, cracking syncopation, biting lyrics and tight rhythm section. It’s a pretty straight up combo of guitars, bass, keys and drums. It’s not hard to tell there’s another song writer, Krug’s tracks are easy to pick, but the other half written by bandmate Dan Boeckner are no less compelling.

It seems strange to say it, but it sounds Canadian, sharing stylistically at times with Arcade Fire, though there’s far less focus and at times the songs on Expo 86 suffer for being crammed with too many clever ideas and too many layers. My impression is that the album is a lot of fun but not a cohesive whole, and it turns out this was their last album before an ‘indefinite hiatus’.

Three Films

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“If travel is searching
And home what’s been found
I’m not stopping

I’m going hunting”

- Bjork ‘Hunter’

Whatever the overarching purpose, whatever new sights we see, it’s the creation of neural pathways and getting of perspective that is for me what makes travel exciting.

Long flights, while tedious and uncomfortable at their core, are valuable for their forced withdrawal from the internet and the chaotic mental chatter of everyday life. They are the only time when I will sit long enough to watch multiple movies in a single day. Which qualifies me not at all to share my thoughts on three films I watched on the plane.

WATCH
Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen, the grifter, his wife, her sister, and their lovers. Cate Blanchett nails her part as the emotionally frayed yet radiantly beautiful Jasmine French. In the best Allen tradition, it’s a window on the lives of ‘ordinary’ people and their entanglements with a twist in the tale, some Klezmer tinged jazz in the exciting bits and no happily ever afters.

Behind The Candelabra
As I watched Michael Douglas and Matt Damon sat in a spa sipping flutes of champagne, I thought yes, this movie is a bit like champagne. Flat champagne. Based on the story of Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson, it doesn’t offer any dazzling insights into the flamboyant entertainer’s true personality, beyond what you’ve probably already assumed. A controlling narcissist? Well I’ll be! Surely Liberace had some redeeming qualities? It certainly would have made for a more interesting film. Liberace and his lovers and associates are portrayed here as unlikable and boring. Dan Ackroyd phones in his performance as Liberace’s manager with some respite from the yawn fest in the form of Rob Lowe as a cosmetic surgeon high on his own supply.

Red Obsession
A polished but unsurprising exploration into the changing market for Bordeaux. Perhaps a better choice of talking heads would have assisted in creating a more engaging and insightful commentary. More Simon Staples, Asian merchants and wine investment analysts, less Jeannie Cho Lee and stock footage of Robert Parker doing something with wine. The film is however visually appealing with its aerial sweeps of Bordeaux’s stunning chateaus and the new pioneers of mainland China’s domestic wine industry. Russell Crowe’s narration is suitably dignified to the point where you forget it’s him. 

LISTEN

I sought suggestions about what to listen to while travelling, and some of them made it to this playlist. Others are old friends.

Sharon Van Etten / Tramp
Ween / 12 Golden Country Greats
Decoder Ring / Somersault
Mogwai / The Hawk Is Howling
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse / Dark Night of the Soul
Dirty Three / Cinder
Fat Freddy’s Drop / Blackbird
Ani Di Franco / Living in Clip
Cage The Elephant / Melophobia
Radiohead / I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings
Crosby Still & Nash / Crosby Stills & Nash

READ
Jonathan Franzen ‘How to be Alone’
A collection of incisive meditations on the novel and other things. Ideal travel reading.

Talk About The Blues

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Some say that with all the urban renewal and cafes, Brisbane’s lost its soul. Then there’s those who view Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s greatest gift to the city as the period of oppression that led to an artistic and musical underground movement which gave birth to bands like The Saints, The Hard Ons, The Survivors and The Go Betweens. But even the biggest music fans of that era now have mortgages, kids and careers, left with foggy memories and songs to sing along to as they drive from board meetings to rugby training to the automatic gates of their suburban home. I sometimes wonder if the irony of singing along to punk tales of disenfranchisement is lost on them.

Resistant to the suburbs and childless, I find myself with a ticket to a festival in the Valley on a Saturday night at a venue I’m not familiar with. It turns out none of us know the address printed on our tickets for the Queensland Festival of Blues.

The venue is an old picture theatre, at the end of town otherwise populated by strip clubs, drunks and meth heads. It was a live music venue a few years back, before being shuttered for reasons which are now unclear. Its just been given a lick and and a polish and this is the first gig under its new custodians. A mate who runs a shop up the street tells us there was a problem with the venue’s license, some hold up that means they can’t open their bar tonight. It seems improbable. The short walk from dinner at Thai Wi-Rat in the Chinatown mall to the venue is lined with buskers, cheap amps and electric guitars each one, and as we walk Santana, Hendrix and Metallica wail and waft. Anyone can play guitar. SUVs with P plates cruise past, driven by private school kids in Ralph Lauren and improbably deep tans. A couple of drunks sleep sprawled on flattened boxes around a shuttered shopfront door.

We head down the steeply pitched stairs to find that it really is BYO alcohol, for tonight at least. For $3 for our party, the venue will keep our drinks behind the bar and give us some glasses if we want them. The venue’s profits for the night evaporated before they even open the doors. Our Czech beers get the job done, even if we wind up with bits of coloured foil on our lips and in our mouth with each swig we take.

Over the sound of Morningside Fats wrapping up their set, I’m introduced to Harry, a bespectacled, smartly dressed man in his fifties. He’s a fixture at these events who every one seems to know. My friend whispers to me about the underground blues venue Harry runs from his house, a soundproofed subterranean haven from licensing and noise complaints.

On the small makeshift stage to the right of bar, 8 Ball Aitken strides around with a beat up metal body guitar, a bandanna across his forehead and wavy red hair flowing to his waist. With his flaccid cheeks and Celtic looks he seems an unlikely proponent of the blues. But I wonder in Queensland in the year 2013, can anyone truly can have the blues? Almost with out exception everyone here looks well fed, clear eyed and on the surface, well adjusted. There’s Harry again and I notice for the first time that his t-shirt reads “I don’t need sex, I’m getting f*cked by the government every day’. I guess the devil takes forms.

From the confused range of accents and lyrical matter it seems Aitken hails from North Queensland via Nashville. He wraps up his set with the bawdy crowd favourite ‘Outback Booty Call’ a song about ‘a girl with “I love the blues” tattooed somewhere that you’d usually sit down’. Women of a certain age shimmy and shake to the very end as he spruiks by way of song his $25 CD which he guarantees has ‘at least $26 worth of music on it’.

Trucker caps, pork pie hats and flat caps bob and weave as Mojo Webb and his band take the main stage. The sound quality in this part of the venue defies the spartan surrounds. In front of the stage the dance floor begins to fill. Sinewy, leather skinned women with cheap dye jobs and flowing skirts dance to a tune not audible to me, while burly blokes in checked shirts bust a move along with suburban couples having a night on the town. The blues don’t discriminate. The tight trio of guitar, bass and drums is joined later by a white guy with dreds on keys, Dillion James. You can tell by the nods and easy segues that they’ve played together before once or twice. There’s no doubting Mojo plays a mean guitar, but his stray cat howls of siren’s calls and snarls of love gone wrong are what pull you in and under his spell. All original material, in the best blues tradition they’re lyrically either confessionals or pleas for mercy to a lover, God or the devil. Mojo plays gigs at venues widely varied in Brisbane and the US but it’s here amongst the faithful that he’s in his element. His wiry frame and frenetic hands spark and snap with electricity.

Aglow with the elation that comes from being lost for a few hours at a good gig, we emerge from the underground into the warm fug of another Queensland night, and onward to our respectable homes and neighbourhoods.