Wining and Dining: serving up this first bite-sized blogisode
Always dedicated to such sensuous and sensual lifestyle pursuits as wining and dining, I wrote a journal article back in 1989, on the topic of the history and cultural significance of Brisbane restaurants. In this article, I tied the burgeoning restaurant culture to the ‘coming of age’ of Brisbane as a city. Prior to this publication, I also presented my foodie findings at an international conference that year. I had plans to do a ground-breaking cultural study on wining and dining across the world (the words ‘international’ and ‘comparative’ always combine to make a very productive approach). My supervisors at the University didn’t take my ambitious food culture project very seriously at the time; I think they were jealous that they hadn’t thought of such a delicious project first.
Boldly dining out, strictly for research purposes only…
In any case, undeterred and unfunded, I have been munching my way around the world for many a long year, a particularly piquant form of ongoing ‘research’, which still continues – see the survey questions posed at the end of this episode.
This wining and dining trend has led to some very memorable moments, locally, nationally and globally, not always documented by appropriately lush photos at the time. I tend to immerse myself in pleasurable events, often forgetting to take the photos until it is too late. I did manage to snap some great photos for my original Brisbane restaurant research, but sadly those seem to have vanished into the mists of time, as have many of the places I wrote about then. Hence the rather ‘free range’ photographs served up here.
In dedicating these two closely linked blog episodes (14 a, with 14 b to come later next month) to funky foodies everywhere, I will try to give a not-too-obtuse thumbnail sketch of what I was on about in that academic article, as well as a smattering of observations regarding eating out in Brisbane (and elsewhere) in the New Millennium. I could never hope to emulate here in blogland the very special Jenny Menzies, with her terrific food blog – see, for your enjoyment: http://newfarmfoodstories.com/about-2
Touches of sophistication: the early dining-out days
Here are a few reminiscences on several establishments from the past; those readers who have enjoyed dining out in Brisbane, then and subsequently, might hopefully also recall and share their own experiences in a blog commentary. The first central European restaurant was probably the Old Vienna (1966); the French restaurant Chez Tessa opened a bit later on Wickham Terrace – a smart establishment, closing down sadly in 1972 after quite an ‘a la carte’ flourish for a few years. La Grange was another notable French place in the Seventies. At least Chez Tessa represented a down-to-earth break from the elevated eating style of restaurants such as the nearby one at the Tower Mill Hotel/Motel, where the revolving movement and the view were much more outstanding than the food. There does seem to be a widespread inverse correlation between altitude and quality – the higher you go, the less impressive the eating experience.
The seedy Seventies: consuming women and food in masculinist spaces
What also flourished in Brisbane at the time were places designed for businessmen’s lunches, such as Tom Jones in a basement in Caxton Street. The advertisement for Tom Jones says it all: ‘Businessmen get onto it at lunchtime’, featuring images of scantily-clad waitresses serving two smirking, lecherous blokes in suits.
The text of the ad further promises ‘a quickie’ and ‘she will lay it out in front of you when you arrive’. Not much sexual subtlety in ’70s Brisbane – nor even in the late ’80s, despite the critical advent of ’70s Second Wave feminism. For instance, two restaurants appealing to male business clients, Exclusively Yours and Carolina’s, advertised in the daily newspaper’s business pages, considered to be an exclusively male domain. These ads featured coyly (brutally?) truncated, naked parts of the female body, carved up like pieces of meat, and ‘plated’ for masculine consumption.
Brisbane’s cultural cringe
Other cringeworthy self-promotions and publicity abounded in different ways. For instance, Lennons’ 30th floor Talk of the Town boasted not only of ‘sweeping views’, but also of the ‘finest smorgasbord in Australia’ (it seems the manager had visited Wrest Point, Melbourne and Sydney and could vouch for that judgement).
The late Seventies saw the restaurant craze spreading inevitably to the suburbs. By the end of that decade, there were about 300 restaurants in total, with the media trumpeting the existence of at least 100 (self-important) ‘quality’ restaurants in the whole of Brisbane. By the Commonwealth Games in 1982, Brisbane was on the cusp of becoming a much more cosmopolitan city. Hence, the restaurants tended to symbolise this increasing sophistication in a particular way.
The restaurant families in Brisbane: the rise and rise of Italian fare
A rags-to-riches, migrant Aussie battler myth surrounded Gino Merlo, who opened the famous Milano restaurant in Queen Street – ‘From cane to caviar: By the sweat of his brow, he (Gino) has become one of Australia’s leading restaurateurs’, catering for the then premier Dr Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen and other supposed luminaries (newspaper article, 1981). Gino’s brother Lou opened Merlo’s in 1974. These Italian restaurants operated at the higher end of the inner city market, largely servicing Brisbane’s establishment, and thereby causing some disquiet, at times, for those who opposed the right-wing government holding gerrymandered sway for too long then in the state of Queensland. A tricky, ongoing dilemma – should food and politics ever mix?
At the lower, more populist end, there were the equally legendary Lucky’s Trattoria (also opened in 1974) and the Giardinetto in the Valley. At Giardinetto in Brunswick Street (an evolved version of this restaurant is still there) I remember feeling pretty sophisticated ordering Lasagna in the ’70s. I also enjoyed many outings to Lucky’s, as much for the ambiance as anything else. Inside, opera music blared out, with appropriately over-the-top paintings on the walls, often featuring images of the proud Lucky himself. At the end of each meal, this beaming owner/cook Luciano/Lucky would emerge and present, with a flourish, plastic eggcups full of a rather dodgy marsala for everyone lingering at the table – provided you were a regular. It was impossible to refuse this offering or resist this performance art.
Valley nightlife: a smorgasbord of transexuals, cockroaches and a wedding
Regardless of rumours (never proven!) that Lucky’s Bolognaise sauce was largely Pal dog food, and facing up to the realities of the cockroaches scuttling across the floor (and tables), as well as the very challenging toilet out the back, I visited Lucky’s in Ann Street many times. I particularly liked finding myself there around 3am, when many trannies would come in after a show for various forms of sustenance, creating a very special atmosphere. Memorably, there was also the very funky occasion of an unconventional wedding celebration at Lucky’s for my dear friends Savannnah Burgundy and her partner, Pedro Beaujolais, who certainly didn’t want to have the usual wedding breakfast ritual in the ’80s.
It seems that these days, the irrepressible Luciano (Lucky), having retired and passed on his legacy to his son in a different venue, still serves food and joy at an aged-care facility. I hope he still sneaks marsala serves in plastic eggcups to the patrons there as well. What a great way to be ‘seeing himself out’. http://www.volunteeringqld.org.au/web/index.php/news-media/newsmenu/media-centre/press-coverage/1189-luckys-one-in-six-million-who-care
Feedback please (10 sort-of- questions for further research…)
Here are a few burning questions that I am often asked or which happen to float around in my brain on this topic. Hopefully, through a combined effort, we can compile a few useful lists and insights for foodies everywhere (predominantly, but not solely, in Brisbane). You are welcome to answer through the comments, or on Facebook, or via email to me.
Results will be compiled and published in the related blogisode coming up later in September. Please send along also any appropriate pics if you wish.
1. Recommend worthwhile, good value restaurants that still allow you to BYO wines.
2. Recommend any exemplary, quiet restaurants that have sensitive soundproofing decor inside, so that you can actually hear everyone speaking around the table, without having to shout and without ending up with a headache/earache at the end of the evening from all the clatter and shrieking.
3. Name places that allow easy, generous crossover times for breakfast and lunch and are not precious about that limbozone time, when it is too late to partake in the breakfast menu and too early for lunch.
4. Tell us about your most delicious eating-out experience/s in all its/their glory.
5. Send us any funny/quirky/awful food allergy dining stories.
6. Name your favourite restaurant and tell us why.
7. Should food and politics mix?
8. Any topic you would especially like covered next time around?
9. Any memories triggered by restaurants covered in this blog?
10. Any nice related photos would be much appreciated with your comments on any topic.