Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Metropolitan Hotel

36-42 Courtney St (Cnr Blackwood St)
North Melbourne

Have you ever had one of those moments, walking into a restaurant or hotel you’ve never been to before and felt like yelling out ‘Darling, I’m home!’ as you toss an imaginary brown leather satchel into the corner and recline onto a leather chaise lounge and tilt your hat over your eyes?

Well that’s how I felt when I walked into the Metropolitan Hotel for lunch the other day. Fan-friggin-tastic. Want to come in and take a look?

What can I say? Old stain glass windows. Traditional wooden bar. Beer. And what beer! Taps and taps of it. An old dining room, reminiscent of my Mum’s dining room, with old furniture, white table clothes and playing Nat King Cole over the audio system as we were seated.

But the pièce de résistance? What the restaurant specialises in. You know I am going to hell for this, and the planet getting burned to a cinder by our profligate farming practices, but I don’t care if this is what it means. You got it. Steaks!

Oh gosh, just even writing these words makes me come over all gushy and want to skive of down the pub… again.

OK, now I’d better just lower your expectations a little. It’s not perfect. The staff say things like ‘Have youse decided what to order yet?’ The antique chairs in the dining room are beginning to go in the bum a bit (like us all), and the tables are a little rocky. The floor creaks and there are fat blokes sitting around in suits.

But this place is about nostalgia. Pub nostalgia for an era that may never have existed but is even more glorious for that. You know, that kind of yellow light memory you have while you’re experiencing something? Golden and glowing and pure, because you realise you’re witnessing the end of days of something; a perfect pearl sitting in a glass of vinegar that Cleopatra holds while licking her lips. Something pure and refined, but kind of sad too. With beer on tap.

I’ve noticed recently that North Melbourne has a treasure trove of gourmet pubs. There’s the Royal Park hotel about two blocks from the Metropolitan (OK, a bit uni style, with hand crotched art on the walls and used brown couches – but carpet bagger steaks! – like the seventies never ended!), and I suspect dozens more venues hiding around the back streets. This may in fact be one of my new ventures, to go out and seek every back street North Melbourne gastro pub scenario. And then maybe I’ll turn my sites on Seddon.

I had the aged poterhouse with red wine jus and side orders of rosemary potatoes and a green salad, washed down with a very serviceable Heathcote Shiraz. There were five of us (rather than the four in my previous entry), we drank more, and it still came out to cost less than Shakahari… and animals gave their lives for our meals! (Bless them, they did not die in vain).

So obviously, you know I liked it. Stuff it, I loved it. Give me more please. This isn’t fine dining. Not in the strict sense. There are no velvet gloves emptying your pockets, and it’s a bit too earthy to be posh. But it’s my style. I guess I must be a fat gutted, middle aged bloke (on the inside, bursting to get out through the veneer of urbane and svelt intelligentsia) who really likes drinking beer, red wine and eating steaks in convivial surrounds. The verdict? A strong six and a half tentacles out of eight. Forza!

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201 Faraday St
Carlton VIC 3053


I know what you’re thinking!
Shaka Zulu? Hari Kumar? Kit has gone all African-y/Indian on us!
But nothing could be further from the truth! Shakahari is the name of a vegetarian restaurant in Carlton I went to with some friends for a vegetarian meal the other night, and I thought you might be interested.

I’ve had complaints about this blog previously (hello Dharamjot!) that everywhere I pick is polluted by the corpses of our animate brethren. But far be it for me to be said to be biased agin vegetables. Hey, I don’t mind lentils and mung beans. Let’s see how the herbivores do it, baby! (Answer: on the grass… much like the reviewer - Ed).

Located in a terrace house opposite Brunetti’s, Shakahari was the only vegetarian restaurant in my copy of the Age’s Good Food Guide. The only one? Yes! And a hat! So let’s take a look at the ONLY vegetarian restaurant in Melbourne that made the cut for the Age Good Food Guide, shall we?

Shakahari has been around for donkey’s years (read around twenty), and some of my older pals had heard of it. Ask a Gen Y-er about vegetarian food, though, and they all say ‘the Veggie Bar’ (Brunswick St).
So how would you describe Shakahari? In one word? Hippies. In a few words? Vegetarian hippies who have a predilection for Asian grub. I should have been twigged right off when I called to make a booking.

“Hello? I’d like to book a table for four tomorrow please.’
(Longish pause…) "Sigh. Alright.”
“Um, would you like my name?”
“I suppose.”
“Kit. For four.”
“Would you like a mobile phone number?”
‘I guess... You know there’s no BYO?”
“That’s OK. See you tomorrow!”

How’s the ambience, I hear you ask? My initial reactions were positive. Wood floors, wood furniture, carved elephant statues, orange walls. But the tables? Too high. Chairs? Too hard. Lighting? Too bright. Porridge? Too hot… oh no, that’s another story. But you do have to go into the back garden and trip over loose bricks to go to the loo, though, so there is an element of a bear in the woods… if you get my drift.

And the other clients? Nutty. As in as nutty as a nut cutlet. It did make for an entertaining floor show though; people with anaemia saying things like “I’ve just been really stressed, you know?”, rockabilly boys chatting up tattoo girls, and same sex couples holding hands over lentils. You know. Cool people. Vegetarians.

The food is Asian inspired with a western influence. This can pretty much be distilled down to “Eastern food, Western plates”. Not a share thing, although the entrees said ideal to share and each one came with four portions. But then they came out on massive bits of white crockery, we had to decant them onto side plates, the serving was a disaster.

The menu has V (vegan), D (dairy), and E (egg) written against the various dishes, so you can work out what is least offensive to your sensibilities and or delicate digestional situation. I did, however, find myself with a tummy upset after going here (whether it was the food or not I’m unsure, so am unwilling to litigate); I guess the moral is just because something’s vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean your body won’t reject it.

We had the mushroom dumplings (yum), the fried five C’s in pastry (I dunno what the five C’s were – and stop being rude), and the avocado magic (deep fried with capsicum and eggplant). For mains, I tucked into something called the Shaolin Treasure Chest – basically tofu with mushrooms (Asian) with five types of rice grain. Dessert was a lactose intolerant person’s wet dream, with tofu based baked goods that were delish.

The verdict? I thought it was a little bit on the expensive side, especially considering that no one died in the preparation of my dishes. If you HAVE to take out a vegetarian, or even better a vegan, GO! Go gangbusters. But if you’re looking for a fine dining experience, cross the road to Brunetti's and have a cake and coffee. Hard core vegetarians would no doubt give it a seven and a half out of eight. Me? A confirmed mollusc eater and lover of luxury? Meh. Let’s call it a scrape-y five tentacles out of eight.

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