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

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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?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Publicans' Lunch

The Malvern Hotel, Toorak

Cnr Glenferrie and Malvern Rds, Toorak  www.themalvern.com

Those who know me (i.e. you), also know that there’s not much I like better than a lunch.  A looooong lunch.  Specifically, a long lunch with fine dining, crisp salad, saliva inducing savoury dishes,  and (of course) a beverage or two.
And if you can have a lunch under the auspices of work, all the better.
On Tuesday I attended what is known in the hotelier’s trade as a “publicans' lunch”.  If you haven’t heard of them, you need to be a publican (i.e. a licensee of a pub), or the guest of a publican, to attend.
I walked in the door and the sound of talk and the clink of glasses washed over me like the lap of welcome water after a year in the desert. It’s “an event” lunch, in support of some cause; but they haven’t nominated who they’re supporting with their raffles yet.   But going to the lunch was a cause I could believe in: i.e pubs.  And the beautiful liquid amber fluid that is BEER.
I mean, come on!

The first publican’s lunch I ever went to was ten years ago, at the Tower Hotel on Alexander Parade.  It was owned by a rosy cheeked pal o’ mine, one Richard Downie (between the time it was “the Office” Hotel, but before it was re-launched and branded “the Fox”).  It was just about the greatest day of my life, with a cold seafood buffet and the smell of a perfumed sales rep from Tank Security who confided in me in a way which I’ll never forget.
But I digress.
In a recent passing conversation I had with Michael Burke (a second generation publican and former treasurer of the Australian Hoteliers Association), I asked if he knew anything about these events.
He replied: ‘I do.  I do indeed.  I happen to know exactly what you’re talking about. I’m hosting one with my business partner Ken at the Malvern in two weeks.’
And he asked me along.

I should declare my hand here. Michael “Burkey” Burke is a good friend of mine; I’ve known him for years, he’s kind, generous, a client of Blue Vapours, and we’ve worked with him on numerous projects including a film about Vatican II.
So I’m biased.  Alright?  But the event was a thing of sheer beauty.
You might think a publican’s lunch would be a boys’ club and, admittedly, walking in the door, it was a bit like walking onto the set of a 1970’sDavid Williamson film shoot 
Publicans drinking beer as far as the eye could see…  Just beautiful.
I don't want you to get the wrong idea though.  There were women there too, publican women, who had the respect of their peers.  And in many ways, they were afforded more respect than the men, because they’d made it in a man’s world.  So it wasn’t sexist.  In fact, I found the respect for women there quite impressive.

When I arrived, the very first enigma to catch my attention was an old guy named Ron, who’d been a jockey.  He looked like my Granny’s brother Uncle Hughie, or Jane’s Uncle Jim, and I immediately felt protective of him and the entire group, like walking into a heritage museum of culture.  I introduced myself and told him as much, and he replied “Thank you.  Thank you very much.”
The place had a stellar cast.  I met publicans I already knew, like Bobby O’Kane from the All Nation’s, friend to Mick Malloy, publicans who knew my sister (well, she does get around), and a very charming lady named Caroline, who was just lovely and flattering (somewhat of a balm having just been insulted… read on), who said to me:
‘I can tell what people are like, and you are a good person.’
There was a lot of love in the room.
I also spoke to Peter Rush, grandson of RT Rush (see the Victoria Park football stand) and a second uncle to my very good friend Jerome Rush.  Peter is a retired doctor, an expert on drugs and addiction, who also owns pubs.  Thoroughly tip top.
I also met Ed Dunlop an Angleterre horse trainer who’d just flown in for the Cup – not that I would have known who he was.  He trains “Red Cadeaux” and “Trip to Paris” (the only tips you’ll get here, though Simon O’Donnell told us to “back a local”... I’d go with Ed’s horses, frankly).  Ed was one of the warmest people I have ever met.
Absolutely charming.
We had speakers too; Simon O’Donnell – former Victorian State cricket captain (and he made the national side), VFL football player, media personality, nags enthusiast and a winery owner.  The wine we drank at lunch was from his winery; ‘Red Red Wine’ from Heathcote.
We also had a journalist from the Age (Patrick Bartley), as well as a rep from TAB (and who cares who he was, really?).

The fare was a set menu.  Oysters, seared scallops on seaweed, tempura prawns, a rocket salad with calamari through it, followed by an excellent eye fillet steak wrapped in bacon on mash served with a large mushroom, choice of condiments and a bowl of chips.
The sun was shining, and the beer was on almost non-stop flow since it is an event that is co-sponsored by CUB.  It’s a networking lunch, and they’ve been going for over twenty seven years.

Not everyone there was a publican though (obviously).  Quite a few were suppliers to the industry; brewers, shop fitters, tap and line installation, furniture for hospitality, and graphic design peeps (like me).
And of course, the day wasn’t perfect: you can’t have a picnic without ants.  In this instance, tables weren’t assigned, and I ended up sitting across from a “dolt” supplier; you know, one of those people who you know in the first five seconds that whatever you do, they’ve already decided they don’t like you.  A lump in a suit with no charm or imagination.  As a result of his naked hostility, I talked to everyone else, and at the end of the meal, he told me:
‘You talk too much.’
I was crestfallen.  ‘Well… I am a writer…’
‘Well you should start writing, and stop bloody talking!’
I took my leave, to avoid a confrontation, and was immediately embraced by the charming Caroline.  God bless her.
I was later introduced to said rude personage (who shall remain nameless) by the stalwart Burkey, and replied on introduction:
‘Oh yes, we’ve met.  He sat across from me at lunch.  He hates me.  He thinks I talk too much.’
The scoundrel shrank before my eyes, like a slug you might pour salt or vinegar on.
‘Well, you do talk quite a bit,’ Burkey replied, ever the politician.
‘That I do Michael, I’m not to everybody’s taste…’
And we left it at that.

So all in all?  If I could die and go to heaven it would be to arrive at an event like that.  But with Marilyn Munroe and Jane Russell on my table.  And possibly Caroline.
And definitely no slugs.

I rate publican’s lunches a massive EIGHT OUT OF EIGHT tentacles (the second ever), and highly recommend you get on the list… if you can (though I doubt I’ll be back for a while… my liver my dear… and possibly my out-worn welcome).
And the Malvern Hotel?  Part-owned by one of the greatest publicans in Australia?  It’s light, bright, has extremely professional staff, and a great menu.  The only downside I came up with, as confessed to patrons, was that getting there was like going on a trip to Sydney (since it’s south of the river). That said, I rate "the Malvern" a very good seven out of eight tentacles.

And as Burkey would say: “Drink more beer”.


The Advisor said...

Lump in a suit, I must use that sometime!