Sydney Food Diary: Lankan Filling Station

I was blown away by this place. I always like flavours that surprise me and aren’t what I’m used to, and in my limited experience of Sri Lankan food, there’s a depth and complexity, and a hit of spice, which I find delightful.

I’d heard recommendations but hadn’t made my way to the Lankan Filling Station in Darlinghurst. We arrived a little after 7pm on a Tuesday and it was packed; we had to wait another half an hour to get in. Then, it’s a crowded little place with tiny tables, and I wasn’t sure of what to make of the menu: like a yum cha place where you tick off the orders on your own.

But we got into the groove of things. The Beef Pan Rolls could have been not so pleasant in someone else’s hands. Plain flour crepes stuffed with ground beef, and then fried. But it was perfectly crispy, contrasting with the soft inside. The spices were great, as was a bright red dipping sauce.

We also had crab cakes, four of them and I thought they were pretty tasty at the time, though looking back, I would agree with MissDissent that they didn’t taste very crabby.

I find hoppers, either the crisp pancake kind, or the ones made out of rice noodles, a very tasty creation. We had ours with an egg in the centre, which I liked. But what really excites me are the sambals: with grated coconut and spices and pickles: I should pay more attention. But they’re really good mixed and matched with various bites (photo at the top!)

Goat curry is one of my favourites: such a strong flavour. The issue is that it usually is so full of bones that it’s hard to get at any meat. So, a boneless curry in an intense black curry, made of clove, cinnamon, cardoman and coriander seeds, charred and ground: heaven.

Likewise the eggplant, with shiny fried curry leaves, a hit of sour in there somewhere to go with the spice. It’s got both tamarind in it and tomatoes. I loved this dish.

Between the two of us, there was slightly too much food, so I took a takeaway home and had a delicious lunch the next day. At the time, I washed the food down with a glass of the rosé on tap. All in all, a lovely experience at a buzzy, contemporary eatery; I will definitely be back to try more dishes.

And here, the day after I post this review, a rave review appears in the New York Times. Congratulations, Lankan Filling Station (and its semi-famous chef, O). Well-deserved. Now it will be even harder to get a seat!

Lankan Filling Station Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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2019 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies, TV

(A work in progress…)

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Sasha Velour’s Smoke and Mirrors, the Enmore Theatre. See review here.
  • Jane Siberry in concert at the Camelot Lounge, Sydney.
  • Jane Siberry hosting Songwriters in the Round at the Estonian House, Sydney.
  • Bent Burlesque, Seymour Centre
  • Confessions of a Mormon Boy, Giant Dwarf.

Books

  • Lily Brett’s New York (essays)
  • André Aciman’s Call me by your name (fiction)
  • Ali Smith’s How to be Both (fiction)

Movies

  • Three Identical Strangers: A pretty interesting documentary about some terrible incidents (triplets, as well as twins, separated for scientific observation).
  • Roma: The kind of film that if it were an arthouse film, I’d be raving about to tell friends, but since it’s the possible best picture at the Oscars, I think, ‘Is this overhyped?’ It has beautiful scenes yet at times almost seemed too simple and rambling to me.
  • Brooklyn: Finally caught this, on Netflix. I thought it was a beautiful, beautiful film, a meditation on living between cultures and countries, and Saoirse Ronan has this luminous beauty and charisma, a bit like Cate Blanchett.
  • A Star is Born: I’m not sure why this film didn’t grab me. I did like Lady Gaga’s performance, very natural, and found something interesting about Bradley Cooper’s character that he created in his voice and mannerisms, but its treatment of the themes of creativity, fame and jealous relationships was all a bit expected.
  • Isn’t it Romantic?: I have a soft spot for Rebel Wilson, and thought this movie fluff was a fine way to pass a weeknight in front of Netflix.

Television

  • RuPaul’s Drag Race, All Stars, Season 4
  • Marvelous Mrs. Maizel, Season 1: Binge-watched on a long, plane ride. Enjoyable. The critics LOVE this show, but strangely, I couldn’t then get past the first episodes of Season 2.
  • Bron/Broen, Season 4: How I loved this show. The character Saga is unforgettable and I was captivated every time she was on the screen. But her counterpart Henrik was also fantastic, and the crazy puzzle plot, with all its red herrings, was enjoyable.
  • Tidying up with Marie Kondo, Season 1
  • The Good Place, Season 3
  • My Brilliant Friend: It was great to watch this TV adaptation after the first of Elena Ferrante’s books in her Neapolitan series, which I loved so much. A very different experience, seeing what is imagined come to life, but mostly successful to me.
  • The Umbrella Academy

Posted in Australia, Book, Concert, Exhibition, Film, Review, Sydney, Theatre/Concert Review, Theatre/Show | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Zaida Cafe, Darlinghurst

It’s such a casual-looking place, Lebanese food, set slightly back from the street, that I must have walked by it a hundred times and never tried it. My loss.

We split a falafel salad, four yummy kibbehs, and some hummus with ground beef… and it was slightly too much food for us.

And it was all pretty much absolutely delicious. Couldn’t fault anything about it. I even had to take some of the leftovers home (I hate wasting food!)

Zaida Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Belluci Cucina, Australia Square

My financial advisor took me to lunch at this restaurant right below his office in Australia Square. It was a bit worrisome how hot and bright it was, but there are seats around the side in the shade.

It seems classic Italian, offering housemade pasta, pizza and a good selection of appetizers, mains and sides. I find it impossible to resist any pasta that is advertised as made in house… and this didn’t disappoint, that slight springiness and chewiness of fresh pasta. A nice meat sauce too.

My advisor seemed happy with his pizza, which was enormous. We split some wild greens which were tasty. The service was a bit confusing as it seemed like at least two staff were assigned to our table and kept asking the same questions. But all in all, a nice meal.

Bellucci Cucina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Hanh Phuc, Surry Hills

The Naughty Chef has gone vegetarian. A long-standing casual Vietnamese restaurant on Albion Street near Elizabeth Street that seemed to have steady business, I noticed that they’d closed down for a renovation and changeover, and now: meat be gone!

It’s all very casual. You order at the counter. The decoration is cheery but a little odd.

We had some delicious, fresh spring rolls, and a make your own pancake with corn fritters.

To follow, I had spring rolls on rice noodles. The spring rolls were delicious bits of goodness, but I don’t know why: they didn’t seem to integrate with the rest of the dish as I remember the other times I’ve had similar dishes in Vietnamese restaurants.

My pal had something squishy and tasty on top of his rice noodles.

Still, it was tasty, cheap and very generous portions, with service that makes you feel at home, if your home is a Vietnamese or Vietnamese-Australian family, but hey, they’ve got enough love for everyone.

Hanh Phuc Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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The annoying people of Gumtree

I hate the idea of things going to landfill. And I love the idea of putting things in their right place. I’ve always been like that. My Mom composted before anyone else did. Before roadside recycling, my parents bundled up old newspapers, to be saved for ‘paper drives’ that clubs at the local high schools would do regularly. I learned a knot I still use from bundling those papers! Anyways, what I’m saying is that I don’t like throwing things away.

So, Gumtree should be the perfect place to help me with this. It’s an online site for buying and selling, much like Craig’s List in the United States. There are many giveaway groups on Facebook, sometimes called ‘Pay it Forward’ and organised by the area of Sydney, and a site called FreeCycle (that used to be located on Yahoo) has soldiered on for years. But I’ve rarely been able to give away things on those sites. Gumtree on the other hand amazes me. There are whole groups of people who must just sit on the site and wait for people to offer free stuff, because the second you put an ad up, with something reasonable, you get messages right away.

I’m trying to figure out the best way to do this, and I think I’ll have to take my pal Davy’s advice: always charge something, even if it’s nominal, because the people who want stuff for free are often grabby, aggressive or strange. I also am trying to stick to my guns and say clearly in the ads: this item is NOT going to the first person who asks for it; tell me a story about why you want it. Sometimes I worry that one of these older Chinese guys (can I say that, since I’m Chinese?) is just reselling stuff; the guy who took our old Queen sized bedframe seemed a little sneaky.

My last giveaway was a success, in the end. An old Persian-style carpet, very useable but getting a bit ratty around the edges and worn; I needed the room to look better for my reiki clients. But I was surprised that after I put up the ad, I got a direct phone call, seconds later, from an aggressive guy with an Asian accent. And I went against my plan. ‘How old is it?’ he demanded. ‘Maybe 8 years’. ‘Where can I pick it up? I’ll be by in two hours.’ ‘It’s for you, isn’t it? You’re not going to sell it?’. ‘For me.’

I agreed, and hung up the phone, and thought: why did I agree to that, when I’d said I’d give it to a person who had a good reason for it, not the first person? And within no more than five minutes, more enquiries had come in (after a few, I deleted the ad; I had enough for a backup list). The first was for a jazz trumpeter who had recently moved back to Sydney and wanted the carpet for a place to practice and jam with his friends! No better reason. The second enquiry was from a student from Iran who said he’d love something that reminded him of home.

Argh, I was pissed off. But I’d made an agreement so sent him instructions on how to get here and waited. I didn’t even know his name and he didn’t acknowledge the instructions. Finally, five minutes after the time he said he’d come, I get an SMS: “sorry.ican Not pick it”. So, in the end, happily, I was able to get it to the musician who picked it up when he said he would, was nice as anything, and even offered to pay me something!

Another story was similar. A friend, knowing we’re musicians, had found a big Casio keyboard on the street, and thought we’d like to see if it worked. The top octave was broken. I called Casio to see if they might take it as a donation, fix it, and get it to a school or something. No. So, when I got it onto Gumtree, I did the same routine. I said: it doesn’t work perfectly, and: give me a good reason. The SMSs started to come in. I was busy so told the first guy, I’d have to answer him later. But he hadn’t read the ad. He said ‘when can I get it?’ and then ‘what cords and parts does it come with?’ (I’d said it all clearly in the ad). When the out-of-work, underemployed musician from Wollongong said it was perfect for her, even though it was missing an octave, I promised it to her and finally sent SMSs to the others who had replied (I’m so polite). And then: the first guy started sending insulting messages to me, as if he deserved the keyboard. He called me a ‘gronk’. I had to look it up on Urban Dictionary.

My worst experience was many years ago when I was trying to get rid of some blank CDs. The woman seemed nice enough, but when I was trying to arrange to get them to her, she said that she’d looked up my address on the map and seen the social housing nearby. It was obviously a very dangerous neighbourhood, and there was no way she could come up to an apartment to get them from a stranger. Man, I’m just trying to give away free stuff. I agreed, reluctantly, that I could meet her in the street, and hand her the CDs, while she kept the motor running, but I felt it pretty insulting for her to decide what a dangerous neighbourhood I lived in. When she cancelled the first time she was to come, and an architect friend said he could use the CDs, I decided: she is too much. I sent her an SMS that said, I’m sorry, they’re no longer available. Unfortunately, it was during a dinner party, well in action, and I was happily drunk. So when she started insulting me, I insulted her back. ‘I hope you don’t have any sisters, or would treat your mother this way,’ she wrote. I also brought up that she’d decided that the gentrified and wealthy suburb of Surry Hills was too dangerous for her, and she said she’d travelled throught the slums of Africa by herself. It was bad behaviour, I know, but I think I called her a crazy bitch and then blocked her number.

However, I have had some great experiences with Gumtree, including the story above about the carpet. I got rid of a whole bunch of CD/DVD cases which I never thought I’d be able to unload. I got rid of a very old macbook for more than I thought I would. I found a great, huge old TV for a friend who needed one, at a very reasonable price. And ages ago, on one of my first attempts, I’d put up a microwave to give away; and had agreed to get it to one woman, when a gentlemen wrote and said: ‘I have a friend in Newcastle in need of a microwave and I have been looking for one for her. She is a Tibetan refugee who has been here for four years now and is a single mum with a teenage daughter. She has been without a microwave for many months.’ I said I needed to check with the first person, who after I explained, agreed. So, not long after, Harry drops by, dressed in colourful clothes, a happy retiree. He’d come all the way from Campsie on public transport and then walked, and was going to carry the microwave all the way back and then get it to his friend in Newcastle (probably also by public transport!). What a champion. That made me so happy. Best Gumtree story ever.

Posted in Advice, Australia, Getting Things Done, Home, How to live, Stuff | 1 Comment

Sydney Food Diary: Two Chaps, Marrickville

So, walking up Chapel Street in Marrickville, this is a really non-descript street, some businesses which look like they’ve been around for a long time, a school, a boxy old office building. And then BAM. There’s a cafe, full, with a line outside of it, buzzing with hipster energy and caffeine. Welcome to Two Chaps, Marrickville on a Sunday morning.

We managed to get two seats at the counter, and while we can be somewhat suspicious of hipsters, the coffee was good, and then… the food was delicious. My vegetarian, almost vegan, friend ordered a dish with rice noodles and said it was good.

My little potato hashbrowns, in a bed of vegetables and beans, and fried bits of kale and onion as visually appealing, and really very tasty, a great combo of textures, and though meat-free, being fried and crispy tasted as decadent as a bacon and egg roll.

Two Chaps Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Mark + Vinny’s Spaghetti and Spritz, Surry Hills

So, first of all, count me completely charmed by this experience: we rock up on a Tuesday night for our anniversary dinner, and don’t have reservations. They managed to find a table for us, but not before Vinny welcomes us with an introduction and a handshake. To have the owner of the place welcome us, simply, kindly and with warmth, impressed me greatly.

Then, what they’ve created! I’ve lived in Surry Hills for years, so the spot between Orto and Izakaya Fujiyama has always struggled. It seemed to be one of those cursed restaurant spots. And I can see the problem, in that it’s not very spacious, and was a little hot and cramped inside. It would have been much nicer outside. But Mark and Vinny have turned this spot around: it’s been busy every time I’ve gone by.

And why wouldn’t it be? The list of cocktails and spritzes is enticing (and our cocktails were very tasty), the design is fun and stylish, and most of all, the food is bloody delicious.

We started with an order of meatballs, which were pretty much perfect. As was the burrata, with peppers and onions, looking so pretty.

We split two pasta mains, a delicious ragu, and one of the daily specials, a mafalda with grilled zucchini. It was so simply done, with not a lot of sauce or extras, that made me really notice the beauty of fresh, handmade pasta (and I loved the frilly edges). Didn’t have room for dessert, but perhaps next time: this is a place to come back to.

Mark + Vinny's Spaghetti & Spritz Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book Review: André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name

[Review includes spoilers; don’t read it if you plan on reading the book and don’t want to know key plot points and issues!]

Call Me By Your NameCall Me By Your Name by André Aciman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name is a ridiculously romantic novel that will appeal to those who experienced a heartbreaking and heart-stopping first romance, or for those who find the idea beautiful. While I believe a friend had recommended the book to me before the movie came out, I did see the movie first and I read a lot about it: for an old gay activist like me, it was exciting to see a gay romance in a mainstream movie, one that got so much attention.

The reception among Facebook friends and acquaintances was mixed though, including among many gay men who said, ‘What’s the fuss about?’ For the romance in the book and the film was not just the emotional one. If you think that’s it a cool idea to have erudite, artistic parents, and to transcribe classical music scores in your spare time, to speak multiple languages and spend time in the Italian countryside, well, you’re in (I count myself in this group). But I understand that others find these pretentious ideas, latching on to a particular wealth and class.

And while there’s emotional hurt and trauma, all the landscapes in this book are also romantic and soft, beautifully described I’d argue: ‘the rolling fields of the valley leading up to the hills seemed to sit in a rising mist of olive green: sunflowers, grapevines, swatches of lavender, and those squat and hummable olive trees stooping like gnarled, aged scarecrows gawking through our window as we lay naked on my bed.’

So, if you’re after something more gritty, more urban, this won’t be for you.

I found the debates about identity and experience quite interesting. For the movie, that two heterosexual actors would embrace gay roles without fearing they would torpedo their careers was heartening; Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet did the publicity rounds as goofy, best friends, full of charm. And yet there was the question of how a gay actor might have played Chalamet’s character: would it have made a difference? Hammer’s character, Oliver, seems pretty bisexual, so I think the energy he brought to the role was appropriate.

Similarly, I read about readers who questioned Aciman’s sexuality: how could a straight man write so convincingly about a gay experience? He must be gay! Or: did the book lack authenticity because it wasn’t based on enough lived experience? I found this tension in the book interesting, aware of the debate as I read the book.

I wasn’t completely convinced of the authenticity. Both characters, Oliver and Elio seem to default to the same state of shame when thinking about getting involved with each other, a shame that isn’t explained or contextualised. Yes, being gay is often considered shameful, and moreso depending on one’s religious and cultural background, but this shame felt somewhat amorphous and imagined.
Both characters lean towards bisexuality, yet also as sort of a default; even when Elio is in love with Oliver and at the height of romance, he makes an offhand remark about feeling like making love to an older woman at a gathering. When Elio is making love with one of the young women in the village, is it simply because he’s a horny teenager? Or is he attracted to women? Finally, the physical acts of lovemaking are not described: no blow jobs, no f#cking. Instead, there are the remarkable scenes: the famous one that made it into the film with a peach; the one that gives the book its title, a verbal request for complete empathy; and what shocked me, where Oliver places his hands on Elio’s stomach while he is defecating, to achieve a new level of intimacy.

In an interview, Aciman talks of having to imagine what gay sex would be like, not being an expert himself. I sort of felt while reading the book that I could feel the author in the process of imagining.

But does it matter? Perhaps not. What feels absolutely truthful is the human experience of falling in love, of trying to play it cool, of flailing around, of trying to express oneself, of running out of time, of trying to appreciate an experience as it is happening while knowing it won’t happen again, and may not lead to anything. The many tiny moments that Aciman portrays as making up this whole, messy process, I found, beautiful and profound. Speaking of self-loathing, Elio asks ‘… if one got used to that. Or does one accrue a deficit of malaise so large that one learns to find ways to consolidate it in one lump feeling with its own amnesties and grace periods?’

But I did feel a strange set of tensions in reading the book: loving much of the narrative and writing, while being uncomfortable with others. I don’t mind this experience of review and criticism and review though: it makes me engage more deeply with the book. As an aside, I thought the use of a character, a sick and precocious girl with a fatal disease, to show Oliver in a good light (how he makes friends with her) to be manipulative and clichéd. A dying child thrown into the story for effect: yuck.

Reaching the end of the book, I felt on somewhat of a rollercoaster. I was caught up in Elio and Oliver’s romance, and the relief of them finally communicating with each other after so much inability to say how they felt. The book takes them to Rome for a final farewell, and they join in a book reading and celebration, which turns into a raucous affair with a large cast of characters.

I found this part quite strange, and took me out of the rest of the book. The complicated metaphor of the Basilica of San Clemente representing layers of history and romance and loss and desire worked for me on some levels, but I hated the way the poet explaining the concept used an experience with a transgender hotel clerk in Bangkok as central. It felt like muddled exoticism of the wrong kind, not only Thailand as the mysterious Orient, but sex-charged Thais as a repository for white men’s desire for women and men and and something in-between. It felt icky, but also too much philosophising, as when Elio was commenting in these scenes, I lost his voice, and instead was just hearing what I imagined the author’s voice to be.

But then: the end. A much longer conclusion and over a longer period of time than the way the film ends (though I loved the way the film ends). I found it satisfying to know more of Elio and Oliver’s story, and the whole way that the end sort of sums up the whole experience but also leaves open-ended questions: What if you gave it a shot with that big love that got away? Does the romantic love of youth last? Are there people that you will always love?

And so we come back to the beginning of the review. This is a book for the romantic in your life, and for you, if you’re the romantic in your life.

View all my reviews

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Sydney Food Diary: The Lookout, Elizabeth Bay Marina

What could be more beautiful than brunch with friends, next to the water, on a sunny summer morning?

The last time I was by Elizabeth Bay Marina, it was still being constructed, so was basically just boarded up. Now, it looks like it’s being well-used already and there’s this fun café with an amazing view.

You order at the counter and they bring the food to you, and the menu offers a good selection at reasonable prices for the Eastern Suburbs (the dishes would easily be a few more dollars each in Surry Hills or Paddington). Good coffee too. Our large table of six needed to push two little tables together, and the verdict was generally good.

My husband thought his breakfast bowl was delicious and attractive. Others nodded that they thought the food was good too.

My friend who ordered the same thing as I did – avocado, dukkah and an egg on toast – agreed with me though. Whether it was the yoghurt or cheese or abundance of lime but the dish, though very pretty, had too strong a flavour of citrus, which overwhelmed all else. Oh well. It won’t prevent me from coming back and trying something else on the menu.

The Lookout Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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