Book Review: Matthew Mitcham’s Twists and Turns (autobiography)

Twists and TurnsTwists and Turns by Matthew Mitcham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t seen the one-man shows that Mitcham has done, where he’s brought his stories from this book (and his life) to the stage, but I have the feeling that the stories of his life may work better in that format than on the page. He’s got many great stories to tell, and they really take off when all the right details combine: the facts of the situation, his feelings about them, and a compelling narrative. So, the stories leading up to his famous gold-medal dive in Beijing, and then the lead-up to the London Olympics, have an urgency and punch to them.

And having seen one side of the story (living in Australia and following this win on TV during the Olympics), it was so interesting to learn the background story: his relationship with his coaches, his fractious relationship with Diving Australia, even how the images we saw on screen of his partner and mother cheering him on: to find that was due to the kindness of strangers was heartwarming.

But many of the stories left me wanting more. They are such compelling stories, I wanted him to dive deeper so we could understand the lead-up, why things happened, the effects, though at one point in the book, he admits, he doesn’t necessarily understand himself the reasons for his deep insecurities and depression so couldn’t explain them on the page.

So, I’ll stay tuned for these stories: how a kid from hard circumstances made his way up to being the best diver in the world, the depths and shades of a relationship with his partner that stayed strong through lows and highs, even his recovery from drug use reads on the page easier than it must have been. For example, there are explanations for the drug use, and various descriptions of some of the implications, but the obvious emotional pain is covered up; it’s told with some distance, which makes it less involving or engaging.

So that’s the main criticism: not that the book is bad (it isn’t), or that I didn’t like Mitcham as a person (he seems very likeable and charismatic). It’s that I wanted to know more and feel more, having been introduced on the page to this very interesting man, who seems to have an infectious positive spirit, and a very kind heart. I’ll have to go see one of his shows!

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Hawaii Food Diary: Opal Thai Food, Chinatown

Opal Thai Food was the best food I had in my first few days in Hawaii, and it’s not just the food that’s great. Chef Opal comes to your table, asks you what you like to eat, and then brings out food accordingly.

The food was tasty and fresh, with vibrant flavours, and a nice surprise too, since you’re not sure what you might be getting. Opal told us he came with his family at age 12 to the US, and now has this wonderful mixed vibe of local, laid back Hawaiian local, and Thai guy. He’s also very funny.

With a friend who is mostly vegan and a fussy eater as well, I was impressed that Opal served up dishes for both of us which were perfect.

There was something tasty and fried (taro root?) with beansprouts and green onions. Some chicken wings with deep-fried crispy basil.

I’d told him that I love Northern Thai food, and was so surprised that he was able to serve up sticky rice, a favourite of mine, but not available at most Thai restaurants in Sydney (the Northern ones, yes). Matched with Thai sausage, also not a common dish, I was in heaven.

Thomas got a vegetarian wrap with cabbage leaves. We finished with a curry soup, not too hot, with rice noodles, and some beautiful flavours.

If you’re trying to find it, here’s their website, and it’s on Smith Street in Chinatown. My brother and sister-in-law tell me Opal is pretty famous around here, and started off with a food truck in Haleiwa before going to bricks and mortar (I think in late 2017).

In the meantime, as a food blogger who prefers using Zomato, it’s evident that no one else uses it in Hawaii. They use Yelp! A few days here, and I’ve managed to get to #5 reviewer, #7 photographer, and this blog post will get me on the board, last, but tied for #2 as there are only 2 people currently on there.

Opal Thai Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Mikirin, World Square

From what I can tell, Mikirin is the new restaurant from the two sisters who have the Spicy Lips Asian-fusion restaurant at George Street cinemas. I’ve been intrigued by the name, but have never tried it. Their website is under construction so that’s all the infotel I could find out, which is fine: it means I just have to explain what I experienced.

I had dropped by the post office at World Square and decided to treat myself for lunch. So. Many. Options. I haven’t wandered up the particular corridor much that leads from the middle of World Square to the corner of Pitt and Liverpool Streets. The food alley next to it is more busy; I’ve often ended up downstairs for a matcha ice cream or to see what’s new among the ever-rotating restaurants and cafes there. But find Mikirin next to the bull sculpture!

This little strip seems to be buzzy with new restaurants, including this one. I wasn’t sure what to make up the slogan ‘Journey through Cuisine’, but the menu, as you can see, is interesting. It feels to me like Northern Chinese as a base, but expanding and incorporating other kinds of cuisine, from Korean to Thai, with some Southeast Asian cuisines thrown into the mix.

Appropriately then, I had a Vietnamese coffee as my beverage, which had a chocolate biscuit straw. It was delicious, and pricey ($7?), and probably not the right drink to go with a spicy bowl of noodles. What had really caught my eye though was the hot and sour soup with wonton. I love hot and sour soup. Growing up in a Cantonese Chinese-Canadian family, the few times we went to Szechuan or Northern Chinese style restaurants were an exotic treat for us, and I love the particular mix of spices in this broth: vinegary sour and a spice that’s not too peppery or hot, but can have a nice kick.

So, their hot and sour noodles with wonton ($13.80) was served with the style of wonton and noodles not from Canton, so slippery, delicate, rice wrappers, and slippery rice noodles (as opposed to the common wrappers and noodles made from wheat flour that are more Cantonese, and look more yellow). It made the eating pretty difficult, and with ample spice and scallions, when I was trying to scoop the noodles into my wooden ladle, and then sip it down, the chunks of spices would get caught in my throat, and I coughed, alarming the person next to me.

But it was really, really tasty, I have to say. And delicious enough that I’d be curious to go back and try more dishes. It was also fun sitting in the back corner, and watch the world at World Square go by.

Mikirin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Lavie & Belle Bakery, Surry Hills

I may not be an expert in French croissants but I did spend months chasing down the ones on various best lists in Paris a few years ago. So, what a treat that there are amazing croissants in my own neighbourhood. Really, I should be coming here every morning.

Like a number of the best French bakeries, this one proudly announces who is doing the baking: Christian Bonne, who opened the bakery in Surry Hills with his partner Kareen Ferrali in early 2017.

I couldn’t resist ordering a chouquette, a tiny airy ball of pastry covered in hard rock crystals. Delicious. And while the croissant didn’t have that thin, very crisp layer on the outside that shatters at first bite, a quality of some of my favourite croissants in Paris, it instead tastes of layers and layers of buttery goodness, a rich, satisfying texture.

Also, had not a bad coffee.

Lavie & Belle Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Fernside Coffee Shoppe, Redfern

Is this the best bacon and egg roll in the Eastern Suburbs? I’m going out on a limb to say: yes. I mean, it’s a pretty perfect food already. Crispy bacon. Eggs. Breakfast. Mmmm… But I’ve often had ones that are much more basic.

While still one of the cheapest items on their breakfast menu, at $8, I wasn’t expecting it to be so generous that you can’t pick it up to eat with your hands. I did order an add-on of haloumi for $4, and the slightly, rubbery texture of the haloumi, which I quite like was a surprisingly match for the slightly chewy quality of the toasted Turkish bread. I thought it was sensational.

And the coffee, with coffee art, was also very good indeed. In the meantime, Fernside had a constant stream of regulars coming in the door, greeted by the friendly host (who advised me right away to sit at the more comfortable seat where I ended up, rather than the one I’d chosen).

It has the feeling of a basic, neighbourhood cafe, and yet the colours and style are so instagrammable. From every angle it looked like a hipster photo shoot.   

Fernside Coffee Shoppe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Mission Cafe, CBD

Some blocks in Sydney have multiple choices for coffee, an oversupply. But wanting a caffeine fix before an appointment at HCF, this block didn’t seem to have a lot of options with so many big office buildings. Perhaps the coffee shops are all, like Mission Coffee, hidden away slightly in the lobbies. Or perhaps there aren’t many which would explain how busy it was.

The person at the counter mistakenly gave me my coffee in a take-away cup; I hate the environmental waste of that. But when I did sit down (at the only free seat!), I got the caffeine fix I was looking for. My latte was rich and strong.

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

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Sydney Food Diary: Goryon San, Surry Hills

A kushiyaki restaurant has opened up in Surry Hills, just a few minutes’s walk from me. What used to be the casual Mediterrean restaurant, the Reservoir, has suddenly morphed into a chic, buzzing Japanese place that specialises in grilled skewers. I’m a little embarrassed that I originally wrote it was a yakitori restaurant but yakitori refers specifically to chicken: all parts! So, while they serve yakitori, it is not just a yakitori restaurant!

I had seen the work on it, but no menu posted, and happened to walk by on their opening night, which was packed. It seems Surry Hills is ready for yakitori.

In Tokyo one trip, one of my most memorable meals was at Birdland, where they specialised in using every part of the chicken, and the chefs were right in the centre of the restaurant, serving up skewers in front of you at the square counter facing inward.

It’s an appealing concept. There’s choice, but a focus. The food is cooked just before you eat it, so it’s hot and crisp and tender and tasty. There’s a lot of noise and bustle. I love me a sake, and thought I’d try to cheapest one on the menu, for $11. It was delicious.

The waitress had recommended getting three skewers at time, so you eat them while they’re hot, and also see how hungry you are. There was a specialty that was sold out, something complicated I think about a sort of lettuce wrap on a skewer, but luckily another specialty, beef sukiyaki, was on offer.

Thin wagyu beef wrapped around a tightly roll of spinach and mushrooms, with some grilled onions, and an egg yolk to break apart and use as a dipping sauch. I thought it was sensational.

I also got skewers of chicken tail, pork sausage (basically a high-quality hot dog), pork belly and the chicken meatball, which also came with an egg yolk.






















All up, it was about $45 for an $11 sake and 5 skewers, so it did feel a bit pricy for the size of the food that you got, but I didn’t leave hungry, and thought it was a super-delicious and fun night.

Apparently there are branches in Tokyo in the Shibuya and Roppongi neighbourhoods. The menu, which is engaging, tells a nice story about how the restaurant was named, and the philosophy behind it. It feels like an authentic experience, with heart.

I can’t imagine the skill it takes to open a restaurant and hit the ground running in the first days, with a full complement of chefs and wait staff, all Japanese. How did they do that? How did they all get working visas when they’re making it so tough these days?

In any case, kampai. Cheers. I will definitely be back.

Goryon San Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Contrabando, CBD

This is a good choice for going to the Opera House or hanging out at Circular Quay and on a Wednesday night was surprisingly pumping. The wait staff seem mostly Latina, and kind of the same height and look, and there were many of them, who appeared at the table when we weren’t ready and disappeared when we were! But it was busy.

I kind of remember it before being a very traditional and not very busy Greek place (correct me if I’m wrong), and it’s always impressive to see how new restaurants can move in and shake things up. It’s a pretty quiet section of Macquarie Street but they’ve obviously got the right formula to attract the City crowd, and others. The theme is Latin-inspired Southern Californian Street Food. I’m down with that.

We had two tasty cocktails and then a selection of food, a bit too much, but each dish delicious. I have to say were were impressed. The 12 hour grass fed beef short rib was OMG ($35). Sweet and fatty and yum. Truck stop guacamole perfectly acceptable ($18). We both really liked the Big Mac-inspired Quesadilla ($16).

The lamb tacos were tasty, though was probably the extra dish that we didn’t need ($6). All up: buzzy atmosphere, great flavours. Worth returning to.

Contrabando Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Alpha Restaurant, CBD

Holy cow did I like this restaurant. In a lovely airy and bright space, Alpha serves up Modern Greek food. Years ago, some friends had the opportunity to live in Athens for a while, and said that while the food was great, it was all the same. They were bound by tradition to make the same delicious dishes in the same ways. So, I get a kick out of Greek food, which wasn’t associated with fine dining in my first memories of it.

There seem to be a number of restaurants in Sydney that use the flavours and ingredients and create wonderful, fresh, elegant dishes. We liked everything we had. The smoked eggplant dish with caramelised tomatoes ($15) doesn’t look quite as appealing as I remember, but the flavour was delicious (with perfectly grilled light pita bread).

I can never pass up a dumpling, so we also had a baccaliaro fritters (smoked fish), which were served amidst bonito flakes, almost hidden ($18). Very nice. Also cauliflower with pomegranate seeds and almonds as a side ($15).

For mains, I had heard about the scallop moussaka ($32). It surprised me, not like the casserole I’m used to, but two pieces of the most perfectly fried eggplant, topped with a tomato salad, in between juicy scallops, smothered in creamy taramasalata.

My pal had the pan-roasted kingfish with lobster dolmades ($38) which he said were as good as it sounded, and hmm… I think I should have stolen a bit of those dolmades. Very modern interpretations indeed. I’d like to go back with more people so we can try more dishes, or get their special Yiayia’s table offering (four people minimum).

Alpha Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Dovetail, CBD

Upstairs in World Square, Georgie Boy’s Coffee looked much hipper. But it was an unusually cool Saturday morning in Sydney, and I really wanted a place to sit down, read a little bit of my current book, Lily Brett’s New York, and have a coffee.

Dovetail did the trick. In wood, with greenery and glass, it’s does its best to overcome its location in the basement of a mall, brightly lit, and right across from Coles. And my coffee was just fine. It came with a little biscuit and quite good coffee art. It was more sour than I’m used to, strong also, but something in the taste wasn’t quite as creamy or integrated as I normally encounter, but I didn’t think it was bad, just another style.

The reviews on Zomato are horrible, but as a place to be out of the cold, sit down and have a perfectly acceptable coffee: it was fine.

Dovetail Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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