Sydney Food Diary: Adriano Zumbo Patisserie, Circular Quay

The Zumbo empire expands. And why not? I think the fame is not (only) based on his appearances on Masterchef and then his own dessert competition show, but because he makes beautiful pastries.

I stopped in for a look. I didn’t know Zumbo was doing savoury. I grabbed a pate brisee tart, with pumpkin and pine nuts. My god. The pastry (as expected from a pastry chef of this quality) was delicious, buttery and crispy and falling apart in all the right places. Instead of six bucks, this is the kind of thing that could be considered a high-end dining appetizer at double the price.

Didn’t take photos. Was too busy eating. Nom nom nom.

Adriano Zumbo Patisserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Holy Duck! Chippendale

Located on the new dining strip, Kensington Street, next to Central Park Sydney, I reckon Holy Duck is going to be a great success. Opened by the successful folks behind the Chef’s Gallery, it’s a great way of making the Asian BBQ restaurant accessible to the general public, with a lot of wit and style. It’s very visually appealing.

We thought we might have ordered too much food but it was almost the right amount. The crispy roast pork belly plate was a modest amount… but very tasty, and I loved the taro rice.

I always love lotus root chips. Yum.

We ordered half a duck, crispy skin and roasted, and the waitress pulled apart some of the meat at the table when she brought it, just to show us how it was done. A generous amount of pancakes (unusually, and we even left one) and you know, duck, raw green onions, cucumber, hoi sin and Chinese pancakes is a magical combination that you just can’t match. It’s true that this was not the lacquered duck pieces that you’d get at a Chinese banquet, so it was a variation, but god, it was tasty.

No alcohol available. Not sure whether that will change or not. For the two of us, it was $66, but with the entertainment coupon, brought it down to $48. I left a $5 tip. A very enjoyable meal. We tried to get a dessert from Koi bar afterwards but they were just running out of the last pieces!

Holy Duck Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book Review: The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant

The Selected Stories of Mavis GallantThe Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant by Mavis Gallant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A university lecturer named Francine Prose praised Mavis Gallant’s short stories effusively, yet precisely, in this article in the New Yorker.…

This article, among other reviews, and curiosity, and living in Paris for a time, a Canadian in Paris, made me want to get to know Mavis Gallant’s work.

I confess though, that her Selected Stories, which spans – decades, overwhelmed me.

I was impressed to be introduced to so many social contexts that I was unfamiliar with. One was sort of an urban counterpart to Alice Munro’s farm stories, and yet even more specific, Anglophones living in French Canada in the 30s and 40s, and then various kinds of Europeans, often travelling to another part of Europe or immigrating there, living in different cultural enclaves or in different social strata. Bureaucratics, intellectuals, critics and writers, poor hoarders and those who’d inherited wealth, women in unhappy marriages, or waiting to get married. It is quite a dizzying cast of characters, and often introduced with very specific cultural details.

Woven often with satirical social observation and a sharp tongue, I was drawn into some of the stories, particularly interested in the lives of women aiming to be independent, or find love, or a partnership. She was no prude either; characters are remarkably frank in their affairs.

And yet, at other times, I found it hard to engage with some of these unlikeable characters: a literary critic described at great length, mostly in relation to a rival, for example, was a character study but with little story.

But I do think that I chose the wrong format to meet Ms Gallant. Too many stories made me rush through them, which is against Ms Prose’s advice, and downloading it to read on my iPad also gave the stories less weight, made them more ephemeral than they are, and less likely for me to stay with them, return to them.

Certainly an interesting writer though and I’m glad for those who are fond of her gifts. The thesis that she wasn’t recognised because no country could claim her properly as her own seemed correct – and she does seem to be the patron saint of global citizens who have lived in different cities and cultures, observing life keenly as an outsider.

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Coffee in Sydney: Bread & Fill, Circular Quay

Hmm. Coffee at 11am on a Saturday. In search of a little fuel in between the Max Dupain-inspired exhibit at the State Library and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Three people behind the counter but not enough staff: the cashier was taking orders and payments and trying to make the coffee at the same time. A bit of a wait and a queue forming!

Coffee was fine, especially with baklava from the gozleme ladies nearby. But if the Espresso bar had been open, I have the feeling it would have been better.

Bread & Fill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Happy D’s, Redfern


My kingdom for a wine glass with a dumpling illustration on it!

Happy D’s is a very happy place with a long, fake, ironic fishtank, a kick-arse neon sign and a good selection of drinks (wine, beer, sake and cocktails) and dumplings.

Hang out at the long counter after entering the humble, non-descript hole-in-the-wall sort of entrance.

Eat dumplings to your heart’s content, while drinking and chatting with friends. On a Thursday night, early, it was quiet enough for a good conversation but very obviously a cool place to be. We spent $30 each on dumplings and $40 each on booze!

Happy D's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Snag Stand, Westfield, CBD

I’m trying to eat less meat these days. It’s good to do so for the environment and for my health. But sausages are a weakness. I’ve wanted to try the Snag Stand many a time, but flashier fare has called in the Food Court of the Westfield CBD. But this was a perfect occasion to grab something quick and try it out (and this Food Court is turning into my go-to place to grab lunch after mid-morning meetings in the CBD, dentists appointments or Nespresso stock-ups).

Offering a wide range of different types of gourmet sausages, I opted for the ‘Toulouse’, a grilled pork, wine and garlic sausage, with sauteed onions and rosemary mushrooms and truffle aioli on a toasted brioche roll ($10.90).

Honestly, it was perfect. Savoury. Tasty. The right combos of texture. The aioli was delicious. Grilled and assembled on the spot, while I waited, freshly made.

Snag Stand Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Grand Duk, CBD

Does this look like a restaurant to you? I think that’s definitely part of the charm of this breakfast and lunch eatery in the CBD right in the middle of Grosvernor Place across George Street from the cool new Ernst & Young building. It’s a very urban location with tables underneath glass parasols.

The menu seems to have changed from what’s up on Zomato at the moment: simpler and less Vietnamese inspired dishes. This left my vegetarian dining companion with only one option, a pea burger ($15.50), which was sort of a pea omelette. She thought she’d asked for steamed vegetables and got a rather large serving of luscious-looking roast vegetables. I was concerned for her but she said it was tasty.

As for me, I had a roast duck burger ($17.50). I mean how could you go wrong with that: Chinese lacquered roast duck as the meat, and a pretty much perfect combo of coleslaw and soft bun and dressing? I opted for the duck fat potatoes rather than regular (two bucks extra) and they were crispy as anything. I forgot to take photos of the food. Tsk. All fine.

Grand Duk Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book Review: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

The SympathizerThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I told two friends that I was reading a book about a Vietnamese spy living in America after the Vietnamese war and that it was really funny, and they replied in the same way, ‘That doesn’t sound funny’. And indeed, the central drive of the book, the questions and most of the scenes that make up the narrative are very dark indeed.

But the protagonist IS very funny, in a dark way, with such wit and incisive, cutting observations. It’s a complex reaction: laughter and horror all at once that reflects the constant double vision of the book: a mixed-race hero, reconciling and unreconciled to his Western and Eastern race and culture and location, a spy for the North, infiltrating the South Vietnamese military refugees, who have emigrated from Vietnam, and immigrated to the USA, communities within communities full of conflict and tension, forces that seem opposed at times, and mirrored at others.

It brings to my mind Salman Rushdie, how comic his voice while tackling big questions of history and morality, as in Midnight’s Children and the Satanic Verses. And this too, is a major work, a deep exploration of a part of history, of political and philosophical systems and regimes, and I found it thrillingly engaging.

I found myself making book ears on pages that struck me. The first one simply signalled how beautiful I think Nguyen’s prose is: at the sad burial of the wife and child of the protaganist’s friend, ‘I tried believing that those two bodies were not truly dead but simply rags, shed by emigrants journeying to a land beyond human cartography.’

I know that not all the reviewers here were engaged by the book, but if you’re Asian growing up in North America, there will be parts that make you laugh out loud, the Chair of the department who had ‘hung an elaborate Oriental rug on his wall, in lieu, I suppose, of an actual Oriental’. His description of an immigrant life is as spot-on as I’ve read: ‘we did not simply life in two cultures’ but lived displaced, in ‘two time zones, the here and the there, the present and the past… reluctant time travelers… going in circles’.

I won’t spoil the section by quoting it extensively but where the expert in Vietnamese history and Asian culture, Dr. Hedd, lectures the Vietnamese General and protagonist on the American concept of happiness, and colonial history, and Vietnam, there is a page that sums up so well the improved vision of minorities and outsiders: the General knew ‘as a nonwhite person… he must be patient with white people, who were easily scared by the nonwhite… We were the greatest anthropogists ever of the American people… and we certainly knew white people better than they ever knew us.’ Their relatives read their ‘field notes’ with ‘hilarity, confusion, and awe’.

But of course, the book is much more than that, a page-turner with something profound to say about politics and ideology and the human condition, and incredible social commentary and social history. It really is one of the best books that I’ve read in recent years. Amazing.

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Sydney Food Diary: The Paddington

Hey, I’m not even going to note in the title that the Paddington is in Paddington, but I was surprised to learn that Merivale took over not only this pub, the Paddington, and started a restaurant, Fred’s, with a hot reputation, and that it’s all so popular that they’re doing take-out chicken at a little stall in between them.

We knew none of this. Just ran across the street in the rain, after an event at the Paddington United Church, figuring that at 10pm, we’d be out of luck for food. But no, the place was absolutely bustling.

We split a full roast chicken, and it came with tasty fries and some perfectly dressed lettuce leaves. I may have lived in Australia since 1999 but asked for ketchup with the fries, and my husband explained that they really don’t do that here.

Regardless: lovely service. Great atmosphere. And what could go wrong with a perfect roast chicken and the trimmings. Yum. I’d come back. Some of the items on the menu look like they could be a bit pricy, but the chicken is a good deal. I had a negroni too. I love negronis…

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

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Pearson College’s The Nostalgia Project

Pedder Bay

For two years, I went to a tiny international college in Vancouver Island on a bay at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The idea of the United World Colleges, as Pearson College was one of I think six at the time (and now there are 17), was to take bright, promising kids from around the world and put them together in close quarters to develop international understanding, and hopefully develop leadership for a better world.

A marvelous place.

One of their current programs is to have alumni stay on campus for a period of time in a tiny house; at the moment, Trevor Corkum is the grad. I only met Trevor face to face once or twice, but he was one of those people who felt like a doppelganger of sorts. We both attended Pearson, and then Trent University. We both went to a Scandinavian folk high school. And we’re both writers. Trevor proposed a project, the Nostalgia Project, with the idea of sending a postcard to one’s former self at the college. What would you say to your younger self?

I thought it was quite a sweet idea, and in fact have participated in similar projects. For Arsenal Pulp Press’s Second Person Queer: Who You Are So Far, edited by Richard Labonté, I wrote a letter to my younger gay self.

For the Nostalgia Project. I noticed that the deadline was getting close, and discovered that you can create and send postcards through Canada Post these days. You provide a photo, or choose one, and write your message on the back. They print it out and send it. Certainly quicker than sending a postcard from Australia.

Funny thing, though. I wrote it out and sent it and didn’t even cut and paste what I wrote. As a young writer, I was obsessed with keeping everything that I wrote. It was partly connected to nostalgia and record-keeping, as well as the misguided idea that these notes might be useful or interesting someday (my old journals are far less interesting or useful than I once thought they’d be). I also suspect a genetic or behavioural link, as my father recorded everything from meals we ate to the birthdays of nearly everyone he knew. Somehow, I’ve gotten to an age where much of what comes out of daily life is not worth recording or saving.

I was rather proud of this drawing.

Still, I did have the impulse to write about it, and to write this down. While I did have lots of advice for my younger gay self, when I was thinking about what to write to my younger self at Pearson College, I had little advice or even encouragement. Certainly, I could have advised changes for the college that would have affected me; there was no real attention or understanding of well-being and mental health; and the ways they cared for and supported young students was not developed, not for indigenous students, not for young LGBT students, and in fact not for most students who needed some support.

But considering those were circumstances of the time that I couldn’t have changed, is there anything that I would have secretly whispered in the ear of my younger self? No. My social mistakes, my intensity and neediness, my sensitive and kind nature. I learned from all my experiences there. I knew somehow that life would turn out well so I don’t even think a word of encouragement or hope from a future self, while not harmful, would have been needed. So that’s what I wrote in my postcard to my former self, to simply do what I was doing, and be who I was.

It’s good to look back at a time and experience and be able to think that.

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