Book Review: Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is in Trouble

Fleishman Is in TroubleFleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aware that Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s interviews with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jonathan Franzen are so incisive, well-written and engaging that they’ve become famous in themselves, and seeing the New York Times mention this as a notable upcoming book and then reading a mention of her upcoming novel in one of her own articles, about Thirtysomething, I was intrigued enough to buy Fleishman Is in Trouble.

And I’m glad. I found, from the start, the narrative was completely engaging and compelling with truths and observations about contemporary life that feel very now, whether it’s internet dating, relationships, raising kids or the nostalgia of the middle-aged (of which I am one). This is in spite of the fact that the premise of the story – a divorcing nephrologist, newly discovering dating apps, and suddenly left with full custody of his kids when his ex-wife disappears – didn’t necessarily seem like something I’d be interested in.

So, I was loving it for the observations and the truths and then, more than halfway in, something very interesting happens with the narration, a meta-intrusion, unabashedly autobiographical, that for me made the book even more interesting and more punchy. I had been wondering why such a talented writer would have, in her first novel, a male hero, and the narrator basically says why in a way that brings really interesting issues to the forefront about gender and power and voice and more, and the narrative barrels towards an open and satisfying ending and I was left impressed, pleased, engaged.

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Sydney Food Diary: Bayswater Kitchenette, Kings Cross

It was good preparation to go to Bayswater Kitchenette before my vacation in Italy. The team (Broadsheet tells me it’s Glenda Lau, Alessia Bottini and Robert Patterson-Hyde) is serving up deceptively simple homestyle Italian food.

The flavours are rich, savoury and balanced, and it appears simple but I imagine it would take me a loooooong time if I were to recreate one of these dishes and to do it so well.

Case in point: salt and pepper squid. Perfectly done. Not something that I’ve attempted at home.

The eggplant parmigiana was pretty much perfect too (photo at the top).

I would attempt making this simple, lemony broccoli salad. and I also liked the simplicity and perfect balance of the pasta sheets (also with broccoli).

There weren’t many tables so we felt pretty lucky to have snuck in here for our first visit. Highly recommended. I’m just jealous of those who can call it their local Italian.

Bayswater Kitchenette Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Mr Sun’s Fried Bun, Waterloo


In Waterloo, there’s an entire little neighbourhood springing up of Asian restaurants, and not the typical Asian restaurants in most parts of Sydney. They seem to be regional Chinese restaurants, and some others, aimed mainly at students and other nearby residents: modest and tasty food.

We were pretty impressed by Mr. Sun’s Fried Bun. The titular specialty is awfully good, though quite difficult to eat. You have to make sure you don’t spill the soup on yourself, and then there’s the nice, crispy and crunchy filling, but was somehow thick enough that it was … awkward. I’ve had these before and love them, but say if you’re at New Shanghai (one of the best), they serve you a whole plate of them, and it’s way too much for one, even two people to eat. These portions are much more manageable.

We also had another kind of dumpling, perfectly nice, and some mince meat on rice. We basically split two meals so we could try more things. Yummy, tasty, inexpensive and unusual.

Mr Sun's Fried Bun Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book review: David Foenkinos’s Delicacy

DelicacyDelicacy by David Foenkinos
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I should have guessed from the cover. ‘Like an Amélie for grown-ups’, said the blurb. But I thought that Amélie was for grown-ups. So, I could gather from the back of the book that it meant Amelie, but a little sadder, as the author has made Nahalie, the lead character, a widow, having lost her husband in an accident. And then, with a reference to Amélie partway through the book, it was clear that the author was hoping to write another version of Amélie. And from a quick internet search, I see that perhaps the author intended that the book be made into a film, like Amélie, and it was (though it got poor reviews).

So, while it’s true I was just looking for a light holiday read, I will end up writing a negative book review instead. Often, I don’t like to trash books, to each his own, etc. But I think having sold thousands of copies of Delicacy and having made a nice profit from selling the movie rights, the author won’t be paying attention. The book was apparently nominated for all the major French literary prizes. I’m dumbfounded by this.

It’s interesting that I read this just after Alain Duceaux’s The Lovers, another book about a romantic relationship, written in short, allusive pieces of narrative. In my review, I said that in a book as short as this, any mistake risks losing readers. And I see by the reviews on Goodreads that he did lose many readers. For me, I was willing to go along with the conceit of the novel, perhaps charmed by the fact that the lovers are men, and that I liked his language and descriptions.

With Delicacy, Foenkinos loses me immediately. Techniques such as using asterisks, writing lists, and alluding to popular culture or other works of art have been used by others, in a more in-depth and clever way. The cute philosophising, that, for example, many Natalies act in a similar way, making our heroine unusual, is cloying. Only a tenth of the way through the book, the same paragraph includes ‘Years went by in this way’ and ‘Time went by with such fluency’, so as to speedily kill off Natalie’s husband, leaving her free for the main romance of the book. The language is leaden. About the hero of the book, Markus: ‘He wanted to take a voyage in her hair. It was his sensitivity, his care not to rush the situation that made Natalie feel good. Even so, he was proactive.’ What? Is it a problem of translation? Does it sound better in French? Am I truly at odds with French culture?

Only in the last days, a high school friend lost her husband of nearly 25 years, suddenly to cancer. She is in the midst of unimaginable grief. So, I actually found this fable, this idea of a widow learning to love again, offensive in how breezy it all is. It reminded me of a string of American flims, which infuriated me, that always had kids who were orphaned, and had to live with a new stepmother or stepfather or the best friend of their mother, and instead of being affected by the terrible grief of losing a parent, they are simply out of sorts and resentful until the end of the movie, by which time they are won over.

In the meantime, what really offends me are the gender relations. While the book was written a decade ago in France, and I know the French have always been a bit more lenient of extra-marital affairs and traditional gender roles, the minor plot point, that Nathalie’s boss, married, decides he is in love with her and sexually harasses her, is hard to read. The major plot point, that a beautiful woman can fall in love with an unattractive but unusual, witty man, is perhaps the author’s wish fulfilment, but reminds me of the Hollywood stereotypes, a man of any shape or size and any age can attract the most gorgeous of women because … those are the rules of the game. It’s distasteful. Natalie is described mostly in physical terms. While there is a playful challenge to the idea that an oafish man can attract a beautiful woman (their colleagues question this), the main theme seems to be that love is blind. Except that it isn’t. As Natalie is beautiful and Markus isn’t. Which continue to be pointed out.

While for most of the book, I was finding it fairly awful but readable, this changed in the last third of the book, where I had to force myself to get to the end … for it really is unfair to review a book that you haven’t read to the end. As the uncomplicated plot plays itself out, Foenkinos pulls out a final spoonful of treacle, wrapping the inescapable conclusion of the book in more sweetness by ending the book with Natalie revisiting her childhood while visiting her grandmother. Agh. I found this a terrible, terrible book.

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Roman Food Diary: Capo de Faro, Travestere

 My last chance for a meal in Rome before beginning a driving holiday: My AirBNB host recommended this place, saying the pasta was great, and referencing the house specialty: the democratic rigatoni.

When I arrived, just past 12.30pm, there was one table of staff or owners or something on the side, and no waiter in sight. I approached them, and comically, as I’ve come to expect from the Romans, they all sort of shrugged, rolled their eyes, and inclined their heads towards the poor sucker who was supposed to help me out. He readied to get up, realised that his pants were undone (or his fly was down or something). He turned away from me, adjusted himself, then turned back and indicated, how can I help you?

I asked if I could sit outside, and he simply indicated, yes, choose anywhere you want, and he was then replaced by a portly waiter, properly dressed for the job, and unRomanly polite.

In any case, macaroni and cheese (Kraft dinner) was a feature of both my childhood and my university days, so I have a fondness for it. This may be the original Italian version, rich and creamy and cheesy, with al dente rigatoni (handmade, I hope) and a sort of crisp bacon sort of addition. Along with a glass of house white, this was a lovely last lunch for me in Rome. Hey, it’s not gourmet food, but as its name implies, it’s democratic: I’d guess it would appeal to a huge amount of people. It did to me.

Capo de Fero Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Travel tips: BagBNB, Luggage Hero and Luggage Storage

What is the world coming to? Do they still use that phrase? It used to be that this was said in a negative way, i.e. what crazy negative thing has happened in the present that makes you wonder how the world got this way? But I think of it, in this case, as: Wow! How did the world come to this?

What I’m talking about is luggage storage. In some cities, you can store luggage at train stations or the airport, but last year, while in Rome, and wanting to store a bag for a day, so I could do some sightseeing, I remember that it was so complicated that I gave up.

This year, needing to store a bag for a day, I looked up luggage storage, and instead discovered an entirely new model. Instead of a place with storage lockers, there are now apps that match up the consumer to various locations that have agreed to store luggage. It’s cheap and easy. Luggage Hero at was the first app I found. They seem to charge 1 euro an hour, but a 2 euro handling charge, to a maximum of 8 euros.

Then I found a competitor,, which at 5 euros was a better deal. And boy, was it easy. The app told me the closest place to drop my bags off, I paid online and followed Google Maps to the address, a 6 minute walk from my AirBNB (which I had to check out of) and located conveniently for when I wanted to pick up my bags before heading off to rent a car and start our Italian driving holiday.

The storage place was a tabacherria, an Italian store that sells tobacco and bus tickets (and now vaping supplies) (though I understand that different types of stores or hotels or maybe even private individuals can sign up to offer this service). The friendly fellow at the counter, checked my information, had me sign a waiver, and then put my bag in the back of the store. I picked it up 8 hours later. So easy!

Over many decades, in many countries, I recall memories of finding baggage storage lockers in airports and train stations, of forking out money or sweet-talking hotels or hostels to leave luggage a little longer, of seeing how much you can fit in a locker, of trying to getting the right coins to put in the lockers, and of rushing to get to places before they closed for the day. But what is the world coming to? These new apps seem very useful for this age, wherever they are operating, and as long as you can sign onto the internet, they work well!

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Sydney Food Diary: Ume Burger, Barangaroo

It was a choice for us between Belle’s Hot Chicken and Ume Burger, and since Ume Burger had chicken burgers (but Belle’s didn’t have anything Japanese), we went for Ume Burger! I opted for the special of the day, which was a tonkatsu curry theme: mayonnaise with Japanese curry flavour and a thick patty of meat, pork mince I was presuming. To tell the truth, I couldn’t really tell that there was a curry flavour.

Similarly, my friends enjoyed their burgers but wondered what was Japanese about them. It was pretty subtle really. But the fries were tasty and crisp, and the food was tasty, and the Kirin beer went well with the burgers, so it’s a nice, casual option among the more expensive restaurants on this strip.

Ume Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Roman Food Diary: Sora Margherita and Le Mani in Pasta

I arrived in Rome at 6.30am, got myself into Travestere a few hours later, and then my kind AirBNB host allowed me to check in at 10.30am. But she still had to clean the apartment, so I went out for a wander.

I hadn’t expected to be ready for lunch, considering that they feed you on the plane constantly and at unnatural hours. But I got a pang of hunger around noon, and knew I shouldn’t be back at the AirBNB until about 1pm, so why not stop for lunch at a favourite restaurant?

It was quiet. The first time I came, I remember sort of fighting to get in, arriving when it opened for dinner, and assertively getting myself on a wait list of some sort. But now, even though the restaurants around the corner, on the main thoroughfare, are quite busy, it feels hidden. My favourite waitress of times past wasn’t there: a short feisty waitress who made me laugh with her tough love.

I couldn’t resist the Jewish artichoke, deep fried so the leaves are crisp like potato chips, soaked in oil, and of course the heart, rich and savoury. I’m not sure I’ve tried their agnoletti before, somewhat crudely formed and filled with ground meat, with a light cacio y pepe sauce (I think I should have also gotten it with a dollop of ricotta). As before, I found the food simple and delicious and the atmosphere charming. It seems from the reviews that the locals aren’t as happy with the place as before: that the quality of the food has gone down or something, but I like it and will always be grateful for Nihan’s recommendation to come here!

Sora Margherita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Similarly, Le Mani in Pasta was a recommendation from James. And the other times I’ve come, it was hard to get in, and also usually requires a reservation. But my school classmate, Costanza, kindly made the reservation for me, and it was late (9.30pm!) so it seemed possible to get in at this time.

The thing is, it would be much better to come with other people, to be able to split some dishes. I simply couldn’t order more than a pasta dish, which is a bit of a shame. And the other thing is that the special pastas all are only served for two people. And while I managed to convince them the last times to make me a special portion (porcini mushroom and truffles; anchovies and pecorino), this time I opted to try a sedani pasta (a bit bigger than maccheroni), these were smooth (lisce) rather than furrowed (rigati) with amatriciana. The pasta was beautiful and al dente and slightly thick, and the sauce: well, tomato sauce, cheese (pecorino?) and guanciale (pig cheek) is a pretty magical combination.

I washed it down with a frascati, which is apparently a Roman white wine. It was fruity and punchy with some body, a surprisingly good match for the richness of the pasta. The meal didn’t knock me out as much as previously, but jet lag was coming on and I only ordered the one dish.

At both places, I was amused by the Roman routine: the tables are so close together that after a period of polite distance, soon you can hear neighbours talking to each other, commenting on the food, asking each other about their travel itineraries, one Italian fellow was even pouring a glass of extra wine for a young Thai student at the table next to him.

It’s very charming and convivial. For some reason, I feel compelled to comment that in the day’s wandering, I kept seeing people in groups  wearing matching tags around their necks, or all following the same tour guides, led by a colourful cloth on a stick. I myself would find group tours a less charming thing to do than finding a neighbourhood gem like this.

My waiter saw himself caught in a photo I was taking of the interiors and came up to get a welfie, which I’m rather pleased about. As usual, while I’m linking these reviews to Zomato, the food review site, Zomato continues to annoy me. It doesn’t count reviews for the same restaurant, even a year apart (I think it’s very reasonable to update reviews semi-regularly; a lot can happen in a year) and any photos with people in it, they won’t put up on the restaurant’s listing (only in your personal feed). I imagine there’s some sort of privacy restrictions going on, but to me, food is such a social experience, I want to see the people eating at a restaurant. I want to have my photo of me and the waiter be considered an authentic representation of the restaurant.

I finished with an amaro (an obsession for me while in Italy, and for three euros, how can you not?) and wandered off, and as before, I find the street particularly charming, all aglow, a hot September night in Rome. God, I love this city.

Le Mani in Pasta Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book Review: Gabriel Garciá Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Chronicle of a Death ForetoldChronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Published in 1981, the year before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, this book is slim. But I remember hearing about it, and wondered how it could be lauded so much, in comparison to One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in a Time of Cholera, with their grandiose and sweeping narratives.

But though we don’t get to know the many characters in this book as well as in his longer novels, the stories of love, honour and fate are no less powerful because of it. Each sentence is captivating. Each of his characters, drawn at times in brushstrokes, undoubtedly have a history of their own that could be told in a separate novel.

And the way the narrative is told and retold, circles back on itself, reveals insights and then surprises: it is a magical thing. I almost feel like I should not read anything else for a while and let this book seep into my consciousness, or else just start reading it again from the beginning.

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Drinking in Sydney: Dulcies, Kings Cross

So, my friend John says, he says, there’s a night at a bar in Kings Cross where the theme is that they show slides from other people’s family holidays. Bad holiday snaps.

It’s an amusing idea, and an amusing bar, and I was surprised to find it right downstairs in the middle of the Kings Cross strip.

Also, there is some excellent neon in the loos, but for some reason, the photo didn’t transfer to this blog post and now I’m overseas and can’t access it. I’ll try to include it later.

The thing is that the drink prices are a few dollars too high, for everything, from cocktails to wine and beer so I wonder how long the place will last.

And the music, purposely cool, was 50s rock and roll sung in other languages, Spanish and then Japanese. I knew I was supposed to find it groovy but found it really annoying and we didn’t stay for a second drink.

But I’d still give it another try, particularly to drag a visitor from out of town to a bar that’s actually on the famous Kings Cross strip. Hopefully, they’ll still be showing the same slides, but the music will be better.

Dulcie's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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