The Ekka!

One sage piece of advice my mother handed down to me from her forebears was “Don’t take your baby to the Ekka“. As far as I can remember I never did take a baby to the Ekka; I certainly took small children there but probably left the baby somewhere else because it’s no fun taking babies anywhere.

The Ekka is held every year (when there isn’t a pandemic) in August. For those not from Queensland, the Ekka is short for Exhibition which is short for Royal Queensland Show. In New South Wales they have the Royal Easter Show and as far as I can recall it was never shortened to anything, which must mean Queenslanders are lazier than New South Welshpersons, except for the footballers who keep winning the State of Origin, but that doesn’t count because football is boring.

When I was a child, such shows were all about the rides and the fairy floss, because that was the only place that magical foodstuff could be found back then. Now that I’m a grownup I hate rides and would go into a diabetic coma if I ate fairy floss so instead I visit the cakes, craft, and chickens. There’s something comforting about the fact that people still do things like tatting, felting, and just making stuff for fun.

This year they had a Platinum Jubilee theme so there were cakes paying tribute to Her Maj. The winner was a cake with HM sitting on a park bench with Paddington Bear, but I preferred the one of her hat and bag. (What does she keep in that bag?)

The chickens were fascinating as ever because there are always a lot of chickens that look totally different to the usual chooks you see in picture books, but it’s always a little bit depressing to see them in individual cages. Some of the girls, lacking a nesting box, had resorted to laying an egg straight on the bottom of the cage; it’d be like being locked up without access to a toilet. A few were having a sleep, it being that time of day, when I was there; either that or they were just depressed.

Chickens are not usually solitary creatures although I did have one lone free ranger called Esme who was a regular Houdini at escaping and did so literally until her dying day. Chickens like to wander about together with the rooster keeping them in order (when he’s not forcing himself upon them. That’s the payoff for his protection I guess).

Out on the main arena, people were doing dangerous things with motorbikes, but I didn’t stop to watch because I would never be able to unsee if it went horribly wrong and I had to watch a thousand people filming someone’s firey demise.

The Ekka is a glorious anachronism in this age of limitless entertainment on demand. It’s just a little bit weird that so many people are still willing to spend money going to see fruit and veg and farm animals, go on rides, and shoot things to win stuffed animals. I think one of my favourite things at the Ekka is the Country Women’s Association tea room. It’s entirely unglamourous but you can sit down and have a sandwich and a scone made and served by someone who looks like your gran. What’s not to love?


Taking the Bus

Not me (Photo by VH S on Pexels.com)

A lot of people in Brisbane like to moan about the public transport. I’m not heavily reliant on it so I’m not impacted by its shortcomings although I know they exist. I also don’t have a disability that makes it harder to negotiate public transport, whereas I know there are significant challenges for those who do. Brendan Donahue, a blind man who lives in West End and is reliant on catching public transport, says something as simple as announcing the stops would help him. They do it on the trains but not the bus. Just say “Stop 43”; not that hard.

But the fact is I love taking the bus. I like an excuse to take a bus rather than drive. Usually it’s just into the city where there’s sod all parking anyway so it’s easier in that respect, but recently I had a meeting in the city and then went to a friend’s for lunch at Toowong so I was able to get the bus there. And it was lovely because the bus went along Coronation Drive, a main thoroughfare that follows the river. If you’re driving you can’t look out the window, but if you’re on the bus you can. And that’s what I love; it’s like going for a fun ride. You get on and just sit there. You don’t need to worry about the traffic, and you don’t need to watch where you’re going.

And then there are the other people who catch the bus. This is probably one of the things that a lot of people don’t like about catching the bus, because after all, “hell is other people” (thank you Jean Paul Sartre, you Absinthe-swilling weirdo). But again, I enjoy the interesting folk who hop on the bus. The other day there was a woman sitting with her invisible (to us) friend having a very animated and sometimes heated discussion. Sure she made the people around her jump when she slapped the back of the seat in front and jumped in her own seat, yelling loudly in some foreign language, but for all we know her friend may have deserved to be yelled at, and she may have been making a very valid point that they just refused to accept. Hey, we’ve all been there.

About a hundred years ago when I was working in London, I used to catch the bus from Victoria Station to Edgware Rd and back four days a week. The bus went along behind Buckingham Palace and I always sat on the top deck on the Palace side so I could look over the fence, hoping to catch a glimpse of Her Maj doing a spot of pruning. There is a tennis court in the back corner and one morning I was very excited to see four people playing, but since they looked young and spry I don’t think any of them was her. I never tired of that bus trip; I swear everyday I thought, “Wow I’m in London. There’s Buckingham Palace. There’s the Albert Hall”. (To be fair the rest of the day I was looking after a demented old woman who used to swear at me and pull my hair, so I had to find some bright spots.)

Brisbane’s public transport operator, Translink, has a very cool thing on their website (or app) called Journey Planner. You enter where you want to travel to, when you want to depart or arrive, press a button and it politely says “Please wait while we plan your journey” and then several options magically appear. Sometimes the last option says you could just walk there, you lazy pig. (It doesn’t actually say that last bit.)

The Brisbane Lord Mayor, Adrian Schrinner, popped a little note in my letter box recently to let me know about the new bendy electric “turn-up-and-go” buses coming in 2023. The promo video says they are the first of their kind in Australia (take that everyone else), and will be “whisper quiet”. And these ones do have next-stop announcements. They’ll go EVERY 3 MINUTES! They’ll fit 150 people! What a time to be alive! And to be catching the bus.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

I Did But See Her Driving By

Photo by Nathan Mcgregor on Unsplash

Vale The Queen.

She once flew directly over my house in Brisbane. Really. In 2002 I was watching the news, they said The Queen’s plane would shortly touch down in Brisbane, we were directly under a flight path, so I ran out into the back yard, looked up, and there, directly above, was a British Airways plane. I know. Incredible.

I met Princess Anne when I was about four years old. The Royals had humbled themselves to go for a walk down the main street of Coffs Harbour as part of their tour of Australia in 1970. She stopped to ask my sister how she had broken her arm. So touching. HRH wore one of those white, broad-brimmed hats with a ribbon that were fashionable in the ’70s, and my sisters immediately procured one for themselves.

Princess Anne (with The Queen far right) in Coffs Harbour, 1970

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see The Queen during that visit, for some reason I forget, but which was always conveyed in the most disgruntled tones. I mean, who turns out to see Princess Anne?

After The Queen flew directly over my house, I became determined to see her IN THE FLESH! So I dragged my disinterested Significant Other and children, the youngest in a pram, through the crowds at Roma Street Parklands and managed to get to the roadside just in time to see her DRIVE RIGHT PAST ME! And she looked very happy! One would imagine such visits would have become rather tedious after fifty years, but HM genuinely looked like she was very pleased that so many people had risked sunstroke to catch a glimpse of her.

So I’m very pleased to say that I did manage to see Her Majesty once and I am quite sad that she’s gone. She’s been the one absolute constant in my life. RIP.

Wuthering Brisbane

Kate and Kate

If I was planning to commit a crime, last Saturday would have been the perfect opportunity. Witnesses would have told police, “She was wearing a red dress and had long dark hair.” Fortunately, so did hundreds of other people in Brisbane. Did I commit a crime? No one will ever know.

Two friends and I donned our red op-shop and homemade dresses, and bad wigs (aren’t they all?) and joined hundreds of men, women and others at Frew Park, Milton last Saturday afternoon to dance in unison (kind of) to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, not just for a laugh, but to raise money for DV Connect, a service that helps people experiencing family violence. There were fat, thin, tall, short, baby, and child Kate Bushes as well as Kate Bushes in wheelchairs, a Kate Bush version of Captain Jack Sparrow and Kate Bushes drinking wine. To the uninitiated, it looked like some kind of mass migration of red birds. Many children stared and pointed and were hushed up by confused parents as they watched a stream of people in every version of Wuthering Heights attire arrive. Pity the poor people who were out for a quiet afternoon in the park; they had to watch us go through the painstaking process of learning the dance and watch as we had at least three practice goes while listening to the song over and over before the actual “performance”.

I use the word dance loosely; it was more uncoordinated flailing, especially for those of us who no longer possess the lithe, nimble bodies of the youthful Kate Bush. The spinning at the start of the chorus was my greatest challenge as I lost sense of where the front was every time and then got behind as I tried to reorient myself. Then it was how many times to raise and lower your arm, which way to sway, how long to flap your elbows and how to move backwards without tripping over the person behind. At least one person did a hammy.

It was a great lark but for a serious cause. DV Connect is a Queensland service that offers 24 hour help for those experiencing domestic and family violence. Most victims are women, but there are some men. They frequently end up homeless. Of course, the same problems of violence, coercive control and manipulation can occur in same-sex relationships. The men’s line helps perpetrators of violence to seek help to deal with their behaviour. They also have a sexual assault helpline.The service can provide safe housing for those fleeing violence, including pets, and their new service, Victim Connect, helps anyone who has been impacted by violent crime.

The DV Connect website has a banner across the top suggesting people view it in “private” mode, and a “quick exit” button that gets you straight to the Google homepage, which gives you just a tiny taste of what kinds of conditions some people are living in.

Money is just one part of the solution to ultimately end the need for people to flee violent situations; flailing about in a red dress once a year is a small way to help solve a big problem.

To donate go here.

Mentioning the War

Square Dancing at the Riverview Leave Area Brisbane, November 1943 (Wikimedia Commons)

War, war, what is it good for? Making movies, filling airtime on SBS before the weekend news, and museums apparently.

This week I visited the Macarthur Museum in Brisbane. No one in Brisbane has ever heard of it and it’s hidden away like something you can only find if you know someone who’ll give you the secret code word. Fortunately I do know someone. I can tell you (and won’t have to kill you afterwards) that it’s on the top floor of the MacArthur Chambers building on the corner of Edward and Queen streets. The secret to getting in is that you have to knock on the door. I’m not joking. You knock and the doors magically open. You are then directed to the lift, they wave a pass, and you ascend to the top floor.

Douglas MacArthur (Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t know much history and have never really known who Douglas MacArthur was. If a question at our weekly pub trivia was “Who said, ‘I shall return'”? I might have got it right. (It was him). The things I now know about MacArthur was that he was quite good looking when he was young and that he didn’t. Return that is.

If you’re the sort of person who loves war things then you’ll probably love the MacArthur Museum. I’m not into war. I even refuse to watch new movies that are set during any war because there’s enough violence happening in real time without using it for entertainment purposes. Turn on the news every night if you want some war footage. If you like it a bit graphic watch SBS. If you like it really graphic watch the French news; it has to be really bad for them to blur it.

The MacArthur museum is very well laid out and it’s fascinating to see what Brisbane looked like back when there were trams and everyone wore hats. MacArthur’s actual office is set up as it was when he used it. (It was so tempting to sit in his leather swivel chair and pick up the bakelite phone.)There were quirky things like the iron-on patches to reinforce the heels on your stockings, because it would cost too many clothing stamps to buy new ones if they wore through. It was also interesting to see the government controls imposed on everyone, even “youths and girls”, who from age 14 had to register for and carry an official identity card. Travel was restricted because of petrol rationing, the media was heavily censored, and people started growing vegetables to cope with food rationing. Sound familiar? I wonder if there were protests by people waving flags and frothing vitriol about conspiracy theories when they introduced these controls.

My parents were “in” the second world war. My father was a surveyor in the Australian Army and helped build the railway in Lebanon. My mother joined the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) not so much, she admitted, out of great patriotic feeling, but more to escape her small town and see the world, i.e. more of Queensland. One of her brothers was taken prisoner by the Japanese in Indonesia and subsequently beheaded, leaving behind a wife and three children. So there wasn’t the kind of wistful nostalgia about “the war” in our household that you tend to find in these museums.

There are souvenirs like uniforms and ration books, and pictures of people having a jolly time with the US servicemen, going to see American movies, and doing the jitterbug. There’s a picture of Hollywood star-of-the-day Gary Cooper when he visited Brisbane, with the caption quoting the report of the day saying he was even better looking in real life, and so cool that he was seen “even drinking a cup of coffee”. The people in the photos are almost always smiling as though it was all just a jolly fun adventure.

What I had never heard of was the Battle of Brisbane that occurred in November, 1942. It was not an official war battle but just the Australia servicemen getting fed up with the 80,000 American servicemen landing in Brisbane in their smarter uniforms, taking their women, getting paid a lot more, and not being subject to the same restrictions on food and everything else like the rest of Brisbane because they had their own supplies. Tensions bubbled over into a two-day riot and many soldiers were seriously injured, one Australian soldier fatally.

What they don’t show in these museums and memorials are the mutilated bodies, the mental and emotional scars, or the sheer terror people must have felt in Brisbane hearing Darwin had been bombed. Imagine that now! Imagine if all our phones suddenly pinged telling us a foreign country had just bombed Darwin.

What is the purpose of a war memorial or museum if not to ram home the fact that, like country music, war is awful? Someone I know once asked a group of us to think about the ways in which war had shaped us and our families. I’ve mentioned above how war personally affected my family. How has it affected you?

Photo by Ahmed akacha on Pexels.com

Cedar Creek

About forty-five minutes drive north-west of Brisbane is a place where you can get away from it all and immerse yourself not just in nature, but in water so cold it’s easy to imagine it wants you to die. I once spent a whole day at minus thirty in the Canadian Arctic; that air wanted me dead. The water at Cedar Creek is possessed, I’m convinced, by a similar murderous intent, at least in winter. And contrary to what “southerners” will tell you, winter does exist in Brisbane. Don’t let pictures of people basking in the sun wearing T-shirts fool you; that’s just marketing spin. Some days it doesn’t even reach twenty degrees (Celsius).

Unfortunately, Cedar Creek has become so popular as a swimming and picnic spot in summer, you may as well be on a Gold Coast beach. Far from getting away from anything, you will be surrounded by hundreds of people, some of whom think you also want to listen to death metal and be amused by their drunken antics. Unfortunately, this means that on the very type of day you want to go swimming in a cool fresh stream so does everyone else. The only alternative is to go when no one else wants to: in the bitter depths of Brisbane winter.

Last Wednesday, I decided I did need to get away from the hectic hustle and bustle that is Brisvegas, so I drove out to Cedar Creek. Cedar Creek road ends at a gate because the people who live there don’t want a crowd of esky-toting, beat-box wielding thugs driving through and parking on their properties. Go figure. There is a small swimming hole near the gate, where you can sit on the rocks and picnic and have a dip, but for those willing to make the effort, paradise awaits.

You’ll need to follow the creek upstream for about twenty minutes. This is not as easy as it sounds as it involves a lot of strategic hopping from rock to rock, sometimes wading through shallow water and pushing through spiky plants. There are snakes, but they all go to sleep in winter and most of them run away if they hear you coming anyway. You’ll know you’ve arrived because, bruised, scratched, and wondering why you agreed to this Bear Grylls adventure, the creek will suddenly open out into a wide pool, fed by a loud waterfall.

The good thing is, you will have warmed up enough to feel like swimming, which is how I felt last week, so I stripped off and, without giving myself time to think about it, jumped straight in. I don’t think I could have felt more pain if I had dived into a pit of razor blades. Even my hair hurt. To call it a swim is probably not entirely accurate as the whole immersion lasted approximately three seconds.

I once read a list of things that are unAustralian to not do. One of those rules stated that on diving into cold water it was unAustralian to not yell out to those still on dry land, “It’s cold at first but it’s nice once you get in!” In the three seconds I spent in the water I did say this in my head, but on finding it to be a giant lie, swam as fast as I could back to the rocks, climbed out, and grabbed my towel. I had just changed out of my swimmers and into dry clothes when two young men arrived to disturb my solitude. But I didn’t mind, because all I wanted by then was to return to the warmth of civilisation.

Of course you can just go for a winter picnic at Cedar Creek and enjoy the serenity, but I think it’s unAustralian to not go for at least a micro-swim. And you don’t have to lie about it being nice once you’re in because you’ll be out before you can make that judgment. And then you can congratulate yourself, like I did, for being daring and fearless, especially once I was on the couch under my electric rug, because, after all, it only reached twenty-two degrees that day.


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Think you can’t sing? Well, as I witnessed last Friday night, ability is no barrier to getting up on the small stage and belting out your favourite tunes.

Blute’s is a karaoke bar in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. Its website states its “sole aim was to capture an aesthetic reminiscent of quintessential Australian pubs from the 80s”. As someone who frequented pubs in the 80s, I can’t say I felt like I was back there, but the vibe was relaxed and welcoming; it didn’t matter who you were or what you looked like. And it certainly didn’t matter whether you could sing or not; Blute’s is a place for people to just belt out their favourite tunes regardless of ability and without judgement. To sing like there’s no one sober enough to be listening.

Early in the evening a man with an eye-patch, who was obviously a regular, launched into several gravelly renditions of old favourites. He didn’t care whether anyone was listening or not. He was enjoying himself and he seemed to enjoy listening to other people as well. There were a couple of other lone guys early on who quietly chose their tunes then got up and belted them out with abandon. As the evening wore on, the crowd grew as groups spilled out from other venues emboldened by alcohol to give voice to their hidden dreams of stardom.

There’s a machine hanging on the wall where you can search for a particular song or browse different categories. I needed to find something I knew and something I knew I could actually sing. A queue of eager regulars was forming behind me so I quickly decided on Alanis Morrissette’s Ironic and with slight trepidation pressed the button to book it in.

The author doing her best

I was outside sipping my drink when I heard my name called, so I had to sprint in and grab the microphone from the guy running the show. Fortunately, I have sung in a band, albeit briefly, so was a little bit familiar with the situation. But this is not a set up where there’s someone sitting at a mixing board down the back twiddling dials, and there’s no foldback so you can’t hear yourself very well, which means you could sound like shit or you could sound great. But the words were up on the screen, so I opened my mouth and started singing.

The regulars were sat at a small table close to the platform that serves as a stage and they were whooping it up. As were my friends, bless them. I have no idea if I was in tune or not. I know I missed bits. Doesn’t matter. It was fun. Which is the whole point.

One of my friends said she’s always wanted to sing but was told in high school to never do so. “Who cares?” I said. “If you want to sing go for it.” So she punched Montego Bay into the machine and pressed the button. And with me standing up there with her for moral support, she went for it. Was she in tune? I actually don’t know because I couldn’t hear her. Didn’t matter. Everyone clapped and whooped anyway. High school teacher be damned, my friend sang her heart out and loved it. As did everyone who got up on stage.

So if you’ve always wanted to sing but were too afraid to try, get yourself along to Blute’s and have a crack.


The Grand Matriarch

Camel milk, camel meat, camel feta, camel gelato, camel vodka, camels have it all! That’s what I discovered on my recent visit to the Summer Land Camel Farm. Just a 45- minute drive west of Brisbane is the world’s third-largest camel dairy. (Admittedly the other two, located in the Middle East, are considerably bigger.)

The maternity wing

Summer Land Camels began in 2015 with wild camels taken from the Australian desert where they are considered a pest. Around 20,000 camels were introduced from the Middle East in the 1840s to enable explorers to travel through the desert. They were even used by Cobb and Co. But with the advent of rail and road transport they were no longer needed and set free to wreak havoc on the Australian landscape.

According to an ABC Landline report from 2020, camels do immense damage to native vegetation, waterways, and infrastructure. They also destroy sacred Aboriginal sites. And while camels can go up to a month without water, they can drink 100-200 litres in a few minutes. In fact they will push cattle out of the way to take water from farm troughs, and when it’s all gone they will set about destroying the trough to find more. Our guide told us if camels show up at your property, sit down, pour yourself a drink and just wait while they break into your kitchen and smash the taps to get at the water, because you won’t be able to stop them. You’re only allowed to shoot them if you have a license, and anyway, there’ll be more where they came from.

A baby camel leaving white frothy slobber all over my jacket sleeve

But for all that, they’re cute! Visit the farm for the experience of being kissed and cuddled by a camel. You can even buy your very own camel for a pet. And as for the spitting? Not true. What is true is that if they’re unhappy they’ll vomit at you.

The whole dairy

After your tour, you’ll get to sample camel milk, feta, and sausage, and also body cream. Camel milk has been found to be more nutrient-dense than cows’ milk, is great for gut health, and is tolerated by people who can’t drink cow, goat, or sheep’s milk. Its antimicrobial properties mean it can’t be used to make blue-vein cheese because it kills off the bacteria that gives the cheese its properties. The down-side? It’s expensive: $14 for a litre. That’s because while a cow can produce up to 60 litres a day, camels will give just 5-6 litres. And unlike cows, camels don’t have their calves taken away or they’ll stop producing, so the babies stay in a separate paddock while their mothers are milked.

Camel train

The farm does camel rides, tours, and has a cafe serving all manner of camel derived foods as well as shots of their Camel Milk and Honey vodka. It’s a lovely day out.

(Apologies for the title; I couldn’t help myself)

Dan Arnold: a restaurant?

There are places that serve food, called restaurants, and then there are places like Restaurant Dan Arnold. In this kind of establishment, the dark arts have clearly been employed to coax flavours out of their tiny hiding places and force them to marry, at kitchen-blow-torch-point, sometimes unlikely companions. Such arranged marriages are only successful at the hands of a very skilled match-maker.

This is not a blog of restaurant reviews, but food is an intrinsic part of culture and the profile of any city, even Brisbane. After all, Paris would just be a big fashion show, and people making out on bridges, without its food. (I haven’t been there but I have watched Emily in Paris on Netflix so same same.)

With food establishments like Restaurant Dan Arnold, I believe the protocol for attendance should be re-written. First of all, a screening process should be implemented to make sure only those capable of appreciating what they are about to experience should take place; think the kind of exam that only Matt Preston would pass.

Next a strict dress-code: a long, black, shapeless garment with matching head-covering to prevent any distraction by clothing, hair, or accessories; change-rooms would be provided. Once patrons emerge into the dining-space, (or perhaps the “gustatory perception and experience studio” ) there must be absolute silence. No music, no conversation, no asking where the toilet is. Waitstaff would be trained to within an inch of their lives to anticipate every possible need. Any failures would be dealt with promptly (think Squid Game).

I believe this is the only way one can truly experience and appreciate the artistic prowess of the eponymous chef and his assistants.

I, and my husband of 30 years (yeah, the longer-for-murder joke) attended RDA on Saturday, April 2. The dinner was a gift from friends for our anniversary.

Before we began the five-course main event, six “amuse-bouche” were gifted to us on strange and unusual vessels. There was a chicken-liver parfait inside a tiny cup-shaped crust, perfect oblongs of salmon with dots of citrus gel, something served on a crust of delicately puffed rice, and a beetroot meringue (yes! beetroot). And it’s my inability to recall the minute details of these exquisite little morsels that brings me to my next idea.

After each dish, patrons must retire to individual cubicles and spend at least ten minutes meditating on what they have just experienced. The flavours in these dishes are so clear and yet complex that it is sacrilege to just swallow a mouthful of wine and move onto the next one. Your brain is still saying, “What was that?!” before it is forced on to the next thing. As for me, I couldn’t fully concentrate as I should have been, because I was checking out the clothing on the women at the next table, and wondering if that was Harry and Meghan sitting up at the bar. It’s like in church, when you’re supposed to be listening to the sermon, but instead you’re looking at the stained-glass windows and planning your next holiday. Nothing should be allowed to distract you from the task at hand.

After we had merged our bodies with the five “main” courses, the waitress rolled the Ikea Cheesen Platten cheese trolley over to us and removed the lid ready to explain the five hundred different cheeses. Alas, as much as I wanted to, there was no way I could have talked my stomach into it. She told us she would let us get away with it this time. I felt chastened and unworthy.

Instead, we were served a thimble of parsley granita and “at the bottom, you will find lemon curd,” she said, except with a French accent. This was the pre-dessert dessert. The menu stated the actual dessert was “Earl grey, chocolate, blackberry”. And so it was.

Petit fours ensued. The limitations of our crude language reduce me to describing them as a mandarin jelly and a carrot cake. There was a third one, but by then I had had three glasses of wine. I’m a cheap drunk.

After perfect coffee, it was time to deal with the vulgarity of “paying the bill”. Then we were thrust back into the night and returned home, where we lay down and stared at the ceiling, trying to make sense of what had just happened, with questions like, “But how did they make that potato thing?”

We’ll probably never know. Which is probably just as well.

And I don’t think it was Harry and Meghan.

Maeve: Hiding in Plain Sight

I couldn’t say how many times I have walked past the doorway without even noticing it, and it’s never appeared in a Google search of restaurants in South Brisbane, so it was only when a friend asked if I’d been there that I discovered Maeve Wine Bar. I thought it must have been new, but when I asked the waiter, she said they’d just had their third birthday. I need to lift my local dining game!

Obviously plenty of other people know about Maeve because it’s not easy to get a table, but on Saturday night we managed to get two seats at the bar.

Maeve is located in a ninety-six-year-old building that was formerly a bank, on the corner of Melbourne and Grey streets near the dining precinct of Fish Lane. The space is dominated by Starbucks, and although they have an unmissable sign on the street, Maeve was denied permission by the council. Something to do with the building’s heritage listing. It’s the same reason they were denied permission to install a lift, which is a problem for anyone with a disability, because the only way to Maeve is up a staircase to the first floor.

Sticking with my usual go-to white wine, I ordered a glass of Pinot Gris. “Have you had a skin contact pinot before?” the waiter asked. I hadn’t. Actually I had no idea what they were talking about. “It’s pink and a little spicy. How about I give you a taste first?” It was pink and, frankly, tasted like a rosé, but was delicious. Pinot? Rosé? I didn’t care. It was from somewhere in NSW, I liked it, I drank it.

First up, fresh oysters from Tasmania, served au natural with a wedge of lemon and their own tiny bottle of Tabasco. Next, chicken liver parfait served on a perfect rectangle of toasted focaccia with a citrus gel. We almost ordered one each, but the waiter warned us it was quite rich so maybe we should start with just one. I could have happily eaten half a dozen, but we halved the one serve and I used my finger to clean the plate.

Next, Saganaki, a Greek cheese like halloumi, with fermented garlic honey and oregano. We were given bread to mop up the liquid. Rich, sweet, aromatic, cheesy. Divine! This was followed by Hiramasa Kingfish, King Brown mushroom, and an improbable puree of capers and raisins. The fish was meltingly fresh and perfectly cooked. The mushroom was a little chewy, but again I used my finger to make sure none of that strange puree was left. This was accompanied by a Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, stracciatella, basil and pickled garlic. Fresh, tomatoey, and creamy.

There were just two choices for dessert: a crème caramel and a chocolate tart. I chose the crème caramel to which had been added sweet vermouth, giving the caramel sauce depth and a slight tang. It was a dish of silky, blissful delicacy.

My husband ordered his usual after-dinner long black coffee, only to be told there was no espresso machine. One of the other problems with a heritage-listed building is the wiring. I mean, electricity, don’t you just turn things on and they work? I guess in the “olden days” there weren’t as many things to turn on. For whatever reason, there isn’t enough electricity to stretch to operating an espresso machine. And yet, downstairs is Starbucks…

Anyway Maeve, your secret is out.