Thursday, February 26, 2009

Impressed by The Press Club

The first thing I noticed about The Press Club as we were being shown to our table was the understated simplicity of the decor. Tables were dressed in white linens that stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the room where warm browns and oranges ruled. The dining room itself has a very angular look with all the tables being a square or rectangle shape.

We had a lovely table for two near a window overlooking Exhibition Street. Bench seats ran along the wall with sleek wooden chairs holding the opposing positions. Squeezing between the tables to reach the bench seating was a delicate exercise. The tables are very close together and getting in was just the first dilemma. Trying not to eavesdrop on your neighbours was the next. I listened word for word as a fellow expatriate in Melbourne for business, talked endlessly about her life in Sydney. She was a very interesting woman, but I did take note that this was not the place for delicate discussions with your partner or the unveiling of secret business plans unless of course you wanted to share that information with the closest 10 or 12 diners.

Once we'd settled in at our table, I noticed an unmarked envelope with the restaurant's logo on the back. The Handsome Australian noticed it too. He picked it up and opened it to peek inside. There was a card inside that he opened and read and then said, "Oh, this is actually for you." He handed it across the table and I had a look. It read, "Welcome to The Press Club. We hope you enjoy your evening and have a wonderful birthday. Best Wishes from our staff." Wow. That's a nice touch, I thought.

Before we could blink, the sommelier approached and asked us if we'd received the card. We said yes and thanked him and he wished me a Happy Birthday too. He got us sorted with some sparkling San Pellegrino and then our waitress appeared dressed in the starched long sleeve orange collared shirt and brown apron that identified the staff. She gave us the menus and explained their layout. On one side are your typical entrees and main courses and on the other side there is a selection of set menus or Kerasma where you determine how many courses you'd like to have and the boys in the kitchen do the rest. They'll pick and choose your dishes for you. Then on a separate sheet, she presented us with the "Symposium" menu which is Chef George Calombaris' 6 course degustation menu. As the waitress explained, "George" as she familiarly referred to him, has taken all of his favourite flavours and tastes from his travels around the world and put them together in this menu. "It's George's baby," she remarked.

So we were left to ponder our options and the tight table arrangements came in handy as we had a bird's eye view of what other people were eating. All the food looked amazing. There wasn't a single thing I saw that didn't appeal to me. I could have eaten any of it. The Handsome Australian and I decided we'd go the whole hog and see what "George's baby" was all about. When the waitress returned, we told her we'd be having the Symposium menu with the wine match. "Easy," she said as she collected the menus and went to inform the kitchen.

She wasn't gone for long and returned with the most cutlery I've ever seen set in one place setting in a restaurant. There were three forks, two knives, a spoon..."We are going to be busy this evening aren't we?" I asked. "You certainly are," she replied with a smile. Our odyssey was underway.

The rest of the evening went like clock work. The sommelier would appear with the wine selection for the course and would give us a brief explanation of the origins of the wine, flavours we could expect to find and why he'd chosen it to match the particular dish we were about to have. He was knowledgeable, friendly and very informative. We enjoyed his visits. We also enjoyed his wines.

As soon as our wine loving friend would step away from the table, our reliable waitress would return and present us with our food. Each dish came with an explanation of ingredients and some required finishing touches at the table which she performed with grace and confidence. We wanted for nothing the entire evening.

Choosing a favourite course from the six is a difficult task (I'll spare you the entire list of courses here but if you are interested go to the The Press Club website and follow the "Menu" link to the "Symposium" menu for complete details), but I adored the chicken and apricot 'horiatiki' while the Handsome Australian was a fan of the slow cooked duck in olive oil, mushrooms, garlic, parsley, Greek kafe and sokolata soil. Both dishes are difficult to describe and walked the fine line between food and art. In a word, delicious.

We ended our meals with coffees, more out of habit than necessity. We were well and truly full to the brim with good wine and good food. It was well after 11pm when we finally settled the bill and strolled out of The Press Club to the sound of a final birthday greeting from our waitress who said, "Oh and Happy Birthday again, Ma'am". I was with her until she hit me with the "Ma'am" at which point I was looking over my shoulder for my mother.

I'm not in a hurry to celebrate another birthday, but if it involves another evening at The Press Club, I might be persuaded to age more rapidly. I'm only kidding...I think.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ah-ha! The Press Club

When the Handsome Australian rang to make a dinner booking at The Press Club, it was obvious Friday or Saturday nights were not available for several weeks. Keen for a night out and not wanting to postpone our plans, we settled for a Sunday evening. At the time of making the booking, the Handsome Australian was asked if we were celebrating a special occasion. He responded in the affirmative as I'd recently reached a chronological milestone (of which we will never speak it?) and this dinner was partially a tribute to my reaching said milestone. Done. Sunday evening at 7:30pm we had a date with The Press Club.

So when Sunday evening rolled around, we caught a train into the City and walked the short distance from Flinder's Street Station (the heart of Melbourne's rail network) down to the corner of Flinder's and Exhibition Streets. I knew very little about The Press Club before we made our dinner booking. I'd heard it described as "modern Greek" and I recognised Owner and Chef George Calombaris from his appearances on channel ten's "Ready Steady Cook" (a somewhat average cooking show that my four year old adores). Beyond these little bits and pieces of information, I had very little to go on.

As we approached the corner of Flinder's and Exhibition Street, the Handsome Australian began to explain to me that the building which now houses The Press Club was previously the home of the Herald and Weekly Times, publishers of Melbourne's Herald Sun Newspaper. The building is architecturally significant and is heritage listed. This is when the little cogs in my head began to turn and the light bulb switched on--the name! That is where the name for the restaurant came from. I never knew the history of the building until this moment and had been wondering why a "modern Greek" restaurant would be called The Press Club. There you have it, the eureka moment. As I explained my excitement in making this connection to the Handsome Australian, he looked at me sideways with a broad smile as if to say, "Aw you silly Texan. You've still got a lot to learn about this city."

History lessons aside, I knew we were heading into somewhere special when I saw the gold plated signs out the front of the building with the words The Press Club printed on them. The signs were simple and elegant but bold at the same time. The doors to the building were heavy and large and seemed the appropriate entrance to the grand adventure on which we were about to embark.

We arrived just after 7pm and since our booking wasn't until 7:30pm the hostess asked if we'd like to have a drink at the bar while we waited for our table. We had all ready made cocktail plans on our train ride in to the city so we were more than happy to oblige. A well dressed host in a business suit, collared shirt, but no tie directed us back out the doors, across the entry way and into The Press Club Bar.

The bar was long and narrow and very quiet on a Sunday night. We sat down on some couches near a window and surveyed the Bar menu. When I say menu I should say novella--it was a book. The wine list was expansive if not exhaustive--there were wines from all over the world: red, white, sparkling--the choice was ours to make. There were liqueurs, aperitifs, digestives, ouzos and a couple of pages of cocktails. We chose a couple of cocktails and settled in for a little while.

The service in the bar was a bit slow and the cocktails left us unimpressed. Having said that, ordering cocktails from their Bar menu was probably the equivalent to ordering a vegetarian meal at a steakhouse--it's not their speciality and it's going to be average at best. Note to us: next time order one of the amazing wines, you'll be better off.

7:30pm rolled around and we were itching to ditch the bar and get to the main event. The Handsome Australian gave the bartender a nod and asked him to check on the availability of our table. He came back and told us jokingly, "I had to twist some arms, but I got you in." We provided the requisite laughter he was after and he personally escorted us out of the bar and back across the entry way into the main restaurant.

This is when the evening really began...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hard pressed to decide

Recently, the always hard working, Handsome Australian was commended by his employer. To show their appreciation for his dedication and capable performance they told him to take his wife to dinner--their shout! These are the kind of rewards I like...ones that include me having a nice dinner somewhere with my handsome food loving husband.

In Melbourne, the proposition of a nice dinner out on the town can be the beginning of a dizzying search for the perfect place. It's so difficult to narrow the choices down to a single venue. Melbourne has so many SPECTACULAR restaurants that choosing only one is well, next to impossible. A lot of careful planning goes into such an important decision.

When faced with this dilemma, the Handsome Australian will always defer to his food bible, The Age Good Food Guide. He'll carefully peruse the pages and thoughtfully consider the advice of John Lethlean and his co-conspirators. Once he's zeroed in on a few possibilities he'll suggest a few to me whilst reading highlights from the review the restaurant received. There will be a debate and most likely a stalemate.

It's at this point, we bring in reinforcements. I'll begin to ring like minded food loving friends and ask them about their recent experiences. Have they been anywhere new and interesting? What's the word on the street? Any hidden gems we should consider?

It was the advice of a friend confirmed by the Handsome Australian's youngest brother that led us to choose The Press Club for our special night out. Of course The Press Club's inclusion in The Age Good Food Guide and its receipt of various awards in said guide was what really cemented the deal with the Handsome Australian. What can I say? He loves the critics. I love the people. In this particular instance--the critics agreed with the people.

The stars were in alignment and we managed to get a booking. Would The Press Club be all that we'd been promised? Only time would tell...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Australia's National Day of Mourning

Yesterday, Australians observed a National Day of Mourning to honour and remember those who lost their lives in the Black Saturday bushfires only two short weeks ago. The memorial ceremony was held at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. Families that have been affected by the bushfires were invited to attend as the political, religious and community leaders of Victoria and Australia paid their respects to the victims of the fires. The ceremony was broadcast live on television stations across Australia.

The Handsome Australian and I watched with great interest and sadness from our lounge room. It has been a long two weeks here in Victoria and the National Day of Mourning was a time to reflect on all that has happened. The ceremony itself was somber at the start. Various dignitaries took turns placing flowers in a giant wreath at the base of the stage. We heard many speeches amongst them were sentiments from our Prime Minister, from the Premier of Victoria, from Princess Anne who spoke as a personal representative sent by the Queen, a selection of religious leaders and many others shared their thoughts.

As often happens in life, the images and music more than spoken words themselves evoke the most emotion. This was very true in our lounge room yesterday afternoon. Tears began to roll when I saw the SES and CFA members glowing in the dimly lit audience in their reflective uniforms. These brave men and women stood out from the rest of the crowd, their faces said so many things. In some you saw weariness, no doubt from weeks spent battling these blazes. In others you saw the pain of loss--perhaps they were mourning a friend, a neighbour, a family member? In others still, you saw glimpses of hope and smiles of strength. In all of them, I saw the faces of heroes.

The other truly poignant moment for me personally was when Bruce Woodley and his daughter began to sing the very popular, "I am Australian" which Woodley wrote 22 years ago, but had rewritten to suit the occasion. I love this song at the best of times because I think it truly celebrates the Australian spirit and does an excellent job of capturing what it is to be Australian. Its use in the memorial service was extremely touching, particularly when Bruce welcomed survivors of the Kinglake fires David and Merelyn Carter to join him on the stage and sing the new lyrics he'd penned only a few days before. And it's this song, that I want to share with you.

I looked all over the web for some video of the song being sung at the memorial service and this is the best I could come up with. It was filmed by an audience member and the footage is blurry and somewhat shaky, but it's not about the image it's about the music and the lyrics. So take a few moments to listen with your hearts.

For those of you who aren't as familiar with the song as most Australians are, here are the lyrics as it was sung yesterday:

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian

There are no words of comfort
that can hope to ease the pain
Of losing homes and loved ones
the memories will remain
Within the silent tears you'll find
the strength to carry on
You're not alone
We are with you
We are Australian

There are so many heroes
Who's stories must be told
They fought the raging fires of hell
and saved so many souls
From the ashes of despair
our towns will rise again.
We mourn your loss.
We will rebuild.
We are Australian.

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian.

I'm the hot wind from the desert
I'm the black soil of the plains
I'm the mountains and the valleys
I'm the drought and flooding rains
I am the rock, I am the sky
The rivers when they run
The spirit of this great land
I am Australian.

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come.
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian

Monday, February 16, 2009


The sky is hazy and the rising sun radiates a deep orange colour all over the landscape. As you step outside, you can smell it--the thick smoke of a fire. In other circumstances, this familiar smell would take me back to the campfires of my youth. Time spent camping with family or celebrating with friends when everyone would gather happily around the fire, warming their hands, telling stories, laughing. Yes, those were happy times. Today though, the smell of this smoke means something else. Today it means destruction. Today it means loss of life. Today it means people are homeless. Today it means towns have disappeared completely off the map. Today it means heartache.

The bushfires at the centre of this heartache began on Saturday, 7th of February 2009 (now known as Black Saturday), and have continued to rage with varying levels of intensity since. As I write this today, there are still six large fires burning out of control according to the CFA (Country Fire Authority) website. Rural areas on the fringe of Melbourne have spent the past week on tenterhooks as bushfires menaced their communities and threatened their lives and property. While most of the fire activity seems to have lessened in recent days, the fire season is by no means over and the threat of more fires is still very real.

I've never lived this close to natural disaster before. While our home and those of most Melbournians have never been under threat during these awful fires, our community has certainly felt the impact of the fires on our rural neighbours. I've watched endless hours of news footage, heard stories of survival and stories of peril, but I will never fully understand the terror that befell these good people of Victoria only a short week ago. To me, such a thing is incomprehensible.

Though we can't fully appreciate the feeling of barely escaping with your life or watching your family home burn to the ground, we can empathise with the tragedy. I've been so impressed with how actively Melbournians, Victorians and Australians more broadly have come together to support these small communities who have been ravaged by fire. It's impossible to set foot in any shop, school or community centre here in Melbourne and not see something relating to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal. EVERYONE is trying to do SOMETHING. Individuals are offering accommodation to displaced families--many times in their own homes. Businesses are donating goods and services to the survivors. Local communities are collecting donations of any imaginable item. Farmers are rounding up hay and feed for the livestock and native animals that have been affected. The community is coming together.

The often argumentative tone of talk back radio has taken on a renewed cooperative spirit with people calling in with offers of help and responses to need. The media have become more than storytellers or reporters--they've become a conduit for the disaster response. Alerting the wider community to the specific needs of the survivors, the conditions of the affected areas and helping us all come to terms with the reality that now engulfs us.

While I know the days ahead will be full of obstacles and stumbling blocks for these shell shocked communities as they begin to pick up the pieces, I do have faith that the greater Melbourne community, the greater Victorian community, the greater Australian community and the greater world community stands prepared to help in any and every way we know how. This, after all, is the essence of the human spirit.

From the Shadows
A world of ashes leached of life.
The colours swept away.
A paradise lies lost beneath a shroud
Of ashen grey.
And yet in time the veil will fall.
The streams once more will flow.
And from the shadows 'tween the trees
New life will surely grow.
Poem by Graeme Base (The Sunday Age 15 Feb 2009)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mother Nature's Fury

Yesterday in Melbourne, the temperature hit 46 degrees Celsius which is about 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot winds howled through the trees and the oppressive heat slapped you in the face each time you went outdoors. Our children had been invited to two birthday parties. While we attended both parties and conversed with our neighbours and friends about the awful heat and the influx of ants we've all had in our houses, people in the rural communities of our state were quite literally running for their lives and fighting to save their property.

It wasn't until the early hours of this morning that Melbournians and the rest of Australia began to understand what had unfolded in rural Victoria yesterday and last night. Entire towns have been decimated. At the current count 84 lives have been lost with more bodies expected to be found in the rubble that remains. More than 700 homes have been destroyed. Even now as I type this there are dozens of fires still raging across the state threatening more homes and more lives. This is a disaster whose immensity we still do not fully know.

Our family has been glued to television screens and radio broadcasts today listening as more and more tales of horror are told. The pictures of the devastation are unbelievable. The stories of survival phenomenal and the stories of those who perished are absolutely heart wrenching.

So tonight, please say a prayer for those who have lost so much, for those who remain under threat and for the heroes of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) that they may have the strength to carry on fighting the blazes and saving people's homes and lives.

To read more about the fires visit any of the following links:,25197,25024630-601,00.html,145.360107&spn=5.467626,6.778564&z=7&msid=102713443485350180116.0004625c0e5a723331061

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Melbourne Heat Wave

Summer in Melbourne officially starts the beginning of December. Throughout this past December, we enjoyed mild days with a bit of rain here and there and an occasional peak in the mercury. Melbournians were commenting on how mild the summer was, but gut instinct told many of us the worst was yet to come. January came and went in the same kind of mild mannered way that December slipped by. Temperatures were warm, but the very hot days were few and far between. Enter February and the honeymoon period was finally over.

The first few days of February were marked with 40+ degree Celsius temperatures (that's over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and Melbourne nearly came to a stand still. Historically, temperatures in Melbourne haven't been this extreme in the summer. During the 8 years that I've called Melbourne home, I can remember several instances of 38 degree temperatures or maybe even one or two 40 degree days, but never temperatures exceeding 40 degrees and never several of these days in a row.

Last week Melbourne experienced what local meteorologists are calling, "a once in a century heatwave". The extreme heat crippled this city for several days and there wasn't a single soul that wasn't adversely affected. There are plenty of locations around the globe that sustain these extreme temperatures for days, weeks and months on end and the people living in these regions seem to cope with the heat. Why is Melbourne so different from everywhere else?

I think the answer lies in the fact that historically, Melbourne hasn't been this hot. Which means that infrastructure hasn't been built with these extreme temperatures in mind, air conditioning of buildings and cars isn't standard, and native plants and animals aren't predisposed to coping with such intense heat.

Whilst it may have gone unnoticed by the international community, Australians are keenly aware that many parts of the continent are suffering from one of the longest droughts in the nation's history. Minuscule rainfall has created some of the driest conditions we've seen in Victoria and if you combine this with extreme temperatures and some gusty winds you get the perfect bush fire cocktail. Last week there were fires burning on the periphery of Melbourne that threatened power supplies and in some cases led to power outages.

On the final day of the extreme temperatures, daily life in Melbourne became chaotic as the stressed public transport system was forced to cancel hundreds of scheduled services due to the buckling of rail tracks and mechanical issues with the trains. Many small businesses closed up shop early as the streets were more or less empty as the city's population struggled to find ways to keep cool. Public swimming pools reached capacity and power outages created traffic snarls as a large percentage of the city's residents endured rolling stoppages. The multiple days of extreme heat were taking their toll on the city.

When the heat finally subsided and relatively cooler temperatures breathed life back into the streets and homes of Melbourne, it was clear the heat had left it's mark on our landscape. During the past week as I've driven around our local area, I've noticed the streets are littered with leaves from trees. At some point my mind was actually tricked into thinking we'd entered autumn because the landscape looked so brown and barren. Even the more drought tolerant plants we have planted in our back garden sustained damage from the laser like rays of the sun. Everywhere you look, the foliage is wilted, sadly sagging, and slowly drying up.

A "total fire ban" has been in place since the warm temperatures first hit our city. Looking around now, you can understand why. A stray cigarette butt could probably take out an entire suburb in the current conditions. It's a scary thought.

For those doubters of climate change and those who deny ozone depletion, I invite you to come to Melbourne and see the effects first hand. What is happening here simply isn't normal.