What form of plastic headwear are you going to accessorise with on June 1, restaurant independence day? Chic plastic sphere? Face shield in the style of Kylie Minogue backup dancers? Many choices lie ahead, the biggest being where we will (or can) go.
One week to go in lockdown and fantasies are flying thick and fast. What do we want to eat, see, drink? What will dining out even look like?
A look around has seen Sydney venues offering hand sanitiser sommeliers. Noma in Copenhagen has announced it is easing back into service as a burger and wine bar instead of doing mind-blowing degustations.
I’ve been asked a number of times to nominate the places I want to go when the restrictions lift. I’ve found it tricky. Are we talking about the best-case fantasy scenario here? OK. I’ll bite.
Stop one would be specialist coffee stop Calere, on Gertrude Street. To be fair, I’ve been able to go the whole time, but that tiny daily interaction with barista Alicia Feng has kept me (almost) sane. I like to think we’ll continue to have our locals’ backs.
I want to go to breakfast and enjoy the luxury of labour intensive food and – the real kicker – sitting down to eat it.
Maybe somewhere like Cibi, Collingwood’s elegant Japanese cafe and retail store where the homewares evoke wabi-sabi and where the breakfast plate, with its grilled salmon, vegetable-packed miso, silky sweet potato salad, and neatly coiled tamagoyaki omelette can now be looked upon both for its deliciousness, and for the labour I’m saving in washing up.
Lunch? Yum cha, though we may not have this back for a while. Not just for the har gao (prawn dumplings) and feng zhao (chicken feet, braised to sticky stardom). I like them at Tim Ho Wan, Secret Kitchen and Spice Temple but I want the tea, noise and more friends in one space than will likely be allowed.
Until then, I’d like to go to Flower Drum for the razor precision of chef Anthony Lui’s impeccable Cantonese kitchen. For translucent pancakes, perfect crisp duck, for the wild barramundi forced into thick noodles, rich and vibrant after a rumble with sweet sausage, tangerine zest and garlic shoots. But more than anything, to watch Jason Lui command the floor.
I’ve missed service. Not because I’m lazy, but because it can be the ballet, the AFL, and stand-up comedy rolled into one. Add to the list being made fun of, and take an expertly-guided journey deep into the cellars of Gerald’s Bar in Carlton North and France Soir in South Yarra.
I also miss restaurant spaces. I’d probably go and eat in someone’s garden shed just to be somewhere different, but at Di Stasio Citta, Rinaldo Di Stasio and Mallory Wall have created a wonderland of barolos, bold Italian and visual stimuli. I want the marble, the brilliant blue Murano chandelier, the rolling videos by video artists Reko Rennie and Shaun Gladwell.
Maybe after martinis and the crisp, fried anchovies and the spaghetti I’ll be overstimulated. If not, I’d go to Bar Margaux and stay there as late as the late night French(ish) floozy will keep serving me steak tartare and escargot.
Sound fun? I think so. I wish that fantasy didn’t have to crash into some very difficult realities. But it absolutely must.
We’re looking forward to going back to restaurants, but restaurateurs aren’t looking forward to going back to “normal”.
Increasingly, many want a revolution. Fewer restaurants, and more regulation so that inexperienced operators can’t risk countless people’s livelihoods. The churn and burn costs too many, too much. There is hope that industry bodies and customers realise how hard it is to get restaurants right.
I love restaurants. Their food matters. More than ever. Including where and how it is grown.
Whether the farmer who grows it is able to survive. Whether the person cooking it is being paid. Whether the dishes say something – political, personal, historical – that will move you is nice, but so is simple sustenance. And it’s hard.
I hate that the struggle has become so hard for so many that mental health is crumbling. That the joy-makers must find it more elusive than ever to feel joy. That there’s so little space in the margins, brilliance plays second fiddle to budgets.
There has been much to cheer about in this pandemic. The courage, the creativity, the humanity. The drive.
But I can’t cheerlead us blindly into the reopening. More important is that we open the conversation about what we need to change. Otherwise, do we deserve to go back?
One fantasy day
Calere Coffee for beans by Ona and expert brews.
166 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, calerecoffee.com.au
Cibi for Japanese breakfast platters and homewares.
33/39 Keele Street, Collingwood, 0481 398 686, cibi.com.au
Flower Drum for some of Australia’s most finessed Chinese food and service.
17 Market Lane, Melbourne, 03 9662 3655, flowerdrum.melbourne
Gerald’s Bar for straight talk, straight bar food and too many wines.
386 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North, 03 9349 4748, geraldsbar.com
Di Stasio Citta for martinis and the razzle dazzle.
45 Spring Street, Melbourne, 03 9070 1177, distasio.com.au
Bar Margaux for late night knees ups in a subterranean lair.
Basement, 111 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 03 9650 0088, barmargaux.com.au