Sunday 31 December 2017

Lentil As Anything- awesome food without a specified price

There is no free lunch in this world-  a wise universal truth. Yet there is a place in Abbotsford, an inner Melbourne suburb just 4km away from the city centre that serves awesome vegetarian and vegan food without specified prices. Customers get to enjoy their breakfast, lunch or dinner, served on scrumptious buffet-style on a "pay as you feel" basis, sometimes with the accompaniment of live hippie reggae music or cool guitar strumming.

The food is varied, multicultural, and rarely disappoints. Depending on the day of visit or occasion, customers get to have a taste of Sri Lankan Kothu Roti, Tibetan momo (steamed vegetable dumplings), heartily rich lentil tomato soup, masala spiced potatoes with bright orange pumpkins, Mexican-style slowed cook mushroom, capsicum and beans, and piping hot and creamy vegetarian lasagna. Patrons also get to complete their meals with desserts (usually a really nice piece of simple cake) and a cup of good-old strong coffee of your choice (full cream milk or soy milk).

The queue for food is consistently long, and the atmosphere around is always jolly good and lively. The restaurant operates on an honourable code that everyone deserves a place at the dining table, regardless of your financial status or bank balance. Hence the customers' types are as varied as the options of foods, and we get to sit side by side sometimes with the homeless, the not so well-to-do, casual tourists, the hippies, the rich or family with kids that just did their tour at the adjacent Collingwood Children's Farm. A unique business structure like this is almost bound to experience occasional (if not frequent) cash flow issues and financial roughness. A simple Google search on the establishment will lead us to news and web pages talking about how the system has been exploited by certain patrons who use the place as a way to gain free meals without fear of judgment.

It's rare to see such an interesting not-for-profit organization focuses on serving and doing its best, but relies entirely on the good will and integrity of its customers for its continued survival. Even if we are not in a charitable mood, the great food itself deserves a good decent pay from an honest customer.

Abbotsford Convent, 1/3 Heliers St, Abbotsford VIC 3067

[Updated: This place has now closed its door permanently from Feb 2022] 

Thursday 28 December 2017

Brunetti 250 Flinders Lane- the joyous scene of foods

Trust me when I say the new Brunetti at 250 Flinders Lane is the latest hype in the city, and for a very good reason too. Opening just barely a month ago in November, Brunetti almost instantly attracted a large throng of faithful customers. Its soothing and inviting space can easily accommodate 300 seats, with a stylish layout reminded me of a Tokyo's underground food hall. The glittering marble-covered area is a curated department of sweets and savouries, satisfying all cravings for hot and cold, coffee or liquors, and a variety degrees of sweetness demand.

The cake and gelato counter is a dreamland of Hansel and Gretel (minus the wicked witch). Like a magical artworks exhibition, happy customers are greeted with rows of scrumptious-looking cakes decorated with raspberry glaze, cute round choux pastries, delicious chocolate sauce, modern shiny domes, and fancy white chocolate bands. The coffee and pastries bar is a micro manufacturing factory of its own, with numerous baristas, waiters and waitresses working efficiently meeting the high-volume orders of its consistent customers flow.

Further down, a hanging wood-fired pizza oven and old style coffee roaster add to the swankiness of the place. Customers relish the taste of traditional Italian with modern twist sprinkles to the dishes, before moving on to Brunetti's unmissable desserts and aromatic specialty coffee blends.

We thought it was a real shame when the Brunetti branch at City Square was compelled to shut down to give way to the metro tunnel project. But this new Brunetti gracefully transformed itself into an incredible dining space and a talk of the town, a perfect example on how one can always turn a loss into something absolutely awesome without missing a beat.

Where: 250 Flinders Lane
Opening time: everyday, 6am to 11pm/ 12 am

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Collingwood Children's Farm- a little oasis for all ages

This pretty place brings us an overflow of fond memories. Children (and adults) giggle delightfully patting those cuddly soft guinea pigs. The grown-ups wish they were kids just for a day, so that we could join the fun ride with Joe the pony.

Being just 4km away from the city with easy access by public transportations makes the journey worthwhile and painless. Lunch is never a headache, as we are always spoilt by a selection of great choices at the adjacent Abbotsford Convent. The visits are constantly interspersed with sweet little surprises such as the rare moment when the peacock fanned out its gorgeous plumage, the sudden bleating of goats demanding for more food, and the cow milking opportunity that occurs just twice a day.

It's also educational and informative, with friendly staff standing-by to provide interesting facts about the lovely animals which we have so much fun interacting with. We learned about the two different breeds of sheep, but still struggle to distinguish the five different breeds of chicken. We know the few Berkshire pigs by their individual names, and was overjoyed when we learned the good news of pregnancy of our dear lady pig.

St Heliers Street, Abbotsford, VIC 3067

Opening days and time
Everyday, 9.15 am to 4.45 pm

Entry Prices
full/ concession 
Child: $5/ $3
Adult: $10/$5
Family: $20/$10 


Thursday 17 August 2017

Meyers Place- how green can a laneway be?

You know something serious is up when a boringly modest grey wall turns suddenly into a stunning green oasis that captivated both innocent passersby and true locals. We see harlequin bug flashing its body of metallic sheen amidst the rainforest habitat, butterfly dances its ways around those strange and common insects (and what not). It is a mural went alive with both lovely and bizarre items. We have brilliantly red ladybug, gracefully flowing waterfall and brightly coloured flowers of unknown species. Comfortably snuggled beside those beautiful things are some out-of-place junks: a discarded Nintendo Gameboy controller and some bulky, superseded computer monitor being chucked away pathetically like some hazardous waste.

A giant green mantid with its tilted triangular head stared straight ahead with bulging eyes, and a weird tropical “corpse flower” displays its exotic charm like some outrageous monument. It is a breathtaking painting formed with more than a dozen shades of green, a gigantic public art piece by one of Melbourne’s most beloved street artists Makatron on his few favourite themes: nature and living things.  

This previously unassuming laneway is home to a few eateries and cocktail bars. There is a home-style restaurant The Waiters Club serving delightful Italian cuisine, an Argentinian eatery San Telmo, Onsen Ma a sanctuary offering Japanese bathhouse experience, and Lily Blacks an exciting cocktail bar renowned for its creative beverages range. The lane also houses Lane’s Edge, a pretty little eating place surrounded by luscious greenery, and the Loop Roof with its enchanting garden secretively nestled at level three.

Meyers Place celebrated its victory recently after winning one of the much-coveted four spots in the City of Melbourne’s Green Your Laneway Program. It was no easy win, but an outcome driven by the collective force of the laneway’s traders and business owners who actively campaigned and galvanized support for public votes for a good many months.

Meyers Place now has all the legitimate reasons (plus funding) to paint itself insanely green. One of the first transformative steps is to do it literally by brushing its wall using the right colour. More genuine greening initiatives will soon be visibly carried out, from traditional pot and tree planting, to the more challenging cascading and vertical greening efforts involving climbers and creepers. 

Meyers Place will soon make a name for itself as Melbourne Metropolitan’s latest green gallery and an unmistakably leafy spot to be watched out for!

Where: Meyers Place, connecting Little Collins and Bourke Street at the East end

Sunday 18 June 2017

Cow Up The Tree- when reality and surrealism entangled

Why is there a cow up the treetop?

No, this is not a riddle joke. No clever punch line is expected. Nor does the answer has anything to do with a Rock-a-Bye Baby or any road-crossing chicken.

This is a completely legitimate, sensible and precise question to be asked in Melbourne.

You see, along the Habour Esplanade of the Docklands precinct, there is such a cow hanging upside down on a tree in a ridiculously laughable position. A disproportionately fat body attached to long skinny neck and pointy little head, this Holstein-breed black and white dairy cow can be spotted from across the entrance of the Etihad Stadium, and is a peculiar sight unable to be missed by the Docklands tram riders.

The story brings us back to the Second World War, where an artist called William Dobell was commissioned to perform an odd task of building fake cows to camouflage airfields. No one knows for sure if any of those papier mache cows were actually built, nor whether the project had successfully deceived any Japanese pilots or served any of its initial purposes. Regardless, the absurd story captured the attention of John Kelly, and triggered the whimsical sense of humour of this world-renowned Melbourne-based sculptor.

After observing some photos of cattle being swept up the tree in one of those notorious flash floods in Australia, John Kelly combined the two distinct events and conceived this oddly hilarious vision of an obviously fake cow being stranded on the treetop with all four legs facing upwards. Lest there be any doubt as to the Australian-origin of the art piece, a leafless gum tree was chosen as the subject that kept the pathetic cow entangled.

The 8-metre high, 4 tonnes bronze sculpture was first placed in Paris, the city of love. The silly cow caused quite a sensation in France, till a local media attributed it as the item that “puts Paris back on modern art map”. The iconic public monument later travelled its way back to the artist’s city, climbed its way up the gum tree, and resumed its permanently awkward position in the branches.

Where: 131 Harbour Esplanade, Docklands VIC 3008

Sunday 14 May 2017

Suitcase Rummage: the vintage, handmade & uniquely secondhand

For a few times a year, a unique market place consists of vendors from all walks of life is formed at the Atrium of Federation Square. Smiling sellers carrying suitcases of all designs to the pre-arranged venue: vintage portmanteau, classic Samsonite, giant hard-shell travel luggage, iconic wheelie bags, and leather trimmed canvas trolley. When the right moment arrives, the bags are unzipped, revealing treasures and junks of all sorts.

It is a surprise party. People rummage, reach out, touch and feel the myriad of items. Second-hand clothes chaotically jumbled up in large packing spaces, inviting the general public to have a glimpse and start a bargain or a swap. Art pieces and creative handcrafts displayed beautifully, dainty hand-made jewelleries exhibited lovingly, bringing smiles to the true Zakka lovers. Unwanted branded shoes and expensive-looking camera bags spread haphazardly across the picnic rugs. Attractive price tags of $10 and $5 popping up everywhere, albeit sometimes, a good negotiation skill might get you an even better bargain for some true gems of love. 

With just $25, you can hold a stall and join in the fun as a vendor. Here, we met Taiwanese holiday visa workers trying to get rid of extra personal properties prior to a long trip home, a new mother whose baby has just outgrown those cute rompers and crocheted baby shoes, some trendy youngsters selling away their out-of-fashion accessories, and serious collectors of cultural clothes and other bric-a-brac.   

Our harvest of the day: a bright red Crumpler bag for $10 and a Korean designed wool outwear for $2.50. We left as two happy customers.

Entrance: Free of charge
Where: The Atrium, Federation Square  

Sunday 7 May 2017

Melbourne University South Lawn Car Park – purely magical

Affectionately known as the “Mad Max car park”, this is a hidden gem possesses extraordinary features and a magical atmosphere, an amazing site still unknown by many. Silently tucked away beneath the landscape of the university’s garden, the South Lawn Car Park is more than just an ordinary, everyday parking space. This is the first underground car park in Australia, and a paragon of design that successfully integrated functionality and aesthetic value into an unexpected location.  

A pair of formidable looking sculpted figures guarded the inconspicuous entrance devoutly. Forearms lifted and heads slightly bending forward, the two life-sized Atlantes loomed menacingly over any visitors intend to proceed beyond the seemingly unending darkness. Once placed at the entrance of the now demolished Colonial Bank of Australasia, the neoclassical sculptures are remnants of history from the old Victorian era, and now a protected heritage by the National Trust.

The car park is well recognized by its numerous iconic mushroom-like short columns, cleverly designed and constructed by a galaxy of ingenious minds. The parabolic structures produce increased soil capacity giving room to the tree roots extended from above, yet at the same time, serve as a reinforced support for the roof of the car park.

The innovative design created a futuristic setting for the action-packed, Mel Gibson's film “Mad Max”. Myer discovered the place as a perfect and enigmatic venue for its recent black-tie dinner and fashion parade; the all-time favourite reality cooking show Masterchef used it as a backdrop for a dessert challenge.

The South Lawn Car Park is an imaginative space with limitless possibilities and a character impossible to be defined.

Year built: 1972
Location: Melbourne University, Parkville
Designer: Jan van der Molen

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Ophelia- the enigmatic

Ophelia is a fictional character from the ingenious pen of Shakespeare. She is a victim of the patriarchal system, an object to be used and cast away. Torn between her condemned love to Hamlet and her blind obedience to her father, she eventually drove herself to madness and drowned silently in sorrow.

Under her father’s command, she orchestrated a lie and facilitated the spying on Hamlet. When her deception was uncovered, she was accused by her lover as a cheater, a “breeder of sinners”, and was asked to join a “nunnery” (an Elizabethan slang for brothel). Heartbroken and dejected, she died dramatically when she fell from a willow tree into a flowing brook.

Ophelia hence fulfilled her role as a dutiful daughter, yet suffered the loss of the love that she once steadfastly held fast.

Sitting at the Southgate Complex in Southbank, the sculpture of Ophelia overlooks the Yarra River enigmatically in her distorted form. Adorned with brightly colourful mosaic tiles, she is hard to be missed and almost impossible to be deciphered. She was once the “face of Melbourne”, perhaps controversially so, yet it was not hard to imagine her being the talk of town. She is confused and crazy, desperate yet resigned. She is metaphorical, surreal, and full of inexplicable emotions.

Meet Ophelia of Melbourne, the prominent woman that watches over the river.

Artist:             Deborah Halpern 
Where:           Southgate Complex, Southbank