Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Commune coffee - Oh Soy Drinkers, How We Suffer! The Commune, East Melbourne.

Ah, such is the lot of a soy drinker. Used to being slugged a surcharge for our soy drinking at every turn, this earns grizzles and grumbles but we usually succumb to our caffeine cravings and ask for an extra-large cup anyway.

It is my understanding that a coffee loyalty card entitles the bearer to one free coffee after a certain number are purchased. Some restrictions may apply, if published on said card, but in general the coffee purveyor accepts that in exchange for the repeat business of their customers, a small loss may be incurred when the unscrupulous suddenly upgrade their freebie.

Not so the owners of The Commune – Basement 2-6 Parliament Place East Melbourne, – which services the captive audience of bureaucrats around St Andrews Place, Macarthur Street and Treasury Place. Their freebie comes with (unpublished) caveats – soy drinkers must pay for their soy as an ‘add-on’ even when a free coffee is reached, and even when they have purchased the requisite number of soy-filled coffees. Apparently this is because some customers would ‘suddenly’ upgrade to soy on their freebie (at the wallet-busting cost of up to 80 whole cents a pop)!

As a soy drinker I find this highly suspect. Non-soy drinkers hate soy. You do, you tell us all the time. I find it a stretch to think that hordes of devious caffeine addicts would consider the opportunity to sneakily add soy to their free coffee an irresistible temptation to commit fraud. Some might do it for an extra shot, maybe; or some vanilla syrup, likely. But I can’t for the life of me imagine a dairy-drinker gleefully whispering “Today I will get soy! For free! Oh mwahahaha!”.

So what other reason could there be? Arrogance, perhaps. This writer has already been on the receiving end of unsolicited public soy-bashing from staff at The Commune (written about in a blog piece when she was too discreet to name and shame), or perhaps it is simply the opportunity to express disdain of ‘not real coffee’. In that case, please add a $10 charge to every small weak skinny decaff and refuse to serve anything but a short black after 10am.

A step too far, Commune. Sort yourselves out.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RetRoWhat? Retro Cafe, Brunswick Street

You decide to spend your Sunday breakfast at Retro Cafe on Brunswick Street. You find a park right outside. Win a point.

Your coffee takes quite a while to arrive. Lose a point.

Your coffee tastes good. Win a point.

Your coffee is only a smidgen above lukewarm. Lose a point.

Your waiter seems friendly. Win a point.

Your waiter doesn't write anything down. Lose a point.

You explain that you are vegan, and immediately your waiter launches into a never-ending circular sentence while not looking at you and says that's perfectly fine but you should know that heaps of stuff is not like gluten free. Lose a point.

You tell her you are not gluten free. She looks a little confused. Lose a point.

She can tell you straight off that the mushrooms are soaked in butter before they are cooked. Win a point.

She goes to check if the hash browns are egg and dairy free and returns with a notepad. The hash browns are ok and she writes your order down, and everything seems cool. Win a point.

You wait and wait and wait. You finish your coffee and read the whole paper. Lose a point.

You ask another waiter if your breakfasts are on their way. Lose a point.

The second waiter takes a long time, but she does eventually bring your breakfast. Win a point.

With two poached eggs on top. Lose a point.

The first waiter returns, apologises, and says that the least they can do is not charge you for your coffees. Win a point.

She asks if you'd like new coffees. Win a point.

She says "Now both your coffees are regular milk, right?". Lose a point.

Your breakfast is actually pretty good. Homemade baked beans with cannellini beans and a light, fresh tomato sauce, hot and crispy hash browns, lots of fresh tasty spinach, a generous serve of avocado and seasoned tomatoes on (slightly under-toasted) muffins. You enjoy it. A lot. Win a point.

You forget to take photos because you're really darn hungry. Lose a point.

Your second coffees never arrive. Lose a point.

Lately I feel like may of my eatering out experiences have been marred by poor service, poor food or just general ickiness. Is anyone else getting the same?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Circuses - Congratulations on an compassionate decision

The Ipswich City Council has made the inestimably sensible and compassionate decision to ban circuses with 'exotic' animals from its boundaries. I wrote to congratulate and received a reply today from Paul Pisasale.

From Miss T to Ipswich:

Congratulations to Ipswich on joining 42 other local councils across Australia who recognise that all animals, including exotic animals kept in a circus, are entitled to live free from cruel and unnatural treatment, in a suitable environment, and with our protection. Thank you for affirming that animals are not here for our entertainment, and that all animals suffer when forced to 'perform' for us.

With thanks and regards,

Miss T

From Ipswich to Miss T:

Rachel - Thank you for supporting Council's action. Although it was a hard decision to make, we feel strongly that this is the best thing for the community and for the animals' welfare.



Monday, July 6, 2009

Still Brutally Male: Still Stupid and Offensive

I wrote about how horrified I was at Brut's advertising campaign "Still Brutally Male", and that I had made a formal complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau.

I have recived the Board's determination of my complaint. Although I'm heartened that a number of similar complaints to mine were considered at the same hearing, the result was not good (the last three paragraphs iin bold are mine). Neither was Brut's response - to my mind its response replicted exactly the arguments I had made against it, but in its favour.

I reproduce the ABS's response in full below. You might like to highlight some of your favourite bits from Brut's response. Mine are:
  • "The use of the word ‘Still” reinforces the reference to previous times when “men were (considered) real men” – still brutally male."
  • Because nowadays men are not real men. Because a real man is a brutal man, and a brutal man is a real man.
  • "It is designed to embrace the increasing desire of men (and women) for real men, a retro-sexual male."
  • I never realised that deep down inside I desire a brutal man. I never realised that non-brutal men were not real men. Now I know, and I'll seek a brutal man out immediately to make me feel like a real woman.

Still Brutally Male? Still Unbelievably Dim.

What I received from the ABS: (sorry about the formatting; I can't seem to fix. Maybe I should act like a real woman and get off the technology which is too much for my little brain).

1. Complaint reference number 255/09
2. Advertiser Pharmacare
3. Product Toiletries
4. Type of advertisement TV
5. Nature of complaint Discrimination or vilification Gender -
--section 2.1
6. Date of determination Wednesday, 24 June 2009

This CGI television commercial depicts a robotic production line where different elements are
assessed prior to acceptance for inclusion into the formula to create Brut deodorant. Accepted items include a surfboard, a T--bone steak, a rugby league football and a keg. The scanning “eyes” show alert when a suspect object, being a woman's pink handbag, is detected. The image on the screen says “SUSPECT OBJECT”. Alert warning sound and the robotic arms appear place the bag is a specific position. An apparent heated flame appears and incinerates the bag, leaving a small pile of ash. The robotic arms appear to clench its fists in celebration. The cans of Brut appear from the machine. Voice over “Brut 24 hour performance anti---perspirant – –– and now Brut body sprays – –– Brut ---still brutally male."


A sample of comments which the complainant/s made regarding this advertisement included the following:

Given the recent publicity regarding football players' treatment of women, I feel that the advert promotes aggression towards anything female. Yes, it's stylised and futuristic, but the message is clear and whether the message comes from an object or a person, it doesn't alter the intent --destroy/obliterate anything that is obviously feminine/female. I felt ashamed that my two young daughters had to watch this offensive advert. The tagline of 'brutally male' further highlights the 'message'. I suspect men who do not want to be regarded as 'brutally male' would find this equally offensive. If we are really serious about cleaning up the image of sportsmen and promote a more healthy regard for women, this advert should be removed: it's offensive to both sexes.

Find the pink handbag references and the words 'brutally male' have homophobic and violent overtones. What does brutally male mean ??? Sure, it's meant to be a play on the brand name but what is appealing about 'brutal' males? Was surprised this ad went to air.

I am deeply disturbed by the current television advertising campaign for Brut aftershave. Using the tagline "Brut: Still Brutally Male" draws a horrifyingly overt link between masculinity and violence. Given the shameful rates of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and physical assault in Australian society, where the majority of perpetrators are men, this tagline is ill-judged and offensive.

The links between performative 'male' behaviour and explicit violence are well established in popular culture. When a mainstream, high profile brand like Brut effectively states that brutality and masculinity are inextricable, this presents a disturbing message for the men and boys who take on board that to be a man they must be aggressive, and a frightening picture of modern masculinity for the women who must negotiate the threat of intimidation and violence every day.

Violence and brutality are always inexcusable, even if it is intended to be a play on words. In my
submission this advertisement perpetuates it with this appalling tagline. I also note the effects that this ad may have on survivors of violence. I submit that the ASB should exercise its powers to withdraw this advertisement immediately.


Comments which the advertiser made in response to the complaint/s regarding this advertisement included the following:

The Brut brand is positioned as an ultimately male antiperspirant deodorant alternative. It is
targeted to consumers as the brand for men who embrace their masculinity. Global research
highlights this as a significant current trend and it is commonly referred to as “retro-sexual” (as
apposed to a “metro-sexual” trend of past years).

1. Emails received 03/04/2009; 25/05/09; 29/05/09 – “(Still) Brutally Male”.
As a result of our positioning we use the term “Still brutally male”. This is intended to:

  • Build our retro-sexual positioning as the brand that is still unrelenting or uncompromising in its masculinity. The definition of “brutally” in the context of “Still brutally male” is unrelenting or uncompromising.
  • The use of the word ‘Still” reinforces the reference to previous times when “men were (considered) real men” – still brutally male.
  • It is a play on the Brut brand name, as many brands do, and we believe that the majority of consumers will see it as such.
  • It is designed to embrace the increasing desire of men (and women) for real men, a retro-sexual male.
For further consideration, this “tagline” has been part of our advertising campaign for over 4
years, with this TVC first aired in 2005.

2. Emails received 25/05/09; 29/05/09 – “Pink handbag”
The theme of the TVC is intended to portray that only masculine ingredients go into the DNA of
Brut. A chain saw, guitar, surfboard, keg, steak, ball are accepted as ingredients while a pink handbag is rejected.

The rejection of the handbag:

  • Reinforces the theme of the ad.
  • Is stylised and tongue in cheek.
  • Would be positioned, we believe by the man in the street as a non masculine item.
  • The stylized victory pump by the machinery imitates typically what is seen in numerous masculine arenas and particularly the sports arena.


The Advertising Standards Board (“Board”) considered whether this advertisement breaches Section
2 of the Advertiser Code of Ethics (the “Code”).

The Board noted complainants concerns that this advertisement depicts men as aggressive and violent and encourages violence against women.

The Board noted that the name of the product is 'Brut' and that the Board has no role in determining the acceptability of product names. The Board also noted that this product has been on the market for many years.

The Board noted that some complaints focused on the broadcast of this advertisement during football and that complainants considered that it was inappropriate for this type of advertisement, suggesting masculinity and aggression, to be broadcast during football during recent controversy over the behaviour of some football players. The Board considered that this placement may be considered unfortunate by some but that this placement is obviously relevant to the advertisers' target audience (young men).

The Board considered that the advertisement is clearly designed to position the product as a men's product and to distance itself from less stereotypically masculine 'metrosexual' products. While the tone of the advertisement is loud and features products stereotypically associated with men, this is clearly done so in the context of establishing the product as a man's product. In the Board's opinion the scene in which the bag is 'zapped' is accompanied by playful music and is not menacing or threatening, and the action of the robot arms is consistent with a job well done/victory movement -which is also not aggressive.

The Board considered that the advertisement's reference to 'brutally male' is a play on the product's name and is not suggestive of violence towards women or suggestive that all men are violent or aggressive. The Board considered that there was no suggestion of condoning any violent behaviour.

The Board considered that the advertisement did not vilify or discriminate against men and did not contravene section 2.1 of the Code. The Board also considered that the advertisement did not depict, condone or encourage violence and did not breach section 2.2 of the Code.

Finding that the advertisement did not breach the Code on other grounds, the Board dismissed the complaint.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Himalaya Bakery, Daylesford, or: What a Shame

Some time ago, at the Great Sleepover Potluck, I wrote about my virginal fuscram at Himalaya Bakery, Daylesford. On that occasion I noted the friendly, if slow service, and the bland, chunky fuscram. On this occasion I am both pleased and saddened to report the opposite.

On a recent(ish) revisit with Buzz, I ordered the Spanish fuscram, where the tofu was mixed in with red onion and tomato, and a side of Cheatin' Bacon, which looked disturbingly like a great big tongue slapping over the top of my mountain of fuscram, but which tasted good enough for Buzz to suggest we get some at home. The fuscram this time was well-flavoured and the tofu well-mushed. It was a tasty, nicely balanced plate and it was hot and fresh - I really enjoyed it.

However, Himalaya has done its dash with me. The service on this visit was outright rude.

I don't usually like to get snarky in posts. It's not constructive and it's not the way I like to deal with people or the world. But outright rudeness I can't condone, and even thinking about this again makes me very, very crabby. Please excuse the Saturday Night Fever.

I ordered my breakfast, and when it arrived, the Nuttelex looked sunshiney yellow. I was loathe to ask, but the canariness of the spread urged me on.

The waitress, an older lady, told me that of course it was Nuttelex. I was therefore surprised, after this reassurance, to see her walk right back in to the kitchen and to overhear her ask the chef what it was.

Not half so suprised as when she returned, snatched the spread away, and snapped over her shoulder as she hustled back to the kitchen: "You really need to say that you want Nuttelex if you want it".

Oh. I had assumed that when I ordered a, y'know, breakfast advertised specifically as, y'know, vegan, that what would come with it would also be, y'know, vegan. I didn't realise that the breakfast was aaaaallll vegan, as your menu said it would be ... except for the spread. I didn't realise, because there was nothing to indicate it on the menu or elsewhere, that I had to ask for my vegan meal to come with a vegan spread, especially in a cafe that specialises in vegan meals.

So sorry for that, Himalaya. Next time you choose to make snarky comments over your shoulder at me, I'll apologise in person.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Swanky Potluck, or: we all get tizzed up to eat at Press Club

Our potlucks to date have been of the early arvo, bring-a-dish, bring-a-six-pack, bring-a-puppy kind, and lovely they have been too. I usually appear wearing Converse, jeans, the dirty t-shirt I cooked in and lugging one or all of food, bag, Sam and beer.

But aha! This potluck was to see us all put on our spanglies and get all dolled up. The inestimable Craig/Clag/bringer of inventive dishes/bicycle enthusiast gamely contacted The Press Club to ask if they would be prepared to put on the potluck to end all potlucks (ie: do us a vegan sharing deal).

I have said and said and said again that to my mind a good chef is one who is interested in food - and that means preparing new things in new ways and not getting all precious about it. A good chef sees dietary requirements as an opportunity to create, not restrict. A good chef is prepared to expand their repertoire, experiment with their notions of what must go into food, and be excited to do so. So, is George Calombaris a good chef?

You betcha.

The Press Club, George's venture on Flinders Street (and I feel I can call him George because even though I don't watch MasterChef, Craig has waxed lyrical at length about him), is a modern Greek restaurant (although its website calls it 'Modern Greek with a twist", which just reminds me of a vodka soda with a twist) and it exudes the shared, finger-eating, wine-drinking ethos that I associate with Greek eatering culture. That said, I have to say that I didn't quite expect all the food to be quite so ... well ... Greek. But hey ho, I love olive oil and eggplant anyways.

So Craig was kind enough to organise 14 of us for a spectacular potluck, and well arrived dressed to the nines and thrilled to doing something so special. At $90 a head plus drinkies it was not a cheap'n'cheerfu, but over 5 courses of outstanding quality I had no doubt that this was a bargain. Combine the food with friends, a chattering and warm atmosphere, friendly and not starchy service and general lashings of booze, and this was a potluck that reminded me how lovely we all are.

Cindy has, in her speedy and admirable fashion, already blogged about this potluck and done a few more posts since. I highly recommend that you check out Where's the Beef?'s version before my own offering; Cindy and Michael are much more contemporaneous than I and much better at recording and identifying flavours!

Perhaps it was because it had the distinction of being first, but the breads and oil won a special place in a few hearts. While Buzz raved about the sundried tomato bread, I was a sucker for the light and chewy ciabatta. Top shelf olive oil and some black salt (where can I get some?) demonstrated that simple things done well can shine.

Our first round appetisers, a sort of non-alcoholic aperitif with fruity accompaniments, was delicate and demonstrated the skill of the kitchen in preparation.

Some amusingly presented skewers of canteloupe and fig stood upright whilst watermelon-on-as-stick was balanced over a tiny shot-glass sized cup of tomato consomme (known somewhat misleadingly as 'saganaki martinis' - where was the alcohol), which reminded me of a cool, clear, strained gazpacho reduction. The figs, not often a favourite of mine, had been soaked in something sweet, making them soft and less textually different from their fruit neighbours.

On our second round of appetisers, really a three-little-dishes course, a small cube of roasted smoky beetroot showed a deep dark pink hue and successfully combined the smoked flavour with the sweet, dense beetroot and a pomegranate vinaigrette.

A little crepe looking like a spring roll (and served on dishes that I myself own!) was actually filo pastry filled with zucchini and suprisingly, and wonderfully, dusted with icing sugar.

This little fellow was pretty entrancing. A little translucent wrapper, which Cindy idenitifes as daikon, homed the teeniest tiniest cubes of cucumber and tomato you ever did see. It fell apart with a gently push of the fork, but unlike most hearty Greek salads, this one reintroduced the delicacy of the watery cucmber/bitey tomato duo and reflected it in size.

Our first course proper was a delight for me, an avowed tomato fan (whereas, as Cindy writes, there were a number of avowed tomato haters around the table. Splitters!). Whole roasted truss tomatoes combined the tart tomato with a neutral cous cous and sweet sultana stuffing, which proved much more filling that I first thought. Fearing for my ability to continue, I soldiered on.

The stuffed tomatoes were served with two side dishes - a citrussy-cabbage salad which was surprisingly light and tangy (if you're like me then you feel that cabbage holds a very low position in the vegetable hierarchy. Don't think that fruit'n'veg don't have a caste system. Cabbage, like rockmelon, holds a bottomly low position in mine).

The cabbage salad was actually an excellent foil for the other side, which I think just missed the mark. Eggplants score pretty much next to High Priest in my veg caste system, if not godlike, and when combined with olive oil they are fairly well the beginning of a whole new universe. Here we were served soft, soaked eggplant from a jar, but for my taste there was more oil than flavour and the chilled temperature took away from the warmth of flavour, mouthfeel and depth I look for in an eggplant dish. I couldn't really distinguish the eggplant from the other flavours, which indicates to me that the soaking they received in the oil was too penetrating.

Our second main arrived and was a variation on a theme. Cindy has already noted that lack of protein in the courses (she's looking for some hearty chickpeas), and I must say that although I found the dishes excellent on their own terms, I did feel that two centrepieces that were effectively one vegetable accessorised with some others was a little un-imaginative.

Field mushrooms were topped with crunchy rice and slivers of red onion, along with a modern Greek salad (have a look at the cucumber - deseeded and peeled - I loved it) and lemony potatoes. I really enjoyed the textural contrast between the soft chewy mushroom and the crisp chewy rice, and the salad was a great reminder about how to reinvent old favourites with some different preparation. The potatoes, however, were a little bah-bowww. They were mildly lemony and otherwise quite oily and thick in the mouth, and my least impress-worthy item on the menu.

And finally, to dessert. At the last moment we had a scare that the kitchen may make that elementary mistake and feed us honey-laden baklava, but we should never have doubted and out came my favourite part of the night.

I have mentioned before that given my choice between crisps and chocolate, the crisps stand no chance of survival. Savouries are my babies. You might note that there is ony one photograph of the dessert, and that is because I was too busy eatering it once I took my first mouthful to consider doing anything but devoting my entire state of being to it.

A quince crumble, with toasted hazelnuts and a homemade soy vanilla sorbet, was the decidedly un-Greek fifth course. And oh my, Mr Calombaris, you excelled yourself.

I first thought that the crumble part was too separated and dry, but underneath sat a warm, sweet, soft and juicy layer of quince, which combined perfectly with the crumby, crumbly upper layer in each mouthful. Although I was literally bursting at the seams, there was no way known that I was leaving even a mousey morsel of this behind. I honestly can't fault the flavours in this dish. The quince was not overly sugary and the crumble given depth by the hazelnuts, and I loved that this childhood favourite had been re-imagined so.

I do, however, join my voice with Cindy's in complaint at the deplorably sized serve of sorbet. It was truly a masterpiece and utterly, utterly delicious - yet there was the meagrest of miserly scoops. Even a small, birdlike child would have been able to let that go through without a single chew. Please sir, I want some more!

So, at the end of the meal, Buzz and I waddled away impressed with the verve, vibe and vivaciousness of the Press Club Dining Room; enchanted with the fairy-like appetisers; and dreaming of more dessert.

Like Cindy, I also felt that the meal lacked some balance. A multi-course menu ought be either a procession of degustation-like one or two-bite demonstrations of a chef's capabilities, which leaves the diner feeling like they have sampled a huge number of tiny pieces, or be structured in a more traditional aperitif/appetiser/entree main/dessert structure. I think our meal went something like aperitif/appetiser/large entree/large entree/dessert, which left me feeling strangely like I hadn't really tucked in nor like I had been thrilled at every new nibbly offering, as I was with the saganaki martini and three-little-dishes courses.

There is so much to like about Press Club - the warm and loud surrounds, the professional but relaxed service, the willingness of the kitchen to accommodate us, and what, despite my few quibbles, was a truly excellent meal. I am thrilled that a restaurateur and chef of the calibre of George Calombaris viewed our request as an opportunity to cook great food, and cheers once again to Craig for organising such a great night with great friends and great food - very Greek really!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Picture location.

I'm still sorting out stuff'n'stuff at Chez T, but Buzz has located the missing pictures from The Snooty Fox that were missing from my post of it. Feel free to look for the full cold glory.