Regularly added bite-sized reviews about Literature, Art, Music & Film.
Voltaire said the secret of being boring is to say everything.
We do not wish to say everything or see everything; life, though long is too short for that.
We hope you take these little syntheses in the spirit of shared enthusiasm.
(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 24 June 2022)
Before his bizarre death on 11 December 1964, at the somehow apposite age of 33, and his subsequent apotheosis, Sam Cooke was already a key figure in modern music. He took elements of R & B, Gospel and Pop, and created Soul, which emphasizes vocals and venerates both God and the Ladies. In his short life, he made 29 singles that made the top 40.
Gary Pinto (pictured, photo by Simon Upton) is a leading performer of R & B and Soul music. The Sam Cooke Tribute he has developed in recent years comes at a fortunate time for Adelaide, and on Friday night he and his terrific band lit up the Dunstan Playhouse. Pinto’s snippets of back story concerning Cooke, his mastery of stage and crowd, and his vocal range and control, were impressive, even if he was a little strained in a couple of moments (on “Cupid”, and “Unchained Melody,” although in the case of the latter song, who wouldn’t be?).
We respectfully disagree with Pinto’s opinion that Cooke’s music has not dated – what good and great art does not date? But Cooke’s oeuvre, locked in the 1950s and 1960s, with all the constrictions of pop song structure of the time, is still a mighty thing, and this show made for a mighty evening. Equally as good as the Cooke covers (see below) was a ripping version of a song Otis Redding made his own, “Try a Little Tenderness,” Pinto and his cohort moving from soft and slow to the speed and strength of a freight train.
From gospel pieces such as “Jesus Gave Me Water,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Touch the Hem of His Garment”; to fun songs like “Having a Party,” “Shake,” “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha” and “Twistin’ the Night Away”; pop classics “Wonderful World,” “You Send Me,” “Sad Mood,” “Somebody Have Mercy,” “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Bring It On Home to Me,” “Another Saturday Night,” “It’s Alright,” and “Stand By Me,” dreamy ballads “All of My Life” (and the particularly strong “Summertime,”); and the social takes
“Chain Gang,” and “A Change is Gonna Come” (which Cooke only got to perform 5 times), Gary Pinto and his crew were On-Song. Sam would have been pleased.Continue Reading →
(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 23 June 2022)
Come out, come out! In Adelaide’s cold, clear, calm, beautiful winter! And see this Festival before the tents are pitched.
At the fabulous Spiegeltent on Festival Plaza (below), a large and appreciative crowd gathered to see and hear Otto & Astrid, the famous ‘dysfunctional, squabbling, co-dependent pair who are Berlin’s prince and princess of art rock and Europop, a lipstick-smeared, tantrum-loving, sonic collision between B-52s, The Pixies, Kraftwerk and early Ramones.’
What’s good or easy
In your freezing sit?
Come hear the music play,
Life is a cabaret, you folks,
Come to the cabaret;
Turn off the TV
And reveal some grit,
Evening or matinée,
Life’s full of laughs, of fun, of jokes
Come to the cabaret
Come taste the wine,
Come hear the band,
Come warm your hands by the brazier
Then come through this bright embrasure –
What good’s permitting
Some government hack?
To wipe every smile away,
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret…
I went to see Frau Astrid and Herr Otto,
And soon picked up their zeitgeist and their motto,
They weren’t like German bands of recent rumour,
As a matter of fact they showed much Deutsche humour.
When they dance and squabble people sit and snicker,
It must be fun to so pretend to bicker;
But when we heard them drum and strum, sublime
It was the happiest night we had in recent time.*
Astrid and Otto don’t so much take the stage and perform; rather, they storm the stage and emote. She’s a great, vertically challenged drummer in the style of Mo Tucker (although a drum machine takes over at times), he’s a gifted guitarist with emotional issues.
They finished with a great Euro-Trash rocker, “Rock Bang”, complete with hand signals. Cigarette lighters would have been waving, but might have been a fire risk. A good evening was had by all.Continue Reading →
(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 18 June 2022)
Two Disclaimers: (1) The Varnished Culture is not really that much into musicals (bad music, good acting), preferring opera (bad acting, good music). We couldn’t fit a musical in our list of the 20 finest films. However it is a great genre we suppose, and we have previously commented on some of the outstanding examples: Singin’ in the Rain, Cabaret, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. We have also expressed our disdain for the more toxic entries, such as Cats and The Sound of Music. (2) Musical theatre is exempt from consumer law, so no producer can be criticized for not sinking his own money in the show, or for staging “Springtime for Hitler,” or for claiming to cover ‘every musical ever’.
Which last claim forms the basis, the structure, and much of the hectic (sometimes arch) humour of this show, as 4 dreamers from off-Broadway give their all, over 80 minutes, in an ‘official’ attempt to break a Guinness record of presenting every musical ever. As it becomes clear to impresario Hayden Tee, as would be clear to anyone who Googled ‘List of Musicals’ (carried over two posts, A-L and M-Z), this is a daunting task, so devices are extemporized to bring concision to the mad venture, such as a frantic Andrew Lloyd Webber medley, a draw-from-the-hat staging of world musicals, and abandonment of all plot (except Cats, which has no plot) and all but the most minimal props. Props were simple, and inspirational: we particularly liked the broom, useful to sweep away a surfeit of glitter, wielded as an oar in the Phantom boat scene.
In the end, they get through 52 – no mean feat – and along the way, via a combination of impressive (miked) singing, frenzied costume changes, repartee and directorial invention, they slayed the packed crowd at the Dunstan Playhouse who were clapping, swaying, standing and waving glo-stix thoughtfully distributed by the players. This creation is by Richard Carroll, a director, writer and producer who has a podcast called ‘Every Musical Ever,’ who clearly doesn’t really go along with this show’s conceit that they’ve seen every musical so you don’t have to, and Gillian Cosgriff, a multi-faceted performer and writer.
We will attempt to outline below some of the fare presented – we couldn’t keep up with it all – but now for the participants. Hayden Tee, notionally in charge of the omni-shambles, is adept at farce with a strong voice and sense of timing. We particularly liked his frequent appearances to speed up proceedings, such as when Josie Lane ploughed ponderously through her solo song, “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” He also scrubs up well as Dorothy. Josie was also wonderful and distinctly startling as a guttersnipe Annie. Georgina Hopson made much of her Xanadu skate prop, and Dash Kruck evoked much pathos with his Oliver! begging bowl. The four were, pardon the phrase, “Fab” and made the evening great fun. They were ably wrangled by musical & creative director Zara Stanton, on piano.[Now, for our hastily (and in the dark) assembled list (so I may have got one or two wrong):
Annie Get Your Gun (opening song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business”) / The Wizard of Oz – Wicked / West Side Story / Chicago (“W[h]e Had it Coming”) / Les Misérables / The Sound of Music / Lion King / Fiddler on the Roof / Hairspray / Hamilton / Grease (see above) //The ‘Andrew Lloyd Wedley’ – Cats – Phantom of the Opera – Jesus Christ Superstar – Starlight Express – Evita – Sunset Blvd – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat // Miss Saigon (using Dash Kruck’s toy helicopter) / Xanadu (using Georgina Hopson’s skate) / Singin’ in the Rain (Tee’s umbrella with rain sparkles), culminating in “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from Gypsy / Oklahoma / A Little Night Music / Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street / The Boy From Oz (“I Go to Rio”) / South Pacific / Billy Elliot / Brigadoon / Cabaret / Company / My Fair Lady (“I Could Have Danced All Night”, a solo by Hopson, whose hand once touched that of Julie Andrews – respect!) / A Chorus Line / Hello, Dolly! / Annie / Oliver! / Mamma Mia! / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / and the time-warp whirlwind wrapped up with The Rocky Horror Show. That’s only 40. We missed 12 at least. Sorry] Continue Reading →
(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 17 June, 2022)
Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s was “The Paris of the East, the New York of the West,” at least in popular myth, and in old Hollywood films: where elegance rubbed shoulders with depravity but always in a well-dressed way: glittering gowns, elegant cheongsams, dinner suits and white mess jackets, accompanied by a range of recreational poisons. And the night clubs along the Bund (the Shanghai waterfront) provided the venue, salted with the haute and the louche, and sugared by the Chinese chanteuses and hot bands playing French torch songs and shidaiqu (時代曲), a mix of Chinese folk and American jazz.
Shanghai Mimi started artistic life as a full production of music, dancing and acrobatics but on this night we had a slimmed version, more apt for the night club that is the Spiegeltent on the Adelaide ‘bund’ – Sophie Koh and her band led us through an hour of old standards (not all from the 1920s or 1930s but who cares), with the odd new bauble (Sophie sang a moving song, “Olive Tree,” for her grandmother, and a 1970s Chinese pop song) thrown in.
Sophie first appeared in a shimmering gold gown and later had a costume change, appearing in an attractive cheongsam with a fur stole that any bien-pensants present doubtless hoped was artificial. Ms. Koh looked just right, and her walk-ons and walk-offs, including sashaying among the crowd, felt authentic. She handled songs in English, French and Mandarin impressively, and had many in the crowd swaying, even singing along, open-mike / karaoke style, to a number from the old country (those that knew it). The lighting was just right, and the only things needed to complete the atmosphere were a bowl of opium and Mr. Peter Lorre. We were not familiar with some of the numbers, but they moved from French and Chinese torch songs to classics from the American songbook; fare including “Perhaps,” “Someone to Watch over Me,” “I Want Your Love” and “Miss Shanghai.”
We did fear for Sophie’s voice at times. There was the odd vocal strain/struggle (perhaps the cold weather hadn’t helped?), and the band’s volume mix and enthusiasm swamped the singing a bit too often. But overall, the warmth, feeling and effect of the show were not dimmed.
The Shanghai Mimi Band was excellent. John McAll, the musical director, was consummate on piano. And in the highlight for this reviewer, in a stomping rendition of the Benny Goodman classic “Sing Sing Sing,” Aaron McCoullough on drums (worthy of Gene Krupa, albeit looking too respectable) and Brennan Hamilton Smith on clarinet, were on fire. The whole band was impeccable.
As Sophie stated at the conclusion, all good things must come to an end. While Shanghai style even survived the tender mercies of Japanese occupation during WWII, it couldn’t breathe once Chairman Mao banned fun. However, Music and Theatre serve to remind us of the good things that pass. Sophie Koh and the Shanghai Mimi Band delivered on that.Continue Reading →
(168-170 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 20 May 2022)
A Homage to Bacchus
This lively, lovely little joint
Has been going strong since ’95,
It’s tiny, dark and crowded space
Is always filled, and comes alive.
So you should always be prepared
To book, and get there right on time;
You may cool heels at the well-stocked bar,
But the drinks there are sublime.
And after a grand snort or two,
You’re deftly guided to your seat:
An expert waiter, with no airs,
Will help you work out what to eat.
THIS TIME AROUND WE HAD:
Ostriche al naturale (6 oysters, with white wine vinegar, shallots);
Quail, gorgonzola semifreddo, figs, fig leaf snow;
Spaghettini, Moreton Bay bug, “olio visadi”, garlic, chilli, rocket;
Cocoa Pappardelle, venison ragu, fermented rapini, pecorino,
With a dry Lombardy white wine.
Squisito![April 2023 update: TVC again dined at Il Bacaro and are happy to say it is still Eccellente!] Continue Reading →
(Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 11 June, 2022)[Davina and the Vagabonds, late to town thanks to post-Covid chaos in international flights, appeared at the Cabaret Festival on Saturday night, drawing from the past 100 years of American music, from Fats Domino and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Aretha Franklin and Tom Waits. Reportedly, Davina has been compared to Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday and Betty Boop, but in order to verify, The Varnished Culture had 2 guest reviewers in attendance who know a thing or three about past and contemporary music in this Dawning Age of Aquarius. Their keen impressions, in two separate pieces, appear below.]
Raymond G, the Accidental Reviewer
It’s mid-June; 12 degrees C, it’s dark; it’s drizzling; and so it is that we escape from over two years of COVID captivity and venture forth into the night to catch the free bus to culture (Seniors’ Card; didn’t have one of them pre-COVID!). Upon arrival at the Speigeltent Plaza, it became clear that pandemic paranoia had indeed changed the concert going world; $12 for a plastic thimble of seriously average wine; “open” fires enclosed by security fences; and two commando-like security guards to add the logs (we thought we were in the Ukraine; have another thimble!). But stay calm and think of Shanghai, we are here to see Davina and her Vagabonds.
Let us try and paint the musical picture; there is, of course, Davina, spangling from the piano; a skilled drummer who is on occasion permitted to sing (very well); a double bassist who is not permitted to sing! and two excellent brass players; trombone and trumpet. But be under no illusion, Davina is in control; don’t get it wrong! And so it’s game on and they don’t. With an early and magnificent rendition of Commander Cody’s Four or Five Times, the crowd was electrified. The performance and production is joyous. And it doesn’t stop. Another highlight is the channelling by Davina of the late, great, Etta James which was inspired. The show was 75 minutes of musical happiness and joy. Not only for the audience but, we apprehend, also for the super slick band and Davina. So good, I couldn’t leave my seat to secure another thimble ($12 saved!)
Perhaps the best illustration of how good the performance was, is to reveal that, so overwhelmed were we by positivity oozing from the experience, that we lashed out and caught a taxi home (no Senior’s Card discount!).
The Critical Critic
Firstly, I must confess, I’ve lost some of my mojo when it comes to attending Adelaide’s many festivals. It just seems to me that over the years they have become more about the Artistic Directors, their egos and their PR machines, ticket sales and revenue (don’t get me started on the cost of tickets and booking fees), and the ‘big names’ rather than providing an opportunity for the average punter to take a risk and see an ‘unknown’ act and simply go along for the ride. Heavens, I remember when you could afford to see several such acts in one night and still have change for a late night snack at the pie cart.
Given all the above, I was somewhat reluctant to leave the warmth of home on a cold winters’ night but it wasn’t long before my somewhat cynical pre-judgement was called into question and my thoughts on the whole festival experience may have changed…
I know a review should be about the artistes involved, but I also believe the atmosphere plays a part in whether your experience is memorable or not. So here goes.
On arriving at the Festival Plaza (will the construction ever end), we were warmly welcomed, literally, by several fire pits well ablaze and smoking hot. We quickly found seats by the fire and enjoyed the cosy company of locals and interstate visitors who were not seeing a show but were there to soak up said atmosphere. And it set the scene perfectly. A few jokes concerning the ‘big brother’ drone overhead, the security guards turned stokers (we reckoned they must have done the fire-making course 101 at TAFE and were clearly enjoying their new authority), and it was time to enter the Speigeltent.
As usual, the audience was crammed in like sardines and there seemed to be an abundance of smoke/dry ice (clearly smoke is a theme at this year’s Cabaret Festival). We found two seats together, introduced ourselves to our ‘close’ neighbours, and prepared ourselves to be entertained. And entertained we were. Davina and the Vagabonds were a sleek operation. The quintet of lead vocalist, (Davina Sowers), trumpet player and occasional vocalist Zack Lozier, trombonist Steve Rogers, double bassist Andrew Foreman and drummer Connor “Chops” McRae Hammerson) were definitely a winning combo. Their musicianship was faultless, the ‘adlibs’/’patter’ well-rehearsed and ‘looks to the audience’ carefully choreographed, resulting in an hour and a quarter of sheer pleasure.
Working their way through a repertoire of golden oldies including fabulous ditties from Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald intertwined with witty originals written by Davina herself, the time sped by far too quickly. A whirlwind journey through blues, jazz, and a whole lot more, and with Davina’s voice sounding like Ella meets Etta meets Amy meets Judy meets that wild girl who’s always the life and soul of every party, you couldn’t help but whoop it up whenever the opportunity arose.
Davina herself is pure sass, ably supported by the swagger of her vagabonds. She is Minnesota sunshine personified; She is a party girl, and her vibrant vagabonds were individually and collectively guests you’d insist come to the party too. I’d sure like to ‘partay’ with her. And I didn’t expect to be saying that as I opened my front door to head out.Continue Reading →
(Cabaret Life Drawing, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 11 June 2022)
A very pleasant hour passed in the Cabaret Festival’s Spiegeltent on the Festival Centre Plaza. This was a life drawing session (not really a lesson, more like a brief taste with a light touch). The assembled throng, their creative impulses enlivened by a glass of wine and some piano and bass versions of songs such as Puttin’ on the Ritz, Tea for Two and All of Me, attempted to depict model Letitia, striking various classy poses in an elegant gown (see below).
It was conducted by Adelaide Central School of Art graduate Ruby Chew (below) [BA Visual Arts Hons. at Adelaide Central School of Art (2010), along with further study at Central Saint Martins, London and the Florence Academy of Art, Florence]. Ruby’s work has been accepted into the prestigious Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition, where she was awarded the SALA Prize, part funding her first solo exhibition, and the Hill Smith Gallery/Helpmann Academy Travel Prize, funding a 3-month artistic development trip around the UK and Europe.
Ruby has exhibited, taught and held residency positions interstate and overseas. She has had numerous solo exhibitions, notably Portraits at Magazine Gallery (2011), Spitting Image at Hill Smith Gallery (2012) and The Difference Between Things at Floating Goose Studios (2021). Her website is: http://www.rubychew.com/
Ruby ran us through a number of exercises designed to afford amateurs an entrée into the creation of charcoal drawings of the model and her surrounding artefacts. It mattered not that the overall feel was more salon than cabaret club: using charcoal, tissue for shading and a portable board standing-in for an easel, we attempted continuous line drawing, drawing “blind” and using the non-dominant hand (we suppose a property lawyer would call it the ‘servient hand’) to draw, or try to draw, in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.
Near the end of the session, Rosie Russell joined Letitia as an additional model, while she belted out an impressive version of “At Last” with the support of the two excellent musicians.
We can’t say our efforts will be hung in any gallery walls, but this no-pressure workshop was a playful gift and for us, a gentle opener to the Cabaret Festival.
As that talented rogue, Picasso, said, “In drawing, nothing is better than the first attempt.”Continue Reading →
Norah Lofts (1904 to 1983), mostly forgotten in this twilight of the gods, was a popular English novelist. Afternoon of an Autocrat *(1956) is set in Suffolk, in the fictitious village of Clevely at the time of its ‘enclosure’. In Britain, thousands of ‘Acts of Enclosure’ were passed between 1604 and 1914. A passel of commissioners, (susceptible to good hospitality, spite and whim) would descend upon a village and delineate how fields and hitherto common lands were to be parcelled out to those with claims evidenced by writing, social superiority, ancient usage or bribery.^
Part One, (“Afternoon of an Autocrat”) makes short work of the stolid squire of Clevely. “On the third Saturday afternoon of October, in the year 1795, Sir Charles Augustus Shelmadine set out on what – though he naturally had no notion of it – was to be his last ride.” When Sir Charles dies, so does the village’s bulwark against enclosure.
Sir Charles’ cold and debauched heir, Richard, succeeds him and in Part Three – “High Noon of a Changeling” – is persuaded by the ‘lisping’ Mr. Montague Ryde Montague to petition for enclosure. “‘I cannot, of course, guawantee that you will do as well out of your enclosure as I did at Gweston,’ he warned. ‘I was deucedly lucky in my commissioners and in the number of fellows who either had no claim to show or couldn’t pay their share of the expenses. Now there is a hint! Don’t twy to keep down expenses.’..”
These kinds of arbitrary land allotment practices led in part to the Torrens Title System of Land Registration which was developed in The Varnished Culture‘s home state of South Australia. It grew out of the confusion and inequity of the recording of land rights in a long and dodgy system of Deeds or scratches on a village milestone. The poor men of Clevely generally cannot prove their claims. “‘Matt Juby dug up a paper, and Amos Greenway…[did spell]…it out for him; and that told how way back his careful old great-great-grandad did get leave from the Squire to build a cottage and graze his beasts…Maybe we all had papers in the past; but you know how it is, sir – folks that can’t read or write don’t set such store by papers as them that can. And there ain’t much space for hoarding such things.'” “‘One chap’d even got his paper – little old black scrap of stuff that was too, and nobody could read it…” “the sort of thing we all had, no doubt, till some silly young bitch used ’em as hair curlers...”
Any lucky villager allotted land must pay a fee and fence the land at his or her cost within a certain period of time, or forfeit the land. Those who thus acquired a landholding which had previously been divided into a number of small pieces of land usually prospered. Others, such as the paupers in the ‘hovels’ of Clevely, now denied the use of ‘The Waste’, were left with the use of the land between the highway adjacent to their dilapidated cottages and the fence immediately behind them, making the tilling of land for potatoes or the feeding of livestock impossible. So they left and sought work, or fell upon the miserable charity of the parish.
Lofts has an acute psychological sense and an unsparing eye which she uses to create demented rich woman, ill-used wife and religious maniac alike. There is an unnecessary supernatural overlay concerning a young woman, Damask Greenway, who takes revenge upon the young man who jilted her, Mithraic rites and a man who (through a Faustian bargain) can neither divest himself of good luck, or die. “‘But to return to Mundford, the sight of him makes me expectorate – he must be hard on eighty; and yet he doesn’t look it, does he?’ ‘So perhaps the rumours are right. He always wins; he does not grow old…'”
The interest in this story lies in the individual villagers, who are (until perhaps a final soft landing) spared none of Loft’s unsentimental assessment or the indifference of fate while stumbling through the desperate issues of poverty and the interplay across generations of meanness, generosity, misunderstanding, old loves and enmities.**[*This is also the title of the first and final Part of the novel, (the intervening Parts being “Sunset of a Philanderer”, “High Noon of A Changeling” and “Night of a Necromancer”). The book has also been published as “The Deadly Gift” and “The Devil in Clevely“. Guess which we prefer?] [^ It sounds like a far right version of Castro’s National Institute for Agrarian Reform – Ed.] [**Our 1956 copy from the publisher Michael Joseph, bought at a wonderful library sale in Kew, Victoria, (May 2022) is housed in an evocative dust-wrapper map of Clevely and surrounds.] Continue Reading →
(Her Majesty’s Theatre, 27 May 2022)
Six the Musical, a pop music retelling of the story of the wives of Henry the Eighth of England was royally received in London, New York and Sydney. We are pleased to say that the Adelaide audience loved it just as much as Henry VIII adored Anne Boleyn, and not just at the beginning of it all. The capacity crowd cheered when the six wives appeared in a London pea-souper of dry ice mist and they were on their feet dancing when the queens gloriously asserted their individuality and agency at the end of the 75 minute feminist joy fest.
Wisely, the obvious comparison to Tudor Spice Girls and the old mnemonic “Divorced, beheaded, died…divorced, beheaded, survived,” were got out of the way early on. Each of the unfortunate women sang a solo number – unapologetic in the case of the famously ambitious Anne Boleyn and melancholy in the case of the softer Jane Seymour who died in childbirth. Best though were the numbers when all six joined in – exuberant, on-key and energetic.
The small stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre (or should that be Her Majesties’ Theatre?) – closed for years in order to be renovated to look exactly the same, right down to the inconvenient foyer – was adorned only with with cathedral shaped “windows”, thus putting all the emphasis on the performers and their costumes. These Tudor-meets-jazz-ballet costumes were, in part, perhaps a letdown. The skirts worn by Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare) and in particular, Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter) were oddly proportioned and unflattering. Katherine Howard (Chelsea Dawson) though, all in pink, was appropriately sexy as she reminded us that Anne Boleyn was not the only one who lost her head due to (apparent) adultery.
Catherine of Aragorn (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza) was the most Tudor, pearl-studded and glamorous as befits perhaps the only legitimate queen. Anne of Cleves (Kiane Daniele) was made to look peculiar and unattractive in accordance with her reputation. Catherine Parr (Vidya Makan) (the survivor) was decked in an oddly modern jumpsuit and virtually crownless.
This show is not for those wishing to perfect their knowledge of English history: it reinforces the clichés in an anachronistically and manipulative modern light, but it does enliven our understanding of these 16th century historical figures as real people. In an imaginative coda the women talk about what they might have been, had they not caught the cruel eye of a lascivious and inconstant monarch. No man appears on stage to dim their light – no Henry, no Wolseley, no Cromwell, no Pope. The most excellent band is all female.[Great stuff. Perhaps the show could be expanded (and the ladies afforded a short break) by a solo sad-funny number where Cardinal Wolsey, at Hampton Court, laments that whilst females are, after all, just chattels, they are harder the herd than cats…Ed.] Continue Reading →
(17 Market Lane, Melbourne) May, 2022
Mrs. Appleyard says to Mademoiselle in Picnic at Hanging Rock that Bournemouth was “a delightful place. Nothing changed…ever!”
The Varnished Culture says the same for Flower Drum, tucked away in the heart of Melbourne, just off Bourke Street. We have been coming here for years, whenever commitments bring us to Melbourne. Melbourne has become problematic. Its great high style now looks like Srebrenica after the Serbs finished with it, or Paris churches after the Jacobins. A smoking ruin of a one-party state, where everyone is tolerant of lies, the citizenry does not expect government corruption but demands it, tribalism spills out far beyond the MCG, and totalitarian rule advances with a smiley face, it is ironic that a Chinese institution stands firm, and almost alone, against the barbarians. Indeed, the Chief Barbarian is said to do many of his deals here.
The atmosphere is impeccable. The waiting staff, better dressed than most customers, are magnificent. The food and cellar are superb. We add a star from our last review, recognising that quality and consistency in these troubled times is to be cherished.
We had, after some champagne to whet the appetite:
A Sauté Crayfish Omelette that was divinely fluffy; a lovely Quail Sang Choi Bao with Chinese pork sausage, onions, spring onion, water chestnut and bamboo shoots (iceberg lettuce cup, thank heavens); a Seafood Dumpling Soup; and of course, the classic Peking Duck, each pancake individually wrapped for the diner and served with an artistically arranged plum sauce (see below). Some home made ice cream to share for dessert. All washed down with a couple of bottles of Petaluma Riesling.
The staff do not regard the menu as sacrosanct – special requests are no problem. The wine list is dazzling but there are bargains to be found.
Make sure you book, because the place fills up fast. We arrived early for Monday lunch service but were soon joined by a large cohort of diners, including some very impressively attired Chinese-Australians, obviously regulars.[2023 UPDATE: TVC attended Flower Drum in April and are pleased to report that it remains the best Chinese Restaurant in the World.] Continue Reading →