Life in and out of Chateau Mick has been indulgent of late. Chateau Mick, incidentally, is the only place where I’m a household name, and then only because I sometimes talk to myself.
Since I’ve been back from the wilds of Vanuatu, it has been a case of settling back into work – although one job has been truncated because the magazine’s main market is still slowly emerging – which has meant many an afternoon of too much time on my hands and a subsequent increase in the amount of time I’ve spent with friends enjoying the fruit of the vine.
Lina’s wine bar has most often been the venue of choice … and French rose is usually the drink of choice, although there have been times when I’ve wandered into tempranillo territory.
Friday of last week was a fair indication of what was to come … I worked at Crikey in the morning and headed home for some domestics.
It was hot … so hot as I recall, although that’s not a certainty, my powers of recollection being what they are … and scrubbing the bathroom, the mopping the floors of the dining room and kitchen developed what can only be described as a decent thirst.
Given that it was four in the afternoon (I mostly try not to drink before four), it was too early to open a bottle of wine.
So what to drink?
Why a gin and tonic, that’s what.
And a bloody good one it was … OK, it was two. Two decent fingers (the thick part) of gin in a pint glass, a couple of slices of fresh lime, some ice cubes and topped up with tonic. I thought about a sprig or two of mint from the garden, but that would have been just too hard. It was a cracker way to put some pep into my stagger before a shower and a walk to Lina’s, where I caught up with heaps of friends.
Three hours there was always going to be enough before heading home, via Vintage Cellars to get a couple of good Yarra Valley chardy cleanskins to help with the disposal of the pizza I was going to order.
Suffice to say, I made inroads into the second bottle (OK, I’m not proud of that) before calling it a day.
I had another description for the dawning that followed. It was a hangover big enough to photograph. I don’t usually get too much in the way of hangovers, but this was a doozy.
After several cups of tea and a shower (that helped), I headed to the market to buy a few odds and ends to send to Vanuatu … i.e. soap, a vegetable peeler … and also a bottle of wine from Swords. Dave, the manager, conned me into having a taste … he didn’t have to try too hard. It was a Rocland Estate marsanne/viognier/roussanne blend that’s aged in French oak.
For the afternoon I’d planned nothing more than the couch, given that I was heading out for dinner that evening.
Usually, after shopping at the market, I have a beer and a smoke at Claypots before heading home. This time, I thought “no, not with this hangover”.
As I walked past the restaurant, I bumped into Renan, the owner. After the usual happy new year stuff, he said: “Can I get you a drink?”
“Sure, I’ll have a beer,” I said without even thinking. Mistake.
We sat and had a smoke and a chat about the new menu he’s planning (and he didn’t have a drink) and he suggested we have dinner in the next couple of weeks.
A done deal. He’s a good man.
I bade him farewell, stood up and whoosh. The beer had gone straight to my head. Had I just topped up after the big night before? Nah, it was just that I hadn’t had breakfast … that old “don’t drink on an empty stomach” thing, that’s it. It was.
The couch was indeed home for the next four hours before a shower and before putting on something other than a singlet for the first time in ages … it was a T-shirt but it did have sleeves … and making a beeline to Lina’s (and a few glasses of rose) to meet a friend before heading to South Yarra for dinner at Bistro Gitan to celebrate my mate, Ben the opera singer’s 40th birthday.
We had a good crowd in … Phoebe the pianist, Chris the cellist, various opera singers, a novelist among them … and it started well with some excellent French bubbles before the task of reading the menu.
My starter was a cracker. It was three smallish fillets of Petuna ocean trout a la plancha, spiced cucumber and melon, with fresh horseradish aioli. I opted for a bottle of 2010 Dappled pinot noir from the Yarra Valley. It was, from memory, $57 a bottle ($10 a glass) and a bloody fine thing.
And it was to be the thing again with a main of
(rare please) Hopkins River Pure Black Angus Beef with sauce churrasco and fries. It was a chargrilled porterhouse, cooked as ordered. I’d challenge the sauce churrasco as actually being a sauce. It was more a salsa of finely diced tomato with some vinegar-based dressing. The fries were not hot enough.
The steak had a tad too much in the way of gristle and fat (yeah, I know fat is flavour) for my liking. A second bottle of Dappled pinot helped erase that memory.
Not, however, the memory of a bloody good night and the perfect lead-up to the following day’s lunch with a friend at Golden Fields.
Sleep came easy and it was long enough to refresh me for the day ahead.
Before heading to St Kilda for lunch, it was a quick trip to the market to buy meat, fruit and vegetables for the following night’s dinner at my house with my friend, Sue, one of the world’s best newspaper and magazine designers (OK, she’s the best). Sue had given me a Henschke red for Christmas, so it seemed a good thing to plan a barbie and put the red to good use.
It was 30-odd degrees when I reached Golden Fields, so it was a pleasant surprise to snaffle a table under a shady tree out the front.
My friend, David, was about 10 minutes away when my first beer arrived at the table.
It was good to catch up with him … he’s been in the States for about five weeks and it was his first day back at work the next day.
We had New England lobster roll; a hot buttered bun, cold-poached crayfish, watercress and Kewpie (Japanese mayonnaise), and followed up with pork dumplings with Shanghai chilli vinegar, crispy soft-shell mud crab with fried egg aioli, scuds and holy basil, and twice-cooked duck with steamed bread, vinegar and plum sauce.
We washed it down with a bottle of Von Buhl Pfalz Riesling at 54 bucks a throw. It was worth every cent.
One of the sights of the day was a group of four teenagers, each with a drink in hand, wandering down Fitzroy Street. The one girl in the group hand a bottle of red and a very long straw.
Also walking past was Felicity, a friend from The Age, and looking resplendent in a cowboy hat (her, not The Age).
Next thing, my friend Mim stopped (she was dressed in jogging shorts and singlet and had just done a lap of Albert Park Lake) and did the honourable thing and joined us for a glass of wine or two. She finally gave in and ordered a chicken salad and settled in despite the fact the she was having dinner with friends at Golden Fields that night.
We moved onto red … this time a bottle of 2010 Remondo ‘La Vendimia’ Garnacha/Tempranillo, a snip at 61 bucks a bottle. It was a very fine thing, but being such a hot day, something cold was becoming the order of the day as we got to the bottom of the red.
By this time, Ed, another friend, had joined the fray after spending the early part of the day at the tennis (why, Ed?).
What better thing to cool four thirsty souls than a jug of 5, 6, 7, 8s … a tasty thing made from Choya Umeshu plum elixir, Ketel One vodka, tonic water and Meyer lemon juice. At $63 a jug, it wasn’t cheap, but it was good. So too was the second jug, which turned out for all to be just about enough of a good thing and to call it a day. It had been a great lunch ... great friends, great food and great drinking.
There was, though, a sting in the tail. The hardest part of catching a tram home from St Kilda is that I have to walk past Lina’s … yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen.
I did have to stop there, not because I was thirsty (OK, a bit … those trams can be mighty hot places) but because I was having a farewell drink with my mate, Hanks, who was heading off later in the night (the flight left at 1.20am) to Cambodia where he is teaching/lecturing the local pollies in how to handle the media and communications among other things. Just as long as it’s not playing the ukulele (that’s another story).
A few with Hanks and I was away … probably in more ways than one. Thank God for the couple of leftover pizza slices to ward of the munchies at about eight o’clock before pulling the pin.
Dinner with Sue loomed. My preparation was impaired somewhat by a call to go to the office for a few hours in the afternoon, but she arrived on time, armed with a bunch of flowers for me.
In all the years I’ve known Sue, I reckon it was the second time that I’ve ever had dinner with her.
We had a good chin wag while I made a salad of mango, avocado and crispy bacon bits, all dressed with just lemon juice (sorry Sue, I didn’t realise you didn’t eat mango), a salad of cos, plum tomatoes, orange capsicum, cucumber, basil and pomegranate juice and seeds, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and red wine vinegar, some wasabi mash and some barbecued eye fillet.
I tried my usual spot at the market to get fresh wasabi, but they have none until next weekend … and they’d sold all their fresh horseradish.
Sue wasn’t travelling too well (she has had tonsillitis for weeks) and was on antibiotics, so the red was put on hold and she drank water (wonder what that’s like). I made do with a bottle of chenin blanc from Swords (I started earlier while I was preparing food) before moving onto the Rocland Estate mentioned earlier. It’s a very French tasting wine … delicious really.
Soon, my last planned social engagement for the week was done.
The only socialising I did for the rest of the week was with Santa Carolina chardonnay (from Chile), Pepper Tree chardonnay, Swords chenin blanc and WTF shiraz.
That just leaves tomorrow (Friday) to get through. The afternoon will be taken up, no doubt, washing the cobweb-ridden ute in preparation for a weekend at Blairgowrie, which will involve at least 100 people at a party on Saturday night and, among other things, a Sunday shopping trip to a winery down there where they have a shite load of really good viognier at a bargain basement price.
Then that’s the first month gone almost. February is looking large … my calendar has eight days so far with crosses against them, including two weekends away to catch up with friends.
I’m goin’ on the record now … March is gonna be an alcohol-free month. Maybe.
ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.