mid-century maunderings for men who know better
There is a restaurant. It sits unnoticed on the most desirable street in Melbourne for up and coming restaurants. Celebrities, foodniks, news crews, television production companies, arts administrators, fashion forward trend spotters, arts practitioners, in fact just about every variety of wanker and poseur known to man clutter the pavement and foul the air in this compact zone, a hammer’s throw from the home of smoothmodernist. This restaurant is surrounded by destination and event dining bunkers— restaurants that are lauded in all forms of media where lions of degustation roar and it is impossible to get a table should you even wish to.
One of its neighbours has stopped serving the public and just takes people’s numbers and tells them to wait for a call. A call which never comes. Another allows customers in the door and funnels them through themed rooms and down a passageway (that used to be where roadies pre-fucked groupies presenting for the bands that played there in the nineties) that leads to a stairwell which ends in an underground cellar where the restaurant brews its own cider with a special friends’ table raised up on casks, to the alley behind the restaurant where the hapless fools are given a card with a number on it and next year’s date.
Occasionally the food media will raise its voice against these nefarious practices but secretly they love the way their culture is being fed by the sado-masochism and ritual humiliation that perpetuates this 21st century Versailles.
This restaurant never appears in any blogs, reviews or radio discussions, weekend magazines, my perfect Sunday profiles, dining guides or Who is Melbourne’s hottest chef? centre spreads (and its chefs, both of them, are pert and hot).
If you know the zone, then you have walked past it. You have probably sheltered in its doorway to check the latest status update of the restaurant you have been denied access to. But you have never once thought about going in.
That is because it doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t exist because nobody has tweeted about it. It doesn’t exist because it has no facebook page. It doesn’t exist because there is no web presence. It doesn’t even have a phone! Or a letterbox!
And yet… every night a handful of people are eating the best food money can buy.
They like it that way.
The only way you will eat there is to open the door and cross the threshold. Just like that. And that is just never going to happen.
Now, this restaurant has a sign and windows. It even has a couple of tables out the front. It is camouflaged only by its lack of pretence which is, of course, what makes it invisible. And that suits smoothmodernist just fine.
The owner let slip late one night that the occasional review would be nice.
“For the chefs. They work so hard. It’s good for them. For the C.V. The next place they go can see what they have done. I am proud of them. They deserve some recognition.”
Agreed. Although some would say the steady hum of diners (too absorbed in their food to be talking about it, photographing it and texting about it) handing up clean and empty plates would be enough. In this street competition for customers is fierce and rents have risen beyond the dreams of avarice. The margins are slender and a table or two can make the difference between red nights and black nights. A review or a hat or a whisk would certainly take some of the pressure off.
smoothmodernist has enjoyed this haven for years and only ever told half-a-dozen people about it, not one of them connected in any way to the food media. It is a strategy that has worked but not perhaps in the restaurant’s favour. smoothmodernist reluctantly finds himself in a position to exert some influence and do something that will increase the profile and profits of this happy little restaurant but just about guarantee that he will never cross its threshold again.
Smoothmodernist is going to give up this restaurant to an industry that will likely destroy it. One phone call. Done. It’s name. Your lips.
Next time you walk past you will likely see a queue and a couple of comedians or X-factor contestants taking photos of themselves. The absorbing human drama being shot around the corner will be getting it’s cast lunches catered and collected (it will now be open for lunch and sadly, breakfast — invidia et odium), it will be so full even they won’t be getting in.
Just don’t even think about saying:
“Oh that must be the new place I saw at #ediblearesehole.”
Just keep walking.
Not long after this post I spent a short time in hospital. Sleep was chemical and spasmodic. I consoled myself with fantasies of visiting my cherished restaurant on release. Once home, it was a few weeks before I was able to move about. One afternoon I ambled in and found the chairs stacked and the fittings being removed. The owner had sold up and was moving back to France. She was there with some other women clearing out the place. I was dazed and incoherent. I recall she said something about establishing a bed and breakfast offering cooking classes in her native land. No further information is available at the time of writing.