September 20, 2014

Perth Restaurants

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When I grew up in Perth the supermarkets always had good and relatively cheap food available. However, I remember the local restaurants seemed to lack effort as far as the menu was concerned (good service was never an issue). It was as though they just relied on the high quality ingredients to carry them. Coming back to town after 13 years abroad, I think that situation has changed. We ate excellent meals everywhere we went, and the range of styles available was impressive. Perth is becoming a world city, at least as far as cuisine is concerned. It was also nice that all but two of the restaurants we visited (over a fortnight) had Al fresco sections – unfortunately the weather was a bit damp for us to take proper advantage of them. I also noted with interest that most restaurants listed the providence of their ingredients and that the vast majority of these originated inside West Australia itself – overseas elements were notable in their rarity.

While in Perth, two restaurants in stood out as being of a particularly high quality.

Lot 20 is almost hidden in a building on the edge of the cultural district near James St in Northbridge. The decor is modern gastropub. The service was very friendly without being too much. When asking about son-in-law eggs, the reply not only included the recipe, but also their cultural significance (a Thai dish made as warning to behave to a new son-in-law). After ordering the eggs, asparagus, cauliflower and a chicken dish, we got to watch them being prepared in the open kitchen which our table overlooked. All the food was excellent and perfectly cooked. The chicken deserves special mention. At first I thought it had been undercooked, but an exploratory taste showed I was completely wrong. It had been cooked in a water bath to keep it moist and tender – incredible. We also drank some excellent local beers. I used to say that beer, chocolate and TV were all clearly better in London. Now I will have say that the beer (and perhaps chocolate) are about the same – TV in Britain is still better though.

When I lived in Perth, Steve’s on the river in Nedlands was a large student pub (UWA is nearby). Since then the pub has been demolished and turned into fancy apartments. However, there is still a restaurant and wine shop at the site, still called Steve’s. Wine is a large focus of the restaurant and there is a dedicated sommelier as well as a large selection of local wines. The cuisine is vaguely French inspired. For an entree I had a chorizo soup – a spicy meaty mix, well balanced and not oily. Then the pork cassoulet with a side salad for mains. Beautifully cooked, it quickly filled my stomach, but I kept eating until finished – it was too good to leave anything behind. The wine was also very good, but I don’t remember what we ordered.


September 15, 2014

Perth

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After 11 years away I finally returned to my hometown, but only for one very busy week, followed by a slower week down south near Margret River. It was a strange fortnight being reminded what the place is like, and I was sorry to be leaving again so quickly. It was surprising how liveable the city appears and how relaxed the people seem to be. It was also nice to be in place again with so much space and clean air! Of course all that comes at the expense of it being a quiet city compared to the bustling hyperactive metropolis of London (and to a lesser extent KL).

The best photos from the trip are in a short slideshow available here.


August 24, 2014

This Week in Cycling History

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Current episodes available via paid subscription at Velocast, much older episodes available at this website.

For a change from ancient history, I have started listening to a podcast on cycling history. Produced by the people at Velocast.cc, it is also notable as the first podcast or MOOC I have reviewed that actually costs money. For £8/month a subscriber gains access to weekly news and history podcasts and daily new podcasts during major races (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a Espana and the Classics). I received a years subscription as a gift and consider it good value (so will probably resubscribe at the end of the year). All the podcasts are very entertaining, including TWiCH (as they refer to it). Production quality is high.

Each episode is roughly 45 minutes to an hour long and endeavours to reference events that happened during the same week in previous years. So in May most episodes refer to events that occurred during the Giro, during March it is the classics, and so on. This plan breaks down a bit with races that move around the calendar (like the Vuelta) and during the winter off-season. The episodes contain 3 segments. Each segment starts with a few minutes of pre-recorded introductory context on a particular event or aspect of bicycle racing. Then there is 10-20 minutes of lively discussion between the two presenters. Often they deviate wildly from the topic at hand, but it is always entertaining (and usually informative). Recent stories include: the hotly-contested Tour de France Lanterne Rouge (last place) “competition” in 1979; Stephen Roche winning the Giro in 1987 against his own teammate; and Jacques Anquetil winning his only monument, Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 1966. In general the stories are interesting and not the traditional famous ones heard repeatedly. The subsequent discussions are lively and entertaining. The two presenters have an immense knowledge of cycling history between them. Although they do often seem to mention cycling clothing fashion, pedalling style and Irish cyclists (one of the presenters is always Cillian Kelly who is Irish, so familiarity is probably the reason).

For fans of cycling who want to know more about the colourful history of the sport.


August 10, 2014

Eve Online

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Eve Online is a game I have consciously avoided over the years. Not because I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it, but because I might enjoy it too much, and thus see too much otherwise productive time slip away (Minecraft is another game I avoid for similar reasons). However, recently the game had a Humble Bundle sale so I thought I’d give it a try. After all, I’m writing a vaguely similar game (albeit single-player) and have pretensions towards writing more games along a similar theme. It would be remiss not to experience, and try to learn from, one of the giants of the genre – a very successful game over a sustained period of time. Or at least that was my justification.

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August 2, 2014

I Will Never Be Prime Minister

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Young kids today – embarrassing themselves all over the Internet with their ill-advised photos! They will never be able to obtain high public office! Of course, I think the only difference between the current and previous generations is in the wide availability of evidence of their indiscretions after the fact. There exists (or at least used to exist 20 years ago) a photo of me, which I think is understandable, but with a bit of spin in the media would stop me becoming Prime Minister. Let me explain.

During my 4th year at university I lived in a student house (I was 20). There were four of us in a large house on Vincent Street opposite Hyde Park in Mount Lawley. Besides me, there was a just-graduated accountant, a med student who seemed to spend most of his time partying, an artist and normally a random person or two crashing on our sofa. The artist was an interesting guy – a Thai orphan raised in Australia. Much of his art focused on satirising the military. We had a series of paintings around the house of Godzilla sized cartoonish characters in military uniforms (usually from World War 2) rampaging through cities or battlefields. Right outside my bedroom door was a giant Goofy-like character throwing tanks around. He also had an original 9 foot Nazi Swastika flag in his bedroom (the house had very high ceilings).

I have met a few overt racists in my time, and this artist was definitely not one of them. If he was harbouring any fascist tendencies they were very well hidden. He claimed to be interested in the art of Nazi Germany and so collected artefacts from that time. Kind of like admiring the films of Leni Riefenstahl while ignoring their propagandistic purpose. He had a few other items as well, but tended to buy them, hold onto them for a few months (taking photos and drawing them) and then sell them to fund new items. While we were in the same house he sold a SS dagger to buy an original Luftwaffe uniform jacket. This is where I join the story.

He normally took photos with a blue-eyed blond-haired friend modelling the items he bought. The artist never appeared in the photos himself as he said he didn’t fit, being a dark-skinned South-east Asian. However, the Luftwaffe jacket would not fit his friend – it was very small. At the time I did a lot of long distance cycling and was quite small myself. At just over 5’9" and just under 59kg, I was borderline underweight according to the Body mass Index. Also I have blue-eyes and, at the time, had sun-blonde hair. So the artist asked me to put it on and I thought “why not?”

That jacket was small. The length was about right for me, maybe it was for someone an inch or two shorter. Still, I could barely do up one button. I was forbidden from trying a second in case I ripped it. It was uncomfortably tight across the shoulders and chest. Whoever wore this originally was very small – either they were a young teenager or undernourished (or both!). The artist said it dated from 1944, towards the end of the war. I guess by that stage Germany was desperate for manpower and pressed anyone they could into service. It was also made of poor material. It felt like a Hessian sack, very rough to touch. Again, this is apparently not unusual for uniforms from that time (as times were tough). Lastly, the jacked had a small rip just below my last left rib. Was it a bullet hole, or just an accident from sometime during the 50 years since its manufacture? We didn’t know and there was no mention of it in the accompanying documentation.

Then two photos were taken and my career in public office finished before it began. Or probably not. Those photos are 20 years old now. I look quite different (no hair and much heavier for a start!). I never saw the result. I don’t even know if they were actually developed (this being before digital cameras) or if they still exist. However, I learnt more about the conditions at the end of the war in those few minutes wearing that jacket than in my high school education (or various jingoistic war movies). I feel great pity for the poor boy who wore that same jacket half a century before me. I can’t say I regret it.