Tuesday, August 18, 2009


On Saturday I was forced... forced, I tell you... to have lunch at smart riverfront restaurant Halo. It's only been around for a year or two but has already established a reputation as one of the better restaurants in this city.

When you're at the upper end of the eatery spectrum, it's the absense of things rather than their presence that identifies quality. The decor is restrained but expensive. The furniture isn't memorable but it's comfortable. The service is so polite that it becomes all but invisible, but at the same time it provides you with everything you want when you want it. Even the other customers bespeak quality - no unruly children, no bimbos appraising their latest shags to their screeching mates, and no couples having a minor domestic about who they prefer on 'Dancing With The Stars'.

The food was as good as one would expect. I had pan-seared whiting on a bed of beetroot noodles with marinated beetroot chunks, with flecks of fried swede and a parcel of savoy cabbage filled with a creamy sauce. Then for dessert, an almond brulee with a crushed amarettini biscuit and a frankly spectacular port and pear icecream.

This is the sort of thing I want when I go out to eat - not simply a flawless execution of good food, but a creative blending of flavours and textures. Fish and beetroot is not a standard combination, and neither is port and pear, and I'm happy to pay for the imagination and expertise needed to bring me such novel dishes.

But sometimes paying for these things is not as straightforward as it appears. Halo is, on the face of it, fractionally cheaper than its high end rivals. Their main courses hover in the mid-30s, while restaurants like Jackson's, Coco's and Star Anise average around the low 40s. As I realised when I got my bill, however, there's a certain amount of sleight-of-hand going on. Here's the breakdown:

Main courses - $ 107

Desserts - $45

Some bread, a couple of bottles of mineral water, a single serve of salad greens, three coffees - around $50

It's a little disingenuous to charge less than your rivals for main courses, then more than recoup the difference on peripherals like bread and coffee. It smacks of penny pinching. I find that it's easier to keep track of the cost of my meal if I'm charged more for the main course then get showered with freebies, as is the case at Jackson's. The former method also makes one feel a little more like an honored guest, rather than a human-shaped wallet to be squeezed at every conceivable opportunity.

If we put that small piece of fiscal finagling aside, however, what we're left with is the fact that Halo is a refined restaurant serving imaginative food in style. That should give you more than enough reason to visit.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Last night I watched 'Twilight'. I hadn't seen it before, because I am the wrong age, the wrong gender, and the wrong temperament. I'm not sure what the right temperament would be, but I imagine that it would be one not given to sarcasm, raised voices and hurling small objects at televisions. The only reason I saw it last night was because the movie now has a rifftrax, and I figured that any movie that takes itself as seriously as 'Twilight' would be ripe fodder for riffing. I wasn't wrong. The movie was awful but the rifftrax was hilarious.

Well, at least I assume that the movie was awful. We only got an hour into it before the DVD player froze up. We tried another machine and got a couple of minutes further in before it died. Then I tried a computer, and that failed too. The disc looked fine but there must have been a hidden fracture on it. Either that, or the DVD players simply couldn't take more than an hour of this crap. When you consider that they've played movies like 'Circus of Fear' and 'Battlefield Earth' without fault, it reflects rather badly on 'Twilight'. Or, as I like to call it, 'Invasion of the Body Glitters'.

If anyone understands the minds of thirteen year old girls, that someone isn't me. They all seemed to do their collective nuts over sparkly vampire Edward Cullen, and for the life of me I can't see why. Everything about him that set pre-adolescent hearts aflutter simply struck me as ludicrous. How much does it confuse me? Let me count the ways:

1. His bad-ass ride (ie a late model Volvo S30)

Surely the whole point of being an immortal, indestructible vampire is that you don't need to drive the safest car on the road. You're dead, dude... what's the worst that can happen? Drive a skittish Italian sports car that crashes into a tree every six months and enjoy it.

2. His occupation (ie high school student)

Why does Edward go to high school every day? He's been 17 for more than a century - you'd think he would have mastered algebra by now. And I'm pretty sure that there are only so many times that you can read 'Are You There God? It's Me Margaret' before it starts to piss you off.

3. His hair (ie 90210 meets 1985)

I don't know if Stephanie Meyer's Sparkle Vampire reality has the whole "no reflection" thing, but it would certainly explain Edward's hair, which is 2 parts Jason Priestly, 2 parts candy floss and 17 parts what the hell. I guess it's hard to calculate the correct amount of product to use when all you see in the mirror is the opposite wall of the bathroom.

4. His attitude (ie threatening yet sensitive)

Girls are attracted to dangerous, powerful creatures that hold the potential to be tamed. This is why most little girls go through a stage of being crazy for horses, right before puberty hits and the passion moves from chestnut geldings to Channing Tatums. It's the "wild creature that only I can understand" syndrome - it explains both the attraction of horses and, in later life, of partnering up with obnoxious, abusive men in the mistaken belief that "nobody understands him like I do".

One of these days I'll have to rent another copy of this movie and watch it again, in order to get the rest of the rifftrax. But I'm not rushing.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


The student art auction was a bit of a bust, at least from the perspective of acquisition. However there are always other opportunities in life. Yesterday I went to one of my regular non-student, professional art auctions, and it was notably free of cashed-up newbies hammered on free booze. Actually a little free wine might have been nice, but then again it's usually better to go into these things with a clear head. Sobriety didn't stop me buying a couple of paintings, but if I'd been half in the tank I might have paid more for them.

The first was an untitled Yvonne Robertson abstract in thick oils, showing a red figure smeared across a chaotic field of muted colours. There are suggestions of pale faces and limbs rising and falling in the background.

It has a lot of excitement and subtlety of colour… and a vague sense of something sinister. It’s hard to explain, but it’s the sort of thing that might provoke disquiet if it were hanging opposite your bed and you woke up to it in the middle of the night.

The second was ‘Composition’ by Ian Cowan, which I bought on an impulse.

It’s an odd work, flat in texture and unexpected in colour, and suggesting Native American or Maori influences. I don’t know if it’s supposed to represent anything, be it a pair of figures or an Inuit’s feet. But there’s something about it that suggests it will tell me more every time I look at it. I’ve already discovered that one of the right figure’s “eyes” is a tiny glow-in-the-dark star, the sort of thing you’d put on a child’s bedroom ceiling. Further investigations revealed a couple of extra stars lurking on the underside of the frame. Subtle artistic reference or act of vandalism by some art lover’s unruly sprog? I guess I’ll never know for sure.

The price (including buyer’s premium of 16.5%) was $186 for the Robertson and $175 for the Cowan, which is a fraction of the prices being paid at the student auction, and for much better work. I wonder what the liquored-up auction newbies from Thursday would say if they knew?