Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beer and Chinatown and Spamalot

Regular readers will be familiar with the thoughts of my brother-in-law - although he has not yet posted a comment under his own name. He tends, rather, to employ the persona of either North Melbourne AFL footballers from the 1970’s or past Australian cricketers with moustaches. Needless to say, he is a good beer bloke and when we catch up the conversation tends to steer itself around to beer.

One such recent occasion was last week when he and his good lady wife and me and Mrs Pilsner caught the Melbourne version of the current musical comedy, Spamalot. A ‘trip into town’ as my late dear old Nan use to call it, still fills me with a certain childish anticipation and puts me in a nervous ‘silly laughter’ type of mood. Tuesday was no different and a balmy, humid Melbourne evening was just the backdrop for a night of dining, drinking and Monty Pythoning.

We met up at the theatre bar and availed ourselves of the advertised James Squire (Lion Nathan) brews. A quick Amber Ale for me and an Extra Dry for him and we even remembered to buy the ladies some bubbles. Good work. We decided that, as we were so close to Melbourne’s acclaimed Chinatown, we would wander til we found a place that looked good. It also had to pass the Chinese Restaurant Test. No neon lighting at the front, no pictures of food for a menu and it had to have at least one of the following words in its name; Palace, Dragon, Golden, Emperor or Jade.

The Golden Orchids was immediately chosen unanimously and up the rickety stairs and it was straight into the beer list. Now, Melbourne Chinese restaurants, particularly out in the suburbs, are not recognised as being front runners when it comes to extensive or even imaginative beer lists. But what the Orchids had was a list with plenty of local and standard imports as well as three or four Chinese representatives. But the kicker was the fact that the prices seem to have stalled in about 1995! Five fifty for Crownies and imports had us checking for typos. Having discussed the choices and corrected the spelling, we were on the cusp of ordering a Tsing Tao as the default beer when I spied a ‘table talker’- those little tent cards with supplier sponsored specials- and we had discovered Shang Hai. Five bucks. Two, please, China!*

We had only little more than half an hour to get back for the show but our host and waiter – and, I think, at least a part owner of the joint- was right onto it with symbolic Chinese restaurant flair. I bring da beer, you pour it, kinda guy. But quick, friendly and efficient. I actually don’t mind pouring my own beers anytime, any place, but I have always wondered why, in Chinese restaurants, they either provide delivery only or half fill your glass; some assembly required. Maybe it’s a superstition thing. Or maybe they just want to keep us all wondering.

So anyway, half an hour and four Shang Hais later it was off to the theatre and a quick trip down to the 7/11 by the girls for water and Maltesers at only ridiculously marked up prices. The ‘take your seats bell’ had begun to ring and this gave the boys enough time for just one quick lager before the girls got back and before the doorman enforced the Lock Out. The show itself deserves more space than I can dedicate here, but, if you are a Monty Python fan you will enjoy it. Actually, even if you have not even heard of Python, like my sister-in-law, you will still get a good laugh. For the purposes of this blog, my review can confirm that no beer was seen on stage, nor were there any references to beer or brewing. It only had marginal booby exposure - and here is some;

We could have had a Beck’s or a Crown Lager at half time but decided that we had done well to this point, we both had to drive, the second half was about to start and we both prefer a Beck’s only if we know that the things have been chilled to within an inch of its life. We ended the evening with a promise to do something similar again and, if I can find another little ‘hidden gem’ restaurant with good beer, I’ll be more than happy. And, of course, I’ll let you all know.

Prof. Pilsner

*For those unfamiliar with ‘rhyming slang’, China is short for ‘China Plate’ – ‘mate’.

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