In recent months I have enjoyed rapping on food topics with my Geelong Advertiser colleague Cameron Best, especially since our newspaper instituted a new restaurant reviews page.
Of necessity, this has been, for me, largely a matter of enjoyably reflecting on contrasts.
Between the sort of restaurants the newspaper wants to see reviewed and the restaurants that are actually in place and able to be assessed in Geelong and on the Bellarine Peninsula and the Surf Coast on the one hand.
And the wide open spaces of how Consider The Sauce chooses to define Melbourne’s western suburbs; the limitless style, payment methods and opening hours of the places we choose to blog on; and the less tightly focussed approach all that allows us, on the other.
Sadly, Geelong – for the moment anyway – lacks the sort of critical mass factors that leads to such powerful enclaves of multicultural eating in our west.
But a line in one of Cam’s recent reviews – of an Afghan kebab joint in the main drag Ryrie St – stayed with me.
My colleague was obviously nonplussed mightily by the presence of wide-screen televisions in said eatery, opining such electronic pictures and sounds were no more than a distraction from a good meal.
By contrast …
The Consider The Sauce eating-out experience is frequently accompanied by television.
Frequently, it seems, plural TVs are the go – often one over the doorway or entrance and another behind the cash register.
Now, I’d not for a second suggest such media capacity is any way to be taken as indicative of good things to eat forthcoming.
We are well used to watching – even if somewhat subliminally – TVs blaring everything from Bollywood spectaculars to non-English news services and obscure South American soccer games as we are waiting to be fed.
So, not necessarily a good thing – but far from a bad one, for us, either.
And that got me thinking about what, for us, are some of the key signals that great food is at hand.
Kids, for starters.
Often they’re playing or doing homework at one of the tables nearest the cash register.
Of course, if we’ve been a regular for years at a place, the kids grow up and start taking a more labour-intensive role in the running of their family business.
And there could hardly be a more a more promising indication of food of our kind of inclination than the business card of Maurya Indian restaurant in Sunshine, which promotes a discount available to taxi drivers and students.
Personally, I’d nominate extremely flexible or even non-existent published opening hours as another good look.
Likewise, a complete lack of credit card or EFTPOS facilities.
Mind you, even that is changing – as is the engagement of our kind of eating places in general with the cyber wold in general and social media in particular.
Happily, a large chunk of my daily Facebook news feed comes these days from western suburbs businesses posting their daily specials, latest news and even general good wishes to their customers.
Tiles, mis-matched tables and chairs, mis-matched cutlery and crockery, dog-eared plastic-laminated menus, table-top accoutrements and condiments – all are somehow reassuring portents of potentially good things to come.