Meal of the week No.34: Dainty Sichuan




Bennie and I enjoyed our visit to Tina’s Noodle Kitchen at Highpoint, but were a little surprised at the full-on nature of the food on offer.

It’s no surprise to find Tina’s has been re-badged under the Dainty Sichuan name and the food brought more into line with what may be commercially viable in a shopping centre.

But there’s good news, based on my mid-week lunch.

The menu now offers such more easily negotiated  dishes, all very affordable and many in combos with rice or noodles.

There’s a tight range of dumpling offerings and things such as eggplant and tofu with rice, egg gravy fish fillet, beef omelette on rice and stewed pork belly with eggplant.

My beef noodle soup ($11.80) is a winner and a larger serve than I can handle – and strongly indicates that while compromises have been made here, this remains food quite a cut above shopping centre mediocrity.

All is very good – the noodles, bok choy chopped for ease of eating, pungent soup, beef not fall-apart tender but of gratifyingly high quality.

Truth to tell, though, this is at the upper limits of what even I can handle chilli-wise.

Still, even that must be counted as a plus in such a context.



Highpoint fried chook



Nene Chicken, Highpoint. Phone: 9318 2843

It’s clear that western suburbs have bought massively into Melbourne’s mania for burgers.

The fried chicken thing isn’t quite as manic and our western neighbourhoods have mostly not risen to it charms.

There’s invariably fried chook on hand at charcoal chicken shops, such as the newish Manok, but it often seems like an after-thought. We are never tempted.

There’s fried poultry at westside Korean places such as Frying Colours and Snow Tree.

But as for any joints specialising in fried chicken of the American, or southern American, tradition … well, nope.

Not so far as we know.




Nene is Korean, too, but we wonder on the drive to it if maybe it’ll constitute a western suburbs fried chicken hot-spot.

The utter folly of going to Highpoint on a 40-degree weekend day less than a week before Christmas proves to be of pleasingly little consequence.

The parking situation is intense.

But once we’re inside, things in general and all the people are surprisingly cool and civilised.

The Nene menu comes with so many variables, it takes us a while to work out what we think will work for us.

Here’s how, in the end, we order:

Kimchi chicken burger (9.95 – on a milk bun with salad, onion, dressing and kimchi with bulgogi sauce.

Regular original fried chicken ($10.94) – four pieces with coleslaw and pickled radish; upsized ($4.95) with chips and a drink.

Extra drink ($3.70).

This all pans out to $29.95 for a satisfactorily sized meal for Bennie and I.




Bennie’s kimchi burger is probably our repast’s highlight – it’s a refreshing change from the many kinds of beef and chook burgers we’ve had this year.

He gives it seven out of 10.




The chicken turns out to be five pieces rather than four – though it must be stated these are very small pieces.

It’s good and non-greasy without being in any way notable.

Despite the small sizes, I am happy for Bennie to have a couple.

His burger was good but it lasted all of a minute.

The cubed and sweetly pickled radish is nice; the coleslaw is rubbish – dry and tasteless.




The chips are fine and there’s plenty for both of us.

Nene Chicken strikes us as being just OK – and a long way short of fried chicken nirvana.

And there are several better options close by in the new Highpoint food precinct.

But it’s still better than the usual Kind of fried chicken grease-fests Found at such shopping Centres.

Full-on Chinese at Highpoint




Tina’s Noodle Kitchen, Highpoint.

Having checked out the swish new food area at Highpoint by myself, it’s a real pleasure to return with Bennie for another look and taste.

He, too, is impressed by it all.

We immediately note that the Vietnamese operation, Saigon Square, appears to be ready for business.

Sadly, we discover that it’s only open this day for friends and family, while the public opening will be the following day.

So we move on over to Tina’s Noodle Kitchen.

Like me, again, Bennie is knocked out that such adventurous and unadulterated food is being served at a shopping centre, at Highpoint.

It’s a nice place, with lots of tables and an air of spaciousness about it.

There’s a stack of staff members taking care of business and the open kitchen adds to the ambiance.

We take our time to peruse the long and lavishly illustrated menu (see below).

Apart from snacky items at the front and a list of “extras” both vegetable and meat at the rear, the menu appears to be devoted entirely to ingredient-packed soup-noodle combos in a dizzying range of variations, with prices mostly in the $13 to $14 range.




We love our sole dabble from the snack/smaller list – pickled vegetable threads ($3).

But these turn out to be largely unnecessary due to the sizes of our soup-noodle meals.

Beware – these are so big that at a pinch one could serve as a meal for two moderately hungry people.




Bennie chooses the deep-fried pork with pickles ($13.80).

He likes it – with some reservations.

The broth is salty and yummy, while the battered pork goes good though, unsurprisingly, becomes soggy – not necessarily a bad thing – as he progresses.

He slurps the slithery noodles and enjoys the pickles.

He has no time for the handful of quail eggs – he’s never dug them – or the “Canned Luncheon Ham” hidden within.

He may get the terminology wrong, but he sums up his feelings thusly: “Spam doesn’t taste good no matter what it’s in!”




As with Bennie’s bowl, my own spicy stewed beef ($13.80) is a mixture of the familiar and the not so.

The broth is good and towards the more fiery end of the spice spectrum, while the beef is chunky and tasty though quite solid.

For just about every mouthful that is comfortingly familiar another explodes with sheer, exotic strangeness.

I do know that in the process of enjoying this dish I eat at least three varieties of mushrooms or – more accurately, I suspect – fungus for the first time.

My attempts to discover what it is I’m eating – “Is this a mushroom, is this some sort of tofu?” – fail despite a couple of staff members giving it a crack.

They seem disinclined to find someone who can do so.

We enjoy our lunches but perhaps not as much as we may have wished.

I put that down to what I suspect is a mixture of us being pushed somewhat out of our comfort zones – even though we both choose dishes that are, superficially at least, among the least challenging on the menu – and the simple truth that perhaps this food style is not for us.

Nevertheless, we depart full of admiration – and even a little awe – for the fact that such things are being served at Highpoint.






























Highpoint – foodie destination?




It’s been clear – to us anyway – that Highpoint has for a few years now offered better food than other shopping centres, or at least those in the west or north-west of Melbourne.

This hasn’t made it a food destination for us.

But it has meant that if we’re thereabouts anyway, we’re happy to eat – even if that has meant either chowing down at this dumpling place or this Mexican establishment.

But now it seems Highpoint has stepped it up to another level with the opening of new food court area.

Could be Highpoint has actually become a foodie destination.

Think I’m kidding?

I’m not – even though I know there’s a heap of people who will snort derisively at such a suggestion.




The new food precinct is on the lower level and situated alongside JB Hi-Fi.

The food area is big and spacious.

And, frankly, it looks gorgeous.

There’s lots of space between the tables at the various outlets – and the tables and chairs are heavy on wood and combine well with the non-glary lighting.

There’s a lot of exposed beams and other structural stuff when you look up and a lot of concrete – but the overall effect is one of style rather than industrial overkill.

I really do dig it.




Some of the food outlets are familiar – Dumplings Plus from elsewhere in Highpoint, Roti Road from Footscray.




I presumed that only the Korean chicken place Nene Chicken (“1100 outlets all over South Korea”) would be using dispensable cutlery and containers, as it is the only outlet of a real fast-food variety.

But as you’ll see through Pete’s comment below, that is not the case.

That means all here is about reusable bowls, plates, chopsticks and implements.

Applause – especially after my rant about gross wastage at Highpoint of several years ago.

Joining Nene Chicken, Roti Road and Dumplings Plus is Tina’s Noodle Kitchen – and this is where things get REALLY interesting …




It joins sibling branches in Box Hill and Preston and is under the auspices of the Dainty Sichuan crew.

The menu on the Highpoint branch features dishes that I would never have expected to see featured at a shopping centre anywhere in Australia …




In addition to the above pictured snacky things from the start of the menu, also to be had are such outings as tender pork liver in stock soup, lamb tripes, beer duck with konjac cake (with bones), chilli blood curd combination, spicy pork chitterlings, pork kidney flower with pickles, duck web with pickled chilli and many more.

Wow – how about that?

Is it brave and/or crazy?

Or really smart?

Remember, this is a shopping centre … but maybe it’s all of the above.




But for my mid-week visit I do not feel so adventurous so head for Ajisen Ramen, which joins two branches in the CBD.

The menu is way more than mere ramen – I find it hard to restrain myself to a light lunch when contemplating such a long list of snacks/entrees, noodles, donburi, bentos and lunch sets.

But I nevertheless settle on toroniku ramen ($12) with grilled pork cheek, egg, vegetables.

It’s as good a ramen as could be expected – here or anywhere else.

The broth has deep miso flavour and the meat is gorgeously charry in flavour, though quite fatty.

It’s beaut and the price right.

Melbourne’s western suburbs are growing so fast that whole new suburbs and communities are going up in places where there are no old neighbourhoods for restaurants and cafes to colonise.

Of necessity this means any dine-out food will be found only in shopping centres.

But I’ve long worried that the brutal rent regimes involved mitigate against good food – not just food worth eating, at a pinch, but food worth travelling for.

So this is quite something, I think.

I mean, there’s now Roti Road in Footscray central AND Highpoint … I’m a bit stunned, actually.

The new food space at Highpoint has one outlet still to open – Saigon Square.



This place gives me the schnitz




Schnitz, Highpoint.

Oh dear – there go our lunch plans.

We’re dropping off some garments for alteration at Highpoint.

I know there’s places to get this work done that aren’t at Highpoint but I’ll be darned if I can recall where they are.

So here we are.

The wait time is an hour – and the idea of leaving and then returning to the shopping centre has no appeal at all.

So we better make the most of Highpoint time, as best we’re able.

Sox top-up from Harris Scarfe.

Routine eye furniture maintenance and screw-tightening at Specsavers.


We’re faced with the same choices as ever; some we even like but none appeal muchly today.

So we try one of the newer places, Schnitz, which is situated on the lower level and not far from the cinemas.

It may specialise in schnitzels and parmas but the vibe is all cheerful franchise fast-food, and the lineup of wraps, rolls and plates fits right in with that.




Bennie goes for the No.4 – American Dream – in roll form with a schnitzel with regular crumbs ($11.50), with the combo deal ($5.50) adding a small chips and a small fizzy drink.

Even while I’m still photographing my own meal, he’s enthusing: “The chips are really good, dad!”

He reckons his filled roll is good, with a nice chunk of nicely cooked chook, but he would’ve preferred the roll to be better toasted.




I get the same chips with my schnitzel and coleslaw ($14.50 all up).

I disagree, very much so, on the chips front.

Look, I can handle some chicken salt.


This is chicken salt overkill and renders my chips inedible.

My plain and modestly proportioned schnitzel is rather good, with lovely crumbs and surprisingly tasty and juicy meat.

The coleslaw is fantastic, especially for a fast-food joint in a shopping centre.

Context is everything, I guess.

It’s finely chopped winner, fresh and not dressed to the point of gloopiness.

There are worse places to tuck in at Highpoint; but there’s better ones, too.

Our vote for the best remains with Dumplings Plus and Guzman y Gomez.

Best food at Highpoint? We think so …



Dumplings Plus, Level 2, Shop 2518, 120-200 Rosamond Rd, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9318 4933

It’s only a shopping centre, but Highpoint has its strengths.

Today one of them becomes very apparent to me.

I am wrangling two lively boys for the next six hours or so, and the weather radar tells me the likes of fresh-air frolics at Point Cook Homestead or Altona Beach are simply not going to be workable let alone enjoyable.

So off we go to the Great Maribyrnong Retail Shrine On The Hill – where there may be a school holiday cast of thousands but where we will be dry and warm.

Some fruit & veg shopping, checking out the book and games shops, lunch at Dumplings Plus … a perfectly acceptable and pleasurable way to fill a few hours.

Since our first visit, we’ve being hearing mixed reports about the new dumpling joint in the new food court section of the centre.

Truth is, we’ve had a few ups and downs ourselves.

We earnestly suggest, for instance, that if you’re looking for laksa that you’d be well advised to look elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Bennie and I have lucked upon some fine dishes on separate visits – me, solo, and beef brisket soup; Bennie with his mum and their dumplings with chilli.

So we’re intent on trying both again and comparing notes in the company of Bennie’s school buddy.


My earlier encounter with beef brisket soup ($9.80) had involved an incredibly deeply and lustily flavoured broth and heaps of dark, well-cooked and virtually fat-free meat.

Today’s outing seems rather anemic by comparison but is still quite respectable.

So it goes with dishes – bo kho is another – that vary depending on the freshness or otherwise of a particular batch. And with freshness not always being a good thing.


Our dozen steamed dumplings ($9.80) come as half pork, half vegetable, not that we can tell the difference – it’s a lottery!

But both kinds are good in a chewy, rustic way.

I am bemused, though, by the sauce in which they swim.

This seems way more about soy and hardly at all about chilli, with only the mildest of spice kicks detectable on about every third mouthful.

So even on a good day, it seems, Highpoint’s Dumplings Plus can be a hit and miss proposition.

But it’s still, for us, the best eats to be had there.

Although we are aware that for many folks, that’s no sort of marker at all.

Management may like to revisit its seating policy.

As we arrived and ordered at the front counter, a group of three women were “reserving” a table each as they awaited friends.

When we left a half an hour later – and having eaten our lunch with three of us crammed onto one of the tiny, exterior two-seater tables – only one of their pals had arrived and they appeared to be a long way short of ordering, never mind actually eating.

At such a popular eating spot with no lack of customers and extremely high turnover, this seems a bit rich.

Perversely, we drive home in bright sunshine.

So very Melbourne!

Hell, yes – dumplings and more at Highpoint

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Dumplings Plus, Level 2, Highpoint

Context is everything …

As Bennie points out, the food we’re enjoying at Dumplings Plus is not necessarily the best Asian tucker we’ve had, but … within the context of Highpoint, it’s nothing short of a sensation.

We’re pretty cool with the whole ambiance of the new additions to Highpoint, particularly when contrasted with the drabness one of us is experiencing at Airport West.

What we have been missing is somewhere to eat in the new food precinct that really sets our hearts thrumming.

Dumplings Plus is it.

While pursuing arts of the martial variety in the city, we’d visited the Swanston St Dumplings Plus several times, so know what to expect in our own backyard.


We are less certain about the wisdom of fronting up for a feed on a Sunday bang on lunch time.

For sure, it’s busy – this is the place’s fourth day and the honeymoon is definitely on.

The queue for takeaway is never less than 10 deep. There’s waiting time, too, for tables – many of them communal – but so great is the turnover that no one seems to be waiting for more than a few minutes to be seated.

Waiting time for food is a different matter, though no problem.

Several of the dumpling options we attempt to order have sold out, and we’re told 10,000 of those we do order had been sold the previous day.

The staff members are coping well, with smiles all round.

Being of keen appetite, we order a couple of starters from the takeaway display to get things moving with immediacy.


Big vegetable curry puffs ($2.50) are superb, with wonderfully rich flaky pastry encasing a mildly spiced potato-based mix.


Sichuan pork noodles are “nice”, opines Bennie.

Heck, I reckon they’re better than that.

I’m unsure if the noodles are hand-made in-house – they seem to be devoid of the irregularities of the strands we enjoyed at the CBD branch – but it doesn’t matter a bit.

Combined with a spicy broth that has enough heat for dad and not too much for lad, there’s green onion, bok choy, pork mince and lots of chopped black Sichuan pickles.

The whole dish has a marvellous and deep smokiness.


Pan-fried pork dumplings ($11.80 for 10) are showing the effects of the restaurant’s fever pitch activity and high turnover – but only in a real nice, rustic way. Disappointingly, like our curry puffs they come served on plastic.

They’re blazing hot on arrival, with bottoms that are both crisped and chewy, tops that are just chewy alone and nice innards of porky mince.

It’s obvious Highpoint’s Dumplings Plus is an immediate hit – like everyone around us, we’ve had a swell time.

And it’s beyond doubt we’ll be back soon.

Dessert Story



Dessert Story, Shop 1110, Highpoint, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 3889

Pumpkin pie?

OK, I can get with that.

But red beans, taro, barley, lotus seeds and dried bean curd? With sugar?

Nup, not my thing.

While Bennie and I are often reading from the same page when it comes to food, and even non-food reading material, there IS a big gap between us when it comes to Asian beverages and desserts.

That gap is well illustrated by a post-movie visit to Dessert Story that is a sort-of dare to his father by Bennie, who has embraced this fare with gleeful zeal.

From what I’ve been able to discover, Dessert Story is an Australian company that has outlets at shopping centres and elsewhere across Melbourne, with one in Adelaide and many more no doubt to come.

They offer what they describe as “the best of Taiwanese and Hong Kong home-style” desserts.


From the Taro Series, Bennie gets honey beans, coconut jelly and pearls ($6.80)

I sample each and every element of his dessert. The textures, the feel, everything about this seems so wrong to me – this FEELS like dinner!

Especially the beans …

“That is very, very weird,” says dad.

“This is very, very yummy,” says Bennie.


My own mango pomelo sago in mango juice ($6.80) is a much more conservative selection, and one that accordingly tastes and feels like what I am used to thinking of as “dessert”.

It’s OK but doesn’t really rock my world.

I ask Bennie if I’m missing the point here – that to really get with the spirit of such fodder I should stop being such a wuss and go for the most outlandish dish I can find.

“Yep,” he says.


Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill



Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill, Highpoint, 120-200 Rosamond Rd, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 4623

After expressing our somewhat surprising – to us – affection for the works of Guzman y Gomez, a friend suggested we check out Salsa’s, housed in the very same shopping centre.

So I did.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to resist making a direct comparison between the two fast-food Tex-Mex outlets.

For starters, while Guzman y Gomez is set up in such way as to at least make a handy grab at sustaining its own vaguely groovy ambiance, Salasa’s has no such luck.

It’s situated right out there, just another outlet in a giant, circular shopping centre food court of little or no soul.

As well, the menus of the two places are remarkably alike.


Corn chips and guacamole ($4.50) are OK.

The corn chips may be crisp, but they are about as bland as corn chips can get – one extreme of corn chippery, with the toxic likes of Doritos at the other.

The guacamole is of the smooth, blended variety with some texture from red onion and a little tomato.

But it’s not as swell as the chunky stuff at Guzman y Gomez.


My original beef burrito ($8.95) is a stodgy disappointment.

My fault – the use of the phrase “Texas beef” should have alerted me to the use of ground meat; I should have opted for a burrito that had real meat and black beans.

As it is, my burrito is very heavy on the rice with no discernible cheese element. I can see some fresh stuff like tomato and onion but can’t taste or feel it.

The “Texas beef” is OK – a bit like a cross between chilli con carne and bolognese – but just seems a little weird in a heavy-going burrito that goes unfinished.



Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Taqueria

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Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Taqueria, Highpoint, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9988 1401

We attended the opening night of Guzman Y Gomez at Highpoint to take advantage of and really enjoy the free burritos.

We’ve been back several times since.

But this unusual – for us – Sunday dinner trip feels a little different.

We’ve been unable to decide between his preferences – spicy Asian or Indo-Chinese in Footscray – and my own for something a little less familiar, further afield and/or blog-worthy.

We pull over for a quick tactical discussion and then we’re happily off to Highpoint.

And we’re not going because other chores have taken us to Highpoint.

Nor is it about Bennie’s dad giving his son an always desired fast-food experience.

No, we’re headed this way because we really, truly do enjoy the food here.

This seems something of a revelation – who would’ve thunk it?


The guacamole (plastic tub) and corn chips (paper bag) cost $5 and are super.

It seems a little surreal to be eating something as fresh and tasty as this gorgeous, chunky guacamole amid such a typically fast-food ambiance.

The corn chips have changed and no longer have such a distinctive thickness or texture. These are still good and crunchy, though. They appear to be unsalted – but we prefer that over too much salt.

And we love them not only dipped in the avocado dip but also in the zippy, smoky, complementary chipotle Tabasco (plastic tub).


Bennie gobbles up his beef quesadilas ($8.50, cardboard tray) with gusto and relish.

They appear to be a bit skimpy on substance to me, though.

Especially when compared to the house burritos.

Indeed, so good and hefty are these that I have long since abandoned the full-size models for the “mini” version.


My “mini” pork chipotle burrito ($6.90, cardboard tray) is fantastic.

The pork is tender and not so spicy, while the rice and black beans are in just the right proportions.

And as with the avocado, so it is with the cheese in my burrito – who ever heard of eating cheese in a fast-food joint that has really good, significant flavour of, um , cheese?

We treat ourselves to a couple of Jarritos – Mexican cola for him, guava for him. And even these seem a pretty fair deal at $4 each in light of the amounts charged at franchise joints for regulation non-fancy soft drinks.

We reckon Guzman Y Gomez is superior to a similar operation at Southern Cross station and another that has been hitting the west lately.


Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Taqueria


Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Taqueria, Highpoint, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9988 1401

So a Mexican fast-food franchise is setting out its shingle at Highpoint.

It’s opening day and they’re giving away burritos for four hours.

Bennie is as excited as all get out.

It’s a happening, it involves free food, it’s at Highpoint – and some of his school friends have been talking about it.

My own expectations are more measured.

I have dark visions of unruly mobs, security guards, burritos that are mini.

As well, footy practice has endured until 7pm, leaving us a bare hour of free burrito time.

On the other hand, who knows?

I have a sneaking suspicion that food of this kind may not be too much different from that of some of the fancier and far more trendy and expensive Latin American eateries blossoming all over town.

My fears are allayed immediately upon arrival.

There’s a party time atmosphere going on but there’s no mad mobs, the mariachi band is in full voice and happy to ham it up for the crowd, and our order is taken within a minute.

Sadly, because of the opening night bash, we are thwarted in our desire to run through the side dishes such as black beans.

All we can get are a guava Jarritos, some corn chips and guacamole – and a burrito apiece, of course – for a grand total of $9.

The corn chips are very nice – they seem to be unsalted and more like the cake-y variety supplied by Taco Truck.

The guacamole is really good – fresh for sure, and a nice coarse mix.

Hey, this is starting to be a fine time, indeed!

Our burrito number is called just a few minutes after our order is placed and Bennie is at the counter to grab it.

Beef guerrero (mild) for him, spicy chicken guerrero for me.

Our burritos are foil-wrapped, with soft tortillas inside.

I heartily appreciate the fact they’ve been so cannily wrapped that the juices never even get close to leaking out the bottoms – right until the last bite.

Unlike, for instance, your typical kebeb!

Bennie barely pauses for breath while downing his beef number with gusto.

I may hear the odd “Good!” or “MMMmmmm” in the eating process, but I certainly hear a loud affirmation after his work is done.

“I reckon that’s the best burrito I’ve ever had,” he opines.

When I get into my chicken job I find out why.

Putting aside any and all notions of authenticity, this is some really, really good stuff.

The charred chicken flavour comes through, and the black beans, cheese, rice, salsa and pico de gallo all work together really well. There’s a mild chilli kick, but not in every mouthful

I couldn’t be happier or more surprised.

Maybe even a little bit shocked.

Whether these will look quite as good when the full $10.50 is being charged, without sides or trimmings, remains to be seen.

I reckon they may well do so. They’re a pretty good size, even at that price.

This place replaces a branch of China Bar we will not miss in the least.

And its neighbours are the usual suspects of Pancake Parlour, La Porchetta, Nando’s, Grill’d and the like.

Providing they maintain the quality, I can’t imagine them doing anything less than brisk business.

We’ve had a ball on opening night and really enjoyed the atmosphere.

Check out of the full menu options at the company website here.

Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Highpoint on Urbanspoon

Hoyts, Highpoint


Hoyts, Highpoint.

The Highpoint Hoyts movie that was involved has long been forgotten.

But the consequences of asking for the smallest possible soda pop drink and smallest possible container of popcorn at the concession stand have been in force for quite a few years now.

So exorbitant was the price quoted, so great the shock, that I have maintained the momentum ever since of NEVER, EVER paying for in-house moving crap.

But today I relent – only to find my own personal willpower has all the rigidity of a wet noodle.

As with our family and friends gathering at Grill’d a year before, this is a Bennie birthday celebration, although in this case somewhat belatedly.

For company, we have our mate Rakha, who was enlisted for Consider The Sauce duty in our appraisal of Yummie Hong Kong Dim Sum.

While I know it’d be easier and maybe cheaper to merely wander around the corner to the Sun Theatre in Yarraville, that simply doesn’t have the same frission or buzz for a boys’ day out.

So Highpoint it is.

And it’s Grandma’s shout!

We have preserved money allocated by her and her loving ways specifically for this purpose.

So Highpoint and over-priced movie munchies it is.

As part of some sort of mid-week daylight hours deal, all our tickets cost a reasonable $11 each.

Without being too heavyhanded, I convince the boys that the “medium 2-drink combo” at $18.80 is the deal for them.

I still consider it a ripoff, but in truth and given the outing’s context, this deal doesn’t seem too bad at all.

I utter stern words about confiscating their drinks for a while in case they get carried away with salt-inspired slurping that may require even more soft drink expenditure before the popcorn is anywhere near finished.

After we are seated, I lose it completely.

I have a mouthful of popcorn.

And another.

Before I know it, popcorn lust has completely consumed me.

And I am taking hefty slips of Bennie’s Coca Cola stuff along the way, between popcorn sorties that are tantamount to elbowing my movie mates out of the way.

It is Bennie, not I, who – while the trailers are still running – proclaims: “No more popcorn until the movie starts!”

After a few minutes, I hear Rakha mutter something along the lines of: “Hey how about some more popcorn?”

I almost whimper in full-blooded sympathy.


The popcorn and soft drinks last some way into the movie proper.

I am shocked, however, by the really high amount of unpopped corn that becomes part of our scarfing as the bucket goes lower than a quarter full.

These are hard little grenades just waiting to detonate into oblivion Very Expensive Dental Work.

I go slower and more carefully.

Eventually, even the boys give it up.

As for the movie, I have done my research and the portents all look good.

John Carter has been cheerfully slagged by such august figures of the film critic world as David Stratton and widely reported as being the biggest, most expensive movie flop of all time!


Moreover, it is based on a story by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I have been gently trying to entice Bennie from his otherwise admirable fondness for vintage period Marvel and DC comics into the sometimes noirish otherwordly realms of his dad’s fantasy and scifi interests.

I even bought a cheapo paperback version of the The Land That Time Forgot trilogy to see if he’d rise to the bait, so this flick’ll do us fine!

I am entirely correct – this is a beaut popcorn-style movie.

While we all find it hard to follow at times, we all groove on its whacko, campy mix of scifi, (wild) western, fantasy, sword and scorcery epics,  Star Wars and more.

The computerised landscapes and their stark beauty evoke, for me, not just Burroughs but also the writing of the likes of Leigh Brackett and Robert E. Howard.


On the way out, I ponder once more the potentially calamitous threat posed by all that unpopped corn.

What if … one of them did its worst, with the result my dentist was heard to say: “Sorry, Kenny, that’s root canal for you – and another $15000!”


What if … that happened?

What would Hoyts have to say about it?

Does the company even have a policy regarding unpopped corn and dentistry?

The Highpoint in-house Hoyts junior management representative, Jessica, fields my queries with grace and humour – but confesses such issues are well out of her area.

She gives me the number of a Melbourne-based Hoyts media staffer, from whom I am awaiting a return call as we go to press.

Highpoint: Into the belly of the beast …


Part of the current cooling system at Highpoint shopping centre.


Coming from a mechanical engineering and airconditioning background, centre manager Scott Crellin is happy to confess that the Highpoint cooling system is his kind of “thing”. He says that while the existing system is about 15 years old, it’s still significantly more efficient than rows of single-unit rooftop units, as still seen in many smaller and older shopping centres. He tells me the system servicing the $300 million extensions will be significantly better again.

Western suburbs musicians and artists – Scott Crellin is interested in hearing from you.

Scott is centre manager of Highpoint.

His phone number is 9319 3320.

This invitation comes near the end of a wide-ranging conversation I have with Scott and centre development manager Mark Pheely.

While they have stressed at every opportunity the commitment of the centre and parent company GPT to community engagement and sustainability, they are happy to confess they are largely unaware of the depth and breadth of western suburbs arts culture and that there is plenty of scope for new ideas and new people.

“We’d love to be looking at more live performance events,” Mark says.

Our meeting is the result of a letter I sent to Highpoint lamenting the colossal wastage inherent in centre food courts’ use of plastic cutlery and crockery.

Scott, as centre manager, sent a nice reply detailing the centre’s efforts to be good guys and issuing an invitation of a meeting and tour.

Centre manager Scott Crellin and development manager Mark Pheely with the Highpoint development plans.

Of course, no amount of sincere talking or a close-up look at the inner workings of the centre are ever likely to turn myself or anyone else – including several Consider The Sauce visitors who posted rather caustic comments – into paid-up members of the Highpoint fan club.

Nevertheless, I enjoy hearing the two men talk about the challenges the centre faces and their pride in working for GPT.

I may never be an outright Highpoint lover, but it is a significant institution in my community, one that won’t go away if I pretend it isn’t there.

And my engagement with Highpoint could well go deeper if some of the many musicians I know live in the west were to start providing some cool sounds there and gain some paying work in the process.

How about a Highpoint Music Festival?

For many people, I suspect that what they tell me will fall firmly into the “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” category. But all I can do is report what I am told.

I am fascinated talking to these two blokes about their work and the often competing demands – consumer, shareholder, legislative – they confront on an almost daily basis.

They both firmly believe their company is far advanced in terms of sustainability of rivals such as Westfield.

The Highpoint development project.


Regarding the existing centre, they find themselves mostly looking at areas where they can have an impact in an establishment that has been around since the mid-’70s and a business that was formulated many decades ago when cars were big, petrol was cheap and recycling was unheard of.

They feel hampered, too, by the absence of local recycling infrastructure.

Regarding the specific issue of plastic implements and plates in the food courts, I put to them a question posted by Consider The Sauce visitor Janet: Have they done both a life-cycle analysis and a benefit-cost analysis of real crockery and collective washing?

The answer is yes – about five or six years ago.

At that time such a move was deemed unviable but they concede that perhaps it’s time to address the issue again.

As with so many other things – car safety and pharmaceuticals, for instance – it seems the existence of technology and processes is by itself not sufficient. The tipping point only comes when a move forward becomes firmly viable and, indeed, necessary in a business sense.

“There are limits to what we can do,” Mark says. “The Trade Practices Act means we can’t actually force tenants to use proper crockery. The tenants that do so, that’s their decision.

“A change like this would involve decisions about who pays. And with the fast-food market being super price sensitive, the difference between a $10 meal and a $11.50 meal is really significant.”

Centre management has some oversight jurisdiction over menus, but other than that the individual food court tenants run their own businesses as they see fit.

I am a little surprised and somewhat heartened to learn that despite the “same-iness” of food offerings from centre to centre, almost no pre-prepared food is brought in to Highpoint.

I tell them that from a perception point of view, the departure of Borders and Angus & Robertson has made – for myself and many others – Highpoint seem like a much more unpleasant place.

(There is, by the way, a new but very small bookshop called The Last Page in the same wing as Target.)

They rue the departure of Borders, but rightly say it was out of their hands.

They concede, too, that any replacement on a significant scale is unlikely given the turbulence the publishing industry is experiencing.

As in hospitals and the like, the lines are used to delineate different kinds of recycling.

Highpoint is one of about 18 centres run by GPT around Australia.

On site there 30 or so GPT staff, about 300 service staff covering areas such as security, cleaning, pest control and landscaping. The centre has about 400 stores.

A $300 million development project is currently underway.

This will see stores under the David Jones and Woolworths banners, 100 more individual traders and extra parking for 100 cars.

Stage 1 – comprising a full-line Woolworth’s supermarket,  Fresh Food Market, community spaces and carparking with Park Assist technology – is scheduled for completion late this year.

Stage 2 – two-level David Jones, 100 retailers including premium fashion, children’s precinct and 1000 new car spaces – is scheduled for completion in early 2013.

Development manager Mark becomes noticeably more animated when talking about the opportunities presented by the new project.

He says that on every level – electricity usage, recycling, airconditioning and ventilation, lighting and more – the new development will be a vast improvement on the existing structures.

A customer survey discovered that overwhelmingly people want the new developments to be something that “reflects the west”.

To that end, Mark is overseeing the use of more natural materials, including bluestone, timber, artwork and furnishings.

I finish my Highpoint visit with a Highpoint lunch – non-plastic variety, of course – before elbowing a couple of kids aside to have my photo taken with Homer.