Book Review–THE WONDER LOVER by Malcolm Knox

John Wonder is an authenticator. His job is to travel the globe, witnessing attempts on world records. His one notable quality is that he is a bland man and instantly forgettable. Still he manages to amass three wives and six children. The children are named after John’s parents, Adam and Evelyn—three of each. Oceans divide these families.

He juggles these households with ease, spending a week at each house. He is a model husband and father. He cleans, cooks, changes nappies and always tells the children bedtime stories.

Something has to give, of course. He meets the most beautiful woman in the world and his carefully constructed world begins to crumble.

The Wonder Lover is an exciting novel, not because it has a thrilling and fast-paced storyline (it does not) but because the voice is fresh, the story quirky and the characters unusual. It is also extraordinarily well written.

Malcolm Knox is a brave author because his protagonist is not likeable. The reader can see that John Wonder is not a bad man–he always tries to do the right thing—but at the same time, he is not someone that the reader can like.

The first words of the book entranced me and I knew without a doubt that I was in the hands of a masterful storyteller. His prose is brilliant. In one scene, where John Wonder sees the most beautiful woman in the world for the second time, “…she strode out under her own majestic full sail, her jaw-dropping bust thrust forward, clad in tight jeans and cork wedges and a figure-hugging electric–blue cashmere sweater that evaporated moisture from the back of men’s throats…”

The narrator appears to be an amalgam of all his six children, or at least speaks for all of them. It is a delightful and unique device. Well done, Mr Knox.

The quirkiness of the story reminded me of Peter Carey’s writings, and like Carey’s books, I found myself chuckling from time to time. I am a reader who is easily bored, especially at the dreaded three-quarter stage of the story, but this did not happen in the case of The Wonder Lover. I read quickly and crazily until satisfied by the ending.

This is a fine novel indeed. Highly recommended.

Note:  The Wonder Lover will be reviewed on ABC’s The Book Club in May.

Restaurant review: sushi e (and Hemmesphere), Sydney

We had been turned away from Mr. Wong, so decided to visit another of the Merivale group of restaurants in the Establishment precinct. Sushi e had been recommended to us, although we had been warned about prices.

After an elevator ride to the fourth floor, we arrived at Hemmesphere, which is an upmarket cocktail venue. Low sofas and comfortable seats are arranged in a large open area. To the left of this is sushi e.

We hadn’t made a reservation but were lucky to secure the last two seats at the marble bar where we could watch the sushi chefs at work.  Just after we settled in, a man behind us began talking loudly, and it was one of those voices (if you know what I mean). This man did not pause for breath, but just talked and talked. My partner was tired from a stressful working day and could not stand this constant noise. A request to be moved to Hemmesphere was cheerfully granted.

The food was of the finest quality. We had prawn dumplings, another entrée which appeared to be tempura prawn sushi, encased in a tempura batter, Snapper tempura and Sashimi. Normally we would not select so much deep-fried food, but the tempura was light and didn’t sit disagreeably in our stomachs.

The timing of the main courses was a bit off– I had finished my tempura snapper before my partner received his sashimi—but the server apologised and offered my partner a free drink. I had originally ordered steamed rice. This did not arrive, but I was grateful for that—I had eaten enough. Later we found a charge for the rice on the bill, but it was only three dollars, so we let it slide.

There was an additional charge of $15.65 on the account, which appeared to be 10% of the total. It was a Wednesday night, not a public holiday. Was it a cover charge for Hemmesphere?

Would we recommend sushi e? I’m not sure. The food and service were excellent, but the prices were high. It was an experience. I don’t think we’ll be rushing back anytime soon.

Sushi E on Urbanspoon

Restaurant review: Mr Wong, Sydney

What is it about this Cantonese restaurant that makes it so popular? That’s what we were asking ourselves when first turned away on  Wednesday night, around 7.30pm. You cannot reserve a table in the evenings and must take pot-luck. We were not lucky.

Thinking we would be smarter the following night, we arrived early—6.30pm. The girl at the front desk frowned and sighed, then told us that she could just squeeze us in, but it would be on stools at the end of a long table. She commented that this arrangement was not ideal but was all they had.

We decided to take her up on the offer, dodging and weaving around staff and guests as we made our way to the table. We took our places on the stools and decided it was okay. The table tapered in at the end, so there was little room for our food or drinks, but we adopted a sense of humour.

Our dumpling platter arrived quickly and each of these delightful, steamed parcels was exquisite. On this occasion, there were three seafood varieties and one mushroom. They were tasty, moist and perfectly cooked.

The main courses arrived without pause. The steamed fish fillet with ginger and shallots was tender and juicy, with well-balanced flavours. Mr Wong’s crispy skin chicken was moist and full of flavour.

We both commented on the green tea, which had a delightful, subtle flavour.

The wine list seemed good, although we could not get a NZ Sauvignon by the glass.

We had only two regrets about our experience at Mr Wong:  that we didn’t order the Peking Duck (we watched everyone around us eating it and were jealous), and that I didn’t get the name of the delightful young, blonde waitress whose job it was to keep us well fed and watered. The bill said our server’s name was Margaret, so maybe that is right. In any case, she deserved a special mention.

We now know why Mr Wong’s is so popular. It is a well-run restaurant with good staff, excellent food and a great atmosphere. We are already planning our return.

Mr Wong on Urbanspoon

Which is the best Greek Restaurant in Australia—is it Brika, Perth? Review#14.

Those following my Greek Restaurants of Australia posts will know my preferences: the food should be traditional (like I would expect to be served in a taverna in Greece); I like to see a mix of Greek and local wines; and I prefer the owners to be Greek—because only Greeks can offer that unique mix of generosity and hospitality they are so well known for.

On a Thursday night, the place was jumping. We were told we had to vacate our table by 8.00 p.m. This wouldn’t normally suit, except that in this case, we were still on Brisbane time which was two hours later—we were hungry early.

I still don’t know who the owners of Brika are, but figure they have to be Greek. The food is excellent and the servings very generous. We shared Saganaki (perfect), Pita with Taramasalata (also perfect), patates (hand cut, yum), swordfish, village salad (traditional) and spanakopita.

I mention spanakopita last because this was the only let-down of the menu. The offerings looked like spring rolls. The filling was good, but neither of us liked the pastry. I’m not sure how they are cooked, but tasted deep-fried. Give me the traditional filo pie any day.

The wine list was limited. I requested the closest wine they had to a Sauv. Blanc. They gave me a Pinto Gris which in no way resembled my request, but it was alright.

Despite the negatives, this restaurant has a good feel about it and I would not hesitate to return to Brika next time we visit Perth.

Food:             9
Ambience:    8
Service:         9
Wine list:      7
Cleanliness:  8
Value:            10

TOTAL:         8.5 OUT OF 10

Brika on Urbanspoon