At the end of the last post I suggested that Europe Bar and Grill was up next. Well I got that wrong didn’t I. This whole out of sync numbering system is causing a lot of grief at Quest Planning HQ. Strongly worded memos are being circulated, press conferences called, only to be cancelled at the last minute. Chaos really.
I am pleased to be able to announce with almost 100% confidence that this week we are visiting, the somewhat oddly named, Oldtown in Newtown. Which turns out to be quite serendipitous because they have a Kids Menu and our guests of honour for the outing are none other than Will and Charlie of Mad Mex and the Great Onesie Encounter fame. It has taken more than a year’s worth of cajoling and pleading with the pair’s agents and managers to find a slot in their packed program for a headline night back at Painting the Bridge, but this week all that effort has paid off and everything has fallen into place. All we have to do is get them there.
“Walking?” says Will dubiously. Obviously the Painting the Bridge transport budget doesn’t stretch all the way to his limousine expectations.
“Yes, it’ll be fun,” says Strop, “An adventure. We’ll go through the park.”
Will and Charlie look at each other, weighing up the possibilities and communicating silently using Jedi mind powers that us old people can only imagine. “What park?” Charlie is sceptical; he knows that the devil is in the detail.
Strop assures him that it is a proper park with a proper playground, and I seal the deal by offering to bring along an old orange ping-pong ball that has been sitting on my desk for three weeks.
At last we set off, holding hands to cross roads, stopping to play in the park, checking out the Fire Station and the Police Station, examining the light pole adorned with shoes, until at last the “Is this the restaurant?” question is answered with a relieved “Yes.”
Oldtown is an Italian family restaurant, although you would never guess it from the décor, which has a bit of a retro boho theme – Strop assures me that this is the correct term – in pale tones of orange and green, with a few old soft drink crates stacked up around the place for character.
I have made a booking, not wanting to risk embarrassing our guests of honour by stuffing up the evening. Our table is marked out with a tiny easel and tiny blackboard, with my name written in chalk. Will thinks this is very cute but reckons they don’t know how to spell Andy. Strop has obviously done this kind of thing before, and gets him going writing out Andrew with the textas she just happens to have in her handbag. Unfortunately she only brought one piece of paper, which quickly gets torn in half.
While I am checking out the menu, Strop encourages the boys to drink a glass of water, hoping to fill them up before the fizzy lemonade hits the table. The kids menu has three courses: arancini, pasta Bolognese and gelato. Perfect. We’ll have two of those.
And for the grown-ups? The specials are, zucchini flowers, duck prosciutto salad and seafood soup. The grown-ups will have all of those, to share please. And some chilli chips.
The boys are drinking Limonata, which Will finds a bit exotic for his tastes but which Charlie is having no trouble making disappear. Strop and I are drinking beer: an IPA for her and a stout for him. While we are waiting for the food to arrive Will gets on with more writing and Charlie takes on the task of drawing the World of the Map.
The kid meals arrive first, an arancini in a little pot of sauce and a bowl of farfalle with Bolognese sauce and plenty of parmesan. The boys have no complaints. Our zucchini flowers arrive soon after, fried, brown and crispy, with a capsicum based sauce. Yum. Strop is amazed when Will and Charlie both finish off all their food with great gusto. Apparently this never happens.
The restaurant is filling rapidly now. Our next dish, the duck, takes a little while to arrive but luckily the boys have gone back to mapping the known, and in Charlie’s case, several unknown, worlds. The duck salad is excellent with slices of duck prosciutto, quarters of nectarine, cress, walnuts, white cheese and a drizzle of toffee. I really enjoyed this dish although I think Strop thought some of the duck fat was too fatty. We both found the lumps of toffee stuck to the plate very frustrating. There was no way to get it off without the risk of breaking the plate.
The seafood soup has a tomato-ey base and is piled high with octopus, muscles and crab and comes with lovely pieces of crispy oil soaked bread. Unfortunately we have to ask for spoons. The flavours are great although I am still of the opinion that crab is not worth the effort involved in getting at the meat.
By this stage the restaurant is very busy and the floor staff are looking a bit harried. Will and Charlie have given up on mapping the world and moved on to making weapons out of the clip-together pens. Strop and I intervened before they started shooting the other patrons. Will re-imagined his pens into a guitar – Heavy Metal! – before commandeering Charlie’s pens in an attempt to make a pen-tower tall enough to reach the roof. He didn’t quite make the roof but he did give the light fitting a good poke.
Eventually we have to ask the whereabouts of the chips and the boy’s gelato. The staff are apologetic about the delay – and I wonder if they are more busy than usual as a few family members seem to have been roped in to help out.
When the chips arrive they are worth the wait. Hand cut slices of potato, fried golden brown and sprinkled with chilli and parmesan. Charlie thinks he is in little boy heaven as I spend the rest of the night picking off bits of chilli and feeding them to him.
The gelato is vanilla and comes with strawberry coulis and a big strawberry garnish. Charlie polishes his off but Will only manages the strawberry and seems to be starting to find the whole evening a bit outside his comfort zone.
The trip home is a lot faster than the outward journey. Powered by sugar hits from their soft drinks, the boys dance and cavort their way through the Saturday night King Street crowd. Not looking at all out of place amongst the pre Mardi Gras revellers.
The food at Oldtown in Newtown was very good, let down a bit by the delays. I would give them the benefit of the doubt, hoping that this was just an unexpectedly busy night. I would certainly like to go back some time and try out more of their menu.