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The perils of lunch in the city

“There will always be ladies who lunch. Always. And apparently they live a long time.” Elaine Stritch


A few weeks ago I decided I had had enough of never going anywhere, and thought to invite some of my long-time female friends to lunch somewhere in the city. We are all old - even elderly (that dreadful word which implies decrepitude) - and some are now sadly on their own, but I have known all of them for a long time, although individually some of them may never have met each other. And it is some time since I have seen some of them.


I also felt that since it was still summery - well you never can tell in Melbourne - then we should try somewhere along the Melbourne river bank. Ambience is all, they say, after all. It would have to be the city I reasoned because everyone came from different sides of the city. Besides you can travel by train into the city, which means that you can enjoy a drink of wine - or two - without any worry about driving a car afterwards. The latter possibly not being possible for the single ladies in the group. Still it was a consideration - and besides you don't have to worry about where to park the car.


So first I floated the idea - greeted with enthusiasm mostly which led to the inevitable search for a date that suited everyone. Never easy - even when you are old and don't have children, husbands and jobs to juggle. Yesterday - a Monday - the only day of the week free to all was the result. Then I searched for suitable venues - pleasant location, good food, not too expensive were my criteria. Which is how I came up with Yarra Botanica - central - only a very short walk from Flinders St. Station, and actually on the river. A little bit different. The food looked mildly interesting too. So I booked it, explaining that we were old and needed shelter from the sun - or rain too I suppose. Done.


Then anxiety set in. Would it be too hot - or indeed too cold? Would it rain? Would the food be dreadful? Would everyone get on? etc. etc. Anxiously I watched the weather forecast, saw that it hovered around 30 and I think finally settled on 31 - which is indeed hot. But at least not 40 so maybe it would be OK. Indeed it might be just right.


Then I realised I had not invited two obvious guests - so obvious in fact - near and often seen - that I had just not thought about them. They were hurriedly invited and thankfully they could come. Which made us 8 people. More anxiety. Is 8 too many to enable easy conversation? Well possibly yes - one tends not to speak to the people at the other end of the table very much - but never mind. At least there won't be men dominating the conversation.


But I worried nevertheless. Last minute panics - one dropped out because of an impossible journey because of level crossing work on the train line. But then I thought of yet another 'obvious' friend who I had forgotten and who rearranged her day so as to be able to come. I was so flattered. And the final disaster - well not a disaster, but sad - another guest could not come at the last minute because of a recent occurrence of vertigo, which she had hoped would disappear but didn't. Sad, but I guess most sad for her.


And here I will insert a quote I found, because it made me realise that I worry too much about these things.


"If you can’t be happy at the prospect of lunch, you are unlikely to be happy about anything" Robert Johnson


I mean fundamentally I was really happy at the prospect of lunch, and meeting with my friends. I was just worried that they wouldn't feel the same. But then I guess they didn't have to come. Oh dear - oh to be carefree.


So the day arrives - gorgeous weather - well a touch too warm I suppose. An easy train ride in with one of my guests - the mother of my daughter-in-law and now a good friend. We even caught the earlier train because we got to the station early due to our immaculate organisation. The restaurant and the table is found - half of the party is already gathered, and relief - it is undercover in the shade - except for a couple of seats, one of which can be avoided because of our missing friend, and the other which is mostly shaded anyway.


We all arrive, introductions are made, we take our seats and we wait. And wait, for nobody comes to take our orders, at which point one of our younger attendees tell us that we can order using a QR code on the table, or go to the bar and order. Which is when, probably we all start to feel old. I mean we don't even know what food is on offer. However, I am now cheered, by finding a brief article in The Guardian about QR code menus which said they were on the way out. They came in during COVID to prevent contact with paper menus, but really we don't like them:


"Maybe people want to experience the tactile comfort of a paper menu when they go out. Maybe they want to talk through their options with a flesh-and-blood waiter. Maybe they want something more glamorous than repeatedly trying to aim their smeary phone at a peeling, ketchup-stained sticker on the corner of their table ...


Did you ever pop out to eat without your phone and find yourself being treated like a second-class citizen? Did you ever experience the chest-thumping terror of a dinner out with 3% of your battery left? Did you ever watch as a moment of potential romance evaporated because you had to get your phones out to try to navigate an impossible ordering system?" The Guardian


All of which made me feel that it wasn't just the old who feel this way. I mean potential romance is not a feature of our lives is it?


Nevertheless let's get our priorities right - wine. A volunteer takes our suggestion of a Pinot gris to the bar and buys - quick calculations are made by our proficient money person and we all cough up the required amount. I think it was this bottle of pinot gris, but I'm not entirely sure. Pinot gris anyway. It was cool, it was refreshing, and it was Victorian, which is really all that matters. So we clinked our glasses with mildly subdued joy, not quite sure what we should be toasting, but at that moment glad that we were there in such pleasant company.


On to the food. Slightly outraged that nobody had brought us an actual menu, one of us went to get some and returned with a bunch of slightly crumpled looking paper menus. When I had selected the restaurant one of the things that had closed the deal for me was in fact the food on offer. It was actually quite interesting, although you could have just had pizza. We ordered from the Snacks menu which had dishes that were generously portioned entrées I suppose. Definitely suitable for an old ladies lunch.


My choice was this dish: Tempura Whiting, Ronin Kelp Soy Caramel, Pickled Daikon & Finger Lime - there were tiny dark pink caviar looking things on top too. But oh dear, did I order fish and chips again? No - I didn't order chips - though I could have done. It was really very nice, if not wow. Besides it only cost me $20.00. And here is where paying at the bar turned out to be a good idea. Thanks to two, maybe three volunteers who ordered for the rest of us, we were all able to cough up the actual amount of money our meals cost rather than splitting the bill -which can of course be a problem that results in quiet resentments festering away, Dave Bry in The Guardian wrote a humorous, but at times painfully true article entitled Group Dinners are Terrible, which was mostly not relevant to our little outing, but did contain some good advice - particularly about how to get around not feeling cheated by a split bill situation:


"My advice in any group dining situation is to order in such a way that you won’t resent paying as much as everyone else at the table when the check comes. Unless previously discussed, the assumption for dinner at a restaurant is that everyone will order an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. If you’re not planning on eating dessert, order the most expensive appetizer. If you’re not drinking wine, order two of the most expensive appetizers. Order two desserts. Take one home in a doggie bag. I’m serious. I will not mind. I will be drunk on your share of wine." Dave /The Guardian


Hopefully nobody felt cheated yesterday.


The two worst things about the whole adventure, were however, beyond my control. The first is the obvious one - the weather. It was indeed a touch too warm, in spite of our leafy shelter, and lack of direct sun. I don't think any of us felt threatened by sunburn, but it was somewhat uncomfortably hot. But there was no air-conditioning, and the one - very small - fan that there was did not work. C'est la vie I suppose. The worse problem, which I would never have even contemplated however, was the noise. Not the normal noise that you get in a crowded restaurant - it wasn't that crowded and it was in the open air anyway - no it was the noise from a very close by major demolition site, where a jackhammer was punching holes in a building creating a constant and very loud noise. Fortunately for at least half an hour the workers stopped for lunch. This was exacerbated by the occasional low-flying helicopter adding to the din. It rather spoilt the ambience is all I can say.


Nevertheless I think we all had fun. It was indeed a tiny adventure. One of my friends even said to me that it was so different a place to anywhere else she had been which made her feel adventurous and even vaguely trendy. My apologies to them all for the photograph - I can never take good group photos, but at least it shows the setting - the building you can just see behind us all was the one being demolished. Now how could I have known about that?


Would I go there again? Probably not. It was very pleasant, but the service was non-existent. Well that's perhaps a bit unfair. When at last we had understood that we had to order at the bar, the food arrived in a reasonable amount of time, and the people who brought it were friendly and efficient but nevertheless we would all have preferred actual menus and actual waiters/waitresses. I think it made us feel old - well it did for me anyway. But then again it is interesting how things work in the young world. Like watching schoolkids on the train home.


It is in fact true I think that men do not often do lunch - unless it's a business lunch that is. Is it because of that long ago film Wall Street in which Michael Douglas spoke those oft-repeated words "Lunch is for wimps" or is it just that, as Cindy Lauper sang around about the same time "Girls just wanna have fun"? Whatever the reason, except for the young singles set, I think if you see a group having lunch it will be largely female - young or old, Yummy mummies or little old ladies. And here's to them - and hopefully another get together - but without the jackhammer.


But here's a thought. How come it's frequently groups of old and middle-aged men sitting in cafés at all times of the day in Europe?


Thank you so much to all my lovely friends for coming and enduring the heat and the noise. So good to see you all. Hoping that there will be a next time in the not too distant future.



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Guest
Mar 19

So sorry I missed it. Hopefully another time. And the QR code ordering is horrid

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Guest
Mar 19

That sounds like a great day out to me. As to the QR code thing, yes I think it is dying, we go to lebanese cafe with Annabelle sometimes in a shopping mall in Watergardens, the QR codes are not used anymore, so guess like your article said, they were a covid thing!!


You all got out and the food was mostly good, the noise, inevitable in the city I guess, by the Yarra there is so beautiful and full of atmosphere, quintisentially Melbourne for me, as you know I love the bar by the station.


The train going home too with the school kids, Annabelle and I did that one day after a foray into the city and she…

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Guest
Mar 19
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Sounds like fun despite the adversities that dining out can bring

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