HOT: Aviv Cakes & Bagels, 412 Glenhuntly Rd, Elsternwick

I once held a bake-off amongst my friends where everyone had to bring a baked dessert for judging (and eating). J and B brought a beautiful chocolate babka which was suspiciously excellent…and after a few drinks it was revealed that on a friend’s tip they had bought the babka from Aviv Cakes & Bagels!

I’ve been dreaming of that babka for close to 5 years now and decided that it was time to revisit Aviv. Being in Elsternwick the bakery caters well for a large Jewish clientele – bagels, strudels/kugels, pastries filled with poppy seeds – and Italian/Continental style biscuits and cakes. The bakery is super busy and there are only a handful of chairs and tables so most patrons, including me, opt to take away.

The chocolate babkas are sold by weight and my typical one feeding around 10-12 people cost around $27. It was a gorgeous buttery ring of sweetened risen dough and chocolate paste and a large hunk is perfect with a cup of tea.

There is no need to toast it (like brioche) as I think it’s better as is with just a little ‘freshening up’ in the oven if it’s been sitting a bit. It didn’t go dry or stale over the weekend during which we nibbled at it bit by bit, though on Saturdays they do produce a mini-babka.

The poppyseed strudel was around $15 and was stuffed with a rich, almost savoury poppyseed filling. I like my pastry a little flakier in the French style, but it was still buttery and light.

Aviv is an old-fashioned bakery with a strong following. I’m sure it will continue churning out its classic bakery items like the chocolate babka for many generations to enjoy.

My travel to this cafe was made possible thanks to the Holden Barina.

Aviv Cakes & Bagels 412 Glen Huntly Road  Elsternwick +61 3 9528 6627

Aviv Cakes & Bagels on Urbanspoon

HOT: Up in the Air, Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon St, Elsternwick

upintheair_posterUp in the Air does the almost impossible – it makes redundancy humorous.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a corporate downsizing gun-for-hire who flies around the country firing employees for bosses who are too cowardly to do the dirty work themselves. He’s a smooth operator, full of pretend concern and oft-repeated platitudes but with just the right amount of emotional distance to move in, do his job, and move out. He loves his work, mainly because it allows him stay on the road with no responsibilities and no emotional ties, with all of his life’s necessities neatly packed in his carry-on luggage. (There’s a funny scene where he talks about how to pick the fastest line when going through x-ray security – so true!).

His life is about to be turned upside down though when his boss hires Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a keen and perky young graduate who suggests that business costs could be reduced if the terminations are done via video-conference. With his lifestyle threatened, Bingham takes Natalie ‘on tour’ to show her what it’s really like to fire someone.

In another strand of the story, one night in yet another random hotel bar he meets Alex  (Vera Farmiga), a sexy and intelligent business woman who also seems to enjoy living life as a constant traveller and shares his fascination with collecting frequent flyer miles and loyalty cards. They have a brief affair and then begin to meet up in various cities. Slowly Ryan realises that she has gotten under his skin and that maybe his itinerant lifestyle has its drawbacks.

Suave bachelor George Clooney is the perfect actor for the character of Bingham. Our gossip-mag knowledge of the poster boy for commitment phobia means that Clooney can convince us that someone wouldn’t be able to see the advantages in marriage or having a home and loves living a transient lifestyle. He has great chemistry with Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick and the writing from Jason Reitman (director of Juno and writer of Thank You For Smoking) is sharp and witty.

It’s not all beer and skittles though. Notice that the timeframes in the movie (such as at the conference the characters crash) are dated 2010 even though the movie was made in 2009, a device which keeps the film’s themes contemporary. While you’re laughing, Up in the Air also highlights that real people suffer when they lose their jobs.  Some of the footage you see are interviews with people who’ve been terminated. So their pain, disappointment, anger and humiliation are real, and it’s sobering to be reminded that for many people losing their job is the worse thing that’s ever happened to them.

Up in the Air is sophisticated, humorous and relevant and I really enjoyed it. I’m predicting it’ll win some major awards.

Ask the Doctor: Where to buy Japanese ingredients

06 Japan JK 194

Help me Doctor!: Do you know where in Melbourne I can buy black sesame paste and matcha powder (green tea in powder form)? I have not noticed them in Asian grocery stores. – Jenny T

Your prescription: Perhaps you would have better luck with a Japanese specialist grocery store? Here are a list of Japanese grocery stores close or close-ish to the city:

Itadakimasu! – Jetsetting Joyce

NOT: The Boys are Back

The Boys are Back is director Scott Hick’s (Shine) latest film about family, fatherhood and boys. The movie is based on ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ the 2001 memoir of The Independent columnist Simon Carr, and it was shot on location in South Australia, turned into an almost unrecognisable romantic landscape of swaying golden grass and winding seaside roads.

Clive Owen plays Joe Warr, a sportswriter who finds himself a single father of a six-year old boy and a teenager from a previous marriage. It’s a typical fish-out-of-water story as this ramshackle family raise themselves without any rules or feminine influence and with the reckless philosophy of ‘just say yes’.

The film held all the promise of an engaging story about the conflict, sadness and joys of family life, but it just didn’t grab me. I was trying to work out why and my conclusion was that I felt that the storyline and the characters lacked truth. I didn’t believe that Joe would feel quasi-sexual tension with pretty single mum Laura and sexy barmaid Mia, mere months after his wife’s death. I didn’t believe that any semi-responsible parent would ask an almost complete stranger to take care of his kids. I didn’t believe that the teenage Harry would choose to move thousands of kilometres away from his friends and upbringing in England in order to live in the South Australian bush. And the scenes where Joe’s dead wife comes back in visions to talk to Joe? Puh-lease.

For a film which is basically about a study in humanity, I think The Boys are Back failed. No doubt the critics will disagree with me – the film received an 8-minute standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival. My movie date buddy Lena also loved it, tearing up for most of the film. So which way do you fall – HOT or NOT?

HOT: An Education, Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon St, Elsternwick

education[Spoiler alert] On paper, the storyline to An Education sounds very trite.  A pretty and smart 16 year old girl from the suburbs ditches school and the possibility of attending Oxford in order to marry an older, richer man who shows her the ways of the world…but who’s hiding a mysterious past.

That’s until you realise that the story is based on the memoirs of Sunday Times journalist Lynn Barber. And that lends the whole story a level of poignancy. You know that things are going to end badly between the schoolgirl and her seducer, but they actually seem to have genuine affection, even love, for each other and in a way they are a good match because they are both lost souls seeking to live extraordinary lives.

Sweet Audrey Hepburn lookalike Carey Mulligan portrays Jenny as a girl with a warm intelligence yet a fragile heart. Jenny’s not just a flibbertigibbet whose head is turned by the first sign of male attention, but a girl unsure of why she’s working so hard to follow a path which has been set by her conservative parents and the expectations of her teachers.  David opens her eyes to a bright whirlwind world of fancy restaurants, art auctions and romantic Paris. Why shouldn’t life be fun all the time?

I found the character of David (Peter Sarsgaard) the most interesting. It would have been too easy to characterise him as a sleazy old man preying on a young mind. But I never found him to be creepy – despite his later-revealed adultery and his cowardly behaviour, I don’t think he ever treated Jenny as a plaything to be discarded callously. He relished Jenny’s wide-eyed appreciation of the world he was showing her, and I could understand how easy it would be to fall in love with the prospect of being part of someone’s life-changing experiences.

An Education is a sophisticated take on the Lolita story, set on the cusp of the Swinging Sixties in London and with a script of full of sparkling dialogue from author Nick Hornby. The film won the Audience Choice award and the Cinematography award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Read Lynn Barber’s fascinating account of the true story of An Education here.

HOT: First Tuesday Book Club, ABC Studios, 8 Gordon St, Elsternwick

First Tuesday Book Club ABC Studios 8 Gordon St Elsternwick

My second Melbourne Writers Festival event was another TV show, this time the filming of the ABC’s popular First Tuesday Book Club, screening next Tuesday on 1 September (look out for me in the front row clapping and laughing on cue).

There was a palpable sense of excitement from the mostly middle-aged women as we were led onto the red-draped set and into our seats. In case you were wondering, the books in the background are fake and the shelves I really think are the IKEA Expedit range that I have in my house!

The session began with petite host Jennifer Byrne giving us a megawatt smile and introducing her co-hosts Marieke Hardy and Jason Steger, along with the week’s special guests: British author, essayist, librettist and critic Philip Hensher; and Australian author, the bard of Brunswick, Shane Maloney.

The tone of the show was an stimulating debate amongst friends. There was an easy-going banter between the panellists as they discussed their different viewpoints on Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi and the classic The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. [Spoiler alert] The former was a duo of traveller’s tales, two novellas which were very different but came as a pair. Opinion was divided on whether it was an enjoyable book or not. Marieke felt that the main character was repulsive, the sex scenes grubby and the whole exercise frustrating, uncomfortable and pointless. The other panellists found the limpid and drifting main character intriguing, the ambiguity teasing and they interpreted a deeper meaning in the book – the idea that life was happening elsewhere, that a part of the human condition is that there is always a chance of salvation in our meaningless lives but the tragedy is that we may not recognise it. As such, the book was a study in indignity, shame and loss of self.

The panel was much more in agreement about the magnificent writing in The Leopard, a history of the downfall of the Italian aristocracy after the unification of Italy in the 1860s. The initial discussion was about the central role of food which had everyone in the audience salivating (in fact, Shane had served the timbale (macaroni pie) described in the book in another Melbourne Writers Festival session).  Then they moved into a general discussion of the elegiac tone and the beautiful melancholy of the text, quoting scenes which they considered to have unforgettable power. I came away inspired to read it, so the book club achieved its aim.

If you want to get a jump ahead, next month they’ll be discussing Sarah Waters‘  The Little Stranger, and John Fante’s Ask the Dust.

HOT: Glick’s, 362 Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick


When I lived in Montreal I discovered that Montrealers are as passionate about bagels as New Yorkers. Everyone declared allegiance to one of two bagel shops: Fairmount Bagel Bakery and St Viateur Bagels. Residents argued passionately about the superiority of their preferred bagel shop and could never be swayed that the other shop’s bagels were more flavoursome/more dense/less dense/chewier/less chewy.

Glick's 362 Glenhuntly Rd Elsternwick

In Melbourne there’s no such controversy – the best bagels come from Glick’s. This kosher bakery makes bagels with just the right amount of chew (which is what distinguishes bagels from other breads) in an array of savoury and sweet flavours. My favourites are cinnamon and raisin and blueberry, but as it was lunchtime on my visit I decided to opt for the ‘Everything’ bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese and salad. In the interests of taste-testing I also tried a small challah, a traditional Jewish braid of slightly sweetened brioche-like bread. Delicious.

HOT: Sunshine Cleaning, Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon St, Elsternwick

It’s hardly a surprise that perenially sunny Amy Adams is the star of the movie called Sunshine Cleaning. But it’s not all singalongs and pastel cupcakes – the film is about a former high school cheerleader, now single mum Rose (Adams) who teams up with her flaky, dope-smoking sister Norah (Emily Blunt with a very convincing American accent) to start an unusual business – a crime scene clean-up service. The movie is not so much about cleaning as it is about Rose’s down-at-heel life, complete with dead-end affair with her former high school sweetheart, and the sisters loving and sometimes fractitious relationship. It’s a funny, kooky and heartwarming film and I think everyone will relate a little to the dysfunctional Lorkowski family.

HOT: My Year Without Sex, Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon St, Elsternwick

Wow. In all my blogging history, I’ve never received such angry comments as those received in response to my NOT for Samson and Delilah. But if I’m going to open up HOT or NOT to anonymous commentators, then I know I have to be ready to receive (and post) dissenting views. Hey, even the Cannes International Film Festival jury disagreed with me!

However, I must admit I’m feeling a little defensive so I can’t resist giving a teeny jab to my violently dissenting readers by saying that I really enjoyed My Year Without Sex, a new film by Australian director Sarah Watt. Yes, I managed to enjoy the story and relate to the characters even though I’m not Anglo Australian, married, don’t live in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, didn’t grow up playing or watching footy and I don’t have kids, a mortgage or a brain aneurysm.

The film is a low-key, charming and funny film about the year in the life of a suburban, middle-class family. When the mother, Natalie (brilliant Sacha Horler), is diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, her husband Ross (still fresh-faced Matt Day) and two kids bravely continue living out the dramas and humour of the everyday – whether it’s organising a makeover birthday party, the tooth fairy tipsily depositing her pokie winnings one night and conducting a pet funeral over the Western Bulldogs team song. The characters are likeable and believable and you come out of the cinema with a wonderfully warm feeling in your heart. A real pleasure.

HOT: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon St, Elsternwick 3185

It’s not often that I’d say that a film adaptation is better than the book, but to my surprise that was the case for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

I really didn’t like the book, mostly because I thought the protaganist Bruno was rather annoying and frustratingly dim about what his Nazi commandant father did for a living, and that the ‘farm’ next door was a concentration camp. So I didn’t have any expectation that I would enjoy the movie.

However, in the film, the big wide eyes of Asa Butterfield managed to convince me that perhaps an 8 year old could be that innocent, even right up to the end (which I won’t give away). Also, Vera Farmiga impressed me with her portrayal of his mother as she moved from pride to disenchantment to anguish.

Some reviewers have criticised the film for sanitising the horrors of a concentration camp, but I think director Mark Herman has achieved the right balance here, as the whole purpose of the storyline is that it is told from the perspective of a child who has the truth hidden away from him. Perhaps he is a useful symbolic counterpart for all those citizens of Nazi Germany who deliberately chose not to see or to know.