Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Episode 5 - Raisins and Almonds

I haven't been to the Italian Society Restaurant where Phyrne has dinner with her lover in this week's episode, but I have been to similar places in Sydney and Wollongong. The International Club in Wollongong shared a menu if not an ambiance with the Society. But in East Sydney in the early 1980s there was a restaurant that could have been its pup. No Come Skinnys got its name from the proprietor's description of his attempt to lose weight. Others, apparently, called it The Hole in the Wall. It may have been the original No Names; it certainly didn't have a name, and when I knew it the entrance was through a door opening onto a back lane somewhere near the corner of Stanley and Palmer Streets. Before that the place may have been in Francis Street, one street up from Stanley, closer to College St. Or it may not have moved at all, the location depending where you started from.

No Come Skinny's had maybe a dozen tables, with carafes of red and white wine on red-and-white checked plastic tablecloths and beautiful surly children who looked like they'd been booted into the room to act as waiters when they'd rather be labouring over their homework. "What d'ya want pig trotters for? You already got 'em." The mother was Irish. The wine was included.

The Italian Society Restaurant also poured drinks for free, but at the cost of frequent appearances before the licensing court. In February 1926 Guiseppe Codognotto, the proprietor, gave evidence that he collected money from club members and, when food was served, provided the wine at no extra charge. The Society's president, a M. Genova, got off for lack of evidence, but a singer, Ricardo Torre, was fined a quid for "having consumed liquor on unlicensed premises during prohibited hours".

Phyrne is such a Society regular she leaves it to the waiter to decide her order. He brings a bottle of "wicker-clad chianti", fettucine puttanesca, mullet with steamed celery and boiled potatoes and, to finish, zabaglione and cafe negro.

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