Good Things in Small Packages

POD_botanica_redhill Botanica seems to operate on the philosophy "less is more". It is a tiny shop offering a small range of super fresh salads, savoury tarts and gluten free goodies for sweet tooths. No seating or espresso machine, this is all about good food to go. Gorgeous packaging and a steady stream of customers makes me suspect Brett and Alison Hutley have a hit on their hands. Head to 1 Enoggera Terrace Red Hill (Brisbane) - the gluten and diary free big chewy chocky biscuits are worth the trip alone! Botanica is right next door to Bowerbird Collections (see post below).

Bespoke Little Bird

POD_bowerbird_redhill At first glance Bowerbird looks like another 'lovely' interiors store. I quickly discovered the mother and daughter talent behind the counter makes this little nest of stylish things for the home a stand out. Peta Sweatman is a ceramicist who hand makes the bespoke lamp bases that are a feature item. Shades in all sorts of designer fabrics add the finishing touch. With most things made (and made well) in China these days it is refreshing to find someone bucking the trend.  The pony painting is hues of blue also caught my eye. Turns out Peta's daughter is the artist. She will take a portrait or photo of a favourite pet and turn it into a work of art with her paint brush and acrylics. Affordably priced, her work would make a great anniversary or special occasion gift. You can find Bowerbird Collections at 1 Enoggera Terrace, Red Hill, Brisbane. Ph (07) 3368 3241. 

The Milan Book

POD_MilanBook_MelbLaunch After almost five years in the making, my 'bestie', Robyn Lea has launched her sumptuous, stylish and all together fabulous behind the scenes book on Milan. It's a pastiche of part diary, part discovery of hidden gems in this magnificent city and mostly drool worthy photos that make me want to book a flight back there right now.

Launching into a hugely adventurous project just as the GFC hit meant there were plenty of high hurdles to jump along the way to put this book on the shelves (if it was an Olympic event she would take Gold for passion and persistence). I have watched her push on to complete the project whilst juggling her photography work, family (the youngest bambini being only 6 months old when she commenced the project) and uprooting the family from Melbourne to move to New York two years ago (I get tired just thinking about everything that she has had to contend with).  For me personally, I played a supporting role that included 3 trips to Milan to assist with production and plenty of 'ground support' here in Melbourne (I had a slight misdemeanour with the law a few years ago and found myself reliant on the trusty old treddlie for transport for a 3 month period ... I recall a very fast peddle to the post office with a print copy of the first draft tightly sealed in an express envelope to get it to a potential publisher and meet the postie's pick up deadline with about 2 minutes to spare ... her car was missing in action that particular day ... funny when you look back, but definitely not funny at the time!).

Robyn's stunning photographs and words have been woven together, turned into pages, bound and covered by ERD, a leading design studio, in Melbourne. The commitment of studio founder, Emilio Roccioletti, and the skills of Rossana Di Risso and Gabby Tedesco have been instrumental in bringing this project to fruition (Rosanna, Robyn and Leo at Berkelouw Books on Thursday - bottom picture above). "Love their work" pretty much sums up how I feel about them partnering with Robyn on this project.

Having already launched in Milan, London and New York, this week it's Melbourne's turn. You can purchase copies from Minimax (Robyn will be there signing books from 6pm to 8pm this Tuesday 20th August) or the city's most stylish store of archival and cutting edge fashion, Madame Virtue 5 Crossley Street Melbourne (Robyn pictured above signing copies at their little soiree last Saturday), Berkelouw Books in Australia, Barney's in New York, La Rinacente in Milan and Indigo Books in Canada. It is also available on Amazon (search The Milan Book by Robyn Lea).  and

No guesses what I'm giving for gifts this Christmas ... and the silly season will be here before we know it.  The book will make a stunning and treasured gift  for Christmas, a special birthday or anniversary (and a great corporate or VIP client gift now that I think about it!)


Australian residents can order a copy directly from ERD in Melbourne, who will package it up very nicely and pop it in the post for you.  The Milan Book RRP $95.00 + postage as follows: $15 for Melbourne & Victoria; $20 for Sydney & NSW, ACT & Adelaide & SA; $25 for Brisbane and SE Queensland; $30 for Northern QLD, NT, Perth and WA.  Email, with the subject title MILAN BOOK ORDER and the lovely crew there will sort it out for you, pronto!

They will also supply to fashionistas and style setters in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo and all other fabulous Asian cities. Email ERD for  postage details or if you are interested in being a stockist in Asia (I am sure it would fly off the shelves at Lane Crawford and Joyce!)

European and USA orders can be ordered directly through Robyn Lea Photography.  Email the gorgeous Marina for details on postage etc.

The Milan Book MIlan

Restaurant Empires in Crisis

I am posting this article that appeared in The Sunday Age yesterday regarding the Melbourne restaurant scene. I am sure it is useful information for POD readers who have retail projects under development.

Given that food and beverage is a daily driver for foot traffic and that legislation largely controls labour costs, perhaps rent structures need to be revised it we want this sector to continue to thrive and add to the fabric of a fabulous city.

Some of Melbourne's most prominent hospitality figures have been forced to close venues or dramatically restructure their debt-ridden empires as the industry faces the biggest upheaval since the introduction of the controversial fringe benefits tax in 1986.

Almost 1500 Victorian restaurants have closed their doors over the past 12 months, which has been blamed on soaring labour costs, corporate belt-tightening and the ''Masterchef effect'' that has inspired a generation of home cooks.

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive John Hart said the industry was gripped by a ''systemic crisis'' that had forced some owners to flout award wage laws and avoid tax.

''And that just creates unfair competition between the businesses that do the right thing and those that don't,'' Mr Hart said.

Fairfax Media can reveal that a company associated with prominent restaurateur Paul Mathis, who sold Transport Bar and Taxi Dining Room in Federation Square for $20 million in 2006, is facing liquidation action in the Supreme Court of Victoria. The company is alleged to have traded while insolvent for more than two years at Mathis' defunct Soulmama restaurant in the St Kilda Sea Baths complex.

Corporate liquidators found the company owed millions of dollars to the landlord, suppliers and the Australian Tax Office. It had also failed to pay some superannuation benefits and workers compensation insurance.

Between 2008 and 2010, the company lent more than $470,000 to five other businesses linked to Mr Mathis, which were unable to repay the loans and have been shut down or placed into liquidation. ''Based on my examination of the books and records of the company, it is my opinion that the company was insolvent at all times during the period of 1 July 2008 to 15 December 2010,'' said liquidator Philip Newman of PCI Partners in documents filed in the Supreme Court.

Mr Mathis declined to comment other than to say the allegations of insolvent trading made by the liquidator were ''his opinion''.

Mr Mathis announced his latest venture, a 250-seat pizzeria set to open in Southern Cross Station last month, despite recently walking away from four other restaurants - Bangpop and Akachochin in South Wharf, Henry and the Fox in the CBD and Hawthorn East's Firechief.

Mr Mathis' co-director in the four restaurants, Frank de Rango, did not respond to requests for comment.

Food writer Richard Cornish said Melbourne's struggling hospitality scene was having a knock-on effect for suppliers of meat, fresh produce and alcohol, with many winding back credit terms or only accepting cash.

He said many restaurateurs had been skewered by soaring labour costs and high rents. ''In Australia wages are high, penalty rates are a big issue and passing on the cost of labour at the weekend is incredibly difficult. On top of that, you have big rents. Australian landlords are some of the most rapacious in the world,'' he said.

Nick Zampelis is another high-profile entrepreneur who is scrambling to save his hospitality empire, which has included more than 60 bars, restaurants and nightclubs over the past 25 years. Mr Zampelis has sold or closed six restaurants over the past six months, placed his Elsternwick mansion on the market and is poised to sell CBD nightclub Silk Road at a massive loss in a bid to stave off creditors.

Mr Zampelis has an offer of about $3.5 million for the Collins Street venue, after spending more than $10 million on a lavish refurbishment.

He denied he was under financial duress. ''Times are obviously tough, but I'm doing fine. In fact, I have plans to open three new restaurants. I'm getting out of nightclubs because I'm sick of the industry,'' Mr Zampelis said.

Melbourne Pub Group is also under mounting pressure, after acquiring the Albert Park, Middle Park and Newmarket hotels before spending about $5 million on St Kilda's Prince of Wales Hotel in 2011, with the financial backing of prominent businessman and racehorse owner Gerry Ryan.

Executive chef and director Paul Wilson resigned two weeks ago, following the departure in March of the group's operations and marketing manager, Julian Gerner, who oversaw the rapid expansion. At the time, Mr Gerner told Fairfax Media he lacked the drive to continue running the pub empire in the face of increasingly difficult trading conditions.

''I've been the marketer and the driver of all the businesses to date, but these days you have to micromanage hospitality and the margins are very slim. I don't have the energy to work 100 hours a week under the scrutiny and pressure of others,'' he said.

Australian Hotels Association spokesman Paddy O'Sullivan conceded that Victorian pubs were doing it tough in the face of savage discounting of packaged liquor by supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths.

Mr O'Sullivan said licensed venues now accounted for only 25 per cent of all alcohol sales, which had fallen from about 50 per cent a decade ago.

Tough times have also come for Mario Scerri, who famously bought Croydon's Dorset Gardens Hotel for $44 million in a deal scribbled on the back of a napkin in a corporate box at the 2005 Boxing Day Test Match.

Last month, the Scerri Hotel Group collapsed after amassing at least $485,000 in debts to the North Melbourne Football Club and defaulting on a commercial loan to a major liquor marketer. Mr Scerri is also facing bankruptcy proceedings over a failed loan guarantee.

Despite its debts, Mr Scerri said the group was just a ''shell company'' whose failure said nothing about the health of his wider business empire, which include interests in the Anglers Tavern, Sloaney Pony and The Nixon.

''It basically did nothing and I was happy to let it go into liquidation,'' he said. ''It's very tough out there at the moment. Wages are up, super is up and prices are down with all the competition. But none of those [hotels] are in trouble.''

Mr Scerri said he was unaware of the bankruptcy proceeding.

Ownership of the Dorset Gardens Hotel, which was controlled by another Scerri company, was transferred into the name of his brother, Joseph, in late 2011. Both brothers deny that Mario has had anything do with the Dorset since at least 2007, despite ASIC documents showing he was the sole director and shareholder until late 2011.


Food Melbourne

Shibori Surprise

Indigo Jane_Shibori Studio_Brisbane Shibori is the ancient Japanese art form of dyeing cloth.  I have just discovered my neighbour has a serious talent for the craft, and from what I can see it's a messy process. She tells me there is a precise formulae to mixing a 'really good' indigo vat and that it has taken her years to perfect the recipe. I popped over this afternoon and found her mid-way through creating another batch of artisan fabric. I took a few snaps of the string, gloves and PVC pipe that she uses in her dyeing techniques and was happy with the abstract results (hence this blog post!). She has no web site or established retail channel but I think she should. If nothing else I think the first few photos would make a fabulous large scale piece of photographic art in a Byron Bay beach house. Ah the talent hiding in the suburbs ... it needs to be encouraged and supported. "Indigo Jane" the world awaits your first exhibition!

Fashion Other Brisbane