Sing Street is a feel-good musical about the in-between days found nestled between childhood and adulthood. The film is an optimistic one set in Dublin in the 1980s. It was a halcyon time in the post-punk era where a kid could start a band by picking up an instrument and people across the world were falling in love with and saying they wanted their MTV! much like this film- it was a colourful time indeed.

This story is a semi-autobiographical one by writer and director, John Carney. The latter is no stranger to the world of music as he was formerly a member of Glen Hansard’s group, The Frames and the pair had a hit film in 2006 with Once. Carney is almost like an Irish Cameron Crowe here because Sing Street certainly has some things in common with “Almost Famous” even if the protagonist in this film is an aspiring musician rather than a rock journalist.

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo stars as Conor, an idealistic dreamer and sensitive, arty kid. Conor’s parents are suffering from money problems and the disintegration of their marriage. To save money, Conor is moved from his elite private school to a Christian Brothers one. This move means that Conor is sometimes subjected to abuse and taunts by the local bully and a mean-spirited teacher/brother.

Conor meets the gorgeous, aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) but he realises she is more worldlier than he is and that she is also out of his league. In order to impress the girl Conor decides he will form a band with a ragtag group of misfits he has befriended at school. Conor’s brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) is a stoner and music fan who serves as his brother’s musical mentor much like Zooey Deschanel was when she coached her on-screen brother William in Almost Famous. The soundtrack is also excellent with the likes of The Cure, Hall & Oates and A-HA featuring quite prominently.

The band make big strides writing their own songs and producing their own music videos. Their sound is a kind of teen angst-fuelled pop one that is influenced by the music and looks of the time including new wave and the romantics. The young actors all put in excellent performances in Sing Street with Conor quite often resembling a young Robert Smith of The Cure fame. Boynton and Walsh-Peelo also share a noteworthy chemistry as young lovers. The special features are satisfactory and include a few making of featurettes with Carny as well as Adam Levine plus videos of the cast auditions.

Sing Street is an exuberant romp and dramedy that is cut from the same cloth as one of John Hughes’ coming-of-age stories. The film is like a love letter to the craft of song writing and the characters are so darned likeable that you will be rooting for them all to succeed and hit the charts sometime soon. Sing Street is ultimately an accessible, multi-faceted story that is so fun to watch it will leave you singing its praises.

Originally published on 28 November 2016 at the following website:

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Chefs Gallery has become a favourite for Sydneysiders who enjoy contemporary Chinese cuisine. The restaurant has a great menu but they also enjoy constantly evolving and introducing new items for hungry punters. The recent menu additions at this eatery include nine different snack-style skewers that are roasted over charcoals, as well as some fresh mains and desserts that are in keeping with the other dishes on offer.

Kai Sern Ching first introduced Sydney to high-quality Chinese food when he brought the Din Tai Fung chain to our city in 2008. In 2010 Chefs Gallery followed with a glamourous, flagship store in Regent Place, next door to Sydney’s iconic, Town Hall. Since then, Chefs Gallery has expanded into the suburbs with restaurants in Bankstown, Parramatta and Macquarie Centre, to name a few.




The food at Chefs Gallery draws on and adds fresh twists on the four main traditions in Chinese cookery. This subsequently means that the eatery has a very diverse menu. There are noodles and breads inspired by the Northern school of thought; fish and rice dishes from the Eastern; spicy foods from the West; and items from Hong Kong that take their notes from the Southern tradition.

Chapas or Chinese-style tapas are the order of the day here. This is food that is designed to be shared and enjoyed amongst good company. A fine start to a meal is the new roast duck and citrus salad. This includes a selection of fresh green leaves, enoki mushrooms, almonds, cherry tomatoes and the restaurant’s signature duck sauce dressing. This is a fresh dish that boasts a balance of flavours and textures with the nutty crunch of the almonds mixing well with the sweet tomatoes and the moreish pieces of duck.




A dish boasting a few surprises was the sweet and sour pork. This was not your glowing, red variety typically found in plastic Tupperware boxes at take-away stores, or at the bottom of the fridge. The Chefs Gallery variety was a dish fit for an emperor with crispy, golden pieces of pork in a glossy brown sauce and served with a beautiful, magenta flower made from cabbage. This pretty dish tasted as good as it looked.




Another big surprise was the restaurant’s salt and pepper tofu. This one boasted the chef’s own handmade egg and spinach tofu, lightly fried in a golden batter. This gave a lovely, crunchy outer skin that counteracted nicely with the creamy soft centre of tofu. It was also topped with different spices including chilli and pepper. This has to be one of the best vegetarian dishes ever.




Chefs Gallery’s restaurants are renowned for their handmade noodles. Patrons can watch the noodles being folded, stretched and made in the large open kitchen. A good way to sample these noodles is in the flavour-packed wok-fried noodles with sliced salted pork belly, fried egg, garlic chives, wood ear mushrooms, carrots and crispy pork belly crackling. The soy sauce had a divine smoky flavour and the noodles had a delightful sheen that almost served like a spotlight, making you realise how yummy this stir-fry is.

Sydneysiders love their pork belly. This could possibly be the reason why there are often queues outside of Chefs Gallery and other fine establishments. Their decadent Dongpo pork belly takes no less than six hours to prepare and is cooked with a medley of secret spices. The finished product has a beautiful, caramel texture and a serving that is very generous – it could almost feed a small army!




This eatery is also known for their cute little piggy buns (filled with a sweet black sesame paste) for dessert. But there are also two new desserts that are likely to give these little piggies a run for their money. The mango granita served with coconut cream, slices of fruit and crunchy granola, looks poised to be the feel-good hit of the summer. In short, it’s quite light and refreshing.




The sesame panna cotta with kaffir lime dusted meringue, Adzuki beans and sesame seed tuile, is great fun to eat. The tuile provides a crunchy sense of theatricality where you can “break” into as you do when smashing the top of a crème brûlée! The pana cotta’s smooth creaminess is also nicely contrasted by the small chunks of sweet meringue and tart fruits.




Chefs Gallery is building a strong reputation for high-quality, contemporary Chinese cuisine. The addition of several new menu items manages to expand on the ideas that originated in the dishes that people have come to know and love, while also drawing some exciting surprises into the mix. At the end of the day Chefs Gallery is proving to be one great melting pot of fabulous ideas; their fresh and varied menu means you can pick and choose your very own sumptuous, Chinese banquet. Yum!

Originally published on 28 November 2016 at the following website:

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On September 10 and 11 The Rocks became Sydney’s answer to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The Smooth Festival of Chocolate was celebrating its third year and it was bigger and brighter than ever. For one weekend, tens of thousands of people got to embrace their inner chocoholic and consume lots of chocolate, fudge, gelato, cronuts, doughnuts, brownies, freakshakes, muffins, macarons, cheesecakes, pastries and more. Put simply, it was joy on earth!




In 2016 over 90 different stalls were on offer. This year saw an increase in the number of food trucks and lunchtime snacks so that people had a chance to get a tasty break from their sugar highs. One particular highlight was the Hoy Pinoy stall who turned their space into a mouth-watering outdoor barbeque, with skewers that were very succulent and quite divine!




The festival featured a number of different parts, including a garden bar sponsored by the Bilpin Cider Co for adults, and a Darrell Lea chill-out area for families. The chocolate artisans could be found in the Overseas Passenger Terminal, selling their yummy packaged treats including Chocolab’s unique chocolate bars, and French chocolate brand Jeff de Bruges who have recently opened a store at Westfield Bondi.


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The Overseas Passenger Terminal was also home to two magnificent chocolate artworks by artist James Patrick. One was predominantly made of Lindt ball wrappers while the other saw Sydney Harbour immortalised in chocolate. Another huge drawcard was the Baked by Joanne stall. Joanne Smith’s amazing cake creations were a big hit with people after an amazing photograph or ten, and it was little wonder when her cakes were topped by upside down choc tops, lolly pops and Nutella jars spilling out their gooey goodness.





The Callebaut Test Kitchen played host to demonstrations by a number of important pastry chefs like Christopher Thé (Black Star Pastry), Jean-Michel Raynaud (La Renaissance Patisserie) and Gigi Falanga (Zumbo’s Just Desserts) and Adriano Zumbo’s large stall was serving up sweet treats. We were fortunate enough to watch Anna Polyviou’s (Shangri-La Hotel) demonstration and she was an absolute treat. Polyviou is quite possibly the Ellen DeGeneres of pastry chefs. She was encouraging people to dance while tempering chocolate, she cracked lots of jokes and had her DJ friend play some tunes. But the funniest thing of all was seeing her throw one of her Anna’s Mess desserts (one that went viral thanks to MasterChef) at an audience member named Eddie who was a good sport about it.





Further highlights included the sensational strawberry watermelon cake from Black Star Pastry and some interesting cronut sticks. On Sunday morning, Gelato Messina had sold out of two of their creations, the hazelnut Mucho Bueno Bar and the hilarious milk chocolate, Robert Brownie Jr. Bar. Chocolate fans could also get their own personalised block of Lindt Chocolate at the Lindt lounge. This spot was also selling three different éclair flavours: the standard chocolate as well as hazelnut and salted caramel.





The Smooth Festival in Sydney was quite simply heaven for chocoholics. There was a little something for everyone at this fun festival. We were all like kids in candy shops here, except that this was in the picturesque surrounds of Sydney’s The Rocks area. It was a weekend where we could all forget or diets, embrace our inner child and eat chocolate like it was going out of fashion. See you next year!





Originally published on 28 November 2016 at the following website:

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A Chance of Stormy Weather was originally self-published in 2004 by Australian, rural romance writer, Tricia Stringer. It was also one of her most requested books, as some readers thought it was good at distilling what life in the country is really about. This fictional story is not Stringer’s best work but it is still a well-written and pleasant-enough novel.

This book is about the marriage between a Sydney girl named Paula and a farmer from South Australia named Dan. The two had a whirlwind romance and got married not long after they initially met (and why this was the case is not properly explored.) This then sets things up for a fish-out-of-water tale as the book takes in the events that surround their first few months of marriage.

Paula is a naïve city girl when it comes to her new life. She doesn’t know much about the country (even basics like what kind of meat mutton is allude her) and she’s not used to driving along dirt roads. Paula is sometimes a difficult character to warm to. She is pretty idle when she initially arrives at her new home (granted some of this could be chalked up to the culture shock that she experiences) and she is sometimes quite silly (it’s hard to believe that she was burned in a previous relationship only to rush into the arms of another man.)

Dan on the other hand is an easier person to like. He’s a hard-working guy who’s trying to forge out a living and be self-reliant. But he is also hiding some secrets from the past, most importantly the present status/nature of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Katherine. There is also Dan’s meddlesome aunt, Rowena who is always on hand to offer her two cents worth and Paula’s parents are occasionally present to interfere with their daughter’s relationship under the guise of “meaning well.”

A Chance of Stormy Weather glosses over some important elements in the main characters’ romance (as well as their lives before they met one other) and it is ultimately a rather predictable story of a fish out of water. It’s also a book where the characters are not the most endearing or easy to warm to. Stringer has a fine reputation for telling engaging stories about the lives of individuals living in rural Australia and while this book seems to tick some boxes well, there was also room in this vast country expanse for some additional improvements.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit:




Grandmothers – or Nonnas in Italian – are often the glue in a family. They feed us, treat us and look after us. Sandhurst Fine Foods know all about this and are celebrating our beloved family matriarchs with a Festival of Nonna at 107 Projects in Redfern. It’s a series of Italian lunches, dinners and cooking workshops where you can learn techniques that have been perfected over multiple generations and enjoy great food and the company of some leading Italian-Australian chefs and their “nonnas.” It’s a fun and heart-warming occasion that is just like being embraced in a big, kind hug by your grandma.




The chefs heading up this festival are Andrew Cibej (Vini, Berta & 121BC) fame as well as his mother Valerie (who is also the mother of Bluejuice bass player, Jamie Cibej.) The other chefs include: Luca Ciano of the two-Michelin stared restaurant Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan, Massimo Mele (who has recently partnered with the First Datesrestaurant, Verandah in Sydney) and former MasterChef contestant, Sara Oteri. The workshops enable you to learn how to make Italian dishes like meatballs as well as making pastas and gnocchi from scratch.




Ciano has some wonderful tips for making the perfect gnocchi. Good high-starch potatoes that are similar sizes are the most important ingredient. The recipe itself is quite basic and includes flour, potato, eggs, parmesan cheese and seasoning like: salt, pepper and nutmeg. The potatoes are cooked with their skins on and then are subsequently removed. If they are overcooked they tend to absorb more water so this means that the quantities of the ingredients may need to change.




The potatoes are cooked until they are still a little firm. They are then pressed or mashed (but don’t use a stick blender to do this.) The other ingredients are then combined to form a dough. You roll out the dough and then cut the pasta into small squares. You then press each of these squares with a fork taking care not to apply too much pressure because you are still trying to make gnocchi that will retain its fluffiness after boiling. When you make these shapes in the pasta this ensures that the gnocchi lap up more of the sauce when you are eating it. It’s also a good idea to test-drive one of the gnocchi before you start cooking all of them because you may need to go back and add more flour to the dough if the gnocchi falls apart in the boiling water.




Andrew Cibej’s five course dinner was a showcase of beautiful Italian foods (including the Sandhurst product range) that were simple and well-seasoned. The ingredients also had excellent techniques applied to them and these helped create the perfect Italian spread that was fit for an emperor. Cibej’s family are originally from North-Eastern Italy, not far from the Veneto region and the menu reflected this. The antipasti included grissini (bread sticks) and some moreish San Daniele prosciutto. The smoked, wild river trout was delicious and the grilled asparagus and pecorino cheese was a great display of seasonal produce and the asparagus had a delightful char. The artichokes also had a nice chargrilled flavour and were topped with a divine salsa verde.




There were also some mixed-marinated olives with chilli. The darker olives are the ones that were the most ripe at the time of harvest.




The pieces of bread were also fluffy and salty and included some rosemary on top.




The primi or first courses (which in Italian food is traditionally a pasta dish) were a gnocchi with a pork ragù. This saw some sweet pork neck braised for over two hours and formed part of a rich and unctuous sauce that included peas and various herbs.




A main/secondo or carne (meat) is an understated, melt-in-your-mouth roast veal that has been twice-cooked in chicken stock and white wine. This was served with contorni or sides of roasted kipfler potatoes, green beans and olive salsa and a salad of radicchio and egg and kipflers. The salad was pretty to look at and had a nice, savoury tartness.




For dessert or dolce there was a stracciatella (vanilla and chocolate) semifreddo with frutti del bosco (fruits of the forest.) This was like a luxurious Vienetta ice-cream topped with tart summer berries: strawberry, blueberry, cherry and raspberry.




Sandhurst Foods’ Festival of Nonna is a celebration of all things family. Their food business was founded in 1988 by Vince and Geraldine Lubrano and their hard work continues with the couple’s sons, Mimmo and Ray. This pop-up at the rooftop garden at 107 Projects in Redfern is a relaxed and superb way to celebrate and count your blessings in life, whether it be good food, great cooking or a family that plays and stays together while embracing all of the best things from the old country.


The Festival of Nonna, which is on until 27th November, has sold-out all of its current sessions. For more information and stay up to date click HERE.

Originally published on 21 November 2016 at the following website:

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The Great Gatsby is a film that only lives up to part of its name. The Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) adaptation of the classic, F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is “great” insofar as it is lavish and rich in a visual sense. But this story simply does not transfer well onto screen (despite the many attempts that have been made over the years.) This is because the literary element and examination of the deterioration of the American dream cannot really be acted out, it needs to be read, imagined and experienced.

The film has recently been released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. In this new format the film still remains a sumptuous period piece and epic and one that contains some modern twists. It is also still a visual splendour but it is a case where style does not equate to substance. Luhrmann’s over-reliance on flashy CGI and frenzied editing often make for sensation-overload or at the very least a dizzying watch.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, a wealthy man who likes to tell people that he’s from old money and society. In reality, he’s a self-made man (read: bootlegger) who fell in love with a rich and sensual girl named Daisy Buchanan (the always-reliable, Carey Mulligan) during the First World War. Their affair was an intermittent one and Jay hoped that they would meet again and that he could win over her heart after making something of himself. Instead she marries the horrid, blue-blooded Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and Gatsby is left pining. Gatsby decides that the best way to find Daisy is to throw lavish parties to lure her in and for everyone else’s enjoyment but not really his own.

The casting of this film seems fairly reasonable. The doe-eyed, Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carraway, Daisy’s cousin and a writer who is telling a doctor about this summer love triangle while an in-patient at a sanatorium. In the novel a lot of the text is introspective so in order for it to be told on the screen, Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce had to tell things from Carraway’s perspective. The filmmakers also took certain liberties with the story, leaving out some of the final chapters and using hip-hop and electronic music in a period that was synonymous with the jazz age. This alone makes the film feel like it’s trying too hard to be edgy.

The Blu-ray edition features a number of featurettes that are interesting and shine a light on the creative process. Luhrmann and the film’s co-stars feature quite prominently as does his wife, creative partner and producer, Catherine Martin. The latter is an Oscar-winner who has a real eye for detail and also served as the production designer and costumer. On the one hand the pair should be applauded for their ambition and attention for detail but that does not excuse the times where the film feels too bloated by its never-ending conga line of over-the-top visuals. It means that some of the fat could have been trimmed from the bone because this would have made for a better and more enjoyable film.

The Great Gatsby is a classic love story about the Nouveau Riche living in Long Island. For some it would be sacrilegious that a group of Australians decided to go and adapt it. This film is definitely not one for the purists or for the lovers of the book because nothing will ever be able to hold a candle to Fitzgerald’s amazing prose, especially when such liberties have been taken with this particular rendering. The Great Gatsby may prove “great” in a visual sense but it lacks what really matters and that is the sentimentality and truth of the original story.

Originally published on 19 November 2016 at the following website:

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The late, great Prince was an undisputed, musical genius. But this same praise cannot be said about his filmmaking skills. Graffiti Bridge was considered a kind of sequel to the film, Purple Rain, but it was a disaster at the box office and as a story because it is an incoherent mess of clichés about love, life, music and spirituality.

For Graffiti Bridge Prince wore several hats including lead actor (reprising his Purple Rain role as The Kid) as well as director, writer and soundtrack composer. The film is a Prince machine in every sense of the word but it is obvious from the results that the Purple One was a little out of his depth because it is little more than a mess of different and competing ideas.

The story goes that the owner of the Glam Slam, Billy has passed away and left his nightclub to be divided equally between The Kid and the former one’s old foe, Morris Day (himself.) The pair have a bet to decide who will take over the ownership of the club. Over the course of the film there are some strange moments like Day urinating on a pot plant before setting it on fire. There is also a bizarre love triangle between these two men and a kind of higher force or angel named Aura (Ingrid Chavez.)

Purple Rain was a success because Prince handed over the reins to Albert Magnoli and William Blinn in the writing department and to the former for the directing. The soundtrack to Purple Rain was also Prince’s best album but Graffiti Bridge has none of these things going for it. The songs are adequate, although the spiritual ballad seems sanctimonious. The plot is also flimsy at best and at its worst seems like nothing more than an extended music video clip.

Graffiti Bridge does have Morris fronting Prince’s pseudo-group, The Time as well as cameos by Mavis Staples, George Clinton and Tevin Campbell. It is also obvious that Prince had good intentions for this film in trying to explore his spirituality, sexuality and musicality. But none of these things make a particularly good film. At the end of the day Prince should have stuck to making music – or if he had to venture into films making concert movies – because at the end of the day, Graffiti Bridge proves to be a bridge too far.

Originally published on 13 November 2016 at the following website:

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The story of Sachiko and other hibakusha are important, as they chronicle a fundamental part of history. This book also supports Yasui’s work as an activist for peace, as it is a cautionary tale about nuclear weaponry, but also one of hardship and human resilience. At 144 pages there were elements that could have been elaborated on further, but it remains a well-researched piece of narrative non-fiction and essential reading for anyone interested in learning from the perils and tragedy of war.

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Actors Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada perform as Chris and Kim during a photocall for a new production of "Miss Saigon" at the Prince Edward Theatre in London May 19, 2014. The production marks the 25th anniversary of the musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

The musical was written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil who also wrote, Les Misérables. The story is actually based on Madame Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s opera about a tragic romance. In Miss Saigon the writers have taken the leads out of Japan and placed them into Vietnam with the romance blossoming between an American soldier and an innocent, young bargirl.

Eva Noblezada makes her professional acting debut as a vulnerable, 17-year-old girl named Kim. She is orphaned and accepts a bar job in Dreamland in order to survive. This seedy establishment is run by a French-Vietnamese hustler named The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones.) He is obsessed with money and concocts a “contest” where he crowns one of his working girls, “Miss Saigon” in order to charge a larger sum and commission for her services.

Kim meets an American G.I. named Chris (the dreamy, Alistair Brammer). Kim is naïve and sweet while Chris feels a bit lost in this strange environment but he also means well. The pair soon fall in love and marry. But they are separated during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Kim is left abandoned and pregnant and Noblezada does a fine job of making the audience really feel for the character. Kim also has to negotiate through the return of her cousin (Sangwoong Jo) who had been arranged to her in marriage by her late parents. But all she hopes for is a reunion with her beloved Chris.

The staging in this modern production at London’s Prince Edward Theatre is eye-catching with a helicopter appearing above the stage during the fall of the city and some black and white photography is also shown. There is also a grittiness to the poverty the poor characters experience and it’s hard to look away. The soundtrack is also a gorgeous and emotional one and the costumes are fabulous with Kim in demure pieces that set her apart from the raunchiness of the experienced, working girls. The ensemble also wear some glittery, showgirl outfits in “The American Dream” number when The Engineer reveals his big plans to move to the States.

Miss Saigon is a powerful story boasting equally large and sensitive ballads. This dramatic tale is a moving one about love, sacrifice and hope. The adaptation to the silver screen works well with the film capturing the simmering tension of the musical with close-ups honing on and emphasising the actor’s faces. This works well for the most part but at other points it does come at the expense of enjoying the ensemble’s dancing and the scenery, but this is just a minor quibble. Miss Saigon is ultimately a beguiling, melodious and downright beautiful experience that will tug at your heartstrings and leave you misty-eyed.

Originally published on 11 November 2016 at the following website:

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