It turns out I have a day off on Friday, a day with an extreme fire danger. Needing to go out into the fresh air rather than sit inside, despite the high temperatures, I head to Williamstown.
The Strand restaurant overlooks the marina and the city. On a Friday lunchtime it is quiet enough, with only two of the terrace tables occupied. I sit at the table with the best view and the further position from the crying baby, and settle in with my new copy of Vanity Fair.
The menu is short but appetising. An array of seafood, fresh pasta and steak proves difficult to choose from. I struggle to choose between a tiger prawn and rocket risotto and a seafood curry. The seafood curry wins out.
My starter, a Greek salad, is chunky and delicious, with just the right amount of olive oil and oregano but sadly missing the red onion promised on the menu. There could be a lot more feta cheese – two chunks is miserly even without considering the price.
The seafood curry, strangely, is served with risoni instead of rice, a bit like a bouillabaisse. I am put off momentarily but the dish wins out in the end. I scoop up tiger prawns, lumps of white fish, freshly steamed mussels and the odd scallop all swimming in a hot coconutty red curry gravy. It lasts an age.
Across the road a young man lets his girlfriend have a try on his shiny new motorbike. She wobbles wildly and he stops her before she topples over. Undeterred, she tries again, swerving madly behind some grasses which obscure her inevitable downfall. I, and the people at the table beside me, stop eating to watch the spectacle. The young bloke runs towards the girl, alarmed. We can’t see the motorbike but can just about see the sun glinting off the top of her helmet as she sits, no doubt despondent, in the shrubbery. Moments later, he has the motorbike back on its wheels. He caresses it fondly. No sign of giving the girl a hand up. Both tables wail as a stationery van parks in front of us momentarily, blocking our view. You couldn’t pay for this quality of live entertainment over lunch.
I finish my glass of Wild Duck Creek shiraz malbec and gaze across the city. The haze is partially from the weather and partially from the fires still going across the state, many today quite close to the city. My colleagues are watching the Country Fire Association fire list grow and deploying volunteers to where the people are congregating. Like Nero I sit and do what I do to relax. Today is not my day.
At just over $70, my two course lunch with wine was worth it. Discreet and friendly service, perfect setting, excellent food (notwithstanding my lack of red onion – I like red onion). I will be back for dinner some evening.