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Putting grandma on the menu

Talk about promiscuous. In the past month, I’ve been seen around town with five different girls. I recall Margaret, Lola, Ursula, Lana and Apollonia in Sydney alone. And I have more in my little black book, waiting for me in Melbourne: Matilda, Marion, Martha and Audrey, here I come.

Illustration by Drew Aitken.
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They’re all restaurants, mind, so my promiscuity is mandated. I have to. It’s my work. Besides, if you ignored restaurants with female names right now, you’d be very, very hungry. Currently, we’re in peak grandmother stage, which is very sweet. Perhaps it’s an homage to a loved one, or a smart manoeuvre to stay in the will, or just because grandmothers have beautiful names. From the English side of the family alone, we can choose from Ethel, Sybil, Enid, Beryl, Bessie, Harriet, Lillian and Millicent, with ever-more-enchanting names from the rest of the world.

Who started this? Women did, actually. There was a time, in 1980s Melbourne, when some of the best restaurants in Australia were named for women: Stephanie’s, Mietta’s, Tansy’s. The difference is these restaurants were named by women for themselves. They owned and ran them.

Now it seems to be mostly men who are naming their new restaurants after women. Los Angeles-based Australian chef Curtis Stone kickstarted this latest round in 2014 when he named his first American restaurant Maude, after his paternal grandmother. He followed up – possibly in the interests of family harmony – by naming his second restaurant for his maternal grandmother, Gwen, in 2016.

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The aforementioned Margaret in Double Bay is named for Neil Perry’s late mother; chef Phil Wood has opened Ursula’s in Paddington, having just left Laura on the Mornington Peninsula; and Melbourne chef Scott Pickett, who named his South Yarra restaurant Matilda after his daughter, will open Audrey’s this summer in The Continental at Sorrento as an homage to his grandmother.

But we men want equal billing, please. Gender parity. Has anyone named their restaurant after their grandfather? Would you believe, yes. In 2018, chef Tristan Rosier named his Surry Hills restaurant Arthur for his grandfather. Thank you. Except he’s about to open his second neighbourhood restaurant and name it Jane, for his you-know-who.

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