It has been a tough week for the good folk at Downtown Beirut. A tough few weeks, actually.
Madaline Fakhoury and her crew are thousands of kilometres from Beirut in Lebanon but the shockwaves from the devastating August 4 explosion in that city were certainly felt at 25 Beaumont Street, Islington.
"It's been sad, so very sad," she said. Her usually jovial tone is subdued and her voice waivers.
"We all have family injured. Every single Lebanese person that I know has had family injured. The city is where everyone works - there's nothing in the villages - and it's summertime there.
"Overnight everything got destroyed. People are homeless, people have got no food."
Feeling helpless and so far away, Madaline decided to take action. She has put out a call for donations of essential goods that will be shipped to those in need in Beirut.
On the list are items like diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, sanitary items, toothbrushes, toothpaste and toiletries, as well as canned food, pasta, rice, flour, biscuits, clothing, shoes and blankets.
If you can help, please drop off what you can at Downtown Beirut by this Sunday, August 16. All donations will be taken by truck to a container in Sydney on Monday.
Madaline advises against people donating money, but says she appreciates the gesture.
"We live in a good country that can supply what people need, when they need it. In Lebanon there is a lot of corruption," she said.
"I've had a lot of people want to donate money, which is wonderful, but I'd rather supply goods that will directly benefit the people in need. Even if it's secondhand, if it's in good condition it will help."
Closer to home, Madaline says she is struggling with a sharp - and sudden - downturn in trade.
"With this coronavirus, business has gone down dramatically over the past three weeks. We were on fire and then bang, it hit us," she said.
"It's like people got scared at what happened in Melbourne, and then there was an outbreak in Sydney and again in Newcastle.
"This past week, we've been choking. I still have a business to run and my family and on top of that, what happened in Beirut.
"But at the end of the day, we're still in a better position than a lot of the people who are stuck in Lebanon and who don't have a future any more. They don't even know what's going to happen tomorrow, or where they are going to sleep, or where they will get their next meal from.
"So I am just so grateful. We're all just doing what we can do and hopefully things will turn around."
Keep an eye out for a Downtown Beirut pamphlet in your letterbox over the coming week. The menu is being revamped for takeaway purposes, and the dine-in capacity has been reduced.
As for the food? Delicious.
One for the diary
Emerson's Restaurant at Adina Vineyard & Olive Grove celebrates its 10th birthday on September 23 and chef/owner Emerson Rodriguez plans to mark the milestone by revisiting "some of the old favourite dishes" from past menus.
Spicy sauce challenge
Can you take the heat? Burger Urge wants to know and, to this end, is challenging people to its new Hot Wing Challenge. Have a go and eat Burger Urge's Southern Fried Chicken Wings with three different sauces, each with varying spice levels that build up to a final spine-tingling sauce that they say is 700 times hotter than a jalapeno. Vegetarians can swap the chicken wings for cauliflower. The competition runs throughout August.
Fried chicken alert
Speaking of chicken, connoisseurs of the fried variety should find the time to duck over to Newy Fried Chicken tomorrow (August 13) to try out the Chicken Banh Mi (fried chicken tenders, pickled carrots, green onion, red chilli, cilantro, chicken pate, mayo and Maggi seasoning served on a Vo's bakery Vietnamese roll). It's only available tomorrow, it's in limited supply, and you can dine in at the Newcastle Hotel or take away.
The new normal?
Business owners are already on the front foot as COVID-19 again rears its ugly head, with many pivoting to offer takeaway or delivery as well as dine-in. Take the time to check rather than just dismiss the idea of ordering altogether. Those who are continuing to offer dine-in are required to follow the strictest of protocols when it comes to cleaning and social distancing. And if you do reserve a table and can't make it, please let the venue know so they don't miss out on securing another much-valued customer. Another thing, and it might vary from cafe to cafe. One small Newcastle coffee spot recently asked patrons not to "set up camp" if they were planning on ordering one coffee - and one coffee only - and lingering for hours at a table when seats are already limited. Don't take it personally. Play by the rules and be kind.
Dig deep for dogs
National Dog Day is on August 26 and Sit Stay Society Wines has launched three new half-bottle varieties at Dan Murphy's and BWS, with 50 cents from every bottle donated to Pet Rescue to help pets in need. They are Ruby's Rosé, Violet's Gurner Veltliner and Mario's Mataro Montepulciano. Last year's efforts helped find homes for 71,933 pets.
Freebie of the week
Cibi is abook about home-style Japanese cooking inspired by Melbourne cafe and design space created by Meg and Zenta Tanaka. It contains more than 80 seasonally relevant recipes using vegetables, fish and seafood, meat, grains and noodles, and sweets, plus elements of Japanese cooking and food culture.
Cibi also incorporates elements of Japanese design culture alongside personal anecdotes as well as snapshots of the Cibi-feel: an enjoyment of food, community and sharing.
Cibi is out now through Hardie Grant, RRP $49.99. Food & Wine has a copy to give away. To enter, send the word "Cibi" with your name, address and number to email@example.com. Entries close on Monday at 9am.