Vegetarian Restaurant/Venue 1975-1981
It's for gentle nuts only...
And Now For Something Completely Different was a vegetarian restaurant venue that existed from around 1975 to 1981 in Chatswood on the North Shore of Sydney, Australia. It was also known as 'The Diff' and to those who knew it, it was just known as 'the vegy restaurant' or even just 'the restaurant'. I will also shorten it here to its smallest common abbreviation - ANFSCD.
What you will find here is an organically growing archive website of memories and dreams from the staff, performers and customers who worked, played in and loved this phenomenal and unique space. It was full of creative dreamers who brought an inspiring diet of food and music to the people of Sydney.
What I hope is that, over the coming years, anyone lucky enough to have been there will send in their stories, photos, sound clips, posters, menus, and in particular I hope to acquire some movies on VHS or Super-8. Maybe there are still patrons out there who remember graffiti from the walls on the stairs?
I will accept sketches and paintings created from memory. Anything that will stimulate our memories and show the world what an amazing place it was. For now, here is a quick overview with a few pix to start with.
Vicki sent some wonderful pix! Vivienne sent an amazing collection of photos from 1980-81 that you can see on the new ANFSCD FaceBook page. Now Sally has found an old photo album that I have scanned and uploaded to the FaceBook Page.
You can read my story on my page and any other people who contact me with info about ANFSCD can also have a page built for them, for free. Simon, Sally, Paul, Kirk and Vivienne already have one. Yes, like many of the other people on this site who were caught up in the music and creativity of The Restaurant, you can buy my music on iTunes.
Much of what you find here on the Home page is a spontaneous overview as I remember it (although they say if you remember it you weren't there!) but if corrections come in then info will be updated. The site will develop slowly with different sections appearing and navigation menus as required. The Stories by staff, performers and customers are a chance for everyone who was there to tell their story the way they remember it.
I look forward to developing the depth and breadth of the site over the coming decades and I hope everyone enjoys rediscovering some of the wonder of - And Now For Something Completely Different - vegetarian restaurant.
An ex-ABC-TV film editor named Ken Kurtz started the restaurant and called it And Now For Something Completely Different obviously because he loved the movie, which is after all probably where it all starts.
The movie certainly sets the keynote for the tone of the restaurant - meaning basically anything goes, especially if it is a bit mad. Most of the staff, performers and customers were pretty crazy and the boundary between staff, performers and customers eventually blurred. I have embedded a copy of the original movie on the left here if you have a spare 90 mins.
To set up the restaurant Ken found an obscure open-plan area on the very top of the three story Big W (Woolworths) shopping complex in a small obscure back lane named Brown St, Chatswood, opposite the well-known Charles Hotel. The actual restaurant was only accessible from an even more obscure stairwell set into the east side of the building and was easily missed because of a distinct lack of signage. What's more, because Brown Street actually had no numbers as such, Ken put the street address as - 5 1/4 - just to make it even more eccentric. It was often a miracle that people found it at all which only added to the mystery. There were regular occasions where a table of guests were missing some of their party because they simply could not find it!
If you managed to find the entrance there was then a long hike up 6 flights of stairs. Ken knew from the start that the stairs would end up with all sorts of graffiti, so he commissioned some artist/friends of his to help him paint murals and poetry and sayings on the walls, especially Monty Python graffiti. Patrons were even encouraged to add their message and it provided considerable entertainment when both arriving and leaving, often causing traffic jams as people stopped to read. My favourite was “Time is nature’s way of stopping everything happening at once”.
At the top landing you entered through a big heavy fire door and went from a dim cold stairwell into the sunlit top floor filled immediately with divine vegy cooking aromas, plants, cane blinds, groovy music and welcoming staff. Many people said as they walked in during the day that - it feels like you have reached the ‘after-life’ and are being 'greeted by angels'. It was like going through a wormhole portal into a whole other space-time. Not quite 'The Restaurant at the End of The Universe' from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but pretty cosmic and out-there. Most of the staff were quite young and sexy as were many of the customers and the performers. This often led to interesting encounters.
The first thing you saw straight ahead as you walked in was the iconic ANFSCD cane blind painted by renowned artist Phil Clarke. The side of the blind that faced the door was painted gold with the words “and now for something completely different” hand-written in ‘running writing’ and the backside of the blind faced into the restaurant and had a seascape with beach, seaweed, sea, horizon and sky. In the later years of the restaurant the blind was moved to hang behind the desk with just the seascape as the main feature for a desk backdrop.
As you turned left to enter the restaurant area you faced the front desk (an old Singer sewing machine) where you waited to be seated and to pay at the end. In this photo there is a batik hanging behind the desk on the cane blinds that partitioned-off the back left corner of the room. This was the fabled ‘staff area’ where all sorts of mischief was made and from which you could see through the blind, like one-way glass, when guests arrived.
Turning right at the desk you found yourself at the end of a long, open-plan room about 30 metres in length and about 12 metres wide, interspersed with tables of different sizes, broken up by hanging cane blinds. The tables were hand-made by Ken to seat 4 or 8 patrons on wooden bench seats. People would regularly stand on the benches or sit on the tables and Ken could often be seen with a hammer and nails putting them back together. There were large white spherical paper lantern lights hanging from the ceiling and each table had a candle burning. Most of the hanging blinds faced lengthways so as not to block the view of the stage from the back.
This is not how we normally dressed... well... sometimes... but this was a specific fancy dress party. It shows the whole cross-section of the restaurant including the spiral staircase. In case you are worried, Vicki is dressed in a giant mask that represents her 'mind' and she is wearing a shirt with "I've lost my mind" written on it... so that when she put down the mask people would know... that she had lost it... a good example of how obtuse things could get. In the left photo you can just spot renown French sculpture Frederick Chapeaux in the dark to the right of the pole.
You can read Simon's story but here is a quick bit of history as I remember it: About halfway through the life of And Now For Something Completely Different the stress of it all started catching up with Ken whose marriage split up over the restaurant and he started to lose connection with it. I ran away to the country for a while. At that time there was an astute cook working there named Simon Brink who saw this as an opportunity to buy in to the business and he bought a half share. Simon then took over as manager and began the second half of The Diff's life, more as a funky venue - with vegy food.
Ken faded more and more into the background and I came back from being away for 8 months to discover that part of the change that had happened was actually cultural - Punk had happened! When I left it was an acoustic, hippie, vego restaurant but when I came back it was a funky, punky, electric venue. More on all that later.
In those last couple of years Simon built a special VIP area near the entrance at the back of the room. It was a raised area sitting up on three layers of milk crates (just over a metre high) covered in boards and carpets with a low coffee table in the middle. It was an area reserved for special guests, celebrities, managers, promoters and well, for Simon, where you had a clear view down to the stage with a nice stereo position. You could also enter and exit the restaurant quickly and easily without being noticed as much. Simon, who had previously done interior design, also covered the whole ugly ceiling with rolls and rolls of hanging Hessian that ran right down the back of the stage and created a 'womb' feel as well as better acoustics.
There was a small 'audio PA' (amplification) normally set up with small mixing desk halfway back down the room. A waiter (usually me), in between dropping off a meal and walking back to the kitchen, often tended this mixing desk. I may notice that the guitar isn't loud enough and as I walked past the mixer I would lean over and push up the fader, then on to the kitchen for more plates. That's why my audio mixing style is so casual.
Over on the front left there was a small alcove next to the lift. In the early days that is where the stage was and it worked well as a 'performance pod' for smaller acts but as the clientele grew and the bands grew the stage was moved to the end of the long room.
Then the alcove became a secluded area with low tables that was later designated as a ‘smoking area’ although many people were confused about what was to be ‘smoked’ there. On the right side of that alcove was a lovely steel spiral staircase that went up to the top of a goods lift. Hanging over the alcove was a parachute which all created a lovely cosy area. It was often booked out for parties of 20.
It is amazing that Sally had kept a menu from the restaurant in her photo album!
Click on the pages above to open high res versions in a new window. Then click on the image to enlarge it.
All performers were entitled to their fee (about $20 in late 70’s money) plus a meal of their choice with a dessert of their choice and as much coffee and tea as they wanted. This was very popular with all the acts that played there. All the performers were highly respected and admired by Ken and by all the staff, who always looked after them like kings. In the beginning there were only fridges along the back of the kitchen but later there was a cool room installed.
Most of the performances at the restaurant were solo or duo acts which meant they tended to be quiet and folky but we also had full-on LOUD rock bands. The 'pub scene' was not that popular on the North Shore and And Now For Something Completely Different offered a more refined musical experience. The performers enjoyed that intimacy as well.