Down Under on Melrose

Times Staff Writer

Koala Blue is on a stretch of Melrose Avenue where clothing and furniture boutiques and restaurants pop out of nowhere overnight, it seems.

One minute they are there; then they're not.

Well, Koala Blue is still there. Has been for about three years. And if interest by owners Olivia Newton-John and former singing partner Patricia Farrar holds out, it will be around for a few more years.

Koala Blue ("Korner of Australia in Los Angeles") started out as an Aussie milk bar (soda fountain), but was expanded to incorporate fashions of such Australian designers as Stuart Membry, Ken Done and Briony Gyngelle, plus bunches of Aussie merchandise from chocolates and daily newspapers to cute stuffed koala bears. And, of course, the menu of sandwiches, salads and Aussie fast foods you can try at the counter.

Honest Aussie Food There aren't many places in Los Angeles serving honest-to-goodness Aussie food (Billabong in Pasadena, we hear, is among the few who do), anymore than there are restaurants operated by celebrities. So if you are curious about what Australians in general, and Olivia in particular, like to eat, here's a chance to lunch surrounded by fashion while indulging in a little people watching as the colorful Melrose crowd passes by. You'll have things resembling British foods with strange-sounding names, such as dink-di-poys and dead 'orse sauce (small meat pies with catsup or tomato sauce), swaggie stew and dampers (beef stew and hot biscuits), lamington (poundcake rolled in chocolate and coconut), ANZAC biscuits (the abbreviated name for the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps) and the famous pavlova, a meringue dessert named after the Russian prima ballerina, made on the premises using a mix from Australia.

I loved the steak and chicken pies made in round, straight-sided molds. I even tried their "100's and 1,000's semmitch," bread spread with sugar and butter and some of the Vegemite toast (toast spread with Vegemite, a vegetable protein product) as a nutritious snack.

It's a kitchenless lunch place (microwave and toaster oven variety), so you can't expect miracles. The place is primarily a clothing store, and food smells are deliberately curbed. The hot things are interesting, especially if you've never had Aussie meat pies before, the sandwiches are good and the salads are less than perfect, but all right. The "Downunder chook salad" teams chicken with avocado, blue cheese and tomatoes. There is a fresh fruit salad and standard chef's salad.

Terrific Shakes The milkshakes, however, are terrific, and if you order anything, it should include one of the nine milkshakes offered. We tried the Koala Blue Heaven, a mixture of blue-colored flavoring agent, milk, malt and ice cream. The Lime Spider, which is described as "Pat and Olivia's favorite," is made with a lime-colored flavoring agent with soda water and ice cream added.

Australian wines (Chardonnays and Champagne) and beer (Foster's and Toohey's) are now offered. There is talk of afternoon tea. For now, you can settle for a "squirt of bushells" (pot of tea), pick up a small jar of Vegemite ($2.75), a stuffed koala bear and browse, if you are shopping in the area.

Koala Blue, 7366 Melrose Ave. , 937-0435. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Major credit cards and travelers' checks accepted. Street parking. No reservations necessary. Average check less than $10 with beverage.

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