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A tourist in my city – Spice Temple and The Waiting Room

5 Nov

I love being a tourist in Melbourne. We have lived away from the city for over 10 years now, but it still feels like my city. We don’t need to sightsee, just eat and drink.  The diversity of suburbs, the creativity of every place is like fuel for me, it is inspirational and I come home feeling energised and excited. This was one good 24 hours which also included Pope Joan in East Brunswick and North South Eatery in Richmond.  Just for fun.

Regular followers on Twitter would know that The Brewer is something of a master Sichuan cook.  We eat it about 4 times a week. So Spice Temple is something of a holy grail. We were there within a couple of weeks of it opening. We all met up in The Waiting Room,  another brand spanking new venue from the prolific Rockpool empire. Unbelievably sparkly and opulent, bling bling bling, I needed a lot more on me to fit in here!

The drinks list is, of course, spectacular.  Cocktails seemed appropriate here, I ordered a Queen of Diamonds Campari, Gin, Rosemary and Thyme Vermouth.

Then we meandered around the corner to Spice Temple.  We were a group of 5, which is a perfect size as everything on the menu is for sharing, so we were able to share about 10 dishes.  If we were just 2ppl, we may have felt challenged by only being able to order/eat a couple of dishes.

It is dark in there, really dark, like I had to feel my way along the walls to get to the bathrooms.  I suggest wearing a miners lamp!  Hence my pics are very dim. We started with the Tingling Prawns, not so spicy but beautiful fresh flavours.

Tingling Prawns

One of our favourite dishes was the hot & numbing dry wagyu beef.  The Brewer has mastered this dish himself, but this one was exceptional.  the texture of it, more shredded than sliced, really made it into something special.

The Kung Pao chicken was another dish that holds a special place in our heart, a recipe for this by Kylie Kwong in her My China book was one of the first we found and successfully made. 

One of the more interesting dishes was the spicy stir fried quail, peanuts & egg custard.  Amazing textures again.

One of the hottest dishes was this tofu in chilli sauce

The dish of the night was the Hunan style pork belly, crispy, melt in the mouth, spicy on piles of tiny sliced beans.

My dining companions, also ordered most of the sweets, which were very beautiful, especially the rose granita, and this one with iranian fairy floss on top. I am not much of a dessert person, and I am informed they were amazing!

A gorgeous night, we felt very glamourous. It was a very special night out.

A comment on the beer list.  The Waiting Room had 10 beers, a nice mix including some Victorian craft beers and interesting imports.  However 9 of them were lagers.  A little diversity in the styles would be appreciated by enthusiasts, but for the majority, it looks interesting.

At the Spice Temple fewer beers, but a craft brewed hefeweizen and the chinese Tsing Tao are good additions to a short but quality list.

Beer summary: Thoughtful, short, mostly lagers

Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

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A Flood and a Feast………… How I ate the Northeast

4 Sep

Part 2!  We left Mount Hotham on Friday, just as major storm warnings were being predicted for the following day in the Wangaratta/Beechworth region. Bingo! Straight to Bridge Road Brewers Beechworth.  We are big fans of the brews being produced here, a true-blue Vic microbrewery, the crew here are totally hands on with everything and they are putting out some of the best and most interesting brews of any microbrewery in Victoria.  We were fortunate enough to be there when the B2 Bomber was on tap, a black Belgian IPA, 8.5%. A great beer, dangerously easy.  Good beery food here too, pizzas are really good, as was a beef, porter & mushroom pie with an interesting crunchy salad.  As well as the pizzas, they have all sorts of beer bread and pretzels made in-house too.

Pizza & a Pie at Bridge Rd

After checking into the well-located, shabby & not-so-chic Mrs Doigs Cottage, all 9 of us rocked into the front bar at the historic Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel in the main street.  It has familial ties to the Bridge Road Brewers, all their beers are on tap, the front bar was chocka-block full and the fire was roaring.  With no booking & 5 kids, we were graciously shown a table.  Our meals were fantastic, generous in size and all the staff were friendly.  It had an interesting wine list too, we had a bottle of William Fevre Chablis at a very reasonable price.  This is a classic old pub, with country hospitality.  Having excellent locally brewed beers on tap it definitely adds to the experience.  Exactly as it should be. Take note all other country pubs!

Saturday involved a babysitter. All day and night. We were committed to a marathon sitting. First stop the beautiful Wardens. Having been there many times, we were excited about returning and it was to be a highlight of our trip. We were ushered in a side door to a side room, there was a short bar/snacks menu and 2 house wines (apart from the 4 fancy wines in the Enomatic system).  We embarassingly left.  We could hear staff in the restaurant, with Bon Jovi or something blaring through their trannie.  I don’t know if it’s a cost-cutting measure, but it is definitely did not live up to the Chefs Hat experience we were expecting.

Luckily for us, the recently opened Green Shed Bistro was open.  Located in a gorgeous historic old printing press, Nathan & Megan (previously of Gigi’s of Beechworth) have done a little makeover and launched their own restaurant with a bit of an asian twist on their bistro style food.  We had a table right by the fire (fascinated by the crooked chimney) and settled in for the duration.  By now the locals were loading their animals into their arks and we watched the rain absolutely pour down outside through the steamy windows.

Crooked fireplace, Green Shed Bistro

Green Shed Bistro

Our meals were completely enjoyable. It was a lovely thing. Didn’t require a lot of thinking, each one a surprise, and all delicious and beautifully presented. Marc Bredif Vouvray accompanied the entrees, crispy quail & watermelon salad & cute little fried balls of labneh, a deconstructed lamb souvlaki, smoked lemongrass salmon with asian herbs & chilli and I chose this pork mince on lettuce (san choi bow in other words)

Chinese style pork mince

Our host & chef Nathan popped by, lovely fellow, recommended the Greenstone Shiraz, which we had with mains & told us about the winery’s hard to find Sangiovese.

Our mains, again, were interesting, fresh and delicious if a little quackky.  The Brewer had a big steaming bowl of  broth full of duck and asian veg & herbs, mine was the duck pie, on a bed of beetroot. Gorgeous.

Duck Pie

We even had a couple of desserts which again, were beautiful. Bread & Butter pudding with a fruit & pistaschio compote, and a creme brulee.  Not much time left until dinner. Time to walk or sleep it off before the main event. I had already cruised the streets and taken this pic of the menu at Provenance which we were all looking forward to.

My Dinner

The week before we arrived, they had just been awarded their 2nd Chefs Hat and the regional wine list award.  Lucky I booked months earlier!  With a severe case of indecision, we ordered most dishes on the menu. I chose the sauteed cauliflower with chickpea puree & polenta crumbs plus the chestnut tagliatelle with hazelnuts & sage butter as my entrees. I am a sucker for any dish with sage cooked in butter. They were both just beautiful.   I also had a case of agonising food envy over the confit artichoke and cured tuna dish, which was hands down, the prettiest dish of the night.

We also had the carrot, chorizo & prawns.  It had a gorgeous little froth of bisque on top.  It is a very dim & romantic restaurant, and I really struggled to get any good pics. This is the best I could do, just the one of that dish.

Prawn, chorizo, carrot, Provenance

For mains I picked the rabbit.  I think I had an epiphany over that rabbit.  I am salivating right now writing about the flavours in this dish. Braised wild rabbit, peas & orzo. It was wet. With the most intense flavour. I would seriously drive there just to eat that. We were happy to see the previously recommended and hard-to-get Greenstone Sangiovese on the list and matched to my rabbit, dined & gone to heaven.  The brewer had the Angus/Hereford Scotch (which was a cross breed, not a slice of each!) and it was perfect.  If you want to see some much better pics of Provenance, checkout Tristan Kenney’s Flickr set.  His photo’s are beautiful, does the food justice. They visited just a week after us and also blogged their trip on Eat, Drink, Stagger.

One problem in Beechworth was the lack of a decent coffee, after trying a few spots, we were pretty desparate by Sunday! Given it was my birthday and 2x Fathers Days, we reeeeally needed a goodie.  Knowing from his Twittering that chef Michael Ryan was somewhat of a coffee afficiondo, I did what I had to ie begged! He graciously let us drop by the garden and fuel up, which was greatly appreciated and needed.

Next stop… The Stanley Pub.  This is a divine little country pub with a cosy feel, real pub vibe and spacious beer garden.  Having Bridge Road’s Chestnut Pilsner on tap was a good thing too.  It was pretty crazy there, being Fathers Day, plus they had been closed for a month or more up until that week and a new chef had just started!  Eventually they got the menus folded and we were off.

Goats Cheese Tart

Blue Eye at Stanley Pub

Pictured is the Milawa goats cheese & caramelised onion tart and the Blue-eye.  The food was all lovely.  It’s like pub grub that’s really gussied up.  Not sure it quite hits the ‘gastropub’ mark, but a little bit fancy… yes! Checkout what they did to the pie!

Our Fancy Pie at the Stanley Pub

We also had some very nice oysters served with bread made in-house and nice butter.  All the food was good, service was pretty harried, but we were a mad group.  After lunch we were grateful for the outdoor beer garden to stretch some legs whilst we finished our wine……

Who's watching the children? My fave pic of holiday!

Final stop of the holiday was one last visit to Bridge Road Brewers for Sunday night pizza night.  It was a packed house, the pizzas were awesome, and we were very pleased to get a few more of the B2 Bombers in before we left town.

The roads were all closed out of town due to flooding, we had to detour to Wangaratta to get onto the Hume.  I have never really seen floods before, but it was pretty incredible, driving past miles of paddocks, all underwater.  We had such a great time in Beechworth, it really would not have been such a bad thing to have been stranded there just a little longer… maybe just a couple more places we could have feasted!

Wangaratta Flooding

And it just went on and on….

Fences underwater, cows seek higher ground

First I Ate Mount Hotham

3 Sep

On top of Mt Hotham - A spectacular week's skiing

On Wednesday 25th August the snow poured from the sky onto Mount Hotham. For two days. More snow than had ever been seen before. So much snow that the roads were closed. Until 1200 on Friday 27th August when the road opened, the sky cleared, and we were blessed with the best snow ever seen and blue sky days.  We were holidaying with good friends who also had kids, we were 9 in total.  The skiing was just beautiful, the kids were all in ski school (every day) which was awesome not just for us, but they had a great time & learnt to ski.  Something I wish I had done from age 3!  Here they are …

The gang on top of Big D

We stayed at Dinner Plain, Panorama Chalet, which for families was a great option. Beautiful big house, plenty of safe snow play for kids, small ski & toboggan runs nearby and plenty of facilities.

Panorama Chalet

Dinner Plain toboggan run

Most importantly for us, the best dining options were also located in Dinner Plain. So with the help of a babysitter from ski school, and having earned our dinner, we hit them up. First stop Cilantro.  This bar had a very urban feel, yet cosy with a little fire going & dim lighting. Much smarter than your average shabby ski resort options.  Tapas is pretty ubiquitous for many a bar these days, but this one was a cut well above most. I would say it is not exactly ‘tapas’ but more of a ‘share menu’. Call it what you will, we called it yum.  The highlight for us all was the smoked eel croquettes with a fairy floss like  mound of translucent leeks piled on top.  Also great was the besara (broad been dip), and these wagyu meatballs

Wagyu meatballs at Cilantro

Also impressive was our chicken with chorizo and the palm heart salad and they had a small, but interesting wine list.

Chicken w Chorizo at Cilantro

Palm Heart Salad at Cilantro

Next night was Tsubo, which we were really looking forward to as it was recommended by many.  A short & interesting beverages list had quite a few Japanese beers & sakes plus a few of Bridge Road Brewery’s beers, this was good to see, getting a good beer on the mountain was nigh on impossible.  Loved the sake as an aperitif. This dish was definitely the prettiest on the mountain, a squid salad, with fennel, squid ink, some pickled tentacles & citrus segments. It was as divine to eat as it looked

Tsubo Squid Salad

The most-ogled dish was hubby’s. This perfectly cooked lamb was decorated with something translucent. Couldn’t pick what it was, but they were just the most diaphanous, gorgeous things ever. No photo I ever took could do them justice, but I had a fair few goes at it anyway….

Tsubo diaphanous lamb

Turns out they were just humble ol spuds. Yep, a bit like those Sea Salt Crisps. But way better.

After blue sky skiing for 5+ days, we were done in. It had clouded over & we were wet. Deserved a long lunch obviously.  Final destination was The White Room Where strangely everything is black. Except what’s outside. Also featuring ‘tapas’, this is the newest of Mount Hothams eating options, which isn’t saying much, cause the others are all exactly as I remember them 20+ years ago. So with kids in ski school, we settled into a long lunch. The pick was yet again, Hubby’s. Food envy, melt in the mouth beef cheek with naughty mash

Beef cheek at the White Room

Just look at that mash! I think I had a confit duck salad that was not memorable.  But the lunch was.

Final mentions went to Zirky’s, that hasn’t changed a bit. The burger was so huge it was enough for 2 men.  And, the Summit Bar at the Snowbird. Which has reassuringly not changed one iota since I danced on the tables there, not even the tables.  The food was great. Lots of reasonably priced, fresh, interesting, dishes. We had 3 vegetarians in our group, and given we went there for lunch 5 times, they still hadn’t worked through all the things they wanted to eat. The haloumi burgers and felafals were big hits. A refreshing option both for quality & price on the Mountain.

Our fridge

The biggest disappointment was the lack of beer choices.  It is really a beer desert, which is pretty diabolical. Hope the brewers in the North East get some of their good gear up there soon.

I am pretty sure we ate most of Mount Hotham, definitely all the bits that are worth eating. But this journey went on down the mountain.  To be continued…..