Archive | Travel RSS feed for this section

Farewell lunch ~ Icebergs Dining Room & Bar

28 Mar

Whilst I love the way Melbourne looks inwardly at it’s beautiful buildings, secret laneways and shopping strips, Sydney just flings her arms out wide toward the sea and says “look at me”. How can we not.

Icebergs Dining Room & Bar was the special “Sydney-style” restaurant we chose to share our last meal in Sydney with good friends. It made us happy being there, everything is so sparkly and bright, the prosecco, the beautiful people, especially our prosecco.

First up we shared the antipasti with buffalo mozzarella, artichoke hearts, anchovies and Ligurian olives. The little bottle of oil with a rosemary brush was a nice idea.

Also shared was the Carne Cruda Battuta di Vitello, a dice of raw milk fed veal, beaten until tender, pickled mushrooms, chives, truffled pecorino, toasted crostini with truffle butter.  This dish was one of our favourites. Delicious.

Both ‘fish’ and ‘beef’ had a separate, extensive menu page dedicated to them, highlighting where they are sourced, cooking method, range of sauces, ageing and who their parents were! Impressive.

Given the setting, we indulged in the extensive seafood options. Harvey Bay ‘hand dived’ scallops on the half shell with tomato, green chilli, garlic, radish salad. Simple, fresh, glorious.

The Brewer selected the special, tuna tartare (poor memory for the details) tasted as incredible as it looked.

Service was excellent. The waiters were like elegant ballerinas, gliding around the floor silently in their black dresses, and setting up a table to mix our salad next to us. Theatrical!

This trip really highlighted the things I love about Melbourne.  I wish our city hadn’t quite turned it’s back so much on our amazing beaches, but I do love how everything in Melbourne feels like you are ‘discovering’ it.

Thus ends the series of posts on Sydney. My blog will now resume it’s regular Mornington Peninsula oriented programming.

Hope all my Melbourne readers got a little ‘taste’ of the great things Sydney has.

Kx

Icebergs Dining Room and Bar on Urbanspoon

Spicy Sydney Stories

27 Mar

Main Entry: Sydney (or sexy)
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: being erotically attractive to another
Synonyms: arousing, come-hither, cuddly, flirtatious, hot, inviting, kissable, libidinous, mature, provocative, provoking, racy, risqué, seductive, sensual, sensuous, slinky, spicy, steamy, suggestive, titillating, voluptuous

I mentioned in another post that visiting Sydney feels a little like you are cheating on your beloved Melbourne. Such a fun place to have a “fling” with, but I would always want to come home to the one I love.

This post is a mix of some highlights of Sydney, they were beautiful, vibrant, or just downright hot. And you wouldn’t find them in Melbourne.

Ms G’s

Sprawled over 5 or 6 levels, cleverly decked out to look like some kind of Asian old-town rickety building, MsG’s is the epitome of all the above. So hot right now, we just loved it here, sitting at shared tables with Sarah & Lachlan Murdoch and all the other beautiful people, hopefully a little rubbed off on us!  Everything about it is clever. The red neon light sign 621 (the ingredient number for MSG), the name, the slushy packaging, fitout, even the fat straws.  It has it’s finger firmly on the pulse of having a good time with food in the neon lit streets of Sydney.

We were ushered up a few flights to the bar where the DJ was playing some cool tunes, I drank limoncello slushies, packed & sealed behind the bar, whilst The Brewer had a few simple Asian lagers.  The stools in the bar were all cases full of beer in various heights of stacking, and during our drinks, twice our bar stool was whipped away to the fridge, very practical storage.  We had planned on pre-dinner drinks and wanted to hang in the bar for an hour or so, so the wait was no problem for us. The uber cool door chicks knew what was happening, it was packed.

Tables were bare, with boxes that held napkins, sauces, cutlery and straws. No setting required. Service was fast, cool & efficient. All our dishes were really enjoyable, best shared with friends and had the fresh, fun appeal of the restaurant itself. Our fave was the Vietnamese steak tartare, it had crispy shallots on it and was served with prawn crackers.

Mini banh mi also were delicious as were the egg noodles with XO sauce,
braised duck and soft poached egg, we also had the grilled prawns with sambal. We came out of there with barely a dint in our wallet, pretty good value for a fun night out. And we asked the waiter would they mind if we took a handful of the fat colourful straws home for our kids, they didn’t, the kids were thrilled.

(02) 9240 3000
155 Victoria Street
Potts Point

And my note on the beers; plenty of clean, crisp, big brewery, asian lagers, boxes of them everywhere, they make great barstools. Maybe 1 or 2 other fuller flavoured ales available also.
Ms G's on Urbanspoon

After Ms G’s we fancied a post dinner treat, so went for a peaceful (Hells no, not in this town on a Sat night) stroll from Potts Point, through the Cross to Surry Hills & into Bentley Bar for a few single malts.

Kings Cross

Hookers, strip joints, bucks nights, girls passed out on footpath, ambulances, backpackers, touts, tattoos, clubs, pubs, Xrated, heaving. Only in Sydney.

A morning walk to clear the cobwebs took in the following sights…

City of Bride’s as Muriel Heslop would say

More stairs. These ones, the Butler stairs, are quite famous, connecting the slums of Woolloomooloo to the posh folk in Potts Point. It was a big walk. Now you wouldn’t see that in Melbourne.

We had walked past the warehouse of Toby’s Estate Coffee, and our Melbourne noses sniffed a decent coffee.  Then discovered their cafe just at the top of these stairs. Great coffee, a real Melbourne hole-in-the-wall packed to the brim with people brunching, getting takeaways, anything goes. Food was really delicious. So how was it different to Melbourne, loud disco music throbbing, think Donna Summer, Pointer Sisters, and people were wearing loud colours. One stylish girl in bright canary yellow, top to toe. Bit glary for me over coffee. But great coffee, food and bustling, efficient service.

(02) 8356 9264
81 Macleay St
Potts Point
Toby's Estate Potts Point on Urbanspoon

Paddington Markets

I fell big time for these tactile, sensuous ceramics by Amorelita Designs. They were beautiful to hold and lovely colourings.  Maybe not the best to pack in a suitcase, but couldn’t resist, I bought 10 cups and a bowl. Love the coffee cups with the splash of blackboard. I use it every day.  I am waiting for the future Brewers to write sweet messages on them when they bring them to me in bed filled with coffee on the weekends. Waiting. Waiting.

A great day at the markets, lots of lovely clothing, original jewellery, textiles and vintage finds. And it’s right in the middle of a fantastic shopping strip.  Where do we have this in Melbourne?

One more post of Sydney to come, a very special lunch.

Four In Hand – A fleeting fling in Sin City

25 Feb

6 years is all it took to get away from the kids for a weekend.  The Brewer & I flitted up to Sydney, travelling oh so light.  We had a packed agenda and absolutely loved every second of it. So much so we were really quite seduced by Sydney and felt as though we were cheating on our beloved hometown.

First destination was the Four in Hand, it has 2 Chefs Hats.  It is in a beautiful old corner pub in Paddington, my kind of place.  A very steep corner…. from inside, the cars strangley look like they are driving vertically.

The front bar is a real ‘pub’ pub. Rowdy, crowded and beery with patrons noshing on burgers & chips. The dining room on the other hand, is cosy, intimate, quiet, elegant and classy.  We were seated right next to the glass separating the two, and I loved the background vibe of the pub.

It was impossible to choose between the dishes on the menu, so we both had the degustation, I got one amendment to mine so as to try a pork dish on the menu which looked irresistible.  The Chef, Colin Fassnidge, really seems to like his pork.  I had been following him on Twitter for awhile and there was a LOT of twalk about pork. I had high expectations.

We chose the matched wines, as there was an eclectic selection of wines offered by the glass with each course, and there just wouldn’t have been 1, or even 2 wines to go across this whole experience.

First up was the lime cured kingfish with avocado snow and vanilla matched to 2008 Quinta Do Ameal Loureiro from Portugal.

Did I say it was dim? Pics do not do food justice, but this dish was beautifully presented, and the flavours very fresh and delicate, it was also very textural with the avocado snow.  If I remember, the cucumber was slightly pickly too.

So, to pig. First up, Braised pigs talk with corn and lobster chowder matched to a 2008 Denis Pommier Petit Chablis, Burgundy, France.

This dish was the main reason we had to have the the degustation, as it wasn’t on the regular menu.  This little piggies tail was deboned and caramelised, a succulent, sticky little sliver in the most intensely flavoured broth.

Next up, lamb; two ways with baby fennel, courgette puree, pickled vegetables with a 2005 Pegasus By Merlot Cabernet, Waipara, NZ

This was in fact lamb 3 ways, in addition to the cutlet and the sticky square of shoulder (I think) there was a slice of tongue. The presentation of this dish was deliciously artistic. OK, I am kinda getting full now. Everything tastes so good, trust me, these plates were pretty well white when they cleared them.

The Brewer had the next course which was the orange braised beef brisket with poached veal and pearl barley with a 2008 Michael Hall Syrah, Eden Vally, SA. I remember it was incredibly tender. This was where I deviated. The roast suckling pig was on the regular menu and I had asked if I could swap the beef brisket for a taste of this dish……

but wait, there’s more, it came in 2 parts…..

This little piggy…. who me? Yes me. Another tail, plus 3 other cuts, all incredible, plus celeriac remoulade and colcannan (I think – food coma descending), I also had a lovely glass of sangiovese with this course. Seriously, just this dish alone could have fed both us little piggies.  It was amazing. Totally indulgent.

Whilst our main courses were happening, the background entertainment was the whole roast suckling pig, carted out to a nearby table, where the waitress adroitly dismembered it and served it to the table of 10 nearby. More pork!

So at this point you think I probably called it quits and rolled out into a cab and passed out. But no. Still to come, the ‘4s’ chocolate snickers, which I believe they are quite well known for.  Matched to a Pedro Ximinez. I ate it all.

There was only one thing left to do. Have a soothing whisky, they had an impressive array of single malt whiskies, four from Islay.  We indulged in the Ardberg Supernova, which we had never seen before and is apparently quite rare, also the Cadenhead.

I thought everything was pretty great value, 5 courses, $85, matched wines, $50 / $135 each. The mains alone were $36.  That represents pretty good value these days.  For this standard of food, service and included wines, it was exceptional. The service was outstanding. They had a lot of guests in rooms upstairs, so were running up and down these stairs all night.  It was busy. We were never forgotten nor were they ever flustered. If the measure of service is how many times they fold your linen napkin when you step away from the table, then they get 10/10 because they did not miss a single opportunity.

Thank god for these stairs, there are long, narrow staircases everywhere in Sydney. This one at the Four In Hand was treacherous for me as the steps were made for people who had smaller feet 150 years ago, my whole foot didn’t fit on them, so every trip to the toilet was pretty precarious, but maybe the trip worked off one morsel of pork.

If gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, then I have been a very bad girl, I blame Sydney, the city of seduction which will forever be known to me as Sin City.

A comment on the beer list.  Overall, Sydney was pretty devoid of great beer. It is a long way behind Melbourne. From what we could see, in the bar at the Four In Hand, were taps of pretty generic beers. Coopers or Carlsberg the highlight.  There were more options in bottles, the pick of which was a Lord Nelson 3 sheets (local), then the no-so-crafties from the big boys, Little Creatures, Squires, White Rabbit plus they had most of the fake imported lagers. Which is good for a Sydney pub.  The dining room sets a high benchmark for the gastropub in every other way, it would be great if there were some genuine craft beers on tap and a wider variety in the styles of beers on offer.  As it does with it’s wine list.

Four in Hand on Urbanspoon

Dish of my Year – Bentley Bar

25 Feb

Smoked eel parfait with white soy, kombu & seaweed at the Bentley Bar.  Like some kind of exotic underwater sea creature with delicate, fluttering, diaphanous wings. How beautiful. Just on visual appeal, this is my dish of the year.

The eating did not disappoint. The eel parfait inside was soft and light.  Around the outside, (kombu I presume) had a slippery savouriness, the white soy presented as mayonnaise on the plate and the seaweeds were the most incredible edibles worthy of a spot in Mrs Pamplemousse’s shop.  A most amazing combination of flavour, texture and visual appeal. I am still dreaming of it.

This Kingfish ceviche was also incredible, not at all what I was expecting.  It was in thin ribbons, like tagliatelli, as was the pickled diakon with the artistic little dollops of yuzu mayonnaise on the side.

It sounded pretty simple, poached egg with chickpea, preserved lemon and harissa, but once again, amazingly textural. We grilled our waiter on the suitability of this dish for sharing, he explained the egg was cooked at 60deg for 110 minutes. Pushing the boundaries of the slow cooked egg! But it mixed in with the chickpeas and made a lovely gooey dip that we piled onto crusty bread and it was outstanding.

Our final dish was this soft shell crab with green chilli salsa. Perfect, and the intensity of the green sauce… you can tell by its colour, which I thought used a lot of parsley, not completely chilli thank god, it was a cracker condiment for  the crunchy crab.

There is a lot more to love about Bentley Bar.  Dee & I had spent the morning at Paddington markets, we were exhausted and in need of major refreshment. The boys were drinking in a German bar somewhere, we hightailed it to the nearest & best bar we could find to wedgie in some sustenance.

The beverages list (not just “wine” list) were amazingly curated. Pretty much everything on their lists I had rarely, if ever seen.

The staff were very polished and knowledgeable, they didn’t hold back from suggestions by the glass for lunch. They are very passionate about their Rieslings, and despite my dislike of the variety, they were able to persuade me into enjoying a few different glasses, also, quite generously, providing me with multiple tastings of various styles and types in their attempts to get me under their sway. Worked.  Dee also experienced some unique sake until she drank it all and they ran out!

But this is what really got my attention. Have you ever seen a whisky list like this one. I guess there is a special person in Sydney (;-)) who assists with their selections and sourcing, but wow.

Us two girls were pretty well done, and as The Brewer is a HUGE single malt lover, after our dinner at MsGs we cabbed it back to Bentley Bar to have our digestif. Again, ably assisted by an expert waiter, we tried the Bunnahabhain and Ardberg, both incredibly different. Discussing our love of the peat, he also gave a little try of a tequila that was so peaty it tasted like whisky.

Unfortunately a drunk mob staggered through the door looking for drinks or a nightclub or sex, who knows. Idiots. Bar. Closed. Ruined our chances of trying the Springbank 1998 Cask Strength which is what I was working up to all day.

My little note on the beerlist, like all their other beverages, exceptionally thoughtful. Probably one of the best I’ve seen in a restaurant. Some interesting craft beers from around Australia including our own Mountain Goat, McLaren Vale Ave and White Rabbit, plus Trumer Pils on tap. Nice.

(02) 9332 2344
320 Crown St
Surry Hills

Bentley Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

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…..

Return to the Grampians – The Harvest

10 Jul

So for the second time this year, we were lucky to be invited to the Grampians, this time for an olive picking weekend and Christmas in July dinner at Laharum Grove, our friends’ grove at the foot of Mount Difficult in the Grampians.  The crop this year was abundant to say the least.  Given their manpower and available tank space, only something like 25% of the entire grove was picked.  Picking had finished for the season, and the day we picked was the last one, the press at Toscana was stopping on that day at 2pm!

It was quite anxiety inducing to be walking through the grove and see so many trees so laden with olives that from tomorrow, will be rotting on the ground. We were their last hope.

We were blessed with a beautiful day, and so we began.  First step is to lay out nets under the trees. They are very big and heavy and hard to drag around.

Olive picking, laying out the nets

Then everyone gets a very big stick and starts whacking the trees. It is reeeeeally hard.  But quite amazing how many olives rain down on your head whilst you are doing it. Even the kids could do it.

Big sticks! Knocking olives off the trees

When we walked further out into the grove it was spectacularly beautiful with the Grampians right there.

Grampians backdrop, whacking olives

Then gather all the nets up and start piffing out all the sticky/leafy stuff

Gathering up the olives - removing leaf stuff

Then you end up with a lovely big heap of juicy olives. How good do these look? When you squeeze them, they squirt oil, heaps of it. And they stain!

A pile of olives just picked

We picked about 15 bins of about 20kg each, so between 4 adults, we shared 300kg of olives. We only did a few hours picking, as the kids were getting involved which slowed us down, but apparently we could have easily picked a tonne, and some of their best workers can do that solo in a day!

The press at Toscana

We then took them to the neighbouring Toscana Grove where they have a substantial press. Our 300kg yielded a 20litre drum of oil each.  Liquid Gold.

At the Olive Press, the finished product

After all that picking, the Christmas in July dinner was looking great. 30 adults seated, about 5 courses and Santa! Awesome. I made tomato soup which went down a treat, topped with some Main Ridge Dairy chevre. And a few cases of Christmas Ale went down a treat.

Another special visit, shared with fantastic people to this amazing place.

“urbanspoon rocks”

A Trip to FNQ and a Love Affair

30 Jun

An amazing conflence of events occurred at the end of May. We finally got our heads above water and realised how long it had been since we had a holiday, and next week  was our window. In desparate need of sun, the easiest holiday for us was to head for FNQ! Having been here before, let’s just say that when it comes to food, we prefer Noosa. And for beer (and coffee)…. Melbourne. Or staying home.

We were blessed with good weather and despite the fact stinger season was still in play, we had a great beachy holiday and surprisingly, a few superb dining experiences. First stop was Palm Cove. Previously have found the options here all pretty limited to overpriced hotel oriented restaurants. But on this trip, we found Nu nu. I really can’t sing their praises enough. Thanks to a review on Gourmet Traveller by Pat Nourse it came well recommended, so we quickly hit it up for coffee & brunch. We chose the mud crab omlette with watercress and white pepper broth (apologies for quality of pics only had phone!)  ZOMG. To say we were impressed was an understatement.

Mud crab omlette at Nu nu Palm Cove

A great test for a restaurant’s true hospitality is how they accommodate kids as unfortunately, we were stuck with ours for the duration.  If you do have to take your kids out, you can enjoy good food here!  The uber cool & professional staff brought them mango smoothies in cups to match their outfits.  And colouring in things. They had toast with tropical fruit jams – all made inhouse.  Happy family.

Specially selected cups to match outfits

They make ALL their own bread, every morning, and it is good. And the coffee was THE only one in FNQ that did that good thing. You know what I mean.  We knew we had to visit at night ‘san enfants’, so enquired about babysitters. Their baker, Nanny Nat, also runs their icecream shop Nu Mi, & is a nanny by night. Sorted.

The ambiance at night was lovely and serious service was in action. We shared 3 entrees & then the mud crab for dinner. A lot of the seafood dishes featured white pepper broth along with Thai flavour influences. Love the spiciness of the white pepper, no lingering burning. A favourite was the red emporer miang served on beetle leaves, and our mud crab was a most impressive beast, you can see even he thinks so. Again, crap pics, sorry!

Red Emporer Miang

The Mud Crab

The sommelier was on board in the evening, and was particularly helpful.  One other dish was a delicate lentil curry, piled in it’s own little basket made of bread, about 1″ square and topped with lobster.

We managed to fit in one more meal, which again, was just delicious.   A prosciutto crostini with chopped egg and loads of fresh herbs through it and a brioche with gypsy ham and cheese, it had a zucchini pickle on it. Using all their own bread makes for superb breakky.

Proscuitto Crostini

Brioche w gypsy ham, melted cheese, pickly zucchini

Apart from Nu nu, the ancient Melaleuca trees lining the foreshore were striking. Many of them over 500 years old.  They are protected species, and can only grow in the thin strip close to the beach. Every restaurant has one right through the middle of it, the pubs have them in the beergardens, the verandahs are built around them, and they are even in the middle of driveways so cars have to drive round them.  Just goes to show that preserving the natural beauty of a place provides a unique and beautiful environment for others to appreciate and enjoy….

Palm Cove Melaleucas - Enjoyed by many

And then we left. Not before we got their food recommendations, and one more coffee, before our next stop, Port Douglas

We had a fantastic time here, blessed by great weather and a happy family.  Food wise, it’s all pretty overblown touristy stuff. Either affordable deep friend pub/club or pricier and fancier.   Here is a few of the better experiences we had.  We stayed at Rydges Sabaya, chosen for the superb pools. We were not disappointed.  Only with the club sandwiches.  A bacon foccacia doth not maketh a club sandwich. So I made our own!

Club Sandwich - Poolside

One surprise was finding The Beach Shack restaurant.  Well away from the main drag, in a spot where it has to earn it’s reputation, the entire floor is sand. It has an awesome holiday feel to it, and of course the kids just loved it. Very reasonable pricing & simple, well cooked bistro style food and effficient & friendly staff made for a entirely enjoyable experience.  The sort of place where you can relax, enjoy and not overanalyse what you’re eating.

The boys at Nu nu had recommended Harrisons Restaurant in Port Douglas.  It was pretty new, had a British chef/owner with some impressive credentials.  The location, on the esplanade, in a tree filled, fairylight lit oasis, is quite magical. 6 years earlier, I had a memorable dinner when it was Catalina.

I’ll start with the great things. The dinner menu was divine. Entrees were  Tuna Ceviche with oyster beignets and Pork Belly with black pudding & apple puree. These were both delightful and the presentation very artistic.

Tuna Ceviche at Harrisons

Mains too were perfectly executed and presented. A simple steak frites with a side of bone marrow was melt in the mouth simplicity. As was the barramundi with lentils and herb coulis.

Unfortunately though, there did not appear to be anyone on the floor in charge. Service was stressed and lacking polish. Tattooed backpackers from all continents of the world chatting amongst themselves – OK for a cafe/bar, but out of place here where the aspirations and quality of food is evident. On another visit for breakfast, we found it very unwelcoming for us as a family, with limited options on the menu.

As far as beer goes, let’s just say it’s a desert up here. The only place that had anything decent was the lux & $$$ Angsana resort Palm Cove. It featured the new local Blue Sky brewery plus some Little Creatures and Moo Brew plus others. Nice to see. Most places still have the ‘7 lagers’ beer list, of which 2 are XXXX.

Thus ended our 2 week sojourn to a beautiful part of the world. Many fantastic memories, sunshine, lots of lovely surprises, and one memorable love affair (Nu nu). Something all good holidays need to have.

Nunu on Urbanspoon

The Really Long Lunch

20 Jun

I have been thinking about writing a blog for some time, recently we had the most amazing experience that inspired me to write it now, it’s taking me a while to get the first one down, but off & running now. A long weekend away with friends, at  Laharum Grove organic olive grove with the Grampians as the stage for the weekend, where the food, wine, beer, conversation & even dancing rolled on for days

Pizza night in the Grampians

On arrival it was pizza night. Our hosts have an awesome pizza oven so it was DIY pizzas, perfectly thin dough, a range of homegrown toppings, and a constant stream of woodfired pizzas.  We sat around a beautiful firepit (which we loved so much we had to get one for our backyard!).  A large mob of kids sat around the pit toasting marshmellows for awhile, thankfully they were lost in the grove most of the time and we hardly noticed they were there!

On Saturday morning we walked through the property.  Set in 300 acres at the base of the dramatic and historic Mt Difficult, the grove was planted by Italian workers around the 1940’s.  It has a remarkable 9 metre grid planting.  Across such a large property, it is incredible to think that every single tree has been so perfectly spaced.  Kangaroos were flitting through olive-laden trees and the backdrop of Mt Difficult made for the most stunning outlook.

Laden olive trees in the grove, Grampians as the backdrop

We arrived at the house which is a relocated Uniting Church. And as such, has nearly no benches or cupboards.  An eclectic collection of kitchen dressers, tables, meat safes provided workspace & storage for a highly covetable collection of  kitchen pots, pans & gadgets.  At 11am lunch prep was in full swing.

I was begging to help out! Eventually I was entrusted to peel the incredibly beautiful & delicate home grown quail eggs.  In the meantime, labne was being rolled and baby beets were roasting that had to be peeled & pureed, so the quail eggs could be dyed pink, so when they were cut open they would look very pretty! The pressure! I didn’t do too badly but smaller fingers would have been good.

Peeling the still warm from the quail eggs

Meantime, the table was being set…

The very long table

All this for the gorgeous appetiser of cured salmon, on a small herbed potato salad with beet stained quail eggs. Pics did not do it justice.

Cured salmon, herbed potatoes & beet stained quail eggs

One of the guests was a cray fisherman from Apollo Bay, so another appetiser was fresh crayfish, seved in lettuce cups, thai flavous.

Things started to really heat up in the kitchen then. Plating up 18 dishes required clearing a lot of space! It was a military operation.  Main course was couscous, with bbq’d lamb & roast vegetables cooked in their spicy Marmelatta,served with labne.  Somewhere inbetween peeling & staining quail eggs, eating, drinking, talking & laughing. I also made my first italian style meringue. I had been drizzling syrup into a cake for hours every time I passed, then whisked up the meringue and just fell in love with the texture of it when the hot sugar syrup was added.

The Kitchen, Plate Up!

At about 9pm at night, dessert was served and the dancing began!

Such a beautiful day in stunning surrounds and a group of people who were fun, passionate about food, and incredibly generous.

The following day it was back for yet another superb, albeit more casual, lunch (which thankfully ended by about 7pm) with the sunset over the Grampians

Another beautiful lunch into the sunset

Finally, all our little kids decided to set up their own restaurant to serve us dinner. Two little boys were pot washers, we had a couple of lovely waitresses, a bar person whipping up icy cocktails, and the tables were beautifully presented with menus!

The Kids Cafe, Table Presentation Excellent!

They were just too gorgeous.

What a weekend, I hope you enjoyed reading this and that I was able to capture some of the magic of that weekend.