Food Styling Course with Denise Vivaldo in Sydney, August 2-3

I can’t contain my excitement – I’ve been invited to a food styling Masterclass in Sydney with Denise Vivaldo, culinary consultant, and author of ‘The Food Stylist’s Handbook’. Denise has been a leader in her field for over 30 years in the US, has worked with countless restaurants, stores and TV productions, and she’s coming to Australia for a 2 day intensive Masterclass on August 2 & 3 at the Sydney Cooking School.

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If you, like me, always wondered how many hours of preparation go into making cookbook photographs look so mouthwatering, you can find out in this hands-on experience, which promises to unveil the many secrets weapons of the food stylist, including how to recreate fire, heat and steam, how to make fake ice-cream that doesn’t melt whilst you’re trying to get it to smile and many other mysteries. You can read a fully-detailed description of the course here.

I’m really looking forward to meeting Denise, who sounds like an absolute hoot, and hanging out with the uber-talented Kirsty Bryson , food stylist, consultant and chef whose Instagram feed makes me swoon, who has worked on Masterchef, with household names like Tupperware, Devondale and Simplot, on numerous TV commercials, and with everybody’s favourite Melbourne caterers, Bright Young Things . Kirsty is also responsible for helping bring Denise’s classes to Australia.

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There are still some places left for the Masterclass so book a spot and I’ll see you there! And if you can’t make it, I’ll be photographing and documenting this amazing experience for an upcoming blog post. Keep your eyes peeled for some good fun from the class on Instagram in the meantime! 

 

 

 

 

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Horsing around in Wangaratta

Regular readers of my blog will know how much I love North East Victoria, for its beautiful lush green landscape, gourmet food trails, warm hospitality, and of course the wineries of the King Valley, the home of prosecco. So it may surprise you to learn that I haven’t visited Wangaratta in about 2o years, despite it being located only 10 minutes from Milawa, the start of the King Valley Gourmet food and wine region.

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I was invited by the Rural City of Wangaratta to visit the area for a couple of days, my trip coinciding with the High Country Harvest, which runs for 10 days from the middle of May each year, and showcases the region’s food and wine producers, in a series of fantastic long lunches, picnics, wine dinners, and a couple of extremely special events, including one that particularly sparked my interest,  ‘Packing Prosecco’.

The opportunity to finally explore some of Wangaratta itself was too good an offer to refuse so I packed up Mr 9 for some ‘school of life’ adventures and away we sped up the Hume Highway to arrive just in time for lunch at Cafe Derailleur, which amongst other things such as a completely crochet-covered mountain bike (yes, really), does excellent coffee, and according to my junior foodie, very excellent pancakes.

FORGE’S FARM – PACKING PROSECCO

Lunch done, we headed out to Oxley, just 15 minutes out of town, to meet with our hosts Graham, Anne-Maree and Tup Forge, of Forge’s Farm.  Anne-Maree grew up on their current farm, and Graham is from nearby Edi. Between them they know every inch of the King Valley and regularly run trail rides around the area, give horse riding lessons, and run annual cattle drives and team penning competitions. These lovely people are so friendly we literally felt like part of the family the moment  we arrived, which made it all the more difficult to leave.

For the High Country Harvest event, they’ve combined local produce from the Milawa Cheese Company with Dal Zotto prosecco, and teach visitors the lost art of packing a horse, before taking them on a beautiful, easy ride thorough paddocks and along the King River for a picnic either on the shady bank, or in a nearby woodshed.  It’s hard to say who enjoyed this more, me or my son Dylan, who appears to have a natural affinity for horses, and was off and trotting after only 5 minutes in the saddle. Whilst there he also got to feed baby lambs from a bottle, as well as helping Graham and Anne-Maree unsaddle the horses and put on their ‘pyjamas’ (saddle blankets) before leading them off to the stables for the night.

Dylan has already made me promise to go back to Forge’s for another visit, and with accommodation on site for only $80 a night for a very cosy little shed with comfy double bed and bunks in the middle of all the action, it won’t be too long before we are back in the saddle.

You can follow Forge’s Farm on Instagram and Facebook. Make sure you follow Tuppy Forge as well – she’s the one responsible for the gorgeous styling of the prosecco picnic, and with an eye for beautiful detail and a talent behind the camera, her feed is sure to be full of loveliness. You can thank me later.

THE OTHER GOOD BITS

Tarrawingee:

The Plough Inn Hotel in Tarrawingee is another destination that’s been on my North East bucket list for a little while now, so it was fantastic to have this on our schedule. Chef and owner Andrew Roscouet, is ex Pure South, and Sofitel Melbourne, and  The Savoy and Berkley Hotels in London before that. His fine pedigree shines through in food that is neither fussy nor pretentious whilst impressing the pants off you at the same time. With a wine list that beautifully demonstrates the great talents of several local winemakers, an inviting dining room full of exposed brick and gorgeous light even on a dreary Autumn day, and an excellent value tasting menu (5 courses for $65 or $90 with matched wines) this is somewhere I’ll be returning to again for a long and leisurely dinner, with a designated driver next time so I can drink a whole bottle of the local Eldorado Road Quasimodo Shiraz Durif Nero D’Avola which is my new favourite wine crush for the cooler months. Warning: food porn ahead.


IMG_9617Slow cooked Chicken Terrine with Buttered Onion Brioche and Cauliflower Chutney.

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Roasted Sweet Corn Croquettes with Garlic Aioli

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Vanilla Creme Brûlée with citrus mint salad

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Wangaratta:

No longer a sleepy country town, Wang is full of stylish little stores stocking homewares, kitchen stuff, local crafts, and some pretty sweet boutiques. The food scene is also much better than you might imagine, with some excellent choices for dining out, from casual to more ‘special occasion’.  On this particular visit we tried Watermarc and Precinct for drinks and a range of entrees and Cafe The PreVue for breakfast. Apart from an excellent standard of food, what really struck me was the professional service, which was anything but provincial. I’m looking forward to another visit already.

 

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Poached egg with tomato, basil, fetta and chilli, and balsamic at Cafe The Pre Vue

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Sitting on the deck in the Autumn sunshine at Cafe the Pre Vue overlooking the Ovens River and boardwalk

We stayed at  Via Bella Vista - luxury boutique accomodation, close to the river, with a large terrace to catch the morning sun, beautifully styled with thoughtful touches like a coffee machine with milk and pods, a bottle of wine in the fridge and Mor toiletries in the bathroom (and even a hairdryer). The bed had the biggest, fluffiest pillows I’ve ever laid my head on, and was like sleeping on a cloud. Heaven!20140525-133838.jpg

Milawa:

There always seems to be so much to do in Milawa itself, and I never seem to have enough time to get around to everything. For example, if you start at Brown Brothers Winery, you can grab a bike and pedal up and down the country roads, in search of cheese, mustard, olive oil, honey, and ALL THE WINE. It’s a little initiative they like to call ‘Pedal to Produce’ and the bikes come equipped with a big basket that you can fill to the brim with all the delicious things. A highlight of this little expedition was trying the new ‘Bolle’ sparkling at Sam Miranda Wines. We also picked up some gorgeous creamed honey from Walkabout Apiaries.

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We stayed as guests of the Rural City of Wangaratta.

 

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Special thanks to the glamour farmer and tourism treasure, Emma Keith for hosting us so magnificently xx

 

Feast Of Merit – a YGAP Project

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YGAP stands for Y-Generation Against Poverty. This is a non-profit organisation full of bright young volunteers with a social conscience. They call themselves ‘an incubator for social change’. I just call them bloody awesome.  Their CEO and co-founder is Elliot Costello, social entrepreneur and all-round good bloke.FeastOfMerit4

I first became aware of YGAP through social media posts around their 5 Cent Campaign in 2013, which was successful in raising over $130K for charity projects in Australia, Cambodia and Rwanda.

Their latest undertaking is Feast of Merit,  a ‘communal dining house’ located at 117 Swan St, Richmond, serving breakfast and lunch 7 days a week, and dinner Tuesday to Sunday.

FeastofMerit28 FeastofMerit25 FeastofMerit26 FeastofMerit29It was wonderful to hear that Salvatore Malatesta of  St Ali Coffee Roasters, was happy to share some love for the Feast of Merit cause, and has donated a coffee machine and equipment, plus 2 years’ supply of coffee beans, and a signature espresso blend has been developed. More generosity came from Melbourne-based manufacturer LUUS, who fitted out the kitchen.

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Alby Tomassi, co-founder and no stranger to hospitality (think Café Banff and Jimmi Jamz) notes that the smooth operation of the venue, after being open for such a short time (a little over 2 weeks at time of writing) can be attributed to many of the staff being involved in renovations, painting, cleaning, and setting up in the months and weeks leading up to the opening. Also being part of something they believe in, they have formed strong bonds and friendships based on a mutual passion. Everyone is happy coming to work, including Alby (pictured below with his trademark smile).  Business Manager Shaun Anderson is another YGAP’er whose demeanour is relaxed, friendly and welcoming each time you visit, greeting first-timers like old friends.

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In their own words, the ‘Feast of Merit’ is a “community concept inspired by a festive ritual in Nagaland, North Eastern India, whereby a wealthy member of the village will liquidate all their assets to throw a huge celebratory feast for their community. The festival can last for several weeks, bringing together all of the village’s poor and underprivileged members, as everyone feasts and celebrates together through a distribution of wealth that empowers and unifies the community”

The food has a local and sustainable focus – they use Hopkins River Beef, line caught fish, with origin and seasonality being important to chef Ravi Presser (ex Bar Lourinha , Circa, Cumulus Inc and more recently, Fonda).  They have D.O.C wine on tap in kegs, eliminating bottle and left-over waste, as well as some selected local wines, ciders and beers by the glass and bottle. There is also an intriguing range of Ayurvedic Tonics, freshly pressed juices, and ‘enlightened’ smoothies.

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There is a definite Middle Eastern slant to the menu, and ethical, healthy, nourishing dishes are the cornerstone of chef Ravi’s offerings.

Price is also a factor, with the idea being that good food should be accessible and affordable. No dish on the menu is over $23.

The cost of the meals however, belies the beautiful quality and range of options on the menu.  Apart from the Launch event which I attended as a guest, showcasing the dinner menu, and containing such gems as eggplant, lemon and pomegranate dip, fried cauliflower salad with blackened onions, Hopkins River porterhouse with horseradish and garlic paste, and a milk pudding with figs and caramelized sugar, I have visited again since for both breakfast and lunch, and each time the food has been beautifully presented, with gorgeous combinations of flavours and ingredients.

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Highlights have included a dish of backyard fruits – plums, figs and grapes, chia seeds, orange blossom, yoghurt ice and smoked almonds, and harissa toast with kale, silverbeet, ricotta, avocado and egg. Of the range of salads on offer at lunchtimes, my favourite  so far has been the asparagus, green bean,pea, soybean, fennel and verjus.

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I was initially invited to the Launch event as a guest, in the hope that I would spread the word about this worthwhile social enterprise, and share the information provided to me with other people, via social media.  Since that visit I have returned twice to spend my own money there, invited friends to do the same, and will continue to do so in the future.

As with most of what I promote on social media, I’m not being paid to do it – I simply believe in it, I like it and I’m passionate about it.  I started blogging 5 years ago because I was passionate about sharing information about food and travel experiences. I still am.  If I’m working for someone I will disclose that.  If I eat/drink somewhere and it’s an invite I’ll disclose that too.

I choose to be positive, encouraging, supportive. I enjoy helping others share their message where I can.

Live and let live.  Oh, and lighten up.

“Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion.”

The Holstee Manifesto 2009.

The Feast of Merit Cloak, bestowed with great honour upon the villager who shares his wealth with his community

The Feast of Merit Cloak, bestowed with great honour upon the villager who shares his wealth with his community

My picks for Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2014

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The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is upon us again, which many of us have been eagerly awaiting since last October, when the program was first announced.

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It’s another fantastic opportunity to showcase the talents of our world-renowned hospitality industry, as well as showing off the beauty of our city, the always elegant Lady Melbourne.

This year the Festival theme is WATER and there are many clever and original ideas and events based around this to wet your whistle and whet your appetite.
Following are my picks for the Festival. Not surprisingly they feature a lot of wine.  But wine has lots of water in it, so it’s totally on topic…
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The clever people from Hassell who put together last year’s Urban Coffee Farm and Brew Bar at the Festival, are behind this state of the art structure nestling on the left bank of the Yarra River at Queensbridge Square.
Immerse yourself in foodie delights at the open kitchen from numerous chefs including Daniel Wilson and Adam Liston,  learn about growing your own food, and discover cocktail delights complete with chemistry lessons when the sun goes down and it transforms into a riverside bar.
This one has my interest due to my love of both chefs and photography. A chance to see some of Australia’s top chefs captured in their natural habitat, and out of it, with surprising and amusing results. It’s also FREE.
Sommeliers Long Lunch – Sunday March 2
Hosted by Sommeliers Australia, with a 6 course extravaganza from Pope Joan, and wines expertly paired by top Melbourne Sommeliers from Rockpool, Grossi Florentino and Attica, this is one lunch you won’t want to miss. Held at Ormond Hall, this is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and funds raised help further the education of our local Sommeliers overseas. A fun wine-matching competition will take place across the event with the host sommeliers battling each other for crowd approval.  Just make sure you take the tram home!
Dreamily handsome Chef Luigi Taglienti shares his passion for Italian gastronomy in this Langham Masterclass.  Luigi, executive chef at the Michelin starred Ristorante Trussardi Alla Scala in Milan,  is known for blending traditional Italian flavours and seasonal produce with avant garde techniques, with spectacular results.  Add some fine Italian wine varietals from Dal Zotto in North East Victoria and you have yourself a winner here.
Regional Weekend March 14-16:  a long lunch, lilos and fly-fishing
St Leonards Long Lunch  Friday March 14
What’s not to love about a long lunch – especially in somewhere as gorgeous as Rutherglen in Victoria’s North East?
St Leonards are putting on a four-hour feast of epic proportions, and with a wine history stretching back to the 1860s, the refreshments will be as delicious as the local produce.
Lilos and Prosecco  Saturday March 15
Once you’re done here, stay the night and next morning scoot across to the King Valley and front up at Dal Zotto Wines at 10am for Lilos and Prosecco. A bus takes you to a perfect spot along the King River and after a safety demo you jump aboard a floaty pillow of fun and glide down the crystal waters that run through the picturesque valley of the Kings and home of Prosecco in Australia. Afterwards enjoy a beautiful lunch and plentiful prosecco at the Dal Zotto Trattoria.
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After the excitement of Saturday, you can try Fly-fishing on the King River on Sunday at Pizzini Wines.  Starting off with some fly fishing lessons, and then lunch and wine tasting with Joel Pizzini at the Cellar Door, you’ll head off to the river to try and catch your dinner. If you’re really nice Fred Pizzini might even share his favourite fishing spots with you.
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I’m excited and exhausted just thinking about all the fantastic events on offer this year, but I’ve been in training and my liver is ready and raring to go!
Buon appetito and look out for my Instagram feed for more fun and games from MFWF2014!
Disclaimer: I have not been paid for including any of the events listed here in my blog.  I am not attending any of these ticketed events for free. Any events I am invited to attend over the course of MFWF14 will be fully disclosed.

Good Food Month, Night Noodle Market and a giveaway involving SAUSAGE!

It’s November which means it’s officially Good Food Month! If you’re in Melbourne, check out all the good stuff here.

In the meantime, I have 4 tickets to give away to one of the events:

QUEENIE’S MAKES SAUSAGE

WITH Queenie’s Tours - who you can also follow on Twitter here 

Discover where to find the best ingredients for sausages, from the spices to the meats, then learn sausage-making tricks from MasterChef 2013 contestant Andrew Prior. To finish, the Home Make It people take you through their store.

WHERE: 4/158 Wellington Road, Clayton

WHEN: November 23; 8.30am-3pm

- so hit me up here in the comments section with your best sausage meal experience (either in a restaurant or that you made yourself) and you could be off with 3 friends to get all the secrets of good sausagery. There, that’s today’s made-up word. You’re welcome!

Whilst I love a good snag, I am also super excited about the Night Noodle Market when the banks of the Yarra River are transformed into an Asian-inspired hawker’s market and some of the best names in Asian cuisine will be serving up everything from roast pork to Shanghai dumplings.

From the Good Food Month website: “Alexandra Gardens will host this buzzing night market (and late afternoon too, on weekends) with cool restaurants stalls, fun bars, great music and loads of atmosphere.

Some of your favourite eateries will be there, such as Longrain, Mamak and Wonderbao, dishing up everything from roast pork belly gua baos and freshly made roti to pho and Shanghai-style soup-dumplings. And of course there will be dessert – with Gelato Messina and Saigon Sally.

Whether you’re chilling with friends after work, or planning an outing for the whole family, the Night Noodle Markets has something for everyone. “

Get in amongst it!

Bar Nacional, Collins Square – it’s a ‘Si’ from me!

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From the ridiculously good-looking celebrity chef Pete Evans,  together with  the man responsible for the legendary ‘beef on toast’, and chicken-skin butter with pull-apart bread at Little Hunter, comes Spanish venue, Bar Nacional, located at Collins Square, the new development at 727 Collins St.

Chef Gavin Baker (ex-Fat Duck…swoon!) is at it again,  with inventive techniques, and flavours set to blow your mind and woo your tastebuds.  He’s also funny, passionate, and despite being from North Carolina, does a great Cockney accent, mostly when the food comes out, when he exclaims proudly “innit gaw-geous!!”  Manning the Josper oven and sending out seriously more-ish plates is Chef Alex Drobysz, who is ex- Bistro Moderne (Daniel Boulud) and Gordon Ramsay, and lovely bloke into the bargain.

My first meal at Bar Nacional was a Monday lunchtime, followed up with a long Friday afternoon/evening session, so I’ve managed to sample almost all of the menu, a fact of which I am infinitely proud.

The menu starts with a Charcuterie section, including chorizo, lomo (beef tenderloin) and 3 types of jamon, from  Serrano, through to Iberica and all the way to the mother lode – the Bellota Pura.

In the name of research I did my utmost to slay much of the tapas menu, including

  • Choricito – simple little sausages cooked in cider, onion and parsley
  • Croquettes of charred brussel sprouts, with preserved lemon aioli. Definitely worlds away from the 70′s ‘boil and serve method’ my mother employed (hi mum, love you but they were RANK).
  • Pan con tomate – simple but totally delicious toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and ripe tomato, then drizzled with olive oil and salt
  • Morcilla – spanish blood sausage, and it’s a rich, strong flavour that should be embraced, with a good wine (no problem here)
  • Patatas bravas – what’s not to love about potatoes?

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One of the highlights of the ‘rationales’ or mains,  was the wood-roasted fish.  It’s the first time I’ve come across this style of cooking in my  travels, and I was absolutely fascinated by the entire process. I even got to sneak into the kitchen and see it being prepared.  A trunk of wood is cut into thick slices, which are then rubbed with  garlic oil.  The fish is laid on the wood slice and roasted in the Josper oven, and  when the edges of the bark catch fire, the fish  infused with the ensuing smoke . The dish comes served  on the wood at the table, with the edges still gently smouldering, accompanied by roasted eggplant.  This technique imparts the most incredible, subtle but smoky flavour to the flesh of the fish, and at the moment the kitchen is are working with wood from 8 different varieties of trees, each with their own distinctive flavour characteristics – including orange and almond.

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Whilst there we also managed to put away the prawns with chorizo and patates bravas, with peppers and fried egg, and the pork belly with compressed pear and mint. Again, perfectly executed.  Speaking of perfect, there are 2 more things that make this place great. The first is the service.  The staff are engaging, knowledgeable, and genuinely excited about the food, as well as the wine. Which brings me to the second thing – the wine list. In the words of my esteemed colleague and partner in many drinking crimes, @ladyoenotria,  “it’s BANGING!”.   This is the work of sommelier and all-round nice guy Jeff Salt (ex-Golden Fields) who has curated a beautiful selection of  whites and reds, including some excellent Cava (Spanish sparkling, or as I like to call it,  Prosecco with a sombrero) and some heavenly tempranillo.

They tell me ‘postres’ is Spanish for dessert. At Bar Nacional, it actually means ‘food porn of the highest order’. With Chef Shaun Quade (ex Quay, Royal Mail, Urbane and Biota) at the sweet end of the kitchen, you know you are in good hands and in for a good time.

We need to talk about the Tocino del Cielo – translated to  ‘Heaven’s Bacon’.  This is made with pig fat. Which makes it awesome. Salted maize caramel lies underneath shards of feather-light biscuit, and a lemon sherbert.  Oh my sainted aunt.  I don’t care where you live. Get up off your chair and get there NOW.

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The bitter chocolate liquid cake, with green aniseed olive oil and lemon marmalade ice cream is nothing short of a party in your mouth. The caramel ooze that issues forth from the cake once you slide your spoon into it is smooth, and velvety and I would bathe in that goodness if I could. The lemon marmalade ice-cream is the perfect foil for all the richness – it is  tart, refreshing, yet super creamy.  I perhaps even recall being told it was made with sour cream, although I may have dreamt that whilst in my food coma.  Superb.

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There are some mighty fine  Quesas (cheeses) on offer as well – we tried the blue cheese which was served on a wooden board with some fresh honeycomb, a perfect combination of sweet and bitey – my lunch date is not a dessert person (I know, what the?) so he was super happy to get stuck into the cheese whilst I inhaled all the cake.

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On Friday nights they also have all sorts of excellent bar snacks – including the decadent chocolate churros truffle, with a caramelised white chocolate centre.  This you must not leave without trying. And DO NOT SHARE.   They also do a mean Sangria, made with D.O.C  vino rosso from the King Valley, Dom Benedictine, citrus, cloves, and cinnamon.

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Here are the Twitter handles of the main suspects. Give them a follow if you want to play along at home. Or better yet, get your butt on a bar stool and eat ALL the tapas.  I’ll be the one drinking sangria straight from the jug. In a totally classy way of course. Ole!

@barnacional

@shaun_quade

@jeff_salt

@PeteEvansChef

https://www.facebook.com/barnacionalmelbourne

@docwines

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A right Royal breakfast – Duchess of Spotswood

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I headed over the West Gate Bridge today and finally visited the Duchess of Spotswood, and I’m pleased to say it was well worth the wait, and every bit as lovely as I expected.  (If the truth be told I actually arranged a client meeting there JUST so I could try it out). A warm welcome when we arrived, and a strong and full-bodied piccolo, delivered with a smile, was a most excellent start to the work day.  Being the first day of the school holidays I had Junior in tow as well, so a good book, an excellent hot  chocolate and a serve of scrambled eggs meant he was extremely content.

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The good folk of the Duchess make the most of what’s in season, and despite many tempting treasures on the menu,  I ended with up the ‘Simple Pleasures’, a delightfully pretty plate full of asparagus, broad beans, kipler potatoes, with goats curd and perfectly cooked poached eggs. I may at this point admit to a slight bit of dish envy when watching what was delivered to other tables, but this in no way was to detract from my own breakfast which I enjoyed immensely – a light and delicate dish perfect for the unexpectedly warm morning.

ImageI left with a simple vow to return and work my way through the menu, which may take some doing, considering they also do lunch.  It’s a challenge I’ll be happy to take up.

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