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

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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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Volvo Prosecco-Road Trip

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A group of food and wine loving friends, and 2 brand new Volvos to test drive on a recent Autumn weekend saw us head to the King Valley in North East Victoria.

Just 3 hours from Melbourne, this is the birthplace of Prosecco, or Italian sparkling wine in Australia, and is aptly known as the ‘Prosecco Road’.  It is also home to a number of other excellent red and white Italian varietals. Our destination was Pizzini Wines, a family owned and run winery in Whitfield, in the heart of the King Valley.

The Cars
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Silverstone Volvo in Doncaster very kindly loaned us a brand spanking new XC60 R Design as well as the newly released V40, the latest in a line-up of sleek and sexy designs from the Swedish car maker who has undergone a revolution in recent years, amping up its image from safe but boxy and much maligned to what are now some of the best looking cars around.

At the recommendation of  Allison Walker  from  Mansfield Farmers Market , we went via Mansfield and tested out the cars on some wonderful curvy roads, driving through stunning countryside, past rolling green hills dotted with cattle, with a quick coffee stop at the delightful  Tea Rooms of Yarck .

The V40 is essentially a 5 door hatchback, but feels much larger and more spacious than your average hatch. It is a classy, sporty number (ours had a stunning cream leather interior) and is fabulous for city driving, especially with its additional features like park assist, a blind spot warning system, pedestrian airbag, and pedestrian detection with an auto-brake function. You’d be hard pressed to find a safer car. It’is also incredibly fuel efficient, and comes with start-stop technology (it turns itself off whilst you’re waiting at the traffic lights). I have a huge car crush on this little lady and did NOT want to give her back at the end of our weekend. She is also surprisingly affordable, priced at around $40K, give or take.

The XC60 R Design, a family-oriented crossover SUV, goes head to head with the likes of the Audi A5 size-wise and easily holds it own with looks, performance, and features, as well as offering value for money. We drove the petrol version, which has a turbocharged engine with plenty of oomph and goes from 0 – 100 kph in just 5.8 seconds. And from one bass-loving hip-hop fan I can confirm the stereo is in fact THE SHIZZLE.

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The Pizzini family have been in the King Valley for over 50 years, starting out in tobacco farming and then transforming the land into vineyards, initially growing Riesling grapes for Brown Brothers in Milawa in the late 70’s, then adding Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Shiraz vines, the fruit of which was then sold to winemaking companies all over Australia.

In the mid 80’s, Fred Pizzini started experimenting with the Northern Italian grape varieties, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, and eventually expanded into other Italian varietals, including Il Barone, Arneis, Pinot Grigio, Verduzzo, Brachetto, Prosecco and Picolit.

You will usually find Fred at the Cellar Door, sharing his passion for his wine, family and the region, together with winemaker son Joel, whose love of grapes has seen him complete vintages in Margaret River, Mornington Peninsula as well as in Italy at Marenco in Piemonte and Isole e Olena in Tuscany (one of the world’s top ten wineries and producers of one of the three top Sangioveses in Italy).

Check out wine writer, personal wine valet, and fellow road-tripper Catherine Whelan, aka Lady Of Oenotria for her take on our Pizzini Cellar Door experience.

The Cooking School – A Tavola

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Katrina Pizzini is passionate about the Italian recipes passed down from her mother-in-law, and her cooking classes are the perfect way to experience some of the flavours of the region, whilst learning some traditional skills like making gnocchi, pastry and pasta.

Katrina is the most gorgeous lady, patient and kind (and extremely diplomatic when you stuff something up!). Her cooking tips include some gems for even the most seasoned home cook, she makes everything look easy, and she’s so super lovely I asked her to adopt me (sorry mum if you’re reading this).

The commercial kitchen is equipped with everything you need to feel like a total professional, and to keep the magic alive you can also take home her beautiful cookbook, ‘A Tavola’. During our cooking class we made bolognaise, potato gnocchi, and apple strudel, (with fruit from Nonna Pizzini’s apple trees), and then sat outside in the Autumn sunshine and enjoyed the fruits of our labour with some Prosecco. Salute!

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The Dal Zotto family, like the Pizzinis, have a long history in the King Valley (the two families are in fact related).  Otto Dal Zotto and his sons introduced Prosecco to the King Valley in 2000, and indeed to Australia. Otto claims he has wine in his veins rather than blood, and he is infectious in his enthusiasm for Prosecco and how it brings people together.   He is quite simply my hero.

By 2011 there were another  5 wineries in the region all producing Prosecco, including Brown Brothers, Pizzini, Sam Miranda, Chrismont, and Ciccone. They formed together a gourmet food and wine trail now known as The Prosecco Road.  For me Prosecco is a wine that suits every occasion, is great with meals or on its own, is celebratory, fun, easy to drink and perfect shared with friends. It captures the spirit of Italian hospitality in a bottle, and I am working hard to consume as much Prosecco as possible in my lifetime. So far I’m pretty pleased with my efforts. Anyone who knows me will know that it is nearly always ‘Prosecco Time’.

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Apart from a great cellar door experience, the Dal Zotto trattoria is a must visit if you’re in the King Valley. The menu features Italian-inspired seasonal and regional produce, from simple yet stunning antipasto platters to delicious handmade pasta. The family matriarch ‘Nonna Elena’ is a keen gardener, and still works to produce fresh ingredients for the kitchen.

Dinner - the Mountain View Hotel

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The Mountain View Hotel is a boutique gastro pub owned by the Pizzini family, in the heart of Whitfield, and its modern European-inpired menu is the work of chef Scott Burness, who has worked in kitchens all over the world including New Zealand, Scotland, the United States and Australia.

The service  here is city standard with country charm, and the food is nothing short of delightful.

The highlights of our meal (apart from spending it in the company of Katrina, Nat and Carla Pizzini) included the Bundarra Berkshire pork belly special, the dry aged Black Angus porterhouse, with onion marmalade, baby carrots, truffle potato foam and jus, and a stand-out dessert of pistachio and olive oil cake, roasted peach and vanilla bean ice cream.

The Mountain View on its own is well worth the trip to the King Valley, and is also home to the ‘Lana’ label of food-focussed wines, made by Joel Pizzini.

 

Accomodation – Jessie’s Creek Cottage

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This gorgeous new addition to Whitfield offers beautiful modern accomodation, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, luxury furnishings, a stunning fully-equipped kitchen, huge back yard and most importantly, is in staggering distance to the Mountain View Hotel. Cheers!

Thank you to the divine Pizzini family for hosting us so beautifully, and we can’t wait to see you again very soon!

You can also check out my Pinterest album for our all our Instagram pictures of the weekend here .

The Italian Cucina – Farm Vigano

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South Morang may not be the first place you think of for Sunday lunch, but thanks to Farm Vigano, it certainly should be.

Farm Vigano started life as the home of one of Melbourne’s most iconic restauranteurs, Mario Vigano, of Mario’s in Exhibition St. Together with the original Florentino, Mario’s was THE place to eat in the 50′s in Melbourne. My mum, now in her 70′s, fondly recalls celebrating her 21st birthday there.

Mario’s wife was Maria Theresa, a noted artist, and together their contributions to the arts and hospitality led to Farm Vigano being heritage listed.

This grand ole dame is situated on a large parcel of land overlooking the Plenty Gorge, and the gardens include a large orchard which is home to fig, persimmon, pear and citrus trees.

Loving and thoughtfully restored by the team behind Zonzo at Train Trak in the Yarra Valley, and the E Lounge in Richmond, Farm Vigano is a now a beautiful restaurant dedicated to bringing the authentic taste of Italy to the table, with wonderfully dedicated (and in one particular case, deliciously flamboyant) staff.

I’d been looking for an excuse to try Farm Vigano since hearing about it last year, and my mother in law’s birthday was the perfect opportunity for a casual family lunch.

Arriving at the flagstoned entrance, a yellow and white striped awning smiling brightly at us, we were welcomed like family, and ushered to a table overlooking the gardens.

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Starting with a bottle of excellent Prosecco (what else?) from Veneto, we sensibly decided on the Sharing Menu, which for $40 per person gave us a most generous platter of antipasto misto, a selection of pizza, and a large salad. Children eat half price for this option and also get looked after in the dessert department with a big bowl of gelato.

We also added a serve of the calamari fritti, and the slow braised lamb.

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The antipasto platter contained all the classics, just done beautifully. Italian salami, cheeses, grilled zucchini and eggplant, olives, and some sweet yet tangy onions marinated in balsamic vinegar which were a crowd favourite.

The pizzas were a huge hit: thin bases, with fresh, quality ingredients allowed to shine in their simplicity. A dusting of semolina on the pizza tray pre-oven ensured the bases were perfectly crispy, and for me the standout was the pizza con gamberi – tomato sugo base, fior di latte cheese, marinated tiger prawns, baby spinach and mini roma tomatoes. The sweetness of those little tomatoes with spicy, salty prawns and the mild silky cheese was a marriage made in heaven and it was all happening in my mouth.

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We also tried the margherita (perfect) and the carciofi e prosciutto – tomato sugo, Gorgonzola, artichokes, baby rocket and prosciutto. Again the mixture of salty rich flavours and textures played off each other creating perfect harmony for the taste buds.

We didn’t actually NEED the slow braised lamb but how could we resist? Paired with an Italian Sangiovese the tomato-based dish was juicy and tender, melted in the mouth and came served with small roasted potatoes. Delicioso.

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Of course we couldn’t leave without sampling dessert. My old favourite tiramisu was on the menu so we ordered a serve to share, as well as the canele which came dipped in pistachios and adorned with glacé cherries. Both desserts were perfectly executed and neither were overly sweet. The tiramisu was beautifully textured, and the canele were small delightful morsels and the ideal way to end our meal, complemented with an excellent macchiato.

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The service was faultless here – it was like being an extremely welcome guest in someone’s home. Mr 8 loved being able to run around in the gardens in between courses, and a stroll around the property at the end of a large amount of indulgence was the perfect finale.

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Farm Vigano can be enjoyed by couples and large families alike. They also do weddings which I can only imagine would be simply gorgeous given the setting. That has me thinking…vow renewals…hmmmm…

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Farm Vigano

Breakfast Balls – Meatball and Wine Bar

This morning, amidst a torrential downpour, Melbourne-style, I made my way to The Meatball and Wine Bar to try out the new breakfast menu. Having previously sampled the dinner balls (see my post here), there was no way I was going to turn down this invitation so I presented my bleary-eyed self at 7.30am and prepared to get my balls on with the lovely @FiBrook who was already wide awake and ready to party.

Things started well as our delightful waitress could sense my immediate need for caffeine and brought me a sensational piccolo (coffee by Dukes). As the good stuff hit my veins I gradually regained the ability for cognitive thought and grown up conversation, and started on menu perusement and at the same time caught up on Oscars goss with @amystown and @sarahcooks.

The principle of the breakfast menu is the same as for dinner – choice of balls, sauce and sides. Between us we tried:

1. Egg, charred corn and aged cheddar with hollandaise sauce and a side of smoked salmon
2. Creamy egg with pesto sauce and a side of avocado
3. Green eggs with hollandaise sauce and a side of mushroom with taleggio
4. A creamy egg slider with italian tomato sauce and a side of bacon

The balls in this equation were actually a gorgeous scrambled egg mixture which is slowcooked in a mould so it comes out in the shape of a ball. Genius. Perfectly sized portions, seemingly endless combinations, delightful happy staff even at such an ungodly hour, and damn fine coffee.

Breakfast jackpot hit again, balls and all. Loved it.

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Bright Delight

We have become regular visitors to Bright in recent years, for a myriad of outdoor pursuits, including cycling along the ‘Rail Trail’, paragliding and mountain biking (those last 2 are Mr GastronoMel’s domain). 3 1/2 hours up the Hume, turning off at Wangaratta, driving through lush green countryside, giving way to rows of vines, Bright is not only stunningly beautiful, but is the epicentre of foodie-heaven, with some of Victoria’s finest food and wine being produced and served in the area.

Breakfast (and lunch):

One of our new discoveries during our last visit was Ginger Baker, without doubt one of the prettiest breakfast locations of my eating career. Run by Tim Walton, with a slew of suburban Melbourne cafes under his belt, his family’s tree change is one I’m grateful for, as we couldn’t get enough of the place, returning 3 mornings in a row for breakfast, and then again for lunch. With plentiful undercover outdoor seating, rough hewn tables and benches, lights in glass jars suspended from the rafters like fireflies, and a playlist of cruisy house music, I would have been happy to move in here. The coffee was perfect every time and Tim has tracked down some of the region’s best quality fruit, dairy and smallgoods to offer up some truly memorable breakfasts. A particular highlight was the bacon sourced from a butcher in Mt Beauty. Lunch was also fabulous, with an interesting range of tapas.

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Dinner:

Simone’s of Bright is perhaps the best known restaurant in the area, serving up beautiful Italian fare making the most of the local produce. It’s something of a special occasion place, with multiple small dining rooms complete with carpet, mantlepieces and artwork that give the impression that you’re in someone’s (rather lovely) home, rather than a restaurant.
Thoughtful, beautifully presented dishes served by exceptionally professional staff , Simone’s is a delighful, grown up experience, and you can even buy Patrizia Simone’s gorgeous cookbook to take home with you (or better still, enrol in one of her cooking classes at the new cooking school).

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What to drink:

Anyone who follows me on Twitter would be familiar with my obsession with prosecco, in simple terms, Italy’s version of champagne and my very favourite drink in the whole wide world. Already a huge Brown Brothers fan from way back, they made me particularly happy more recently by introducing Prosecco into their extensive line up, and a trip to the Cellar Door in Milawa (near Bright and home to the magnificent Milawa Cheese Factory) meant trying a few different styles of bubbles, as well as the Limited Release prosecco. My tasting notes for this little beauty read: ‘senfreakingsational’. Who are we kidding. I made no notes. I just drank ALL the prosecco and other delights that the lovely Ernie put in front of us. Next time we’ll stay longer and do lunch in the amazing Epicurean Centre.

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Local hero:

Anyone who’s been to a Melbourne Farmer’s Market will be familiar with the Myrtleford Butter Factory‘s wares, but if you are passing through picturesque Myrtleford, it’s worth stopping in to say hi to the very delightful and hospitable Naomi and her mum Bron (I thought they were sisters!) who are not only producing the best butter I’ve ever put in my pie hole, but they do a damn fine coffee and breakfast, and have loads of lovely crockery, artwork and cookbooks to buy whilst you’re there.

They also offer tours of the butter factory itself, which they restored from its neglected state, after continually driving past saying ‘someone should really buy that place and do it up’, so Naomi tells me.
If you’re on Twitter you can find both of them chatting about country life and tasty buttery snacks: @thebutterfactor and @butterbron

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Where we stayed:

The Boathouse, Bright complete with outdoor bath (superb for lying in at night with candles and prosecco looking up at the stars)

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What else we loved:

Lunch at Sam Miranda Wines outside on the terrace, plenty of space for the kids (if you’re dragging them to the wineries with you) to run around, and a truly fabulous spread of share plates

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What we’re doing next time:

Two words. KING VALLEY. The birth place of Australian Prosecco. Home of the Prosecco Road. Dal Zotto, Pizzini, italian varietals, and the Mountain View Hotel in Whitfield. We are coming for you next.

And where to refuel on the way home:

The multi-award-winning Fowles Wines , home to ‘Ladies who shoot their lunch’, and other splendidly named wines, they do a delightful prosecco, and have a great restaurant overlooking the vines, with some fantastic share plates of local goodness.

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Captain Melville – Bushranger Chic in the City

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On Monday night we were treated to dinner at Captain Melville (formerly Miss Libertine) named after the self-styled ‘gentleman bushranger’ who did some of his best work in on the Goldfields of Victoria in the 1850’s.
Located on Franklin Street, near RMIT and the Queen Victoria Market, in a National Trust building, and Melbourne’s oldest pub, Captain Melville is what you’d call a hidden gem.

An open, inviting bar, with polished floor boards, and ample seating gives way to an atrium-style communal dining hall at the rear, with blue stone walls, native flowers in jam jars, giving it a relaxed, modern vibe, whilst still nodding to its rich history. I’m calling it ‘bushranger chic’.
The cocktail list pays cheeky homage to its bushranger namesake, including such concoctions as the ‘Macedon Gang Punch’, whose description reads ‘hard as coffin nails’. Involving rum, lemon juice, agave syrup, egg white, port and Booker’s Fire bitters, this is not something I would have ordinarily ordered, but it did not disappoint, and was a great way to kick off the night.

Our menu went like this:
Masterstock Chicken, coconut, chilli, lime and betel leaf
Slow cooked Wurrook Merino shoulder in brik pastry and smoked yoghurt
Quinoa Salad, asparagus, broad beans, yellow beets, shanklish and honey yoghurt
Bannockburn free-range chicken parmigiana, coleslaw, with hand cut chips
And
Salted caramel banana split with honeycomb

There was simply nothing not to like about the food. It was presented beautifully, using locally sourced produce, the quinoa salad was the best use of this super food that I’ve encountered thus far, and the parma was perfectly proportioned, with a great sauce to cheese ratio. The extra pork belly slider we squeezed in was also excellent.

This is the kind of place you can go with workmates, a group of friends, or your kids, and everyone would be happy. The large dining hall is perfect for functions, and the food would translate well for large groups.

Head chef, Shayne McCallum (ex Blake’s, and The Botanical) is keen to avoid the ‘gastro pub’ tag, aiming instead for ‘ pub classics at restaurant level’. Dude, you have totally nailed it. Thanks for having us and see you again.
34 Franklin Street
Melbourne CBD VIC 3000
Ph : +61 3 9663 6855
T: @CaptainMelville

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A man about Town – Ed Kenney’s Town, Honolulu, Hawaii

When the Gastronomy guide for the 2013 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival arrived in my letter box, the timing could not have been better. We were just about to leave for Hawaii and seeing Ed Kenney’s name featured in the ‘Earth MasterClass’ section, (Huxtable are bringing him out for the event) reminded me that I needed to book dinner at his restaurant ‘Town‘, in Honolulu.

A couple of tweets and a 10 hour plane flight later, we turned up on Town’s doorstep, to a super warm Hawaii welcome from Ed, and settled in to read a menu full of ingredients I’d never heard of. Town, which has multiple accolades and awards to its name, is renowned for utilising local produce and promoting indigenous ingredients. Ed is not only passionate about the food he serves, but where it comes from. He is on the Board of Directors for MA’O Organic Farms, Kokua Hawaii Foundation & Sustain Hawaii. His philosophy is that “Food is the unifying fabric of humanity, connecting us to the earth and each other.” Word.

I quickly decided the way to get the most out of this visit was to ask Ed to feed us his favourite dishes until we fell into a food coma, and he was only too happy to oblige. He started us off with the ahi (Hawaiian tuna) tartare served on a risotto cake, with balsamic vinegar, which was superb, both in texture and flavour, and came at us soon after with the cured opah (Moonfish) with pa’ i’ ai (made from taro root), watercress and persimmon which all worked beautifully together. Our extremely sweet and friendly waitress Randi patiently explained each ingredient to us and answered my incessant questions throughout the meal.

The salad came full of avocado, papaya, butter lettuce, pecans, and cucumber, and was served with a ‘green goddess’ dressing (apparently a West Coast US staple but again something I’d never heard of, typically containing a range of fragrant herbs, spring onions and mayonnaise or similar). I’m offically a fan.

We also tried the hand-cut pasta, which was served with a south shore he’e (octopus) ragu, and it was a knockout. I probably wouldn’t have ordered this if I’d known what it was, simply because I couldn’t imagine how you could execute it – more fool me and lucky I wasn’t in charge of the food selection, because this was one gorgeous, rich, hearty bowl of goodness. Slightly salty, beautifully textured with silken ribbons of perfect pasta.


We then had some more opah, this time served with farro, roasted root vegetables, purslane and salsa verde which was moist, sweet and delicious, as was the mahi mahi dish, served with local veggies, limu (Hawaiian algae) and meyer lemon. Then came the extremely sensational shinsato pork chop, served with an ulu (breadfruit) mash and bitter greens. I was only a little mad with Ed that he’d left this til last when I was already getting full because this was some of the best pork I have ever eaten IN MY LIFE. Juicy, tender, with incredible flavour, and the breadfruit mash was like velvet. Oh my. I needed a little rest, and another glass of wine whilst contemplating how I would finish this plate. (I privately congratulated myself at this point for wearing a loose-fitting dress). But finish it I did (I had help), and then it was on to dessert – obviously utilising my altogether separate ‘dessert stomach’ to fit this in.

The meal lost none of its momentum in the ‘wow’ stakes when it came to the dessert. We were spoiled with 3 different dishes – the beautiful satiny buttermilk pannacotta was first, made with local nalo meli honey and served with fresh tropical fruit, and some figs from the tree right outside the restaurant. We then tried the ‘financier’ (from the friand family of French baked goods) made with browned butter and almond meal, and served with prunes which had been stewed in Earl Grey tea, and some whipped creme fraiche. I’m still dreaming about this fluffy treasure 3 weeks later. The piece de resistance for me however, being a self-confessed chocoholic, was the stunning salted dark chocolate pretzel tart which had wafer-thin slices of candied tumeric on top. The tart base was made up of crushed pretzels, offering its saltiness as the perfect foil to the rich, smooth dark chocolate filling. The tumeric was hot and sweet all at once and it just rocked. This was a flavour explosion of the highest order and one of the best things I have ever put in my cake hole.



I cannot rate this restaurant highly enough, and it was truly one of the highlights of our visit to Hawaii. The hospitality at most of the places we ate was excellent but Town’s waitress Randi took it to a whole new level of awesome, to the point where when we left we were hugging her goodbye. For me, Town feels like that place that no matter who you are, or where you come from, you’ll feel right at home. And I can’t wait for Ed Kenney to come Down Under in March 2013 so we can return the favour, take him out and show him our town.

“Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always”. Amen.