Let your Wine Compass guide you

Pimpernel Vineyards

If there are 2 things the Yarra Valley has in spades, it’s beautiful wine and great food. Not to mention gorgeous scenery and the fact that it’s only an hour out of Melbourne. The only issues are: how to choose where to go with so many options, and getting safely home after you’ve indulged in all the things.

And that’s where Wine Compass comes in. I was recently invited on a day trip with a comfy little busload of like-minded foodie winos (I’m saying that like its a good thing because it totally is) to get a guided tour of the Yarra Valley, with Adam who has been curating and hosting tours of the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula since cocky was an egg.  The key is local knowledge, and being able to design a tour specifically tailored to the needs of each group, in a relaxed and informal style, but with plenty of information if and when you need it.

For our particular trip, we started out at Pimpernel Vineyards, a boutique winery a little off the beaten track and well worth the visit. We felt like we had uncovered a hidden gem (well actually Wine Compass did the uncovering, we just drank the wine) – their vines are non-irrigated,  essentially resulting in grapes which have to fight for their water and nutrients, and whilst there may be a lower yield, they are concentrated and more intense in flavour, i.e. delicious.

Their specialities are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and they also make a very lovely Viognier, one of my new favourite wines, with lovely perfume and complexity which you can only get from a good grape and a winemaker who knows what to do with it.

The next stop was Oakridge for lunch, home to wunderkind chef Matt Stone, which was predictably fabulous, elegant and colourful, from the house-made bread and butter, (they even mill the flour onsite to make the bread) , local Yarra Valley caviar, handmade pasta, and vegetables from their own garden. And of course some beautiful wines to match.


Last stop was the always fabulous Four Pillars Gin, where the super-smiley Cam Mackenzie was on hand to have a chat, we had a special gin tasting, and got to have a sneak peak at the new release Shiraz Gin (my favourite, because wine).


And in the style of all great road trips, it ended with us zooming down the freeway back towards the city with one of our guests (Melbourne Cocktails I’m looking at you) commandeering the stereo and turning the bus into a high-spirited karaoke disco.  You should book now. Click here . Cheers!

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Lady Carolina still likes to party

IMG_5434IMG_5442Lady Carolina in Lygon St, East Brunswick, opened to much fanfare last September, with Latin-food loving chef Paul Wilson at the helm. The food was bloody awesome, and the décor was gorgeous, and included an Astroturf backyard complete with a bright, colourful bar and beach seats backing onto a garden full of banana palms.

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Less than 12 months later it’s changed hands, but there’s no cause for alarm.
Chef and co-owner Hugo Diaz has pared back the menu, and he and his South American team are cooking what they know and love. The front of house team is made up of those most precious hospo types : the ones who actually want to be there, love what they do, and make everyone who walks through the door feel welcome.

I visited Lady Carolina last Friday night as a guest, and we loved every single second of the experience, from the Pisco Sour to start, to the pumpkin fritters for dessert, and every spicy, delicious thing in between. We opted for the Latin Feast menu, which mean an avalanche of awesome came at us, and our vegetarian friends were happily catered for as well.

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The place was packed by 7pm with young people, old people , couples , families, all locals who have embraced the changing of the guard with fervor, enjoying the festive atmosphere, and Latin music which creates an atmosphere of being on holiday in Cuba instead of in freezing Melbourne in the dead of Winter.

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Add this to your list, Northside peeps. Definitely will be back ASAP for more of that goodness. Thanks for having us and sending us into a food coma!

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Chargrilled corn from the Asado, with coriander mayo, dried chilli macha oil, and queso fresco cheese

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Pork short ribs, Argentinian skirt steak with chimmichurri, Frijoles, Potato salad, chargrilled cauliflower, quinoa salad

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Pumkpin fritters heated in dark brown sugar, cinnamon and clove syrup

Dessert churros with caramel cream and Mexican chocolate sauce
Cindy’s Grandma’s flan – cream cheese and pecan crème caramel

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Glenrowan & Glamping

 


 There’s nothing like an impromptu road-trip to discover yet another Victorian wine region where you also end up making friends with beer. When your accommodation is a romantic middle-of-nowhere glampsite complete with natural beauty and wildlife, where you can still be in time for dinner at a city-quality restaurant in just 20 minutes, it kinda feels like you’ve hit the adventure jackpot. This was our experience when we headed for Glenrowan this weekend.

Right now until the 18th of May you can stay at the Winton Wetlands (just over 2 hours from Melbourne, in Victoria’s North East, at the Mokoan Flash Tents camp, in luxury canvas tents, each complete with king-sized bed covered in soft warm fluffy doona, solar lamp, deck chairs, gorgeous Biology toiletries  and extra rugs for added warmth, for just $150 (for 2 ppl).

The campsite features a generator-powered hot shower, toilets, picnic tables, bikes, and a fire (wood provided).

A spectacular location and photographer’s paradise, activities at the Wetlands include walking, bike riding, bird watching, canoing and star gazing. Incredible natural beauty, year round.

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A stone’s throw from the camp is the Glenrowan wine region, where you’ll find deep, plummy shiraz, and dark berry durif, as well as some fantastic fortified and even a few good whites.

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Wangaratta and Benalla are both close by (roughly 20-25 minutes) so if you’re looking for either breakfast or dinner options, you’ll be spoilt for choice. We love Cafe The PreVue, Cafe DeRailleur or the newly opened Bertsy & Co for brunch or coffee, and for the classic Italian cucina experience you can’t go past Rinaldo’s for dinner.

But first, the wine!  We met Lennie at Baileys of Glenrowan, a winery that’s been around since 1870, and whose wines consistently rate a mid to high 90’s from Mr Halliday. Lennie was only too happy to take us through the range, we fell a little bit in love with the organic Shiraz and the 2013 Durif ( which we brought home with us)

Baileys also do a mean wood-fired pizza, as well as antipastos and cheeses at the Old Block Cafe, nestled amidst a gorgeous old garden.FullSizeRender-1

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Just up the road is Taminick Cellars where James Booth is continuing over 100 years of family winemaking tradition, producing Rose, Nero D’Avola, Shiraz and Durif.

In 2011 he opened the Black Dog Brewery on site,  hand-crafting small-batch, preservative-free beers from premium malted barley, hops and yeast strains with pure Warby Ranges water. For a non-beer drinker I was pretty taken with the ‘Saison’! We picked up both the Shiraz and Durif, as well as a 6 pack of beers to enjoy at home.

Auldstone Cellars is also close by so we dropped in to have a chat with Nancy. As well as reds, Auldstone are producing some award-winning chardonnay and riesling. We even bagged 1989 (yep, you read that right) aged riesling that we opened when we got home and it took a few hours to wipe the smile off my face. Oh yeah.

Next time we’ll go back and visit Morrisons Winery which we just couldn’t fit in on the day.

If you’re camping, make sure you leave plenty of time for exploring the wetlands, just remember to pack a portable phone charger since there’s no electricity (although perfect phone/data reception to share your sunset pics on Insta!) and just revel in the sensation of being woken up by the birds instead of an alarm clock.

http://www.visitglenrowan.com.au

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5 years of blogging

  
Today my blog turns 5 years old. On this day in 2010 we set off for Italy and what started as a travel journal turned into a public obsession with discovering and sharing new food and wine adventures.  
I could never have anticipated the amazing experiences I would be lucky enough to have, and the incredible people I would meet over the last 5 years.
Chefs and farmers, producers, pasta makers, sommeliers, winemakers , restauranteurs/cafe owners, TV food show contestants, regional tourism peeps, PR mavens, stylists, photographers, and fellow bloggers. So many of these talented legends I’m stoked to call friends and I remain an admirer and supporter of all they continue to do and achieve. 
 Viva la food porn. Long may it continue. Cos for every person sick of food photos there’s 10 others who will double tap that shit. Including me. 

  

Lady Carolina set to open in August

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Ahead of Lady Carolina’s much anticipated launch in August, Paul Wilson has snared pit masters and Peruvian enthusiasts Blair Williams (Piqueos and Bluebonnet BBQ) and former employee Cameron Dening (Circa and Acland St Cantina) to bring flair and excitement to the kitchen, and bolster the 160-seater Latin restaurant and bar.

Lady Carolina co-founder Alby Tomassi says, “With the calibre of the entire Lady Carolina team, under the
direction of Paul Wilson, guests can experience a celebration of culture, music, food and beverage from
all corners of Latin and Central America. With two very distinct offerings, customers will find themselves
exploring the Paladar Dining Room and relaxing in the Carolina Back Bar that will showcase the best Latin street food in Melbourne.”

The Lady Carolina indoor menu will allow diners to feast on the dedicated cevicheria, which will explore the depth of Latin cuisine, while highlighting cultural fusions of Peru through Chifa and Nikkei blends. The outdoor bar will showcase creative street foods with vibrant dishes including alpaca burgers with sweet potato slaw and Amarillo and criolla salsas.

The team is also introducing new superfood desserts, including the incaberry cacao crunch. Paul Wilson adds: “Incaberries are a powerful superfood packed with protein and antioxidants, offering a healthy dessert with a twist. Serving healthy superfoods is something that is very important to the Lady Carolina ethos; we are bringing healthy ingredients and Australian produce, which is also native to South America, to the forefront of the menu and demonstrating how diverse we can be with authentic foods.” Other new fun desserts include palettes – Mexican ice lollies made with Australian tropical fruits, including Jackfruit mojito flavour.

The exciting beverage offering includes an indoor pisco bar and an outdoor rum bar, serving up delicious cocktails on tap. The Carolina Back Bar will be transformed into a major Latin street food destination, bringing the grittiness of South America to East Brunswick.

Blair Williams

Hailing from New Zealand, Blair moved to Australia to pursue his passion for all things edible. Blair’s love for South American cuisine began at Piqueos, a Peruvian and Argentinian gem where he was head chef. Developing a love for all things meaty and delicious, Blair also went on to open northside favourite Bluebonnet BBQ with a string of pop-ups around Melbourne’s northern suburbs and has recently been head chef at Longhorn Saloon.

Cameron Dening

Cameron Dening, has trained with some of Brisbane’s hardest taskmasters at hatted restaurants Isis Brasserie, Bar Alto and Ortiga. When Cameron headed to Melbourne, he spent time at the two-hatted St Kilda icon, Circa. Cameron’s relationship with Paul Wilson flourished and he furthered his knowledge and love for regional Mexican food at the helm of Acland St Cantina. The next step in his food odyssey is to explore even more Latin American food with Lady Carolina.

Lady Carolina
August 2015
175 – 177 Lygon Street North, Brunswick East

www.ladycarolina.com.au

Information provided by Zilla and Brook PR

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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Out and about in Radelaide

I worked out whilst mid-flight to Adelaide (henceforth knows as Radelaide) that this was my first trip back to the City of Churches in over 10 years, so basically when we arrived it was like having never been there at all. I could remember little from my previous trip apart from Rundle Mall and Glenelg, neither of which was on the itinerary this time.

First stop was dinner – we chose Assaggio, because it was located at the end of the street we were staying in, off King William Road in Hyde Park/Unley (and it was recommended by the gorgeous lady at Vincenzo Cucina Vera which we’re hitting on our next trip). The staff at Assaggio (and now that I come to think of it, everywhere we went in Adelaide) were EXCEPTIONALLY nice. I mean, super friendly, accomodating, and helpful.

We started off with some breaded scallops, which were excellent – plump and juicy, and served with a spumante zabalione, which was well executed, but perhaps just a little too sweet for my taste. The stuffed zucchini flowers with gorgonzola and pinenut ricotta mousse were HEAVEN, the ricotta a perfect foil for its bitey cheese counterpart.

We also tried the grilled salmon wrapped in speck, served with asparagus, and a spinach, pine nut and pea pesto, and the ragu of pork, fennel and chilli sausage with persian lentils. Beautifully presented, bursting with flavour, perfectly cooked and simply delicious.

Finishing off with dessert, Assagio hit a home run with the ‘fiore di latte cream with white chocolate and crushed pistachios, espresso and hazelnut syrup. Bellissimo.

We visited The The Pantry on Egmont for breakfast the next morning. You’ll find this quaint yet hip little place on Egmont Terrace, which runs along the railway line in Hawthorn. Filled with the sort of knick-knacks your nana would have treasured in 1973, it’s homely and funky at the same time, and our waiter was one supremely cool cat, freshly-inked and full of morning pep. Coffee was excellent, and the french toast was a work of art. Lovely vibe and great service.

After breakfast we had to make a detour to Bar 9, since I’d heard great things (from an Adelaide ex-pat buddy in Melbourne). The place was packed with people waiting for a table, and for takeaways. Good sign. We ordered some coffees to go, and returned the next morning for breakfast. Again, the joint was pumping, but we were seated quickly and the staff were delightful. I had the breakfast special of home-cooked baked beans with chorizo and a side of avocado. These were quite easily the best baked beans I have eaten in my life. Spicy, tasty goodness. The coffees were consistently fabulous. Definitely on the return list!

An unexpected gem we stumbled across on the way to elsewhere was Cafe Troppo. Apparently newly-opened, sitting across from a large expanse of green on Whitmore Square, this place was so inviting with its recycled timbers, flowerboxes full of orange blooms and outdoor seating that we pulled over and stopped for lunch. A more gorgeous roasted pumpkin, spinach and risoni salad I’ve never tasted, and the coffee, if a little weak for my taste, had a great flavour.

Radelaide was full of delicious and delightful surprises. The Central Market is a haven for great local organic produce, the beautiful sandstone architecture everywhere is ridiculously photogenic, and we encountered great coffee and service everywhere we went. Can’t wait to come back!

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St Katherine’s, Kew

Shane Delia, of Maha fame, opened St Katherine’s with George Colombaris, at 26 Cotham Road, Kew, in early 2011, and no one could have been happier than the locals.

Spacious, with beautiful mosaic blue and red patterned tiles, modern with clever rustic touches, and an open kitchen, it’s a place which is both cool enough for the young and unencumbered, and so family- friendly that when kids order dessert they are ushered down the back to get their own ‘Mr Whippy’ house-made soft-serve.

On the menu (which is constantly being updated as Shane regularly creates new dishes) are a number of staples which you absolutely can’t go past, including the KFC (St Katherine’s Fried Chicken) which comes in a striped red and blue cardboard bucket, and is served with house-made Japanese mayo and BBQ sauce.

My favourite salad of all time is from St Kats: the salad of ancient grains – a bowl of goodness including lentils, almonds, pomegranate seeds, current and coriander , dressed with a red wine vinaigrette. It is both sweet and sour, crispy and crunchy, juicy and satisfying, uber-healthy, and is quite simply out of this world.

The flip side of this are the chips and tarama – resistance is useless: better hot chips you’d be struggling to find anywhere and the housemade tarama is gorgeous.

It would be rude to neglect the Rotisserie, and extremely difficult in any case, with all the meats slowly revolving in front of you, with their irresistible charcoal aroma. From the communal ‘Chef’s Table’ located right in front of the rotisserie, you can you can sit and watch the team in action. It’s hard not to get mesmerised by what’s going on in front of you and forget all about talking to your dining companions.

(Pork lovers note: you can book and pre-order a whole suckling pig for a minimum of 4 people which is served up in 3 different ways and will quite simply BLOW.YOUR.MIND.)

The lamb kibbeh, with ground lamb, burgul, parsley and pine-nuts, is fresh and full of flavour, and from the wood fired oven, the pide with sausage and onion rings is a taste sensation.

And last, but in no possible way least, if dessert is your thing, this is place to bring your sweet tooth for a party it will never forget.

The homemade Mr Whippy selections include toppings like 1. loukoumathes (fried honey puffs) with orange blossom honey, and 2. salted caramel, pomegranate brownie and chocolate pomegranate sauce.

Then there’s the peanut butter parfait, with chocolate sorbet, baklava crumbs, orange blossom foam, and that’s only half of the dessert menu.

These are temptations worth driving across town for, and you’ll have to keep coming back until you’ve tried all of them.

The atmosphere at St Katherine’s is energetic, bustling and welcoming all at once. It’s always full without being crowded, and you don’t have to shout to be heard. And no matter how busy it is, the food is never far away once you’ve ordered, and you’re always treated with a friendly smile.

The staff here are passionate and knowledgeable about the food, they are bright, happy, and genuine. We always leave feeling special and I love that. You could say I’m a fan. www.stkatherines.com 20120202-140032.jpg20120202-140112.jpg20120202-140051.jpg20120202-140145.jpg20120202-140215.jpg

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Villa Gusto – La Dolce Vita

Around a sweeping bend on a road in the Buckland Valley (near Bright, about 3.5 hour’s drive from Melbourne) nestled under Mount Buffalo, you’ll find Villa Gusto – a little slice of Italy right here in Australia.

Offering divine luxury accomodation, taking inspiration from southern Italy and filled with gorgeous rich tones, authentic tapestries and centuries-old antiques (and Bvlgari toiletries in the bathroom), Villa Gusto has 7 suites to choose from, all looking out over different parts of the garden, with views to the majestic mountain above.

The ornamental garden also includes a large chook pen (nicknamed the Penthouse) full of lovely brown hens who obligingly lay their eggs for your breakfast, as well as a big organic veggie patch, overseen by a super-friendly lady by the name of Signorina Fellini, a large silky tabby-cat.

We arrive for dinner promptly, as our host Colin has advised us the meal begins at 7pm sharp. If you’ve had a wander around the garden or taken a seat on the terrazzo beforehand to take in the view, it’s likely he’ll have offered you a pre-dinner drink, and some Prosecco is definitely in order.

The King Valley wine region is right on our doorstep here, and its cool, even climate is perfect for growing fabulous Italian varietals like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Vin Santo and of course Prosecco. The first Australian-made Prosecco was in fact produced right here, at Dal Zotto Winery, and it’s easily one of the best we’ve had. Similarly one of the loveliest Sangiovese we’ve had the pleasure to imbibe comes from just down the road at Whitfield, courtesy of the delightfully affable Fred Pizzini and the team at Pizzini Wines.

But I digress. The dinner menu at Villa Gusto is thus: 4 courses, predetermined by seasonal availability, containing all locally- sourced ingredients, and based on traditional, rustic Italian fare, specifically from the south of Italy, and accompanied, if you wish (we wished), by matching wines.

We were treated to an apertura of shellfish broth, a recipe that had been passed down through the generations of one particular family in Amalfi, since 1864. This was a mouthwatering combination of vongole (pippies), mussels, a large bug tail, and a ladleful of delicate brodo. Even our non-shellfish-eating dining companion was moved to down this bowlful of goodness. This was followed by a housemade canneloni filled with local smoked trout from Harrietville, dill sauce, with black truffle (hello!) and flavoured with a splash of Vermentino, a white Italian varietal. A gorgeous combination of flavours, and the canneloni was a perfectly bitey aldente.

Secondi arrived – pollo di latte, which is quite simply, chicken in milk. But a Millawa free range chicken it was, and slow cooked all day so that it simply fell away from the bones, and served with a crunchy, crumbed eggplant slice, and some fresh steamed greens. There was a hint of chilli which warmed the cockles of my heart, and when enjoyed with a 2009 Vinea Marson Sangiovese from Heathcote, had the tastebuds doing the happy dance.

Dolci was a delightful combination of naughty and nice – some fresh local berries and nectarines, served with a canoli filled with local ricotta flavoured with limoncello (why not?) and a peach and nectarine gelato.

All the courses were spaced beautifully, leaving enough time between each for pause, reflection, conversation and digestion. The portions were perfect, the wines thoughtfully matched, and complimented nicely by some Sinatra swing, which had us all swaying and crooning (quite badly) by the end.

Whilst you can make a dinner booking without staying the night (the restaurant seats 22 comfortably), it’s hard to resist the allure of wandering down the hallway to your room to arise the next morning for breakfast at the very civilised hour of 9am to velvety poached pears, local yoghurt from the Myrtleford Dairy and freshly poached googs, with cherry tomatoes and asparagus picked from the garden, washed down with an espresso. La dolce vita indeed.

http://www.villagusto.com.au/

http://www.dalzotto.com.au/

http://www.pizzini.com.au

http://www.brightvictoria.com.au/

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