For anyone that doesn’t know Bondi Junction, it can easily be regarded as several things. A bus interchange, a place to see yet another Westfield shopping centre, a rather uninspiring Oxford Street pedestrian mall and the end of the line for train travellers. And then there’s the notion that the area exists in the shadow of its beach counterpart.
Venturing west on Oxford reveals a part of town that doesn’t appear to have changed a great deal over the last few decades. A mish-mash of small businesses and services that, at a very quick glance, seem to blend into the uninspiring streetscape. As a local, you probably already know what’s good and what’s not. As a visitor, you have to scratch the surface and see what it’s all about.
Located beneath the relatively new Forum apartment building is somewhere that seems to have added a little sparkle to this end of Oxford Street. Cafe by day and at night, a wine and tapas bar with a South American inflection. Rustic wood and industrial fittings set the scene, complete with cigar boxes that store the cutlery and those ubiquitous souvenir teaspoons we’re all too familiar with these days.
The beans come supplied by Gabriel Coffee, and Brasserie Bread fans will be chuffed to see their beloved loaves and rolls appear on plates and wooden boards.
I was half expecting a small glass of granita when I ordered the frozen ristretto – made with a Kenyan single origin called kianyangi. What’s delivered is an espresso cup that’s steaming. Frozen? It looked just like a regular ristretto. It’s when you touch the cup that you understand where the “frozen” enters the equation. The cup comes from the freezer and the hot ristretto is extracted straight into it. The flavour is intensified and kind of plays with your senses. Great stuff.
Food-wise, the brekkie menu covers just about all the expected options. Muesli, toast, pastries, eggs and fruit. A couple of breakfast bruschetta’s are on offer as well. Our pick is the asparagus bruschetta (15) – a simple chunk of toasted ciabatta with poached eggs, semi-crisp prosciutto and fried sage leaves.
Along the same lines is the toast with avocado (8), ricotta and tomatoes. Fresh basil adds a nice touch and side of bacon (4.5) completes the picture.
And then there’s the chorizo stack (16). Piled high on two slices of toasted sourdough is spinach, baby rocket, mushrooms, chorizo, tomato and two wobbly poached eggs. A light incision spills those golden innards that streak through the hollandaise sauce. My requested side of haloumi never quite made it from the waitress to the ordering system, but no great loss as the plate had more than enough food on it anyway.
My favourite? The huevos rancheros (18.5); a dish I tried on a separate visit. These guys step away from the traditional method of plating and serve it up in a shallow skillet, with whole cannelloni beans in place of the gloopy refried variety. There’s a subtle smoky spice in this hefty portion, with golden flecks of corn and spring onion melded with bubbling Cheddar. A couple of eggs and corn tortillas make for a solid breakfast.
Adventure capital of New Zealand. I believe people have even gone as far as calling it the adventure capital of the world; although I’m sure it was a Kiwi that made that declaration.
Why? The ski fields, for a start. And then there’s the bungy jumping, canyon swinging, jet boating, river surfing, whitewater rafting & sledging, canyoning, skydiving, hang gliding. It goes on. Oh, can’t forget the hydro attack – that shark shaped boat that plunges 5 feet into the water and leaps up to 18 feet into the air.
The last time we were in Queenstown was somewhere around 18 years ago. Some very hazy memories of a mountain town that doesn’t seem to have altered much. Well, perhaps a little.
One thing for sure is the landscape upon which Queenstown is built is nothing short of stunning. Snowcapped mountains form an impressive backdrop to a sparkling Lake Wakatipu that laps the pebbled shoreline.
People mill about the waterfront parks to catch the warm sunshine, lounge about the al fresco bars and cafés and tuck into food from a multitude of cultures.
Where was our first meal in Queenstown? A burger joint. But not your ordinary burger joint.
This is undoubtedly the most popular eatery in town. At just about any given time of the day (and night) people line up for a little burger action at Fergburger; stuffing their faces with some of the most delectable burgers around.
“The Ferg” has a 21-hour day. What the hell? Yep, those skiing and snowboarding youngin’s need something to soak up the booze in the early hours after shredding their way down the slopes, hitting up the bars and then dosing-up on solids before repeating the procedure. Us conventional folk that sleep at normal times will happily line up at midday for their burger fill. Yes, I’m talking about the hnf crew.
Take a look at this sexy beast. That would be Chief Wiggum (14.5) – layers of lettuce, tomato, caramelised red onion and a hash brown. Following the vegetable factor are thick strips of meltingly fatty slow-roasted pork belly with a sweet apricot seeded mustard. To be blunt, it was nothing short of stupendous and completely overshadowed my rather ordinary burger choice.
It all sounded great on paper and looked decent enough, but my sweet bambi (12.5) wasn’t cracked up to what I was hoping it would be. I thought I’d keep it local by ordering a burger that contained wild Fiordland deer, but that minced-up patty was almost as dry as a boiled egg yolk between two bread buns. The Thai plum chutney and aïoli help a bit, but I only had eyes for that juicy pork belly, and other peoples burgers.
On a previous visit to Wellington we dropped by Joe’s Garage, a laid back café with some cracking coffee, but it’s in Queenstown that we found the first Joe’s tucked away on Searle Lane near Nomads hostel. When they started out fourteen years ago they operated from the sorting room in the old post office. Nowadays the digs are a little more advanced and it’s a magnet for the breakfast/brunch crowd.
The first time we dropped in for coffee we had to sit out in the lane due to every inside seat being occupied. No great drama if drinking coffee in 2°C floats your boat. At least the sun was warm, and that fab coffee warmed the innards in no time.
Taking the skyline gondola 450 metres up Bob’s Peak is not only a great way to get a sense of your whereabouts, but it reaffirms how utterly beautiful the Wakatipu basin is.
Back down on the waterfront at Steamer Wharf there are a number of eating and drinking options. And what better way to sit and watch the sun set over the snow-dusted Remarkables than al fresco beneath a heater? Ok, regular folk would probably opt for a table inside, rather than eat their food faster than normal before it went cold from the sudden temperature drop as the sun disappears behind Bob’s Peak.
Ivy & Lola’s was our pick for the evening with its solid sounding menu that celebrates local produce, decent drinks list and a cool Art Deco fit-out that’s easy on the eye.
Mulled wine would have been the go, considering the chill-factor, but I thought the wild rabbit & pork hot pot (18) would be more appropriate. It was chunks of meat galore in a watery broth that didn’t really pack a great deal of flavour. Even the mentioned wild thyme didn’t come through much.
Some toasted brioche helped soak up some of that broth and, disappointingly, the chef decided to replace the promised rhubarb chutney with a smoked whipped yoghurt. Sounds interesting enough, but the incredibly intense smokiness was like a jolt to the palate; a questionable condiment to an otherwise bland casserole.
Portion size isn’t an issue when it comes to the mains. Crisp braised pork belly (30) with bacon & leek bake would have been enough, but some potted shredded pork shoulder super-sized the meal. The belly may not have been crispy and the bake was akin to a bread pudding, but it was a good dish, overall. Loved the chilli bite from the jalapeño chutney.
A great slab of Fiordland venison (36) was all about varying degrees of doneness from medium to blue, spilling its tasty juices over a celeriac pureé with every slice of the knife. The main selling point, for me, was the “crispy” venison heart that packed some flavour, with cumin as the overriding one. I could have eaten them all night.
We discovered there wasn’t a great deal on offer for early risers in the town centre. Perhaps people stuck to their hotel breakfast buffet? Of the couple of options available, Vudu Larder seemed the magnet for the early breakfast punters. And there’s no guesses why. The meals are hearty and delicious and the array of house baked sweets and savouries in the long cabinet is rather impressive.
How about grilled haloumi (18) with perfectly cooked poached eggs? A coriander-spiked tomato salsa joined in on the yolky fun; as did some toasted tortilla that was smeared with spiced black beans.
Pancake lovers are well-catered for with the stack of buttermilk & buckwheat pancakes (17.5). A blueberry compote crowns the stack with a dollop of orange-vanilla bean ricotta.
With weather as glorious as what we encountered during our stay, it was a given that we got out on the water to see the landscape from a different perspective. The obvious choice was to take the historic TSS Ernslaw out on the lake, but we chose Million Dollar Cruise as it’s smaller and more intimate.
Sitting inside to listen to the well-informed commentary was the warmer option, but sitting up on the roof in the freezing cold provided unobstructed views of the remarkable scenery. Shivering like a fool kinda didn’t matter.
Another place that grabbed our attention down on Steamer Wharf was Public Kitchen; an eatery that’s not only easy on the eye, but it takes full advantage of the waterfront location, with views to the nearby mountains.
The menu is New Zealand through-and-through, with the likes of local venison, lamb, beef and rabbit alongside Pacific Island style cod and sweet pav for dessert.
Ours was a relatively light lunch that involved – for starters – some intriguing chickpea chips with truffle salt (10). The soft and light fingers are made from ground chickpea batter, deep-fried and joined by aïoli.
Too many things were screaming to me from the extensive menu. Confit duck pancakes, coconut fried chicken and potted rabbit, to name a few. And then there was the braised beef cheek (22); tenderly sliced and served with roasted cauliflower and juicy raisins. Some collagen-rich goodness that hit all the right places.
A salad of salt baked beets (18) took care of the vegetable element, with the addition of peppery watercress, almonds and sheep feta.
Queenstown may be a town of adventure, but there’s much to do when it comes to activities that don’t require a great deal of energy or adrenalin. Take sitting on the waterfront and having a few drinks, or shopping for a new pair of sunglasses because yours mysteriously disappeared. The options are aplenty.
One thing this pair did was go for a stroll around the Queenstown Gardens; that leafy finger of land that juts out below the town centre. It’s tranquil, beautiful and offers some smashing views from the shoreline.
Frisbee enthusiasts can even partake in a rather unique activity called Disc Golf. The challenging course takes the frisbee-tossers through the gardens and forest, with strategically placed nets that players aim for. Oodles of fun, especially if you’re knocking back stubbies of beer during the process, as we observed with a bunch of guys.
At the bottom of Church Street is somewhat of a Queenstown “mini” institution. Aggy’s Shack keeps many-a-local and visitor fed from its tiny kiosk location. It was one of the first things I noticed when walking along the waterfront, and on the third pass-by I went in for a much closer look.
A few benches surround the yellow & black shack; topped with the essentials of malt vinegar, chicken salt and a serious napkin dispenser. Fish & chips, steamed prawns and mussels, spring rolls and squid populate the menu above some more “Wild Kiwi Foods” like smoked eel, blue cod, pāua, sea urchin and marinated raw fish.
Something made me revisit the mutton bird, or as the Maori call it – the tītī. The last time I tried it was at the Wellington night markets; tenderly cooked in a hāngi. This shearwater bird has a flavour that you’ve either grown to appreciate or struggle with; a dark flesh that’s quite fatty and akin to the combined flavours of very salty duck that tastes like tinned sardines.
Half a mutton bird & chips (15) is more than enough for this curious eater, and those golden chips are sensational.
03 442 4076
Those that may be up for something a tad more refined should probably take a look at Rātā – a bit of a gastro-temple that celebrates local produce in a relaxed and beautiful space.
Celeb and Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett has his name branded on the restaurant, but as we all know, it’s bound to be someone else tossing the pans. That would be a fellow named Chris Scott.
Apparently the Rātā bread tin (7) has a bit of a fan club, so it was a given that it made the table with a couple of starters. Hot and fresh from the oven, the bread is very fluffy, a little sweet and sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt. What can I say, other than – it’s bread.
The signature goat cheese profiteroles (10) sit like lop-sided soldiers on a lump of shale; an easy pop-in-the-mouth and it’s gone moment. A little thick and creamy honey joins in on the wee fun, from bees that harvested the rātā blossom; a tree that’s endemic to New Zealand. Cheese and honey always work, in my eyes, so thumbs-up here.
I liked the play of textures with the Moko smoked eel (22); small firm pieces of eel, golden, yellow and red beets, crunchy black quinoa and watercress. There was meant to be horseradish in there somewhere, but it barely showed its face.
The two mains we ordered were relatively light and perfectly proportioned, seeing we weren’t overly ravenous to begin with. Crispy skin duck (48) lay beside a small mound of freekeh and broccolini, with sweet roasted black grapes that brought some much-loved sweetness to the juicy duck flesh.
The crispy skin Marlborough king salmon (39) flaked to medium-rare perfection; a dish brought together beautifully with warm velouté, leeks, Otaga saffron potato and thinly shaved Bluff pāua. Interesting touch with the thin rounds of raw swede beneath everything; an element that added a fresh crunch to the otherwise soft textures of the other components.
Many that come to Queenstown don’t leave without paying a visit to Arrowtown, that historic gold mining town just 20 minutes from the adventure capital. The Arrowtown we saw on this particular visit was far from the one I remember, thanks to stopping by early in the morning just as the village shops were opening their doors.
During the day it becomes a very different place, swarming with tourists snapping pics of the restored building façades and snapping up the tourist offerings most of the businesses peddle.
I must be honest, I prefer the town without the hoards, and seeing it enshrouded in smoke from burning fireplaces added a mystique to the whole setting.
The very cold temperature was something I could easily deal with, but something I couldn’t ignore was a chalkboard saying the words “obscenely good sticky buns & Arrowtowns best coffee”. These guys know how to get my attention.
Provisions Cafe can be found in an historic miners cottage a block down from the main strip. The name says it all with the goods that are on offer – gourmet pantry and fridge edibles, fresh bread and baked goods made daily, local ceramics and baking accessories.
If we’d known about this place before breakfast, we would have eaten here for sure. Great sounding menu. A very decent Allpress coffee and as for those killer sticky buns, they’re well-worth the visit for those alone.
It was an early morning rise on leaving Seattle; back down to the wharf at dawn to park our rental onboard the Bainbridge Island-bound ferry. A heavy blanket of fog covered Pugent Sound like thick icing on a cake, and continued to do so until we hit Route 3 north of Poulsbo.
Time for another little road trip.
The first day was mainly spent on Highway 101, traversing the northern boundary of Olympic National Park and occasionally taking little detours into the park to fill our lungs with that crisp mountain air. Crystal clear creeks and rivers, ferns, temperate rainforest and towering moss-covered trees abound in this impeccably-stunning part of the north west.
By the time midday came along we were in the vicinity of Forks, a small town positioned between the mountains and the Pacific, and also the key setting for the Twilight saga. Not that I’m a fan as I haven’t even seen one of the episodes.
Lunch was at one of a few eateries that dot the main drag; a roadside diner called Forks Coffee Shop. Those with a penchant for taxidermy would be chuffed to see antlers and deer busts as part of the retro decor. And I don’t mean retro in a contrived kind of way. Something tells me things haven’t changes here for a few decades.
When stepping into a place like this, one can’t set the bar too high. There’s an old dude sitting alone at a table down the corridor near the toilets, a pair of locals sipping on mugs of drip coffee and a young family with noisy kids taking up one of the booths. I think the salad bar had seen better days.
Ordering the Reuben (8.95) was a given, and tossing up between a side of tots, fries, salad or cup of daily soup ended up being the former. I haven’t eaten tater tots for years so I relished every crunchy little one of them. The sandwich was actually pretty good, as well.
The other half and diners don’t really gel so he went for the standard choice. A ham dip (9.95). Nothing outstanding, nothing underwhelming. Ham in a roll with au jus to dip it in, and a huge quantity of fries.
One thing we’d noticed in a couple of the towns we passed through since leaving Seattle was the drive-through coffee shop. A genius concept. No tables or chairs; just a small shack with a sliding window where you place your order and await your cup of caffeine.
Forks happened to have two of them – A Shot in the Dark at one end of town and Mocha Motion at the other. A very chirpy coffee-maker took my order and just a couple of minutes later I had myself an espresso to go. And a good one at that.
To the west of Forks is the tiny village of La Push, a small community straddling the mouth of the Quileute River. The village is within the Quileute Indian Reservation and the handful of businesses that can be found there are owned by the local tribe.
And then there’s the scenery. Massive tree trunks litter the beach – as they do along much of this part of the coast – with rocky islands jutting out of the water just offshore. Sea mist clutched the coastline and added a gloominess to the rugged landscape as seals swam about in the icy water.
Our first night was spent at Kalaloch Lodge, an oceanside retreat that takes its name from what the Quinault Indians called this stretch of coastline. “Good place to land”. Good for us, as well, because there aren’t a great deal of options in this part of the northwest woods. Unless you’re camping, of course.
A few options are available at Kalaloch, no matter what the budget. There’s a camp site, rooms in the Seacrest House, free-standing cabins on the bluff or the main lodge, where we stayed. We were lucky enough to nab one of the spacious rooms that overlook Kalaloch Creek and the ocean – a little dated, nothing fancy.
The isolation of the lodge is what probably appeals to most people. That also means the eating options are limited, so dinner at the lodges Creekside Restaurant it was. The food is hearty and honest with a menu that takes inspiration from the Pacific Northwest location. And it’s the first menu I’ve seen that displays the calorie count next to the item description. Are we in southern California?
I adored the cardamom crusted sea scallops (13.95 / 190 calories), despite the fact there wasn’t a skerrick of cardamom in there. Three plump scallops on a simple salad of leaves, orange segments and delicious crispy shallots.
The bird was the definite hero in the hazelnut roasted chicken (23.95 / 640 calories), served over some steamed/boiled slices of zucchini, Washington apples and watery sage jus. Thanks to the dreamy shrimp sauce, I thoroughly enjoyed the herb-crusted baked Pacific cod (21.95 / 620 calories), propped up against a brown rice pilaf and zucchini.
The rules are broken when it comes to dessert time. No calorie indicators, you see, so you’re in dangerous guessing territory. Thankfully my food consumption isn’t bound by numbers. Lavender brûlée sounded good, as did the berry crisp (both 6.95); and you’ve got to love that aerated cream on the brûlée.
Prior to hitting the highway the following morning, it was breakfast downstairs in the restaurant again. Another gloomy start on the northwest coast. Two enormous buckwheat pancakes (6.95) kicked off the days eating for the better half; ever-so fluffy, topped with walnuts and some maple syrup to sweeten things up a tad.
I swooned over eggs Benedict. (14.95) Not just any ordinary Benedict as this one was topped with dungeness crab. And I was willing to ignore the hollandaise that had split and was rather runny.
With the Olympic National Park well and truly behind us, it was a morning of cruising down the 101 through fog, forest and pockets of farmland. The first city we got to was Hoquiam; a bit of a loggers town that provided us with our first coffee of the day thanks to the pink and yellow dwelling I spotted as I drove us down Lincoln Street. Another chirpy coffee-maker and a banging double espresso to keep me wired until our lunch stop. You’ve gotta love the name – Go Dog Go.
Go Dog Go
315 Lincoln Street
360 533 8454
Continuing down the 101 brings you to the huge inlet for the Columbia River – the 6 1/2 kilometre Astoria-Megler Bridge – and a border crossing into the state of Oregon. I have an odd fascination with bridges when I’m abroad so excuse the multiple shots of this gorgeous cantilevered structure.
Our time in Astoria spanned a couple of hours; time to sit down, relax and enjoy a lunch at the Bridgewater Bistro. And you can’t gripe the location, either, especially on a glorious day like the one we had. The bistro resides in what used to be the construction and maintenance warehouse for the Union Fish Co-op Cannery at the end of the wharf – now the Cannery Pier Hotel.
Ideally I would have preferred to eat here at dinner as the menu seems more interesting and seafood-heavy. The lunch menu is mainly a celebration of salads, sandwiches and burgers; the typical American staples we’d grown a little tired of.
The better half went for the lunch combo (10.5) – Half a Spitfire sandwich (turkey, bacon, cheese, jalapeño aïoli, avo) with roasted red pepper soup. It was clam & mussel chowder (5.5) for me with the wild Alaskan cod & chips (15.5). A decent chowder with hints of basil and curry, and a very light couple of fish fillets coated in corn and rice flour before being fried. Nothing like the New England stuff, but quite good none the less.
Not that we even needed it, but dessert made it to the lunch spread. Warm chocolate “bete noir” (4.5) drizzled with orange-cardamom sauce and a caramel apple-toffee bread pudding (4.5). Sustenance for more driving ahead.
We contemplated the coffee drive-thru in the carpark but the Three Cups Coffee House across the road took the pick. This friendly little cafe-roaster sits in the shadow of the bridge and is a perfect place to kick back on the lounge with a cup of coffee and a well-thumbed book. A bunch of baked goodies and sandwiches are there to fill the stomach, but for us, a couple of super macchiati to keep us well-dosed for the rest of the day.
Had we driven from Seattle to Portland without stopping to explore or overnight at Kalaloch Lodge, it would have taken us just over nine hours to arrive. Kind of pointless to drive straight through when there’s so much to see between both cities; plus we weren’t in any kind of rush. And to be honest, I could have easily wafted about the Olympic National Park area for days.
The small city of Portland has a lot of appeal. A vibrant downtown, loads of parks and greenery and a broad scope of dining and drinking venues. Once putting the car into parking and dropping our bags at the Hotel Vintage, we wandered around the waterfront and the Old Town; somehow coming across Voodoo Doughnut.
I’d read and heard many things about this iconic doughnut shop; it’s queues, its quirky creations and people saying a visit to Portland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Voodoo. Barely a handful of people milled about its colourful interior late that afternoon when we walked past. I could only guess we arrived at the right time.
The revolving tiers in the glass cabinet draw you like bees to honey; with people pointing and trying to decide which crazy doughnut to buy. I’ve got to be honest, when I feel it’s doughnut time I generally go for the humble variety. Simply tossed in sugar or coated in icing. That’s it. I’m happy.
I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to go for the dirty old bastard, but I did it anyway. I know there was an oily doughnut under there somewhere, but it seems the wares at Voodoo are more about what’s on top. Less-is-more doesn’t make their vernacular.
Chocolate, Oreo’s and peanut butter. My stomach still tenses when I think about it. A serious overkill in the sugar department, a cloying sensation with the two bites I took and in the bin it went, I’m afraid. Yes, I trashed a Voodoo. Much the same as I did with the crack pie in New York. Craziness like this is wasted on me.
The better half went for the much simpler Portland cream – topped with chocolate icing and filled with custard. Once again, nothing special and hardly worth lining up for.
Something needed to be done about the sugar-filled palate and, conveniently, Caffé Vita is just across from Voodoo. A little hole in the wall tacked onto a restaurant called Via Tribunaldi. Brilliant espresso that brought my mouth back to normality.
Nothing was bookmarked for this two-night stop in Portland. An enormous amount of planning and research went into just about every place we visited prior to getting to the northwest, so it was all about winging it and seeing what we came across.
One great thing about where we were staying was the complimentary wine and nibbles they put on every afternoon in the lobby. Did we partake? Stupid question, really.
A couple of glasses later and we ended up back in the Old Town for dinner at Via Tribunali where we had coffee. One Lupino (17) – sausage, coppa, tomato, mozzarella, basil & Grana Padano – for me; the marinara (11) – garlic, oregano, tomato & olive oil – for him. I love the atmosphere here. Those dark wood booths, the really dim lighting and a rather handsome wood fired oven over near the bar.
The one unfortunate thing about us breezing through Portland was not trying one of the food trucks. All across the downtown area you can see them lined up in semi-permanent positions; in vacant lots, on street corners, wherever. It would have been great just doing some kind of food truck crawl. A little booze involved, of course.
In a small city that’s known for its weirdness and micro brew, it’s the coffee this joint pumps out that I probably enjoy the most. Stumptown. A nickname that references back to the city clearing land to make way for urban growth – but for me it means a whole different thing.
We first learned of Stumptown Coffee Roasters in New York a couple of years prior, so here we were in the city from which it originates. I guess it was a given that we dropped into at least one of Portland’s five locations. Downtown, of course. It’s a spacious venue, looks like you’d expect it to, and has that all-too-familiar taste to its roast. Love it. In fact, we loved it twice.
One thing that’s on the Portland tourist trail is its Japanese Gardens; and unlike Voodoo Doughnuts, I really think it ought to make it to the agenda. But let’s have lunch first, yes?
Raven & Rose is a gastropub that resides in a little piece of Portland history. The Ladd Carriage House was built in the late 1800’s on what was then an estate. It housed horses, carriages, a hayloft, as well as being home to the estate’s coachman and gardener. Today it’s lovingly restored and is home to a restaurant and bar that serves up unpretentious food with a little bit of an English bent.
Ken’s artisan breads (3) made the first pick as well as a mighty fine steak tartar (13). A lot of meat for one, seeing the better half can’t really stomach the stuff. The gherkin and whatever other accoutrement you traditionally get on the side was already mixed into the diced meat. The only labour involved was popping that egg yolk, going in for the mix and shovelling it onto the toasted baguette.
The crab & shrimp cakes (13) fell a little flat in terms of flavour; relying on the tartare-like mayo for a lift. Celery root, apple and bitter leaves gave it some crunch.
The beet and orange salad (10) hit the mark with its yoghurt dressing and delightful little balls of goat cheese rolled in toasted almonds. All in all a nice light lunch.
Back to the Japanese Gardens, visiting them during fall is nothing short of a feast for the eyes. Meandering walkways through lush gardens, arched bridges, running water, twisted maple branches and leaves in flaming colour. The view over downtown is pretty fab, as well.
There was a touch of excitement and sadness as we flew from Chicago to Seattle. Excitement because I was about to see Seattle for the first time, and sadness because our time in the States was down to just over a handful of days. All good things come to an end, I suppose.
First things first, however, after we checked into the Hyatt on 8th Avenue was to find the nearest laundromat. And that so happened to be up on Bellevue Avenue in Capitol Hill. There’s no point in sitting about watching the machine spin so it was a couple of leisurely coffees at Broadcast. Being mid-afternoon probably accounted for the lack of humans in this sparsely decorated café, not that we cared. The macchiato the very friendly barista constructed was just the ticket.
As for the French toast donut – a spice extravaganza of cardamom, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, orange peel and maple syrup – supplied by Mighty-O Donuts, it was the ideal macchiato friend.
As any Seattle newcomer would do, we gravitated to Pike Place Market to catch it before all the vendors packed up for the day. Hoards of out-of-towners, locals and the expected gamut of fresh meats, small goods, fruit and veg, flowers and craft.
Excitable people crowded around the famous Fish Market, cameras at the ready in case some fish-throwing action took place. No airborne fish for us, I’m afraid.
Out on the cobbled Pike Place, and not all that far from the worlds very first Starbucks, is the grab-and-go Mee Sum Pastry. It was the bundles of sticky rice that first caught my eye, and then the golden hom bow (3.21) begging me to try. And I did. A light and crisp exterior gave way to steamy and warm chicken, shiitake and celery innards.
Steamed hom bow are available but I much prefer the baked, slightly sweet buns that are kept toasty and warm in the heated cabinet. Now I wish I tried the other fillings.
Mee Sum Pastry
1526 Pike Place
206 682 6780
Unlike most of the other major cities we’d visited on this trip, Seattle didn’t come with any form of eating itinerary. There were no must try or must see venues; just spontaneous drop-ins as we wandered about the streets.
We’d noticed a small cluster of restaurants on Melrose Avenue up on Capitol Hill earlier that afternoon. The pick for us was Mamnoon, a chic restaurant that has Syrian food at its heart, but injects interpretations of dishes from neighbouring countries into its menu.
It’s difficult to miss the bread oven at the open kitchen when you first enter the designer-industrial space, and it’s this fresh man’oushe that probably filled us a little too much before we even got our dishes. How could we not when it was still warm and a golden pool of za’atar-spiked olive oil beckoned us to dive in?
There was slight disappointment when the bateresh (10) came. When you’re not entirely sure what something is and you order purely from the menu description, surprise additions can catch you off guard. “Charred eggplant, minced lamb, pine nut” sounded perfect, but when that minced lamb is served on top of a fridge-cold pile of yoghurt with eggplant mixed through it, it changes your expectations somewhat. Had we known it was an icy cold yoghurt dip, we probably would have gone with another choice.
Still, it is a tasty dish.
There were no qualms with the mahar (12), however, an earthenware dish harbouring Manila clams in the most divine and flavour-packed broth. Pine nuts and coriander are scattered throughout and nubs of sujuk bring occasional hits of mild spiciness to the rich deliciousness.
The rather enormous khoresh (38) – a Persian stewed lamb shank served with mushrooms, charred onions and rice – did nothing but fall away in gorgeous sheets. Pity we could fit nothing else in as there was a lot more on the menu I wanted to sample.
One thing we discovered about being in Seattle in October was the sheet of fog that enshrouds the city for a good chunk of the day. Fallen leaves blow about like confetti, gloomy light brings a monotone look to the streets and a damp chill hangs in the air.
Once again we wafted about the Capitol Hill streets in search of some food; this time for breakfast. Google maps indicated we were near Café Presse, a place I was trying to navigate us to on the edge of Seattle’s sprawling university.
With a rather French flavour, the minuscule breakfast menu made for easy choosing. House-made pastries, a couple of egg dishes and some bread. Pain et beurre (3) is nothing more than half a baguette with butter and jam; something the better half was more than content with. Being content would have been an understatement when it came to the œufs plats, jambon, fromage (7.5). Three ingredients and a whole lot of flavour – sliced ham, two eggs topped with gruyere and a little grilling time to meld it all together in oozy sexiness.
Espresso may have been consumed at Café Presse, but seeing Stumptown next door was reason enough to take another dose of caffeine. I do have a soft spot for Stumptown. Busy little place buzzing with young uni urbanites, cool digs, laptops hogging what few tables they have; even coffee tastings at 3pm every day.
We hadn’t even been in town for 24 hours and we were already leaving its shores. Well, kind of. Thirty minutes away by ferry is the island city of Bainbridge Island; home to artists, outdoor-types and those that like a bit of fresh air. Not that the air in Seattle was all that unfresh. The centre of town feels nothing like a city; more of a coastal village, actually, with quiet streets and gorgeous water vistas.
A little Japanese made it to the lunch happenings for us in downtown Bainbridge Island, where locals were already tucking into good looking edibles at SuBi. The requisite agedashi tofu (6) and edamame (4) helped litter the table; along with the mighty fine SuBi house roll (12). Avocado and eel blanketed the cut roll with juicy and crisp tempura shrimp at its core. And you’ve got to love those golden tobiko orbs that add pops of fishy saltiness and get stuck in your gums.
It was all about getting messy with the fingers on hamachi kama (10); some rather ugly-yet-tasty hunks of grilled yellowtail collar that would have been even better if they were more caramelised. No complaints with the salmon stack; one of the daily specials. Chunks of raw fish mixed with sesame oil and chilli, stacked on cucumber, carrot, sushi rice and thick bed of mayo.
The final plate was a bit of a DIY affair – the lettuce wrap (10). A variety of prepared vegetables, some noodles and Japanese-style bbq pork belly arranged around some dipping sauce. Grab a piece of lettuce and off you go. No rules.
Our pick for coffee in the village was down by the harbour at Pegasus, located in a former hardware building covered in deciduous Boston ivy. And what a great time of the year to see it. A couple of house-roasted coffees and quick nibble on a smashing choc-hazelnut cake before we walked along the foreshore to catch the next ferry back to Seattle.
As the sun set over the city, we wandered back up to Capitol Hill for dinner. With a dynamic neighbourhood such as this at our doorstep, it was a given that we utilise it.
The Melrose Market is a bit of a one-stop foodie destination; a converted auto shop with a handful of independent food purveyors. A butcher, cheese shop, florist, wine shop & bar, shellfish dealer, homewares and places to eat – more of a hang for locals than a frantic marketplace like Pikes Place down the road.
Sitka & Spruce, at the back of the market, makes use of its industrial space well; softened with white-painted exposed brick, raw timber, fresh flowers and dainty flickering candles in glass votives. And with a focus on the fab produce of the Northwest, each ingredient shines no matter how it’s prepared.
When bread is as good as this it deserves a special mention. Wood-fired sourdough always floats our boat and the stuff at Sitka & Spruce was nothing short of exceptional. Baked at The Corson Building in nearby Georgetown, this charred crusty loaf was one of the best we’ve tried in our U.S. travels. I swear we could have sat there all night eating bread and nothing else. Ok, perhaps some vino to wash it down. We even ordered seconds, which probably explains why we didn’t order more dishes.
When a menu is printed daily you can’t help but expect it to be market driven; and non-carnivores are clearly looked after with some fab-sounding dishes.
Beets, walnuts & dried apples (16) was a salad of champions and one that I felt helped cleanse me of all the oily stodge I’d consumed since landing in the country almost three months prior. Juicy whole roasted beets huddled with fresh cow’s cheese; freshened with coriander leaves and a light vinaigrette.
We couldn’t help but get the salad of kale (12); nothing more than frilly leaves, crunchy pear, some ash-roasted shallot and crunchy toasted hazelnuts. It was just what our bodies were craving.
The significant other was a tad disappointed that the Quillayute salmon (18) was uncooked, with no mention of this on the menu. I have no qualms with uncooked fish, but those that do would probably prefer to know about it before ordering and being lumped with it. The salmon rests on warm potatoes and is scattered with sour huckleberries, fresh dill and grated horseradish. Pity somebody else didn’t love it as much as I did.
If we were to fit one dessert in it had to be the honey panna cotta (8.5). A simple arrangement of candied almonds, fresh honeycomb and ground almonds. And with the bill, a couple of complimentary salted caramels in case we needed a little more sugar for the night.
Melrose Market saw us one final time the following morning, and it was so early that it felt like we were the only two souls walking the foggy streets of Capitol Hill. Homegrown, one of a bunch of Seattle outlets, is situated at the entrance of the market. They’re all about sandwiches, salads and soups that use organic and sustainable ingredients, with a few options for the breakfast crowd. Not much of a crowd on that particular morning, mind you.
The deal is that you choose your sandwich from the menu, choose a half or whole French, wholegrain or gluten-free bread and wait for it to be made. Our half-sized bacon, egg, Beecher’s cheese & roasted garlic aïoli (7) had a good old toasting that not only rendered the bread to a crouton, but it shredded the crap out of its eaters gums. Ouch!
My whole ham, fried eggs, gouda & sage aïoli (12) wasn’t so damaging; unless, of course, I let the runny yolks drip onto my shirt. And you’ve got to love a place that has a designated bin for compost waste.
A little south of Seattle’s downtown area is Georgetown, a gentrified suburb completely surrounded by industry and an area that’s well worth exploring. Warehouses, the interstate, railway corridors and an airport give the neighbourhood a certain amount of grit and isolation, but it doesn’t take long to notice the areas vibrant eating, drinking and shopping scene.
Lunch was the first thing on our agenda, at Brass Tacks, an eating and drinking hole that’s somewhere between an upscale roadhouse and gastropub. And that decor! An old piano, twisted bits of metal and welded alien statues and a cigar-smoking one-legged baby doll pole dancing in a cage.
Two words that seemed to have stood out from anything else on the lunch menu. It was unavoidable. As if my brain told my arteries to zip it.
“Let the man eat his fried food”, I’m sure it whispered.
Neat soldiers of roasted pork belly, dipped in egg, crumbs and then fried. These fab little pork fries (8) provide the mixture of meaty and fatty badness as you’d probably expect. A side of spiced apple butter helps cut through that fat. So much for my cleanse the night prior.
A trio of sliders (12) – an expected item in a place like this – are neatly filled with caramelised onion, shredded beef cheek and bacon aïoli. A few sprigs of watercress inject a fresh and peppery crunch.
And then there was this. The mac ‘n cheese (13); served in a rather substantial iron skillet still bubbling with cheesy goodness. What makes it special are the chunks of house-smoke brisket – impossibly tender – and a toasted cumin and serrano crumb. Somebody kill me.
One of the quirks of Georgetown is the Trailer Park Mall that takes residence in a carpark. The line-up of retro trailers are their own shop; peddling wares that range from vintage clothing, art and craft, homewares and bric-a-brac. A destination for the thrifty in all of us.
All City Coffee is the type of caffeine house you’d expect to see in a hip neighbourhood like Georgetown. Mismatched seating, room to spread out your laptop, a rotating collection of artwork and young urbanites sipping on Americanos. Plane geeks can even perch up in the big window and watch aircraft make their decent into nearby Boeing Field. Or if it’s coffee you’re after, it’s pretty good too.
Once we were done with Georgetown we walked to Rainier Valley to catch the light rail to Seattle Airport. Not to fly anywhere, but instead pick up a hire car for the next, and final, leg of our trip. One more night in town and one more dinner; this time at Mistral Kitchen on the edge of downtown.
Perched up at the kitchen counter, my favourite position in a restaurant should it be available, we keenly eye-balled the crew construct all the meals like a silent well-oiled machine. A couple of glasses of vino and a burrata (12) salad to nibble on before our mains. Baby arugula and granny smith apple brought in some crunch factor and pomegranate molasses gave it a sharp bite. I think one of the chefs put the jamón on there by accident, not that we were complaining.
A perfectly blushed Moulard duck breast (30) is sliced over puy lentils; simple flavours with juicy crunch from radish and turnip. The half chicken (27) stole the limelight, however. Not that the duck was ordinary. Incredibly moist with flesh so tender it would have cut with a butter knife. The joint of chicken was finished off in a tandoor-style oven and served up with sweet delicata squash, cauliflower florets and earthy maitake mushrooms. Some mole negro sauced it up beautifully.
On the sweets front, the stunning ricotta & black pepper mousse (9) tasted as good as it looked. Macerated strawberries made up the bulk of the dish, with a raft of vanilla sablé carrying the airy mousse. Frozen basil parfait injected aromatic freshness and that black pepper added to the sensory explosion.
I ordered the pumpkin “pie” (9) out of pure curiosity. Presented parfait-style, it was rather rich and heavy in the flavour department – muscovado ice cream, vanilla foam and drunk currants – and didn’t end the meal on a light note like the ricotta mousse. I should have learned something from the pumpkin dessert I had in Chicago.
On that note, we were in for an early night as we had to be up at the crack of dawn to catch the first ferry out of town. Time to hit the road again!
Why 44 hours? Well, it was just a short visitation to meet our new baby. A baby that we found across the road from the botanical gardens in St Kilda. The time came where we had to think about our future and make sure things are financially in place when retirement becomes reality. Our first investment property that will hopefully make a little money for us.
Aside from doing a property inspection, the only other activities happened to be related to eating. Why else go to Melbourne in the middle of winter? Ok, I know, stupid question.
Our first tram stop was in Fitzroy; a relaxed fill at celeb chef George Calombaris’ Jimmy Grants. And I love the name; a slang term given to Australia’s first wave of “immi” “grants” by Aussies that struggled to get their tongues around foreign names.
What drew me here was the souva, that hot roll of pita lovingly stuffed with meat, onion, fries and mayo. I first fell in love with them in Santorini many years ago; a corner joint on the main drag that attracted the hoards. It was the first time I’d seen and tried a souva – or gyros – with french fries stuffed in it. Talk about love at first bite.
The Jimmy Grants selection offers a variety of protein fillings along with a falafel for the non carnivores. For this pair it was the Mr Papadopoulos (9.5) – lamb, mustard aïoli, chips, onion & parsley – and the bonegilla (9) – the same deal with chicken. The warm and spongy pita harbours some good flavours, a lot of juiciness and seems the perfect accompaniment to a glass or bottle of booze. Or should it be the other way around? Loved the intense sweetness from the onions. Was it as good as I had in Greece? No, but it wasn’t too shabby either.
We both had a touch of food envy when we saw the grain salad at a neighbouring table (grains, nuts, pulses, herbs & yoghurt), but garbage guts over here had to order the chips, garlic oil, feta & oregano (7). Kinda glad I did, though, as the combination was just what by buds and arteries were needing.
Desserts aren’t all that plentiful at this inner city fast food joint but I’m beyond glad that I ordered the Greek doughnuts (6). As any hasty fool would do, I dove right in and burned my mouth on the first bite. I guess sticking something into your mouth straight from the fryer is asking for injury. I think I fell in love after the second bite. Puffy, golden nobbly orbs of fried dough doused in honey and generously sprinkled with walnuts.
We passed on the chocolate fudge bar and instead went for Jimmy’s wheel (6), a take on the classic Wagon Wheel. Two crispy chocolate biscuits, raspberry marshmallow and salted peanut butter dipped in dark chocolate. Crushed roasted peanuts bring it all home. I think it may be better than the original.
We enjoyed the breakfast at Barry so much that we ended up returning the following morning for another fill. Beats going downstairs for an ordinary hotel buffet, even if it was 7°C outside. The digs are spacious, airy and very inner city at this friendly corner café. And you’ve got to love the polka dot staff aprons that match the concrete polka dot floor.
It came as no surprise when the other half ordered the crushed avocado (16.5); and they don’t mess around with the quantity of avocado, either. Two thick slices of toast are pile high with the green stuff, plus a variety of heirloom tomatoes, incredibly creamy goat cheese, black sesame and sunflower seeds. Loved the thyme roasted grapes that were generously interspersed throughout the rubble.
The following morning he opts for the less elaborate toasted fruit & nut bread (9) pimped-up with whipped spiced orange ricotta.
When a menu adds “trust us” to a dish description I can’t help but sample what it is they’re so confidant about. Crunchy peanut butter (12.5) on toast is very much a normal breakfast option but when you go topping it with heirloom tomatoes, things may change a tad. I had to try it. Perhaps I would have been convinced if the tomatoes were sweet and at the peak of ripeness; instead they were rather tasteless.
No qualms were to be had with the ricotta hotcake (17.5), however. One substantial, thick, fluffy and warming pancake studded with blackberries and creamy ricotta. Toasted hazelnuts brought some crunch to the silky softness and a sweet splodge of Canadian maple syrup sweetened it even more.
Tucked away in the Mercat Cross Hotel in the same space as Fancy Hank’s barbecue is Doughboys, a small-batch doughnut producer that stands a little differently from other doughnut peddlers. Dipped and topped with goodies as soon as they’re ordered; a method of production that leaves those mass produced wannabes for dead.
Are they worth the five-or-so minute wait and that $4.80-$5.80 price point? Well, kinda. Nowhere near as cloying as Krispy Kreme or airy fairy anaemic as those things from no-frills Aussie bakeries.
Our choice – The PBJ – fresh churned peanut butter icing with a boysenberry jam dip and sprinkle of roasted hazelnuts and walnuts. And Espresso – coffee icing with roasted almonds, smashed coffee beans, dark Callabeut Belgian chocolate.
And you’ve gotta love the signage at the amenities these guys share with Fancy Hank’s.
The name of this café comes from two bushrangers that created a bit of havoc in the early 1800’s. Gypsey, son of a wealthy English family, turned to bushranging after his wife died giving birth. And Musquito, a Sydney aboriginal that was once a stockman and tracker; sentenced after killing his wife. He too turned to bushranging.
Their names live on at Gypsey & Musquito, an inner city café that has a bit of a penchant for local, foraged and native ingredients. Now you can see my interest in this place. Rustic, understated and cosy are the up and downstairs eating spaces; buzzing with locals up for a breakfast and brunch fill.
A touch of nostalgia struck when I set my gaze on the counter display of house-baked cakes and sweets. Iced vovo’s, lamingtons and honey crackles sat alongside gluten-free goodies and cakes spiked with native lemon myrtle or bush berries.
Mental note – try some of the sweets before we leave.
A couple of very green drinks started us off before lunch choices were made. My innards were smiling when I took the first sip of the green bits (7.5). And some recipe bloggers would have felt tingles at the mere sight of the jar it was served in and the candy stripe straw. What were all those green bits? Well, warrigal greens, for a start. Along with kale, orange juice, lemon and coconut water; even a little banana.
There’s also the Van Dieman’s elder (7.5) – crushed cucumber, mint, apple juice and elderflower extract. Seriously good. Is it bad that we were imagining how fab it would have tasted with a slug of gin?
House-made granola that features macadamia and bush berries, a camel cassoulet, even Tassie smoked salmon with finger lime and sea blight all sounded tempting. I went for the crocodile burger (18.5); a very moist patty of minced reptile from the Northern Territory teamed with cheddar, foraged greens and pepperberry aïoli. Some chips would have been a nice addition.
The quinoa salad (13) went down a real treat. The delicious jumble of textures, colours and flavours came from beet, apple, coconut, a bunch of seeds, kale, sea blight and feta. I loved the pops of sourness from the pomegranate molasses and sorrel; and that oozing poached egg made for a swoon worthy salad.
And yes, I did squeeze in a slice of lemon myrtle ricotta cake and an iced vovo with my macchiato.
Back in town, after a little relaxation time in the hotel with a bottle of vino, we joined the rapidly developing line of people at MoVida Next Door. It was only 5.30pm and there was already a forty minute wait. Popular, much?
Perched up at the bar by the seafood display cabinet I reached for my freshly poured Spanish vino tinto, stuck my nose in and took a substantial whiff.
“Wow, this smells like caramel!” I said.
It was at that point that I turned to my right and noticed the chef conducting a little brûlée action about a metre away. Not the wine after all, but the chef got a laugh, anyway.
Neither of us was overly hungry so our relatively sparse selection of plates kicked off with a tapa that’s very similar to the one I tried at the Sydney MoVida outpost many months ago. In place of the small quenelle of smoked tomato sorbet I tried in Sydney, it was a piped streak of gazpacho jelly that joined goat curd, capers and anchoa (5.5) on the brittle wafer. A definite must-try for any anchovy fan.
Our other wafered tapa was off the specials – the sardinas (5.5) – a simple and tasty tempura sardine fillet on a slice of house-made pickle. Concentrated omega-3 fatty acids, you know. Very good for you.
If you were to put black pudding and morcilla side by side, I can safely say I’d be swooping in for the latter. It’s spreadable texture, its richness and complexities. Here the morcilla (17) is crumbled and mixed with peas, croutons and lovingly topped with a poached egg. It’s a yolk and flavour explosion.
I’m generally ok with eating pork fat but the lump of cerdo (17) proved to be a lot more lardo than meat. A thin and slightly crisp layer of skin provided crunch factor, whilst a pickled carrot purée dispersed the extreme fatty flavour of the 2 parts meat-8 parts fat portion.
No qualms with the codorniz (16.5), however. It was perfection, actually. Semi-boned quail that had just enough pan-time to render it internally juicy and slightly crisped on the outside. Salty jamón lay across the tasty little birds like warming doonas and the most delicious white beans provided the lumpy mattress.
Here’s one city that has been on my “I’ll get there one day” list for quite some time. The Big Easy, down in Louisiana. A town that’s had its hardships, still has its fair share of scars, but it can only look forward.
From a colour-filled road trip around New England to a steamy five days in New Orleans. Let the travelling continue.
The first thing that struck me about this town – aside from that blanket of humidity – was the architecture. I may like my food but I’ve also got a soft spot for architecture; so excuse me as I go a little mad on the building pics.
As any newcomer inevitably visits Kings Cross in my hometown of Sydney, just about anyone that visits New Orleans is bound to make it to Bourbon Street. The first part I saw was the quiet residential area at the top of the French Quarter. Colourful Creole houses, intricate balconies, leafy gardens and hanging flower baskets. It’s all quite beautiful.
And then there’s the part of Bourbon Street that’s not so much about serenity. Coloured neons, jazz and cabaret bars, the sour smell of booze wafting out of bars, spruikers vying for your cash and barely legal girls tempting you with their flesh. It can be fun, it can be seedy and it sure is an acquired taste.
Something that was a little more our scene was stumbled upon around the corner from the fun and debauchery. Twilight drinks on the sidewalk at Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar & Bistro. Beautiful spot in an equally beautiful building with drinks that don’t come served in a foot-long acrylic bottle with neon straw.
We could have easily settled in for dinner at the bistro but somehow we ended up at this place – SoBou at the W New Orleans. It was actually the walls of illuminated clear and frosted glass bottles that caught our attention from the street. Ok, I’ll be honest. There was something on the displayed menu that I needed to try.
A modern touch has been given to a share-focussed “Southern” menu and thanks to chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez’s heritage, there’s a bit of a Latin bent as well.
Smoky pork in a jar (5) is very much like rillette; it’s interactive finger food that goes hand in hand with drinking wine and cocktails. A little brûléed peach and citrus jam cuts through the pork and roasted garlic chilli crackers are there for the spreading. And you can’t ignore the good old pork cracklin’s, an absolute steal at $1.50.
Going to SoBou and not trying one of its signatures could be considered criminal, especially when it’s the foie gras burger (24). How could I not? A juicy meat patty, Hudson Valley foie gras, oozing fried egg, duck bacon and foie gras mayo in a palm-sized brioche bun. What can I say other than … wowsers.
It doesn’t end there. More cracklin’s on the side replace the usual fries and a root beer float seals the deal. And that isn’t ordinary ice cream in the float. It’s foie gras ice cream.
The crispy chicken on the bone (12) sounded great but, when delivered, we wondered if the crispy was left behind in the kitchen somewhere. The trio of chicken drumsticks was tasty enough, even glazed-up with a little guava jelly and Crystal hot sauce, but nothing all that remarkable.
Another one of the chefs specialties are the shrimp & tasso pinchos (10). The shrimp has been speared onto a skewer along with tasso ham, doused in flour and deep-fried until just cooked. A grilled round of pineapple acts as a stand and some pepper jelly adds a little savoury sweetness.
Another great-value dish is the smoky baby back ribs (10) served with Caribbean sauerkraut. There’s quite a lot of meat on the three ribs and its accompanying cotton candy sits flamboyantly on the side. It looks innocent enough but it quickly reminds you that it’s not just spun sugar. An unmistakably spicy ghost pepper fills your mouth and hits the sinus like a smack to the face. Talk about a shock to the senses.
The grilled flat iron steak (21) is perfectly cooked and drizzled with vibrant coriander sauce. Some brûléed onion and blackened Creole tomato almost seem superfluous, but if meat and vegetables are the requirement, this will do.
I wasn’t entirely convinced of the grilled alligator sausages (7) as they tasted very much like pork. Perhaps there was an unbalanced ratio of pork and gator? Still, they were juicy and tasty and nicely paired with pickled okra.
A handful of dessert options are up for grabs and the first one we tried was the spicy peach mojito sorbet (7). Served in a fresh coconut shell, there’s a cherry coulis and a couple of crispy plantains, candied ginger and sadly not a hint of spiciness. We also try the triple chocolate truffles (9), consisting of Swiss dark, milk and white chocolate, candied pecans and a sea salt caramel. A shot of chicory coffee shake finishes things off.
Waking up bright and early and walking through the French Quarter reveals a place very different from its nocturnal personality. The streets are blissfully devoid of people, the dawn sun illuminates the colourful buildings and the previous nights trash has been washed away. As the boozers slept off their cheap alcohol indulgence we hit the streets in search of breakfast and coffee.
Louisiana soul food abounds at this relic that opened its doors a mere 123 years ago. Crawfish pie, jambalaya and a whole roster of po-boys tempt the lunch and dinner crowd; with breakfast offering the likes of eggs Creole, lost bread and blitzes.
I’m always up for trying something a little different so the cala cakes (8.75) made my first pick. And you’ve got to love something with its own history. See my recipe here and read a little bit more about them.
So what is a cala cake? It’s basically a sweetened rice fritter; a dense arancini-like concoction with a crisp exterior and good dusting of powdered sugar. Here at the Old Coffeepot they’re accompanied by creamy grits and maple syrup. They’re a little dry and require some chewing, but it’s a solid breakfast that I really enjoyed.
We also had the Creole pancakes (8.75); a trio of rather ordinary pancakes topped with cream and a strawberry compote that was good enough to eat on its own.
Most of our coffee needs were taken care of at Spitfire, also located in the French Quarter. Relatively early opening times, a tiny storefront that’s easy to miss and friendly staff that know their way around the variety of beans that rotate around it. With window seating for no more than two people, most of the clientele have no choice but to take coffee away with them. Not for us. Sitting inside in the cool and people watching from the window was the perfect way to take a load off, relax and knock back a couple of coffees.
Jackson Square has a fair share of restaurants on its peripheries and Muriel’s is one legendary place that locals and visitors drop into for a fill on contemporary Creole grub. For a leisurely lunch we stopped in to give the “Classic New Orleans lunch” a burl.
$16.95 for a main course with a choice of soup or salad. A bit of a bargain, really.
It was soup for both of us – a seafood gumbo and Fontana’s West End turtle soup. I’ve always been intrigued by turtle soup and this one didn’t disappoint. It’s a little rich, has tiny flecks of turtle meat with a distinct bay and Worcestershire flavour.
Grilled pork chop was next, rafting over Louisiana popcorn rice and the most beautiful beans and lardons. It was nice to eat beans that weren’t loaded with sugar, as we found them to be throughout New England.
Mine was the stuffed mirliton – a vegetable that I rarely see on menus. Some may know them as choko’s or chayote; that watery and flavourless pear-shaped vegetable that doesn’t get much attention in Australia anymore. These were stuffed with shrimp and Andouille sausage, baked and served over a roast Creole tomato sauce. Great flavours with a touch of sourness.
The colours of Frenchmen Street and residential homes in the Faubourg Marigny district. Well-worth exploring if you’re an architecture-fiend like me.
Back in the French Quarter is was more Louisiana food for us. The Royal House Oyster Bar seems to be another hot-spot and one that specialises in seafood – New Orleans-style – where we sidled up to the marble counter for some oyster shucking action. Not that we were doing the shucking.
An oyster duo (12) kept me happy with grilled Royal and Rockefeller-style bivalves. So delicious.
Blackened shrimp & jambalaya (16) – that classic New Orleans rice dish looked tasty but sadly it was luke-warm in temperature as well as flavour. I was more than happy with the crayfish étouffée (17); a beautiful brown gravy loaded with Cajun seasonings, made even better with a dribble of Crystal hot sauce.
The oyster shucker talked us into trying the homemade bread pudding (6), studded with peaches and raisins and served over a Frangelico sauce.
It’s easy to waft around New Orleans and get caught up in what’s going on, so seeing we were in town for almost a week we thought we’d hire a car and head out of town for a little exploration. Not before fuelling up on a good solid breakfast at Stanley on Jackson Square. People seriously do sleep in in this town as we found we were the first people to walk into a cafe or restaurant almost every morning.
We passed on the coffee (Spitfire took care of that) but got stuck right in and filled up on a couple of big breakfasts. The Stanley classic (12.25) was all about the scrambled eggs, bacon, Creole hash and toast. I went for the eggs Stanley (14) – a Benedict-esque plate loaded with cornmeal crusted oysters. My arteries weren’t happy that morning, but my palate sure was.
We weren’t exactly sure where we were heading, even when I was sitting in the drivers seat about to exit the car rental depot. Lucky we had the iPad map as it was a quick “point to somewhere on the map” and we were on our way. A mutual decision was made to head out into bayou country and the first stop was the small city of Houma. The downtown area is compact and can be walked very easily, but nothing seemed to be open so we hit the road and continued our way south to an area called Shrimpers Row along one of the hundreds of waterways in the area.
Due to the low-lying delta landscape, a lot of the houses in this part of the gulf are built on stilts. Modern-looking houses, weathered shacks and many that are shaped like over-sized shipping containers. The scars of hurricane Katrina, and possibly other damaging storms, were still evident in some areas with abandoned and dilapidated homes left to crumble. Swamps and marshes make up most of the landscape with criss-crossing canals that provide boat access to towns and villages in the area.
Eating options in the area can be a little sparse so when I spotted this joint as we were driving, I did a u-turn and we did some investigating. Boo’s Bayou Magasin is a waterfront grocery store and restaurant in the small fishing community of Chauvin. It’s far from the fancy well-touristed hotspots of New Orleans – with its humble corrugated iron interior, bench seating that overlooks the bayou and a small Cajun-Creole menu.
With the sun shining and the temperature not-so-humid it was a given that we sit out on the back patio on the waters edge and take in the surroundings. Kiddies can even purchase pellets to feed the fish in the bayou, but I was quietly hoping to see a gator in there. No such luck.
The food portioning is generous as expected and the chicken gumbo (6.99) surely didn’t disappoint in its volume. The slightly runny stew comes loaded with rice, meaty bits and okra as well as sides of potato salad and buttered triangles of white bread.
I struggled to get through the mountain of food on the seafood platter (16.99); a celebration of all things deep-fried. Some very tasty spiced shrimp, rather dry fish fillets, fried oysters and crab cakes that had some spice but were let down with an off-putting pasty consistency. Too much flour, methinks. Sliced white bread comes with.
As many tourists do when they hit the French Quarter, they gravitate to the French Market. Loads of vendors peddling handicrafts, jewellery, t-shirts, sunglasses, souvenirs, you name it. Food-wise, there’s a line-up of bars and eateries along one side with places to stock up on spice mixes, sauces and dry goods.
Much has been said about Café Du Monde at the market – that New Orleans institution that supposedly serves up the city’s best beignets. The café was already buzzing at 8 am so we grabbed a table beneath whirling fans and placed a single order of beignets (2.42). Within two minutes the three little fritters arrived, dusted in sugar with the signs of previously being dusted (possibly) hours ago. The light and airy texture we were expecting was more akin to being firm and not-so-fresh. Kind of like biting into a donut that had been sitting around for half a day.
Our slight fascination with burial grounds took us to the necropolis at the top of Canal Street. Everyone likes to stop and read tombstones, don’t they? Unfortunately the Greenwood Cemetery wasn’t open so before heading back we dropped into Sacred Grinds, a nifty little coffee shop that kick-started our morning and breathed a little life into into an otherwise gloomy area.
Seating inside the café doesn’t exist but there are a couple of tables at the front as well as a back porch; both with views over the cemeteries. Where else can you sit in an oversized zombie hand? As for the cortado we sampled, it’s pretty good. Robust, lively and with more kick than those resting souls just metres away.
As if the necropolis wasn’t enough, we spent a bit of time wandering around the oldest burial ground in New Orleans – St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – founded in 1789. As with most cemeteries in New Orleans, most graves are above ground vaults and tombs. It’s said that when the river flooded, back in the day, buried bodies would float to the surface; hence the above ground burial tombs. Historians think otherwise.
By tradition, you can add another deceased family member to the same space one year and one day after the previous one. The Catholic church didn’t allow cremation, which was part of the reason for above ground vaults. The heat generated within these is enough to rot the casket and speed up the decomposition of the body. When it was time to add another body, the previous remains were swept to the side to make way for the new addition. Talk about economical!
The notorious voodoo priestess Marie Laveau was also buried here in the late 1880’s, along with her daughter in years to follow. Today the tomb, along with several others, look more like shrines thanks to visitors leaving gifts and tokens at the front of the tombs.
A bit of an appetite was generated walking in the heat to Elizabeth’s Restaurant in the Bywater, in the far east of the city where most tourists rarely get. The colourful old building in which Elizabeth’s resides can’t be missed; located across the road from the Mississippi River levee.
Waiting for a table took no more than ten minutes, which was plenty of time to decide on lunch from the very classic Southern and New Orleans menu. And you’ve got to love sitting at a table covered in flower-patterned vinyl.
It’s hand-cut chips all the way at this joint; a pile of which came with the panéed pork sandwich (9). Panéed seems to be a New Orleans term for crumbed and fried and others may even go as far as calling it a pork schnitzel. Juicy and soft with sautéed onion and whole cloves of garlic.
I was a tad ecstatic over the bleu cheese oysters (10) – golden little nuggets with an exterior that virtually shattered due to its crisp cornmeal batter; giving way to a juicy and hot oyster at its core. As for that thick cheesy sauce at the bottom – perfection.
We couldn’t leave Elizabeth’s without trying the famous praline bacon (6). Four rashers fried up in brown sugar, rendering to a sugary crunch. Can’t say no to a bit of pork candy!
The Arts District – also known as the Warehouse District – is just south of the downtown area. The once industrial area is home to museums and galleries and the hand of gentrification has made it a desirable place for design firms to set up office, and urbanites to move into converted lofts.
A bevy of bars, cafés and restaurants are dotted about the neighbourhood; one of which got our attention. Root. It’s easy on the eye with its wooden fit-out with splashes of green, amber and exposed brick. A modern-yet-rustic set-up that’s made even better thanks to not cramming tables uncomfortably close to one another.
And then there’s the menu that’s divided into Socials, Begginings, Principals and Endings. A variety of styles – it’s brave, modern and creative and a far cry from the po-boys, fried chicken and gumbo that Nola is famous for. Chef Phillip Lopez sure knows how to play with food.
I’m used to an amuse bouche preceding a degustation, but our meals started with a nice little surprise of lady slipper pea salad. Dainty in appearance and deliciously fresh on the palate with Thai tea caramel, gugutzu mustard, charred cucumber and a wheat berry granola.
For starters its an heirloom tomato salad (13) artfully arranged with compressed melons, pecorino and lemon fish “country ham”. A light dressing with salsa verde and muscatel vinaigrette bring some lovely tang.
The crispy 48 hour chicken gizzards (13) possibly references to the fried goodies you find all over New Orleans. Crisp, soft and oh-so-tasty, this was one fine way of celebrating offal. Overall the flavours are spicy and slightly sweet; a cornucopia of Indian chickpea and mint salad, black garlic, XO sauce, sofrito marmalade and sumac harissa vinaigrette. A great deal going on, but it works.
The black lacquered duck (29) sure lives up to the name with its presentation of ebony-coloured leg and wing cuts. Peeling back the skin reveals tender flesh that matches nicely with the wild mushrooms, beans and pickled onions.
My dish is delivered in a closed Cuban cigar box, opened when set in front of me, allowing a puff of smoke to escape and set the senses for some tasty eating. Cohiba smoked scallops (32) – impossibly buttery, seared perfectly with caramelised cauliflower, black garlic fennel choucroute and pimentón patatas bravas that was rather overcooked. Some chorizo dust brought another Spanish element to this delicious box of goodies.
As much creativity is given to the dessert offerings as the rest of the menu. The African amarula carrot cake (10) towers over carrot coriander ice cream and carrot crunchies, and is topped with charred carrot marshmallow, carrot bark and layered with celeriac crema. Incredibly moist with some added smokiness thanks to a sprinkling of black sesame praline.
A blueberry orange blossom clafoutis (10) is a treat to look at and even more of a treat to devour. Earl Grey tea sable, sour cream ice cream, blueberry vacherin, lemongrass curd, purple croquet and a violet blueberry foam. A feast of textures and flavours.
With another day trip planned, we thought we’d drop into Somethin’ Else Café for an early morning fill before heading off into swamp territory. The better half was feeling a little over the Southern-style breakfast and opted for toast and jam. I needed something a little more substantial and chose the breakfast biscuit (7). An egg cooked to your liking – I chose fried – with cheddar cheese & honey ham on an oversized biscuit.
What came out was a biscuit like no other that we’d seen previously. Was this how they usually make them or did something go a little pear-shaped in the kitchen?
The texture of the biscuit gave me the impression it was stale; like biting into a dry and crumbly cookie. Scrambled egg and crispy bacon instead of fried egg and ham and hard cheese fused to the bottom half of the biscuit.
Our little jaunt out of town involved a boat, sprawling swampland and a good dose of adrenaline. Any guesses what we got up to? Yup, that’s right. We took one of the swamp tours that run out of New Orleans. A hotel pick-up, half hour drive out to Hahnville and, unlucky for us, it just happened to start bucketing down with rain.
What, we have to go out in this storm?
Raincoats and earmuffs on and we were speeding down Hymel Canal into the depths of the swampland around Lac des Allemands, drops of rain needling our faces at high speed. The rain suddenly stopped so it was off with the hoodies as we explored the canals and swamps for two hours. Beautiful jungle-like scenery and many alligators and water snakes to be seen. And sometimes a little too close for comfort.
Our final afternoon in Nola was spent on a little walking tour of the Garden District; guided by the better half and the internet. The area was developed in the mid 1800s on what was then the edge of the city. A leafy refuge for those that had money to splash around. Something that still applies today, evidently. Actors Nicholas Cage, Sandra Bullock and John Goodman even have multi-million dollar homes there.
Dinner on that final evening in New Orleans was also in the Garden District, at a fab little place called Coquette. Hip young things up at the bar sipping on cocktails and nibbling on fried gulf shrimp, charcuterie and smoked catfish dip. The menu is decidedly Southern, respectfully handled and delivered with a modern touch. And I’m a big fan of the stoneware the meals are served on.
It’s some rather large gulf shrimp (12) for me, served with pickled watermelon and pepper jelly. The butternut squash cavatelli (13) outdoes the prawns in terms of portioning – a delicious pile of golden gnocchi-like dumplings interspersed with mushrooms, chunks of fried chicken, purslane and maple.
Main courses brought the likes of seared red snapper (30) sitting over wild mushrooms and arugula, with an intensely smoky eggplant paste. Gorgeous flavours all round. And then there was the beautifully blushed duck breast (28) with zucchini and lobster mushrooms and smear of liver pâté.
No need for dessert. We were comfortably full and happy to end our Nola visitation on a culinary high.
I’m beginning to enjoy getting out to see more of the state I call home. New South Wales. It’s my birth state, I’ve lived here – on and off – for most of my life, and I’ve merely scratched its surface. I’ll may always consider visiting other countries more exciting, but taking a look at what’s in my backyard has given me more of an appreciation of the places that can easily be done as a day trip from Sydney.
Spending time at Bannisters gave us the excuse to build a weekend around it; time to explore and see what goes on in the towns around the coast and Southern Highlands.
The towns that are dotted throughout the highlands have their own unique flavour. Some are geared for the tourist dollar whilst others just plod along and do their own thing. There’s something about the small village of Berrima that makes you want to stop, take a breather and linger for a while. Our visit barely spanned an hour but getting out and walking around the few streets revealed a town with gorgeous colonial character, some interesting shops, eateries and lovely old buildings.
The Little Hand-Stirred Jam Shop is a nifty little place for anyone that likes the sweet stuff. In fact, there are two jammers that dominate the village, with Mrs Oldbucks Pantry being the other contender. However we didn’t get there. Between them there are hundreds of preserves and honeys to choose from. Someone hand me a scone!
Speaking of scones, I’m sure many could have been eaten at the “Oldest bakery in Austiala”. Well that’s what the sign said (see below). I’m just curious as to where Austiala is.
A couple of minutes drive north of Berrima is Bendooley Estate. It’s a vineyard, function space, even home to the Berkelouw Book Barn where you can sit and relax with a beer, vino or tasty meal amongst the books. Bendooley Bar & Grill seemed like the perfect contender for a relaxed lunch. And what a gorgeous spot to do it. Surrounded by rolling hills, flame trees and grape vines that glowed all shades of yellow and gold when the sun hit them.
The menu has a bit of an Italian inflection, covering the likes of cracker-thin wood-fired pizzas, stuff from the grill, seafood, pasta and some Aussie cheeses. We started with local duck breast (24) – barely lukewarm, sliced and topped with tomatoes, leaves, lychees and a palm sugar vinaigrette. I couldn’t help but get the charcuterie plate (26) – a collection of house-made duck sausage, prosciutto, cornichons, fig chutney, cauliflower pickle and wood-fired flatbread. The absolute star of the board was the duck parfait. Impossibly creamy and beyond delicious.
And then there’s the confit of Thermidore duck Maryland (34), served over lentil ragù, two gorgeous hunks of braised pork belly and a few boozy vin santo prunes. Great stuff.
Cutting southeast past the Meryla State Forest, and just before the road begins its winding decent into Kangaroo Valley, is where Yarrunga Creek plunges down an 82 metre escarpment into the densely forested valley below. Fitzroy Falls is a great spot for bush walking, brushing up on local flora and potentially spotting a platypus or some other native wildlife.
Driving from the north, the first village you hit is the blink-and-miss-it Barrengarry, a tiny village that’s really only known for one thing – although the locals may think otherwise. The folk that own the Kangaroo Valley Pie Shop in the Barrengarry Old Store have clearly travelled the world and tried every pie available. Man, what a task! It’s here in little old Barrengarry that you can sample “The world’s best pie”. It’s the only thing that made me do a hasty u-turn and stop for some culinary investigating.
The shop itself is pretty cute. A little old world colonial with dim lighting and shelves stacked with sweets, preserves, honey and a lovely collection of dust-collecters that would look smashing in any nanna’s display cabinet. And then there are the pies. Snuggled in a heated cabinet is bunch of varieties filled with classics like curried veg, creamy chicken, steak & mushroom and the good old traditional Aussie. We go for a beef & red wine and a traditional Aussie (6.9), grab a seat by lacy curtains in the side room and take our first bite. Not bad. Actually, they’re quite good. The pastry is a bit on the thin and floppy-side, but as the world’s best pies, they were decent.
The lovely little town of Kangaroo Valley is a mere couple of minutes from Barrengarry, across the old suspended wood and stone Hampden Bridge. At this point it was late morning on Anzac Day and just after crossing the bridge the traffic came to a stand-still. We soon learned the highway had been closed to allow the Anzac parade to take place, which is fine, but sitting in the car for an hour to wait for it to finish was testing the patience of many commuters. One day we’ll get back to Kangaroo Valley to see it properly, but all we wanted to do was get past the traffic and hundreds of people and get to the next town.
This town is a bit of a magnet for city folk that want to escape the hustle and join the throngs of like-minded people – jostling for a table at a café, waiting for an ice cream or ordering some pub grub at the kitchen counter. Weekends, public and school holidays mean one thing. It’s going to get hectic.
The main drag is scattered with lovely old buildings, a couple of pubs, gift shops, gelato bars, you name it. Speaking of pubs …
… it was time for lunch.
The thing that drew me to the Berry Hotel was a sign advertising an alpaca burger (18.5) – a meat I haven’t eaten for many years. Time for a revisit, methinks! It’s the type of Aussie pub I have a soft spot for. No glitzy renovations; just a good old pub with character, decent beers to choose from and, of course, a restaurant.
Back to that burger, all we have is a simple Turkish roll loaded with rocket, roasted tomato, cheese, caramelised onion and an alpaca patty laced with black pepper and a little red wine. As a burger it’s ok, nothing life-changing, just a relatively dry meat patty that heavily relies on those tomatoes for some moisture.
Our other choice was the tapas plate (17.5) – toasted Turkish bread, those same roasted tomatoes, dolmades, felafels, olives and a mystery chickpea dip. A pretty standard choice.
A couple of blocks away is the other pub in town – the Great Southern Hotel. With a rooftop curiously baring three surf boats, this watering hole boasts a great wrap-around veranda with plenty tables to sit and get stuck into afternoon beers whilst watching the people traffic. There is a bistro inside that covers pub classics like a seafood basket, nachos, schnitzel and chicken parmigiana. Not that we lingered for dinner. Although the “juicy t-bone with prawns” was a tempting.
Great Southern Hotel
95 Princes Highway
02 4464 1009
Down the other end of the main drag is LEAF (Love Eating Asian Food). The restaurant makes use of Berry’s old post and telegraph office that was built in 1886, offering several dining areas inside or outside on the wrap-around veranda. The menu is Thai-centric but there are a couple of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese-style additions as well.
Starters involved the LEAF canapé (12.5) where you can choose any four toppings – crisp pork belly, smoked Atlantic salmon, Peking duck or fresh prawns. It was two each of the pork and duck for us, mixed with a rather dry-yet-tasty rubble of shredded coconut, onion, ginger, lemongrass and pine nuts.
The Peking duck pancakes (10.9) come pre-wrapped and contain shredded meat that’s already mixed with hoi sin and plum sauce, plus a few sticks of veg.
It may have looked like a hot sloppy mess on the plate, but the stuffed squid (22.9) had oodles of flavour. Oodles of garlic, in particular. The menu declared the squid to be a “seared”, but what you get is a couple of battered and fried squid tubes filled with pork, spices and herbs. It’s all doused with a mildy-spiced chilli sauce that rapidly transforms the crisp batter to sop that begins to fall from the squid.
The nights special was the Thai-style pork ribs (25.9); a rather impressive pile of more-meat-than-bone with a beautiful chilli kick. A superfluous salad of leaves and capsicum sits to the side.
To finish, we shared the I scream in the dark (8.9) – a satisfying bowl of black sesame ice cream with black sticky rice and toasted shredded coconut.
And dessert didn’t end there. We couldn’t leave Berry without a dose of donuts from this lot. During the day this donut van has a perpetual crowd loitering around it and at night it’s reduced to a handful of punters. For those that like a more dense ring of freshly-fried pastry, these guys are the ticket. They’re actually pretty good.
The top breakfast spot in town has to go to Berry Sourdough Café. It’s pretty evident that they’re doing something right judging by the hungry hoards that arrive soon after opening. All I can say is get in early, kids. This bakehouse-cum-café not only peddles its gorgeous range of rye, multigrain, spelt and you-name-it breads, but that glass cabinet is chockers with a dazzling array of sweet and savoury tarts, cakes, pies and slices. Let’s not forget preserves and relishes up on the shelves.
And then there’s the cracking coffee and breakfast. Brioche French toast (16) that’s nicely caramelised and topped with pistachio crème fraîche, diced poached pear and more pistachios. It’s light and fluffy but could have done with a syrup of sorts, or perhaps more of the pear poaching liquid.
Scrambled eggs (17.5) is the other brekkie plate. Draped over toasted sourdough with some small dry pork sausages and a chipotle & espresso ketchup. And yes, there was a faint hint of coffee through the smoky sauce. Nice combo.
We couldn’t leave the bakery without trying at least a couple of the pastries. A chocolate almond croissant (4.5) and the pepito (4.5). These guys sure know how to bake!
There isn’t much distance between the coastal communities – from sleepy Shoalhaven Heads (above), around the Jervis Bay shoreline and beyond. I love all the bush walks that hug the rocky headlands and secluded beaches where you can wander along sandy trails and boarded paths through native forests and fern gullies.
This particular walk (below) runs from Jervis Street in Vincentia and down to the Blenheim Beach cove. On a sunny day I’m sure the sand is pristinely white and the water crystal clear, but we saw it in another mood. Red seaweed washed ashore and released a pretty intense stench that was potent enough to keep almost everyone away.
A couple of hundred metres north is Nelsons Beach with its sweep of white sand, rust-coloured eroded cliffs, and on that particular winters day, some very game swimmers that braved the icy water.
And then there’s Hyams Beach a little further south on the lower shores of the bay. White sand so fine that it squeaks beneath your feet – it’s clearly a place to pack an esky, bring towels and a brollie and lap up the stunning location.
With Pigeon House Mountain as its backdrop, the small agricultural town of Milton is one South Coast town that deserves some exploration. It’s like Berry without the crowds; although I’m sure it gets its fair share of visitors. Art and craft shops, cafés tucked here and there, a pub, museums and antique shops make for a quaint little place worthy of parking the car for a little look-see.
Just by the show grounds on the edge of town is St. Isidore, a bit of a food temple for those that embrace the farm-to-table concept and love seeing seasonal produce on the plate. The land around the restaurant holds a number of herb and vegetable beds; including fruit trees and even a chicken pen for a daily supply of eggs from some very happy girls.
Our lunch spot was idyllic, to say the least. One of a handful of tables on a veranda that overlooks the 1.2 hectares of orchards, kitchen gardens, a trio of dams and rolling farmland beyond. Native rosellas squawk from lofty branches of tall eucalyptus and there are even cows on a next door property that mosey on over to say g’day.
St. Isidore is the first restaurant of Jo Thomas and her Kiwi-born husband Alex Delly. This bloke has some real kitchen talent going for him thanks to stints at Melbourne’s Ezard, Circa and Rick Stein at Bannisters down the hill at nearby Mollymook.
It was clearly evident what came from the kitchen garden with our first plate of food. Heirloom carrots and beets (19), fetta, wagyu bresaola, pickles and herbs. Talk about a pretty picture.
And then the bar was raised for the best octopus we’ve tried for as long as we can remember. It may look like ordinary grilled octopus (10) but those tentacles had a gentle 12-hour poaching before they hit the grill. Flavour-packed, impossibly tender and served with garlic aïoli.
Onto the mains, the mouth-pleasure continued with the local blue eye trevalla (38) on white polenta with mussels, shaved fennel, a scattering of basil leaves and cherry tomatoes. I could have eaten an entire bowl of the green olive acquapazza (or crazy water); deliciously savoury and warming. The Berkshire pork belly (19) is crispy-skinned and served over white onion and cider purée, sauerkraut and prosciutto. Sticks of green apple, radish and watercress bring a sweet, tart and peppery crunch. No gripes from either of us.
Espresso crème brûlée (16) was a given; thinly crusted and served with a Pedro Ximénez granita and amaretti biscuit. I went with the warm chocolate tart (16) which came much lauded by another diner I was chatting to at the chicken pen. The filling is as light as air and the rapidly melting salted peanut caramel ice cream was a perfect match.
Barely ten minutes drive down from Milton is the small village of Mollymook, fronted by a sandy beach that sweeps from one headland to another. There’s a sprawling golf club at one end with a couple of cafés around the corner surrounded by holiday rentals. The village centre up at Mollymook Beach is nothing more than a suburban-style cluster of shops with the basic services – a grocer, takeaway, pharmacy and bottle shop.
Across the road from the shopping centre is Tallwood, a place that, by night, serves tapas-style food and contemporary international flavours. The dinner we had was quite nice – think red braised duck shanks or pork knuckle with kohlrabi – but this particular blogger took the night off and left the camera in the bag.
We did return for breakfast, however, discovering that the food in the morning was just as delicious as what’s going at dinner. The coffee is pretty good, as well. The scrambled eggs (14.5) were declared the best ones ever (by the better half) thanks to their creamy texture. I guess they were pretty good. I was pretty chuffed as well with my house cured salmon (17) piled high on toast with baby rocket, avocado, shaved fennel, pickled onion and lemon myrtle.
Less than an hours drive north of our previous overnight stop in Lenox is the small city of North Adams, located just shy of the Vermont state line. Knowing that it’s a popular centre for art and culture – and the home of the country’s largest contemporary art museum – we really only breezed through town for half an hour to stretch our legs and grab a coffee and sniff about the antiques at the Berkshire Emporium Cafe.
Crossing into Vermont and driving through the Green Mountain National Forest was the point where fall was beginning to really take hold. Rust-coloured trees dotted the rolling hills and banks of meandering streams and as we drove through the small village of Wilmington I couldn’t help but pull over to get a better feel of it.
The town is nestled in the picturesque Deerfield Valley with quiet streets brightened up with colourful historic buildings, specialty shops, galleries and places to grab a bite. Many businesses seem to be geared towards cashed-up visitors, but looking past that, it’s well worth some exploration.
A coffee and nibble was all we wanted and Folly Foods provided us with just that. This is the pride and joy of husband and wife team Peter and Kathleen Wallace, a couple of hospitality veterans that switched from fine dining to what they have now on West Main Street. Homemade cakes and breads, ice cream, fresh juices and some serious beans from Nantucket Coffee Roasters.
We couldn’t look past the chocolate, cayenne & chilli cake – a perfect accompaniment to our beautiful macchiato and espresso.
Driving north on Route 100 took us through more forest and a couple of small towns and when it was about time to consider a lunch stop, Londonderry was the pick. There’s nothing much to the town itself other than a small section of the highway offering the very basics of services. The Mill Tavern would have been my pick had it not been closed for renovations but we did end up just grabbing a couple of sandwiches at The Garden Market Cafe, behind the more upmarket Garden Cafe Gallery & Restaurant.
I’m guessing the market acts as one of the towns food suppliers, or perhaps just for the gourmet stuff. A decent variety of baked sweet and savoury foods can be taken home or eaten inside at one of the few tables, or outside beside the water. Providing the West River isn’t flooding like it did when hurricane Irene hit.
It was turkey Reuben (8.95) for me – served toasted with “Bubbies best organic sauerkraut”. Not bad, actually. The other sandwich was Mickey’s favourite (9.95) – filled with roast beef, salad and horseradish mayo.
Barely 10 minutes up the road we arrived at Weston, a blink-and-miss-it town that’s more than worthy of a visit. Vermont was putting on its best with warm sunshine, bright green fields and golden leaves falling from the trees. Inns, eateries, galleries and craft shops dot the small village that has the West River meandering through its backyard.
One of the towns drawcards is The Vermont Country Store, a sprawling shop that has just about anything you need. Outdoor clothing, novelty gifts, cooking utensils, books, toiletries, food items, you name it. It’s set up in a barn-like space that feels like you’ve stepped back in time and walked into an old general store. The food section clearly stood out for us and the bonus of tasting samples of things like maple syrup, cookies, chocolates and cheese made it all the better.
Driving north through the mountains we could see that this was a bit of a popular skiing area in the winter months. Okemo Mountain Resort and Killington Resort looked like two major playgrounds for those that like to get out on the slopes. No snow for us, though.
As I drove us through the small township of Bridgewater I was distracted by piles of old stuff stacked outside and leaning up against the walls of an antiques shop. A quick u-turn on my behalf and, before we knew it, I was sniffing about the old wares in the dim rooms. You never know what can be found in places like this, and much to the relief of the other half, I left empty handed.
As the road wound alongside the Ottauquechee River we found ourselves in one of the most picturesque villages we’d seen so far. Woodstock is built on the sweeping curve of the river with a narrow brook cutting straight through town; nestled in a valley surrounded by greenery – and at that time of the year – foliage ranging from red though to yellow.
When people think of Woodstock they imagine the 3-day music festival of 1969. That happened in Bethel, New York 370km away. However there still is a bit of a hippie vibe remaining from when it was a stomping ground for Van Morrison, Hendrix and Dylan; with shops peddling crystals, smudge sticks and tie-dye.
This gorgeous little village – dubbed “The prettiest small town in America” – was home for the next few days. A place to base ourselves, find a laundromat, take a breather from driving and get out and explore the surrounding landscape.
The location of our motel couldn’t have been more perfect. A short walk from the centre of town with a rear outlook over the reflecting river, fields and autumnal hills. There was even a guy down there fly fishing. A private veranda provided a lofty lounging space complete with rocking chairs, or a row of Adirondack chairs on the riverbank that was our pick – perfect possie for some much needed gin & tonics.
Some would say the choice of restaurants in Woodstock is fairly limited but there is a decent grab for anyone with relatively discerning tastes. The Italian-inspired menu at Osteria Pane e Salute celebrates Vermonts seasonal and local ingredients that make it to the wooden farm tables in its cosy dining space. Green-painted walls, vases of blooms and foliage, candle light and a very unique wine selection.
Husband and wife team Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin regularly travel to Italy for regional food and wine inspiration; bringing back ideas and flavours to share with their guests and retain the pulse in their passion. The menu reads from antipasti to primi to secondi and is based on slow food principles – simply prepared so that the ingredients shine.
The 4-course $45 Prix Fixe gave us a taste of what was up for grabs on the nights menu. Not before Deirdre talked to us and got a feel of what wine we were wanting. Neither of us know a great deal about Italian wines so an experienced hand was needed.
Our first plates of antipasti were a perfect introduction to the rustic fare this place is known for. A simple caprese salad and prosciutto e mozzarella. Sweet tomatoes, basil from their own vegetable garden and creamy mozzarella drizzled with grassy olive oil.
Both of us end up choosing the same primi dish – pasta con zucchini. Simply prepared and simply flavoured. The pasta was very al dente and had nothing more than zucchini, red onion, grated cacio and olive oil going on.
More flavour made it to the salsiccia – a butterflied roasted Italian sausage served over wilted bitter greens from the home farm. And as much as I loved the rainbow trout with rosemary, red wine grapes, potato and beans, I thought the fish was rather tiny for a secondi dish.
Even the sliver of pear tart – as incredible as it was – didn’t make me feel like I’d just eaten four courses. Perhaps my appetite had become accustomed to the over-sized portions of this country?
Several cafés can be found in the downtown area and the first one we visited was The Daily Grind. It’s difficult to miss the counter adorned with home-baked pastries and cakes, releasing their sweet aroma into the dining space. That’s got to be a bonus. There’s a little bit of DIY involved in terms of finding your own seat, going up to the counter to get your menu, placing orders and paying for your food before you sit back down and wait for it to arrive.
The coffees we had over two visits we ok but won’t win any awards and the breakfast, well, it’s just ok as well. Rather dry scrambled eggs, toast, well-done bacon and a rather blackened little Vermont Country Farms Maple sausage (8.5). The berry jam that came with it was divine.
The fried eggs & hash (7.95) was a rustic affair topped with lemon & parsley butter. The eggs reminded me of those that you get in the plastic tray in an aircraft. Not that I minded that. The corned beef hash was pretty generous in quantity and salt content.
We almost left without trying at least one of the pastries on the counter. So good was the raspberry & cream cheese croissant that I went up and bought another one before they disappeared. Incredible, and still warm.
Thanks to Woodstock’s location there’s a whole lot of stuff to see and do in the stunning surrounding countryside. Wintertime may attract the skiing crowd to nearby resorts but for us it was jumping into the car to drive the quiet roads and stop wherever we wanted.
Not all that far away is some mighty-fine hiking that can be done in and around the Quechee Gorge. The busloads may gravitate to the slightly tacky Quechee Gorge Village – complete with toy & train museum, candle store, diner and somewhere to buy your next souvenir mug – but for us it was the perfect place to park the car and hit the forest walking trails. Fresh air, multicoloured leaves falling from the canopy and me feeling a little on edge because this is the kind of place people see a sasquatch.
About twenty minutes away from the gorge is the picture-perfect town of Hanover, just across the state line in New Hampshire. We were really only in town to find a place to have lunch, hence the lack of street scenes, but one thing I can say is that this is one busy little college town.
After checking out several places on Main Street, it was when I looked down a driveway past a gelato bar that I noticed a sign saying 3 Guys Basement BBQ. This will do!
Stepping down off the laneway into the basement transports you to a themed dining/bar space that has a variety of places to park your glutes and get stuck into meat and beer.
It seemed the dry-rub chicken wings were a bit of a go-to with the lunchtime college crowd surrounding us. Had there been another mouth or two at our table I would have ordered them, but instead we kept to the three dishes we’d set our gaze on. We both swooned over the grits sticks (4) – golden fingers of crunchy fried goodness with hot and creamy innards. Buttermilk or maple syrup are the dipping options and for us it was the latter.
The burnt ends sammy (11) is “Smoked daily! While it lasts!” – An excitable menu statement that sure got our attention. Must be good, right? Large chunks of meat overflow the small bread bun, half of which are decent and smoky. The other half was incredibly dry, way overcooked and very much like eating jerky. Something tells me it wasn’t meant to be this way. Red beans and dirty rice come with it.
My show stopper burger (15) was described as being “equal parts burger & bacon” – something that gave me the impression of a meat patty with bacon mixed through it. Now that’s something I’d happily sink my teeth into. Instead, it’s a delicious meat patty with charred onion, blue cheese dressing and several very chewy and burnt strips of bacon shooting in all directions. Kind of like a burger stuffed with long strips of chewy jerky – a bit of a challenge for anyone that wants to just pick it up and take a bite. The side of mac & cheese was not only enormous but mouth-burningly delicious.
Heading back to Woodstock was via a few quiet backroads – perhaps a few wrong turns as well – and stops to see a couple of covered bridges in the area. The double span Taftsville Bridge (not shown) and the latticed Middle Bridge in Woodstock.
Another place that saw us for dinner was Melaza Caribbean Bistro. What prompted us to eat there was what we saw on the menu displayed near the entrance. Roasted pork shank, but more on that in a sec.
Themed Caribbean touches can be seen around the restaurant – like colourful paintings and murals, plastic ferns and structural columns that have been made to look like palm trees. Lovely. I was quietly grateful for the lack of reggae music blaring from the speakers.
One thing for sure is that menu isn’t all about mangoes and pineapple, as many would expect. Plantain, yucca, rice & beans, guava and jerk seasoning can be seen across the menu and there’s a bit of a New England inflection as well.
The mussels “Meijillones” (8) were nothing short of delicious. These little babies are from Prince Edward Island and sautéed with chorizo and a beautifully rich Cuban Creole tomato-based sauce.
The next two dishes we order are the house signatures. First, the plantain-wrapped salmon (19). The neat parcel of fish sits in the centre of the bowl, topped with olives, palm hearts and more of that delicious Cuban Creole sauce. A little mamposteao rice flecks the sauce. Sadly, for us, the fish was quite overcooked and incredibly dry; something that couldn’t be finished.
The initial drawcard to the restaurant was the roasted pork shank (22). The gargantuan piece of meat and bone sits erect on the plate; slow-cooked and lovingly basted with rum guava glaze. Copious amounts of tender meat that retains a gorgeous smoked and brined flavour. I can see why this one is a firm favourite for many of the diners at this little piece of the Caribbean on Central Street.
It was almost time to make our move from Woodstock and hit the highways once again. Not before an early breakfast at Mon Vert Café. While the name of the place may be French (for “my green”), the menu is very much of the American variety – sans the hash, fried eggs and waffles. It’s actually not much more than muffins, bagels, frittatas and croissants. Good enough for this pair as all we wanted was a speedy breakfast and dose of caffeine.
Toast & jam, yoghurt & berries (9) and a bagel with avocado, tomato, egg & local Pawlet cheese (6.25). A nice little start to the day before driving north to our next port-of-call. Stowe.
You’re an out-of-towner that has landed in Sydney or freshly stepped off a cruise ship. You’ve done your research and already have our city’s historic district, The Rocks, on your radar. Labyrinthine streets and cobbled laneways lined with gorgeous old buildings, tourist-centric shops, restaurants and the weekend markets; all in the shadow of the looming Harbour Bridge.
Your room rate may already include breakfast, but if it doesn’t, where should you eat? There are many options, so allow me to make a few suggestions with a bunch of places I’ve tried and tasted in our city’s oldest precinct.
Located at the end of cobbled Kendall Lane is The Fine Food Store, a place that not only offers “gourmet” groceries like bread, cheese and dry goods, but it has a decent breakfast menu. The likes of Belgian-style waffles, cured salmon on sourdough and homemade spicy beans are up for grabs; plus many more choices for any level of appetite.
The coffee is Sensory Lab. Our macchiato and piccolo latté were well made and visitors from Melbourne will feel immediately at home when they spot their beloved magic coffee on the menu. Yes, that’s right. The magic has made it to Sydney. Think double ristretto in a three-quarter cup. Or a double flat white in a smaller cup.
What did we eat? Well, the ricotta & avo on sourdough (8.5), for a start. You can opt for two slices for an additional $4. I can only assume the very light scraping of avocado was a reflection of the high cost of avocados at the time of our visitation. Some sweet cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta and lone basil leaf adorn the toast; plus a dressed salad garnish.
Shakshuka (12.5) is a dish I’m always happy tucking into during the morning hours. Eggs poached in a beautifully spiced tomato and chilli sauce. A nice, warm start to the day. Here they do away with the traditional shallow skillet and ladle the tomato into a deep bowl. Quite a lot of sauce, and quite runny, as well. The poached eggs are placed on the top with some coriander.
Baroque Pantry is a daytime concept brought to us by Baroque Bistro. There isn’t much that’s different to what you’d get at the bistro other than a few additional menu items, so don’t go expecting “pantry” items to take home with you. Unless, of course, you’re taking your food home with you.
We’re here for breakfast, so seating options are outside on the terrace in view of old buildings and the bridge, or inside on rose-coloured acrylic chairs and beneath lovely Tom Dixon pendants. The morning menu is quite small, featuring a bunch of house-made pastries and cooked breakfast items. Macaron fans can go mad on some interesting flavours as well.
Croque Monsieur is something I usually gravitate to when feeling a tad French, but why not make it better with a fried egg? Croque Madame (20) may be a little pricey (we are in The Rocks, after all), but it’s a decent enough specimen. Double smoked ham, béchamel, and Swiss gruyere grilled on sourdough. A salad takes up the other half of the plate.
Another eggy dish that’s worth trying is the egg cocotte (14). What makes up for its petite proportions is the flavour that’s packed into the tiny ramekin. Smoked speck, tomato, mushroom, garlic, hollandaise and a lone egg. Toasted and buttered sourdough is there for the dunking, as well.
Down on George Street opposite the MCA is the Bakers Oven Café. From the street the first thing you notice is a window displaying cakes and pastries, and looking in it appears to be more of a takeaway or diner. Internal stairs lead to a small dining room with tight booths and beyond is an open-air courtyard that spills onto Nurses Walk.
Not a great deal of originality has gone into the breakfast offerings, but there’s plenty to choose if you like your eggs. Bacon & eggs, omelettes, benedict and more. There are pancakes and a few lighter choices such as toast, croissants, bagels, fruit and muesli.
Eggs on sourdough (13) is served on a large retro oval plate with a slice of “grilled” tomato, a handful of buttered mushrooms and eggs how you want them. Very home-style.
The Bakers Oven big breakfast (19.5) is much the same deal, just with the addition of bacon, sausage and chips. No-fuss food that reminds me of the grub at Met 2 Cafeteria by Town Hall.
It may be on the other side of the Harbour Bridge viaduct, but Pier 8 Café on Walsh Bay is a worthy contender and within reach of a Rocks breakfast. The location would have to be the best of the lot; housed in one of the refurbished wharves, overlooking overwater apartments, a marina, and just a walk from the Sydney Theatre Company and Pier One hotel.
The café makes good use of the building by retaining the industrial structural elements and keeping an open-plan layout. Coffee is well made and uses local roaster Campos and the varied breakfast menu is displayed on laminated cards on a ladder. Order and pay at the counter, take a number and take your pick with the seating.
Fresh-baked muffins, pastries and ready-to-go panini adorn the counter, but we went for a couple of the cooked items. Chorizo & scrambled egg on Turkish (8) sounded ideal for the other half, except the scrambled eggs and chorizo on toast that was expected is actually served up as a toasted sandwich. Very firm, omelette-like egg with spinach and sliced chorizo, with a rather sweet relish/bbq sauce that didn’t quite make the written description.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when ordering the breakfast bake (8), but mention of crispy bacon, gruyere, cherry tomato and spinach sounded good enough. What arrives is a tart, of sorts, that’s very firm and frittata-like; topped with ricotta and either grilled or sandwich-pressed. Not sure where the crispy bacon came in but I think there were a few pieces of regular bacon wedged in the egg somewhere.
Located in the quiet back lane named Nurses Walk, The Vintage Café lays at the rear of the Harbour Rocks Hotel; a row of refurbished colonial terraces that were built on the site of Sydney’s first hospital. Cosy dining rooms, sandstone walls and an open-air deck to sit and enjoy some Portuguese, Spanish and Mediterranean fare in the evenings.
Not much of the Mediterranean flavours filter into the small breakfast menu, and those that love their eggs are well looked after. Not a fan of eggs? Well, you may have to settle on some pancakes, a sandwich or salad.
The blackboard menu tempted me with pancakes (12.9); and while I think it was geared to be a dessert item, the mention of bacon immediately made it a breakfast dish, for me. Sans the ice cream, with a sliced whole banana, maple syrup and generous side plate of bacon. The single pancake is quite thick, fluffy and a perfect sponge for the syrup.
The hot clay vegetInnoDBn breakfast (18.9) went down a treat. Served in a terracotta ramekin, it’s a stodgy affair of baked beans, spinach, asparagus, onion, a little chilli and poached eggs. I went the whole hog and added chorizo for an extra dollar.
Thanks to its quiet location, the café has a rather late opening time of 10.30am. Great for those that enjoy a sleep-in, but not an option for those of us that are up with the sparrows.
Thanks to the Cahill Expressway cutting The Rocks in two, Brew café feels a tad segregated from the main part of The Rocks; tucked in the shadow of the CBD’s towers and neighbouring hotels. Weekdays here are busy with office workers grabbing their morning coffee or taking meetings at one of the tightly placed tables.
Still, the breakfast menu is one of the better ones in The Rocks precinct. Eggs, muesli, fruit, porridge, bruschetta, there’s a decent selection that caters to any appetite.
The Mediterranean beans (16.5) is a deliciously hearty bowl of slow-cooked fava beans in a herbed tomato sauce. Half a grilled chorizo, a poached egg and toasted sourdough join in on the fun. Thumbs up here.
It seems there’s a daily breakfast special offered each day on the blackboard; in this case it was scrambled eggs (15) with chorizo, mushrooms and toast. Plus a coffee. A bit of a bargain for these parts.
The only downside – they’re only open Monday to Friday. Something tells me that this strip of Harrington Street is rather quiet on the weekend; when offices are closed and hotels guests have other areas to explore.
At the top of George Street in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge viaduct is the Swagman’s Post Courtyard Café. During the week it’s a relatively quiet place that’s popular with local workers taking meetings in the leafy rear courtyard, and on weekends the pace steps up a notch thanks to the weekend market that sprawls past its front door.
Perfect for early risers, the café opens at 7.30am and offers an all-day breakfast. Muffins, croissants, fruit salad, muesli, eggs, it’s all there.
French toast (16.9) comes as an impressive pile of soft and slightly doughy bread triangles topped with grilled banana and a light-handed drizzle of maple syrup. The promised “candied” bacon is nothing more than regular bacon that’s a mix of crispy and soft. A decent enough meal for the price.
Those that like their breakfasts big may be chuffed at the mountain of food you get in the Swagman’s breakfast (19.9). Eggs, sausage, bacon, tomato, mushrooms, toast and a hash brown. The hash brown may be enormous but it brings disappointment thanks to being completely raw once you get past the deliciously crispy exterior. There’s nothing fun about raw spuds!
There’s a café up the road from me that has a breakfast dish I’m kind of in love with. Whenever I get up there I order the ‘shrooms & swedes more than anything else. No eggs are involved, but I make sure I side it with some smokey bacon. Although a poached egg would go with it nicely.
I guess this is a breakfast bruschetta, in a way. Some toasted sourdough bread topped with sautéed swede and mushrooms, feta and baby kale. What makes it even better is a final light sprinkle of chilli flakes. Because a little mouth zing is always good in the morning! And for me it’s one more way to use the kale that’s going a little mad in my vegetable garden.
The “meatier” mushrooms like oyster, Swiss brown, shiitake and king browns go best here as they stand up to the swedes by holding their shape and density. But at the end of the day, you could go with any of your favourites. You could even do a medley.
To save on time, pre-cook the swede and have it in the fridge. It’s the one thing that takes the longest to cook, so you may as well think ahead and have it on hand.
oyster mushrooms & swedes on toast
300 g swede, cooked in boiling water until just cooked (cooled & peeled)
5 tbsp butter
150 g oyster mushrooms
75 g feta cheese
2 cups baby kale leaves
sea salt & freshly milled black pepper
2 thick slices sourdough bread, toasted
Cut the cooked swede into small cubes.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame. Drop in the butter and swirl until almost melted. Toss in the diced swede and sauté for about 30 seconds before adding the mushrooms. Sauté for about a minute then add the kale, feta and pepper. Taste for salt before you add any more. The feta will already be salty so no need to go crazy.
To serve, lay the toast on each plate, tumble over the mushroom and swede mixture and sprinkle with chilli flakes.