Tag Archives: Breakfast/Brunch

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Haast, Franz Josef, Hokitika, Westport, Hanmer Springs & Murchison

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State Highway 6 north of Wanaka takes you through stunning landscape that varies from lakes and forested mountains, and it’s here that you cross the boundary between the Otago and West Coast regions.

Seeing we were in the vicinity of the Blue Pools, a short (albeit absolutely freezing) morning stroll through tōwai forest and fern groves was a given. Barely ten minutes in and you’re greeted with the first swing bridge over Makarora River, then onto boardwalk that leads to the second bridge over the impossibly clear, turquoise water. You may even be lucky to spot a large salmon, or two, leisurely drifting about.

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Haast


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The first sign of civilisation in these wild and rugged parts is at Haast, a tiny township a few kilometres from the coast. Nearing lunch time, I was feeling a tad hopeful in what kind of dining scene Haast could offer. The image of an old country pub or selection of seafood shacks was forming in my mind, but I was dragged back to reality with just one place out of a few that was open that day.

The Fantail Cafe isn’t the type of place that’s out to set anybody’s culinary world on fire. It’s a humble establishment that serves chips with a lot of its lunch dishes, be it blue cod & eggs, steak or the seafood basket. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Unfortunately the two things I really wanted to try weren’t available. Venison stew on toast, and the other, whitebait patties – a dish that’s synonymous with the West Coast.

Ham, cheese & tomato sandwich it was, and a dose of caffeine.

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  • Fantail Cafe
  • 10 Marks Road
  • Haast 7886
  • 03 750 0055
  • Fantail Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Good thing I was paying attention otherwise I’d have completely missed the “Whitebait Patties” sign further along on the highway . It appeared we hit gold. White gold. Before we knew it I did a u-turn and drove down a gravel road past beaten up whitebait shacks on the banks of the Waita River. Things were in our favour, as well, thanks to the 10-week whitebait season commencing the same day we hit the west coast.

It was time for lunch #2.

At Curly Tree, the Kerr family is now into its fifth generation of whitebaiting, taking pride in the fresh tiny spawning fish they net from the rivers along the wild south Westland coast. We learn that many locals rock on up to their business and buy the whitebait frozen, but patties can also be cooked right in front of you as you chat and learn a thing or two about this Westland delicacy.

A bit of beaten egg, a good dose of fresh whitebait and a hotplate is all that’s required. Can’t forget the slice of white bread, a squeeze of fresh lemon and seasoning, of course. And look at all those whitebait!

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  • Curly Tree Whitebait Company
  • Waita River Reserve SH6
  • Haast 7844
  • 03 750 0097
  • website
  • Curly Tree Whitebait Company on Urbanspoon

 


Franz Josef


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The town of Franz Josef draws the crowds for one main reason – the glacier that it’s named after. Walking on the glacier was something we’d done many years ago, so we were really only in town to spend the night.

Others may choose to go walking along many of the trails in this major wilderness area – through forests, dunes and wetlands or immerse themselves at the West Coast Wildlife Centre and spot a real-life Rowi kiwi.

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For those that are up for a little nocturnal sight-seeing, grab a torch and do what we did. At the end of Cowan Street – near the Terrace Motel where we were staying – is the start of a gravel road that’s signposted with Tatare Tunnels Callery Gorge.

Between the gate and the first creek crossing is where you can spot many glowworms in the rainforest, free for anyone to see, providing you turn off your torch and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness. During the day (below) it looks like any regular rainforest, and incase you needed to know, New Zealand’s glowing native fungus gnat larvae aren’t worms at all.

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Eating options in the village centre may be sparse but there’s bound to be a menu that appeals to just about anyone. A craving for some good Asian flavours led us to Eighty Eight, a “fusion” restaurant that doesn’t hold back on colour when it comes down to decor.

All walks of southeast Asian can be seen on the dinner menu, from nasi goreng to tom yum goong, with a lemon posset to mix things up a tad.

We were off to a great start with the fish bites (15); some rather tasty pieces of crumbed gurnet that were supposed to come with turmeric mayo. Sadly the condiments we were given were more along the lines of sweet chilli and tartare sauce.

The Thai green curry (21) came with a very mild level of spice and did very little to excite the tastebuds. The fish of the day (27) followed suit in the flavour department. Steamed bits of gurnet that barely tasted of the promised ginger and sesame oil. And being terribly overcooked didn’t make eating it much fun.

We passed on the posset.

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  • Eighty Eight – Asian Fusion
  • 28 Main Road
  • Franz Josef 7886
  • 03 752 0234
  • website
  • Eighty Eight Asian Fusion on Urbanspoon

 

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Our breakfast and coffee needs were taken care of at Full of Beans, also on the towns main drag. There’s just one all day menu at the cafe and breakfast goes as far as muesli & fruit, bacon & eggs, eggs benedict and the two things we ordered.

A full breakfast (18) stodge-fest came my way with fried eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomato and hash browns from a freezer packet and sliced supermarket bread. It was kinda just what I felt like, even down to the sprig of curly parsley.

The pancake eater went for the usual. Pancakes (13.5) topped with fruit and berry compote. A humble arrangement with a generous quantity of maple syrup to play with.

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  • Full of Beans
  • 22 Main Road
  • Franz Josef 7886
  • 03 752 0139
  • website
  • Full of Beans Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Ōkārito


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Spontaneity took hold when I spotted the name of this little town on the iPad map I was flicking around. Not knowing anything about Ōkārito, a quick detour to see what went down in this seaside hamlet was in order.

“Where’s the actual town?” I asked.

We quickly discovered we were in the middle of it. A tiny community of less than 30 permanent residents. No shops, no pub – just a beautifully rugged part of the coast with sprawling wetlands, forest and more than enough birdlife to get any avian fan’s juices flowing.

It’s a far cry from what was here in the 1860’s during the gold rush, we learned. Ōkārito was the third largest port on the West Coast and was filled with stores and hotels with enough booze flowing to keep the gold diggers well-lubed.

Not much remains of the old settlement other than a restored school house that’s now a hostel. Down on the wharf visitors can see vintage photos and read up on a little of the towns history. And the view over to the snowcapped Southern Alps is pretty smashing, as well.

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Disappointment set in pretty quickly when we pulled over to take a closer look at this place. Why? Because the cafe wasn’t open and I couldn’t sample any of the food. Venison, rabbit, wild pork, even possum pie – although I understand these guys can no longer sell possum pie as it doesn’t come from a government approved supplier. They’ve figured a way around that, however, as you can now “donate” $4 in exchange for one of the pies.

All around the cafe are deer busts and animal pelts, and over in the souvenir shop is a range of products made from possum fur. $4 buys you entry to the museum that shows a video on hunting and there are even caged possums to gawk at.

This place sure is an acquired taste, possum pie, or not.

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  • Bushmans Centre Cafe
  • State Highway 6
  • Pukekura
  • 03 755 4144
  • website
  • Bushmans Centre Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Hokitika


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Another town, another overnighter, and the next place to see our faces is New Zealand’s whitebait capital – Hokitika. Aside from the annual fish spawn-related industry, we quickly learn there’s more to this beachside town.

Art and craft shops are seemingly everywhere including many places that specialise in pounamu – or greenstone/jade – that’s unique to the region. You can even try your hand at carving your own piece.

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A block back from the beach is Stella Cafe, a friendly little place that’s a bit different from others thanks to its cheese room. It may not be overflowing with fromage varieties but there’s a decent enough selection to buy and take away.

Both breakfast and lunch menus have all the standard choices with a bunch of house-made extras in the chiller cabinet.

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The steak sandwich (21) features a juicy porterhouse slapped in a soft bun with caramelised onion, a bit of Cheddar and garlic aïoli. A BLT & fries (16) is presented in much the same way, with more than enough bacon for a good porcine hit.

Breakfast punters can fill up on many hearty choices like the impressive tower of hot cakes (14). Seasonal – and perhaps a little tinned fruit – makes for a fruitful start to the day. And because the other half would appreciate it later, I tucked into the homemade baked beans (15) topped with an oozing poached egg. For an additional $4 I got some bacon; a wise move as the seasoning in the beans was a tad light-handed.

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  • Stella Cafe & Cheesery
  • 84 Revell Street
  • Hokitika 7810
  • 03 755 5432
  • website
  • Stella Cafe & Cheesery on Urbanspoon

 

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Not too far out of town on a road that involves a lot of left-and-right turning is Hokitika Gorge. And yet again the water that you encounter takes on an impossibly vivid turquoise colour. It’s a short walk from the carpark through beautiful forest on gravel paths, boardwalks and to a swing bridge over the Hokitika River.

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I’m not entirely sure why the town was quiet and had very little people milling about, but wandering its streets gawking at the variety of building styles was a pleasure. Well, for those that like their architecture that is.

A walk along Gibson Quay during whitebait season gives you a bit of a glimpse into how the spawning fish are caught as they head upstream. It’s pretty big business and can fetch up to $100 a kilo for this tiny delicacy.

Many of the people that catch the whitebait do it for their own personal consumption, but others make a living of it, and it’s hard to miss the numerous whitebaiting sheds at the mouth of the river.

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As the sun set over the driftwood-strewn beach we hit the town to see what was open and what we felt like eating. Not a great deal was happening in downtown Hokitika so choosing a place was made easy.

Easier still when I spotted something on the menu at Fat Pipi Pizzas. Whitebait pizza, anyone?

Decision made.

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They may not be the wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas I have a soft spot for, but the thin and crispy specimens here are no slouches, either. Even if some of the topping choices are a little typical.

Now, that whitebait (26) pizza. Unlike all the other pizzas that can be ordered as medium and large, the whitebait variety only comes as a medium, at the price of a large. No big deal, really. Especially when there’s 110g of whitebait mixed with egg spread onto the base with mozzarella, capers and garlic butter.

And the flavour? It has an unmistakable white fish flavour that works really well on a pizza, especially with a spritz of fresh lemon.

The Punk! (20) is another tasty choice. This vegetarian-friendly pizza is topped with feta, spiced pumpkin, caramelised onion and coriander pesto. A few cashews provide a little more crunch.

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  • Fat Pipi Pizzas
  • 89 Revell Street
  • Hokitika 7810
  • 03 755 6373
  • website
  • Fat Pipi Pizzas on Urbanspoon

 

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Punakaiki


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Heading further up the rugged coast brings you to Punakaiki, a coastal hamlet that’s a perfect base for national park access and a bunch of outdoor activities the area offers.

Its major attractions are geological in nature, as you’d expect, with the Pancake Rocks and the Blow Holes being the big draw cards. Opposite the entrance of the 20-minute walking loop is the Pancake Rocks Cafe, a place where I so happened to find the best macchiato on the trip. There’s typical New Zealand cafe fare up for grabs like pies, wraps, lolly cake and cut sandwiches; something to fill up on before hitting up the Visitors Centre next door to plan the days outdoor activities.

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  • Pancake Rocks Cafe
  • Coast Road
  • Punakaiki 7873
  • 03 731 1122
  • Pancake Rocks Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Westport


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Less than an hour up the coast is the port town of Westport. Some come for the seal colony at Cape Foulwind, others may visit for the Coaltown Museum. This pair, however, was only in town to grab a bite.

In a place we knew next to nothing about, it literally came down to slowly driving down the main street to see what cafe or restaurant caught our attention. Not the most effective way to gauge a towns dining scene, but something tells me we lucked out with the end result.

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The Town House can be found at the north end of the main drag up in the more industrial part of Westport. What used to be a Workingmen’s Club has been transformed into a smart restaurant and lounge bar with an Art Deco vibe.

Booths, patterned wallpaper, wood panelling and floorboards make for a dining space that’s easy on the eye.

The lunch menu took on a bunch of international edibles like gyoza, quesadillas or Cantonese style pork ribs. Everything sounded tempting.

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A contemporary hand was dealt with the börek (12) – a feta-filled parcel resting on a flavour-packed tagine of tomato, tender chunks of lamb and spinach.

It was a toss-up between the pork ribs and Kentucky fried venison (16) for me. You can see what I went for. Deep-fried to medium doneness, the soft batter on the nubs of venison seals in the juiciness of the meat, and a tomato & sweet chilli relish enlivens it even more.

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With food that good it was a given that we sample desserts. A rather enormous dark chocolate mousse (15) is presented in a thin chocolate cylinder, joined with poached rhubarb and ginger crumble.

The pear & ginger sticky date pudding (15) may not have been sticky at all, but its light and warm fluffiness was enough to satisfy. An orange Cointreau syrup boozed things up a tad and a ginger semifreddo was the perfect accompaniment.

  • The Town House
  • 13 Cobden Street
  • Westport 7825
  • 03 789 7133
  • website
  • The Town House on Urbanspoon

 


Reefton


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The next nights accommodation was a 2.5 hour drive from Westport, and it was in Reefton that we stopped to stretch the legs, take a walk and switch driving roles.

Yet another town built on gold mining, Reefton has enough historic charm to keep visitors busy for a little while, gawking at it’s beautiful old buildings that date back to the late 1800’s.

Shops, antique stores, tearooms and cafe’s line the main street, and there’s even a replica miners hut in the centre of town.

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The Lewis Pass Road takes you through stunning mountain scenery and alongside the winding Waiau River. What I thought was a storm cloud far off in the east ended up being a massive smoke cloud from a grass fire on the Mount Tekoa foothills. Pretty spectacular, mind you, and worthy of a quick stop to get a few pics.

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Hanmer Springs


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Known for its thermal pools and alpine scenery, the resort town of Hanmer Springs was our next overnight stop. Not that we came close to immersing ourselves in the thermal pools or great outdoors.

Drinks at the pub, more like it. Saints seemed like the only watering hole in town, and aside from one other table, we were the only ones interested in sipping beers and watching the sun set. Quiet night at the pub, methinks.

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  • Saints
  • 6 Jack’s Pass Road
  • Hanmer Springs 7334
  • 03 315 5262
  • website
  • Saints Cafe, Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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It would’ve been easy to settle into the pub but I had other plans. At the top of town is Malabar, a gorgeous little restaurant owned by a couple that decided to move from Mumbai to little old Hanmer Springs. From the warm crackling fire to the warm and welcoming service, this is one gem on the Hanmer dining scene.

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Onion & spinach bhagis (16.5) presented as a golden tangle of sweet onions, perfectly crisp and packed with flavour. Some tomato & chilli dipping sauce injected a lovely tang to the bhagis.

Taking the innovative Asian route this restaurant is known for, the pan-seared scallops (24) were nothing short of divine. Sweet, plump and juicy, the scallops are served over sticky pork belly with crunchy pickled spring onion. The magic touch came with a light sprinkling of Earl Grey salt.

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Our main courses were unmistakably Indian – such as the chicken tikka (18.5) simply lined-up on the plate and garnished with pickled red onion and squiggle of pomegranate reduction.

The other – street style butter chicken (28.5). Served on the bone, the tender bits of chicken take on the deep richness of the creamy sauce. Very tasty, even if it had a high price point.

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  • Malabar
  • 5 Conical Hill Road
  • Hanmer Springs 7334
  • 03 315 7745
  • website
  • Malabar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Breakfast offerings were very sparse, but thanks to spotting the Powerhouse opposite the pub we had drinks at the evening before, we already knew where to go.

Good coffee, great selection of house-made cakes and a hearty breakfast menu can be found in this cafe that fills what was once a hydro-electric power station.

Scrambled eggs (17.5) with bacon satisfies the better half as I tuck into a steaming bowl of kedgeree (18.5). A little rich for my early morning stomach, but I relished every spiced grain of rice in this salmon-heavy dish. Not only was there cold smoked salmon, but generous chunks of hot smoked salmon were flecked throughout. And that oozing egg made things all the better.

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  • Powerhouse
  • 8 Jacks Pass Road
  • Hanmer Springs 7334
  • 03 315 5252
  • website
  • Powerhouse Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Springs Junction


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There was a little back-tracking up through the valleys and Southern Alps, with a morning pit stop at Springs Junction; a locale that’s little more than a place to refuel the car, grab a bite or stay the night.

The Alpine Motor Inn Cafe is the only place in “town” that you can buy food and a drink and stepping into its doors is akin to stepping back a few decades. I have a bit of a soft spot for old cafeterias that have “tray tracks” at the food cabinets. You’ve gotta love nostalgia.

Pre-made rolls and sandwiches, pies, cakes and slices are the go at this relic on the junction of two state highways. Eat inside beneath the leadlights, or out in the fresh valley air and sunshine.

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  • Alpine Motor Inn & Cafe
  • State Highway 7
  • Springs Junction 7895
  • 03 523 8813
  • Alpine Motor Inn & Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Murchison


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It’s trees, valleys and more trees north of the junction, and the town that hosted us for lunch was Murchison. Driving from one end of town to the other would probably take 30 seconds, so you can imagine its size already.

Two pubs, a museum, a couple of places to grab groceries and a few other places of interest for anyone breezing through town.

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Those of us that have a penchant for bric-a-brac and dust collectors may find Somebody’s Treasure a bit of a gold mine. There’s a dazzling collection of pre-loved bits and pieces, antiques, stuff for the kitchen and home. Miraculously I left empty-handed.

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In the centre of town next to the Commercial Hotel is the Vault Cafe, taking residence in the former historic Bank of New Zealand building.

At the centre of the cafe is the robust vault that once held the fortunes of local gold miners and growing community. Today it’s an additional room where you can sit and enjoy your coffee and a bite from the small menu.

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The food options are fairly slim – think burgers, sandwiches and soup – but it didn’t take long for me to gravitate to the homemade pies in the cabinet. It was venison pie for me, served with a little tomato relish. Great chunks of tender meat and delicious flaky pastry. The apple slice was pretty special, as well.

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  • The Vault Cafe
  • 37 Fairfax Street
  • Murchison 7007
  • 03 523 9696
  • website
  • Vault Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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End of King

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With last years departure of the short-lived and conjoined Tram Stop Diner & El Cuervo Cantina, the digs at 609 King Street have been transformed and once again show signs of life. The concrete floor has been stripped and polished, new furniture and lighting has moved in and gone is the vintage mural of Newtown during Sydney’s tram age.

A quick scan over the breakfast and lunch menu reveals much of what we’ve seen all over the traps; the likes of eggs benedict, caesar salad, BLT and salt & pepper squid.

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It’s what stands out from the norm that gets my attention, especially in a new business, and it doesn’t take long to notice that End of King has a slight point of difference.

Chef and owner Sal learned a thing or two about cooking from his mother and grandmother when he was growing up in Kathmandu, and it’s these techniques that show through to some of the dishes on his menu. Sal has been cooking in Sydney for 15 years, at one point business-partnering with his brother on Glebe Point Road. Now the brothers have their own places – Sal in Newtown and his brother Naggy at the O’Connell Street Cafe in town.

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All day breakfast is very much the norm in many-a-Sydney cafe. We kind of expect it now, don’t we? We’ve been for breakfast a couple of times now and sampled a few of the edibles, so here’s a little preview.

The End of King smashed avocado (15.9) is a pretty decent doorstop of rye sourdough, tomato, bacon and grilled Cypriot haloumi. A rather flat poached egg threatens to burst at the slightest touch and a curious squiggle of pomegranate molasses introduces a tangy sharpness.

The aloo chop! (15.9) is bound to kick-start the tastebuds. Two small spiced potato cakes, fried eggs dusted in mild paprika and some roti and spiced chickpeas. I kinda wanted more of those potato cakes!

Shakshuka (16.9) has been doing the rounds for some time now and the one at End of King is one of the better ones I’ve tried thanks to some meat. Lurking beneath the tomato ragù are two spiced lamb koftas, topped with an egg before a little oven time. A lot more spice in the sauce would have gone down a treat.

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And how nice to see momos on the menu. We had our fair share of these pleated dumplings in Kathmandu many years ago, gorging on plates of them with cold beers before and after our trek to Everest Base Camp.

The momos here are made by Sal’s wife, Munu, filled with either spiced chicken or vegetables. A roasted tomato chutney comes with the dumplings, spiced up and puréed for generous dunking.

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Veering away from the Nepalese goodies, the prawn linguine (17.9) doesn’t disappoint. Cherry tomatoes, a bit of vino, fresh lemon and red chilli are mixed through the pasta with confit garlic cloves and those gorgeous prawns.

For something a bit lighter there’s the warm squid & chorizo salad (16.9). The combination of these two ingredients is pure heaven, only enhanced with chickpeas and lemon-dressed rocket leaves.

A refreshing salad for a business that has refreshed the bottom of King Street. All the best, guys.

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  • End of King
  • Shop 6-11, 609 King Street
  • Newtown 2042
  • 02 8021 3486
  • End of King on Urbanspoon

 

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Timaru, Lake Tekapo & Wanaka

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An hours drive north of Dunedin is a much visited geological site known as the Moeraki Boulders. Such rock formations can be seen in many places across New Zealand, but the ones at Moeraki are probably the most visited and photographed. About 50 of these 2-3 metre-wide concretions are strewn along the beach, and if you’re lucky, you may spot a furry grey local basking in the sun next to the boulders.

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Timaru


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Ninety minutes north of Moeraki is the small port city of Timaru, our first food stop of the day. In retrospect, we probably should have wandered about the city centre a little more to check out the beautiful bluestone Edwardian and Victorian buildings, but once the appetite was sated, we kind of forgot.

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The Oxford caught our eye as we drove around looking for a parking spot; catching sight of its smart interior as we turned the corner.

Taking centre stage inside the restaurant is an enlarged photo from the 1960’s depicting a fashion parade. It isn’t until you look closely that you begin to notice quirky – and well disguised – additions such as somebody taking a photo with their smartphone and the owner sitting in the crowd using a laptop. It soon becomes a “Where’s Wally” game trying to find other additions.

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The lunch menu may not offer as much as the one at dinner, but the six or seven options are solid examples of English and Continental bistro-style fare.

My beef & ale pie (17) is a damn fine plate of gastropub goodness, standing tall on creamy mash and buttered cabbage; richly drenched in ale gravy.

Almost as substantial is the open pork sandwich (19), served salad-style with pieces of schnitzel, fennel slaw, crunchy apple and mustard mayo.

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The savouries were so good that desserts were a given. Warmed slice of orange syrup cake (12), a scattering of pistachio crumble and healthy dollop of thick yoghurt.

Just as warming was the toffee apple grunt (12). Beneath the biscuit top is baked apple and boysenberries, bourbon-soaked prunes and pine nuts.

I kinda wanted to hang about town to try the dinner menu, but we had another town to get to.

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  • The Oxford
  • 152 Stafford Street
  • Timaru 7910
  • 03 688 3297
  • website
  • Oxford on Urbanspoon

 


Tekapo


The remnants of hazy memories from my first visit to Tekapo involve a multitude of colourful lupins, an old church and killer sandflies. Not much has changed other than us missing lupin season and those biting insects not being so prevalent. As for the Church of the Good Shepherd, well, you can scroll down and see it yourself.

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Tekapo, as with most of the South Island, presents itself as a bit of a postcard. A rippling turquoise-coloured lake framed by the snow-dusted Southern Alps.

Many come for the hot springs, air safaris, skiing and trekking, but another activity so happens to be star gazing.

Overlooking the village is the Mount John Observatory, a place that takes full advantage of the clear night skies and low levels of local light pollution. It’s no wonder that Lake Tekapo is part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve.

During the day the observatory operates a cafe that has some pretty smashing 360° views over the surrounding countryside. And the coffee ain’t half bad, either. Food-wise, the offerings are all about sandwiches, bagels and a few cakes.

The main drawcard, of course, is that view.

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  • Astro Cafe
  • Mount John Observatory
  • Godley Peaks Road
  • Lake Tekapo 7945
  • 03 680 6007
  • website
  • Astro Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Being such a small village means the eating options are relatively limited. Some hotels have their own restaurants, but it’s the compact village that most gravitate to. Not a village in a quaint kind of way; more like a glorified strip mall, really.

Tin Plate is a relative newcomer to the town, feeding-up visitors with pizza, pasta and piada – a type of pita roll loaded with things like spiced pulled pork, meatballs or chorizo and prawn.

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It was carne pizza (22) for this one – topped with venison, beef, lamb and mushrooms. Caramelised onion and bbq sauce, as well. The base is enough to keep thin-and-crispy pizza lovers content, but this particular Neapolitan die-hard wasn’t all that thrilled.

A similar reaction with the penne (22). Meagre in size and a little too al dente. At least the flavours were good – with bacon, garlic, chilli and basil.

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  • Tin Plate – Kitchen & Bar
  • State Highway 8
  • Lake Tekapo 7945
  • 03 680 6677
  • website
  • Tin Plate Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Tekapo is Mt Gerald Station, the farm that supplies much of the venison, beef and merino to its Run 77 Cafe & General Store in the village. The cafe takes its name from the stations “run”, a numbering system used in the late 1800’s for each station property.

On the general store side of things, there’s a gamut of New Zealand deli-style pickings like local cheeses, preserves and chutneys and take-home meals that simply require reheating.

Cakes, slices, wraps and sandwiches fill the cabinets, with platters of fresh scones filling the air with their buttery scent.

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Breakfast is all about eggs, beans, grains and good coffee, thrown together in a rustic manner as you’d do at home. High country fried eggs (14.5) kick-started me with toasted seeded bread, a tangle of charred bacon and balsamic roasted tomato that was neither roasted or anywhere near vinegar. The promised Cafe de Paris butter didn’t get out of bed that morning, either.

Couldn’t go wrong with the bowl of goodness (13.7), however. House-made muesli with three slices of poached pear and yoghurt. Rather steep in price, but tasty none the less.

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  • Run 77 Cafe & General Store
  • State Highway 8
  • Lake Tekapo 7945
  • 03 680 6910
  • website
  • Run77 Cafe & General Store on Urbanspoon

 


Mount Cook (Aoraki) National Park


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Our next overnighter wasn’t all that far away, so a little local exploration was in order. Just above Lake Pukaki is the spectacular Mount Cook-Aoraki National Park; a haven for hiking, mountaineering and heli-skiing. Aoraki-Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain and so happens to be the place that Sir Edmund Hillary honed his mountaineering skills before his Everest conquest.

A well-equipped Aoraki Visitor Centre provides fantastic information about the areas Māori and climbing history and any activities that one can do in the region. You can even base yourself in the village at one of a handful of accommodations.

I wasn’t all that keen on a 3-hour trek that involved ascending over 1800 steps on the Sealy Tarns Track that particular morning, instead opting for a more leisurely 15 minute walk to Kea Point. It’s still a beautiful walk and provides views to the mountains, glaciers and even an avalanche or two. We were at a safe distance, so watching ice and rock tumble down a mountain was seriously spectacular.

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Twizel


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First impressions of Twizel was “Where’s the actual town?”

As far as a town goes, this one is a bit of a youngster. Created in the 1960’s, Twizel started out as a home-base for workers that were part of the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme.

The town centre is merely a cluster of strip mall-type buildings that contain services and most of the eateries. A newsagent here, a Thai restaurant there, and a fantastic Shawty’s Cafe that was busier than everything else.

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Coffee was the sensible choice, and seeing this place is a bar as well, one of the craft beers or a grappa would have gone down a treat. Yes, they even have a grappa menu. I guess it was only midday and I was driving, so no booze just yet.

The lunch menu is a mixed bag of top-notch cafe fare. I went all out and ordered the confit duck leg (32). An enormous shallow dish that also contained a spiced wild game cassoulet of pancetta, venison sausage, veg and white beans. Seriously impressive and the best cassoulet I’ve had since our Canal du Midi jaunt a few years ago.

A much lighter lamb shoulder (20) resembled an open sandwich, of sorts. Juicy shredded meat joined rocket leaves, smoked kumara aïoli, balsamic roast beets and feta; all over char-grilled ciabatta.

Win-win in the food department, and the coffee is top-notch, as well.

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  • Shawty’s Restaurant Cafe & Bar
  • 4 Market Place
  • Twizel 7901
  • 03 435 3155
  • website
  • Shawtys Restaurant Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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A few kilometres drive south of Twizel is High Country Salmon, floating over the turquoise Wairepo Arm of Lake Ruataniwha. More than a dozen pens cluster in the water around the shop, with access to a couple of them if you feel like tossing the salmon pellets and creating a wild feeding frenzy.

Inside the shop you can purchase hot and cold salmon, whole fish or fillets, sashimi lunch packs; even free range eggs, local honey and chutneys.

Well worth the stop-in if you want to stretch the legs, get some fresh air and some of that fresh salmon grown just metres away.

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  • High Country Salmon
  • State Highway 8
  • Twizel 7901
  • 021 400 385
  • website
  • High Country Salmon on Urbanspoon

 

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En route to our next overnighter is a blink-and-miss-it locale called Tarras. This small farming settlement is well-and-truly set up for people pulling off the highway to refuel their cars and refuel their bodies. The Tarras Country Cafe offers country style breakfasts and a few lunch options like polenta cakes, bagels, salads and sandwiches. Caffeine and sugar was all I needed to stay alert, so macchiato and ginger crunch it was.

Those that are interested in picking up a kitchen gadget, something for the home or some basic food items can duck into the Country Store adjacent to the cafe.

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  • Tarras Country Cafe
  • 2792 Tarras-Cromwell Road
  • 03 445 2821
  • website
  • Tarras Country Cafe on Urbanspoon

 


Wanaka


The town of Wanaka fits the same kind of template as Tekapo. Gorgeous lake back-dropped by the Southern Alps, walking, hiking and skiing. And more. Wanaka is a larger town, has a lot more buzz and a more diverse food scene.

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Places to grab a drink are aplenty and our pick is the ever-popular Alivate Restaurant & Bar. Not to be confused with the pub-like Water Bar downstairs, Alivate is a tad more polished and has a great outdoor deck overlooking the lake and mountains beyond.

The drawcard? Happy hour, of course. It was time to get stuck into some local vino, chat and watch the sun go down over Lake Wanaka.

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  • Alivate Restaurant & Bar
  • 145 Ardmore Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 1188
  • website
  • Alivate Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Next door to the bar is BoaBoa Food Company. Nothing more than a takeaway with a few seats for those that are lucky enough to get them. If burgers are your thing, then this is a good place to start. There are twelve to choose from. If not, then perhaps fish or crayfish & chips, whitebait or fried chicken would do.

Between our two choices, the crumbed blue cod & chips (12) outshone the burger I ordered. Thin crumb and steaming, flakey fish innards.

I thought I’d go all out and get the big red (22), a hefty burger with two 180 g patties, hash brown, bacon, egg. cheese, beet relish, chilli jam, onion ring and a little salad. In reality it’s two burgers in one thanks to more bread bun in the middle. Sadly the meat was overcooked and incredibly dry and the chilli jam and beet relish was nowhere to be seen.

The kitchen seemed to be on the verge of melt-down due to a massive influx of people placing orders on this particular visitation, and the few guys in there were barely coping with it all. Interrupting them may have become contentious.

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  • Boaboa Food Company
  • 137 Ardmore Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 1234
  • website
  • Boaboa Food Company on Urbanspoon

 

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As the sunrise hit the surrounding snowcapped peaks, we emerged from our humble Alpine Motel in search of food and coffee. Sadly there was still half an hour before the first place opened, and that so happened to be Urban Grind.

High brick walls give this cafe a great sense of space and sitting by the roaring fire helped the extremities defrost from the near zero temperature outside. It seemed I was the only one with an appetite that morning, tucking into my baked mushrooms (12.5) with absolute joy. Rich, earthy and loaded with parmesan, peas, tiny croutons and oozing egg. Bacon on the side, of course.

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  • Urban Grind
  • 72 Ardmore Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 6748
  • website
  • Urban Grind on Urbanspoon

 

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That rocky knoll that rises 240 metres above the town is Mount Iron. Most people would drive past and not think more about it, others have the desire to climb it after breakfast. Nothing like a bit of a sweat in the morning, right? And I guess the view is pretty special – down the Cardrona and Upper Clutha Valleys, over both lakes and a virtual wall of mountains.

Speaking of Cardrona, it’s well worth the short drive to this picturesque valley to take in more of that stunning landscape. Yes there’s the famous Cardrona Hotel and that much-photographed bra fence, but a drive up towards Snow Farm Lodge offers spectacular views up and down the valley.

Sadly, for us, the fuel indicator decided to flash red halfway up, forcing us to turn around as the nearest petrol station was way back in Wanaka. Note to self – check fuel levels before driving up mountains.

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Dinner choices in Wanaka are aplenty, but it pays to book ahead or get in early, as many of the good restaurants fill up very quickly. We thought we give Francesca’s Italian Kitchen a go. Unfortunate for us was they were solidly booked, but if we were ok with it, one of the outside tables was available for the next hour. The only downside is the heaters they use are more “visual” rather than practical, and the temp was rapidly dropping to low single numbers.

All of that aside, it was well worth the slight discomfort. Francesca’s happened to be the best place we’d eaten on the entire trip, and also happened to be some of the best food we’ve eaten outside of Italy.

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For a start, the handmade beetroot agnolotti (16). Blushed and beautifully plump, the soft pillows are kept toasty and warm in browned butter, with sage, poppy seeds, vincotto and pecorino as perfectly partnered flavours.

And then the Aoraki salmon salad (20). There was no holding back on the hot-smoked salmon as it took up most of the dish alongside shaved fennel, segments of orange and a good dose of salsa verde and chilli.

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Many people avoid carbs at dinnertime, but we don’t believe in such practices. And if we did, we would have missed out on the next two plates entirely. House-made potato gnocchi (25) with braised beef shin. I mean really, how could you not?

Impossibly soft, the little dumplings were the perfect vehicle for the rich, tender ragù; generously topped with pecorino and gremolata.

The orecchiette (22) was no slouch, either. Cavolini – or Brussels sprouts –  with chestnuts, crisp prosciutto and fresh lemon. Pecorino, of course.

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Dessert didn’t disappoint. Caramelised apple tart (12) with mascarpone ice cream and a divine set lemon cream (12) that came with high praise from our wonderful waitress. Both are great, but that lemon cream, well, it made our tastebuds bounce.

Aside from the cute glass cloche presentation, the arrangement of fresh and freeze-dried mandarin, pistachios, meringue and lemon gel was enchanting. And the flavour – uplifting and incredibly light.

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  • Francesca’s Italian Kitchen
  • 93 Ardmore Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 5599
  • website
  • Francesca's Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

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Prior to setting off on the next leg of our road trip, it was breakfast at Federal Diner in the centre of town. This is another popular breakfast-brunch hang-out with a robust selection of edibles.

Baked delights tempt you as you walk in past the kitchen counter – pastries, scones and bikkies and the smell of coffee hangs in the air, tempting me order one as soon as we take a seat.

Once again it was me with the morning appetite, going vegetarian with the Hawea flat (18). Crisp fried hunks of polenta with spinach, grilled haloumi, mushrooms and tomato. A decent start to the day before more driving into the South Island wilderness.

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  • Federal Diner
  • 47 Helwick Street
  • Wanaka 9305
  • 03 443 5152
  • website
  • Federal Diner on Urbanspoon

 

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Te Anau, Milford Sound & Dunedin

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On leaving Queenstown for our little jaunt into the South Island wilderness, it didn’t take long to settle into yet another road trip that involved some smashing scenery. I’m kind of loving these road trips; an unbeatable way to immerse yourself and not having to worry about schedules and not being able to stop where you want.

Majestic mountain ranges make way to open plains and farmland where, if the timing is right, you may encounter a spot of road congestion; as we did along the southern arm of Lake Wakatipu. Trust the city folk to get excited about seeing hundreds of sheep on the road.

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Te Anau


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Barely two hours on the road and we were pulling into the driveway of our first overnighter. And check the digs we were shacked-up in. The cute and very comfy Aden Motel a block back from Lake Te Anau. All that was missing was a pair of flamingo statues. Although, the garden did have its share of colourful statuesque critters! From the very friendly Irene at the front desk and the fact that the motel is pet friendly, this place had much more homely character the bigger hotels seemed to be lacking.

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The town of Te Anau sits on the edge of Fiordland, which makes it the ideal base for day trips into the national park for walking, hiking or water sports.

Being in town at the end of winter presented us with having most of the place to ourselves. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a town so devoid of people, as the only sign of life were the people working in shops, restaurants, other businesses and the occasional tourist breezing through town.

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Aside from two local ladies and a small family of three, it was just us at The Fat Duck tucking into a hearty lunch. Pub and cafe-style food abounds at this chilled eatery in the centre of town, and it was the winter special menu that got our attention.

$20 for a main course with house vino, juice or beer couldn’t be ignored, so lambs fry with a local pinot it was, for me. Aside from the liver being overcooked and dry, the mountain of mash and very generous ladling of red wine and caramelised onion jus. My favourite part was the “jus”, a deliciously creamy sauce packed with richness.

A shot glass of highly-sugared onion chutney is amusingly embedded into the mash.

Bangers & mash it was, for the better half. Three very good pork & apple cider sausages with caramelised onions and cider gravy.

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  • The Fat Duck Cafe & Bar
  • 124 Town Centre
  • Te Anau 9600
  • 03 249 8480
  • website
  • Fat Duck Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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There’s more pub-style food to be had down the road at Bailiez Cafe & Bar, one of the restaurants at the Distinction Luxmore Hotel on the main drag. Inside and to the right is a casual bar area, to the left is the humbly-decorated restaurant complete with booths and tables that extend into a separate room.

Thai skewered chicken, blue cod and grilled steaks are the types of offerings on the family-friendly menu. There’s nothing pretentious about the Luxmore burger (26), featuring fried eggs, beetroot, bacon and two beef patties.

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Aside from the awkwardly deep bowl that made eating the Fiordland venison pie (26) a challenge, the chunks of meat were slow-cooked to toothsome tenderness. A bucket of kumara fries came with it, as did a superfluous and flavour-challenged salad of shredded iceberg, cucumber and carrot.

Soy braised pork belly (29) was a must, served atop bok choy and several discs of aromatic West Coast black pudding. The menu did mention creamy mash, but the dry, crumbly and unseasoned potato we got didn’t match up to the description.

It was the native horopito that prompted me to order the chicken wings (15.5), but sadly it went completely unnoticed. BBQ sauce sweetens the tender wings and another dose of shredded iceberg salad provides the greenery.

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  • Bailiez Café & Bar
  • 41 Town Centre
  • Te Anau 9600
  • 03 249 7526
  • website
  • Bailiez Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Very close to Bailiez is Kepler Restaurant, an eatery with more of a modern hand at the local food it dishes up. This particular visit wasn’t about exploring the menu and sampling a variety of plates. It was more like a “let’s just grab a bite and relax back at the motel” kind of visitation.

It’s difficult to miss the deer farms as you drive into town, so I’m wondering which farm the local free range venison medallions (37.5) may have come from. I was seriously impressed with this towering plate of juicy meat over sautéed savoy cabbage, portobello mushrooms and kumara & pumpkin purée. Every flavour complemented the other and the added confit cubes of beet and red currant jus brought delicious pops of sweetness.

Things weren’t so ecstatic with our other choice of tender roast lamb (27.5). I’m not sure what made both of us think of juicy lamb fillets that could have been pan-roasted. Instead, it was layers of sliced, pre-roasted and reheated lamb, just as you’d have at home or an RSL restaurant – or RSA as they call them in NZ. A tasty drenching of port & red wine jus moistened the meat, with confit potatoes and a tian-style ratatouille on the side. Dabs of sweet mint sauce sealed the deal.

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  • Kepler Restaurant
  • 1055 Town Centre
  • Te Anau 9600
  • 03 249 7909
  • Kepler Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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For the two nights we’d spent in Te Anau, breakfast was had at Sandfly Cafe. Consistently good coffee, hearty food, friendly service and some killer homemade sweet and savoury muffins. And you’ve got to love the name of the place. Clearly a reference to those pesky little local winged beasts that attack with a stinging bite.

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Aside from those delicious muffins – yes we had our share – and the cabinet stocked with cakes, tarts, slices and rolls, the brekkie menu is a celebration of egg dishes, toasties and grains.

A bacon & egg panini (9.5) fuelled me up one morning as the fluffy pancakes (13) took care of the other half on both days. We don’t think we’ve seen a place that’s so generous with berries as Sandfly is. Much appreciated, folks.

The hash brown stack (16.5) is a perfect contender to increase anybody’s cholesterol levels. Aside from the obvious, it’s a small mountain of bacon, tomato, poached eggs and buttery hollandaise.

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  • Sandfly Café
  • 9 The Lane
  • Te Anau 9600
  • 03 249 9529
  • website
  • Sandfly Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Being in Fiordland and not getting out-and-about would be a bit of a waste of time, so our agenda involved driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound. An early morning rise as a thick fog blanketed the valley pretty much as far as The Divide. Once high enough in altitude, of course, it was clear skies and valleys in the Mount Christina and Mount Lyttle region. Stunning view, as you can see above.

Before the drive through the mountain via Homer Tunnel it was a stop to take in the scenery, stretch the legs and be reminded of the biting cold outside. Fern fronds looked as if they’d been crystallised in sugar, grass crunched beneath the feet and a curious kea landed on the car to say hello. This endemic bird – the worlds only alpine parrot – looks cute enough, but it didn’t hesitate in trying to take chunks out of any rubber or plastic fittings on the car.

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Exiting Homer Tunnel provided yet another spectacular view. This time over a deep forested valley filled with fog pretty-much all the way to Milford Sound. No town, as such, can be found there. Other than the cruise terminal down on the waterfront, there’s accommodation, the Blue Duck Cafe & Bar and an information centre. Free limited wifi comes in handy when the urge to reconnect is required, even if the connection is painfully weak. Snaps to the coffee-maker, as well. So good that we went back for another top-up after our little cruise on the sound.

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  • Blue Duck Café & Bar
  • Milford Sound Village
  • Milford Sound 9679
  • 03 249 7931
  • Blue Duck Café & Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Yes it was absolutely freezing up on the roof deck of our cruise, but it’s the ruggedly beautiful scenery that trumps any icy discomfort, should you visit at the end of winter as we did. Seals bask in the sunshine at the base of sheer cliffs, snow is dusted high above the waterline and waterfalls plunge into the milky turquoise waters.

It’s the complete opposite of when we were in this area nearly twenty years ago. The weather was so cyclonic that you couldn’t see past the shore and we were advised to leave before Homer Tunnel closed and we were stranded.

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And there you have it. Magestic Mitre Peak enshrouded with clouds; the iconic Milford Sound scene that people come far and wide for.

The region is a bit of a paradise for nature enthusiasts, where visitors can stop to walk through the rainforest to The Chasm, fulfil any feathery fetishes with bird-watching or spontaneously take a left turn and see where the Hollyford Track road takes you, as we did.

Swing bridges, crystal clear creeks and rivers, wild forest and waterfalls.

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With Milford Sound and Te Anau well and truly behind us, the South Island road trip continued in a south-easterly direction with a quick early morning stop at the small township of Lumsden. It was the mural on the local pub that made me pull the car over to snap a few pics.

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Gore


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The drive from Te Anau to our destination takes a mere 3½ hours, so the morning pit stop was made in the town of Gore – home to brown trout fly fishing and home to New Zealand’s country music scene.

Breezing through town only had one requirement. Coffee. Located in the St James Theatre building is The Green Room Cafe; appropriately named and decked-out in vintage garb. Tempting cakes peered from the bench cabinet, but for us it was a couple of coffees whilst seated in old movie theatre seats.

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  • Green Room Café
  • 59 Irk Street
  • Gore 9710
  • 03 208 1005
  • website
  • Green Room Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Dunedin


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If I had one request whilst planning this trip to New Zealand, it was to see the city of Dunedin down on the southeast coastline. It’s the second largest city on the island, is home to some mighty-fine Edwardian and Victorian architecture and happens birthplace of my partners late father.

It’s pretty easy to see why it’s been labelled as the Edinburgh of New Zealand.

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Our arrival time coincided perfectly with lunch time and I had eyes for just one place. Bracken. This is the pride and joy of Ken and Fiona O’Connell, a couple that made the big move from Ireland to better the life of their family.

It’s easy to assume the name of the restaurant came from poet Thomas Bracken, an Irishman that spent most of his life in New Zealand, but it seems the name is more plant related. The bracken – that hardy fern that grows wild on almost every continent.

I was quietly hoping to see a few fiddleheads – the edible tender young heads from the bracken fern – but it wasn’t the right season. One thing I did love seeing was greens that had been foraged by either Ken himself or one of his suppliers. You’ve gotta love a chef that’s in tune with the local wild herbage.

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Local Gruff junction goat curd (17) took centre stage in the first arrival, tinted with beetroot and piped into brik pastry. Either side of the “cigar” is a silver beet salad muddled with cranberry, orange, beet relish and honey. A final chefs flourish of bee pollen completed the picture.

Then there’s the southern seafood & shellfish (16). Fish, clam, prawn and mussel wade in a shallow pool of warm crayfish verjuice cream flecked with leek, peas, potato and wakame.

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More delicious local produce came with a merino lamb rump (32), sauced-up with smoked garlic & mustard cream and kumara mash. A couple of leaves and blanched cavalo nero added greenery.

The tossed salad of crisp pork cheek (19) didn’t only featured tasty swine, but there was black pudding and chorizo in there as well. Not to mention the foraged greens, blooms, hazelnuts, apple and native horopito pepper relish.

Desserts didn’t disappoint, either. Rhubarb and custard (16) is tricked up with yoghurt, granola and maple syrup ice cream with a preserved raspberry crisp.

Or perhaps the chocolate crémeux (16) with fresh and freeze-dried mandarin, a chocolate malt soil and chocolate quince macaron.

A decadent end to a brilliant lunch.

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  • Bracken Restaurant
  • 95 Filleul Street
  • Dunedin 9016
  • 03 477 9779
  • website
  • Bracken Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Fiona from Bracken strongly suggested we take a drive into the Otago Peninsula after she learned we were in town for just one night, and the fact the weather was absolute perfection. From the centre of town it’s an easy drive along Portobello Road, hugging the harbours southern shore through bays and villages, to the northern point called Taiaroa Head.

Nature lovers flock to this part of the South Island to see seals, sea lions, penguins and a plethora of birdlife. We so happened to drop by the Royal Albatross Centre where we were lucky enough to witness many of these majestic birds and see them in flight. This is the worlds only mainland breeding colony for albatross, with all profits going straight back into the maintenance and protection of the area.

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The small city of Dunedin offers a great choice of drinking and eating venues. We gravitated north away from The Octagon to sniff out the more casual eateries past the shopping strip, settling on a bit of Indian for the night.

Shahi Tandoor is a sizeable place with a rather vibrant appearance. Orange walls and ceiling and illuminated pillars depicting bright photos of spices. As far as the menu goes, there isn’t a great deal that sets it apart from any regular Indian restaurant, and it’s difficult to ignore the very friendly service.

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The amritsari machhi (15.9) are swoon-worthy deep-fried North Indian fritters of monkfish beautifully spiced with ginger and amchoor.

My usual Indian go-to is biryani, so no exceptions were made in choosing the lamb (14) variety. The rice was quite overcooked, which made everything a little on the sloppy-side. As for the flavour, it was bang on.

Tandoori murgh (10) is also flavour-packed. Juicy little pieces of chicken fresh from the oven.

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  • Shahi Tandoor
  • 351 George Street
  • Dunedin 9016
  • 03 470 1592
  • website
  • Shahi Tandoor on Urbanspoon

 

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Not a great deal seemed to be open for early risers like ourselves. Good for us that Morning Magpie was ready for business, pulling coffees for a stream of regulars that clearly work in the neighbourhood. No work for us, however, as all we had planned for the day was a bit of driving to our next destination.

The main focus at Morning Magpie is the coffee they churn out. They’re a knowledgeable lot that strives for coffee perfection, be it from the espresso machine or pour-over.

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Many of the edibles are made in-house, often displayed on the counter for all to see. Cakes, slices, rolls and ready to-go bagel sandwiches.

One of the big and rustic savoury scrolls did us fine, as did a creamy mushroom open bagel (14). It comes loaded with spinach and cottage cheese as well. A toasted bagel would have been preferred, but it’s still a decent breakfast offering.

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  • Morning Magpie
  • 46 Stuart Street
  • Dunedin 9016
  • 03 154 0837
  • website
  • Morning Magpie on Urbanspoon

 

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As if one strong coffee wasn’t enough at breakfast, it was a speedy drop-in at Diesoline at the back of The Octagon. This little roaster and cafe offers nothing more than a handful of baked items, but we do understand you can bring your own food. You may want to check on that before you pack a lunch and nab one of the tables in this stark and sleek space.

The coffee is meticulously made and packs a real punch. Something I needed as it was my turn to drive us to the next destination.

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  • Diesoline Espresso
  • 7 Bath Street
  • Dunedin 9016
  • 03 477 7088
  • website
  • Diesoline Espresso on Urbanspoon

 

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Blacksmith

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Coming to us from the same folk behind Blacksmith up in Mona Vale, this new Surry Hills outpost has been open for a week and the locals already seem to have settled in.

The cafe takes up corner possie where Firstdraft gallery resided for almost 20 years. The exhibitions and artworks have made way for a deeply textured space that takes on a whole new personality, and it quickly becomes apparent how the name marries perfectly with the decor.

There’s metal everywhere. Be it forged, in sheet form and crafted into pendant lamps, planters and furniture. Right down to the bespoke teaspoons, breakfast skillets and metal trays. All this with exposed brick, wood, formica and terrazzo and you’ve got a unique space that fits the building as snuggly as a blacksmiths glove.

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Cabinets are filled with cakes and pastries alongside a rack loaded with loaves of fresh bread baked onsite.

Morning punters can lube up by way of fresh juice blends, smoothies, T2 teas and coffee by Toby’s Estate. We’re pretty chuffed on the beaker styling with the cold drip coffee; great the first time, but sadly, insipidly weak on another visit. Even water glasses have been given the enamelware touch.

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Breakfast covers the usuals – toasties, fruit, eggs and French toast, with a few little quirks thrown in as well. The roughforked avo (13.5) is presented salad-style rather than on the sourdough, as most would do. Watercress and baby rocket leaves with black quinoa, tomatoes and feta, plus a pop of lemon zest and paprika olive oil.

Something that’s a little more messy is the Smithy breakfast burger (14.5). A crisp brioche bun harbours bacon, pesto fried egg, beet relish and some very aromatic pickled slaw. Melted Cheddar joins in on the fun with caramelised onion that replaced the promised chilli jam. A bit of a bite would have been welcomed.

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The lunch menu features a bunch of filled baguettes, salads, even rump steak; with many V and GF options for those with intolerances and non-meat preferences.

The Derrick (13.5) is a good old mouthful of chorizo, pickled capsicum and onion with a squiggle of horseradish honey mustard. It’s declared “ok”.

And something that’s doing its rounds in Sydney at the moment – the soft-shell crab burger (21). Brioche bun, as expected, loaded with pickled Asian slaw, ribbons of fennel and “kimchi” salsa. Can’t forget the golden fried crab that beacons with its pointy claws. Not bad.

Teething problems aside, Blacksmith is sure to become another breakfast-brunch hotspot for the Surry Hillsters.

BYO beard optional.

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  • Blacksmith
  • 116 Chalmers Street
  • Surry Hills 2010
  • 02 9690 0103
  • Blacksmith Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon
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Lady J Cafe & Wine Bar

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Lady J Café & Wine Bar
  • Shop 4/310-330 Oxford Street
  • Bondi Junction 2022
  • 02 9389 3743
  • website
  • Lady J Cafe & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon
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Fergburger, Joe’s Garage, Ivy & Lola’s Kitchen & Bar, Vudu Cafe & Larder, Public Kitchen, Aggy’s Shack, Rātā, Provisions

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Fergburger
  • 42 Shotover Street
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 643 441 1232
  • website
  • Fergburger on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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  • Joe’s Garage
  • Searle Lane
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 442 5282
  • website
  • Joe's Garage on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Ivy & Lola’s Kitchen & Bar
  • Steamer Wharf, 88 Beach Street
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 643 441 8572
  • website
  • Ivy & Lola's Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

And the coffee? Well, it’s pretty smashing.

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  • Vudu Cafe & Larder
  • 23 Queen Street
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 441 8370
  • website
  • Vudu Cafe & Larder on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Public Kitchen
  • Steamer Wharf
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 442 5969
  • website
  • Public Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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  • Aggy’s Shack
  • Marine Parade
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 442 4076
  • Aggy's Shack on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dessert was unnecessary, would you believe?

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  • Rātā
  • 43 Ballarat Street
  • Queenstown 9300
  • 03 442 9393
  • website
  • Rata on Urbanspoon

 

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Arrowtown


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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.

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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.

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  • Provisions
  • 65 Buckingham Street
  • Arrowtown 9302
  • 643 442 0714
  • website
  • Provisions on Urbanspoon

 

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Seattle to Portland

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.

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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.

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  • Forks Coffee Shop
  • 241 S Forks Avenue
  • Forks 98331
  • 360 374 6769
  • website
  • Forks Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

 

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.

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  • A Shot in the Dark
  • 131 N Forks Avenue
  • Forks 98331
  • 360 374 3388
  • website
  • A Shot in the Dark on Urbanspoon

 

La Push

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • Kalaloch Lodge
  • 157151 U.S. 101
  • Forks 98331
  • 866 662 9928
  • website
  • Creekside Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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Hoquiam

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
  • Hoquiam 98550
  • 360 533 8454
  • Go Dog Go on Urbanspoon

 

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Astoria

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.

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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.

  • Bridgewater Bistro
  • 20 Basin Street
  • Astoria 97103
  • 503 325 6777
  • website
  • Bridgewater Bistro on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

  • Three Cups Coffee House
  • 279 West Marine Drive
  • Astoria 97103
  • 503 325 2755
  • website
  • Three Cups Coffee House at Columbia River Coffee Roaster on Urbanspoon

 

Portland

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.

  • Voodoo Doughnut
  • 22 SW 3rd Avenue
  • Portland 97204
  • 503 241 4704
  • website
  • Voodoo Doughnut on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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  • Caffé Vita
  • 36 SW 3rd Avenue
  • Portland 97204
  • 503 548 2930
  • website
  • Caffé Vita on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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  • Via Tribunali
  • 36 SW 3rd Avenue
  • Portland 97204
  • 503 548 2917
  • website
  • Via Tribunali on Urbanspoon

 

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.

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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.

Coffee.

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.

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  • Stumptown Coffee Roasters
  • 128 SW 3rd Avenue
  • Portland 97204
  • 503 295 6145
  • website
  • Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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  • Raven & Rose
  • 1331 SW Broadway
  • Portland 97201
  • 503 222 7673
  • website
  • Raven & Rose on Urbanspoon

 

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.

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Seattle-Portland Map b

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Seattle

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.

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  • Broadcast Coffee
  • 1623 Bellevue Avenue
  • Capitol Hill 98122
  • 206 467 4717
  • website
  • Broadcast Coffee on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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  • Mee Sum Pastry
  • 1526 Pike Place
  • Seattle 98101
  • 206 682 6780
  • Mee Sum Pastry 美心餅家 on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • Mamnoon
  • 1508 Melrose Avenue
  • Seattle 28122
  • 206 906 9606
  • website
  • Mamnoon on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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  • Café Presse
  • 1117 12th Avenue
  • Capitol Hill 98122
  • 206 709 7674
  • website
  • Café Presse on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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  • Stumptown
  • 1115 12th Avenue
  • Capitol Hill 98122
  • 206 323 1544
  • website
  • Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • SuBi Japanese Restaurant
  • 403 Madison Avenue
  • Bainbridge Island 98110
  • 206 855 7882
  • website
  • SuBI Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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  • Pegasus Coffee House
  • 131 Parfitt Way
  • Bainbridge Island 98110
  • 206 842 6725
  • website
  • Pegasus Coffee House on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Sitka & Spruce
  • 1531 Melrose Avenue
  • Capitol Hill 98122
  • 206 324 0662
  • website
  • Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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  • Homegrown
  • 1531 Melrose Avenue
  • Capitol Hill 98122
  • 206 682 0935
  • website
  • Homegrown on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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Pork fries.

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.

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  • Brass Tacks
  • 6031 Airport Way
  • Georgetown 98108
  • 206 397 3821
  • website
  • Brass Tacks on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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  • Georgetown Trailer Park Mall
  • 5805 Airport Way South
  • Georgetown 98108
  • website

 

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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.

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  • All City Coffee
  • 1205 South Vale Street
  • Georgetown 98108
  • 206 767 7164
  • website
  • All City Coffee on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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!

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  • Mistral Kitchen
  • 2020 Westlake Avenue
  • Seattle 28121
  • 206 623 1922
  • website
  • Mistral Kitchen on Urbanspoon
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Jimmy Grants, Barry, Doughboys, Gypsey & Musquito, MoVida Next Door

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44 hours in Melbourne.

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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Jimmy Grants
  • 113 David Street
  • Fitzroy 3065
  • website
  • Jimmy Grants on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Barry.
  • 85 High Street
  • Northcote 3070
  • 03 9481 7623
  • website
  • Barry on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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  • Doughboys
  • 456 Queen Street
  • Melbourne 3000
  • website
  • Doughboys Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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  • Gypsey & Musquito
  • 382 Bridge Road
  • Richmond 3121
  • 03 9939 9314
  • website
  • Gypsey & Musquito on Urbanspoon

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

I’d jump into bed with birds like this any day.

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  • MoVida Next Door
  • 164 Flinders Street
  • Melbourne 3000
  • 03 9663 3038
  • website
  • MoVida Next Door on Urbanspoon