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Monthly Archives: March, 2013

Luxury in north-east Victoria

Provenance

Provenance restaurant, Beechworth

Trips away sometimes sound like “treats” for us at Eat Drink Sleep Shop Australia because we try to sample something new and different. And we realise it’s often that way for you, our viewers, unless you’re business travellers or in the Grey Army. So while in Beechworth recently we took our host’s advice and booked in at what we were told is the best restaurant in town, The Provenance, 86 Ford St, right across the road from Freeman on Ford where we were staying: Chef (and owner) Michael Ryan and sommelier Jeanette Henderson. According to the website: “Michael Ryan’s approach to food is best described as regional contemporary; contemporary in terms of design and textures and regional with an emphasis on local and seasonal produce of the highest quality. This produces menus of originality without losing sight of traditional foundations. Provenance, in its first year of operation, received one chef’s hat from The Age Good Food Guide and two chef’s hats in its second year. Provenance (continues the website) is ranked at No. 31 in the Gourmet Traveller Top 100 restaurants of Australia.”

We arrived at 8pm on a Saturday and were seated promptly, without fuss. Drinks? We couldn’t decide so when Pip suggested she’d like a gin and tonic, I concurred, and our waitress suggested we try a Fifty Pounds Gin with their preferred mixer, the UK-based Fever Tree Indian tonic. According to that website, “Fever Tree (is) the colloquial name for the Cinchona Tree in which quinine, a key ingredient for tonic, is found”. Let’s try not to gush here but this tonic came as a complete surprise, different altogether from the run-of-the-mill mixers we had used previously. If we can find a reliable supplier, we’ll take it from here. Drinks happening, I chose “an anchovy and its fried bones” from the starters menu, and Pip selected “House made silken tofu, marinated seafood, soy, pickled ginger, salmon roe”. It’s fun to see what “an anchovy and its fried bones” actually looks like and for $4, what have you got to lose? Yummy and salty, it was, this late fish, and like Jack’s giant, I was able to grind its bones in my teeth. Pip found the tofu delicate and delightful. We moved at a measured pace to mains: (for me) Braised Berkshire pork neck, rich pork sauce, egg yolk, cabbage and poached cuttlefish salad, burnt garlic oil; (for Pip) Roasted lamb ribs, broad beans, smoked potato, cucumber, mint, chilli Myrtleford buttermilk sauce; (and to share) a salad of Stanley organic rocket, orange, Beechworth olives and parmesan. To accompany these, we selected a bottle of Bobbie Burns Shiraz from Campbell’s at nearby Rutherglen. I notice it’s not on the wine list published on the website, but there you go, it was available on the night. Our friend Geoff Turner had recommended this drop and it was worth every penny and brought back memories of our visit to the Campbells’ cellar door in July last year. Dessert? I chose the cheese: Berry’s Creek Blue (a Blue on cow’s milk from Gippsland) with quince jelly, saba, walnut bread. Pip selected a special of the evening, an apple terrine. Total for the evening, $198.50: about right, we think.

Now I could go on and on about the flavours available in this menu but I’ve come to realise it’s not just the flavours but the complexity and originality of the combinations which the chef is selling. The end result of food, after all, is taste first (including look and aroma) and then nutrition. But how we get down that road, that’s where the value is created. The intricacy of the “anchovy and its fried bones” is something you would never try at home because it’s way too fiddly but in a restaurant, for a “treat”, yes, we discovered it was well worth the trouble … his trouble, in his kitchen. To locate and then braise a Berkshire pork neck, prepare and then drizzle over the neck a rich pork sauce and then combine this with an egg yolk and a salad of cabbage and poached cuttlefish salad dressed with burnt garlic oil … this takes imagination, experimentation, not a little bravery and quite a lot of quality assurance in the production. Sourcing these ingredients is also undoubtedly expensive and time consuming, given the short shelf life of foods and Beechworth’s distance from the major providores in Melbourne (a three-hour drive). It takes staff to do all this, and then other staff to manage the tricky end-game of plating and serving, looking after the customers as all the market and kitchen work is put to the test. Of course, later, more staff to remove the plates, clear up (and wash up in the kitchen) and at the last moment, it takes software, EFTPOS equipment and training to collect the money and keep the patrons happy as they actually leave for home. All that imagination, complexity, training and wages for $37 per main course says to me that The Provenance represents excellent value for money, given everything they have to do to get that money. Oh yes, one more thing … out of that $198.50, $18.05 flies off to the government as goods and services tax! So all that earlier purchasing, rent, light, furniture, staff and expertise lavished on us during 2 hours on Saturday night brought in the sum total of $180.05. Whew, who’d be a restaurant owner?

Provenance menu

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Major new look at universities launched by Australian publisher

Uni COVER Feb 25

MELBOURNE, Australia: How have universities changed over the past 60 years? Are they any better now than they once were? And what will happen next? These are just some of the important issues that John Biggs encounters in reviewing his long academic career, a journey via Australia, the UK, Canada and Hong Kong. Tonight in one of our innovative social-media book events, Strictly Literary is proud to announce the worldwide launch of Changing Universities, John Biggs’ insightful and highly relevant memoir. It’s offered for sale as a print-on-demand paperback with a high-quality gloss cover in full colour and excellent professional binding (now printed in Australia to minimise time and delivery charges) and as an eBook in a range of formats for different reader platforms, including the popular Amazon Kindle.

J-Biggs-bcoverAs a student and as an academic, John Biggs (left) has participated in 60 years of change in universities, changes in time and in place. He graduated in psychology from the University of Tasmania in 1957 and obtained his PhD from Birkbeck College, University of London. He has held academic positions in the University of New England, Monash University, the University of Alberta, Newcastle University NSW, and the University of Hong Kong, holding full professorships in the last three. He has published extensively on learning and teaching in institutional settings. His concept of constructive alignment, described in Teaching for Quality Learning at University, has been implemented in several countries. Since retiring, he and his wife Catherine Tang have consulted on learning and teaching in higher education in several countries. Also since retirement he has published four novels (including Disguises, also now available from Strictly Literary), a collection of short stories, and a social-political history of his home state, Tasmania.

Biggs’ experiences were bizarre, traumatic, hilarious but in the end rewarding. His experiences tell us what universities were once like, how they came to be what they are today, with a hopeful stab at what they might be like in future.

Eminent academics have reviewed Changing Universities and here’s what they have had to say:

Prof John Kirby, of Queen’s University, Canada says: “Biggs is a true scholar, happiest when left to his research and teaching.”

John Hattie, Professor and Director, Melbourne Education Research Institute, University of Melbourne, writes: “There have been many books about the major changes to universities – usually decrying the managerialism, pursuit of funding, and lack of collegiality. John Biggs tells the story of change via a remarkable career – across four continents, many universities, and different cultures. The intrigue, the power users and abusers, the games, and the spineless nature of too many within these universities seem not to have changed over the last 50 years. More fun to read than the current attacks on universities, it still raises serious questions about how universities are run, for what reason, and for what benefits. This is a perfect read not only for current academics, especially those thinking of moving to Head positions, but also for outsiders who wonder what happens in the ivory towers.”

Shopping in Beechworth

BEECHWORTH: The first thing we noticed about the Main Street of this north-east Victoria town this month was the cute and apparently faithfully preserved historic shop fronts in the main shopping precinct of Ford and Camp Streets.

The second thing was that unlike many other tourist towns we’ve visited over the years, Beechworth shops are actually worth stopping at and walking into. The tired imported trinkets we’d seen and rejected in many other places — pejoratively known as tourist traps — were absent, and replaced here by delicate handmade local items, or gorgeous imported fabrics, fashions and furniture which made the three-hour journey from Melbourne well worth the effort.

That was a welcome relief. As was the pet ferret being led up Ford Street by the ageing and friendly gent.

To us shopping scholars, however, there was a third interesting thing in one section of town. The shop signs were different. Normally shops have prominent name signs out front — on the footpath and on the windows as well as on the real estate (the buildings themselves) — but this is more often not the case here, especially along the south side of Ford Steet, where the odd numbers are ranged.

The coffee shop on the main roundabout, for instance, opposite the Post Office, looked completely unnamed to us from the outside. I took enough pictures to check afterwards and it’s true enough. It didn’t seem to be hurting business, though, because there was a tiny sign in the window alerting passers-by that a certain brand of coffee, Merlo, was on sale inside. That brand comes from our hometown of Brisbane and we found ourselves sucked into the shop by a maelstrom of memories. “Do you really have Merlo coffee?” we asked the man behind the counter. “We do indeed,” he replied with a smile. “It’s what brought us into the shop,” I told him. “Ah, you’re from Brisbane,” he said. Now that’s what I call clever. Merlo coffee has a good reputation anywhere and will probably get most drinkers through the door. But as a name brand in a foreign country like Victoria, it will definitely lure the Queensland mob in!

We continued walking uphill along the odd side of Ford Street, photographing and shopping and the sign trend continued. There were signs on the buildings visible from across the street, but few visible right there on the footpath. The grocery store, then Hotch Potch the kitchen shop, and Frances Pilley the very classy giftware shop … Same.

Big change at the top of the hill opposite the church, appropriately on the corner of Church Street. There we found the Beechworth Honey Experience, which had plenty of signs. But this is an amazing shop altogether … A truly experiential retailer. You can taste, touch, hear, examine and watch bees and bee products until the cows come home. Pip bought three different varieties of flavoured honey, a honey and ginger sparkling drink and a honey hand lotion. And John — perpetually the youngest child — stood mesmerised by the exposed working bee hive, with the little buggers crawling all over their mates, then buzzing up the clear Perspex pipe to freedom and back. And in memory of our scientific ancestor Keith, John peered down microscopes at bee eyes, bee wings and hairy bee legs!

The north side of the street (even numbers) told a slightly different story. Here there were more signs — including sandwich boards and hanging from the awnings overhead — but still strangely diffident. In one case, at The Growing Suitcase, the sign was painted on the door but then casually obscured by some wonderful fashions owner Rob Cowell had hung there for display. Lovely shop, very French.

Nearby I also loved the Beechworth Boudoir, piled high with frilly, lacy and other bedroom delights, including a complete bedroom along the back wall.

Around Camp Street we found where all the signs had gone. Here there was a surfeit of signs, more than you could poke a stick at. Especially cluttered was the Beechworth Sweet Company, which was practically covered in signs at the front, including instructions on how and where to enter and exit the shop. Unsubstantiated guess: but it looks like they’ve had some problems with sticky fingered customers here … now there’s a surprise. Probably a function of the tender age of the majority of shoppers … That might account for the number of signs inside about watching small children and paying for broken delicate goods.

Across the street at the news agency, there’s a different kind of sign … suggesting loyalty and provenance … something journalists of the 21st century crave and need now perhaps more than anything else.

Rodriguez: Just like an ordinary legend

rod on stage2

Just about all the 2400 seats at Hamer Hall in the Victorian Arts Centre were full last night for the first night of a two-night stand by iconic minstrel Sixto Rodriguez, profiled in the 2012 Academy-award winning cult movie Searching for Sugarman but better known among oldies for his albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971).

Rodriguez, 71 this year, came on stage soon after 10pm following an hour’s warm-up by supergroup The Break – drummer Rob Hirst (of Midnight Oil) bassist Brian Ritchie (of Violent Femmes) Jim Moginie on guitar/theremin/keyboard and Martin Rotsey on guitar (two more former Oils) with Jack Howard (Hunters & Collectors) on trumpet and flugelhorn (see their website).

They’re a fully-surf music retro group and the highlight for me was cottoning on to Bombora by The Atlantics, the 1963 surf classic. They played in front of a huge screen on which was projected a series of surf movies and the occasional parkour (free running) adventure.

The crowd took an interval of 20 minutes before starting a slow handclap for the guest of honour, possibly the only country in the world where this might be considered a compliment.

And then he was there … I’ve finally scratched off a big Bucket List item tonight. I’ve met Mother Teresa, Noel Paul Stookey (Peter Paul & Mary) and David Attenborough and been to Burt Bacharach and James Taylor concerts … all Bucket List biggies. But I never dreamt I’d make a Rodriguez gig. Halfway through his set he quipped: “Call me Rodriguez, and I just wanna be treated like an ordinary legend.”

He began by donning a red, black and white cap and singing the Oil’s anthem Redneck Wonderland.

Four songs in (after Crucify your Mind) he covered the Cole Porter standard Just One of Those Things, previously covered by Frank Sinatra.

Immediately after Frank, the crowd was clapping and singing along to I Wonder.

Rodriguez standards including Establishment Blues and Sugar Man held the set together but more classic covers included Johnny Cash’s Sea of Heartbreak, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes and Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, which he served up as his first encore after a 5-minute standing ovation enticed him back on stage. The last song of the evening, nearing midnight, was Can’t Get Away, and then he did.

Ever seen a mosh pit full of 60-year-olds?

Wine by the glass, by the bottle … oh, is that a crate?

It’s like an Ark, or a flood of wine

WINE COMES into Eat Drink Sleep Shop Australia like animals into Noah’s Ark, two-by-two. Perhaps it’s not so unusual since one of us likes white and the other prefers something pinker or redder.

But as the bottles trundle in for sampling and enjoyment, their labels and other accoutrements also tell stories, so we’ve prepared a little picture gallery to accompany today’s yarn.

For instance, the iconic and very popular Ten Minutes by Tractor winery and cellar door on the Mornington Peninsular south-east of Melbourne includes a tractor logo on nearly everything, including its metal screw caps. Cap art is not new but it’s normally words: this is the first time I’ve seen an embossed illustration. Let us know if you’ve seen any …

On the back label, TenX (as they seem to abbreviate the brand) has adopted the now-common Quick-Response codes to steer shoppers to their website.

And for a quick review: the 2010 Estate Chardonnay impressed us as our Wine of the Christmas Season (we went back for more) and the Rosé was lovely, lightly fruity but still dry enough for our taste.

THIS MONTH we ventured into the wilds of Carlton North, Melbourne, to Enoteca Sileno and the 60th birthday of what the locals probably regard as an institution: a corner wine shop, a deli and a restaurant in Lygon Street. Their menu offerings captivated the three of us on a Saturday evening but the wine was an even more alluring call. We fell prey to the 2011 Jacot Friulano “Ronco Calaj”, from north-east Italy and which tasted of chardonnay but also of sunshine; and a cheeky little prosecco, Furlan, also from the north-east.

WE don’t normally have to go far for quality drops … down the end of our street to Auburn Wine Cellars, Hawthorn East. So on the way home from work on this Friday I chose a Spanish 2010 Garnacha (visit http://www.docampodeborja.com/en/imperiogarnacha.html) and a delightful 2009 chardonnay from Dixons Creek in the Yarra Valley. The wine tasters at home immediately ordered me to purchase more.

WHY GO OUT when the wine man can come to us? We received a call from Stuart, a roving rep for the Pieroth winery, who lugged his chiller box into Hawthorn for our benefit. There was at least half a dozen varieties hidden in there from Europe, New Zealand and here in Australia but we settled on a Te Atanga New Zealand sauvignon blanc (13% alc/vol) and a 2005 Victorian “Big Mamma” Red Diamond with a delightful 15.5% alcohol kick. Hmmmmm. Been drinking these ever since.

LAST but definitely not least is the journalists’ offerings in the Eat Drink Sleep Shop wine round-up. We stopped in at Get Wines Direct (161 Burnley St  Richmond) and lo and behold, there is a pinot noir called Headlines (from Griffith) and a chardonnay called Bylines (from Margaret River). If you’re a journalist and understand the significance, please comment and let us know you’re there … another one for the wine list.

Keep drinking …

When gluten is ‘out’

We don’t pretend to be experts on gluten-free products but members of the house who avoid gluten because of its inflammatory side-effects say the search for quality bread and pasta seems endless and disappointing.

As a result we rarely purchase gluten-free breads or pastas.

But recently we received word of three new products from LifeStyle Bakery in South Australia to try. These were Gluten Free Soy Linseed Loaf, Gluten Free Chia & Quinoa Loaf and Gluten Free Fruit Loaf.

lifestyleGF

While all these products were more than acceptable the Gluten Free Chai & Quinoa Loaf really was surprising, in the best possible way.

Our tasters found it to be flavoursome with the best “bready” consistency of all the GF breads we’ve tried so far.

The bread is soft but not sticky and heavy and tastes great.

Of the three products we thought it was the best … although we also enjoyed the Fruit Loaf and the Soy Linseed Loaf.

So thank you LifeStyle Bakery … we will definitely look for your yummy bread.

Melbourne Food and Wine: Meatopia

We visited the Meatopia event today as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and what a good time we had.

For our $50 a head we enjoyed very minimal queuing, friendly staff, fabulous food and enough drinks to satisfy us during this Melbourne heatwave and still legally drive away.

We booked online on Saturday night (thanks credit card) and rolled up to the Middle Park Hotel in trendy St Kilda/South Melbourne around 12:15pm as the lines were starting to form.

But instead of dreadful delays, we found easy access and speedy issue of our event food and beverage cards within minutes: for the $50, three food items and three drink items each.

A short queue for a plate of rare Cape Grim beef, a hop to delicious pork and ribs to die for, a little line up for pear cider and James Squire stubbies, and we were holding all the cards for a great lunch.

“Holding” was the key word … standing in a pub full of nearly 400 patrons and all tables full. Arms full too.

Thank heavens for the wait staff member with the delightful brogue and thoughtful approach who found us a table and stole some bentwood chairs to make our day.

Now then, picked those plates clean. What next?

There’s a short line for the BBQ’d chicken and even shorter for the goat and wallaby — which by the way equaled the pork as favourite for the day — and let’s have another pear cider, Cricketer’s Arms beer and James Squire.

Polished those off, starting to slow down, must be time for some of those antipasto delights and southern Australian cheeses, yep.

Venison, pork and beef salami, goats cheese, ash rind and — what’s that? pickled peaches and apricot aioli? Hmmm, this’ll do.

What’s that, another cider? And then someone in the party suggested coffee and some of the delightful ice cream — pistachio in one, raspberry in the other — and OMG, another James Squire.

And that was that, mid-afternoon, off into the heatwave. Don’tcha love Melbourne?

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