Two of our clients have interesting natural last-minute gift ideas for people in or near Brisbane.
I held one and they’re quite substantial … made of 18mm marine-grade plywood to exacting international standards.
Kelly (who holds two Masters degrees in environmental science) told me that while the boxes are similar designs for these species, there are important differences.
Gliders like their entry door at the back because they’re secretive creatures but parrots like theirs at the front (with a doorstep pole as well) so they can stand there and strut their stuff.
The boxes are priced at less than $100 and are currently on sale for Christmas. So check out her website to finalise your order: www.melomys.net.au.
Next, talented woodworker Bevan Blackshaw hand makes a wide range of useful Australian native timber gadgets and furniture.
I was captivated (and purchased) one of these top-selling “book birds”. Try this … insert thumb in hole and place inside spine of opened paperback or hardcover printed book. Voila! Book stays open, single-handedly. $12.35 + shipping.
Very happy to let you know that our business experience and expertise is now available through the TAFE Queensland Small Business Solutions program, which offers business mentoring for a low one-off fee of $395. If you or a friend have a small business which could use the tried and tested advice and methods described here, please contact TAFE here and mention my name. Available all through Central and South-East Queensland. I have run businesses in publishing, retail, and (of course) small-to-medium sized journalism enterprises.
Many families move house at Christmas time and this professional removalist’s box is sure to come in handy. We had it professionally constructed to move 5 cubic metres of our furniture across half the country (Victoria to Outback Queensland) and now it’s ready for its next user. Only $300 to purchase and free pick-up in Longreach. The box — technically called a “lift van” — can be shipped by rail to you but the shipping will be extra. Phone John on 0413 004 138 or email now.
We spend a lot of time knocking back cheese and wine and so when we received this email share … well, we couldn’t resist!
On Sunday we ventured north-west to the Talbot Farmers’ Market outside Ballarat and it was a revelation of the happy kind.
We’ve visited this tiny rail stop on off-days (as have friends) and it’s practically dead. You could fire a gun up the main street and not hurt a soul. But on market days, it’s humming! Wine, food, flowers, produce and nic-nacs … all there.
We noticed VRail was opening their new station that day, perhaps that helped?
But the find of the trip was on the way back home to Ballan, at the tiny locality of Coghills Creek.
There we stopped at the 30-year-old vineyard Eastern Peake and yarned with owner Norman Latta over a glass or two of his excellent wines. Norm and son Owen offer a range of classic wines with made-up names such as “Pinot Tache Blanc du Noir” (a delightful rose) and “Appellation Ballarat” (an inviting pinot noir, 2010 was the year for us).
And for lovers, they’re having a Valentine’s Day party: details here. The Victorian countryside is practically dripping with produce this season … take it in!
In philosophy class in Sydney during the late 1970s I learnt a very strong and useful lesson, that what we do depends on who we are. Technically, this is expressed as essence (or identity) informs action, but more anecdotally my professors taught me that “do follows be”.
This maxim had quite a pedigree: Dr Wilf Radford channelling Dr Austin Woodbury channelling St Thomas Aquinas channelling a collection of ancient luminaries such as Aristotle and Plato. Across the years I have become aware of many (many!) competing perspectives, principally the doctrine that “form follows function” which I understand as the reverse of “do follows be” or something like “we are what we do” (compared with my preferred framework, “we do what we are”).
Happily the years have also helped me understand something I didn’t grasp when I was a young philosophy student, something which my professors probably understood all too well but were not anxious to see in my typed or laboriously handwritten college assignments: a well-adjusted understanding of life includes a well-stirred mixture of “do follows be” and “form follows function”.
Fast-forward 35 years to my current quest to understand shopping, retail, and many other things cultural as one way to understand journalism better. When I buy items or services and try them out, I experience their design and their usefulness but if I’m careful and check in my peripheral-vision mirror, I can also see my own actions expressing some of my personal identity. What I buy and how I use it today says something about who I am now, but these factors can also influence who I become tomorrow.
I was interested to see how this works in practice. Earlier this year I decided to invest $659 in a do-it-yourself raised garden bed system from Birdies Gardens on the Gold Coast. The buying decision came from our joint household desire to acquire such a garden bed for our little mansion in Ballan, because one of us is already a gardener and one of us wants to become a gardener (or is willing to give it a shot). Essence and identity was actively informing action.
But I also wanted to buy and try the raised garden bed for review on Eat Drink Sleep Shop Australia because that’s what we do here, and it was an opportunity for the function of blogger to inform happened next.
The act itself of buying was not particularly riveting even though, in engineering terms, it was a fairly complex process of deploying web browsing software, online searching using Google algorithms, hypertext mark-up language, shopping cart software, electronic funds transfers and email protocols.
But the trying … the acts of receiving, assembly and use? Now, they were character building in the true sense of “form follows function”. Step 1, delivery. This took a lot longer than the five days promised when we ordered. I fired off a polite email in the direction of the Gold Coast and received a prompt and repentant reply, saying that there had been a problem in the factory and a delay in putting together our order. However, everything was on its way now and would we please accept two gifts as compensation: a Birdies gardener’s planting bench and two Birdies worm towers?
“Well, yes, thanks very much, why not?” we replied, and within a few days two large and heavy boxes landed on the front slab next to our little garden shed. Formidably heavy boxes. Formidable enough to stop me moving them anywhere so I simply cut them open right there on the first available Saturday morning and started the “easy process of assembly”.
Remember our DIY-assembly compost tumbler and the handy shelving? I reckoned I could safely double the advertised assembly time (the tumbler box said “assemble in minutes” and took more than an hour) but what is a multiple of “easy assembly”?
Here’s what you find in the boxes: 20 pieces of 820mm-high coated corrugated metal like the Zincalume you use on your garden patio or shed, and four steel L-shaped corner supports; each of the metal pieces is drilled with two lines of 11 holes and once these are overlapped and aligned, this makes 24 joins around the cross-shaped garden bed.
According to the instructions, each hole gets a bolt, two washers and a wing-nut, so … lemmee see (reaching for pencil behind ear) that’s a jigsaw puzzle with 1080 individual pieces. No, wait: there is also a long piece of rubber lining to go inside the corner supports and another to go around the rim as a safety protector … 1082. This was starting to look daunting even though the instruction sheet was barely a page long, including a detailed diagram. A Saturday morning cinch was turning into a major exercise.
There was another element to the puzzle. Each of the 20 corrugated sheets came with a sheet of cling-film attached to protect the light-tan “paperbark” paintwork but this feature was not mentioned in the instructions. Carefully removing the plastic film took more time and effort but was not included in the “easy assembly” time.
And so I began. At first I started timing myself for this blog report but after the first few hours I gave that away as a bad joke. It would be not only ridiculous to try to count this job in minutes and hours but also time-consuming and annoying in itself. Clearly I had underestimated the job. Let’s just get on with it.
But internally I began to grumble. Grrrr. Remove the cling film, line up the corrugated sheets, get a bolt, two washers and a nut and whack them through the top few holes in each vertical line so that I could achieve a relatively rigid structure in the windy Ballan springtime conditions before returning to fill in the remaining holes.
I realised I was gradually fencing myself in because it was easier to work on the inside of the garden so that the bolt heads not the wing-nuts appeared on the outside of the metal (to match the advertising images). So I found a stool as a step on the inside and a bale of pea straw as a step on the outside and plugged on.
Our young Swedish friend Miranda arrived from Melbourne and found herself press-ganged as a bolt-washer-wing-nut assistant for the holes close to the ground. I had discovered that despite all my good intentions it was physically impossible for me to stand on either side of the corrugated structure and reach down to fit a bolt and washer from one side and (while holding them steady) attach a washer and wing-nut on the other side. We didn’t realise it but it was our choice of the 820mm-high raised bed which had caused this; I would need orang-utan arms to do the job on my own. Thanks Miranda!
The sun was firmly nestling in the western sky by the time Miranda and I had worked our way around the structure and reached the stage where most of the 24 joins had some nuts and bolts in place and the garden bed was finally standing: about half complete. But, ah yes, the old problem of “instruction sheet not matching what’s in the box” finally raised its head. Two things became very obvious: many of the holes which were supposed to line up didn’t; and we were going to be short of washers by a long way.
Grrrr! More grrrr! Check the instructions again; check the diagram. Well, for a start the diagram clearly shows a rubber washer on the inside of each wing-nut and there were none of them. But it also shows a separate steel washer on the inside and the outside. But what’s this? A closer examination suggests that the head of the bolt is roughly the same size as the washers … perhaps the bolt people had supplied bolts with washers incorporated but had not told the instructions people to change their text and diagram?
The local hardware is just across the street so next morning I strolled over and for a handful of change I bought 100 more washers which would hopefully complete the job. It turned out I needed more than 100 but as the job progressed I became less and less obsessed with perfection at each join (bolt, washer, washer, nut) and keener simply to finish the #@$#! job. By mid-afternoon all the holes that lined up were fastened. I did a tour de force with our mighty little Ozito cordless drill to tighten up all the fastenings and as I went, one or two more of the recalcitrant holes came into alignment … fix those one at a time.
Stand back! Now it’s easy to see why all those holes had not lined up perfectly. I was working on a piece of ground which had previously been levelled as a car-parking area: nearly flat but not perfect. Lay a spirit level along the top edge of the raised garden bed (better still, just squat down and look with a beady eye) and the problem is obvious. It looks as though the holes have been machine-measured and engineered for installation on a flat surface and would be perfect on a similarly machine-measured and engineered surface. But there you go … my garden is flat but not perfect, like most gardens, and so a percentage of those holes will forever remain unfulfilled.
Tell you the truth I can’t really bring myself to care right now: the structure seems fine, the dedicated gardener in our family is very happy, and if any of those damned holes leak I’ve got a solution: Selley’s pipe and gutter gunk (sealant) ought to do the trick just fine!
NEXT … fill the above-ground swimming-pool sized void. We visited Crossroads garden supplies at the edge of town and consulted the guru … he reckoned we’d need four bales of pea straw to line the base and provide nutrients, topped with 5 cubic metres of half-and-half soil-compost mix: $270 later, including delivery, and the ingredients were piled in the yard, waiting.
Naively, I had imagined us plonking the straw bales into the bottom of the void then the garden truck backing up and tipping the soil inside, job done. Ho ho: not so fast. “The little truck that could” couldn’t reach over those 820mm sides so we scored a big shovelling job. Divvied-up it was a morning’s hard labour. Our Central Victorian Highlands’ version of the Antarctic blizzard made this a nerve-wracking and challenging task but doesn’t beer taste better when the gardening’s done?!
Back to my philosophical ramblings … my conclusion is that the imperfections in my garden, which revealed the consequential imperfections in the engineered design, have helped me stop obsessing about perfection and get closer to a more peaceful state of mind (“near enough is good enough”).
This is a reassuring result for me and one which can be useful in my work as a reviewer of products and services. Might even be something in this for other reviewers.
Many reviewers, especially in the food and travel field, but also in the literature and new products fields, draw attention to imperfections. I know; I have done it myself and have read and edited thousands of similar literary, movie, food, wine and accommodation reviews since 1981. Drawing attention to imperfections does what sociologist Daniel Miller says some academics do to other academics: make yourself look big by making others look small.
You see it a lot: Reviewer X goes to Restaurant Y and criticises the service, the ambiance, the ingredients, the style of cooking, and then the amount of the bill at the end. Many reviews go so far as to allocate a score for these features, effectively ranking the restaurant on a long list from “perfect” to “rotten”. I think this encourages the next guest to look for imperfections instead of enjoying the overall experience, and it encourages customers to anticipate being ripped off, sometimes even before they sit down.
Wouldn’t it be better for us journalist-reviewers to focus on the excellent aspects of a meal, or a performance, or a holiday/travel experience? There’s no need to sugar-coat everything or to ignore frustrating moments, but in my experience frustrating moments can be exploited in the telling of a story without trashing a product or a service.
Take the bolts, washers and our raised and filled garden. In the end the important things were that the price was affordable, the service pleasant and accommodating, and the construction and filling worked fine in the end, with a few minor adjustments and allowances. Now, a month later, the veges and flowers are shooting up and soon we’ll be harvesting.
Maybe I’m becoming a gardener after all?
Our lifelong friend Dallas Scott has gone into retail in the Outback town of Longreach, Queensland. and opened “The Garden Shed”, a spot for specialty botanical-theme gifts. Always the practical one, Dallas says she has stocked her shop with practical wares, “to be put to good use immediately … no dust & bug collecting!”
So practical that her shop provides free Wi-Fi for customers, lovely!
Dallas describes “The Garden Shed” (in Crane Street … every street in Longreach is named after a bird) as “a taste of South Melbourne in Longreach” and for once a sloganny-sounding promotion is rooted in truth … daughter Patience lives in South Melbourne and has added her tasteful stocking advice and big-city brands to the line-up. Let’s see: Helen Kaminski hats, Portmerion Botanical china, Mor Marshmallow products, French Hansi lemonade and mustards as well as what Dallas says are “the most expensive tea towels offered in Australia”.
As well as practical, Dallas is also generous: she says: “Every month a selected charity will be showcased in the Garden Shed to raise awareness and collect gold coin donations for the charity.”
It’s been a couple of weeks since our last eating + drinking + shopping expedition but one thing’s for certain: north-west Victoria has loads to offer and there’s never a dull moment.
We tried two very different restaurants competing – it seems – in the same market, and within about an hour’s drive of each other.
Gladioli in the tiny town of Inverleigh north of Geelong, offers an evening of what I can only describe as “entertainment with food”. It’s a degustation establishment, which means the normal thing is for the chef and staff to serve you either a five-course or an eight-course set “tasting menu”. Some days of the week a la carte is available.
We dined with friends on a Saturday night late in June which was a tasting menu evening ($75 a head, wine extra) and the experience was at the same time entertaining, enjoyable and tasty … but I think the main effect was indeed “entertainment with food”. For those unfamiliar with the contemporary trend, this is the kind of food you see on television devised by British chef Heston Blumenthal … unusual, somewhat experimental and definitely not “run of the mill”. At the far end of the spectrum is the school of “Molecular gastronomy” but I’m not sure Gladioli chef Matthew Dempsey has gone all the way. See what you think of the olive oil powder and report back by email. The staff put on an impressive performance when they troop out of the kitchen bearing each course simultaneously for each guest. This is how degustation should happen.
Coincidentally, the next night we booked at Sault, at a whistle-stop to the north called Sailor’s Falls, just outside the tourist spa town of Daylesford (and about 30 minutes’ drive from the Eat Drink Sleep Shop Australia’s headquarters in the town of Ballan, central Victoria).
Sault is more an a la carte establishment and that suited us fine after the degustation experience the previous night. With a minor concession to this, we started with the Sault tasting plate for entrée, which allowed us a morsel of the chef’s selections without having to make too many decisions early on.
Also different was the ambiance of the dining room, overlooking a gorgeous lake and lavender farm. Admittedly at the end of June, the fields were a little bare and the outlook decidedly wintery, but it’s all part of the charm. We moved on to luscious mains of venison and salmon: the fish a dependable standard in this part of Australia, while the venison (teamed with a yummy beetroot salad) is becoming more common and indeed should be.
Something unusual and a pleasant addition to the standard service is Sault’s menu glossary, which the waiters point out when they deliver the menus as you sit down. The glossary provides an expert but simply phrased explanation of any more unusual items available that night, such as where the food has been sourced, how the chef works his magic, and anything else out of the ordinary.
Perhaps it has the effect of standardising the message of what’s on offer and why it’s special; perhaps it means a little less work for the wait staff (but they seemed very willing to talk); but all in all we found it an interesting addition and worthwhile. We finished with a pear tart for Pip and a cheese plate for me. Total for the evening came to $211.60 including drinks.
This month’s Shopping News round-up:
We started in Inglis Street, the main drag of our new hometown, Ballan. There’s lots to enjoy here and no doubt we’ll write more as time goes by.
This trip we called in at The Skin Inn for some mittens.
Further along we visited Pam at Zirela Fashions who sold Pip a couple of comfy skivvies. Pam told us the origin of her shop name: a combination of the first three letters (backwards) of her surname Rizzo (that’s the ‘Zir’) and the last three letters from her first name (that’s the “ela” from Pamela).
Later we called in at Victoria (Tor) Roxburgh’s Omnibus Art Gallery and commissioned a rustic-finish garden bench (above) by locals Sarah and Paul Springfield. In a previous life this was someone’s double bed-head; now it’s been repurposed for our garden. Omnibus Art’s website notes it is the creative base for artist Velislav Georgiev and Roxburgh, a writer. “The gallery complex was designed by Velislav and is based on the idea of a traditional artist’s complex, which is a place where an artist can live, produce work and trade. They also have a FaceBook page.
The next village west from Ballan is Gordon (about 10 minutes’ drive) and in keeping with its Scottish sounding heritage, it’s home to two shops of impeccable UK heritage.
First we found the Shambles Antique Centre, tucked away beside the main street corner and source of this pair of Gaye Abandon tubeway armies fingerless gloves which Pip just could not resist.
But the chief find of the afternoon was Sheina and Bob Petch’s establishment, the Wild Trout’s Gordon Hat Shoppe. If you make it into Gordon and are standing at the crossroads of Old Melbourne Road, opposite the pub, you’re there.
Pip was in the mood for buying and secured this delightful green and blue (with mauve accents) traditional hand-woven Harris Tweed Celtic gypsies’ cap ($58), a modified design which they say originated in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.
I fastened on to this typical Irish and Welsh-style eight-piece Harris Tweed floppy Breton cap ($88), very King of the World.
The hats are lovely and warm but the experience of shopping in the Wild Trout with Bob and Sheina (and their dog Chloe) was something completely unexpected and welcoming. We were there on a rainy Sunday afternoon and the place was packed with shoppers, looking for cuddly treats.
We seem to have fallen into a Garden of Eden in this part of central Victoria. Impressively hidden along the Avenue of Honour in Bacchus Marsh, 30 minutes north-west of Melbourne, is the Fruits of Life grocery and deli (plus a coffee shop and ice cream parlour for all seasons). It might be in the Garden of Eden but it’s also an Aladdin’s Cave, with some of the neatest and most appealing shelf displays we’ve encountered. And out the front, an innovative spinner from which hang hands of bananas ready to be grabbed.
In the relatively “Big Smoke” of Ballarat further west lies Wilsons Fruit Market, a secret which we suspect the locals want to keep quiet. When one stumbles on such delights in a capital city, they tend to get trampled to death and loved into oblivion. Somehow I can’t imagine that happening here.
In the hardware
At Bunnings Ballart I paid $99 for a swish-looking 180-litre tumbling composter imported from Israel, made by the firm D.F. Omer of Tel-Aviv. I liked the look of the unit, the price was the best on the shelf, and most appealing of all was the big sticker “assembles in minutes”.
So how did this work out in practice? Firstly, let me say the tumbling composter is now assembled in our back yard, and it looks beautiful. I reckon it will be every bit as good as our last compost tumbler which was manufactured in Brisbane from galvanised steel and which set us back more than three times the price.
But was this a job of “minutes” or was the story something a little different? Here’s how it went:
I started the assembly process at 11am and by 12:20pm with no stops I had the unit finally set up and working. Time to completion, 80 minutes.
Part of the time was spent watching the multimedia “instruction booklet” which is provided using a Quick-Response Code printed on the glossy green packaging. If you haven’t encountered a QR Code before, this is the speckly square artwork you often see on posters and wrapping. Point your iPhone at the code, snap (using a free downloaded decoder) and your iPhone spirits you to a website where the sought-after content is published. In this case, a video demonstration of a young bloke unpacking the tumbling composter and then, piece by piece, assembling it. The whole video runs for 14 minutes 5 seconds and in practice, you have to watch every last bit of the film to make sure you don’t do anything wrong … so it’s going to take you at least 14 minutes 5 seconds.
But not only 14:05 … for me, I had to watch some sections several times to get the drift, and then stop the movie to actually do the steps shown in the video. Sometimes I had to watch a scene two or three times to work out how to do it properly. More than once I had to resort to the printed booklet also included with the kit, to make sure I had the right idea.
But unlike nearly every time I buy something from IKEA or similar stores and try to assemble it, I never had to backtrack and undo what I had just done, so the verdict is: the combination of the video tutorial and the printed booklet had me finished in what now looks like reasonably good time, with a well-engineered product. Time will tell, obviously, but at this stage, things are looking up.
Things to remember: for starters, I had to complete the assembly job on the veranda outside my office, in range of our home Wi-Fi router system because the instructions were online and the video would not download over 3G … apparently I needed the stronger wireless signal. Also, I needed the know-how of the QR-code camera and decoder system to get the video in the first place, otherwise I would have had to manage with the printed booklet.
Viewing the video required a little more dexterity than using the booklet, because I had to be able to work the iPhone video player controls and then quickly pause the movie, put the phone down and attack the job with screwdriver and tools before going on to the next section.
Having finished the tumbling composter job, I turned my hand to the next task: putting together a rack of DIY shelving also picked up at Bunnings. Same idea … we selected the 5-tier Romak shelving system because it was under $100 ($94.86) and because printed boldly on the colourful label were those enticing words “simple instant assembly”.
Now I’ve put similar shelving systems together before and I know the word “instant” has a spectrum of meanings. In this case I was able to manage go to whoa in 40 minutes (12:30-1:20pm). So no one would call that “instant” and if I didn’t have my trusty rubber mallet and my previous experience handy, I might have found the assembly a little more challenging than “simple”, but all in all, not bad, and in the shed the unit is standing quite strong and firm.
And finally a quiz, or is that a poll, or is it a review? We’re heading north to Brisbane and during the trip we hope to have a tasting at Monty’s Chocolates, where our younger one Erin is a new staff member. We hope to taste some of their reportedly exquisite imported chocolates so we have been boning up on chocolate varieties available locally.
Until Erin started work at Monty’s we didn’t really appreciate the sweeping range of chocolates now available in Australia. It’s no longer just Cadbury Country or MacRobertson’s Down Under.
In Milawa we picked up a 45g block of “Koko Black 80% Dark” on the same outing as an intriguing 45g box of organic, “anti-oxidant rich” Pana Chocolate (60% cacao) flavoured with blue-green algae.
Later in Ballarat, at the Mocha Shop and Café in Bridge Mall, we tried a 75g block of Madécasse sea salt and nibs (63% cocoa, “crunchy with a touch of salt”), and a 200g gift box of Newman’s Ginger chocolates (with a homesick touch of Buderim ginger).
The Koko Black might appeal to the connoisseur with its rich, dark and bitter notes, just as a mysterious Islay single-malt whiskey, with its salty, peaty medicinal tang grabs the attention of a Scotch aficionado.
And the Newman’s, with its dependable and possibly conventional sweet and sour blend of ginger and creaminess, will appeal to most fanciers, especially on the table after dinner with coffee (as indeed we enjoyed it that night).
Most challenging of this selection was the Pana Chocolate with blue-green algae, followed closely past the flag by the Madécasse sea salt and nibs. This is definitely going to be a matter of taste, but if you can, grab a morsel of each and let us know what you think.
See you next time!
Bizarre shop story: our good friend Sue Smith, founder and owner of Spinifex Collections gift shop in Longreach, Outback Queensland, tells me she answered the phone one day at work and discovered it was a Skype call from Norway.
“It was someone who’d been told that mine was the sort of shop that would stock reindeer hides!” Sue said.
“Well yes, I like all things unusual and especially if they’re natural 🙂
“The long and the short of it was that this person had married a Norwegian, was living in Norway and had visited a tannery there.
“She thought she should share some of the hides with her home country!
“She said they retailed between $300 and $400.
“I had them shipped to my door after paying for them sight unseen (plus duty and GST before Customs released them) but found I could still make some money at a RRP of $285!”
Sue admits she suffered a minor buyer’s remorse: “I thought I’d bought many more than I’d ever sell but decided I would sew excess into vests and jackets.
“However, at the rate they’ve sold in the short time since I’ve had them, I’m starting to think I’ll have to get more to keep up with demand! I hope things continue in this vein!”
On her website Sue describes them as: “All the way from Norway … beautifully tanned, thick and softly luxurious … perfect sofa throws, to snuggle up to on those chilly winter nights, to place in front of the fire or hang on the wall just to look at. The colours are varied from all white to nearly all brown, with splotches and splashes and the size is large calf.”
Sue sent us one to try out and she’s right … beautifully tanned, thick and softly luxurious is a perfect description. We’ve got it on our bathroom floor and in our chilly Ballan mornings (sometimes freezing outside) it’s perfect on the toes. Thanks Sue!
Do you have a Bizarre Shop Story to share with us? firstname.lastname@example.org or just write a comment here …
The Queen’s Birthday Weekend (last weekend) was our chance to visit the King Valley Prosecco Road wine trail in north-eastern Victoria, a much-awaited return visit to Beechworth and a chance to return to favoured old haunts are well as to sample new places.
We started at Brown Brothers winery for a tasting of their non-vintage Prosecco and to soothe an old wound. You see, last time we visited in March, the place was so busy we couldn’t get a shoulder in edgewise at the tasting bar and actually left disgruntled and in a huff … which takes a bit of doing at such a gorgeous winery.
This time, on Friday June 7, and around 10am, we found much more attention from the tasting room staff and much more room to move. The ladies serving were at the top of their game and ran us graciously through the tasting list. We tried the latest Patricia Chardonnay (the launch of which had interrupted our previous visit, it turns out) and a Banksdale single-vineyard Chardonnay … We also tried a Tempranillo blend and came away with two bottles and a membership of their wine club. Persistence pays off for winemakers as well as shoppers.
This was the day before the King Valley region’s seasonal festival Wines Fit For a King and a more winery specific festival Chrismont’s Festa Rustica right at the end of the promotionally named Prosecco Road.
So really it suited us because we could still find the wineries in their finery, still enjoy tastings, but beat the expected crowds!
We certainly beat them to Paul Bettio wines near the top of the valley. There we found only Helen Bettio behind the counter and we had her undivided attention. Helen told us she was the wife of the winemaker of the eponymous Paul Bettio Wines and they had been making wines there for the past 19 years since Bettio senior and the family stopped growing their lucrative tobacco crops and turned to grapevines and wine instead.
A wistful note of nostalgia sounded in her voice as Helen recalled what she said where the profitable days of tobacco, and we noticed that out the front there was one of the many property “For Sale” signs we saw along the road that day. What we didn’t know at the time was that this weekend of all others was the moment of their final wine and equipment clearance sale …
We got in early with a bottle of their delightful Barbera style red and another of a cheery and pleasantly dry rose. Helen showed us round the winery engine room, including the presses, barrel room and even the lab.
Gary Nash First National real estate signs were growing like weeds in the King Valley the day we visited, so he’ll clean up if they all sell.
While in Beechworth this time we stayed two nights at the La Pausa luxury B&B. Look for the artfully decorated lounge room complete with a fascination with Coco Chanel. More about this later …
On night #1 we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks at the Cellar Door Wine Store and dined just up the street at the Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel. Innocent Bystander Pinot noir accompanied three mounds of Irish sausage and mash, a lamb shank and a roast duck leg, followed up (for me) by a glass of Laphroaig Single Malt peated whisky from Islay, claimed to be the most richly flavoured scotch whisky in the world. As a bit of an aficionado of such items I reckon that’s an arguable claim … Oban is a stiff competitor. But what the hell, they’re both delightful.
Great newgrass sounds and friendly endearing musos had the crowd’s toes tapping and hands clapping. If you get a chance to hear these guys … who seem to have at least one member in common … take it. They’re great! Reminiscent of Crooked Still, one of the frequent plays on our CD machine.
Next night we dined at the Ox and Hound bistro.
What did we enjoy? 2 serves of pork shoulder, 3 of the trout, 1 of the roast chicken. We matched the meals with Yarra Valley wines all round: the chicken and trout went with Rob Dolan Pinot Gris 2012 and the pork (and the chicken) went superbly with a Toolangi Pinot Noir 2010. Desserts were the chocolate mousse and panacotta. Check the menu here.
Above our heads we noticed artfully arranged tungsten filament bulbs in wattle branch light holders. Our waitress made the evening enjoyable with lots of gossip about the chef, the shop and the food, and speedy service. I guess we’ll be back!
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?