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Category Archives: Restaurants

Business advisory event this month – fully government funded, no more to pay

Set aside November 23 after work (6-8pm)

johncokley2016

Starting, or want to expand, your small business?

This is for small-business owners who run a shop, cafe, service or office in the Moreton Bay Regional Council area (that’s a big circle around the Redcliffe Peninsula: north to Bribie Island, south to the Brisbane River). It’s part of our fully government funded professional mentoring and small-business service where we offer five-six hours of qualified, experienced advice designed to target your business needs. We ask only for a “Gold Coin” contribution (which we then donate to charity).

These sessions focus on providing practical advice to your business in the following five streams:

  1. Funding avenues and financial analysis (guidance on available banking and finance products, how to present finance bids, effective cash flow management processes and financial data interpretation and referrals to accounting advice);
  2. Building your business (diagnostic assessment of current business operations, followed by business planning advice that meets identified needs; assistance in preparing marketing plans on promotional opportunities and advertising options; guidance on entering new markets and the feasibility of new business ideas, including exporting products or services);
  3. Making the most of your talent and team (guidance on human resource strategies, including recruitment, employment and occupational health and safety (OH&S) requirements; advisory service meetings and networking opportunities; talent recruitment and retention tools; training programmes to inform enterprising people about significant new regulations and/or relevant Australian Government business initiatives);
  4. Management capabilities (assistance with creating, reviewing and implementing business plans, assessing and improving supply-chain management, succession planning and creating security over leased premises or intellectual property; assistance to access appropriate legal advice, including on licencing, retail tenancy, intellectual property and credit management); and
  5. Digital engagement implementation (advice and assistance on e-commerce take-up; advice and assistance with information technology and broadband services issues; advice on adopting technology concepts to assist with marketing, managing and growing ideas)

This project supports a range of service delivery mechanisms including:

  • one-on-one tailored business advisory services
  • face-to-face or virtual/online meetings
  • small group training for up to 10 people at a time. Call me now on 0413 004 138 or visit our site: http://www.edupreneurservicesinternational.com/
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Prime spot

CatBirdSeat

Dined tonight at the fairly new (2014) Catbird Seat Bistro in South Brisbane and what a pleasure! Actually we had been steered along by daughter Erin who works there … mum and dad were invited to check it out … on her night off. Our 7pm booking (on a Saturday) started quietly enough but by the end of the evening we were surrounded by a happy chatty crowd of diners all being attended to with applomb by owner Erin (not our daughter, now there’s a coincidence). There’s only room for 40 so it’s cosy and intimate, just what we had in mind.

And the food? Gorgeous. We chose to share an entree plate of house-made charcuterie with pickles, preserves and bread, including yummy quince paste, caperberries, gerkins and sliced house-baked rye bread.

Then Pip took the high road with a fillet of barramundi and I chose the low road: a roasted poussin crown perched on an onion puree with a rye crumb, celery and radish salad. We shared sides of shredded red cabbage mottled with parmesan and spiked with sherry vinegar, and a plate of green beans rolling in peach, pecans and ricotta.

We sipped sparkling Hepburn spa water from Daylesford near our old stamping ground of Ballan, then moved on to a delightful 2013 chardonnay, Witches Falls Wild Ferment made by Jon Heslop at his Mt Tamborine winery south-west of Brisbane. We’ve visited and written about many wines in the wider Granite Belt since 1995 and this ranks among the very best.

We could not resist dessert so we shared an Earl Grey panna cotta with peaches, citrus and an innovative mint crumble.

This is “bistro at its best” and the tab ($178 including the wine) is definitely reasonable (very probably economical) for the style, location, preparation, presentation, intricate flavours and the professional service. In regional Victoria we have paid more for less and Brisbane is, after all, a capital city.

WTF?

One idiot is all it takes! C’mon Longreach, tell the Eagle’s Nest owner he’s badly mistaken. And by the way, we won’t be eating there again until he changes his tune and publishes a retraction sign.

idiot

A June Dozen

We’ve been eating, drinking, testing and tasting and the fruits of our labours are coming here soon. Watch our video … perhaps you’ve visited these places too? Love to hear from you, John and Pip

Ballan in Autumn is Festival Time

PublishingStrictlyLiterary

This is the big week for our little Central Highlands town 78km north-west of Melbourne, when the power poles in the main street magically sprout loudspeakers and spring to life on Sunday. We hadn’t moved in this time last year so Sunday will be our first one … luckily filmmaker Patrick Bonello captured the action and posted it: looks wild!

Ballan2014

What’s in a post?

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?

It’s nearly Spring … the flowers know

Spring starts on Sunday and the flowers are getting ready to celebrate. Our snowdrops were out first, followed yesterday by the daffodils, and we can see new buds on the rose bushes in our long garden.

Pip’s pruned them all on July 7 and those “in the know” out here say 154 days from then, we’ll see the first flowers on the bushes on December 8, 154 days after pruning. We shall see … but the first shoots shot out this week and they look strong and healthy.

pips wild chair

More pruning and shaping happened last week when Pip attended her first Wild-Wood Chairs Workshop organised by the Wombat Regional Arts Network in the Shire of Moorabool. Here’s her glorious chair, shaped, drilled and nailed using found timber and her own hands. Might look rickety but it’s tough and strong and now occupies pride of place on our veranda.

Pub Grub

We’ve been frequenting the “locals” in the Ballan district now since the start of the year and we can report back on eating experiences.

Hudson’s in our hometown Ballan has recently re-opened its dining room and looks like becoming a familiar haunt. Host Kathleen is encouraging a local music group (of which I could become the humble keyboard player) which tries to rehearse weekly and had an acoustic afternoon last Sunday. Ah, beer and music! So far we’ve tried the lamb shanks (cooked to perfection to falling-off-the bone stage), pork chop, salt-and-pepper calamari and mixed grill and not been disappointed in quality or serving size.

The Royal Hotel in Meredith is a nice place to stop off between our base and our friends to the south in Lethbridge and Bannockburn. Quiet dining room and easy parking.

We enjoyed our visit to the Gordon Hotel in Gordon (now there’s a surprise) because lunch was easy, pleasant and warm and it set us up just nicely for our magic visit to the Old Trout Hat Shoppe over the road.

The Farmers Arms Hotel in Daylesford holds happy memories because we enjoyed lunch with new friends and so far have been there twice. Established in 1857 (according to its website), it claims the prize as the oldest pub in town. It probably boasts the most extensive menu and beer+wine list among the crop we’re reviewing today and you’d expect that in a tourist town like Daylesford.

And our surprise find of the month is the Wallace Hotel (yes, in Wallace, just up the road from Gordon and Ballan). It’s like Dr Who’s Tardis: bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. There’s the very respectable dining room at the front and a pub bar, then whoa, a huge restaurant and functions room at the back, big enough for any country wedding. So far we’ve enjoyed two Sunday lunches there and then met the good folk at the Ballan Chamber of Commerce at their monthly dinner. Let’s see: we’ve had the fish and salad, vegetable soup, Margarita pizza and steak pie … good nourishing and tasty fare, what more could you ask? Well, how about the ornate pressed-metal ceiling and the welcoming fireplace?

The pubs round here? We’ll be back!

 

Mid-winter, the monthly haul

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.

sault

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).

bed chair

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.

pip gloves

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 cap

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.

john cap

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.

Fruit shops

fruits of life BM

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.

wilsons ballarat

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

Tumbling Composter:

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”.

quick shelf

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.

Chocolate

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.

mocha shop

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!

Queen’s Birthday on the wine trail

prosecco road

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.

brownBrothers

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!

PaulBettio

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.

LaPausa

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 …

Tanswells

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.

With a neat segue we retired to the back bar as the pub held its monthly one-mike open-mike music night and among acts that caught our eyes and ears were Kissin Cousins and Whiskey Dram.

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.

ox and hound

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!

Of wine and cheese … the merry month of May

WHAT an experience. Recently we visited the Richmond Hill Café and Larder in Melbourne … and how buzzy is this place? Just before midday we invaded the cheese room and chose a 98gm slice of the $85/kg Will Studd selected 18-month aged Comte and a quarter-round of Truffled Coulommiers, then sat down at the bar for a flat white and an ice coffee … to watch the place fill up and overflow before our eyes for lunch.

Richmond Hill

Our barman David was super-efficient and friendly to boot and as far as we could tell all the other staff were of the same ilk … people were smiling and being helped to tables and seats all over the large room, and if the owner were to walk through he’d probably think ‘business is good today’. I would.

LATER we visited Simon Johnson’s deli at Chadstone, where Elvin sold us one of the other ingredients for our dusk feast, a packet of charcoal squares from the Fine English Cheese Company of Bath, England … $9.25. I’m sure the product was of the highest quality but I have to say (as this was my first charcoal biscuit in a lifetime) they’re pretty weird things to put in your mouth, even with Will Studd cheese.

Imagine the taste of 1% of the biscuit’s weight in charcoal powder rolling around in one’s mouth, mixed with wheat flour, butter (23%), whey powder, malted barley flour, sugar (yep!) salt, sodium bicarb and malted barley extract … and the odd tipple of wine which Studd recommends you take with cheeses.

The product box says charcoal crackers were first made in England in the mid-19th century as an aid to digestion but the ancient Egyptians first used the stuff for medical purposes way back.

THIS MONTH’S Wine Rack (top, our rolling display of labels purchased locally) displays one of the most interesting aspects of the contemporary trade … the complex product descriptions on each bottle which combine esoteric wine vocabulary with marketing jargon. A good example of what the scholars call recondite language, used to impress, allure and sometimes difficult for mere mortals to understand. Next time you buy a bottle, study the label and see whether you can penetrate the prose.

Several of our bottles this month were bought from Naked Wines Australia, one of the new online wine sites.

Naked

SOME of the Wine Rack bottles were purchased during a lovely Sunday picnic to the Bellarine Peninsular south of Geelong and south-west of Melbourne. We stocked up on hamper goodies and headed to the little hamlet of Portarlington, home of a cute little model railway.

Scotchmans Hill

On the way, we called in at Pip’s favourite winery (in this region, that is) Scotchman’s Hill, and made off with an armful of bottles, including a couple of chardonnay and a pinot noir. Barely a label’s length down the road we hit Jack Rabbit wines, where the locals had told us the views were spectacular. As indeed they are, but the comparison between the wines themselves and the approach to service at the two cellar doors was striking. Scotchman’s Hill was quiet, unprepossessing and the sales staff quietly confident … and they had a right to be, for the sheer glowing mouthfeel and memorable flavour of their offerings. Jack Rabbit, on the other hand, was bustling and full of action — yes, the views were magic — but I’m afraid, on the day both the service and the product left us a little cold. Interesting comparison and I wonder whether anyone else felt that way passing through both businesses? Please leave us a comment …

JackRabbitOur jaunt around the peninsular took us to the Royal Hotel at Queenscliff and believe me, these little towns will be getting some more visits. Autumn in this part of the world is enticing and embracing.

RoyalQueenscliff

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