Intrepid Eat-Drink-Sleep-Shoppers Erin and Pip are in the audience at Matilda the Musical right now at the Schubert Theatre on Broadway, New York City … and this is what they see!
Earlier they visited the famous Brill Building, which in its heyday was home to some of the great singer-songwriters of the 20th century.
Here we are ready to share a drink at the 1891-vintage Wellshot Hotel at Ilfracombe, just east of Longreach, central western Queensland. The schooner (centre) is full of VB, the only full-strength brew on tap, while the other glasses contain the refreshing but practically non-alcoholic lemon, lime & bitters, handmade behind the bar. What are they sitting on? A glass panel across a bale of wool (the white fluffy stuff) signifying the district’s long association with grazing and shearing. The town is also famous for being the childhood home of Australia’s first woman governor-general, Quentin Bryce. I have suggested that the front bar be renamed The Quentin Bar but have been howled down as crass and far beneath the dignity of the great lady herself. I agree she’s classy … so it’s probably a dumb idea. Nice pub, though.
And so the royal progress back to Queensland begins today with a luxurious session at the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa. Dreamy soak in the mineral salt pool followed by a sauna and hours being buffetted by bubbles. After a dramatic few months, we’re off to launch our new online education business Edupreneur Services International. If you have an interest in international vocational or tertiary education content and policy, you have an interest in us. And we have a regular blog too, which accepts comments so speak up. Our itinerary over the next two weeks includes Sale, Bermagui, Maitland, Armidale, Brisbane, Roma and finally Longreach. See you on the road. John and Pip
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
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!
We’ve been amazed at the number of top concerts which come to our part of the world. Suzi Quatro was here last month (video by Michelle Bell-Booth on YouTube) and next week (March 15) the Ballarat Symphony Orchestra is playing at Michael Unwin Wines at Beaufort, just up the road to the north-west.
Last Spring we sat in glorious sunshine (the one hot sunny day) next to Lake Wendouree and listened to Jon English, Ross Wilson and Russell Morris for around four hours of solid Oz rock and roll, not to mention blues, all for $50 a head. Thanks to the people at Regional Touring, I guess.
As Autumn starts we ventured out to the Grampians last week, taking in lunch at Halls Gap and then tasting wine on the way back at Beaufort and Michael Unwin’s wines, taking home two bottles of his signature Umbrella Man chardonnay and merlot.
Enjoy Autumn … we’ll have some flowers, more visits and other shopping news next month.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 …
Our 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.