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.
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!
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?
We visited the Meatopia event today as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and what a good time we had.
For our $50 a head we enjoyed very minimal queuing, friendly staff, fabulous food and enough drinks to satisfy us during this Melbourne heatwave and still legally drive away.
We booked online on Saturday night (thanks credit card) and rolled up to the Middle Park Hotel in trendy St Kilda/South Melbourne around 12:15pm as the lines were starting to form.
But instead of dreadful delays, we found easy access and speedy issue of our event food and beverage cards within minutes: for the $50, three food items and three drink items each.
A short queue for a plate of rare Cape Grim beef, a hop to delicious pork and ribs to die for, a little line up for pear cider and James Squire stubbies, and we were holding all the cards for a great lunch.
“Holding” was the key word … standing in a pub full of nearly 400 patrons and all tables full. Arms full too.
Thank heavens for the wait staff member with the delightful brogue and thoughtful approach who found us a table and stole some bentwood chairs to make our day.
Now then, picked those plates clean. What next?
There’s a short line for the BBQ’d chicken and even shorter for the goat and wallaby — which by the way equaled the pork as favourite for the day — and let’s have another pear cider, Cricketer’s Arms beer and James Squire.
Polished those off, starting to slow down, must be time for some of those antipasto delights and southern Australian cheeses, yep.
Venison, pork and beef salami, goats cheese, ash rind and — what’s that? pickled peaches and apricot aioli? Hmmm, this’ll do.
What’s that, another cider? And then someone in the party suggested coffee and some of the delightful ice cream — pistachio in one, raspberry in the other — and OMG, another James Squire.
And that was that, mid-afternoon, off into the heatwave. Don’tcha love Melbourne?
WE LINED up last month for the Degustation menu at Lulo Tapas and wine bar in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. It was a Saturday night, our friends were in town, we were looking for an outstanding night out. Five diners: four women and The Bloke.
Ambiance was lively without being too noisy, and we could talk quietly among ourselves. We admired the pine-box shipping cartons as interior decor along the back wall, as well as the whisk lights and red bull figures under the bar. Settings of timber tables, no covering. Simple, bit of fun. Seats comfortable.
First round, the oysters. Ideally, we could have done with more but then … we would never have finished, would we? Beautifully fresh.
Next, sous-vide spanner crab, covered with molecular foam on metal spools. Frothy tasty morsel, spoon-licking.
A little twist, octopus in tins – Carla wouldn’t try it. Nice but probably wouldn’t select this again.
Chicken ribs … never seen them before, but came with chili caramel and corn smear, crushed nuts.
Paprika bread and oil as palette cleanser.
Back to the menu … Jamon Iberico Pata Negra … beautiful, but it usually is. Alluring dark wafer thin meats.
Gypsy salad … lettuce, egg, olives, nice & refreshing, cleansing.
Deep-fried stuffed zucchini flowers … crispy, tasty, specially added to the menu. Nicest stuffed zucchini flowers we’ve ever had.
Then the big item … Wilderness beef ribs and carrot salad – delicious, superb, complex with pomegranate seeds … try this as the “side” to your roast dinner any day … the ribs melt in your mouth, taste was just perfect, Pedro Ximenes sherry cauliflower puree, nice crunchy bits at the end … perfection. If her husband was here he’d hog the beef to himself.
Another side … Yuca frita … she said “the best chips I’ve had in a long time”. Better than a potato and sweet potato chip. Avocado and smoked yoghurt.
Ice cream – raspberry, vanilla, sherry, passionfruit, nougat … split verdicts … nougat (CE), sherry (PH) great prunes and consistency/mouthfeel, passionfruit (LM)
We drank two bottles of 2009 Badger’s Brook Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley, Victoria) @ $48 each. Well priced.
Value for money? Most Degustation menus cost more than this, the servings were generous, none particularly hard to cook, not “cheap” but really good value for money. About right for amount.
Service: very good service; the girls loved the waiter’s accent and authenticity. Our team included 2 women and one man and their pace was perfect. Their explanation / interpretation of the menu items was very helpful. And at the end, he used his iPhone to calculate the split bill … very accommodating in a way which is currently unusual.
We’ll be back 🙂