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.
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.
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!
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.
It’s like an Ark, or a flood of wine
WINE COMES into Eat Drink Sleep Shop Australia like animals into Noah’s Ark, two-by-two. Perhaps it’s not so unusual since one of us likes white and the other prefers something pinker or redder.
But as the bottles trundle in for sampling and enjoyment, their labels and other accoutrements also tell stories, so we’ve prepared a little picture gallery to accompany today’s yarn.
For instance, the iconic and very popular Ten Minutes by Tractor winery and cellar door on the Mornington Peninsular south-east of Melbourne includes a tractor logo on nearly everything, including its metal screw caps. Cap art is not new but it’s normally words: this is the first time I’ve seen an embossed illustration. Let us know if you’ve seen any …
On the back label, TenX (as they seem to abbreviate the brand) has adopted the now-common Quick-Response codes to steer shoppers to their website.
And for a quick review: the 2010 Estate Chardonnay impressed us as our Wine of the Christmas Season (we went back for more) and the Rosé was lovely, lightly fruity but still dry enough for our taste.
THIS MONTH we ventured into the wilds of Carlton North, Melbourne, to Enoteca Sileno and the 60th birthday of what the locals probably regard as an institution: a corner wine shop, a deli and a restaurant in Lygon Street. Their menu offerings captivated the three of us on a Saturday evening but the wine was an even more alluring call. We fell prey to the 2011 Jacot Friulano “Ronco Calaj”, from north-east Italy and which tasted of chardonnay but also of sunshine; and a cheeky little prosecco, Furlan, also from the north-east.
WE don’t normally have to go far for quality drops … down the end of our street to Auburn Wine Cellars, Hawthorn East. So on the way home from work on this Friday I chose a Spanish 2010 Garnacha (visit http://www.docampodeborja.com/en/imperiogarnacha.html) and a delightful 2009 chardonnay from Dixons Creek in the Yarra Valley. The wine tasters at home immediately ordered me to purchase more.
WHY GO OUT when the wine man can come to us? We received a call from Stuart, a roving rep for the Pieroth winery, who lugged his chiller box into Hawthorn for our benefit. There was at least half a dozen varieties hidden in there from Europe, New Zealand and here in Australia but we settled on a Te Atanga New Zealand sauvignon blanc (13% alc/vol) and a 2005 Victorian “Big Mamma” Red Diamond with a delightful 15.5% alcohol kick. Hmmmmm. Been drinking these ever since.
LAST but definitely not least is the journalists’ offerings in the Eat Drink Sleep Shop wine round-up. We stopped in at Get Wines Direct (161 Burnley St Richmond) and lo and behold, there is a pinot noir called Headlines (from Griffith) and a chardonnay called Bylines (from Margaret River). If you’re a journalist and understand the significance, please comment and let us know you’re there … another one for the wine list.
Keep drinking …
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?
Not often this happens but this month we have been able to compare a Melbourne dining evening with another in Bendigo and it was like-with-like … they were surprisingly comparable and we loved them both.
At the Sageleaf Bistro in Burwood Road, Hawthorn in Melbourne, we shared a tasting platter with a glass each of local bubbles, then moved on to mains of roast rump of lamb with a confit of potatoes, shallot, olives and tomato with parmesan cream and picada (his) and pan-roasted confit of duck leg with parsnip puree, mushroom and grape tartlet (hers) sharing a side of buttered greens and slivered almonds. The mains were matched with a Mt McLeod pinot noir and we finished with two hot chocolates. (Details from our receipt and the published menu)
Three nights later, at the Bouchon restaurant in High Street, Bendigo, north-west of Melbourne, we sat down to a shared platter of charcuterie for two (housemade rillette, terrine, salami and jamon with croutons, mini brioche and chutney) with two more glasses of local (Balgownie) bubbles, followed by mains of chicken ballotine stuffed with wild mushroom duxelle, pomme puree and tarragon and chicken jus (hers) and Murray Valley pork belly confit, braised cabbage and bacon, fried sage and jus (his) matched with a Mandurang Valley merlot and another shared side of buttered greens (beans this time) also with slivered almonds. Instead of hot chocolates we finished up with a peppermint tea and a brulee on one side of the table and an espresso and a Glenmorangie single malt on the other. (Details from our receipt and the published menu)
Surprise, the tab was only marginally different, probably a result of the Glenmorangie addition on the chilly Bendigo evening.
The things we noticed most on each night – apart from the fact that our tastes are eminently predictable – were the high quality of the ingredients and the care taken with presentation, but also the attentive but unobtrusive service in both restaurants. No fuss, no waiting either, no hurry and thankfully, excellent tables. Sageleaf is in a bright modern room and has the simple feel of a 21st century bistro; Bouchon is in an old brick-lined room, perhaps a refurbished factory or warehouse, narrow and cosy in a French-styled Australian way. Neither was too noisy or too reserved and the other guests seemed to be perfectly normal people, just like us.
I’ve looked at a lot of wine labels in my time but this is the first time I have seen “picking dates” recorded on the bottle. Fruit for this chardonnay, from the Mornington Peninsular, was picked on the 4th, 6th, 8th and 9th of April, 2009. Adds a nice extra touch to the buying and drinking experience, don’t you think? If you have found something similar, please send it along and I can add it to this post …