A pictorial guide for the adventurous:
Aotearoa, New Zealand, Home.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been back to the land that bore me. I would love to say 20 years to the day I left, but I have neither the organisational skills, nor the flair for melodrama to manufacture something quite so grandiose. Still, I left when i was 9 years old and came back for only the second time when I was 29, so there’s got to be some poetic license in there somewhere.
The occasion this time around (not that there needed to be one of course) was my grandmothers 80th birthday. She is my sole surviving grandparent and matriarch to an ever expanding (except on my behalf) army of grand and great grand children. Having had 9 children of her own, she tends to take things a little easier these days, though she’s no less feisty than I remember as a small child, trying to raid her cupboards for girl guide biscuits, making forts in her hedges, and generally causing mischief.
Before I reached the party, and as a way of reacquainting myself the country, I decided it’d be a good idea to hire a car and drive around. Reminiscing at former holiday spots, revisiting the scenes of near tragedies, seeking out wine regions and food haunts, and generally soaking up as much as New Zealand was willing to give. With my travel companion and apprentice wine sampler Jon as co-pilot, we did perhaps the fastest circumnavigation of the South Island possible in a Toyota Corolla. Which went a little something like this:
Day 1: Dinner in Christchurch at Le Cafe. We tried to get into “Cook’n with Gas”, which despite the name and the giant gas flame burner out the front of the restaurant, did look quite nice and had good reviews. Instead we ended up at Le Cafe, not my first pick, but a cute waitress and a glass of wine will do wonders to your expectations. The food was actually not bad, pork and fennel meatballs fueled our appetites and a slow cooked beef shin finished the job. I could have done without the 3 whole chillies chopped up and strewn through my ‘hot and sour’ salad, but all in all the meal was good. Added novelty when the lights were turned off for earth hour and we all got candles on our tables. Not the first or last time Jon and I would get confused for a romantic couple.
Big points go to the barista who looked like he knew his stuff, and convinced me it was worth trying a coffee. They were using Burtons (who are one of New Zealand’s main green bean importers, but also roast), and it was actually quite good. Latte art going out on every cup I could see and my espresso was very tasty, pulled as a short double with . All I could hope is that it was a sign of things to come.
Day 2: The starts slowly. A warm bed and a cold morning will do that to you. But soon we’re on the road and heading from Christchurch to Blenheim. A quick chat and a look at the road map says we’ll be heading through Waipara, one of New Zealand’s newest wine regions.
The main idea of the whole trip was to reacquaint myself with the country I grew up in, yet know so little about in a modern context. New Zealand is seen by the rest of the world as a wonderland of organic produce and down to earth producers so I aimed to find as many of them as possible.
Passing through Waipara Jon and I stopped off at Pegaus Bay and Fiddlers Green. Pegasus Bay is part of the Family of Twelve , basically a marketing initiative to group together some of the founding wineries that are still family owned. The homestead looked like a French chateau of grandiose proportions and a dark musky room for tastings decorated with vintage Premier Cru wine bottles as lighting. I found it instantly likeable and despite the lack of personal service because the tasting guy was run off his feet, we found plenty of the wines extremely palatable. Trying mostly Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and a stunning Merlot Cabernet that was swiftly purchased.
After Waipara we headed north and towards the coast up to Kaikoura, snapping photos out of the window and generally being amazed at how even mundane little towns were full of wonderful things.
Kaikoura is a tiny fishing village in between Christchurch and Picton on the east coast of the south island… and home to a big crayfish industry. The Maori name ‘Kaikoura’ translates to ‘meal of crayfish’ (‘kai’ = food/meal, ‘koura’ = crayfish) . So you would have thought we’d try some wouldn’t you ?
That would have been the case except for when we arrived at the beach side shack selling crayfish they wanted about $60 each for a tiny one… which was sadly more cash than I was willing to part with whilst sitting on plastic chairs and drinking out of styrofoam cups.
Whitebait fritters on the other hand, were much more affordable, and are another famous Kiwi dish of much repute. I can’t say I had a taste for them as a kid, but things have changed a lot since the last time I was here. This was delicious.
After a brief stop for photos and some reflection on the beauty of nature, it was back into the car for more high speed rural action. Fording river and valley and all that was in our path on the way to Blenheim, and the heart of Marlborough.
Remember when you came back to school after that long summer break, and the teacher would ask each of the kids to write a story about what they did on their holidays ? I’d sit there for ages trying to think of good things to say, and ways to impress my fellow 7 year olds with insightful remarks and meaningful events, when I had actually been sitting in my room for 2 months making lego men go to war in space.
These days I’m greatly relieved to discover that the essence of a good holiday is no longer eating as many hot dogs as possible before throwing up on a roller coaster. So our meanderings in the wonderful South West of Western Australia (Augusta and Margaret River to be precise), were just the ticket to ease our way into summer with a little wine, a lot of food, and as minimal exercise as possible.
So in bullet form, the major highlights of the holiday season were:
– Eating too much food on Christmas Day
– Drinking too much wine on Christmas Day
– Cutting half my thumbnail off while chopping vegetables after drinking too much on Christmas Day
– Settling into our new apartment in Northbridge
– Playing Wii !
– Having a low key NYE will Charles Melton Rose and blue cheese
– Going down to Augusta/Margaret River on New Years Day
– Visiting many wineries including Leeuwin Estate, Cape Mentelle, Cullen, Howard Park, Rockfield, Vasse Felix, Moss Wood, Voyager, Woody Nook, and a bunch of others I’m sure I’m forgetting
– Roaming through the caves along Caves Rd, specifically the self guiding Giants Cave
– Cooking coq au vin for 10 people
– Cooking backstrap of venison for 7 people
– Watching kangaroos fight in the paddock outside our holiday house
– Driving back to Perth the long way through Yallingup and Dunsborough
– Stopping for lunch at the ever delicious Lamonts
– Having a swim at Mellup Beach.
– Chilling out at “Summer Daze” and trying to forget that I had to go back to work on Monday.
I hope all of your holidays were great too :)
Now to the final words on Adelaide, and what a time it was. This day sees us in that holy land of wine country… the Barossa valley. So often lauded as Australia’s greatest wine growing region, and I can now see why… Which is of course because everyone from the Barossa keeps telling you that so often, you eventually start to believe it :)
However, there is something about the Barossa and the people of the Barossa Valley area that is very unique. They are bound together in their love of food, wine, and the life gastronomic. Many times throughout the day of travelling through wineries, tasting delicious wines, did I hear stories about how people in the Barossa stick together. There was no bad mouthing of other wineries, and a helpful suggestion of other places in the area who we should definitely go and check out was often offered. Having been a fan of the tv show “The Cook and the Chef” for a while now, I’d been making stupid jokes about dropping in to have lunch with Maggie Beer (as well as how she can’t go 5 minutes without mentioning how much she loves the Barossa Valley), but I should probably have shut my mouth. Not only did I meet someone who sang in the local choir with her, but her daughter (who runs a catering company) was setting up for a cellar door managers dinner at one of our last stops of the day. It’s two degrees of separation in that neck of the woods. Cocky food bloggers beware, or there’ll be a Beer Lynching squad after you in no time… :)
So we whisked our way through Trevor Jones / Kellermeister wines, Charles Melton, Rockfords (managing to snag a tasting of the Basket Press Shiraz), Rolf Binder / Veritas (meeting Rolf the wine maker and purchasing a bottle of his Hanisch Shiraz), and finally Torbreck.
My impression of the day and the wines can be summarised in one simple statement.
“Shiraz is not just shiraz”
The quality and depth of flavour from the different styles we tried was remarkably varied across all the wines we tried, which was barely a smattering of the wineries the Barossa has to offer. From spicey and peppery styles to smoother more fruit driven styles of the cooler Eden Valley, there really was something for everyone.
My only regret being that I didn’t have enough time or enough money to get all the wines I wanted. But with a few essentials under our belts (mainly the Charles Melton Nine Popes), it was a wonderful day. Very nearly surpassed by a great night to follow.
So following up on more website comments and suggestions, we’d given Melting Pot a call earlier in the day to try and get a reservation for Saturday night. Unfortunately they were completely booked that night, and so it looked like we were going to miss out. I figured I might try and put on my important / desperate voice for one last try though, and on calling back, found out there was a table for 2 available for that evening, Friday night. We booked it in, and hastily made our way back from the Barossa to be dropped ever so graciously by Serena (our chauffeur and future wine connoisseur) right out the front, and just in time.
Melting Pot is hard to describe. I suppose you’d have to settle on Modern Australian (whatever that means) if you needed to find a label. The menu is centred around the degustation style that so many haute cuisine restaurants prefer these days, with matched wines for each course. We chose a 6 course tasting menu with wine, and a few extras thrown in for good measure.
Now while I’d love to write a glowing review about how every dish was a fantastic revelation of culinary amazement. The sad reality was that the majority of the courses were average at best, and just strange at worst. The popcorn quail in particular (which featured actual popcorn strewn across the plate, along with some “popcorn” quail pieces, reminiscent of KFC’s efforts at using up the left overs).
The wine matched with each course was mostly nice, though we’d been far too spoilt over the last three days of oenophilic
indulgence to get a lot of enjoyment out of run of the mill wines. Plus a day of tasting intense Shiraz had left my palate cleft of all love for subtle light wines that chefs like to serve with their dishes.
Still, by the end of the 4th course things were starting to pick up. The culmination of wines throughout the day and with each course started to work it’s magic, and as a light headed fuzzy feeling of mild intoxication came over me, everything started to taste a whole lot better.
By the end of the meal we were quite merry indeed, and can honestly say we enjoyed the experience. Though perhaps not as fully as I was hoping for.
The night still being young however, we decided to try our luck getting a taxi into the city and checking out the other “must go to” place on my list, Apothecary 1878.
Now if you’re familiar with Adelaide, you’ll know all too well what Hindley Street is known for. It’s essentially the nightclub, late night, red light, anything goes district in the city centre. Bars, pubs, and clubs are full of people who have had too much to drink, and not enough clothes to wear.
So coming across a place like Apothecary, in the midst of the debauchery that is the rest of the street on a Friday night, was like a breath of fresh air. Walking in to what seemed like near silence, as the door closed behind us and our eyes adjusted to the subdued lighting and the relaxed mood that only truly cool places can so effortlessly attain.
The name comes from the fact that the place is fitted out to look like an 1800’s style chemist. All of the cabinets and bar had actually been bought and shipped over from the UK, so they do actually date back to 1878. No ikea style renovations for these guys.
The wine list was similarly impressive. Around 20 pages or so of every major style and region around the world. With plenty there to keep the wine geek in me flipping back and forth for a good 10 minutes before finally settling on something. If you live in Adelaide, you had better be making the most of this place, because it really deserves it.
But wait.. what’s that you said.. you serve food too ? Well, we have just had a 6 course meal with wine, and dessert… but what the hell, lets have a look. So after another couple of glasses of wine, some meatballs, chorizo, and olive tapas dishes, another chocolate pudding for Sharon, and a couple of glasses of sparkling wine, we concluded what was possibly the most gastronomically extravagant days of my life.
Before I could start thinking about whether it was possible or reasonable to have three dinners in one evening, fatigue start to set in. Still, it was a great day, and great night, and a wonderful trip all round to Adelaide, with some very memorable experiences with good wine, good food, and good friends.
Kara and Paul were married on Saturday to a wonderful reception. I didn’t cry once… but some dust may have got into my eye at one point. Anything is possible in Adelaide.
This will be a short one. Day three in Adelaide was spent trekking up to the hills to check out the venue for the weekends wedding. The wedding and the reception both being held at Mount Lofty House, and everyone we met all said “Ohhh, Mt Lofty… it’s lovely up there”. They were right, it was.
So after doing a prerequisite tourist stop at the lookout nearby, we made our way through the hills to the small town (?) of Bridgewater, home to the famous Bridgewater Mill restaurant and Petaluma wines.
We didn’t have time to stop for lunch, which did look appealing despite the price. But a sampling of the wines was definitely on the cards. I particularly liked the Reisling and the Croser Sparkling White, and the Bridgewater Mill Shiraz was a very decent drop too. So a couple of bottles later and some shabby photos from the window of the car because it was raining and I didn’t want to get wet, and we were back on the road.
Now getting close to lunchtime, what better place to get your fill than at a pub in a German tourist town ! I’m still trying to make my mind up about Hahndorf. It has a certain shabby charm that is quite interesting, and the town is clearly clinging to it’s German settler ancestors roots as hard as it possible can. But there was a certain lack of sincerity about it, and a far too blatant feeling that it was all a big joke on tourists for me to feel entirely comfortable.
Certainly if I’d known the pub we went into for lunch had a spruiker out the front (who we had somehow avoided) we probably wouldn’t have stopped there at all. But still, the food was ok, if not cloying after three mouthfuls, and it was nice to sit down and chat to some apparent German enthusiasts who had driven four hours from Mt Gambier to get a bratwurst hotdog. But then who knows, maybe they were onto something. Perhaps bratwurst is the perfect fodder for a travelling wine taster to stock up on precious fat stores to absorb the alcohol. Or perhaps not.
The final stop of this day was Nepenthe. A winery I’ve really enjoyed in the past, and maker of one of Australia’s best Sauvingnon Blancs. Not that I really like Sauvingnon Blanc that much, but I’m always willing to pretend I do if it makes me seem more in vogue :) I did quite like their Fugue, which is a Bordeaux style cabernet blend, and the Charleston Pinot Noir went a long way to convincing me I should try to get back into Pinot, after a prolonged spell of not trying any that I’ve liked.
Happy to have conquered another South Australian wine region (albeit briefly), we headed back into the city and did a little wander down the east end of Rundle St. Stopping by chance (or perhaps because of my preoccupation with lane ways), at East End Cellars, to be greeted by the affable Michael Andrewartha, who sold me a bottle of aged Henschke Gewürztraminer (1999), and gave me a few tips on where to check out in the Barossa.
Which is where we’re heading to next :) (oh the suspense!)
In what may prove to be the most drawn out explanation of a week long holiday ever… I present day two of our trip to Adelaide. Cleverly titled to reflect the main events of said day.
The beauty of Adelaide (or one of them anyway), is that it’s a stones throw away from a handful of Australia, and indeed the worlds, best wine making regions. Just how close I had no idea until we got into the car to go to McLaren Vale, and a mere 20 minutes later were standing in a tasting room swirling Reidel glasses daubed with inky red stuff like nobody’s business.
McLaren Vale is unique in that it is actively promoting itself as a region that produces excellent Grenache. With a special regional label of sorts called Cadenzia being created especially for McLaren Vale winemakers wanting to display the best that their grenache has to offer. It’s an interesting initiative, and one that I think is a great idea. It gave us a real focus for what the region did well, and also made it possible to compare and contrast styles of wine that were different and special in their own ways.
So we had the best intentions of going everywhere, but I think time slows down when you’re in wine country, or should that be speeds up. It felt like we’d been to a lot of different places, and perhaps if the tourist map we were following had of been accurate we would have (nb: never trust tourist maps ! The giant grapes next to the giant knife and fork is not to scale !!), but by the end of the day we found that we’d only made it to 4 places !
Still, quality not quantity as I always (read: sometimes) say. We started off at Coriole, one of my favourite wineries, and making of some fantastic Italian varietals. The Sangiovese is an old favourite however we really loved the Fiano, which is a rather rare (for “new world” plantings) Italian white wine from the Campania region.
Next it was on to Chapel Hill, another great winery and recent recipient of some big awards. Of course, not knowing any of this, I didn’t fully appreciate a lot of their wines, although a trend that emerges over the day was that Tempranillo is becoming one of my favourite wines. We took a bottle of the Il Vescovo Tempranillo and sauntered onwards.
After that it was on to d’Arenburg, another of my favourite spots, and maker of some stunning Shiraz blends. Their “Laughing Magpie” Shiraz Viognier is one of the nicer styles of that wine I’ve tried recently, and the Stump Jump GSM is nearly an institution in cheap but tasty drinking. We splashed out a little and got a bottle of the Dead Arm Shiraz, the Cadenzia GSM, and the Laughing Magpie.
On to the final spot of the day, Mr Riggs and Pennys Hill. Pennys Hill is the vineyard and Mr Riggs (aka Ben Riggs) is the winemaker, who also runs his own label from the same location. Plenty more great Shiraz and Grenache blends as well as a little Clare Valley Reisling sneaking it’s way in, but what we came away with was a chocolaty and smooth bottle of fortified Shiraz.
Escaping McLaren Vale with a small cache of wine, a light wallet, and almost a wine dog (a super friendly jack russell terrior from Paxton), it was back to the big smoke for the evenings entertainment.
Now there are times when running a food blog really pays off. These are such times. Coming back from a long days wine tasting with little idea of where to go for more great eating that night, I paid a brief visit back to the comments section of my “I’m going to Adelaide, nah nah nah” post, to find an excellent, detailed, and ultimately very helpful comment from Zams who as well as confirming some of my other ideas, put forward Mesa Lunga as a restaurant well worth checking out. It took two seconds for me to see funky and tapas, and know it was up my alley.
Mesa Lunga is situated on the corner of morphett and gouger (now officially pronounced Goo-gah) streets in the centre of Adelaide, and looks and feels every bit the part that Zams described. Chilled out, refined, with a sexy edge to it, perhaps exacerbated by the door chick calling me babe… “Yeh sorry babe, all we’ve got is tables in the tapas section tonight”.
That’s cool, tapas is why we’re here babe… (I wish I was that clever).
So we grabbed some menus, opened a fine bottle of wine supplied by Kara (at a measely $15 / bottle corkage !), and went down the list ordering anything and everything that looked tasty.
A short run through included the tortilla, the patatas bravas, the whitebait, the baked mussels, the turkey meatballs, a goat meatballs pizza, crab croquettes, and some truly great salt cod balls.
Desserts were a chocolate tart with pashmak (that’s Persian fairy floss to the uninitiated), a creme caramel kind of thing, some stewed figs, and that bastion of Spanish desserts, churros, lovingly dunked in molten chocolate.
All up, the place was great. The food was good value, came quickly, and tasted great. I love it when tapas is done well, and this hit the spot for me. Nothing too fancy, nothing too expensive, but a focus on quality ingredients and a funky atmosphere. The manager Teale even managed to make me a passable espresso at the end of the night, which was from Rio coffee, seemingly the Adelaide roaster of choice for fresh beans.
Stuffed full, and ‘babed’ out, it was then off for a trip around the city, a few more photos of churches that will never see the light of day, and home to bed, ready for the next big adventure.
*stay tuned for more*
So I am still alive. And in lieu of writing one of those smarmy posts about how busy I’ve been and how I should be posting more but am too tired/lazy/incontinent and how I’ve also been recovering from surgery, mourning my cat that just died, and trying to fix my broken computer… I thought I’d just go back and revisit the month that was September, and a few of the more meaningful events that happened. As always, in pictoral form… because we all know that a pictures worth a thousand words (unless of course you’re an editor, then they’re worth bugger all).
It was back to the country to help my parents out at the 2007 Corrigin Agricultural Society Show. The bouncy castle was getting a severe workout, the arts and crafts and tractor rides were in fine form, and in a little tent on the corner of the football oval, we had a mobile cafe set up churning out countless coffee’s and delectable treats to locals and visiting dignitary’s (Nicky Windmar and (Federal MP and all round hard head) Wilson Tuckey).
After the hectic pace of the show, we took a little time to relax and enjoy the peaceful nothingness that is the wheatbelt in the springtime. A short trip out of town to the dog cemetary for some sombre reflection, before checking out the wildflower drive, which had Sharon nearly hyperventilating in a state of flower induced frenzy.
Then it was back to big smoke for party shenanigans. Sharon and I have birthdays which are two days apart. So a semi tradition is forming whereby we group all of our friends into one big basket, and force them to pretend to get along while I drunkenly mingle my way around everyone. This seems to work out pretty well most years, and this year was no different. A great turn out of friends new and old came down to Must Wine Bar (the only wine bar in Perth I would consistently rate) and had a great night of food and drinks and laughs and the occasional puff on a Davidoff cigarillo.
Pre-drinks eating was done at the one and only Suraj, the simplest and best Indian I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in a long time (If you haven’t been there before, go soon, he’ll be closing down soon), before moving a few doors down to Must for Yering Station Pinot (thanks Manda), Pandalowie Tempranillo (cheers Christretto), Armagnac (what were you thinking Ben ??), and who knows what else…
Thanks to all the lovely people who came out and made it a great night for both Sharon and I. Boo’s and Hisses to anyone who bailed :)
In other news I may have had another coffee article in the Spring edition of the excellent Spice Magazine (which was in fact excellent before I started writing for it, and I’m not just saying that now because I am, although I’m sure it doesn’t hurt). It’s about the transition from instant coffee drinker, to espresso aficionado. If that kind of thing sounds interesting, please go and pick up a copy, or even better, buy a subscription !
Oh, and I also joined a gym… food blogging is not without it’s pit falls.