My trip to Canberra was complimentary, with all expenses paid. I was invited to attend by Porter Novelli PR.
In my last post about the Human Brochure weekend in Canberra, I had gone on a hot air balloon and then taken to a sumptuous, nap-inducing lunch at Grazing, where I was introduced to the loveliness of wines from Canberra. And of course some great produce and lovingly crafted food.
Our next stop after Grazing was the National Gallery of Australia. I love a good art gallery, and although I was incredibly fatigued by my 4am start that day, I really enjoyed our visit, even though I didn't think it would be a highlight initially.
The National Gallery of Australia has a massive permanent collection, with the world's largest collection of Australian indigenous art, along with many other wonderful artists. We had the opportunity to go on a few guided tours, and I opted for the Aboriginal art tour, as it's a creative culture I'm not very familiar with at all.
Even in our short 20 minute tour, I felt I learnt a lot (how much I retained is another thing), and I enjoyed the enthusiasm and vast knowledge our guide had.
I loved the setup of the galleries, they were generally bright and spacious, although there were a couple of rooms that were a bit darker and moodier. I think one of my favourite sections of the Aboriginal art collection, was the selection modern and contemporary aboriginal art. It's not something that is very often seen and the points of views expressed are interesting.
My favourite was this Roy Lichenstein-esque piece, 'Big Brush Stroke' by Richard Bell. I forget the significance, but I enjoyed how striking the lines and colours are, and how energetic the piece is and just the simple fact that a very traditional element of Aboriginal art can be incorporated with more poppy and modern visuals.
Dean had a little nap mid-gallery browsing…
After the aboriginal art tour, we decided to have a little browse the other galleries, where I was quite surprised to see a number of heavyweights, Monet, Pollock, Dali, Warhol and, one of my favourites, if you didn't notice earlier, Lichenstein! One thing I thought that was also great about the museum, was that there is no entry fee to see the permanent exhibitions. Fantastic.
We also got got complimentary tickets to see the temporary exhibition of Sydney Long, which I was bit 'ho-hum' initially, but I absolutely loved his works after browsing through. He is simply masterful with light, his pieces were quite poetic and I loved his refined colour palettes. Would definitely recommend you check him out if you see anywhere exhibiting his pieces.
Just as a note, we were given special permission to take photos, so that we could share sneak peek with all of you, as you're not usually allowed to take photos. We just had to have some 'human' element in the photo as not to breach copyright issues.
Quarter to five, we all piled back onto the Human Brochure bus which took us back to East Hotel, where we only had an hour and a half to wind down and then freshen up for dinner. Where we also found a couple of bottles of wine from Ravensworth Wines, Eden Road Wines and Mount Majura sitting in our room waiting to be taken home! Thanks guys! Although I had all intention to save them all until my Dad returned home from his business trips, I couldn't help but tuck in to one or two bottles already…
I took the little time we had to have a short lie down and then start jotting down my thoughts with a cup of tea on the balcony alcove in the sun. With some choccies. Magic.
The food and wine Human Brochure group got split into two for dinner, one group went to Rubicon for Italian fare and the other went to Malamay, for a modern take on Sichuan food.
I was in the latter group, and quite pleased to be, as I wouldn't expect such a restaurant in Canberra. But then again I really had zero knowledge of the eating scene in Canberra to begin with. So I guess my expectations weren't initially very high to begin with...
Malamay is young, having only opened it's doors in 2012, and is located in a bit of a residential area, which weirded us all out a little bit as we peered out the bus windows into the surrounding area as we pulled up. Was there really a cool restaurant to be found here?
Well, stroll on in and Malamay took you to a completely different place. Dark and chic, like that girl friend of yours that you always envied, Malamay was a swanky little spot. Whilst half the restaurant was reserved for us, on the other half of the room you could tell this was a popular date spot, with a lot of couples having an intimate and cosy dinner.
To give you a quick summary, Malamay was awesome. We had a night of laughter, more lewd comments than should be made, oddest thing you've ever eaten stories and most naturally, tantalising and flavoursome food. Sichuan is famous for it's brain blowing chilli's, but at Malamay, they also wanted to focus on some lesser known elements of the cuisine.
We started with a glass of Mount Majura's 2008 'Woolshed' Fizz, which we all commented was one of the nicest sparkling wines we thought we had had. To be honest I'm not a big champagne person, as the flavour can be a bit overbearing to me, but I loved how crystal crisp this sparkling was. A burst of refreshing on the palate.
A couple of giggly bubbles later and our first course showed up. Pan seared scallops with three bean paste and fried enoki mushrooms. Who loves sinfully buttery scallops? I know I do. I know I loved these scallops. There was a hint of celery in the bean sauce which I really liked, a hint of freshness to otherwise cut through the rich. Could have had a handful more of those enoki mushrooms too, the batter was so light and crisp!
Next up were char grilled prawns with three chilli relish and hand made noodles. The three chilli relish may not have had the spiciness we were all expecting, but there was a complexity to it which I liked, it was vibrant and bursting with flavour. The slippery and springy noodles were surprisingly served cold, which was actually quite nice as it emphasised the texture. With this dish we had a 2012 riesling by Nick O'Leary, a dry one that was quite soft on the nose.
It was interesting to compare it to a 'Half Dry' riesling by Helm afterwards, which we (or maybe just me? Nah surely we) fell in love with. Heavier on the nose, it was sweet, fruity and way too easy to drink. Mmmhmm.
Twice cooked Ling with black bean and radish crumb and burnt chilli sauce. Don't underestimate. Although appearing mild mannered, this Ling dish is anything but. That burnt chilli sauce? Oh she packs a punch. A good peppery kick that sort of coats the mouth in a sudden burst of heat, which stays nice and consistent. I kind of liked that my mouth was warm but that the fire wasn't increasing. The Ling itself I found a tiny bit dry, but it was quite sweet. But that burnt chilli sauce…swoon!
Following was a big black slab of slow cooked eggplant with kombu and chilli oil dressing. It smelt like stew. It was comforting and rustic, warm dishes that smell of sesame tend to make me think that. The addition of rice sitting in the sauce was perfect. I love rice drowned in sauce or gravy like this. With the eggplant we had Mount Majura's 2010 Graciano, a big full bodied wine.
Throughout the night we were well looked after, courteous and friendly staff, who knew their product and their wine, who joked with us (not at us, although that could have been easy to do) and made us feel at ease and at home.
The sous vide wage beef cheek with goji berries and shaoshing wine melted in your mouth. Just fell apart, I loved the texture. And I loved the unexpected addition of the lightly fried (I assume?) lotus root, added a fun little crunchy texture there. For a typically heavy protein, I enjoyed the execution of this dish, it was quite light, not at all what I was expecting!
To wrap up the savouries we had, as written in the menu, mouth watering sichuan pepper chicken. Which actually was pretty mouth watering too. At least there's no false advertising here! Whilst I didn't find it particularly peppery, I still loved it, it was very much like Hainanese chicken to me, poached, so that it is moist (we debated about using that adjective to describe food…), juicy and succulent. It came with some mung bean noodles, which were so refreshing…and kind of fun to play with. You're asking for trouble when they're that long! With our final savouries we sipped on the 2010 shiraz viognier from Ravensworth, I appear to not have taken any tasting notes on this one. I assume I was a wee bit tipsy at this point…
Keeping with the Sichuan theme, dessert naturally had chilli in it too and we were treated to a chocolate and chilli charcoal and yoghurt cream and pistachio crumbs. I liked that they took fairly typical dessert ingredients and just added their little twist into it. The chilli came up slow and warm in the back of the palate, which still allowed you to enjoy all the sweetness up front. There was a hint of lavender in there which I wasn't entirely sure about, but was interesting!
And with that, we conquered two wine matched, six course degustation meals in one day. I don't know how my stomach or liver was doing it. Or my brain for that matter, I somehow made it through my incredibly long day!
Whilst some continued on drinking and checking out what Canberra offered in the way of nightlife, I was more than happy to shuffle my feet back up to my room and find a bed to pass out on…
…although not before I tucked into some homemade marshmallows and caramels by Ox. Not that I hadn't eaten enough or anything, but one just doesn't say no to caramel…