Thursday, October 31, 2013

King Valley Preview

Disclosure: I was invited to explore the King Valley by Squawk Media and the local wineries

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to explore the King Valley's wine region with a gaggle (using this term because I can, and it sounds more fun than 'group') of other bloggers, Ewen, a well established photographer and the ever lively Melissa of Squawk Media, which I accepted with great vigour and excitement. 

Over four days and three nights, we learnt a lot about this beautiful wine region, which is the home to prosecco in Victoria and many, many other beautiful Italian varietals, we also ate magnificently with the families that owned many of these wineries. 

Did I fall in love? Definitely. 

Whilst I'm still (very slowly) working through the photos of the trip, I thought I would just pick a couple of my favourite things from the trip to share with you, just to give you a slice of what's coming up in future posts. 

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Drinking beautiful reds from Brown Brothers in their family cellar, which is definitely not accessible to the general public was a real honour. We were guided by Ernie, who has been with Brown Brothers for over 20 years, who gave us the history of the cellar and the many wines that could be found within. 

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Prosecco was a highlight. Definitely. It was a constant, everywhere, we couldn't even escape it first thing in the morning! Drinking it in the fields of prosecco grapes at Pizzini was even more special, when the sky was just showing off and the sun graced us with it's warmth. Magic.

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I loved that Rob was getting along so well with Storm, the bull from King Valley Premium Beef. Look, Storm's licking him!

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I got my macro lens out for the first time in a long time and got lost in the gardens and fields of King Valley, chasing bees and marvelling at flowers.

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Having freshly made gluten free biscuits with a sour cherry in the middle, by nonna at Politini wines is so special. And so delicious.

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Singing 'Something Stupid' (or trying to) with Thanh as Sam from Pollitini wines plays the piano accordion brought nothing but smiles to my face and a light skip of joy in my being. 

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Waking up Wednesday and Thursday morning to go running before our day started was another highlight for me. The sky was magnificent both days, brilliantly bright and sunny on one and slightly overcast with rays of sunlight peeping through on another. There's also nothing like running past endless green paddocks with cows in them. 

Also discovering that the locals recognise you before you meet them because they've seen you jogging around is kind of hilarious. I guess Whitfield doesn't often see girls with green hair?

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Bay leaves and anchovies that are battered and fried are ridiculous. Ridiculous. Dal Zotto we love you guys, but we really needed more of those.

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Speaking of Dal Zotto, as I bid farewell to Otto Dal Zotto (the big papa), he verbally adopted me (and everyone else). I'm very okay with this! 

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And goodness, I could go on and on about the wines we had. From the many sangiovese's at Pizzini to the saperavi from King River Estate Wines, to the brachetto we had with brunch on Friday at Lindenwarrah. But I'll go into more details in separate posts. 

Finally, let's not forget the friends we made, or got to know better. I don't think I had laughed so much in 4 days in such a long time. Ewen who was constantly taking pictures, always had pictures of me with my mouth open. ALWAYS. It's mildly embarrassing, but pretty awesome at the same time. 

Since returning to Melbourne, I've been racking my brains as to when I can visit again (maybe a weekend getaway with Brad for our anniversary..?), and in the meantime, figure out where I can buy more of the prosecco in town! I can't wait to do more detailed write ups and share the magic that is the King Valley with the rest of you. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Italian

Caryn's my girl for Italian. I'm not exactly sure why, but whenever I see a deal for an Italian restaurant, or get invited to check out somewhere Italian, who's the person who goes with me? Caryn.

Not that I'm complaining! The girl appreciates a good glass of wine, a well cooked piece of meat and a plate full of pasta and mussels. 

The latest deal I came across had my heels clicking against the glossy stone floors of 101 Collins, as I tried to figure out where The Italian was, to indulge in a 50% off the food menu deal I found on Dimmi. After tottering previously around the lifts a couple of times, I finally found the restaurant on the Flinders Lane side of the building. 

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The Italian is hushed tones, white table cloth and luxurious details like scarlet leather seating and an individual light for each table. I felt a tiny bit intimidated when I first arrived, as I got in before Caryn did, and it had been a while since I had been into a restaurant that gave of the feel of being 'fine-dining', with the more casual feel to restaurants really taking hold at the moment. 

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However, a twinkle in the eye, a white toothed grin and a sexy Italian accent made me feel at ease, bringing the menus and striking up a little small talk as I waited for Caryn to arrive. 

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The menu at The Italian is very classic, and not too long, keeping it simple and focussed. We sip on a glass of pinot noir each as we deliberate menu options. I've really been enjoying my red wines as of late, a lot more than I used to, as I've really been appreciating the fact you have to sip on a red wine, and you can't just knock them back like a white wine, as it's a bit intense and it'll also be a bit of a waste!

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The tuna tartare with salted cucumber and toasted pistachio's was a real treat to start the night with. I couldn't help but coo over the intensely rich colour of the tuna, which translated to beautifully textured flesh. I also adored the addition of toasted pistachios, not something I would typically put with tuna, but it worked so well! 

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These deboned quails served on a bed of braised red cabbage and prunes were just lush and finger licking good, despite the setting we were in. I loved the rich and comforting flavours that the cabbage and prune gave to the quail, without being too heavy. 

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The saffron risotto with mussels and thyme was just a stunner, with a vibrant and rich yellowy orange colour. I was quickly seduced by the oceanic aroma that intertwined with the thyme, and smitten with the perfectly cooked al dente rice. The only thing I was a bit sad about is that we didn't have more!

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We opted to go for a lovely piece of meat for dinner, a char grilled scotch fillet tagliata, with rocket, balsamic and big grated flakes of reggiano. Now, I've always said I don't often go out and have red meat, as I usually think it tends to be a bit overpriced, but this lovely demure thing, hiding under the rocket and blushing, reminded me why I should go out for red meat more often. 

Cooked just perfectly, with just enough fat left on it to be delicious, but not make one feel guilty, the meat was amazingly tender and so full in flavour. I also loved the addition of the reggiano, which is something I would certainly not usually do. The dish as a whole felt remarkably light and indeed felt very Italian. 

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Although we said we wouldn't do sides, when the prospect of a cool broccoli salad with anchovies and something else (I've forgotten), I think the Asian came out of us and we had to say yes. It was just the thing we needed, a little more green, with a touch (or a little more than) of salt and all slightly chilled to be cool and refreshing.

Caryn and I did the usual thing of saying yes to the dessert menu, just to look, but what then actually happened is that we ordered two desserts. Go figure. 

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We had been eagerly eyeing 'The Italian' tiramisu that had been floating around to other tables, in a tall stemmed glass and looking oh so elegant. We had to have it. After accidentally inhaling the cocoa powder on top and going into a coughing fit (as one does), I found that whilst the tiramisu was beautifully creamy, the coffee flavour was quite muted and subtle. I can't decide whether that's a good or bad thing, as most of you know, I'm not a big coffee drinker, so coffee isn't my most favoured flavour, however, I feel that coffee is such an important aspect of a tiramisu at the same time. What do you guys reckon? 

Still I couldn't really complain, creamy and chocolatey, we quite promptly devoured the whole thing.

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We also ordered the pear crumble with homemade ginger custard, to offset the chocolate in the tiramisu…or something (yeah right). I absolutely loved the combination of pear and ginger, which gave it a nice hearty kick, but found the crumble aspect itself a bit lacking for my taste. I tend to like it really toasted over and nice and crunchy, and this was almost there, but not all the way there yet. The pears were also cut into cubes, whereas I tend to prefer them sliced, but again, a personal nitpick. 

Although I had initially felt that The Italian was a bit stiff when I first arrived, by the end of our meal Caryn and I were jovially chit chatting and quite relaxed in our plush seats, which to me, is a sign of a pretty good night. Whilst it was a bit sad to finish on a so-so note with the desserts, I was immensely impressed with the savouries that came out of the kitchen and would be back for the tuna tartare or the risotto in a heartbeat. And also just to perve on Italian accents. 

Wouldn't you? 

101 Collins Street

The Italian Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

America - Portland - AirBnB and Tasty n' Sons

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From my last round up post about Portland, you can probably already tell that I kind of adored the place, although it can be hard to judge and compare cities when one of the cities has one of your favourite people living in it. Despite that though, I think that even if Javan hadn't been around (not that I would want to imagine that), I would have liked it a whole lot anyway.

Previously, I think I had given a pretty good idea of where I had eaten, what I had liked, so i thought I would just use this post on Portland to flush out a few more details on areas I skipped over a bit too briefly. 

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Firstly then, where we stayed. Although we had a bit of initial stress getting from the airport to where we were staying, all my stress melted away as we turned up on the doorstep of where was to be home for a very short two nights. 

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Lucy's home is just beautiful. I didn't want to leave. With a verandah, painted in a gentle blue, the house opens up into a sitting area decked out in an array of colours, bathed in natural light from the huge front window. In the bedroom we found the highest and fluffiest bed I had ever come across and a the kitchen was filled with everything necessary. 

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I was amazed with how spacious the place was, and how considerate Lucy was. Although we never met her in person, she made sure to leave a list of delicious places to visit, as well as a few notes for us as well. We were free to help ourselves to the spirits, but asked to leave a little bit of cash if we did. So Portland. 

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Her house was in the North Eastern suburbs of Portland, and so Javan quickly carted us down to Mississippi Avenue on the first day, because it's a pretty cool strip. But we were also just a short bus ride away from the city, Alberta Street and also Hawthorne Boulevard, which were the other two areas that we wandered through, ate doughnuts and ice-cream and poked our noses in and out of vintage shops. 

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A quick thing to note, the buses of Portland are awesome. You can either pay $2.50 for a 2 hour ticket, or the much more sensible thing to do, is pay $5 when you get on the bus for a 1-day pass. These passes can also be used on the MAX train system and a variety of other public transport options, but between buses and walking, we were pretty comfortable. Another awesome thing about the buses too, is that if you were at a bus stop, you could check the stop for the ID number, pop it into the Transit Tracker on the website, and because all the buses have location trackers on them, you are informed, to the minute, how far away your bus is! So handy. 

And while we're on the topic of places that we were close to, we were literally just around the corner (or a 15 minute walk) from Tasty N' Sons, which was the only proper restaurant I had decided we needed to eat at. 

Because brunch. 

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Tasty N' Sons was Brad and my favourite brunch or breakfast meal in the USA, and that's because, in all honesty, it was the most like Melbourne. It's really not until you leave the country that you realise how good we've got it at home in terms of the brunching scene. Javan thought Portland was serious about their brunch, well he was quite quickly put into his place when Brad explained that in Melbourne brunch was available not just on the weekend…but everyday of the week. Blew his mind!

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Tasty N' Sons is a gorgeous and open space, high ceilings, plenty of seating, a clean fit out with plenty of details. Oh and a penny farthing painted on a wall. Can anyone say hipster?

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It was also incredibly busy when we arrived. We had all planned on being early…but that didn't really happen. It's a Saturday, you can't blame us for sleeping in! When we rocked up, we were told it'd be an hour and half wait…so we decided to stick it out. But man, I was getting some queue rage while waiting. 

Having seen many a cafe turn tables efficiently in Melbourne, I was getting quite frustrated observing the system in place at Tasty N' Sons where people would leave their phone numbers and go wander off elsewhere, tables would then go unseated for ages as they chased people down to get them to return for their table. Honestly Portland. Lose the numbers! It should simply be: you leave, you lose! 

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An hour and a half later, sugar levels low, we were finally seated at the communal table, and quickly given tea and coffee upon request to warm up the bellies (which were very, very, very hungry by this point!)

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I loved how Brad's coffee looked when the mild was poured in and swirled around, which was also liberally topped up by waiters running around whenever it was low. My cup was also topped with hot water, without having to request it, which I thought was quite nice and convenient (wouldn't mind seeing that in Melbourne!). However, Brad still said the coffee was pretty 'meh'.

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With a big of egging on from me, Javan went for a coffee cocktail…because uh, it was Saturday? It kind of punched you in the face with a strong dose of something strong (I've forgotten what spirit), with a nice round coffee flavour finishing up on the palate.

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Brad went with the Shakshuka baked eggs with red pepper and tomato stew, can take the boy out of Melbourne, but can't take the Melbourne out of the boy! Lovely rich, with the sweet tomatoes and peppers/capsicums coming through and a lovely saucy texture, this had comfort written all over it. Perfect for wiping up with the toasted bread afterwards!

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Javan's Burmese red pork stew with short grain rice and eggs two ways, came out looking a little less 'stewy' than I expected, but oh man. This was so delicious. The pork belly was just to die for, marinated in a dark sweet soy that the fat just sucked all up so that it could burst with flavour afterwards. The rice had salted egg smashed through which made me think of home, I kind of wished I had ordered this myself as I was definitely due for a rice fix at that point!

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I opted for the polenta and sausage ragu with mozzarella and over easy egg. Somehow, between the three of us, I managed to choose the heaviest dish! Rich and gooey, it wasn't the prettiest thing to look at, but the polenta and mozzarella together just made magic, as you scooped it out of the bowl with a trail of cheese strings following. Yum. Yum. Yum. It was perhaps a little heavy for that particular day, but if it had been in the heart of winter, this would have been just right. 

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Lastly, I had to order a serve of the chocolate potato doughnut with creme angalise. Silly me was thinking that it would be made of potato, which is what intrigued me, but the 'potato' aspect was just referring to the shape. Doh. Ash. 

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But, fortunately, it was totally awesome. It came with a slightly crystallised exterior, which gently broke away to reveal a soft and fluffy interior of diving cocoa goodness. Wipe up the puddle of creme angalise with it and you're sent off to sugar heaven. Dee-vine. 

From the experience I did have in Portland, I think I can say I love how accessible and easy going the eating scene is there. You don't have to fork out a lot of money for an amazing experience, in fact, most of the more interesting things to eat, or fun places to visit, are all within the cheaper end of the scale (in my opinion anyway). 

I definitely do miss the ice-cream from Salt and Straw, the array of food trucks that are everywhere and the fascination with doughnuts that look like they could kill you (but really aren't as sweet as they look!). Not to mention just the 'devil-may-care' feeling of the place, just be you, grab a craft beer and chill. I dig you Portland. 

If you wanted more details on the places I had eaten in my round up post, I will be updating it soon with links and google maps of everything. Keep an eye out!

2808 N Williams

Tasty n Sons on Urbanspoon


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Storm in a Teacup x Ladro Dinner

I love tea. But maybe not as much as the guys from Storm in a Teacup, who I've been watching on social media, who seem to be keeping themselves very busy with a variety of workshops and collaborations, which I think is totally awesome.

One collaboration I made sure to jump on, was their collaboration with Ladro, where for $65, you got 10 courses…which all involved tea. Um, bargain deliciousness, um, yes I'm there!

Stupid me though, assumed that because Storm in a Teacup was based in Collingwood, that the event would be at the Ladro in Collingwood. 


Did you see a BMW with a screaming lady in it, tearing down Punt Road about a month ago?

That would've been me.

Fortunately the Ladro's are not too far from each other, so I only missed some of the introduction and none of the food. Phew!

As this was a once off dinner, I'll try to be light on the words, but no promises!

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We started with a tea marshmallow bag, the marshmallow infused with earl grey tea. I used to sort of look down on marshmallows, as those overly sweet things that we would get at school camp, but having recently actually had good marshmallows, I've totally changed my view. This was such a fun way to start our meal. 

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A houjicha and gorgonzola jelly was an interesting combination, and also a fun plate to poke at. Wobble, wobble, wobble! I was surprised that the gorgonzola layer on top wasn't as overwhelming as I thought it would be, with the houjicha jelly still very gently coming through. 

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Ocean trout is cured with Gyokuro 35, coming out a gorgeously vibrant red. I can't say I really noticed the tea flavour in this, but maybe I needed to try the tea first before looking for it in the food, but this was so cool, refreshing and enjoyable, with a bit of crunch from radishes (I think?) on top.

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62 degree poached egg with a radicchio and Lapsang Souchong reduction is also bright in colour and another fun dish to poke at. Also, yolk porn.

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The cold smoked kingfish, also with Lapsang Souchong, is probably my favourite out of the entrees, with beautifully smooth, cool and tender fish, which was given a bit of fresh liveliness in flavour and aesthetic with gorgeously green peas. I could have eaten this for days!

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The duck breast was smoked with Lapsang Souchang as well, and had a beautifully firm but juicy texture. We all loved the salad that came with it, with edible dirt and carrots sticking out of them. So cute, playful and delicious! Whilst the duck really was quite outstanding, my friends and I were going back for the edible dirt, I can't quite recall what was in it, but there was a moreish saltiness to it, just like olives.

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Wagyu flank was served with an UVA Dry Season tea and onion puree, blushing fiercely pink and decorated with greens. Love it when meat is done just right, so tender but with a gorgeous char on the outside. 

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My friend had also gotten the matching drinks to go with the meal, and out of all the cocktails, I was definitely in love with the 'Too Drunk to Drive'. Port, vodka and a spherical ice cube with frozen Russian caravan tea. Stunning to look at, stunning to smell and luscious in flavour, which changed through the night as the tea ice cube slowly melted in.

Just as we were starting to get full, we were then put into place with not just one, two, but three desserts. Bring it on!

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An earl grey 'tea-a-misu'  came out as a generous serve. I personally loved this, because I do enjoy tiramisu, but I'm not huge into coffee, so having tea instead was a nice alternative. The sponge was so fluffy and the cream so light. Just lovely.

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The sencha green tea chocolate mousse and smoked olive oil foam had a slightly more savoury feel to it with the green tea which was interesting and also a much heavier feel in the mouth compared to the other dishes. Definitely more of a comforting dessert than the others we had!

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But easily our favourite, which also came in the smallest serve, was the liquorice and lavender panna cotta with a meringue. I think the earl grey in this dish was in the meringue, but I could be mistaken. Oh what a little beauty this was, floral, light and just singing of the spring time, we all wished we had more and my friend and I were definitely eyeing off people's unfinished cups. We're civil, totally…

All in all, although I found the tea flavours were very subtle, there's no doubting the meal was delicious and a lot of fun. It's always great to see chefs experiment with ingredients they're not very familiar with, it seems the chef at Ladro did really struggle to get the tea flavours in the way he wanted, and being the good guests we are, we all laughed with him (not at) as we vented his mild frustrations with us.

I'm looking forward to pop by Storm in a Teacup and actually try out some of the teas in the food we had, and also sample more of their tea based cocktails, the meal has also reminded me what solid food Ladro is doing and that I'm probably due for a pizza night soon...surely...

162 Greville Street

48 Smith Street