I won the Ultimate Gourmet Escape to Hobart, Tasmania


We’ve all seen those contests on Facebook and Instagram. They’re ever present. But do you ever sit back and think to yourself, who actually wins them? Would you believe it if I told you I won 3 in one week!

It all started with a raffle at artesian brewer Moon Dog. I had a couple of casual beers on a Saturday afternoon and before I knew it I walked away with a complimentary case of their intense annual brew Jumping the Shark. A few days later I had entered a contest on Facebook sponsored by local food guide The Urban List Melbourne and Crown Melbourne. I had won $200 to dine at world acclaimed Japanese restaurant Nobu. It was delicious of course.

But when my Instagram @Leeveca was pinged as the winner of The Ultimate Gourmet Escape presented by finedininglovers.com I couldn’t believe it. The prize included economy flights for two people to Hobart, Tasmania valued at $800, one night’s accommodation at MONA Pavilions valued at $700, MONA Gallery entry valued at $50, and dinner for two at Franklin Restaurant valued at $200.

When my friend Renee planned her visit from the US I gave her the ultimate ultimatum. In addition to adventuring around Melbourne, down the Great Ocean Road and across to Phillip Island, sailing the Whitsundays and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, she had to make a hard decision. Visit Australia’s most iconic city Sydney, or go rogue by adventuring to Tasmania to cash in my Ultimate Gourmet Escape prize. It was a no brainer, Tassie won.

After stepping off a 24-hour flight to Melbourne from Philadelphia via LAX and traveling by Sky Bus into Southern Cross Station, I quickly ushered her to my apartment in Richmond to shower, grab a quick bite and pack a small bag. A few hours later we were back at the airport sipping wine in the Qantas Lounge awaiting our flight to Hobart. Jetlag would have to wait.

View from Coal Valley Vineyard

View from Coal Valley Vineyard, Tasmania

Franklin is one of the hottest restaurants in Hobart right now and deservingly so. The kitchen is the epi-center of this simplistic, cement and timber themed eatery. Dining at the bar, our favourite part was observing the chefs expertly prepare each plate individually; taking their time as if it was their first. I envied both their patience and precision as there was definitely no rush to get it wrong.

Periwinkles @ Franklin Restaurant

Periwinkles @ Franklin Restaurant

Everything bar one dish was awesome. We experimented with periwinkles, a small sea snail with a surprisingly long body and questionably mushy finish. Not your typical escargot. We fought over the last oyster, bite of kingfish and wallaby tartare. The gamey wagyu however let us down.  Renee comfortably slept off her jetlag that evening in the picturesque Victorian era-restored hotel Hadley’s Orient.

Boutique Wine Tours Tasmania led us on a journey the next day through the historic town of Richmond and to sample the famed pinot noir of the Coal River Valley. Having been through here a few times prior, David who guided the tour exceeded my expectations as we visited the oldest church, goal and bridge in Australia (just saying the country isn’t that old), sipped quality pinot and sparkling at my favourite family owned winery Pooley Wines, and tasted chilli cheddar and more outstanding cheese at Wicked Cheese. The hospitality at Richmond Tasting House as Renee tried the local whiskies and I sat trying all the food samples on repeat, was a highlight.

Oldest Bridge in Australia, Richmond, Tasmania

Oldest Bridge in Australia, Richmond, Tasmania

That evening we were welcomed into MONA Pavilions, one of 8 uniquely designed apartments that are situated on the museum property facing the River Derwent, each named after a famed Australian architect or artist, going for $700 a night! Luckily it was my birthday at midnight so we celebrated with the complimentary bottle of Moorilla Estate’s Muse Brut while ensuring we made the most out of the place, the Beatles turned up through each modern speaker fitted in the wall units and sipped our sparkling on the veranda overlooking the river. Ours was coincidentally named Robin, which is Renee’s middle name.

MONA Pavilions

MONA Pavilions

The Source, the very upmarket and nationally respected contemporary, French-inspired restaurant at MONA was our biggest and most frustrating disappointment. While our server Alice was spunky and friendly, our sommelier appeared strangely depressed. The atmosphere, which seemed like a dated hotel function room, didn’t compliment the $200pp price tag for the 5-course degustation plus wine pairings. While I finished every bite of the Morton bugs with apple, wasabi and lime and the scallop gnocchi using a golden spork, I commented, “wow that was so interesting!”  And “oooh, this is so weird.” But Renee said it right at the end, as we requested a cheese plate over dessert and found that to be one of the best bits. She said, “For $200 I don’t want an interesting meal, I want a delicious one.” So true, despite us both being very passionate about food, every dish definitely challenged by palette.

Golden spork @ The Source

Golden spork @ The Source

Before flying out we spent the morning nursing our hangovers with Xavier, the fantastic host at the Moorilla Estate cellar door while working through a tasting flight of both the wines and Moo Brew beers.

Lisa & Renee @ Moorilla Cellar Door

Lisa & Renee @ Moorilla Cellar Door

We then entered MONA – the wacky Museum of New Art.  The exhibition featured the works of Marina Abramovic and it was weird and wonderful. Dark spaces contained videos of people screaming at the top of their lungs, of a woman frantically biting her nails, and a rice counting room where we had to leave our phone and watches behind after putting on a lab coat. Once we entered the room of complete silence we were separated, then a scoop full of rice was presented in front of us. We sat there for about 15 minutes and I thought to myself, to work here for hours staring at people staring at rice in silence would be insane. We then ended the day with a tour of Moorilla Estate, yes more wine.

On our journey home we watched the sunset from the airplane window all the way back to Melbourne. It was a memorable birthday with an old friend in a beautiful part of the world. A special thanks to finedininglovers.com for making it all possible.

For more ideas on what to do in Tasmania check out my previous post: My Tasmanian Secrets

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Twelve Apostles

Adventuring the Great Ocean Road


“Iconic Australia,” they say. “Car stopping scenery,” they’ve boasted. “Breathtaking natural wonders,” I read.

And it’s all true. The 243-kilometer stretch of road along Victoria’s Southeast coast is certainly to be admired. Even better, as a first timer I learned that what I like to lazily refer to as the GOR (Great Ocean Road) is the world’s longest war memorial; built from 1919 to 1932 in remembrance of those who died in WWI by it’s own returning soldiers.

Just like them we had a plan. Luckily though we averaged more than 3 kilometers a month. Leaving early on a Saturday morning we took the highway coupled with some back roads and traveled inland for about 4 hours directly to Warrnambool, the largest city along the Road just near its start. From there, we slowly made our way along the coast back toward Melbourne while seeing what was on offer.

Great Ocean Roadtrip

Great Ocean Roadtrip

And as far as Warrnambool is concerned I’ll tell you what’s on offer. Kermond’s Hamburgers is its biggest claim to fame and rightfully so! This old-school joint, still serving thick malted milkshakes in white aprons, was packed to the rafters. They keep the menu simple: burger, fried onions and bun. Customize it with normal stuff: tomatoes, lettuce, cheese or Aussie add-ons i.e. fried egg, beetroot, mayo. “Every bite of that vinegar jalapeno was like heaven in my mouth,” my Aussie travel companion slash foodie Nidya, slurred with her last bite.

We left excited to officially start our GOR journey but were quickly disappointed once we entered Allansford Cheese World. With a name such as Cheese World they set pretty high expectations. I mean, we practically did a 180 to get there as one would assume according to their advertising that there would be a monumental amount of cheese coupled with delicate wine tasting. What we experienced though was a service station, fast-food restaurant, Yellowtail retailer and tourist shop rolled into one. In the back, in the small room labeled Cheese, we were resurrected by delectable aged cheddars and somehow walked away with a varietal of 5 hefty wedges to consume over the weekend.

Cheese World

Cheese World

We traveled on and just as we began to smell the salty sea air and the coast came into view the sky turned overcast and it began to drizzle. We pulled off at the first few scenic lookouts to get some early snaps in a foggy view of the cerulean ocean contrasted against amazing limestone formations. I was starting to panic that my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snap the much anticipated – the whole reason we drove for hours and hours – this is not really happening I’m sure it will clear up any second – no really, is it seriously raining – iconic rock formations would be ruined by fowl weather.

Finally we reached the holy grail of Port Campbell, home to the famed Twelve Apostles (now actually ten) and “heart of the Great Ocean Road”. The tourist buses lined the parking lot and the selfie sticks were endless. I was thankful that I canceled the tour I booked six months ago and was here on my terms, or at least in a small group of intimate friends thanks to Wes’ amazing patience and driving skills.

But we were fast about it while still taking it all in. My head unknowingly blocked endless selfies and my hair whipped against my face causing a uni-brow in nearly every picture. Just as we were about to depart and began walking away the clouds cleared and the sun shimmered causing the right light on the striking water. It was stunning. Camera out, I finally got my shots. We could conclusively rest for the evening.

In Apollo Bay, our 4-bed lofted studio at Coastal Motel offered the right mix of comfort and location just across from the beach and walking distance to all of the charming restaurants and shops in town. Even better, we had a heap of cheese to consume along with boutique wine and beers we brought with us. In fact, the week prior I had just won a case of 14% (ABV) Jumping the Shark (Hungarian oak barrel-aged saffron’d imperial red ale aka intense) from Melbourne craft brewers Moon Dog and needed a team to consume them with. The Fonz couldn’t have done it alone either.

Sunday morning we were back on the road heading inland to explore Great Otway National Park and the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. Word to the wise, the winding, twisting, I-was-near-vomiting curves of the road to get there are to be cautioned about. But for real, my window was rolled down and my head was hanging out like a fatigued dog. $25 is a steep fare to walk on steel structures at the top of some trees and better value if you opted for their zip lining tours albeit for a much heftier price. We proudly boasted that between four of us we had zip lined in South Africa, Peru, and Laos so gave that a pass. But at 25 meters above the ground, the lush rainforest and distinct natural fauna made for a unique walk and we had no regrets for the experience, despite us nauseatingly needing to snake back the way we came once in the car.

Further along the coast sat the most amazing pub in the small town of Wye River. Wye Beach Hotel is more than just a charismatic beachfront bar and restaurant. Its exquisite food, coupled with an unexpected local beer selection and epicurean wine list was remarkable. For a true quiet holiday off the grid I’d recommend staying at one of the small hillside lodges. We closed our evening off with a curry back at local yet upmarket Apollo Bay Hotel before our final stretch home the following day.

Some of the best and curviest parts of the drive are around the quintessential beach town of Lorne. Shopping, restaurants, bars and beach – this popular spot with Melbournians was very busy on the sunny Monday. Luckily we were able to snag a table for breakfast at Lorne Beach Pavilion overlooking the beautiful sea to the sweet sound of children running and crying everywhere. Full on avocado smash, we parked ourselves at the edge of the sand and took in a few rays before continuing on and passing under the famed Great Ocean Road sign.

Now here’s the best part of coming home. We missed out, or actually intentionally avoided the popular seaside towns of Anglesea, Torquay, Jan Juc and others on our way back to the city in order to side track to the Bellarine Peninsula just outside of Geelong.

Terindah Estate and Jack Rabbit Vineyard share both a driveway and the coastline offering picturesque backdrops of vine against sea to sip against yet are two separate wineries. Applause to Will at Terindah for an exquisite presentation of their wines and scoring us a seat in the fully booked out restaurant to taste beautiful kangaroo, dory and lamb. Terindah was an all around standout! Their Chardonnay soft and buttery, Pinot Gris and Sauv Blanc surprisingly untraditional and their Shiraz/Viognier and Pinot Noir no brainers. I bought them all and want to come back again and again and again. So I will…

Terindah Estate Group Shot

Terindah Estate Group Shot

Brisbane’s become cooler than me


Everyone always digs on Brisbane. Even when I first moved to Australia it was all “it’s too small; everything closes early; there’s nowhere good to eat.” Compare it to likes of Sydney or Melbourne, and yeah, I get it. But guess what haters, at some point since moving away a year and a half ago, Brisbane’s upped its ante.

I always said if I could have the culture of Melbourne coupled with the weather of Brisbane I would be set for life. Now, I’m not going to go as far and say it’s been accomplished but seriously Brisbane, you’re picking up your weight.

On my most recent visit I was blown away at the duck liver parfait served at James Street’s trendy Gerard’s Bar. In fact, I added it on my “best thing ever” list and that was even after devouring truffle salami and mackerel tartare. Could the Brisbane dining scene be creeping in Melbourne’s wake?

And as for Fortitude Valley, the once seedy and still may be but only if you don’t know where to go now that Brisbane is cool, nightlife neighborhood, I didn’t go out ‘in’ the Valley but rather ‘under’ the Valley. Greaser, an American themed bar is housed in the cellar of a 130-year-old heritage building offering craft beers, American imports and a stellar whiskey list on the side of classic hot dogs.

Sure, I was still living in town when the hippest thing was old Queensland cottages being converted into uber-chic bars like Alfred & Constance, Kettle & Tin and Sixes & Sevens – as they all have uber-cool names too, but I hear even ‘hippie-haven’ West End has transformed itself upmarket with some new additions in its pocket.

I think it goes without saying another area where Brisbane hasn’t failed us is the craft beer front. From my old hang The Scratch to Tenerife’s Tippler’s Tap and their recent Southbank prodigy Tomohawk Bar and let’s not forget the micro-brewers Green Beacon and classic Bacchus Brewing, Brisbane is where its at.

What’s still not cool is having to leave an establishment to go find a bathroom somewhere down the street rather then in the bar/restaurant/café, but over time you may just get that right too, Brisbane.

In the meantime, I recognize there’s all the extra stuff that even made Brisbane cool back when I was living there. An awesome music scene, a laid back life style and pristine beaches in an arm’s reach, so yeah Brisbane, maybe you were cool all along.

Read more about my adventures in Brisbane here.

How I accidentally became an AFL fan


Okay I’ll admit. I like AFL.

The revelation came to me last night during the semi-finals of Hawthorn vs. Port Adelaide. My eyes were focused, my pulse was racing and the comments coming from my mouth were volatile. In fact, I never anticipated when entering the dark, unassuming warehouse of Moon Dog Craft Brewery that I would witness a large screen projecting the second most awaited game of the season on its back brick wall. Hipsters don’t like football. But Melbourne hipsters do.

And that’s what I think makes it all more appealing. It’s a game like nothing else; call it football or footy or Aussie Rules. It’s a sport that combines the skills of soccer and rugby with a very visually stimulating set of athletes – tall and lean, toned arms and quick speed.

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My second live AFL game at the MCG

Maybe it’s the fact that Melbourne breeds AFL. There are currently 18 teams in the Australian Football League (AFL), half of which are based in Victoria and around Melbourne. It’s a bit of a religion, and during football season you better know which team you support.

I’ll fess up though, I don’t have a team. Nearly a year and a half living in Melbourne and I just can’t choose. I live in Richmond, yet previously lived with a Geelong supporter, casually dated a guy who went for Essenden, but then again Hawthorn is number one. There was also that one time that I partied with a handful of the boys from the Sydney Swans, my other housemate went for Fremantle, and I used to live in Brisbane so have a soft spot for the Lions even though they aren’t very good. You can now see my predicament.

I can only blame this on the boys. Living with two faithful AFL fanatics for a year seemed to have influenced more than I would have thought. During football season our townhouse became an AFL haven. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. From watching countless matches I learned about goals, handballs and kicks. I could associate names and numbers with those players I deemed as hot and which teams they played for.

What pushed me over the edge was my voluntary entrance into the work tipping (betting) pool that lasted the entire season. I’m proud to say I came in 4th place, which is pretty darn good for a first timer. Because there was potential to win a few hundred bucks, I even surprised myself by checking the scores on my phone over the weekend and ensured I got my bets in on time while traveling overseas.

The best part about the madness of football appreciation in Melbourne is that Richmond, the neighborhood I live in, is where the action takes place. The MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds) is the 13th largest stadium in the world, and can host 100,024 people. Because there’s a guaranteed game every weekend during season, along with the fact that all of the pre-game bars are a short walk from my residence, whether I want it or not, I’m surrounded by AFL hype. Plus, the large stadium lights are now an iconic symbol of what I’ll always remember Melbourne by.

Melbourne Skyline

Melbourne Skyline and the MCG from my old rooftop

The biggest game of the year, the Grand Final, is scheduled for this coming Saturday. And while I think it would be an experience of a lifetime to attend, the cost for the ticket is what is dissuading me. At the least, I can rest assured that instead of being turned off by the madness that is Grand Final Day at the MCG in Richmond, I welcome the sport and all that comes along with it.

Queenstown: A Solo Adventure


I intently stared out of the window, camera in position as we descended out of the cloudbank and into view of the vast snow tipped mountains called the Remarkables. This landscape is absolutely extraordinary.

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The plane began to shake as we entered the windy valley between the incredibly close mountain ranges, then all of the sudden, oomph. My head smacked the side of the window and my tray table unfastened itself from the locked position. Panic. We must have dropped a few feet before leveling out again. “Don’t worry,” said the flight attendant over the intercom. “It’s just the wind between the mountains, nothing to be alarmed about.”

Welcome to Queenstown! A buzzing town of snow bunnies crossed with adventure sports, breathtaking scenery and world-renowned pinot noir sipped against the backdrop of white capped peaks.

“Are you skiing?”  “Snowboarding then?” “So, what are you doing here?”  My reply was simple, I’m here to eat well and drink wine. Snow Sheep Queenstown In a town where every other backpacker, boys weekend or family vacation seem to hit the slopes or jump off either one of the tallest or oldest bungy’s in the world, is it possible to enjoy yourself as a single traveler not in the slightest interested in the above? Sure is. I’d even rate Queenstown as not only my number one favorite destination in New Zealand but at the top of my books all around. So what’s there to get up to?

The Bars:

I hung with the locals at Atlas Beer Café, deemed Queenstown’s home of craft beer including microbrew Emerson’s (go with the English Porter on the hand pump) along with some guest taps and locally sourced food, like the lick smacking steak with demi-glace and Café de Paris butter, served with a side salad and fries.

The Find, previously known as The World Bar, was a great place to go solo. Maybe it’s just because Queenstown, unlike many Aussie bars, actually have bar stools at the bar. There’s nothing better than saddling up at the bar for a snack staring up at the teapots which house cocktails for the backpackers who trickle in later in the evening.

And lastly, cozy, dimly lit places like The Bunker  and Bardauex offer extensive New Zealand wine collections and a soothing, chilled out atmosphere with big comfy sofas around outdoor fire pits or indoor blazes.

This is between all of the countless bars and nightclubs including Cowboy’s, Winnie’s and Searle Social Club amongst many other late night spots where you can find inebriated late teens and early twenty-something’s, and myself on one or two occasions, dancing the night away.

The Wine:

But then let’s not forget it was the wine I came for.

The Winery is a storefront that offers a taste of over 80 different New Zealand wines. Grouped by variety, the philosophy of this place is simple, yet expensive. Insert your “wine card” and choose from a taste, half glass, or full glass of some of the most desired wines in the region. At about an average of $5 a taste, I tried a few high-end Pinots then called it day.

This was after I went on my Queenstown Trail: Original Wine Tour just the day before. Lance, a 20 year wine-guide veteran led us to four different wineries in the Gibbston Valley, Central Otago. I’d rate them as such:

Best Tasting Room: Gibbston Valley Winery – set in New Zealand’s largest wine cave

Best Tasting Host: Waitiri Creek – Jason, the vineyard manager of this family owned winery passionately and simply broke down the chemistry of wine making into terms us normal-folk could understand

Best Wine: Remarkable Wines – only winery where I enjoyed the whole range; walked away with the 2009 Pinot Noir

Best Notoriety: Amisfield – while I can’t afford their both delicate and elegant vintages, Will and Kate famously made a stop here on their recent visit

The Food:

When in New Zealand it’s all about the lamb, oysters and prime cuts of beef.

I felt I was back in Melbourne while dining at Madame Woo, an eclectic modern Asian restaurant with delectable sticky pork belly dishes and thick curry’s set to tune of some of my favorite bands like the Kooks and Cold War Kids.

While Vudu Café is rated the number one brunch spot, you’d be lucky to score a seat. Instead, Bob’s Weigh Café was a smaller, simpler option serving great muesli and rumored the best coffee in town.

The Great Outdoors:

Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing aside, in town there are still a few options.

While the number one activity is to ride the Skyline Gondola up Bob’s Peak, I decided to take the bolder way up: my two feet. It took an hour from the base to zig zag through the forest up the mountain following the Tiki Trail. I’m not going to say it was easy, but nothing any reasonably fit person couldn’t handle with a few huff and puff’s in between Gatorade guzzling breaks. Even better, the trail was absolutely quiet. Only every so often I’d run into another hiker passing down on the trail. The best part was finally reaching the top and the breathtaking views over Lake Watakipu. Lake Wakatipu Once at the summit there are a few options from dining, bungying, zip-lining, more hiking or the luge. And while the luge came highly recommended from a charming traveler I met, after standing in line for an hour in freezing rain sandwiched between two families with small, irritating children, my ride down the ‘scenic track’ was more of an escape effort if anything. With the rain coming down too heavy to hike back down Bob’s Peak, I coughed up the steep fair of $19 for the Gondola ride back into town. Queenstown Luge The People:

And none of my above experiences would have been so great if I was truly alone in it all. There were kind, approachable people that I met along the way. From an impromptu pub-crawl to discover the town with a friendly Norwegian, to the American and Aussie girls from my wine tour who invited me along to dinner and the handsome Irish boy who bought me chocolate/chocolate-chip ice cream. It was only on the last day as I sat in a café to escape the cold and rain before flying back to Australia that I had a sense of being alone, but luckily a book and one last English Porter did the trick.

Yes Please! An Evening of Beer and Cheese


Shout from the rooftops, it’s Good Beer Week! The much anticipated annual event offers hundreds of food and beer pairings, educational classes, tap take overs and more spread across the city. Without spoiling myself too much I attended Yes Please! An Evening of Beer and Cheese at Mr. Wolf in St. Kilda.

An Evening of Beer and Cheese

I’ll be honest though, I signed up for this event after one too many pints at an Irish pub in South Yarra based on the loose requirements of a cost under $50 and inclusion of cheese. It was advertised as pairing of Italian cheese and beer, and my expectations were low. I know nothing about the craft beer scene in Italy, and despite having an affinity for cheese, it’s strictly superficial. I was even less impressed initially with the 6 pm start, restricting any opportunity for dinner prior, and finally 30 minutes later we got our first sampling. Grouped at high tables seating 8, my friend and I joked with the strangers how the absence of dinner coupled with the aroma of pizza coming from the dining room was a ploy to direct us to eat in the restaurant post event.

But we were wrong. Despite a disorganized introduction from Will Studd, representative from Calendar Cheese, and what appeared to be animosity, although some suspected it was playful banter, with Leonardo Di Vincenzo from Birra Del Borgo, when our first platter was presented to the table we couldn’t believe our eyes. I’m not a fan of sharing at these types of events, portions can often be cheap and you end up politely giving the last piece to a stranger despite secretly wanting it for yourself. This was not the case however, the value for the cost was applauding.

We began with Mauri ‘Bontazola’ Gorgonzola Piccante Pasturo, Italy and Mauri “Bonta della Bonta’ Dolce Pasturo, Italy, both coupled with Birra Del Borgo ‘Reporter’. In simple terms, we tried two gorgonzola’s, the first being harder, more blue with an intensity in the flavour compared to the ‘dolce’ which was softer and smooth. They both were a great accompaniment to the tobacco porter, which we learned basically contained fermented tobacco, dipped into the brew like a giant tea bag to infuse the flavour.

The Mauri ‘Cave Ripened’ Tallegio Pasturo, Italy, is a cheese matured in caves in the Italian Alps, a very rare occurrence and the Mauri family being one of the only ones left doing so. The cool and humid environment allows for bacteria to grow on the outside, making the rind yeasty in flavour but edible once washed. It was so creamy, coupled with the imperial pilsner ‘My Antonia’. I loved the sweet beginning and the bitter aftertaste. This pairing was also my favourite of the day, but it was still a very hard decision. At this stage we reached the half-way point and I was already feeling my stomach stretch. All the sudden I began to regret my snarl remarks about minimal breadsticks at the start and skipping dinner.

Mr Wolf

A special guest appearance from Giorgio Cravero from Cravero cheese had the group educated about parmesan. The Cravero family of the mountains of northern Italy has been producing parmesan since 1855 and is now in its fifth generation. He told us that out of only 370 producers, 90% are just average. This is coming from a cheese predominately consumed only in Italy. While the cheese we tasted was aged 29 months, this is fairly old for a parmesan. Wrapped in foil so it didn’t oxidize, we were instructed to squeeze then taste, although for most of us the cheese was quite dense and resulted in nothing. Giorgio recommended parmesan goes great with a sparkling white wine, but I found the American pale ale, ‘ReAle’, really drinkable with its caramel malts offering a sweetness mixed with a spicy and bitter finish.

Birra Del Borgo Re Ale

We finished with Il Forteto Pecorino Toscano DOP Stagionato Tuscany, Italy coupled with ‘ReAle Extra’, an IPA and Antica Formaggieria Pecorino Romano Lazio, Italy with ‘Hoppy Cat’ Cascadian dark ale.  Pecorino Romano is claimed to be the original cheese, before parmesan. This is because pecorino comes from sheep, and sheep have come before cows. All pecorino’s are made in Sardinia, in southern Italy. They were both big and salty, like a gulp from the ocean with a bit of stink to it and the Hoppy Cat was much lighter in colour than expected, a dark ale rather than a black IPA.

I walked into Mr. Wolf hungry with small expectations in regards to the beer but waddled out with an appreciation for new cheese and hand on the back to Birra Del Borgo who make not only hip labels, but stellar beers.

 

 

 

My Tasmanian Secrets


Tasmania is not in Africa. It’s is not a remote tropical island in Southeast Asia either. If fact, Tasmania is just another state within Australia.

Often the butt of insensitive jokes by many Australians about inbred farmers, backward small town ways and the like, my recent visit was nothing of a joke though. I came purely for the Pinot Noir but left with so much more.

Hobart

A flight from Melbourne to Hobart round-trip cost me less then accommodation for one night in Launceston. It’s cheap and conveniently an hour away. I’m also lucky my friend David has a corporate apartment downtown so that was a gracious offer that made things very easy.

But with less than 48 hours in Hobart we had to narrow down our options and I would highly recommend the below:

Salamanca Place: for a small town, this is where the action happens. An old historic square with cafes, restaurants and bars around the parameter its one of the few areas open late and bound to have some people around, especially when we flew on a Thursday evening. On Saturday mornings the Salamanca Market is one of the most famous in Australia, with over 300 stalls of local crafts, produce, street performers and more. For drink and nosh I recommend Cargo Bar Pizza Lounge and Grape Food and Wine.

Criterion salted caramel waffles

Criterion salted caramel waffles

Criterion Street Café: was literally the best breakfast I’ve had in my life. After a friends recommendation to try the caramel salted waffles with vanilla mascarpone I was immediately smitten. We also wanted to try to the corn and green chili fritters since after all, it was breakfast. The service was impeccable, anticipating we wanted the fritters to share at the start and the waffles for dessert; they brought out two separate, huge servings and didn’t even charge extra. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so full, but I would get on a plane right now to eat there again.

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA): This is the place known for being weird. Australians flock to Tasmania to visit the one true modern art gallery in the country. Those who have visited places such as MoMa and the Tate think it’s nothing too different but if you’re in Hobart this is a must visit.

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While you can drive, one of the best parts of the experience is to hop on the Mona Roma, the high-speed ferry that takes about 40 minutes to reach the museum. While not only being an educational ride with commentary about the landscape, the ferry offers decorative artwork, a funky interior of leather stools, a live parrot and even fake sheep as seats (cattle car) in addition to serving Moo Brew and Moorilla Estate wines on board. On the MONA property you could literally spend a whole day in the exhibits alone, everything from a room of TVs singing Madonna acapella to a poo machine, a project simulating the digestive system of the human body. But then there’s the food such as wood fired pizza, local cheese and meat platters and even fine dining; and the drink, like wine tastings from Moorila Estate and beer flights from Boo Brew; and the scenery, overlooking the water, the vineyard and the town in the background. Saturdays they host markets on the lawn, where on occasion are live performers and it’s just a great place to relax in the sun and enjoy chilled out Tasmania.

East Coast

After leaving Hobart we decided to drive up the east coast to make our way north to Launceston. It all happened in just one day and was jam-packed. I definitely recommend spacing it out if you’ve got the time.

Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park: There’s a reason why I love and thoroughly read my in flight magazine. In this instance, without doing so I would not have known to visit and contribute to saving the endangered Tasmanian devils. They’re only found in the wild in Tasmania, so what a once in a lifetime experience. The entrance fee was a bit steep at $33, but knowing the proceeds went toward a good cause made it worth it. The dog like animals, many of which have a contagious facial cancer were interesting to watch, as they are the largest meat-eating marsupial. While in heat they made loud, screeching noises while barring their razor teeth and were quite aggressive during their feeding time, which we got to watch (dead possum, yum). There were some other animals at the park as well such as kangaroos, wallabies, and birds so there is enough wildlife to kill an hour or so to make it worth the visit.

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Port Arthur

Port Arthur

Port Arthur: is a historical site about an hour and half southeast of Hobart that used to house convicts. Not just any convicts, but those that had already committed a crime and their first punishment was to be sent to Australia in the first place. If you committed another, Port Arthur was your likely destiny. The admission fee included a 40 minute guided tour, which was enough to help us understand what we were looking at and where we wanted to spend the remainder of our time while exploring the grounds. Unfortunately, because we had such a long drive ahead of us it meant we didn’t discover much, but even dropping by made for a beautiful drive and an educational experience.

Freycinet National Park: is a beautiful national park on the east coast of Tasmania about 3 hours north from Port Arthur. Our sole purpose was to visit Wineglass Bay, an outlet of Cole’s Bay shaped like a wineglass. Our plan was to drive up the coast, have a hike around the national park, watch the water shimmer against Wineglass Bay and then travel on to Launceston. But we arrived too late. Dusk was starting to set and frankly, Wineglass Bay didn’t look like anything special. The park information center was already closed and we didn’t have a permit to park. We went for about a 5-minute hike, or more specifically it was just a walk to the water’s edge, and decided to call it a day. Luckily the Edge Restaurant at the Edge of the Bay Resort was open for dinner. We figured, at the least enjoying a delicious meal overlooking the bay would make the long travel time worth it before we had to head back into the car to make our way further North. I had the local specialty of the blue eye trevalla coupled with the Freycinet Valley’s own, Gala Estate Riesling.

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No one told us in advance not to drive at night though. I will tell you now, do not drive at night! It was another two hours after we left Cole’s Bay to Launceston and we figured easy enough. But once on the road, winding our way away from the coast inland and north the GPS took us through another national park. Pitch black, there was no one else on the slow, curvy road. I put on my glasses because at that point I had one official duty, to watch the side of the road for animals. Carcass after carcass of dead animal bodies lay splattered on the road ahead of us so we decided to slow down even more, going no more then 40 kilometers while the radio blasted Saturday evening techno music. It was going to be a long 2 hours, and despite our best efforts before we knew it, boom. Regrettably, a huge kangaroo ran into the car from the side. Luckily he hopped away and we are still praying he is okay.

Launceston

I recently discovered that Tasmanians from Hobart and Launceston have a city rivalry. With just a short amount of time in both cities, I’d put my money on Launceston.

Tamar Valley: Pronounced tame-er, out of all the wine valleys in Tasmania we chose to tour this one. Their Pinot Noirs can be described as heavy and earthy, similar to those of Oregon in the Northwest of the US.  I had high hopes and anticipated shipping home cases and cases, but I left with just one bottle in my suitcase (interestingly from the Coal River Valley outside of Hobart). I’m not sure if my disappointment was because I don’t fully understand my own pallet, or simply because I was more surprised to learn and love their dry Rieslings, interesting Fume Blanc’s and mild Sparkling. I even revisited my old friends Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio and learnt in more detail the actual difference of the two.

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We booked a tour with Prestige Leisure Tours, and by luck we were actually the only ones booked in for the day. That meant we could customize the tour to our liking and our number one priority was to visit Bay of Fires, one of our top picks from the Pinot Palooza event we attended back in September.  But first we made a stop a Josef Chromy, the worldwide winner for their 2011 Chardonnay that was obviously, but unfortunately not available for tasting. I did however purchase the 2013 to hold on to in the hopes it will mature just as nicely as I’m told that Chardonnay is Tasmania’s best kept secret.

The favorite of the day was Dalamere Vineyard, a small family owned winery in the Pipers Brook region. We got to sit with the winemaker Fran and chat in detail about their handpicked fruits and it was pleasant to just be in a casual, non-touristy setting. Despite them being known for their excellent sparkling, I left with the most interesting of them all, the 2013 Fume Blanc.

We had lunch at Piper’s Brook Vineyard, but I was less impressed with their larger scale production and average food. We then moved on to Leaning Church, another small, picturesque vineyard with amazing views, but I found none of the wine too memorable. At the least, our fabulous driver Michael was helpful in providing recommendations on how to spend our last 24 hours in Tasmania.

Dickens Cider: offers amazing, locally produced ciders and the cute bar in downtown Launceston was a clear next stop once we returned from the wine tour. This is real cider too, thick, cloudy and only natural sugars, it was a refreshing alternative to the bottled stuff I usually drink on other occasions.

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The owner recommended and made reservations for us at the Black Cow Bistro, one of the town’s best upmarket restaurants offering Tasmania’s finest steak. Oh my, truffle béarnaise sauce on lean Tasmanian beef, despite us being quite a few drinks deep we still enjoyed the deliciousness of it all. We made one last stop off for the night, despite it being a Sunday and stumbled over to St. John Craft Beer. I was so excited to try some different beers offered on their ten or so taps but left frustrated and disappointed. The two brothers who owned the place were quite rude and unhelpful, assuming I would want just an average lager and didn’t offer tastings. It was like pulling teeth before I got handed over the amazing Kooinda Black IPA.

Coal River Valley

It was only 2 hours south down the middle of the state to the quant town of Richmond before we turned off to visit much acclaimed Frogmore Creek Wines. We had a couple of hours to kill before our flight back to Melbourne and I refused to leave without a Pinot Noir, despite the other 3 bottles of white wine in my suitcase. Unfortunately their restaurant was closed so we had a quick tasting, I bought a bottle of the 2012 42 degrees Pinot Noir and we moved on.

Coal Valley Vineyard

Coal Valley Vineyard

Coal Valley Vineyard was just a kilometer or so down the road so we turned off to enjoy an amazing cheese platter and a glass of pinot in the sunshine overlooking the vines. This was the perfect way to close off the vacation. Shortly afterward we made our way over to Barilla Bay Oyster Farm, literally a five-minute drive from the airport to try some fresh oysters before boarding our flight. The restaurant didn’t open until 5 unfortunately, so we got a plate of 12 fresh oysters from the take out counter and sat and enjoyed them on ice with a squeeze of lemon.

The Qantas Lounge in Hobart’s airport is only open until 4 pm fyi, which was really disappointing. We still had some time until our evening flight departed so sat in the airport enjoying one last pinot, Abel’s Tempest Pinot Noir, the same wine we had on our first night in Salamanca to close out the trip in a very Tassie way.

Melbourne Food & Wine, Oh So Fine


The annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is happening now. Should I consider these 17 days my new favorite time of year?

Despite involuntary urges to register myself for nearly every fine dining, wine sipping, foodie-mingling experience, I had to restrain myself. Instead, I opted to dabble lightly in the water-themed festivities by attending one free and one paid event.

Nestled in bustling Queensbridge Square (Southbank) and literally on the Yarra River overlooking the city is the Immersery, festival kitchen, bar and rain garden.   In theory, it’s a free event but in reality you won’t leave without being tempted to spend some cash.

The Immersery

The Immersery

The massive pop-up venue has a floating bar featuring live acoustic music, a rainforest and misting rooftop bar serving Victoria’s Seppelt, Coldstream Hills and T’Gallant wine and a tempting menu of dumplings, fine meat selections and vegetarian options crafted by leading chef’s from Melbourne’s top restaurants Silo, Añada & Bomba, Huxtable & Huxtaburger, Borrowed Space, and Tani Eat & Drink. To be honest, after spending $55 on a bottle of Coldstream Hills Chardonnay, $30 on the disappointing meat platter we roamed around to learn a bit more about green living, explored the mist of the rain garden and called it day.

My highlight of the festival however was the King and the Squire five-course degustation held at the Portland Hotel and James Squire Brewhouse last Saturday. I expected pub food and poorly matched beer pairings but left with a stomach full of exquisite deliciousness and ten beers deep.

King Island Tasting Menu, The King and The Squire

King Island Tasting Menu

Sat at long tables the event was a mix of family style sharing and individual serves all paired to the likes of James Squire beers around the theme of King Island, a small island off the coast of Tasmania known for beef, cheese and seafood. General Manager Joe kicked things off with an entertaining introduction of how they conceptualized the King Island theme around Cloud Juice and walked us through each course offering educational tips on the differences between lager and ale, the beer making process and how to pour the perfect pint.

The meal started off with a shooter size serve of gazpacho: seaweed, a hint of chili and quite rich, it was the perfect serving size and ended with a large oyster at the finish. Also, a great paring with the Orchard Crush Apple Cider.

The next course was worth the money alone. As Joe finished telling us about Cloud Juice, the purest of rainwater collected on King Island and bottled to the likes of marketing influenced tourists I saw the masterpiece out of the corner of my eye being served to the next table. Huge buckets full of a seafood wonderland served on ice. Whole lobsters, razor clams, mussels, raw oysters, oysters shots, and 5 pepper fried prawns. A bucket served four people and that was overly generous. As I expertly removed the lobster meat from the claw like a seasoned professional in one pull, the experience combined with the taste sent me back to summers at the Jersey Shore.

Our next course, and we’re nearly full at this stage, was a large portion of very rare steak, almost too rare but also so tender. Accompanied by crispy carrots covered in cinnamon, a beautifully sweet parsnip puree and oxtail dumplings exploding with flavor. While others commented the oxtail was unnecessary and too much meat on the plate I agree there could have been a green however the bitterness of the cabbage on the dumpling exterior was a nice balance to the rest of the dish. The Nine Tales Amber Ale was the perfect accompaniment to the red meat.

Whether you want desert or not when someone puts a warm chocolate fondant in front of you with fresh mint mango sorbet (the one item not from King Island yet there was no shame in admitting it), it’s impossible to say no. Paired with the Jack of Spades Porter it went handsomely with the chocolate.

To close the day was a platter of King Island roaring 40’s blue, sharp cheddar and a soft Brie with two last beers.

After thanking the top chef Nick, Joe was more than accurate when he said, “ I think we all know the hero of the day is the cow!” I’m overly impressed with the attention to detail, serving sizes and both value and superiority of the food. Will definitely be attending a future event at the Portland Hotel.

To top it off, as I said, attention to detail, we were all given a quick tour of the brewery, sample menus from the day’s servings, and a bottle of Cloud Juice!

Mornington Peninsula


The Mornington Peninsula is a region southeast of Melbourne known for producing fabulous pinot noirs and chardonnays  – two of my favorite varieties. Although small, the fifty or so wineries scattered about it, in addition to cheese farms, strawberry fields, weekend markets and cute B&Bs make for the perfect weekend getaway.

After about an hour’s drive Wes, Gemma, Anne Marie and I found ourselves winding around the steep incline up to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a major tourist attraction overlooking the peninsula, the city of Melbourne in the far distance, and a beautiful view of the ocean 305 meters above sea level.  On a cloudy day like yesterday our view of the city was limited unfortunately however the overall lookout was breathtaking. After a quick jaunt around the national park and a photo snap on Arthur’s infamous seat it was time to move on.

Arthur's Seat

T’Gallant winery was our first stop. With picnic tables hugging the vines it was the perfect place for a cheese plate and gourmet pizza, accompanied by a not too oversweet moscato and a bottle of their sparkling. Bringing along Wes’ dachshund Frieda meant we were the posse accompanying his celebrity, as guests couldn’t resists a pat despite his sandy paws leaving dirt prints on their pants. Overdivulging, we didn’t leave before trying their ice cream with honeycomb dessert and at that point the rain had settled and we were eager to move on.

Next door, I thought it was a joke that we arrived at Ten Minutes by Tractor, another fabulous, two-chef winery in the region. This small cozy winery consists of three local farms only ten minutes by tractor from one to another, which inspired the name once they decided to partner up. Already high profile due to their celebratory chef status, they’ve been featured in many magazines, including a favorite of mine Qantas’ The Australian Way. I couldn’t leave without their 10X pinot noir in my hand.

Ten minutes by tractor

Opting for a something different, we headed another few minutes down the road to Mock Red Hill orchard. A bit desolate we weren’t even sure if they were open, but upon walking into the original cool room built in 1945 we were greeted with friendly smiles by two of the siblings of the family owned business. We learnt quite a bit about the fine details of cider making, and the Mock family pride themselves on their biodynamic, no sugar added ciders. Clearly, how could I resist not walking out with a 6-pack of their fine classic cider.

Not sure what our next stop would be, we took an impromptu left turn as Gemma shouted, “that one,” and found ourselves at the cellar door of Lindeberry at Red Hill. Not realizing at first, this hoity toity wedding reception hall, spa and cellar door has recently won a five star for their pinot noir in the James Halliday 2014 wine competition. The priciest yet of all of our visits, yet well worth the cost of the pinot.

Lindenberry cellars Lindenberry cellars

As the day was winding down we traveled another 30 minutes south to the sea to stop in the small village of Portsea. Animals were forbidden in the national park and we didn’t want to discriminate against Frieda so bundled up in Portsea Hotel’s back garden. Relaxing on wooden picnic benches, the view overlooked the ocean and we nibbled on potatoes wedges with sour cream and sweet chili as our last stop of the day before making the sleepy journey back up to Melbourne.

Portsea

What a beautiful day, and I feel so grateful to Wes for taking me to yet again another beautiful wine region. I leave you with a fine quote of his, “he’s a prawn – you take the head off, and the rest is fine.” 

Sneaky Melbourne


Melbourne is a sneaky city. There are a plethora of bars, restaurants, pop up stores and hidden secrets behind unmarked doors, down unsuspecting stairways and concealed within graffiti-clad, ‘street art’ painted laneways.

Last weekend I was on a personal mission to get out and about. After spending more weekends away from this city then in it, the bars of Melbourne were calling.

A Friday night in the city is great for after work drinks while suit-donning professionals let off steam after a long workweek. Making our way across Bourke Street, Wes and I found ourselves staring at an obvious office building. Despite the address saying this is where our sought after destination resided, it was only until I noticed the sign within the stairwell pointing us up three flights of stairs that we arrived at Madame Brussels.

Madame Brussels

Madame Brussels

Self described “a rather fancy terrace and public house,” this cute rooftop bar specializes in cocktails and punches and overlooks the eastern side of the city. The inside parlor resembles your grandmothers back garden, with faux grass carpet and flower patterned seat cushions. Although the menu and branding is over-the-top cheesy pink, and the limited food menu wasn’t too impressive, this is the perfect place for a girl’s soiree to sip cocktails and gossip out on the all white balcony in the summer months.

A colleague recommended our next destination – down a laneway in Chinatown, the door more or less unmarked aside from the small coat of arms of Berlin (bear) sign above the black paint. Up one-flight of steps takes you to a door and a glowing green doorbell. After being greeted by a hostess you will either get seated in posh West Berlin, with leather couches and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling or sinister East Berlin, neon lights and all. Being our first visit to Berlin Bar, we opted for the bar stools over the bunk beds in East Berlin and chose our respective beverages from the list of German imports.

Berlin Bar

Berlin Bar

On Saturday afternoon the outdoors were calling so I headed back into the city to meet a friend at the James Squire Brewhouse. I was excited to order a paddle and try five different brews but easily became disappointed as the service was slow and menu options overpriced. After a few pints of their One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale it was time to move on.

As we were craving another pub vibe it was off to the Sherlock Holmes Inn down unsuspecting Collins Street. Dark and rustic with exposed wood beams and Holmes paraphernalia, the atmosphere was a cozy alternative as the sun went down. Best yet, they had on tap all classic British beers that I haven’t tasted in years such as Kilkenny, Hob Goblin and Old Speckled Hen.

Sherlock Holmes Inn

Sherlock Holmes Inn

On with the bar hopping theme it was time to try something different, Robot Sushi. Hidden down a laneway this Japanese bar is a nerd’s paradise. Specializing in Japanese beers and sake, with authentic Japanese bartenders and all, the small bar is decorated with Godzilla posters, fun robot paintings and classic video games. Tuesday nights they even do free anime screenings.

Sticking with my new tradition of brunch and a walk through a new neighborhood on Sundays, I ventured on foot through the shopping haven of Chapel Street in South Yarra, onwards window-shopping through Prahran and Windsor, and finally ended up along the Esplanade of St. Kilda.

St. Kilda Esplanade

St. Kilda Esplanade

Although the beaches of St. Kilda aren’t the best, it’s still reassuring to know that they’re just a tram ride away. Sipping wine over looking the beach and listening to live music at Republica, it really got me pumped for the summer months approaching and all outdoor areas all over this town.

Luna Park, St. Kilda

Luna Park, St. Kilda

Its no wonder that Melbourne was just voted the number one city to live in the world for the third year in a row!