This year’s Gourmet Escape was the hottest on record with temperatures soaring to 35°C on the Sunday. Fortunately the heat had no effect on the crowd levels and by the late morning the Gourmet Village was teeming with life. I was lucky enough to score front row seats to the first show on the main stage; the WA Signature Dish Final 2015 Cook-off.
For those of you who haven’t been following my coverage of WA Signature Dish this year, it is an annual cooking competition for amateur chefs that promotes Western Australia’s beautiful and abundant local produce.
Entrants must create a recipe that best represents our “State on a plate” using one or more of the “hero ingredients” from either the Gascoyne, Kimberley, Swan Valley & Surrounds or Peel regions.
I returned in an official capacity for 2015 to support the Gascoyne region and was so happy to see Jerolina Rankin progress to become the regional finalist. I met the lovely Jerolina last year on our trip up to the Gascoyne for the semi-finals and her passion and love for the region is endless.
I was told by insider sources that the judge’s votes were a very close call with all dishes being of an excellent standard, successfully showcasing the wonderful produce of their respective regions.
Of course there can only ever be one winner and it was music to my ears to hear the announcement that the winner for the WA Signature Dish 2015 is Jerolina with her Gascoyne seafood broth with Shark Bay wild prawns. Woo hoo!! Congratulations Jerolina and the Gascoyne producers!
After the excitement of the cook off, we headed over to the Buy West Eat Best stall to try some of the dishes ourselves. Sadly Jerolina’s dish had already sold out so we didn’t get to try it. Instead we ordered the dishes from the Kimberley and blogger Matt Cook’s dish from Perth.
We enjoyed both of the dishes and appreciated how hard the judges must have found picking a winner.
Historically my approach to attending the Gourmet Village has been to methodically visit every stall holder due to my well-known affliction with FOMO. It would be torture to see someone’s photo later that night on Instagram of a dish I didn’t get to eat! 😮
But due to a recent heavy burden of work related stress I have been a bit off my game leaving me with minimal tolerance to stand in the direct sun. Consequently the Boy and I used a more targeted approach to a couple of gluten free friendly stalls individually taking turns to line up in the sun while the other reserved a patch of shade.
Both dishes at the Bib & Tucker stall were gluten free friendly and it was hard to pick a favourite as they were both prepared and presented well. The charcoal roasted Blackwood Valley lamb shoulder was melt-in-your-mouth tender and was served with a dollop of charred eggplant purée, a dukkah crisp and pomegranate seeds.
The other Bib & Tucker dish was a pair of raw tuna tostadas; diced tuna served on a crisp tortilla with fresh avocado, green apple, radish and lime.
At the Genuinely Southern Forest stall they were promoting all the wonderful produce of the region. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointment that they didn’t participate in the WA Signature Dish competition this year as their region has so much to offer. The gluten free option on their menu was smooth avocado, lime and cream mousse topped with candied macadamia crumble and a coulis made from rustleberries, boysenberries and raspberries.
We made one more stop for a dish at Voyager Estate before heading upstairs to the air-conditioned Platinum Lounge. Their ocean trout tataki was heavenly, the fish was so silky and soft. It was served on a bed of Japanese mushrooms, pickled vegetables, edamame beans and miso soil.
I was close to overheating by this point, which is odd for me as I usually tolerate the heat well. I put it down to my recent feeling of burn out. I thanked our lucky stars I had purchased tickets to access the Audi Leeuwin Platinum Lounge. We both entered the air-conditioned bliss with a simultaneous sigh of bliss.
The Platinum Lounge costs $230 per person, and in addition to access into a cool sanctuary you have unlimited food provided in addition to two glasses of Leeuwin wine. The food was set out in various stations positioned around the upstairs venue, nearly all of which were totally gluten free. Of course the first place we hit up was the oyster bar. An endless serve of oysters, what more do I have to say? I think we nearly ate our tickets worth in oysters alone.
The paella was filled with seafood and had a pleasant hit of spice which of course the Boy wasn’t too pleased about. He has delicate taste buds. I had cooled down under the blasting air con and was more than happy to polish off his spicy serve for him.
The charcuterie was also entirely gluten free and the chef had gluten free crackers on offer however the crackers were placed on the bread platter and thus likely to be contaminated with bread crumbs.
The cheese platter station was much savvier and the waiter kept the normal crackers and gluten free ones separate from each other. Seeing as I had already blown my dairy allowance out for the weekend I decided to push the boat out and share a serve of each with the Boy. There were four cheeses offered; Tarago River Jensen’s Red, a washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Victoria; Cantal Entre-Deux, an aged French cheese made from raw cow’s milk; Queso de Murcia Al Vino, a semi-hard goat’s cheese from Spain and some Stilton, a classic blue cheese from Nottinghamshire, England.
By this point we were well and truly stuffed. We sat back contentedly and contemplated the long drive home as the chef lit up a BBQ and started cooked seafood. And yes, it was all gluten free. I pondered for a millisecond whether we fit any more food in before lining up for more food with my new found fellow Coeliac from Lunch with my bestie blog.
I am so pleased that the WA Signature Dish competition has progressed to making it to the main stage at such a key foodie event. We are blessed to live in a State with such varied climates across the regions giving us an abundance of fresh produce that must leave other States envious. Once again I wish a massive congratulations to Jerolina and Chef Pete Manifis for winning and look forward to covering the competition again next year.
Chompchomp was the official blogger for the Gascoyne region for WA Signature Dish. She paid for access into the Audi Platinum Lounge in full.
The Boy is the youngest in a family of three boys. His oldest brother still lives in Perth, but his other brother is a nuclear physicist who lives in Boston. His brother has lived in the US for over ten years and sadly is unlikely to ever return to Australia permanently. Every couple of years, his brother tries to return back to Perth with his lovely American wife to spend time with the family. Because American employees don’t receive as much annual leave as we do in Australia, they both struggle to get time off work and will save up their leave for a few years before being able to visit us.
This year was their first family visit to see us in over three years which was made even more special as it was also the first trip since the birth of their adorable daughter Noelle. The Boy and I had been busting to meet our little niece ever since she was born, especially after having to cancel our planned 2014 USA trip where we were going to go and stay with them in Boston.
To maximise quality time with his brother’s family, the Boy and his brother organised a family mini-break in Margaret River staying at the secluded Merribrook Retreat. While I already knew my brother-in-law enjoyed fine wine, I had never spent enough time with him to know if he was a foodie like us. You can imagine my pure delight when I discovered that both him and his wife were super keen to join us on a degustation for lunch while down south. I booked us in at Studio Bistro in Yallingup.
I notified the chef in advance of my dietary requirements and they were more than happy to accommodate for me. Studio Bistro’s degustation offers six courses for $95 or $135 with matched wines. We had already been wine tasting at a number of vineyards earlier in the morning and were in the mood for a bit of fun so we all chose the matched wines.
We started off with an amuse bouche of exquisitely fresh steak tartare made with succulent, tender Cape Grim grass-fed beef. The steak tartare was served with an emulsion containing a subtle kick of tabasco.
Our first course was an asparagus gazpacho served with a thick blue cheese cream that was poured table side. I love interactive dishes, they always make for more interesting photography provided I’m quick enough!
The aromatic butteriness of the blue cheese cream made this one of those dishes that leaves you wanting to lick the bowl at the end. Crispy jamon iberico added wonderful textural contrasts to the dish.
Our next course sent me further spiraling into a state of heavenly bliss. Many of my regular readers will know how I am totally obsessed with slow cooked eggs. I would actually be happy to eat a degustation with them included in every course. My chunks of slow cooked silky salmon were arranged around a slow cooked free range hen’s egg and drizzled in syrupy teriyaki.
My hen’s egg was picture perfect with a nearly translucent egg white and ooey gooey yolk porn centre. The salmon was topped with rice crisps that were made from scratch in house. The chef explained to me that to make them he boils the rice until all starch come out and then rolls the rice out between sheets of baking paper. He then dehydrates these sheets of squished rice at 50 degrees for 17 hours before being fried to serve. The rice crisps were puffy and light, dissolving like prawn crackers on my tongue.
Our next dish was made using local, free range pork from Big Red Pork. Unlike many intensive pig farms, Big Red pigs are raised in family groups in a more natural environment of paddocks filled with woodlands, creek lines and pasture. This allows the pigs to forage for food like in the wild. Their natural diet gives the meat a darker colour when compared to intensive, less humanely farmed pork.
The pork was served in two ways; a cube of twice cooked pork belly paired with a soft mound of pork cheek and a generous amount of garlic confit and vanilla dressing.
I loved how not only does Studio Bistro focus strongly on using locally farmed and grown Western Australian produce, but that they also ensure to source their meat from organic free range farms where the animals live humanely and are ethically farmed.
Our final main course consisted of a delicately soft portion of slow cooked organic Blackwood Valley lamb rump served with a yellow curry whip and fried sweetbreads. Fresh cooked peas and shavings of coconut gave this dish an interesting fusion of flavours. The rump came accompanied by a lamb gyoza, which meant I couldn’t eat it due to the dumpling pastry. However the chef must have pre-empted my disappointment in advance and kindly plated some of the dumpling filling onto my dish so I didn’t feel like I missed out at all.
The degustation dessert wasn’t gluten free so I chose to have the cheese course instead. There were three cheeses on the platter; Manchego, Heysen Blue and Wensleydale which were served with gluten free crackers, quince paste, walnuts and some fruit. Manchego is a hard Spanish cheese that is made from sheep’s milk and is one of my most favourite cheeses of all time. Heysen Blue is a mild, fruity blue cheese that is made in the Adelaide Hills with cow’s milk. Wensleydale is a classic, crumbly cows from Yorkshire in the UK.
As our lunch drew to an end, we were joined by the Boy’s parents and of course our gorgeous little niece. Upon seeing my little niece, I was surprisingly satisfied that I had eaten enough for the day and left the rest of the adults sitting at the table to join my niece in the gardens. Fueled by a number of glasses of wine I proceeded to leap about and dance with her to music on my iPhone before eventually we both tumbled on the grass puffed out and giggling madly. Such fun times, it is hard when distance separates you from those you love but hopefully we can get over to visit them in Boston soon.
7 Marrinup Drive, Yallingup, WA | (08) 9756 6164 | www.thestudiobistro.com.au
Earlier this year I locumed as a cat vet for the Hobart Cat Clinic and discovered a humble little café just up the road called The Picnic Basket. For lunch breaks I found it hard to tear myself away from the clinic as I’m not used to working somewhere as the sole charge vet. I am paranoid that an emergency case might rock up when I’m not there to treat it. Fortunately, the brilliant nurses at the Cat Clinic are very experienced and in all honesty would have been more than capable of holding the fort in my brief absence. After buying take-out lunches for the first week, they encouraged me to walk up to The Picnic Basket and dine in for lunch.
It is a curiously decorated café that feels like a fusion of a corner store, a farmstead living room, a bakery and a café. It is owned by a husband and wife team who are dedicated to promoting local produce and you can actually buy picnic baskets and fill them with take away goods for your own outdoor experience.
For those not wanting to brave the cold Tasmanian outdoors, there are plenty of cosy places to dine inside and it was lovely to sit and sip my coffee with the sun shining through the large ceiling height windows.
The Boy ordered himself a freshly squeezed juice as he doesn’t drink coffee. The juice was made with beetroot, apple and a hint of ginger. He gulped it down with minimal conversation which I always take as a positive sign.
For lunch he ordered the “Gaza Breakfast” which turned out to be a much larger meal than either of us were expecting. I guess this is a good demonstration of the difference between Hobart and Perth prices!
The soft, warmed pita was smeared with hummus and topped with boiled eggs, tomato, cilantro, red onion and a dash of paprika.
I was keen to try the “Miss Watson’s” dish which came with their home-baked gluten free nut seed bread. The moist, protein rich bread was dense and heavy making this a very filling dish. It was piled high with smashed avocado, roasted cherry tomatoes and delightfully squeaky haloumi.
Not knowing how generous the servings would be, I also ordered a side of mushrooms to share. The mushrooms weren’t served separately as I expected but were added onto my toast. The Boy’s Gaza breakfast was more than enough to keep him going so I just ate them all to myself.
The Picnic Basket is located on the southern side of Hobart and the route takes you along a picturesque winding coastal road. It is worth a visit should you have the time during your travels. For those of you who are my regular readers, you are probably thinking I am turning into a broken record by going on about how amazing all the food is in Tasmania. I guess this means you will just have to check it out for yourselves!
The Picnic Basket
176 Channel Highway, Taroona, TAS 7053 | 0477 225 427 | Facebook
Excitement is mounting as the truffle season is about to kick off for the winter. This year West Australia is in for a bumper crop as our conditions have been close to perfect for maximum yield and quality. For those of you who have yet to fall in love with this mysterious black “fruit of a fungus” you are truly missing out. For gourmands around the globe it is highly sought after and has earned the name “black gold” due to it high price. This high value is enhanced by the fact it grows very seasonally and has a short shelf life due to losing its aroma and flavour very quickly.
Every year there is an annual food and wine festival called Truffle Kerfuffle that is held in Manjimup, in the heart of the Southern Forests truffle growing region in WA. The three day festival allows national and international tourists to live it up for a weekend of luxurious truffle excesses. This year’s festival will run over the last weekend of June from the 26th to the 28th of June and tickets to the events are selling out quick.
Many of our state’s top chefs will be attending the event helping promote what an incredible region the Southern Forests has become, not just for their truffles, but for other sought after produce including chestnuts, buckwheat, finger limes, marron, cherries, cheeses and fine wines.
In the lead up to Truffle Kerfuffle I recently attended a preview event truffle masterclass with Chef Kiren Mainwaring from Co-Op Dining. Kiren and I share similar passions when it comes to food and wherever possible he sources his ingredients locally and seasonally. He has always taken such individualised care for my dietary needs, even at big events where it must be such a hassle to make one dish to order.
Being a small group we were taken behind the scenes into the kitchen of Co-Op Dining to get a true chef’s table experience. Not a bad way to spend my rainy Wednesday afternoon indeed!
Kiren talked us through a couple of methods that can be used to preserve truffles as their potency starts to diminish significantly after just four days. Having said that, working in the kitchen of a fine dining establishment means that he is spoilt with the luxury of not needing to preserve his truffles and uses them fresh for the duration of the season.
For those that have dined at Co-op, I imagine you would have already gone goo-goo gaa-gaa over Kiren’s slow cooked egg yolk. He cooks the yolk at 55°C for 45 minutes to yield a yolk that is technically cooked but with the consistency as if it is raw. It makes for a perfect blogger’s yolk porn shot which even in the tight constraints of someone else’s’ kitchen, I simply couldn’t resist.
The yolk snuggled on a bed of broccoli puree surrounded by crispy puffed basmati and buckwheat. This gave the ultimate play on textures with the egg’s creamy silkiness contrasting with the crunchy grains. Generous shavings of fresh black truffle gave this dish an extra depth that rocketed it into absolute heaven.
Our second dish showcased more ingredients from the Southern Forests region that are also seasonal to this time of year. Pemberton grown Jerusalem artichokes formed the base of the dish featuring both as a puree, and also cubed and fried in smoked pork fat for that added oomph of umami flavour. Roast chestnuts signal the beginning of winter for me and added a wondrous nutty element to this dish.
It was finished off with shaved parmesan, crisp onion skins and grated fresh truffle. For this dish Kiren grated the truffle finely as he wanted the truffle flavour to evenly disperse throughout the dish.
It is only three weeks to go until Truffle Kerfuffle and this year I am so excited to be taking my Dad and stepmum along with us. Living in Melbourne, they have never explored outside of Perth and I am nervously proud of what we are soon to show them. They are both well-travelled foodies who have spent much of their careers as fashion designers hitting up the hottest places in the trendiest cities around the world. Hopefully I can impress them!
Truffle Kerfuffle runs from the 26th to the 28th of June 2015. Tickets for the festival and associated events can be purchased from their website at www.trufflekerfuffle.com.au
Check out my comprehensive post from last year’s TK at www.chompchomp.com.au/2014/07/southern-forests-truffle-kerfuffle-truffle-festival-2014
Disclaimer: Chompchomp was an invited guest of Truffle Kerfuffle and Offshoot Creative
There were many things that I discovered about Tasmania on our first trip; their weather is unpredictable, their folk are super friendly, their landscape is breathtaking and their food is more than just good, it is brilliant. We were hard pressed to find somewhere that wasn’t fabulous and what I loved most of all was their locally farmed oysters. I became a crazed fool insisting on eating oysters at every opportunity and I struggled to go for more than a a day without fulfilling my addiction.
We were house-siting in the North Hobart area which is a just a stone’s throw away from the CBD. This conveniently allowed me to hit up some of the best places in town without much effort. One cold midweek evening I knocked off for the day from my locum job at the Hobart Cat Clinic and joined the Boy for a brisk walk into town to the Westend Pumphouse. The Pumphouse is a relatively new venue that recently debuted in The Financial Review’s Top Restaurants of Australia.
The restaurant is housed in an impressive open plan industrial space with massive high ceilings, exposed wooden roof beams and a crackling hot open fire in the centre. Our waiter helped us negotiate the wine list to settle on a luscious bottle of local red while he talked us through their menu. Most of their menu focuses on using locally sourced produce which of course won my heart in a second. We started with some natural local oysters,. Plump, creamy and slightly sweet I still have wistful dreams about these beauties.
The octopus was also locally caught and was served charred with Pink eye potatoes, tangy bitter lemon puree and dried olives. This was such a refreshing dish and it matched well with the succulent oysters.
Pumphouse offer a number of small and large share plates including some mouth-watering slow cooked meat options. I saw posted up on the chalkboard near the bar that you can pre-order whole roasted pig served with all the trimmings for $45 per person for groups of nine or more.
Neither of us are really great pork eaters and we happily we settled for the dry aged sirloin; a massive 1.4 kilograms of beef cooked on the bone for maximum flavour and then chopped up into bite sized pieces for more elegant eating. Each cube of tender beef was lavishly drizzled in a toothsome, rich white anchovy sauce. In an attempt to balance out this high protein feast, we also received a small serve of local Pink eye potatoes tossed in cultured butter. It was the perfect nourishment for the unexpected cold windy weather.
Despite feeling like we had nearly eaten half a cow, it was not exactly a surprise we still managed to find room for dessert. The gluten free option was an adapted version of their molasses parfait and was served with smoked apple and blueberries.
Along with oysters, local blueberries became another Hobart daily addiction for me meaning the added novelty of smoked blueberries made this dessert quite interesting. Because my stomach doesn’t tolerate high fructose apple I spent a fair few minutes trying to unsuccessfully separate the apple from the blueberries before giving in and letting the Boy eat the rest of the fruit while I tucked into the silky parfait. 😉
Westend Pumphouse is a funky, modern eatery with a casual vibe serving simple local produce. I could have easily seen myself relaxing many a Sunday session there if I was a Hobart resident. They offer a changing menu and have a dynamic team that obviously love what they do, and do it well.
Westend Pumphouse 105 Murray Street, Hobart TAS | (03) 6234 7339 | www.pumphouse.com.au
I recently traveled to Tasmania on a two-week working holiday to help out at a colleague’s cat-only veterinary clinic. The Australia Day long weekend was conveniently embedded in the middle of my trip and so the Boy flew over on the Friday to join me. I was getting paid holiday pay from my work in addition to my locum wage from the cat clinic so I decided to splurge and booked us two nights accommodation at the luxury resort Saffire Freycinet on the east coast of Tasmania.
Saffire Freycinet is a two and a half hour drive north of Hobart through some very picturesque landscapes. The road is windy and undulating making it slow going but is enjoyable to do at a leisurely pace. The Freycinet peninsula is a stunning part of Tasmania with much of this area now turned into a National Park to preserve its natural beauty. The landscape is made of massive eroded mountains of granite known as The Hazards, Mt Graham and Mt Freycinet. These mountains are thought to be over 400 million years old and are home to many native wildlife creatures.
The climate is some of the mildest in Tasmania with temperatures often much warmer than the rest of the island. We left the torrential rain, wind and cold temperatures behind us in Hobart to enjoy some much needed sunshine and clear skies.
Saffire offer all-inclusive rates at their ultra-private location where we found our every whim catered for. We originally booked a Luxury Suite but were upgraded on arrival to a Signature Suite which contained all the features of the Luxury Suites but with the addition of a larger living space, a relaxing deck lounge and a bathroom overlooking Great Oyster Bay.
It is a wise plan to arrive at Saffire with an empty stomach as all the meals are included; expect a three course breakfast and lunch followed by a seven course degustation for dinner every day. Yes, you heard me, a dego every day. It was hard going. 😉
Lunch and breakfast is served in Palate restaurant which offers stunning views of the Hazards. It was such a treat to head there early for dinner and watch the sun slowly set over the mountains.
The menu for each evening’s degustation is changed daily with the chef focusing strongly on using local and seasonal produce.
A bottomless minibar and alcoholic beverages from a selected list also came at no extra charge. I swear we both gained a number of kilograms in our three day stay. My dietary requirements were very well attended to right down to the lovely touch of gluten free afternoon tea being delivered to our room each day.
The staff form a very well-polished team as the number of guests at the resort is quite small allowing for very individualised and personal treatment to everyone. It is easy to see they all really loved their jobs and there wasn’t a single staff member who didn’t gush over their love for the region.
There are a number of activities to do at the resort with many of them inclusive at no extra charge; such as archery, escorted hikes, oyster farm tours and more. There are also a number of signature experiences, however these came at an additional cost.
One evening we chose to go on the signature Sunset Cruise on one of Saffire’s own boats. Our captain negotiated us through a few rough seas to find us a quiet cove where he cracked out the Tasmanian sparkling wine to share around along with oysters and smoked salmon. He also had a pre-packed separate collection of gluten free snacks for me to enjoy.
Our favourite activity was the oyster farm tour. The Boy and I donned some funky waders and walked out into the water to see up close how oysters are grown.
Our guide showed us expertly how to shuck an oyster and then proceeded to shuck a bunch of them plucked straight from the sea. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!
For those wanting to burn off some of your increased calorie intake, there are numerous hikes to do either escorted or alone through the mountains.
Saffire also have an open-range Tasmanian Devil enclosure where we got to see the resident group of devils feed and interact with other.
These devils originally formed part of a breeding colony and have since retired to live out their days in the luxury of Saffire’s massive natural enclosure.
It was a sad moment checking out of our room at Saffire as this is a place that I never wanted to leave. Every single moment felt like total luxury although I dare say we ate way too much food!
Our Saffire package included daily breakfast, lunch and dinner, a very well stocked complimentary mini bar and a selection of alcoholic beverages. Our room had free Wi-Fi internet access and we were given a credit of $150 for the Spa. Our luxury suite cost $1800 per night, and we were upgraded to a Signature suite $2100 at no cost.
Saffire Freycinet | 2352 Coles Bay Road, Coles Bay, Tasmania 7215 | www.saffire-freycinet.com.au
It is my dream to be a cat vet, not just any ordinary vet, but one that just deals with cats. So when a locum job came up at the Hobart Cat Clinic I jumped at the opportunity. Not only would I get a fortnight of feline exclusivity, but I would get to visit one of the most beautiful parts of our country; Tasmania. For the first week I was solo as the Boy was only flying over for the second week. As is often the case when I’m on my own, I find myself gravitating toward food as my comfort. To my delight I found out that Hobart loves night markets too.
Hobart Twilight Markets runs fortnightly from October through to March every year in the coastal suburb of Sandy Bay. Fortunately for me this was directly on route home from work and so I thought I would just drop in and check it out. Along with most of Hobart it seemed. Parking was a challenge and after driving around for nearly half an hour I manage to find a somewhat legal park on a verge.
Finding gluten free options wasn’t exactly easy as there were large queues at every food stall and I had to line up just to be able to ask as there weren’t any indications made on their chalkboard menus. Needless to say what I did try was worth the wait. Hobart Oyster House’s freshly shucked oysters were out of this world and came in a number of size options. A simple dash of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon and I was in heaven.
After slurping my way through a half dozen oysters, I checked out what the Vietnamese stall from Chikko Café had to offer. They were serving a number of fresh Banh Mi which were selling like hot cakes in addition to some prawn rice paper rolls. They were happy to serve my rolls without the hoisin sauce and replaced it with a gluten free sweet chilli sauce instead.
The vegetarian stall Makan Lagi had a number of international dishes available including some gluten free inari filled with vegetarian contents.
My favourite snack of the evening was Pav-Lova’s amazing single serve Pavlovas. All gluten free friendly with flavours like brown sugar and lime, lemon and coconut and espresso it was very hard to choose which one to try. Times like these I really miss the Boy as I know his presence means I can order two! I eventually settled for the brown sugar and lime.
It had all the right elements of pavlova textures, an air-light crisp shell with a centre of softer mallow. The crystallised lime gave a mouthwatering tang to cut through all the sweetness. I didn’t think I would finish it all, but before I knew it the whole pav was gone.
Satisfied with a full belly I found my way back to the car to return to my house sit companion, Ozi the Cornish Rex. He is such a lovely old man who loves the simple things in life, sunshine, cuddles and smoked salmon 😉
Hobart Twilight Markets | Facebook
17 Sandy Beach Road, Sandy Bay, Tasmania 7005
Every second Friday from 4 pm to 8 pm, October to March.
Not everyone marries their best friend and I am so grateful that I was blessed with the opportunity to be one of those lucky ones. Whilst our life is by no means perfect, for the major things we are invariably on the same page. Where we want to live. Our love for animals. Our passion for fine food. Particular black truffles and chocolate. Our core values. And, our love for staying at luxury lodges and hotels! 😉
For our Christmas present to each other we chose to forgo buying each other materialistic stuff, I mean who really needs stuff? We both work and play hard, sometimes too much so, such that our best gift to each other is just spending quality time together. I was once again reminded that I married my soul mate when he agreed without hesitation to go stay at the Lake House in Daylesford for a couple of nights squeezed in between our family Christmas in Melbourne and a friend’s wedding on New Year.
We booked a Luxury Package for two nights in a waterfront suite. Our package included breakfast and dinner for both nights and some spa treatments to enjoy together.
Our room overlooked the lagoon and the shores of Lake Daylesford and facilitated complete relaxation with a very comfortable king sized bed, sofa and armchairs. There were a pair of sunbeds out on our deck however the weather was scorching hot and no sane person would have basked in that heat.
There was a bottle of chilled complimentary champagne ready for us on arrival. The minibar was stocked with a small number of locally sourced drinks and nibbles, Salus Spa’s own sparkling mineral water and a Nespresso coffee machine. Unlike some of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, the minibar was not included as part of our stay. Considering the price was comparative with other Lodges, it would have been a nice touch if it was.
The bathroom was spacious with a dual shower, double spa bath and heated bathroom floors. There was a modest sized flat screen television, an iPod docking station to play our tunes and free in room Wi-Fi access.
Every evening between 6 pm to 8.30 pm cocktails are served in the Argyle Library along with some complementary canapés. I was hoping that the canapés would keep coming for as long as we ordered drinks however we quickly learnt that you get one round of delicious canapés and then that is it.
I am guessing they expect you to move through into the restaurant at that point. Nobody ever seems to understand that our appetites are not those of normal people!
After enjoying a round of nibbles and a few more rounds of Campari spritzers, we headed out for a walk around the Lake before returning to our suite for dinner. There are two Lakes to walk around each taking less than half an hour on a shaded and pretty path.
Our package included an in-room supper for two on the first evening with two glasses of house wine. We weren’t expecting such a feast to arrive and this seemed to make up for the feeling of wanting more of those canapés earlier on.
Everything was adapted to be gluten free including gluten free bread and crackers. There was creamy pea soup, an antipasto platter, a cheese platter and plate of fresh fruit.
Breakfast is included for both mornings of our stay and consisted of a continental buffet in addition to a choice of a main dish from their a la carte menu.
The buffet had an array of freshly baked pastries, sliced meats and cheeses with a few gluten free and vegetarian options.
For my main dish I ordered the house baked beans with goats cheese, wilted spinach and poached eggs on gluten free toast.
The beans had wonderful depth of flavour but sadly the gluten free toast let the dish down being quite tasteless and crumbly in texture.
We had minimal plans for our weekend, in fact I was hoping to do very little other than relax but as is always the case with us we cannot help but do a little exploring. The Daylesford Sunday Market operates each Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm and contains a wide range of stalls selling all sorts of antique bric-a-brac, locally grown produce, clothing and crafts. We already had suitcase filled with loot from Christmas so I made do with purchasing a refreshing beetroot, carrot and ginger juice. Oh, and I bought a book about cats
We also visited Lavandula, a Swiss Italian lavender farm. It was a melting 40 degrees Celsius and we lingered only long enough to smell the fragrant flowers, scull a lavender lemonade in the shade and then retreat back to our air-conditioned car.
For our second evening at Lake House, our package included an eight course degustation with matched wines in the restaurant. We started the evening off again in the Library with some canapés before taking a seat by one of the large windows to watch the reflections of the setting sun across the Lake.
Our degustation took us on a journey using local seasonal food some of which is harvested from their own gardens. This is a restaurant that has repeatedly earned two hats and as our dishes started to roll out I began to see why.
Our amuse bouche consisted of a mouthful of veal tartare and mojama which is a salt cured tuna. This was served with some bonito aioli on a nori crisp so light it dissolved on the tongue like a wafer.
Our second course of spanner crab and white fish sashimi had a Nobu-esque twist with the addition of jalapenos and an elegant dollop of green gazpacho. Some tapioca pearls on the side added another element of texture.
The next course was a pasta dish which meant I received something different in replacement. The Boy’s pasta was a bug agnolotti, which are similar to ravioli. It was served with house made kimchi butter emulsion and crisp shallots.
My gluten free alternative was some mixed tempura served with the kimchi. I was so chuffed that they could do the tempura gluten free as this is so commonly off the menu for me. It was crispy and light and the kimchi had a decent kick to it.
The next dish was inspired by Chef Alla’s Russian heritage and we were told that a variation of this dish is always on the menu. Smoked eel is considered a delicacy and features in many Russian dishes.
The eel was sourced from the Victoria based Skipton eel factory. Wrapped in pancetta the smoked eel was paired with some locally grown organic beets and served alongside a toothsome mustard crème fraiche. This was one of my favourite dishes of the evening.
The next dish was some addictive little morsels of tempura quail wrapped in nori.
They were accompanied by dollops of umeboshi puree, coriander puree, wasabi mayonnaise and the cutest coriander flowers.
Our final main dish was locally sourced pasture fed beef; cooked carefully and slowly such that it had the consistency of melting butter. The hearty flavours of the beef had an added surprise of some chilli and togarashi for an interesting kick.
Pre-dessert consisted of a platter named “Playtime”. This consisted of a number of little palate cleansers including a strawberry compote with white chocolate sorbet and strawberry granita, a “plum shot” and blackcurrant marshmallow lollipops.
For our final course, the Boy and I had different dishes as mine had to be adapted to be gluten free. The Boy’s “Summer Ramble” was a garden of gorgeous components and I was gutted there was no more natural light for a stunning photo. His dish had pistachio sponge, almond praline, almond milk pannacotta, honey ice cream, almond tuille chocolate bark berries AND honey comb….all on one plate. It looked heavenly and despite all the different elements it didn’t taste over complicated or flamboyant.
I could have nearly developed a case of food envy if it wasn’t for my rich peanut butter parfait. It was topped with sesame ganache, peanut praline and sesame ice cream. A perfectly balanced blob of lemon curd added a hint of acidity and a black sesame tuille gave it some crunch and texture.
We had such a relaxing stay at Lake House in Daylesford giving the perfect amount of “us” time that we needed together. Having stayed in a number of Luxury Lodges around Australia now, I would have liked to have seen a bit more luxury in our rooms to justify the room price and feel that in these sort of “never want to leave” styled lodges a complementary minibar can encourage you to really enjoy your accommodation more.
We found the Spa to be of a high quality and actually went back for a second massage in the couple’s room. The restaurant is well deserved of its Good Food Guide Hats and is worth a visit even without a stay in the Lodge. Their wine list is enough to impress my father which is saying something and I heart how they focus on local and seasonal produce.
Disclaimer: Chompchomp and the Boy paid in full for a Lake House Luxury Package for $1200/night. This package included two night accommodation in a Waterfront Suite, light supper for the first evening and a degustation with matched wine on the second night, a full breakfast each morning and a massage and facial at Salus Spa.
4 King Street, Daylesford, Victoria 3460 | www.lakehouse.com.au
For some reason over the last couple of years I have become accident-prone. Don’t be alarmed, there has been no major incidents, but more of a succession of annoying injuries that have prevented me from running which in turn makes me very grumpy. To name a few, there has been a handful of broken ribs, multiple occasions of recurrently broken toes, countless bumps to the head, plantar fasciitis and most recently during our Melbourne trip, a torn quadriceps. It has got to the stage that I get more of an eye roll than any sympathy from the Boy because seriously…it is never ending and according to him somewhat preventable.
For my most recent injury it was a case of me being overambitious, which again the Boy believes is a common occurrence. My stepmum invited me out on a run with her one morning. As we walked out the door my father was chanting out retorts that she doesn’t really run suggesting I was in for an easy outing.
Eighteen rounds of interval training at a flat out sprint later I was left out of breath with a stitch and sweating profusely. My stepmum had barely worked up a sweat and had to slow down so I could keep up the pace.
Two days later, still stiff and sore the Boy and I hit the shops to do some clothes shopping. It is a rare event that the both of us are in the mood to shop and this day our minds were perfectly in sync. Winning. Just as we were getting into the swing of things with a number of bags in hand, I crouched down to pick up a pair of jeans and felt something in the front of my leg go “twang!”. Sharp bolts of pain radiated up my leg and I struggled to pull myself up.
And thus our shopping expedition ended. Within minutes a very focal hard area of swelling and bruising came up on the front of my leg and I was unable to extend my leg out. Yup, I tore a quad. Awesome.
As my eyes watered with pain the Boy tried to distract me from my injury with offers of a lunch date instead. We were minutes shuffle from Supernormal on Flinders Lane so I plucked up my courage and hobbled along gritting my teeth. Supernormal serve Modern Asian share plates, with a lot of Chinese influenced dishes as a result of the Head Chef’s time spent in Hong Kong.
As we were seated we were given some complementary pumpkin seeds to nibble on while the waiter went through the gluten free options for me. I was finding it very hard to concentrate with pain shooting up and down my leg and not knowing whether I should sit or stand I kept shuffling about at our table with an unattractive grimace on my face. To buy us some time the Boy ordered some pickled vegetables and oysters to start along with a strong hit of gin for me. I downed a couple of pain killers in one gulp and waited for my pain to subside.
As the gin coursed its way through my veins, my pain gave way to discomfort allowing me to sit back on my bar stool and knock back some Sydney Rock and Pacific oysters. I could take my focus away from my torn muscle and concentrate on the menu enough to select a couple of larger dishes to share. We started with the silken tofu with marinated eggplant and coriander after being advised it was gluten free. It wasn’t until the waitress actually brought the cooked dish to our table that she then paused and exclaimed “Oh! This isn’t gluten free!” and whisked it away quickly. I wish I hadn’t got to smell and see the dish because it looked amazing and I really felt like I had missed out. Boo hoo to gluten.
I had heard many good things about Supernormal’s lobster rolls so you can imagine my joy when our apologetic waitress told me they could do a gluten free version of this dish using a lettuce leaf cup instead of the brioche bun. The Boy ordered the standard version which although small for the price did get a number of exclamations and groans of pleasure out of the man.
Whilst not getting to enjoy the texture and flavour on the brioche bun, I was hardly missing out with the sang chow bow styles lettuce cups. The lobster was sweet, fresh and all the colours of delicious. For a brief moment there I could almost forget I was a cripple again. Food has a wonderful way of making things better in the short term.
I will definitely be returning for a few more rounds of these next trip to Melbourne hopefully without any injuries to distract me!
180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIA 3000 | (03) 9650 8688 | www.supernormal.net.au
Growing up in a small family unit means that when it breaks apart, the blow is a harder one to deal with. Having less people for the impact to disperse energy leaves each individual with a harder knock. This Christmas we travelled back to Melbourne to spend time with my family however the logistics of who sees who and when became even more complicated than ever before. My sister and I non-amicably parted ways in the lead up to my wedding, not my choice, and although time has passed the wounds still remain fresh for us both. To further complicate the issue, my parents are divorced which means we would normally spend Christmas with them each individually, dining with Dad on Christmas Eve and with Mum on Christmas Day.
Being estranged from my sister meant this usual arrangement would not be possible. Consequently, the plan was for the Boy and I to have Mum’s company for Christmas Eve whilst my sister spent time with our father, and then we would swap over for Christmas Day.
We organised to have Mum for the full day so I could maximise our time together, starting with a beautiful lunch booked at Stokehouse City. Being only minutes walk from where we staying it was the perfect location.
We both arrived laden with bulky gifts and beaming Christmas cheer smiles. I have laboured too long over the sadness of our family situation and am actively trying to move forward and embrace what moments I have with a positive mind.
Mum and the Boy started with the seared Harvey Bay scallops for entrée. This was an interesting mix of flavours with cauliflower purée, strawberries, macadamias and crisp pancetta.
I chose the steak tartare served with pickled shimeji mushrooms, horseradish and mascarpone. Plump, super sweet ruby grapes and wafery potato crisps garnished the dish. The beef was freshly diced and had a very clean aftertaste. This was a modern take of a classic done exceptionally well.
For our main course both Mum and I chose the John Dory fillet. I knew there was going to be some hard core feasting over the next few days and figured starting off eating light would be a kind way to ease my gut into it. The fish was tossed with peppery watercress, toasted almonds and local mussels and served on a bed of richly flavoured Romesco sauce.
The Boy ordered the O’Connor’s pasture fed beef tenderloin served perfectly rare to order and topped with a cascade of smashed roasted potatoes and herbs.
Feeling brief pangs of sadness that I wouldn’t be joining Mum for our traditional lunch at Vue de Monde the following day, I decided to push the boat out and managed to coerce her into ordering both cheese and desserts. I know, I know. I said I would stop this habit as I have put on too much weight this year but then isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
For dessert, we ordered the two gluten free options and shared them amongst the three of us. The lemon and raspberry Eton mess was like a garden of deliciousness with tumbles of fresh berries, champagne jelly and buttermilk ice cream. I nearly regretted electing to share as I savoured every mouthful.
Our second choice was “The Bombe”, Stokehouse’s take on a Bombe Alaska. It made a stunning sight although my drunken photography didn’t really do it justice. Sadly the toasted meringue tasted a bit too gluey and not very fresh. The meringue layered over a centre layer of strawberry sorbet and a white chocolate parfait base.
With full bellies and fuelled with champagne we exchanged our gifts before gathering them all up and walking over to the cinema to see a movie of Mum’s choice. It was late when the movie finished but knowing we wouldn’t get to see each other the following day none of us wanted this day to end. To finish the evening we travelled up to the Atrium Bar on level 35 at the Sofitel to enjoy a few nightcaps before finally bidding farewell and turning it in.
The following day was Christmas Day. Back in the day when I spent this with my sister, it would often be a day of extremes and drama; certainly not all bad but definitely not all good. Some people just don’t cope well under pressure and invariably I would end up bring the scapegoat for most of the day’s hiccups and problems.
Although it was sad and out of place to not be with Mum, this new way of doing Christmas Day was such a relaxed and chilled affair that it almost didn’t feel real.
We ate all day as one always does on Christmas; feasting on roasted goose, baked ham and the most addictive duck fat potatoes. But all this was done without a single element of drama.
Our hosts for the day were my Stepmum’s sister and her husband. My Stepmum’s sister is a master in the kitchen as well as also being the author of the blog Cioccolata Bella.
Everything was made from scratch using local seasonal produce where ever possible, much of it just from her backyard veggie patch.
There was even some gluten free mince pies and plum pudding for me to enjoy. In fact, another guest was Coeliac so there weren’t just token gluten free options, everyone was very mindful of avoiding contamination in the kitchen.
Reflecting back in the peace of mid-January, I appreciate that our return home for Christmas wasn’t what I am used to in years gone by yet despite this change I still got to spend quality time with those I love. And that is the most important thing.
7 Alfred Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000 | (03) 9525 5555 | stokehouse.com.au/city
Geographical separation has never had any impact on the bond I have with my best friend, Kate. Through the course of our fifteen years of Bestie-hood we have only lived in the same city for about half this time. We are not that good at regularly calling each other on the phone, in fact we are both shockers, yet within seconds of hearing each other’s voice we immediately lapse into our crazy way of talking that no one else on this Earth can ever seem to replicate. It’s actually like our own language. We have a way of bringing out the best in each other and I know that if anyone can turn my frown upside-down it will most definitely be Kate.
Twelve months ago Kate returned to her home-town of Esperance to complete her yoga teacher training with the aim to open her own yoga studio specialising in kid’s yoga. I envisaged this to be a slow process and was so surprised and excited to hear that less than a year after she moved away her studio was ready to be opened. I am so proud of her determination to make this long-term dream a reality and upon hearing the brilliant news I promptly booked some last minute flights to zip down and spend the weekend with her.
We booked accommodation at the Esperance Island View apartments which is located on the Esplanade and is only a short walk to the shops and restaurants. Our two bedroom apartment had two storeys with a large kitchen and living area, and most importantly excellent heating. This is something I have learnt to appreciate after our recent stay in Pemberton for Truffle Kerfuffle at an unnamed chalet location that had no heating other than a pot belly stove!
For our first night together we walked down to the Pier Hotel, a massive pub with separate bistro and bar areas, a cocktail lounge and the only night club in town. We sat down in the toasty bistro area by the open fire and made ourselves quite cosy.
The bistro menu has gluten free items clearly marked on the menu and most of the salad bar was also gluten free. Our waitress was kind enough to double check everything for me which was a thoughtful gesture. We each started off with a serve of drunken oysters. Served three ways, the oysters were surprisingly fresh and salty.
My favourite oyster of the three was the tequila shot which was served with a generous splash of tomato juice. The Jack Daniels Kilpatrick oyster was everyone’s least favourite. I found the bacon to be dry and flavourless with a barely discernible taste of bourbon. Not such a bad thing as I don’t particularly like bourbon.
My choice for main course was the Thai style barramundi, a grilled barra fillet cooked in curry sauce with basil, chilli and coconut cream. It is normally served with a pistachio and capsicum couscous but the gluten free option offers chips or mash as a replacement. Whilst it was quite an unsightly dish, the fish was cooked beautifully and the curry sauce was not overpowering. It would have been better paired with some steamed rice instead of mash.
With a day and a half to explore, we saw only a brief snippet of Esperance and its surrounds yet what I did see left me blown away by this remote town’s rugged beauty. Imagine long stretches of beaches with the whitest sand in Australia where the water is so vividly blue it almost doesn’t look real. It was breathtaking. One of the most special moments we shared was seeing a mother whale and her calf in the bay at Hellfire beach. Every time a tail fin would gracefully plunge out of the water both of us couldn’t hold back emitting loud sighs of amazement. I regretted not bringing my zoom lens with me!
Being in the middle of winter, Esperance’s weather can be unpredictable and can turn from clear blue skies to thundering storms quicker than I expected. After walking the Rotary Lookout circuit walk on Wireless Hill, we stopped to catch our breath in a little gazebo and watched a storm coming in over the coast for just long enough to avoid getting wet. Once the rain hit, we journeyed back into town for an afternoon snack at Taylors Beach café before popping into see her parents.
Taylors Beach café is situated overlooking the Bay of Isles and has been a local icon for many years. They have live music on Sunday afternoons and are open seven days. We only wanted a light snack to go with our drinks as we were heading out for dinner later that evening.
We started off with some French bubbles which is something of a tradition for the two of us. We have been known to spend ridiculous amounts of money that we don’t really have on bottles of exquisite French champagne so I figured we needed to keep on with our tradition to some degree; even if Grandin isn’t strictly Champagne it is French! 😉
Taylors have a small bites menu however unfortunately I was sternly informed that there was only one dish that could be served gluten free; the grilled scallops. There were six scallops served in the shell lightly grilled and seasoned with garlic and olive oil.
I made the error of eating some of the garnish in the middle of the dish which left a mouldy flavour in my mouth, ruining any further enjoyment of the scallops. The Boy and Kate took heed and avoided eating any greens meaning their scallop experience was much more enjoyable.
Fuelled with the warmth of a round of drinks, we visited her parents for a brief lesson on clipping cat’s claws. Betty Lois and Doris are ex-farm cats who are affectionately known collectively as The Girls. They were on their best behaviour which made for short work of my vet consult allowing us to celebrate with another round of drinks before heading out on the town to the Loose Goose for dinner.
The Loose Goose is one of the fine dining options in town and offers set dinner prices of $45.50 for one course, $57.50 for two courses and $67.50 for three courses. This price includes complimentary herb or garlic bread and a side salad or vegetables with the main meals. They did not have any gluten free bread on offer.
In our usual celebratory mode, we all chose to enjoy three courses. It is not often that we get to dine out together and the logical approach was to make the most of it. The Boy’s starter was a thick slab of Camembert cheese wrapped in puff pastry and baked until golden brown. A rather inelegant blob of mild chilli plum sauce accompanied the cheese adding a touch of fruity sweetness. This wasn’t a type of dish I ever expected him to order, in fact I cannot recall the last time I saw him order ANYTHING in puff pastry. However if his moans of delight were anything to go by, I can see he will likely order this again given the chance!
Kate ordered the sweet potato salad served warm with marinated mushrooms, French cream cheese, cherry tomatoes and julienned snow peas. It was a vegetarian’s feast and I couldn’t help myself from reaching across and nabbing a slice of soft creamy sweet potato.
I ordered the half dozen fresh natural oysters which I was hoping were obtained locally from WA but unfortunately I was told they were imported from South Australia. Regardless of the greater distance they travelled to reach my plate each oyster gave me a mouthful of fresh seawater without any unpleasant fishy after-taste.
The Boy was on a roll with this pastry fetish as his main course was also wrapped in puff pastry. His dish was titled “real barramundi” and consisted of a thick fillet of barramundi cooked with prawns and garlic butter and then wrapped in pastry.
His fish came with a potato gallete and more lashings of creamy garlic sauce. No vampires came near us that night!
Kate wasn’t too impressed with the main dish choices as she is not really much of a meat eater so she requested for the chilli squid entrée to be served as a main size. Our waitress was more than happy to oblige. Her chilli squid was served in a Greek style cooked with tomato, capsicum and a hint of chilli. It was topped with some crumbled feta and black olives. She paired it with brilliant emerald green choc-mint cocktail made with Crème de Cacao, Crème de Menthe and Midori. We downed a few of those together that night!
I ordered the special of the day; the King Snapper Tom Yum. Having travelled a reasonable amount in Thailand, this clear, sweet and sour soup is one of my Thai favourites and I was counting on flashbacks of our time in the tropical sunshine. I certainly wasn’t expecting the dish I received which was more like a red fish curry than a Tom Yum. The sauce was a more modern interpretation made using coconut cream and was served with rice, like a curry. After my initial surprise, I actually didn’t mind it at all. For a curry, it was richly flavoured with all the layering of tastes that a well-made Thai dish should have. The fish was softly cooked and flaked apart gracefully and I was close to licking the bowl clean by the end.
As we arrived at dessert time, I was grateful for having a second stomach as I was totally stuffed. Whenever the three of us are out together, Kate and I will often try and guess what the Boy will order. He will then try to meet our suggestions with an air of total mystery and nonchalance. We are renowned for usually getting it right and simultaneously chanted that he would choose the Death by Chocolate. After a few minutes of playing coy and pretending we were completely wrong our waitress came up to take our order and lo and behold; he orders the Death by Chocolate. It was a rich doorstop-sized block of chocolate cake served warm and drizzled with oozing chocolicious ganache.
Both of us girls ordered the dessert special; the Loose Goose chocolate pot. Despite asking for gluten free, mine was initially served with some chocolate biscuit crumbled on top. Thankfully the Boy pointed this out to me before I had finished taking my photos and I avoided getting gluten poisoning.
Our waitress was extremely apologetic and promptly swapped it over for me. The chocolate pot was a huge serve of which neither of us needed to finish it all. Of course we both did polish off the lot which made our dancing attempts later on at the Pier nightclub not exactly easy!
The following morning we gathered ourselves together for a refreshing coastal walk. There is a walking track along most of the town’s coastline with gentle undulating hills and some of the most breathtaking views of the beaches. If I hadn’t binged so much the night before it would have made a fabulous running track to burn off those excess calories.
Sadly our weekend had nearly drawn to an end so before we headed back to the airport, Kate took us for a drive to Monjingup Lake Nature Reserve. She is a master at pleasing everyone and given I had already had a fulfilling foodie weekend, she wanted to take us somewhere that she knew the Boy would love.
The reserve has a well maintained boardwalk which takes you right out onto the lake giving gorgeous views of the reflections of the trees on the water.
There was an abundance of bird life that the Boy spotted with great ease; wildlife watching is something of a talent of his and he takes great pleasure in being the first to spot any signs of life. Once again I regretted not travelling with the appropriate camera lens!
While the Boy wandered off ahead in search of birds and frogs, my Bestie and I took our time to treasure our last hour together.
Whilst it had been a whirlwind trip this is something the two of us have grown accustomed to over the years. Previously we would both end up being shattered by the end of our rushed catch up due to our desperate attempts at making the most of our time by indulging in all the excesses.
Nearly decades later, our best-friendship has reached a point where we know we have each other for support no matter where we live and what we are doing. Our times together are becoming much more cherished and the influence of her yoga practice on living a healthy life is having a positive impact on both of us. It is a beautiful point in our lives to be.
Despite being all “zen” about my best friend living so far away, as I watched her leave us at the Esperance airport, I shed more than just a few tears. 😥To the bestest bestie; we had such a fabulous weekend with you in your hometown of Esperance. Let’s hope the time until we meet again is short. Whaa-toot!
Chompchomp travelled to Esperance on her own budget purely just to be with her bestie. She is confident that no one in town knew of her blog’s existence and was happy to be completely incognito. Pier Hotel The Esplanade, Esperance Western Australia 6450 | (08) 9071 1777 | www.pierhotelesperance.net.au www.taylorsbeachcafe.com.au loosegooseesperance.com.au
Back in March I attended a two-day feline veterinary conference in Kuala Lumpur. The Boy joined me at the end of the conference where we stayed on for an extra day to explore the city together before flying onto Vietnam for our anniversary holiday. As I’m not accustomed to sitting still for long periods, by the time the Boy arrived after my two conference days had finished I was full of energy like crazed, caged animal. We had only allocated one day for KL so to cover as much ground as possible I planned a busy schedule of eating with some sight-seeing and shopping thrown in for good measure.
We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel which was where the conference was held and was conveniently located within walking distance to the shopping areas and the monorail station. Our room was one of the “Lifestyle Rooms” which overlooks the beautiful Petronas Towers. The room gave us access to the Lifestyle Club floors however I felt this probably was a waste of our money as I only went in there once. The bathroom had a good range of Tokyomilk amenities which were refreshed daily.
The breakfast on offer in the club lounge was much smaller than the buffet downstairs and wasn’t worth returning for. We didn’t get a chance to check out their free afternoon cocktail hour. The gym was huge and certainly one of the better equipped, more modern hotel gyms that I have seen. It was nearly as big as my regular gym back home. The breakfast buffet had all the usual suspects that I would expect in a South-east Asian hotel however I would have preferred better quality. They had gluten free bread and muffins available on most albeit not all days.
1. Local breakfast snack at Nyonya Colours, Suria KLCC
Unless I’m staying five-star, hotel breakfasts are not really a deal clincher for me as I prefer to get out and about to sample the city’s cuisine. We skipped our hotel breakfast and headed off on foot towards the Petronas Twin Towers. Located at the base of the twin towers is Suria KLCC; six heavenly levels of shopping with something for everyone ranging from high ends brands like Tiffany, Chanel, Gucci and LV through to some more affordable fashion, sport wear and accessories stores. The Boy was kind enough to tolerate a short spurt of shopping before stopping in at Nyonya Colours for a quick morning snack.
I flashed my home-made Malaysian gluten free, fructose friendly eating card to the cashier to which he initially frowned and shook his head. After giving my request more thought he then pointed to the only two suitable options in the glass cabinet; a type of fish cake wrapped in banana leaf called otak otak and a rose sago dessert. Beggars can’t be choosers I thought to myself so I ordered them both.
If they are made traditionally, Otak otak should be naturally gluten free but as always if you are Coeliac or very sensitive please ensure to check with the seller before you buy. Otak otak are a type of spicy fish cake made with coconut milk, shrimp paste, egg, rice or tapioca flour and spices such as kaffir lime, turmeric, lemongrass and chilli. They can often contain some shallots so for those sensitive to onion be aware of this.
Rose sago is another traditional Malaysian dessert made from sago, coconut milk, palm sugar and fresh coconut. It is flavoured with rose essence for a subtle hint of floral flavour. I have been a big fan of eating these “kuih” since I first tried Red Hot Spatula’s some years back.
The Boy wasn’t keen on any of the vegetarian options from Nyonya Colours so after I finished my otak otak we headed downstairs to the food hall in search of something else for him to eat. As we entered the basement area I saw a post office and dashed over to send postcards home to family and friends. Meanwhile the Boy found a food stall serving some vegetarian sushi. Whilst the stall holder nodded to me that his selection was gluten free, I didn’t want to take the risk it as there was some suspect looking marinated tofu inside that looked like it contained soy sauce.
As the Boy sat down to eat his breakfast, my eyes gazed around the mall and caught sight of a brightly lit Garrett’s popcorn store. I have been lusting over this world famous popcorn for a very long time and was dying to try it. I ran over to the store like an excitable child and ordered a large bag of their popular Chicago mix to eat later back in the hotel room. Most of Garrett’s popcorn flavours are gluten free but once again be sure to double check before you order. Oh, and another warning…it is very addictive and once you open the packet you need to be prepared to be unable to stop until it’s all gone.
2. Petronas Twin Towers
Our first touristy stop was the Petronas Twin Towers; KL’s 88 floor 452 metre tall skyscraper. We were on a fairly tight schedule so had I pre-booked our tickets to go up to the top online the day before. For those less organised there are also a small allotment of tickets available every morning at the ticket counter but get there early as they sell out quickly. The tickets cost 80 RM per person.
Our journey consisted of two parts; the first was up to the 41st level where the twin towers are joined by a 58 metre sky bridge. We were given around ten minutes or so to explore the bridge and take photos.
After this we were escorted to the 68th floor which is the highest point in the building that the general public are permitted. Once at the top we were left to our own devices to explore, read the display information and take in the 360 degree view of Kuala Lumpur CBD.
After our Petronas experience was over we headed back down to the ground level to find ourselves a taxi to Batu caves. On our way we passed a macaron stall allowing me to have a quick impromptu mac attack. Well, it’s not like I could walk past and not try a couple of flavours, could I?
3. Batu caves
Our next stop was the Batu caves. These caves are accessible by either taxi or train with a substantial difference in price. We paid about 80 RM for one way by taxi however we made the mistake of catching it outside our hotel, you could probably get a metered taxi for half the price if you were a bit savvier.
The Kommuter train line runs right out to the caves with a direct stop and our return trip on the train only set us back 4 RM each. We are not the biggest fans of public transport and found the taxi much easier and more relaxing. Additionally the connection from the Kommuter train to the Monorail at KL Sentral station wasn’t the easiest to find as the signposting was quite poor.
There are a few noteworthy things to see at the Batu caves. Your first hurdle is to climb the 272 steps to get to the caves. There is no lift available which is worth knowing in advance if you are injured, infirm or wheelchair bound. At the foot of the stairs is the world’s tallest statue of Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. He stands nearly 43 metres tall and it took 300 litres of gold paint to paint him!
After spending a few days cooped up in lectures, the stair climb was just the workout that I needed. I do have to confess that we both stopped halfway to catch our breath! Dotted all up the stairs were a multitude of long-tailed macaques all scampering about trying to forage amongst the rubbish left by messy humans.
The Cathedral Cave located at the top of the stairs is a huge area with an impressive high ceiling and was filled a number of Hindu statues and ornate shrines although they were not very well maintained with rubbish littered about the place.
After walking through the Cathedral cave, we also took a tour through the Dark Cave. Tours cost 35 RM per adult and last about an hour. Our tour guide Zarris was an entertaining chap who spoke excellent English and was very informative. In contrast to the cultural experience of walking through the temple, the Dark Cave tour is focussed on educating about conservation. It highlights some of the intriguing invertebrate wildlife living in the caves and if you are lucky you might get to sight a bat or two. We also got to view some beautiful large stalagmite and flow stone formations.
On our way to the Batu train station to return back to the city centre, the Boy stopped at one of the street food vendors to grab a quick on-the-go snack. Unfortunately the stall holder couldn’t read any of my translated eating cards meaning I couldn’t identify whether anything was gluten free.
Instead I settled for some durian popcorn. I can see why some people go nuts for this fruit, it has a very distinct and pungent flavour!
4. Shopping at the Pavilion and a Hello Kitty coffee at Komugi Cafe
My next checkpoint was to buy myself a Hello Kitty latte. As many of you know, I am a self-confessed crazy cat lady and whenever I’m on holidays I need to get a kitty fix from somewhere. A few weeks back I had seen a picture of cat coffee art at Komugi Café on my Instagram newsfeed and was determined to head there and score one for myself.
Komugi Café is a Japanese bakery selling a variety of Japanese baked goods including a lot of different types of breads and pastries. Regrettably none appeared to be gluten free so we settled on some chocolates instead.
The coffee tasted a lot milkier and was weakly flavoured, quite a contrast to my normal preferences. However the pure novelty of having a Hello Kitty face decorated in my coffee’s foam made this one of the best coffees I have ever had! 😉
Komugi is located in the Pavilion shopping centre which is also multi-level and has a different collection of shops to that in Suria KLCC. After doing a spot more shopping we were ready for something more substantial to eat having only nibbled on things throughout the day.
5. Jalan Alor Hawkers food
It was a short walk from the Pavilion to Jalan Alor where there is a wide variety of street food with prices that won’t break the travel budget. I brought with me all my translated eating cards written in Malaysian, Chinese and Thai and this made it a bit easier to find someone willing to help us.
Gluten free alcohol options are grim with most hawker restaurants only serving beer. I was happy to abstain and enjoy a fresh young coconut instead. Veterinary conferences can be quite heavy going with a lot of alcohol drinking so I’m sure my liver appreciated some time off.
Before choosing our dinner location we started off with some grilled corn and sambal stingray. After showing the stall holder my gluten free eating card I watched them carefully while they prepared our dishes to ensure there wasn’t any gluten containing sauces like soy added. The sting ray was a bit of a disappointment as it wasn’t as spicy as that I’ve had in Singapore and the meat wasn’t tender and flaky.
Our next round of meals were from Restoran Sun Chui Yuen who were very happy to accommodate and help choose some gluten free dishes for me. We ordered steamed ginger crab, prawns with egg yolk, fried tofu and fried rice. As we looked around us we saw that we had ordered a lot more dishes than any of our adjacent tables despite it just being for the two of us. Locals pointed at all our food and laughed while they rubbed their bellies to indicate our greediness. We smiled back sheepishly.
Whilst I had tried my best to explain to our waiter about potential contamination of gluten in food, this is the hardest part of ordering in a foreign country. Many waiters will understand about not including ingredients with gluten, but to ensure the frying oil and the chopping board is clean is much more difficult.
Later that night I did get a reaction however thankfully it wasn’t too severe and I am guessing it would have just been in the deep fryer rather than actually in the food. I should have used my common sense and stuck with steamed dishes.
6. Night cap at Marini’s on 57 Sky bar
The fact that the locals at Jalan Alor thought our eating habits were hilarious were well founded. We were feeling very full and ready for late night cap before hitting the sack. Before we did, I wanted to show the Boy how beautiful the Petronis Towers looked all lit up at night so we walked back to the city centre for a drink at Marini’s on 57 Sky bar.
Marini’s is located on the 57th level of Petronis Tower 3 adjacent to the Twin Towers and gives a spectacular view of the building and city below. It is claimed to be Malaysia’s highest rooftop bar and has floor to ceiling glass windows to maximise on the view. Marini’s has three areas with a funky bar, Italian restaurant and cigar lounge.
We made ourselves comfortable at the bar and I ordered a Mary’s Melon cocktail; made with 42 below Manuka honey vodka, Midori melon, rosemary syrup and vanilla syrup and garnished with a rosemary stalk and chunks of honey dew. Not exactly a fructose friendly drink but it was completely worth it.
Whilst it wasn’t easy to find a gluten free Kuala Lumpur; with eating cards in hand things were made a bit easier for me. For those foodies not restricted by the shackles of food intolerances it is definitely a city worth eating your way around. Street food vendors are everywhere and I wish I could have sampled more dishes. Alas I have learnt that whilst I can tolerant a bit of fructose here and there, gluten is my enemy and is simply not worth the pain.
Suria KLCC Shopping Centre | www.suriaklcc.com.my/index.html Petronis Twin Towers | Lower ground level, Petronis Twin Towers, KLCC 50088 Kuala Lumpur | +603 2331 8080 | www.petronastwintowers.com.my Jalan Batu Caves, 68100 Jalan Batu Caves, Selangor | +603 6189 6284 | en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batu_Caves | Dark Cave Educational Tour, Batu Caves | www.darkcavemalaysia.com Komugi Café | Lot 24/1A, Tokyo Street, Level 6, Pavilion Shopping centre, Kuala Lumpur | +603 214 80369 | www.komugi.com.my Jalan Alor Street Food | Jalan Alor Bukit Bintang, 50200 Kuala Lumpur Marini’s on 57 | Level 57, Menara 3 Petronis, Persiaran KLCC, 50088 Kuala Lumpur | +603 2386 6030 | www.marinis57.com
After spending a few days exploring the sunny town of Carnarvon, the Boy and I packed up our 4WD hire car and drove back to Exmouth. Exmouth is a four hour drive north from Carnarvon depending on your chosen route. In my usual manner I had pre-planned our trip to take us up the more direct route along the coastal road so we could stop in at beautiful Coral Bay. Unfortunately we were unlucky enough to have our Northwest trip coincide with some of the worst flooding the region has seen in years which meant that this coastal road was closed. Our alternate route took us further inland which added a little bit of extra time to our trip. Although I was a bit disappointed not getting to visit Coral Bay, I got to see some Outback Australian scenery that was totally new to me.
Plus there was the added entertainment of spotting random livestock and wildlife to photograph along the way…
Our Exmouth accommodation was at the 4.5 star Novotel Ningaloo which is the only resort located along the Sunrise Beach and is considered one of the most luxurious options to stay in town. Every hotel room and apartment are positioned to try and maximise views of the water with the ocean and marina both only meters away from our apartment’s doorstep.
We stayed in one of the two bedroom self-contained apartments which had a spacious open plan with the perfect layout for a family with two children. In addition to our type of lodgings, the resort also has two types of hotel rooms, one bedroom apartments and bungalows and their largest accommodation, the two story two bedroom bungalow directly overlooking the beach.
Our apartment had a comfortable King sized bed in the master room with twin beds located in the second bedroom. There was a pillow menu on offer however we didn’t notice this until late in the evening when there were minimal options left. Housekeeping advised us apologetically that our stay coincided with a full house and were given first priority on pillow options for the following morning. The bathroom opened out onto the bedroom with bi-folding doors and had a spa bath with separate shower. There were a variety of Accor branded amenities available.
The kitchen was equipped with most of the basic utensils that you would need for cooking including a stove, microwave, dishwasher and full sized fridge for storing all your leftovers. Despite having good intentions to cook up some local seafood to eat, we never even got around to boiling the kettle!
After spending the afternoon on the road in poor weather conditions neither of us had any desire to hit the town so we made a reservation at the resort’s restaurant Mantaray’s. Although this is the poshest resort in Exmouth, I was relieved to be greeted with a relaxed vibe without any luxury venue pretension.
We had been nibbling on gluten free snacks that I had bought in Carnarvon on the road trip so in a rare moment of restraint we ordered just one entrée to share along with a half a dozen oysters. The prawn cocktail entrée was made using local Exmouth prawns, fresh avocado, cos lettuce and seafood sauce. Whilst not being the most generous of serves for the price, each prawn was super fresh and we literally fought each other over the last one.
The Boy ordered the vegetarian fettuccini for his main course. There was no scrimping on the vegetables in this one with piles of snow peas, carrot, zucchini, rocket, tomatoes and fresh basil with a creamy lemon and pine nut sauce. It was the type of dish that makes him content with his choice of eating a vegetarian diet.
I ordered the local fish of the day, a pan fried snapper served on a bed of creamy pea risotto and pea purée. Crunchy wafers of crisp pancetta topped the dish and added a much needed contrast in textures. The fish was cooked tenderly and fell apart under my fork in delicate flaky chunks.
As I figured that the oysters didn’t counted as a meal I justified ordering dessert on the pretence we had only shared one entrée. I mean, oysters are just an amuse bouche aren’t they? I was thrilled to hear the gluten free dessert options offered were more than the usual standards like crème brûlée and flourless chocolate cake. I chose the raspberry mille-feuille; layers of sweet raspberry mousse and gluten free chocolate cake topped off with a paper thin layer of milk chocolate. It was all very decadent and smooth leaving me dreaming of eating it over and over for most of the following day.
The Boy’s ice cream addiction has come out of its dormancy with full force. These days I am struggling to convince him to order anything else for dessert unless it accompanies ice cream. I will admit this makes me a bit annoyed now that we can no longer share two gluten free desserts, but to be honest I also find it quite endearing. He is normally so easy going and just goes with the flow so to see him so obsessed with something is unusual.
For someone who loves her luxury accommodation, I didn’t think I would find anything of the sort up in the Northwest of Australia. I had prepared myself for motels with grim coloured furniture and postage stamp sized towels. I was more than pleasantly surprised at Novotel Ningaloo and after staying at fairly simple lodgings in Carnarvon it was a welcome relief. We would love to return to stay there next visit to Exmouth and hope our next trip accompanies some better weather!Chompchomp was an invited guest of the Novotel Ningaloo as part of her WA Signature Dish involvement. She was offered a heavily discounted industry rate to stay in the two bedroom apartment in exchange for providing Novotel with some professional photography services around the resort. Sods law meant that for the duration of her stay in Exmouth there were intermittent storms, grey skies and a lot of rain. Consequently her rushed photography taken during the rare snippets of sunshine were not exactly her greatest work. She humbly paid for her meal at Mantaray’s restaurant in full as this was not part of the deal. Novotel Ningaloo & Mantaray’s Bar Restaurant Madaffari Drive, Exmouth WA 6707 | (08) 9949 0000 | novotelningaloo.com.au
Many of you will appreciate that an important part of travel preparation is to plan all the places where you are going to head out to eat. As a direct result of this pre-planning, my holidays always seem to turn into a crazed eating feast moving from one venue to another in a mad attempt to complete an enormous bucket list of dishes and venues. One of the places I really wanted to visit in Barcelona was the famous Ferran Adria’s Tickets Bar. Tickets has the reputation of being one of the hardest restaurants in the world to secure a table at. I tried my best to get a seat online before I left Australia without success. On arrival in Barcelona I tried waiting outside Tickets before they opened that night in the grim hope of scoring someone else’s cancellation but this was all in vain. The closest I could get to entering the restaurant was a quick photo taken out the front with Debbie, my lovely new friend from Texas, that I had met at the conference I was attending that week.
Luckily there are a number of more accessible restaurants owned by the same group within walking distance albeit neither are headed by the acclaimed Chef Adria.
I consoled myself knowing at least I would be able to visit both of these other locations called Casa de Tapas and Rias de Galicia. I was so thankful that my newly made friends that I had met at the vet conference were also keen foodies and were more than happy to oblige my needs. I loved Casa’s quirky menu which came presented as a children’s book complete with wacky cartoons.
We ordered a bunch of tapas dishes to share, many of which were naturally gluten free and thus not requiring any adaptation. Within the first few days of arriving in Spain I had learnt to politely request to the wait staff “Sin gluten per favor?” voiced in my poorly pronounced Spanish. These seemed to be the magic words needed to help reveal my gluten free options. It amazed me that how no matter where we stopped to eat in Barcelona, everything tasted so damn good! Casa de Tapas’s marinated olives contained a mix of four different types including gordal sevillana, caspe, verdial and kalamata.
A simple dish that I grew to love in my time in Spain was “escalivada”, or smoked roasted vegetables. Soft strips of capsicum and eggplant were lightly charred and drizzled with olive oil making them as delicate as butter. This dish would have been even more amazing cast on top of some crusty bread. Sadly the only place I found gluten free bread in Barcelona was back at my hotel.
My friends each ordered themselves a “fried box of things” as it was described on the menu. Each wooden box contained a variety of crispy fried pieces of seafood including school prawns, calamari and octopus. It smelt absolutely amazing and made me quickly reach over for the menu to order myself some more food as I started to salivate.
With each dish we ate, Casa de Tapas reinforced the concept that you don’t need to use lots of fancy ingredients to make food taste amazing. All you require are fresh ingredients prepared with love. Dishes as simple as flash fried green peppers and poached prawns needed nothing extra for flavour other than a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Of course a meal in Spain wouldn’t have been complete without a serve of “pulpo”. There is nothing quite like Spanish octopus, it takes on a texture I rarely find replicated back home in Perth. It is so soft and nearly creamy, with no chewiness and is dusted with paprika and spices. This dish was served on top of slices of boiled potato that mashed easily under my fork. I smeared the potato over the spicy octopus sections and happily gobbled it up.
Casa de Tapas offer simple traditional Galician styled tapas without breaking the bank. I was very appreciative that they were so helpful with selecting gluten free tapas dishes for me. We found the service to be quick and friendly and would have been happy to return again and again if it wasn’t for my lengthy bucket list!Casa de Tapas Cañota Calle Lleida 7, 08004 Barcelona, Spain | 93 325 9171 | casadetapas.com Chompchomp’s Barcelona trip in July 2013 was partly funded for by her place of work as part of her continuing education fund. She had to foot the food bill for the week herself however despite eating the most absurd amount of food she found it to cost much less than an equivalent amount of feasting in her home-town of Perth, Australia.
For the final blog post on my trip to the coastal town of Carnarvon, I thought it would be useful to summarise my discoveries for my fellow gluten intolerants in a simple gluten free Carnarvon traveller’s guide.
Carnarvon is located about nine hundred kilometres north of Perth on the western coast of Australia. It is easily accessible by car, bus and air. This was my first trip up into the northern corner of our vast country and we originally planned to drive up on a long road trip from Perth. This would have taken us around ten hours excluding stops.
After giving it more thought I changed my mind and decided I wanted to experience more of the Coral Coast further north from Carnarvon on the same holiday. This would add even more hours onto our already long drive. So instead to us save time, we chose to fly into Exmouth with Qantas airlines, hire a car and drive direct from Learmonth Airport. The flight is about two hours and then the drive from Exmouth to Carnarvon is around four hours depending on the weather conditions.
I found driving around Carnarvon and through the Outback onto Exmouth was a type of road trip unlike anything I have previous experienced. The roads are much more remote than any city slicker like me could have even imagined. Roadside stops are few and few between with very little to offer the gluten free traveller. I arrived fully prepared with roads snacks packed in my suitcase and I was able to restock my supplies at the local Woolworths in Carnarvon town where they had a full range of gluten free breads, crackers, muffins and other snacks.
Outback driving is something you need some preparation for. My ten best tips for beginners are:• Check the road and weather conditions before you leave: We encountered some pretty crazy weather and had to change our routes due to road closures on a number of occasions. BOM gives up to date reports. Be sure to check their website daily. • Pack plenty of water. Remember there are minimal service stations once you get out of Carnarvon Town and onto the highway and it can get pretty hot out there! • Stock up on gluten free snacks before you set out. Those few and far between service stations have slim pickings for us gluten free peeps. Come prepared. • Tell someone your plans before you go • Plan your refuelling stops • Obtain a current and accurate map • Use a road worth vehicle ideally a 4WD • Ensure to organise your music devices with good tunes, a charger and a way to play it through your hire car radio. • Watch out for wildlife and livestock on the road. You will be surprised at how much wayward animals are out there. • Don’t drive after dark
We stayed at the Best Western Hospitality Inn where we found the rooms to be simple but clean and are conveniently located within walking distance to the town centre and the picturesque fascine. There are a number of other accommodation options including pubs, motels, backpacker’s lodges and caravan parks. There are currently no luxury styled hotels or chalets.
Where to eat:
My first recommendation for any foodie, whether you are gluten free or not is to get yourself a copy of the Gascoyne Food Trail map and hit the road for your own paddock to plate experience. You will find all sorts of naturally gluten free things to devour including fresh prawns, frozen chocolate pudding fruit and the sweetest bananas you have ever tasted.
For a more traditional feast dining in you need to bear in mind that a lot of the restaurants are closed from Sunday through to Tuesday and some of the tourist cafés are only open seasonally. For two nights of our stay we ate at the Sails Restaurant situated at our hotel because nowhere else was open. Whilst their menu is not marked with gluten free options, the chef was very obliging and could adapt most of the meals for me. We really enjoyed their ginger scallop entrée especially as it came with a substantial number of scallops to share.
It seemed that some other local eateries have yet to buy into the concept of utilising all the amazing fresh local produce available at their doorstep. After speaking with a number of locals I get the feeling this is soon about to change.
One place that has embraced using local produce was the Gascoyne Hotel. Their menu was clearly marked with gluten free options and even had a number of gluten free desserts on offer including cheesecakes, puddings and tiramisu. Whilst their creamy garlic prawns weren’t exactly cheap for an entrée size, they were worth every cent.
Another gluten free item on the Gascoyne’s menu was the salt and pepper calamari. This wasn’t quite the dish we were expecting with only a few pieces of calamari served underneath a mound of crispy rice noodles and generous lashings of a honey, sesame and soy dressing. As odd as this dish looked, the flavours did work well together.
The Boy also ordered himself the local snapper with chips and salad but alas this wasn’t marked gluten free on the menu. I enquired if this could be done gluten free however was informed that I could only have the dishes already marked gluten free on the menu. If you are craving gluten free fish and chips, I managed to find some at the Harbourside Café. They will charge a reasonable amount more for local fish than the alternative option of imported fish but all their staff were aware of how to avoid gluten contamination and prepared a fresh batch of chips in clean oil just for us.
A final recommendation is to head over to “The Precinct”, Carnarvon’s Heritage area on Babbage Island. This area is home to the One Mile Jetty, a beautiful historical jetty built in 1897 and maintained in good enough condition to walk nearly the full length.
The newly opened One Mile Restaurant located in the Centre next to the jetty and has a young and ambitious chef who informed me will be offering gluten free options on her menu. The Centre provides fabulous views of the jetty and looks out over the water making it the perfect spot to stop for a meal.
Coming up next in my Gascoyne series will take you to the stunning beach-side town of Exmouth where we stayed at the luxurious Ningaloo Novotel Resort and nearly became trapped there due to widespread flooding!Sails Restaurant 6 West Street, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 1600 | www.carnarvon.wa.hospitalityinns.com.au/ Water’s Edge Restaurant at the Gascoyne Hotel 121-125 Olivia Terrace, South Carnarvon WA 6701| (08) 9941 1181 | www.gascoynehotel.com.au Harbourside Cafe 131 Harbour Road, South Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 4111 | Facebook
One Mile Restaurant at the Interpretive Centre | Heritage Precinct Annear Place, Babbage Island, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 3423 | http://www.carnarvonheritage.com.au/ The Precinct is open daily from 9 am-5 pm, April to November and on weekends only from December to March. One Mile restaurant will be opening mid-May 2014.
After a long drive through the pouring rain it was a relief to arrive in Carnarvon ready for the WA Signature Dish regional final. It had been a right kerfuffle getting to our destination with missed flights, flight delays and severe weather warnings but we made it albeit one day late.
We arrived in Carnarvon in the late afternoon and checked into our accommodation at the Best Western Hospitality Inn. Our room was clean and simply appointed with a minibar stocked with nibbles, beer, wine and soft drinks. There were also tea and coffee-making facilities, free WIFI and room service however the internet connection was painfully slow.
On our first night we were a little weary from travelling all day so we ate at the hotel restaurant Sails. Sails is considered one of the more refined dining options in town in addition to being one of the very few restaurants that remain open seven days a week.
Having heard great things about Carnarvon’s fresh seafood it was all I was in the mood for. And the best way to start a seafood feast is with oysters. Now I realise the hot climate of Carnarvon excludes it from farming oysters locally this meant the oysters on Sail’s menu would undoubtedly be imported. However, when I get the fanciful idea of eating oysters I just will not stop until I am satisfied. These giant sized babies came from Frankland Bay in South Australia and were plump, creamy and surprisingly fresh. We enjoyed them served natural with a squeeze of cut lemon.
Before ordering anything else the chef kindly came out to speak with me about suitable gluten free options from his menu. I always appreciate this level of concern as it illustrates to me that they will ensure to take care when preparing my food. Our first dish was a seared prawn salad using local prawns tossed through a mighty sized salad of julienned bacon, roasted pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and baby spinach leaves. It was finished with a lemon, chilli and coriander dressing. The bacon was an odd addition and one we didn’t expect however being cut into such thin slivers it wasn’t overpowering and added just a hint of flavour with each mouthful.
Our second entrée was the grilled ginger scallops. This dish also has a level of curiosity about it as in addition to the enormous scallops served in the shell, there were extra smaller sized ones buried underneath. It worked out quite good value when you consider the price as there ended up being six scallops in total. It came served upon a scoop of steamed rice and wilted Chinese greens.
An unexpected touch of complementary lemon sorbet was brought to our table in the interlude between our first and second courses. After all the spice and ginger flavours it was a welcoming cleanser to prepare for our main meal.
For mains we both ordered the tropical barramundi. The fillet was grilled lightly, served on a bed of bok choy and topped with lemon butter sauce plus a spoonful of chilli mango salsa. A couple of poached prawns topped this collection of ingredients as a strange afterthought. Whilst the fish was soft and tender within, I felt the combination of lemon butter and mango salsa was too eclectic with only a small amount of each so that neither had the chance to shine. The end result was actually a somewhat bland dish. Such a shame because those simple flavours had a lot of potential.
We ended our night which Sail’s cheese platter for two which considering the price once again this was a generous portion size. The chef ensured to serve the water crackers in a separate bowl to avoid any gluten contamination which reinforced to me what a gluten free friendly place this was. There were four different types of cheese; chunks of tasty cheddar, smoked Dutch, Danish blue and Camembert sat among some pieces of fresh fruit and roasted nuts.
The complimentary breakfast provided with our room was very basic including some sliced toast, fruit and cheese plus an array of cereals. There wasn’t any gluten free bread available. You are able to pay a small amount extra for a hot cooked meal if you prefer but instead I bought some gluten free muffins from the local Woolworth’s supermarket which they grilled for me at no extra charge.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Carnarvon and whilst the Best Western is by no means the five-star luxury that I love, it was comfortable and clean with friendly service. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again next time we are in the region.Disclaimer: Chompchomp’s accommodation at Best Western Carnarvon was partly funded for by Buy West Eat Best for my involvement in their WA Signature Dish competition. Sails Restaurant 6 West Street, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 1600 | www.carnarvon.wa.hospitalityinns.com.au
Despite living in Western Australia for nearly twenty years I am ashamed to admit that I have never journeyed further north than the seaside town of Dongara to visit my Bestie. Whenever I plan a holiday, the centre point of our activities is always based around experiencing the food of the places we visit. I didn’t feel any foodie gravitational pull coming from this region of Australia imagining it to be not much more than white sandy beaches, cattle ranches and red expanses of desert. The Boy on the other hand is a huge advocate of the North West and has tried to encourage me to go for years. He was over the moon to hear I was chosen to be the Gascoyne regional blogger for the Buy West Eat Best WA Signature Dish competition. He knew this would finally be the reason we could go up there together and he was convinced that I would love it.
After a number of hurdles tried to prevent us reaching our destination including missing a flight and battling a storm, we were incredibly relieved to finally drive into the pretty town of Carnarvon. Our first day was hectically busy with duties for the WA Signature Dish regional final which left our second day free to explore the area. With some help from the locals we managed to go on an extended version of the Gascoyne Food Trail; one unlike any other food trail I have gone on. Cast away images of your previous experiences visiting multiple tourist driven sites stocked with samples of artisan gourmet goods. Instead, this self-drive tour will give you a paddock to plate experience of the Gascoyne as you discover the region’s produce in its raw and naturally fresh state.
Our first stop for the morning was located down on Snapper Jetty to watch one of the local Abacus crab boats come in with their catch. Abacus Fisheries is a family run business owned by Peter Jecks and his wife. Living locally in Carnarvon Peter has been in the industry for over 20 years. Despite such a long time in the crab trade, he remains fiercely passionate being highly focused on producing a quality product in addition to proactively supporting the environmental sustainability of his fishing practices.
Peter is well known amongst Australia’s high profile foodies having featured on a number of television programs including Postcards WA and SBS’s Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia. I was very interested to hear that not a single part of the crab is wasted. The water that is used to cook the crab meat gets packaged and sold as crab stock in gourmet food stores. Even the shell is compounded to use as chitin in the medical industry for a number of applications including the manufacture of the dressings used as a second skin for burn victims.
That day, it turned out to be our lucky morning because not only did we get to see the crab fisherman come in with their haul, but we had timed our visit with one of the local fishing boats Cygnet Lass returning from a four day stint at sea.
This fishing boat provided the day’s fresh fish to Pickles Point Seafood which is located just doors down from Abacus crabs. Pickles Point is run by Gayle Dewar, one of our WA Signature dish contestants and they are renowned for providing the local Carnarvon residents with some of the freshest Shark Bay seafood.
Gayle was kind enough to take me behind the scenes where I saw a beautiful 3kg Red Emperor fish get neatly filleted in the blink of an eye with perfect precision. I made a mental note that next time upon our return to the region, we need to ensure arrange accommodation complete with a kitchenette! I would have loved to have bought some Red Emperor and cooked it up for dinner.
After a morning of photographing delicious fresh seafood, the two of us were desperate to grab a quick snack before we headed out onto the plantations. Harbourside Cafe is located along the same stretch of road as the fishing boat jetties so we ducked in there for a bite to eat. It has the vibe of a beach side fish and chip shop with simple décor and no table service. Their menu is literally pages long with an eclectic mix of local and imported seafood in addition to some Indian and Thai styled curries.
Avoiding the cheaper imported fish dishes, I chose the grilled Carnarvon snapper fillet served with salad and chips. The chef was happy to cook the chips in fresh oil to avoid any gluten contamination. My snapper was an enormous serve of two big fillets and I would have preferred a smaller size at a cheaper price. The fish was soft and flaked apart delicately under my fork.
The Boy ordered the crab cakes and prawn nori rolls. The crab cakes were topped with fresh prawns and a sweet chilli sauce. Obviously not being gluten free I didn’t try them but the Boy said they had a satisfying crunchy exterior with a creamy centre however didn’t have a lot of flavour.
The nori rolls were served deep fried which we both thought was quite curious. Stuffed with fresh prawns, seaweed and capsicum these non-traditionalist snacks were a novelty worth trying at least once.
Refuelled and ready for more exploring we headed out to the ring road affectionately known as the “fruit loop” by locals. The area is filled with fruit and vegetable plantations growing a wide variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs. The first stop heading out of town was Morel’s Orchard. Run by the absolutely lovely Jean and Doris Morel, this plantation is open to the public seven days a week including public holidays. Who needs a farmers market when you can buy your produce direct from the farmer? Honestly, it was like a dream come true for me!
Morel’s fruits were all so supersized and delicious looking but the most interesting of them all was the black sapote, or chocolate pudding fruit. This fruit is a species of persimmon with a yellow green inedible skin. The centre of the ripe fruit is a dark chocolate colour with the creamy texture of, yes you guessed it, chocolate pudding.
In addition to growing many seasonal fruits, the Morel’s property has row upon row of herbs and other vegetables growing lusciously. Everything looked so well-manicured and cared for as if it was just their own personal backyard veggie patch, but on a much larger scale. The Boy is an avid green thumb and his dream isn’t to be able to buy direct from farmers like me, but more so to be able to have his own veggie patch of this grand scale and get his veggies from his own backyard.
As we thanked Jean and Doris for their hospitality, Doris insisted that we try some of their chocolate coated frozen fruit before we left. I am so glad we did! Forget about Magnum ice-cream, these Morel freezer sweets are worth the visit in their own right. We struggled to choose which ones to eat and ended up greedily grabbing far too many; trying the chocolate coated black sapote, the custard apple, banana and strawberries along with some frozen mango. The smooth black sapote was definitely our favourite with the banana coming a close second.
Whilst many of you may never have heard of a chocolate pudding fruit before, you will be more familiar with one of Carnarvon’s biggest exports to Perth; the banana. I was grateful that Sweeter Banana’s business manager Doriana was happy to take some time out from her busy day to show us through the banana packing facility.
The Boy and I have had many a debate at home over which bananas are better; I love the smaller, sweeter ones and he prefers the picture perfect enormous ones. Whenever he does the grocery shopping he will always come home with the biggest bananas he can find which inevitably results in complaints from me because I think they taste powdery and bland. What I didn’t know was why this is the case.
Doriana was a proud advocate of the smaller banana which is characteristic of the Carnarvon-grown fruit. Their smaller size and better taste is all due to the different climate of the Gascoyne region in comparison to tropical North Queensland where the larger bananas come from. Carnarvon’s weather tends to be hot and dry having a much lower humidity level. The low humidity means that their crops do not suffer from the diseases and pests seen in the tropics making their produce pesticide free.
Because of these weather conditions, the banana plantations have to plant their trees much closer together than in the tropics. This creates a continuous canopy with the tree’s leaves which helps protect the fruit from the burning rays of the sun. As a result the bananas have a much longer growing time resulting in a smaller but much sweeter fruit. Next time you are buying bananas, look for the lunchbox sized versions and you can taste the difference for yourself. I am happy to say I have converted the Boy to eating our local WA sweeter bananas now!
Our final stop on the fruit loop was at the home store on Bumbak’s plantation. This plantation owner had become frustrated with the amount of good fruit she had to throw away year after year just because it wasn’t up to the commercial standard despite the fact it was perfectly fine to eat.
She created a way to value add to this large component of her harvest by making a variety of jams, sauces and marinades. Many of her natural home made products are gluten free and have won a long list of Awards at the Perth Royal Show. We grabbed a couple of jars to take home to try including her banana jam and some Thai coconut chilli marinade.
Heading back into town there is a cute little place worth mentioning called River Gums Café that is marked on the Gascoyne Food trail. It regrettably did not have a lot to offer gluten free so we didn’t stop there for a bite to eat but it is a very pretty location to stop for afternoon tea for those less restricted with their diets.
The last stop on the Gascoyne Food trail is “The Precinct”, Carnarvon’s Heritage area on Babbage Island. This area is home to the One Mile Jetty, a beautiful historical jetty built in 1897 and maintained in good enough condition to walk nearly the full length.
Until very recently you could buy yourself a drink and an ice cream from the Guardsmans’ Van kiosk to enjoy on your jetty walk. With the opening of the new Interpretive Centre, the kiosk has now been closed as it has been replaced with the One Mile Restaurant in the Centre. This restaurant was the location for our WA Signature Dish regional final. On the day of the final, the chef of One Mile Restaurant and I got chatting and I was excited to hear she plans to accommodate for gluten free customers. The restaurant was opening that week and I offered to return in order to try one of her first gluten free cake creations.
I’m glad we made the effort to return. She made a super moist orange almond cake that was different to your usual almond meal based cake. She included some gluten free flour to make it lighter and fluffier. Suffice to say I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it and the Boy who is “not a dessert person” was very happy to help me finish my generous slice. He even said it didn’t taste gluten free! Winning!
As we drove back to our hotel, the Boy looked over at me very satisfied with himself.
“Am I right?” he asked me.
All these years I had dismissed ideas of a trip up North with the perception that there was nothing up here that would interest me. Swallowing my pride humbly there was no way I could refute him; this is a place in Western Australia that every foodie needs to visit.
Gascoyne Food Trail | www.gascoynefood.com.au Pickles Point Seafood & Boatyard | Facebook Lot H Harbour Road, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 4078 | Open Mon-Sat from 9am-5pm (closed Jan-Feb) Harbourside Cafe 131 Harbour Road, South Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 4111 | Facebook Morel’s Orchard 486 Robinson Street, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 8368 | Open 7 days (incl. PH) from 8.30am-5.30pm Sweeter Banana Cooperative Carnarvon | (08) 9941 9100 | www.sweeterbanana.com Bumbak’s at Terra Temptations 449 North River Road, Carnarvon, WA | 0409 377 934 Available at IGA Cottesloe River Gums Café Turn at the Big Banana on Robinson Street then it 34 Margaret R.O.W., Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 8281 | Open Wed-Sunday from 10am-3pm during May to October www.carnarvonheritage.com.au The Precinct is open daily from 9am-5pm, April to November and on weekends only from December to March. One Mile restaurant will be opening mid-May 2014.
I recently travelled up to the Northwest corner of Western Australia as the official blogger for the Gascoyne regional final in the inaugural WA Signature Dish competition. Having never visited this part of Australia before, I wanted to obtain a clear insight into its food industry in order to understand why they call themselves the “food bowl” of our State. The Boy and I flew in via Exmouth, collected ourselves a rental 4WD from the airport and drove straight to Carnarvon in the pouring rain to be ready to start early the next morning.
The competition event was held at One Mile Restaurant which is housed in the new Interpretive Centre facing out onto the historical One Mile Jetty in the Heritage Precinct. Whilst this ancient but well preserved jetty was constructed back in 1897, the accompanying restaurant was only built recently and hadn’t even officially opened! Their kitchen was so shiny and new creating a perfect work area for our four contestants to create their signature dishes. The fabulous four finalists for the Gascoyne region are Jerolina, Amy, Paul and Gayle. They all live in Carnarvon and show an obvious love for their home town and its amazingly vibrant produce.
The contestants weren’t scheduled to hit the stoves until mid-morning which gave Channel Seven’s Today Tonight camera team plenty of time to get loads of footage including getting individual interviews with each of them. Also joining the team was professional photographer Anton from Simply Designed, whose talent, skills and awesome equipment reminded me what a complete amateur I am with my little camera!
As each contestant was scuttled away for their private interviews, it gave me the chance to have a good chat with those remaining behind and learn more about what it is like living in Carnarvon and more importantly to plug them for suggestions on where to eat locally.
I was surprised and somewhat saddened to learn that despite being a town surrounded by an abundance of amazing fruit and vegetable plantations in addition to having access to some of the freshest seafood, many of the local eateries preferred to obtain cheaper imported ingredients in order to save on costs. Hopefully with highly publicized and well-run events like WA Signature Dish, it will help promote using local produce and this food culture will start to change. Certainly if the passion and enthusiasm of these four locals was anything to go by, it won’t be long before this happens.
Once all the contestant’s interviews were completed it was time for them to don their aprons and get down to business. Before officially commencing the cook-off, the region’s mentor chef Peter Manifis from InContro wished the contestants the best of luck before gesturing them into the kitchen.
Although the four in the kitchen were far too busy to stop and eat, the rest of us were getting pretty peckish. To our delight the newly appointed chef for One Mile Restaurant had kindly prepared a huge spread of food for us to snack on while we anxiously waited to see what the first dish would be. Our lunch included fresh sushi rolls, pumpkin soup, rice paper rolls, scones and a colourful fruit platter. When I chatted to the chef to find out what was gluten free, I was excited to hear she was a huge supporter in using her local produce and plans to promote this in her new restaurant once it opens.
Each contestant received their signature dish ingredients packed neatly in a crate and seeing them all go through each one was like watching kids at Christmas. Jerolina’s signature dish was a whole grilled Snapper served with Dabu dabu and coconut corn. Dabu dabu is a type of hot sauce found in Manado cuisine from Indonesia.
Her signature dish was the first one to be presented to the judges and she certainly set the bar high for her fellow finalists. The fish was so delicate and moist with a rich, spicy flavour from the Dabu dabu sauce. The chargrilled corn also had a hint of spice which balanced elegantly with the sweet coconut flavours.
Those of you who know me well, you will be familiar with my “flying hands of fury”. It is a term used by my friends to describe my ever-moving and highly expressive hand movements. Well, actually they are sometimes more like arm movements.
Within minutes of meeting Amy I concluded we must have been separated at birth because she also sported a similarly fantastic pair of flying hands of fury. Being such an energetic and vibrant person I was excited to see what creative and crazy dish she would create. Her signature dish was a stunning carpaccio of kangaroo fillet served on a bed of Oriental lentils with pickled beetroot. It was plated immaculately and I found it hard to believe she had no chef training.
As I am allergic to kangaroo meat, unfortunately I didn’t try this dish. Roo causes me to develop a rather unusual anaphylactic like response where my throat swells up and I struggle to breathe. Kind of like what I imagine a nut allergy to be. But to roo! It’s not pleasant. I was informed by those who ate the carpaccio that the meat was uber-tender and matched well with the creamy lentils and sweet beetroot.
Gayle runs the front of house for Pickles Point Seafood & Boatyard in Carnarvon. Pickles Point are renowned for providing the local Carnarvon residents with some of the freshest Shark Bay seafood so it was logical that this would be the main feature of her signature dish.
She cooked a freshly cut fillet of Shark Bay Pink Snapper topped with butterflied Tiger prawns and served on a sweet potato mash with lime and mayonnaise. I looked over at the judge’s faces and I could see they were struggling to choose a winner. It was going to be such a hard call to make as every dish was outstanding.
The lovely, smiling Paul was the lucky last competitor to serve up his signature dish to the judging panel. This didn’t appear to frazzle him whatsoever and he looked so zen and calm as he prepared his dish. I wish cooking had that effect on me!
His dish was titled the “Gascoyne seafood tasting plate”. It comprised of four equally outstanding components each showcasing a outstanding number of key hero ingredients from the Gascoyne region; King prawns with salsa verde, citrus cured snapper, pan fried Pink snapper with lime mayonnaise and pickled vegetables; and snapper tartare with basil drizzle.
Narrowing it down to just one winner was going to be very hard and I didn’t envy the judges having to make this decision. The winner of each regional final will go on to battle it out for the title of WA Signature Dish on WA Day in June. The other three regional finalists are from the areas of Southern Forests, Great Southern and Perth. In order to help prepare the contestants for the big finale, each regional winner will receive intense one-on-one training from their mentor chef. I can see the Peter has a strong competitive streak in him so we couldn’t have asked for a more motivated chef to train our finalist!
As the crowd gathered around to wait for the announcement of the winner I could feel the excitement and tension in the air. The judges had used a points system to score each dish, assessing its flavour, presentation and originality but also on its ability to proudly showcase the produce from the Gascoyne region. Before they declared the winner, we were informed that it was an extremely close call with the top two contestants so close they nearly came in at a tie.
And the winner of the WA Signature Dish Gascoyne regional is……..Paul Kelly with his stunning Gascoyne seafood tasting plate. A huge congratulations to you Paul and also a big well done to Jerolina, Amy and Gayle for creating such amazing and individual signature dishes. Hopefully we may all meet again next year? 😉
Chompchomp is the official blogger for the Gascoyne region for WA Signature Dish competition run by Buy West Eat Best.
I wanted to find the most economical way to get to Carnarvon for the WA Signature Dish regional final. After toying with the idea of driving from Perth with a one way hire car, I ditched that thought in exchange for trading some Qantas frequent flyer points and catching a flight from Perth to Exmouth instead. Chuffed with the sensation I got something for nothing I proceeded to plan our detailed itinerary to explore the Gascoyne. However, despite all my organisation and planning it was soon to be upturned when I received an invite to attend the Taste of Perth Gala night along with my fellow official Eat Drink Perth bloggers. The Gala night coincided with the day we were due to fly out. I changed our flights to leave the following day so I could do both. Not a problem.
We rocked up to Perth airport the next day for our flight only to discover that I got our departure times mixed up with those of our original flight and consequently we missed the plane! To make matters worse, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a weather warning for the Gascoyne region predicting flash floods and a lot of rain. Gulp. Were we actually going to make it up North at all?
The Qantas service desk staff were quite empathetic about our plight which I found surprising given that during our time spent at their desk there were a number of other passengers who had also missed their flights. One passenger was getting quite agitated and as she blame shifted to all those around her I admired the level of patience maintained by the Qantas staff despite being confronted by such grumpy people.
The following day we returned back to the airport for our second attempt at getting to Exmouth. We arrived with plenty of time to spare so we made our way to the Qantas Lounge to relax. There was a disappointing amount of gluten free food available in the Lounge with only plain rice cakes, sliced tomato and capsicum on offer. There was also some gluten free muesli but it contained dried fruit, which is no good for a fructose malabsorber. The Boy had much better options and happily made himself a couple of cheese and tomato toasties. The smell of melted cheese was enough to make me swoon.
After filling up on a stack of rice cakes I noticed the departure screen flashed up with ***DELAYED DEPARTURE*** next to our flight and I really started to think this trip was doomed. I enquired at the Qantas Club desk why the plane was delayed and was relieved to learn that it was simply because a crew member had fallen sick. Boo for them but phew for us!
Finally, over half an hour after the scheduled departure time we made our way to the gate. Our Qantas Link plane was a De Havilland DHC-8 Dash 400. This type of plane is a turbo propeller however it was much quieter than I expected it to be if you excluded the initial noisy climb to cruising altitude. The seats are arranged in a comfortable 2-2 configuration and there was no inflight entertainment available. The flight takes around two and a half hours.
We were served a light complementary in-flight snack of a savoury zucchini muffin and some choc chip biscuits. There was no option to choose a gluten free friendly meal on booking the flight so I was thankful I had binged on those plain rice cakes in the Lounge.
We arranged a hire car with Budget using the Qantas website at the same time when we booked our flights. Given the weather warnings I was grateful we got upgraded to a 4 wheel drive Nissan Pajero. Having already done my research I knew that there is only one roadside petrol station between Learmonth airport and Carnarvon so I ensured my luggage was packed full of gluten free snacks for us to munch on for the drive.
We drove for three and a half hours in the intermittently pouring rain taking great caution on the roads as there were a lot of wandering livestock happily grazing along the roadside. In the breaks in the rain we managed to pull over and take some quick pictures but most of the trip it felt like we were racing the storm to our destination. It was a relief to check into our hotel the Best Western in Carnarvon completely unscathed despite all odds trying to prevent us getting there. I could barely sleep that night as I was too excited about what the following day would bring! Stay tuned as my post on the WA Signature dish Gascoyne regional final will be next in this series!
My mother and I share many personality qualities and when we spend time together it often feels like there is an overlap of our mother-daughter relationship with that of two best friends. When we are together we laugh a lot, often and easily, sometimes to the point of tears at things that others may not perceive as being quite that funny. Back when I was still at school, she was the “cool” mum that everyone else wanted as their mum. Now decades later we are separated by thousands of kilometres meaning our times spent with each other are more precious than ever before. Earlier this year the Boy and I headed back to Adelaide to visit her for a short weekender break. Mum is as much of a foodie as I am and so she organised to take us on a day trip into the McLaren Vale wine region. McLaren Vale is a short 45 minute drive from Adelaide’s city centre and is easy to visit on a day trip.
With my stepdad at the wheel we spent the day cruising from winery to winery carefully choosing just enough wine to fit into our luggage home. Our first stop was Hardy’s Tintara, a picturesque old winery bought by Hardy’s founder Thomas Hardy in 1876. Many of the old historical buildings still remain. The cellar door staff were welcoming and friendly insisting we work our way through as many of their wines as possible. There was no charge for tasting.
We spent a lot longer than we realised at Tintara chatting to the lovely staff and sipping away on a variety of their luscious reds. By the time we all jumped in the car I felt a bit light headed and keen for a bite to eat. Mum had booked us a table at The Currant Shed as she already knew they were gluten free friendly.
The Currant Shed are very focused on using local produce and being situated on the Fleurieu Peninsula they have an abundance of choice available. Their head chef prides himself on cultivating close relationships with the food producers and our waitress proudly explained to us that they make everything in house from scratch. The pickled octopus is one of their specialities and it was so tender soft you almost wouldn’t believe it was octopus.
The menu has a number of creative dishes many of which are suitable for dietary requirements including gluten free and vegetarian options. The Boy and I shared the vegetarian entrée which was a selection of baby beetroots with whipped goat’s curd, toasted pepitas and pumpkin oil.
Such a simple array of colourful ingredients decorated our plate elegantly and every mouthful was a burst of flavours and soft textures.
We had already all gone out to Bar 9 for a late breakfast so after eating our pretty entrées none of us were exceedingly hungry. Mum and my stepdad wanted to share a main so our waitress recommended that they order the smoked kangaroo loin as it was a reasonable sized serve to divide between two people. It was served with a rye pilaf, green strawberries and a pepper berry reduction. Being accustomed to Perth restaurant prices I was astonished at what a generous serve it was for just $33.
The Boy was ecstatic when he saw his vegetarian plate of amazingness arrive. Using locally sourced, seasonal vegetables such as zucchini and capsicums his plate was as beautiful as our entrée. Who said vegetarian food was boring?
On his plate were cheesy wedges of zucchini parmigiana, orzo stuffed peppers with feta and fresh tomatoes filled with black rice and peas. Scattered about his plate lay a multitude of fresh herbs, caperberries and edible flowers.
I ordered the fish of the day; two chunks of crispy skinned snapper with a macadamia nut crust in a tomato sugo broth with Goolwa cockles and thick cut chunks of pumpkin. The tomato sugo was a little watery and not as flavoursome as I would have preferred but with the saltiness of the cockles and lemony acidity of the caperberries the dish was still balanced well.
Sadly despite The Currant Shed having a very delightful looking dessert menu none of us had the room left in our bellies to squeeze in any sweets. Rolling onward and outward we piled back into the car to hit one more winery. We arrived at D’arenberg where we learnt the meaning of the wonderful word cenosilicaphobic: “the fear of an empty glass”. This is certainly something I suffer from at time to time.
The cellar door is situated overlooking the rolling hills of McLaren Vale and would have been another pretty spot to stop for lunch. Their restaurant d’Arrys Verandah is a little more formal compared to The Currant Shed and offers a full degustation menu. I noted they are also gluten free friendly and glimpses of the food heading out to the tables definitely looked like they were worth returning for.
After a few more wine tastings and a stroll around D’Arenberg’s grassy grounds we were nearly ready to head back home. It was late in the afternoon so unfortunately for us the first two venues that we dropped into for some dessert had already closed their kitchen. After nearly giving up, we found a gourmet café called Blessed Cheese that was still open in the town centre.
They had a couple of gluten free cake options and a massive selection of cheese and other local gourmet goods. We chose the gluten free sticky toffee muffin to share which was served warm with a caramel sauce drizzled over the top. It was not my usual type of dessert these days but it successfully satisfied my sweet tooth.
With the car boot clinking with a variety of bottles of wines that I had bought for our collection, I left the Vale knowing that I made the most of my trip. Thank goodness we scored a business class upgrade for our flight home otherwise our wallets would be burned with excess luggage charges!Hardy’s Tintara 202 Main Road, McLaren Vale SA 5171 | (08) 8329 4124 | hardyswines.com/au/wines/ranges/tintara D’Arenberg Osborn Road, McLaren Vale SA 5171 | (08) 8329 4848 | www.darenberg.com.au www.currantshed.com.au www.blessedcheese.com.au