Tag Archives: MFWF

All Good Things Come to an End

It is a few weeks overdue, but the last of my Melbourne Food and Wine Festival/Bank of Melbourne Prizes is over.

The finale was a full day of Master Classes, during 2013’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. And in summary, I would PAY to do this again next year.

I am the type to shake my head at all those cooking reality shows, and I still will do so, but I think I have had a natural interest in cooking since I was a kid. I made up recipes and loosely followed other recipes on a Sunday afternoon, and then Mum would clean it up. (I will mention this was not something you volunteered to do, but I was just simply terrible at cleaning up). So back to the point, I thoroughly appreciated, especially Dan Lepard’s session on baking. There were four sessions all up and early on in the day when food samples came around I may have slipped an extra few than others. But I had no idea it would pretty much be constant food everywhere for the entire day.

 

So I say goodbye to the awesome experience that was this year of prizes and was so damn lucky to have won it. So the lesson, enter those random competitions you see. You never know when you will win, especially if you always tell everyone “I never win anything”.

 

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Ye Old Yarra

My second last or penultimate (a word I rarely get to use!) chapter of the prize from Bank of Melbourne and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival arrived before I knew it. Only a few days prior to the weekend in February, I was reminded it was only a few days away so quickly booked a hire car and off we went.

We had made it down the street before the directions argument started. What usually would take about 45-60 mins for a typical Melburnian to get to the Yarra Valley,  took us 2 hours. We ended up going ANY road that was NOT a bypass, thanks to Siri and a combo of two guys who are stubborn and don’t drive too often these days. The trip featured many of Melbourne’s suburbs we had never heard of, along with many many colourful traffic lights. So that was a plus side.

Skip ahead (no one likes hearing about draining direction arguments) we entered the Yarra Valley (famous as a wine region) and we drove into Chateau Yering,This was to be our home and dinner destination for the night. It was an old mansion from the 1800’s:

Entering into the “lobby” as such, were several smiling faces, who welcomed us. Though it was quick to discover there was a small reservation mix up (which made Cal walk down the hall, who knows where…) but we quickly worked out a solution and were led up to our room for the evening. See the top right wing of the picture above, that’s where we stayed.

And what could I say, walking through the sitting room, dining room and halls of this place. It was staggering how beautiful it was. From spending hours in traffic, to this. The room that we had, was the furthest place you could get from the lobby, and we entered into something out of a book. You know those books where it is titled “Best Hotels Around the World that are Featured in Period Films”? Yeah that type of book.

It is hard to explain exactly what it was like, but to discover we had private large verandahs that looks off into the distance to hills and farm land, made me grin, just grin. I am also a sucker for a personal spa and there was one of them too, in the marble bathroom. I like specifying it was “marble” cause, non-marble bathrooms are not “marble” bathrooms. Walking out onto the balcony, watching cows feeding and the warm country air filling my lungs. I couldn’t be more thankful.

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We went for a stroll and admired how beautiful the grounds were, which also included a very old building that was the cellar door and still is. I then attempted to take a photo of the gardens with us both in it, this did not seem to be up to Cal’s liking so he took over and here is the result:

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I still criticized it as there is a man in the background. He said if I hadn’t taken so long taking the photo, the man wouldn’t be in it. I lost an argument again 😉

BACK to the Chateau for dinner at Eleonore’s Restaurant, and I will say this has been one of the best of them all. Set in a beautiful old dining room/mini ballroom by the looks of it:

Three courses, matching wines and I simply had a massive grin on my face. Menu is here, I had Organic Zucchini Flowers for Entree. Yum. Which then led to the first time eating Venison, for main meal, and it was incredible. Tender and the combo of flavours with the chocolate sauce was so unique.

AND of course the best til last, which has ended up being the best dessert I have had in my life, Pear Tart
with white chocolate cremeux, lychee, mint fizz, pear cider sorbet. I made sure our server told the kitchen they had made two fellas very happy. I tried to take photos but they do not do the dishes justice, just imagine “delicious” and you got it.

The next morning, I woke early and discovered hot air balloons landing in the paddock next to the room. I was blown away at how incredible the view was as the sun rose and the distant roar of the gas lights from the balloons filled the air. I snapped a few shots, before room service arrived with a yum breakfast in bed and a packing of our bags back to a hopefully quicker trip home to Melbourne. IMG_4042

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View of the World

A view of the world.

I learnt some french, I think.

Vue De Monde was the next stop on the Bank of Melbourne and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Adventure (deep breath).

From stepping into the lift and going up to the top of one of Melbourne’s tallest buildings, seeing the sunset shine into the beautiful bar and beginning the experience at the restaurant were only a few of the memories.

As soon as we finished our tour of the kitchens, we were led to our table. The tables were all very spread out and each had its own direct view out across Melbourne city. I could only smile as I looked across the city that I call home now, and had my fella by my side, both thankful for this adventure.

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The servers were all fantastic and all had a cheeky glint in their eye, not wanting to give away the surprises of the night. So to keep it that way, I will not expand too much into the food itself, other than to say it has to be one of the best experiences at a restaurant. Simply because of how creative and interactive it all was, with such a strong Australian influence. We sparked up some great conversations with the staff, and over the 3 and a half hours (yes!) we did not have a dull moment.

I will say though.. this was my favourite dish, I wont say what it involved though:

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Favourite of the evening.

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Cal and his Movember Mo enjoying the evening.

As we left through the cellar (at the top of a skyscraper) with our breakfast goody bag, we both had big grins on our faces. We were two lucky guys. The next morning, the breakfast bag was perfect. I may not have been!

 

 

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St Katherine’s of Kew

Dad has done so many things for me, as Dad’s usually do. So I wanted to invite him along to one of my prizes, and look after him for the evening. So he flew down for the weekend, and next up on the menu was St Katherine’s.

I had been in Melbourne almost two years but had not been to Kew. My only association with Kew was my obsession with a Christian Rock band from there in 1998. Things have changed since then… We shall move on..

Dad and I entered into the large open planned dining area, and it was a bustle of fun activity everywhere. This place was somewhere everyone enjoyed, full of families of all ages, couples and parties. I will highlight it wasnt a scene from a Pizza Hut in the 1990’s cause that has associations of all you can eat pizza and salad bars, bacon bits and screaming children. This was a happy and lively atmosphere, not in the draining way. Plus it is not Pizza Hut, cannot even compare the two, apologies for evening seeming to do so.

It wasnt a hard choice to choose the banquet style dinner themed around food the head chef George’s mother used to make. And the food came out, all types of Turkish, Greek and other Mediterranean dishes. Dad and I had a blast (yes I used the word blast), along with some tasty cocktails, the evening sure was one that was going to stay with me a long time. Highlights being the Pide, Haloumi and the Cocktail jug I shared with Dad.

I was fortunate naturally to have a gift voucher for here, but I will totally come here again with my money. It is affordable, friendly and the food was perfect.

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Dad loved the cocktails and the food.

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I think Haloumi may have to be one of the best things invented.

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Pide – The best one I have ever had, even better than a drunk late night Pide.

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Kyneton. The home of Annie Smithers Bistro.

I think I was the only one in Melbourne last week who was excited to go on the V-line for the first time. Well me and maybe a six year old in Bendigo who was going into the big city to visit his Aunty in Clifton Hill. Maybe.

V-line was to be our chosen method of travel (that I like to now call “The Carriages of Adventure”) to our fifth chapter in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival prize I won. The train was going to take us to Kyneton where we would get to stay for the weekend and also experience the institution that is Annie Smithers Bistrot.

As I google everything prior to any unknown region, I noticed that the highlights of Kyneton were the local Botanic Gardens and a public swimming pool. More on those later. Kyneton is situated north of Melbourne, edging into the Gold Rush region that Victoria is famous for. Eureka,canvas tents and gold pans. Arriving at Southern Cross Station, we boarded the V-line train and settled in for the hour ride. The children with iPads nearby barely made a noise and the two hungover teenagers remained fast asleep the whole trip.

We pulled up to Kyneton station after about three chapters more through the book I was reading. I will not specify which book exactly, but it may have been made into a musical and involves a green lady. The train station was old and the bus timetable stated there was no buses on Saturday. I called the local taxi surface, and within five minute a Prius Taxi pulled up. The taxi driver was full of personality, sniffing several times due to a cold and grunting the total of the fair when we pulled up in the main street. I don’t know why I expected some kind of Kyneton tourist talk.

We were informed on our instructions for the prize to pick up the keys to our apartment from a homewares store. We entered into the cosy little shop just as the owner was leaving to show another couple their room. She asked us to look after the store until her return. So within a minute we had exited a cab and played shopkeeper. As I was versing for how I would talk up the handmade soaps, the owner returned and warmly welcomed us to the apartment which was literally the door next to the shop. It turns out the apartment was above and behind the shop. It was awesome, pretty much an entire house to ourselves, with open gas fires and a little cottage garden. I would pay to stay there! It turned out to be a great spot for the evening and with Annie Smithers Bistrot about 50 metres away, could not complain it was far from anything.

This was the view out the back, with an old stone church behind our yard.

We strolled down the main street for the afternoon and there were plenty of little stores with antiques and home-wares. Such a peaceful and beautiful street, full of character/s.

We got ready and headed out the door, leaving plenty of room to get to the restaurant on time. 84 seconds later, we were through the door, and greeted and taken to our seat. The place smelt of different woods, whether it was a candle burning or just the natural smells of the many types of wood that were evident in the swedish style decor. Our menus were provided and I immediately picked up on the fact that it reflected the season and what was fresh and country-like. Thats pretty observant for me. Being the Vego, it was an easy pick with one dish on the entree and one in the main that was suitable but both looked fantastic. A leek tart for entree, and a cauliflower and truffle gnocchi for main. Though there were other meat type meals that even I thought looked great, such as duck and the lamb. But here is the full menu.

I now insert a photo of my tart.

Dessert time came upon us and someone told me once, if you ever get the chance, order everything on the dessert menu. So we did, apart from the soufflé, as that takes a little longer and I will be honest, I am not very patient. So really, I am yet to order EVERYTHING on a dessert menu. Though I can say we ate then all and then I used my finger, when no one was looking, to scoop up the last of the amazing sauces.

We said goodbye to the super friendly staff and strolled up back to the apartment on the old street in the cold, all tuckered out.

Woke the next morning and after a breakfast that was provided for us to cook ourselves in the country kitchen, we packed our things and strolled through the town to the station. Thankfully we didn’t plan anything in the town as most things were closed on a Sunday. It’s true what they say. We walked by the Botanic Gardens and we were a tad underwhelmed, but at the same time, my home town doesn’t have its own Botanic Gardens so good on them. Then we went by the local swimming pool, which was empty and looked like it had been closed for ten years, the sides of the pool now an art gallery for local teenagers. My local town’s pool has water in it, so we even out in the end.

I just hope some Kyneton kid isn’t sad…

Jumping back on the V-line with a bunch of locals going to the footy, we headed back to that Melbourne place. Thanks Kyneton, and thanks Annie Smithers! I wish I could weed your garden,help you sow some carrots or wash a cabbage for you.

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C-O-D-A

As usual, it took me a while to find this restaurant. I am not used to looking down at the ground to find a restaurant down the classically Melbourne’s Flinders Lane. The establishment was in a basement, with the only signs that it existed were a few knee high windows next to the pavement. CODA was a restaurant I had heard of and I had been very keen to give it a go. So I was pretty darn lucky for it to be Dinner Four of the Bank of Melbourne and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Prize. The industrial look was a winner as soon as I walked in, and sat down at our table. The mesh lighting was a bit different but at the same time, very Melbourne. Thats the cool thing about this city, anything goes and therefore it becomes unexpected all at once.

Our cheery waitress talked us through the menu like it was her favourite short story, and I discovered that pretty much 3/4 of the dishes on the menu could be turned into a vegetarian dish. The menu is divided up to smaller dishes and larger dishes, so it was a shared scenario for the evening. We ordered a long list of things, as we were in a fortunate situation, along with about four cocktails each, and still didn’t come close to our gift voucher budget. I was very impressed and the food was fantastic. The odd thing was that my favourite thing on the menu was the side of brussel sprouts. Something about them made me just want to proclaim how good they were to the people in the street on the way home. I came close.

The cocktails were fantastic, I would come here just for them, the Clover Leaf being my favourite, so rock on in there and don’t even look at the list, act like a local and order it. As long as you are cool with drinking alcohol. It has alcohol in it.

All I can say is that everything I ate was fresh and quality, with an overall asian feel to the menu, with modern/western twists on some of the dishes. Can I just say it was all yum and all should go here? It isn’t too expensive either.

Walking back out into the night after finishing off the dinner with an amazing set of desserts also, I was simply chuffed. Thanks Coda, there was a reason I had heard of you.

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The Lake House – Not a Sandra Bullock Film

I quickly discovered when I googled “The Lake House” in Daylesford, that it was a fairly big deal in Rural Victoria. It even sat higher on the search list than Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reave’s “The Lake House” (Hyperlinked for your enjoyment and additional knowledge for the day). So immediately I assumed, while I casually walked by the lake in Daylesford, I would not see any melancholy scenes  like this:

When in actual fact, after driving out of Melbourne and navigating the freeways for the first time behind the wheel (in this situation, not driving in general… just so we are clear) we arrived in the dark on a Friday evening at our destination. Stepping out of the car, the crisp clean winter air from the country could have summed up how different it was to where we just drove from. The soft lights amongst the trees framed the reception and restaurant, its big glass windows asking us to enter. So we did. We were greeted by a lovely lady who treated us like we were old friends, and we were immediately escorted along a gravel path and along next to some cottages to our own little home for the weekend. There was a duck (a fake one) at our front door and you could flip the sign around saying “Do Not Disturb”. He was immediately named the Privacy Duck.

The cottage looked across the lake and it was perfectly heated and had a classic and clean country feel about it. We left our bags and said goodbye to them, promising them we would be back later in the evening. Driving into the town of Daylesford we found a nice little restaurant to eat for the night (our dinner at the Lake House was booked in for the following night). An IGA on the way back from the restaurant provided me with some Ginger Wine. Classy night all round really, especially when it didn’t fit in the bar fridge so I kept it on the floor beside my bed.

Waking up the next morning, part of the package was breakfast at the Lake House every morning, and this was to be one of my highlights of the trip.

This was where I would experience the fantastic hospitality of the restaurant staff and the beautiful views across the lake. We could order anything we would like from our heads pretty much that was breakfasty. Both mornings I was pretty daring and asked for scrambled eggs, and low and behold, scrambled eggs arrived. I heard others ordered such things as waffles and omelettes. On top of the requests from the kitchen was the best buffet breakfast I have ever seen from the breads and home made cereals to the large bowl of freshly whipped maple syrup butter. There was one of those automated industrial toasters that has a conveyor belt. I always have a fight with them as I am too impatient and speed it up and then it drops off the other side and I lose it under the toaster. The view was beautiful, we saw the mist coming off the lake and a few local kookaburras were on the railing outside waiting for an obvious little breakfast from the staff. They flew away satisfied, as did we, off to walk around the lake. This was the second highlight.

Anyone who comes to visit Daylesford, I bring my megaphone out. Walk around the lake.

That afternoon another part of the package was a massage at Salus, the Day Spa at the Lake House. Really draining day I’d say.  It was another fantastic experience, walking out of there as calm as a turtle in tropical waters with no sharks nearby.

So evening came around and we entered the Lake House for our dinner. The atmosphere here was so very different and a new kind of beauty came out after dark. We were shown the corner window table, that was away from most of the other tables and it was not a tough decision once the menus arrived, there was a vegetarian degustation listed. The next three hours flew by with our fantastic host presenting dish after dish of intricate and creative courses, all from locally sourced produce. I love that it was such a seasonal and fresh menu. I won’t go on too much about it as I will once again start sounding like I run my own weekend TV show about the best dining experiences in Victoria, with montages of extreme close ups of steak and wine. It was one of the best nights of my year, as I had great conversation and great food and wine. We weren’t even sad we missed half of X-Men 2 that we had planned to watch that night, the crazy party going people we were.

After another quality sleep, and another breakfast that made me grin, we said goodbye to Privacy Duck and the Lake House. We began the drive back to Melbourne, but before that, we stopped in on the local markets grabbing some local produce such as olives and veggies. A weekend I won’t be forgetting anytime soon and would go back and do it all over again exactly the same, but maybe not argue with the toaster.

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Drumming Flowers

I first of all wondered why a flower needs a drum. Or is the drum made of flowers, and if so, is it metaphorical because I am pretty sure it would have a next to no sound when you hit a daisy against a bunch of wattle. Not really going to get the party started or any type of festival/ceremony for that matter. Maybe I am just thinking too much. Or got this odd thing with flora.

Flower Drum, was the first of my 12 amazing dinners that I won through the Bank of Melbourne and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Prize. It also happened to be my 28th Birthday.

We arrived via a taxi who seemed pretty sure they knew where the restaurant was, turns out they didnt. But we entered on time and we were shown to a lift that reminded me of the kind of scary 1970’s style lift that I had to go up to visit the Dentist. I didnt blame Flower Drum for this memory, it just was coincidental. I stepped out and shook away that memory, and was immediately greeted by two very cheerful hosts who took our jackets and we were immediately led to our table, while another pair of hosts rolled a large wooden table by us. Casually but in a professional manner, these guys and the table were on a mission. We sat down and we were introduced to our waiter for the evening. Turned out we had a few who assisted us, one seemed like a pro and then one fella seemed like his apprentice waiter.

Wine lists were provided and we chose to have some champagne to celebrate my birthday.

After a cheers, we chose straight away to go with the degustation banquet as we knew this would let us taste the variety along with a glass of wine with every dish. One small issue was that I am vegetarian.

Side step for a sec. When I told friends and family I had won this prize, they all said it was wasted on me because I was a Vego. This naturally led them all to saying that they should come with me so someone could appreciate the meats at these fantastic restaurants. This led me to remind them that I prefer them to submit their applications in writing. Nah, I was pretty stoked by it all that I had no idea who to pick for each dinner.

So back to Flower Drum. I decided for this special evening, I would let myself try the meats offered as they would be great quality and well prepared. And I was glad I did (hypocrite?).

Every dish that came out was simply amazing, I just kept grinning. And for the first time in my life I truly discovered that a perfect matching wine to a dish really does bring out even more flavour. Both in the wine and the dish. Whether that was the wine talking or some amazing new revelation.

Now I wont pretend to be a food critic and explain all the details of the food as I usually would change the channel on someone who did do that. No channel changing here.

All I will say is that the experience was up there with the time I had a Bubble-O-bill for the first time in years. Or the time when I went to a nice restaurant and had amazing food. Take your pick.

It was a great way to spend a birthday evening as I began to realise how fantastic the next year would be with winning this prize. And leaving the restaurant we dodged a few more tables rolling down the room, on a mission to be setup for tomorrow’s diners. I hope they get a percussion show that relates to the floral world. cause I didnt. That was the only downer.

PS. I do know what a Flower Drum is. These ladies are displaying a sample:

And you can find out more here. Just saying.

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