Category Archives: Wine and other Drinks

Adventures: Easter on the Tweed Coast

You could, like so many do, drive straight from Brisbane to Byron Bay. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people and bizarre people and everything in between. Byron Bay still has its charms but there’s more to the area.

Here’s a taste.

Harvest Newrybar

“Where the hell is Newrybar?” I hear you ask. It’s little more than a siding off the highway these days, so even if you visit Byron Bay regularly you’ll only find it if you go looking. The old highway ran through this small town just inland from Byron Bay and if you visit on a weekend these days, you’ll struggle to find a park. That’s because some very talented people are running Harvest, a café, restaurant, private dining room and a deli too. Arranged across three cream-painted timber clad buildings, you’d love Harvest if it were in a capital city and you’ll love it more for its rural location at the centre of a region known for its produce.

What’s great about Harvest is that they respect the local produce by letting it speak for itself. Flavours are vibrant and plating is unfussy. While ‘local’ and ‘organic’ are terms that are increasingly overplayed, the food at Harvest is what these words really mean. We had a very late breakfast and staff didn’t blink even though they were getting ready to reset for a fully booked lunch. The service here is astonishing, a well oiled machine of young local people who were unflappable despite the Easter crowds. Every one seems to know their job and do it well.

Coffee is from Allpress and expertly made by a deeply tanned barista with impressive dreadlocks. The kitchen is open to the indoor dining area and the team of chefs are as impressive as the floor staff. A verandah wraps around the dining room and its all charmingly un-designed and comfortable. Our breakfasts were delicious – sweet, flaked smoked trout encased in a super fine omlette on sourdough and pork and parsley sausages with poached eggs, grilled cheesy field mushroom and spinach. There’s lots of other delicious options, each given a bit of a twist to best use local ingredients. And to make breakfast here even more civilised there’s sparkling wine and champagne by the glass and Bloody Marys on offer too. A quick glance at the lunch and dinner menus and the wine list makes me keen to return.

The deli has just opened, but a cheese room as well as a selection of smallgoods and cured hams on the bone along with bread baked on site and plenty of other delicious things make it worth a look in it’s own right.

Harvest Cafe

18 Old Pacific Highway, Newrybar

02 6687 2644

Fat Belly Kaf, Brunswick Heads

I kept hearing about this place, so since we were in the area I rang to see if we could get a table for dinner.  We did a mid afternoon reccy and my heart sank a tiny bit. But then I was wearing the clothes I’d been in at the beach, with tangled, salty hair and thongs, hardly dressed for a night at the Ritz. It turned out we were made for one another.

Away from the other cafes and restaurants in the central part of Brunswick Heads, Fat Belly Kaf is a few streets over in Tweed Street. It’s next to the fish and chip shop with the Skilltester and the fluoro lights in one of those restaurant-at-the-motel arrangements.

It was a beautiful evening when we visited, the perfect antidote to living the city. We ate at a table outside, with geckos chirping, Jupiter and Venus burning brightly and the other side of the sky lit up by the waning moon right after Passover. At first the Motel’s ‘no vacancy’ sign over our table seemed incongruent but it made a nice light as the night grew darker.

The food at Fat Belly Kaf is a distillation of Greek, Turkish and similar cuisines. Concisely and appealingly described, the menu runs to a couple of pages ranging from small plates, larger share dishes, mains, desserts and sides. The only thing disappointing about what’s on offer is that you need a larger group so you can order all the small plates and share them. Or perhaps I’m just greedy.

We started out with a dozen Pacific oysters, a few dressed with pomegranate and shallot. All delicious. Small, sweet and briny, I didn’t ask if they were local but they seemed freshly shucked and could convincingly have come from a little further down the coast. Dressings on oysters seems hard to get right but the pomegranate and shallot was just right, not too acidic and just enough to compliment the oysters instead of consuming them.

A progression of small plates followed, nicely spaced so the table didn’t get crowded and we could appreciate what we were eating. The blue cheese croquettes with honey mayo had a winning interplay of crunchy exterior and yielding gooey interior with the honey mayo a nice counterpoint to the mild blue cheese flavour. Prawns with saganaki and tomato were also a winner, their soft, sweet tails a good indication of their freshness. I’m not usually one for crunching on prawn tails but it would have been blasphemy not to eat these.

After a few more excellent small dishes, our slow cooked lamb shoulder for two was presented on a platter. Fragrant and meltingly tender, it was served with sticky spice roasted pumpkin, roast potatoes and pan juices so good I took to spooning them over my veggies. Hardening of the arteries be damned!

By this stage of the evening we’d met Jake, one of the new owners. Fat Belly Kaf changed hands a few months back, after previous owners Kat and Damian Williams sold the business. Jake knows a thing or two about wine and after a bit of a chat it became clear how this place came to have such a great wine list. It’s not long but it’s clever and individual and a little quirky. Since we were ordering dessert, Jake organised a bottle of the Domain Day Dolcezza, a late harvest Garganega. Usually Garganega is made into Soave, a staple Italian table wine, of the sort drunk in summer by the pool with seafood. This was a sweet though restrained wine with lemony citrus and almond oil flavours well suited to the star dessert on the menu. Not for the easily defeated, it’s a sort of inside-out Greek custard bougatsa. Served in a large pudding bowl, there’s layers of light orange blossom water flavoured cream custard and pastry topped with flaked almonds. You could share it between a couple of people, but I was pleased to have the sublime dark chocolate tart with strega soaked figs to myself. This was faultless, and I don’t think I’ve had as good at more serious restaurants.

Because good Turkish Delight is always too good too pass up, and because its presented to you in a sort of fantasy magic carpet style silver dish with silver tongs for you to select a piece, we tried some of that too. Delicious.

In the interests of a proper evaluation of the menu and wine available at Fat Belly Kaf, I plan to head back soon with a group of friends. I recommend you do the same.

Fat Belly Kaf

Old Pacific Highway (Tweed Street)

02 6685 1100

Tweed River Seafoods, Chinderah

A visit to the area isn’t complete for me without a trip to Tweed River Seafoods at Chinderah, usually for fish and chips and sometimes for prawns and oysters. Chinderah is at the northern end of the Tweed Valley, not far over the border and near the new resorts around Kingscliff, now marketed as Casuarina Beach. But there’s no gentrification here at Tweed River Seafoods, it’s the same as always, good old fashioned service and staff who are pretty comfortable in their white gumboots. Golden, crispy batter and usually good chips, but mostly really fresh fish. You can also buy super fresh prawns, bugs, oysters and a big range of filleted and whole fish here.  Make sure you phone ahead to order prawns at Christmas time if you’re visiting the area. Special mention for the way they wrap the fish and chips.

78 Chinderah Bay Drive, Chinderah

02 6674 1134

There’s lots to love about this area and with the very last bit of the border bypass being completed at the moment, there’s never been a better time to skip the Gold Coast and head for where the beaches are quiet and the food is good.

Spring, Stokehouse & the New Wave of Small Brisbane Bars

It’s a busy time for restaurant openings in Brisbane with a brace of new venues at Riverbend, the new South Bank restaurant precinct as well as in the CBD.

Spring (Cnr Felix & Mary Streets, Brisbane)

One of the most anticipated openings, for me anyway, is Spring, opposite Waterfront Place and near Urbane and The Euro.  With Lizzie Loel, former restaurant critic, chef and more recently consultant to John Kilroy’s restaurant group as general manager, its fair to say there’s a keen interest from city workers and industry types alike in seeing what Spring delivers.

Spring brings together a bistro, cooking school, wine store, retail and a ‘market table’ for quick but high quality lunches and breakfasts.  I was lucky enough to have a quick tour from Lizzie prior to opening and to find out about the philosophy and intent of Spring.  Owner Sarah Hancock is a Queenslander with evident passion for interiors and design who has put together a high calibre team, with chef Andrew Clarke, formerly of Poole’s Rock Winery in the Hunter Valley heading up the kitchen and sommelier and Brisbane hospitality industry figure Peter Marchant announced this week as Spring’s Fine Wine Manager.

In its various guises, Spring will provide regional and seasonal food in a comfortable setting, designed to evoke the ambiance of a gracious country home, with chef Andrew Clarke keen to continue his use of sustainable and organic ingredients in dishes with simple, bold flavours at the fore.  As you walk towards Spring, you’ll notice the rotisserie on display through the corner glass windows which will be used to produce roast meats for market table lunches.  In another show of Spring’s philosophy of sourcing high quality products unique to Brisbane, Spring will serve Niccolo coffee, roasted in Melbourne under the direction of former Illy master, Manuel Terzi.  The blend of mostly arabica and some robusta beans is a flat white drinker’s dream.  Pastries from young Brisbane pastry chef Matt Tierney (formerly of Brew Bakers and Aria) are excellent.  Spring’s market table is open for trade from 7am for breakfast, lunch and in between snacks.

The retail offer includes homewares, condiments and both new and vintage cookbooks.  With Marchant now onboard to steer the wine offer and sommelier/consultant Liz Carey (MoVida, Universal) having laid the foundations with a  focus on organic and biodynamic wines, I’m looking forward seeing how Spring evolves as the bistro and retail components open for trade at the end of the month.  The cooking school should be popular with corporate groups and Lizzie says they plan to mix it up with local talent and producers rather than just rely on big name chefs.

Stokehouse & Stoke Bar (South Bank)

The first Brisbane foray for the Melbourne based Van Haandel Group, Stokehouse Brisbane occupies the top spot in the new Riverbend precinct and includes a fine dining restaurant and a bar.  It’s great to see more venues on the river, and as a big fan of the Stokehouse in St Kilda I’m looking forward to trying Stokehouse.  A quick peek at the bar and its menu and drinks list shows plenty of promise.

Cove Bar and Dining (South Bank)

Just along from Stokehouse, I think this is the pick of the Riverbend precinct for views and pure relaxation.  The décor is simple with seats at the bar, a scattering of banquettes, stools and tables and a contender for best view in Brisbane.  Cocktails are excellent and the wine list, while small, is well conceived with smart options by the glass.  A selection of oysters served 10 ways and a promising menu with items like charred goat ribs with black garlic, scallops with black pudding crumble and vanilla pea puree & cocoa dusted quail with ajo blanco look worthy of further exploration.

Burnett Lane Bars (CBD)

Joining Brew in the CBD’s Burnett Lane (running from around the corner from Rocking Horse Records and back up to George Street) are new bars Super Whatnot and The Survey Company Bar and Bistro.  I know little more about Super Whatnot than its hidden away location and whacky name but how can it not be good with a name like that?

Survey on the other hand has been well publicised and owner Simon Livingstone  is no stranger to operating bars and bistros with Piaf and Sardine Tin at South Brisbane both well loved and established venues.  I hope these three venues do a great job of proving beyond doubt that small bars are both supported and viable in Brisbane.  Both are close to opening – watch this space.

There’s plenty of other new places opening and it will be interesting to see them evolve and how they land with Brisbane’s sometimes novelty seeking dining public. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these new venues and which ones you’ve tried or are looking foward to trying.

Event: DiscoverVin ‘Wines of South West France’ Dinner

I have a soft spot for the wines and winemakers of the region where I grew up, and after meeting Craig Underhill of DiscoverVin via Twitter, who is based in my hometown, I was curious about what kind of wine importer would base themselves there.

DiscoverVin import wine from the Bordeaux and South West Regions of France and rather than focusing solely on classified wines, they instead search out wines that they feel offer quality and value for money, many from independent, organic or bio-dynamic producers. They then go one step further and provide very helpful advice on selecting wine to suit your tastes.

On his mission to introduce more people to these fantastic wines, Craig and DiscoverVin are hosting a wine dinner in Brisbane this Thursday 16th at C’est Bon Restaurant in Woolloongabba with a fittingly French menu and matched wines. You can find more details on the DiscoverVin website. There’s still a few spots available and you can contact Craig to book on 02 6020 6016.

You can follow DiscoverVin on Twitter: @DiscoverVin

Short Order – September in Brisbane

I took most of this weekend off and here’s where we ate and drank.

On our circuit of the city and Southbank we checked out progress at the River Bend development. It’s tucked up at the Goodwill Bridge end of Southbank and a tranquil curve has been carved out in the riverbank for 6 – 7 new restaurants and bars. The landscaped amphitheater that’s been created down by the river was a nice spot to catch some sun on a very windy morning. The design by local firm Arkefield makes the most of the riverside location and I’m keen to see what Stokehouse, The Jetty, Cove and others do with the space. Fitouts seem to be in full swing with only the interior of Stokehouse visible from up on Goodwill Bridge.

We decided to try Jeremy’s (Albert Street, City) on our way home. We’ve previously been put off by the rather odd breakfast menu that is divided into two – with one half stating that there may be a wait of up to 20 – 30 minutes for dishes to be served. Anyhow, it’s a lovely room and at least the slightly over earnest menu writing signals that there is effort being made. The coffee was excellent and our choices of turkish style scrambled eggs and savory mince on toast with a poached egg were both delicious and elegantly presented. The coffee is up there with the top 3 I’ve had in the CBD and the bacon is AMAZING. Its thick cut and delicious. The dining room is super stylish and over flowing with lots of interesting bottles. Top that off with very polished service – even at breakfast – and I reckon I’ll be checking out Jeremy’s again soon.

I’d been seeing a bit of a buzz on Twitter about Bitter Suite, a new craft been place in the New Farm. In a somewhat cursed spot in Welsby Street, we dropped in around 4pm but didn’t stay. The staff member who approached us was pretty unwelcoming and seemed in hurry to tell us there was no food available. Bitter Suite seems like a good concept but the space has all the atmosphere of a school cafeteria and is a little hard to navigate. Maybe there are a few teething issues since it is brand spanking new. Since we were after drinks and a snack we wandered up to Teneriffe towards Beccofino.

This place just works. The décor is minimalist, the menu is brief and the service is perfectly tuned to a lazy couple of hours of food and wine. Everything tastes delicious, from the charry thin pizzas with simple flavour combinations and quality ingredients to the specials, on this occasion an generous veal cotoletto and garlicy, briney scampi pasta. There’s plenty of interest on the brief wine list, Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir and prosecco by the glass, some decent Italian reds by the bottle all at democratic prices. The no bookings policy can be a pain, but the kitchen stays open throughout the afternoon which is perfect for the next meal after Sunday brunch.

On Sunday I made the trek out to SuperButcher to stock up for a couple of weeks. I’m not convinced its really as cheap as people would like to believe, but the range is good and if you want to but whole rib fillets, rumps, sides of lamb etc then its definitely the place to go. There’s enough interesting cuts and products to make it worth a trip every now and then. But rug up if you go since the large store is one big cool room. Beef cheeks and the made to order sausages (lamb, fetta, pumpkin; beef, cheese and vegemite; venison) are worth checking out too.

After a few productive hours at the office, we ambled down to the river to check out the $7 Sunday deal we’d seen advertised at Boardwalk Bar & Bistro. It seems as though the management here has changed or at least there’s been a few fresh ideas. This is a huge venue on the river below Kingsleys and out the front of Riparian Plaza. I’ve not been the hugest fan in the past and sometimes queuing up, paying with your order, collecting your drinks from the bar and eating at a communal table or on a stool is not what I’m after, but I’ll punt anything for $7. What does that get you? After 5pm on a Sunday it buys you a pizza about the size of a dinner plate and a schooner of domestic mainstream beer. The pizza is very serviceable and the beer is cold and there’s much worse places to be on a Sunday evening than overlooking the river and Story Bridge. Our total bill came to $33 for a thin, crispy peperoni pizza, good chips, schooner of beer and a further jug of beer. The view on a perfect September night in Brisbane was, as they say, priceless.

Love food, curious about wine?

Do you love food but get a little nervous when confronted with a weighty wine list? Do you find yourself gravitating towards the same two or three ‘safe bet’ wines when you visit the bottle-o? Do imported wines excite but utterly confuse you all at the same time? If so, then Swirl Sniff Spit is for you.

Held on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at the Era in South Brisbane Swirl Sniff Spit is a free tasting that aims educate wine lovers at all levels trough a guided tasting of 10 – 12 wines, generally organised around a theme. Led by Bree Boskov, a certified sommelier and on premise manager for De Bortoli Wines, it’s a fun and informal way to broaden your wine horizons and discover varietals and wine making styles whilst meeting other wine and food appreciators.

This months tasting features a line up of fine Grenache from Australia and overseas.

McLaren Vale Cadenzias
d’Arenberg 2009 The Cadenzia GSM @darenberg
Dogridge Cadenzia Grenache 2007 @dogridge
Maximus Cadenzia GSM 2009 @maximuswines
Oliver’s Taranga Cadenzia Grenache 2009 @OliversTaranga
Samuel’s Gorge Cadenzia 2009 Grenache @SamuelsGorge
Yangarra Cadenzia 2006 @Yangarra

Barossa, Northern Spain and Southern Rhone
Vieux Telegraphe Le Pigeolet des Brunier Vin de Pays 2008

Sons of Eden Kennedy vintage tbc @SonsOfEden
Clovely Left Field GSM 10 @ClovelyWine
Cirillo The Vincent 2009
MDV Eden Valley 2009 @MDVwines
Turkey Flat 2009 @TurkeyFlat
Palacios Remondo ‘La Vendimia’ 2010
Vina Ginesa Rojo 2009

To find out more visit the Swirl Sniff Spit website and to secure your place at the next tasting follow @swirlnsniffspit on Twitter.

Archive Beer Boutique Bistro, West End

This is a very enjoyable venue to spend a few hour sampling some of the finest craft beers Australia has to offer.  A short walk or a bus ride from the CBD, Archive Beer Boutique Bistro has been operating for a year or two now and occupies the large ground floor space over the road from The Hi Fi (formerly The Pavillion) and below Uber in still-a-little-bit-bohemian West End.

I’ve heard people in Brisbane complain that there aren’t as many good wine bars as we ought to have for city of our size.  This makes it even more remarkable that a venue as large as Archive, a craft beer specialist bar, no less, has made it past its first birthday.  It occupies an expansive place, open kitchen facing the deck at the entry, large wrap around bar, seating at the bar, at high stools, on couches, pool tables, dart boards, more pool tables and another function area through the archway.

I don’t know anything about the ownership behind Archive, but given the fact their beer list is long and fiercely independant, you’d have to assume this place is not propped up by rebates and kickbacks from multinational brewers.  There are no soggy bar mats, no corporate sponsored beer posters and coasters and no Lion Nathan/CUB branded uniforms.    The distinct lack of ‘tat’ makes you feel like your having a beer at a really cool mates place, who just happens to have on hand a few pints of really great beer.  The fitout is pitched to match this vibe, and cleverly combines beer crates, retro preloved uphostered couches, newspaper plastered walls and a bar lined in book spines and light shades made of the yellowed book pages.  They bathe the room in a warm beer toned glow, much like the patrons as they contemplate their pale ales and stouts. It adds up to a very clever way to fitout such a large space and a credit to the clever persons who designed it.

The food is a notch or two above your standard pub fare, with some nice tasting plates, soft shell crab, good chips and decent steaks and burgers.  But really, you’re here for the beer and the food’s good enough to compliment it without stealing the show.

My picks on the day were Lord Nelson Three Sheets Natural Ale and Holgate ‘Mt Macedon’ Pale Ale.  The beers are well stored, served in matter befitted the care with which they were created and priced keenly to have you planning your next visit before you’ve finished your first beer.  The staff at Archive will give you as much or as little assistance with choosing a beer to suit your tastes as you need and know their product.  Really a must for a specialist venue like this. 

In light of the recent demise of Platform Bar, you further appreciate the commitment to independant brewers shown by Archive Beer Boutique Bistro.

As an added bonus, you’ll find Next Door Cellars out the back where you can take home some of the beers you’ve sampled, if you’re still in a state to carry them.

Archive Beer Boutique Bistro

100 Boundary Road

West End

Phone: 07 3844 3419

www.archivebeerboutique.com.au

Adventures: Eulogy, Philadelphia

When I visit a new city my routine is to ask the bartender ‘whats the local beer?’.  Especially in the US, my most frequent international destination, its also an excellent way to avoid watery, flavourless mass-produced beers and get a little of the local flavour.  Bartenders know stuff you see.  So in preparation for a conference trip to Philadelphia, I’d asked my good mate and conference co-convenor that same question.  Not only did Bob introduce us to the Coopers of Philly – a perfectly respectable lager called Yuengling - he took us to Eulogy Belgian Tavern, a charmingly ramshackle place only a local could know about. 

We were lucky to get a table, perhaps the waiter noticed the excited glow on our faces as he whipped away a ‘reserved’ sign and led us to a chrome and formica table wedged next to the second bar on the upper level.  After welcoming us warmly and providing us with thick spiral bound beer lists/menus we were left awestruck to ponder our preference from a list of over 400 different beers.  Its still got me beat how they accommodate so many different beers in such a pocket hankerchief sized place, but they do.  Nothing was too much trouble and even our most obscure selections were available.

Philadelphia and the surrounding area have a strong German heritage, which perhaps explains the profusion of small breweries in the area.  We started out with some great US craft brewers such as Founders (Michigan), DogFish Head (Delaware) and Victory Brewing Company (Pennsylvania) along with some more widely known Belgian beers from Duvel and Chimay.  This gargantuan list was arranged alphabetically by brewery name with notes on style, location and alcohol volume.  Our waiter was extremely knowledgable and helped some of the less adventurous and more overwhelmed members of our party find something to suit their taste.  The beers arrived perfectly chilled, poured at the table into glassware to suit each selection.

So with a beer in hand, we turned our attention to the menu which offers an excellent range of dishes from the usual Belgian favourites of mussels and frites to innovative mains like lavender roasted chicken with roast vegetables, to a selection of burgers from US hotel standard to the gourmet.  Two of us ordered the house made sausage plate with pork, venison and wild boar and two of us ordered mussels and frites, available four ways.  After much vascilating I went with the lavender roasted chicken.  Good choice.  Mussels and frites were also fantastic.  The presentation of the meals wasn’t fancy, served on household sized flatware best suited to the cosy quarters, however it is clear the chefs know their stuff.  And they deftly deliver a beer friendly menu with something to suit everyone. 

My beer drinking highlight was the Hitachino Nest Classic IPA, brewed in Japan and matured in cedar sake casks with packaging to die for.  This was a really unusual beer.  The cedar flavours were noticeable but nicely balanced with creamy malt and and some spiciness.  It was a nice match for the fragrant lavender roasted chicken maryland. 

Due to our somewhat grueling conference schedule (seven days straight in a dimly lit room, death by powerpoint, with added jetlag anyone?) we didn’t get through anywhere near as much as the list of 400 as I would have liked.  If you are visiting Philly, and I highly recommend you do, then Eulogy should be on your ‘must dine’ list.   And for Aussies feeling homesick, you’ll find Coopers Sparkling Ale and Coopers Vintage Ale at a bargain $5 a glass.  The owners were excited to hear that craft brewing in Australia is producing some great brews and were keen for suggestions on what they could add to their list. 

A fantastic night, and gratitude to Bob Penland for introducing us to Eulogy.