Category Archives: food blog wanksters travel

we’ve got mail

Heading back off into the doom and gloom after a pitstop at Eclectic Tastes in Ballarat, Tris drove while I wrestled with the car heater and cranked out guilty pleasure DJ sets for hours.

Eventually, we arrived at our destination: the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld. Our combined glee was palpable and understandably so. Internationally recognised food celebs like Anthony Bourdain rate it quite highly (though I can’t find his alleged quote that it’s in his personal top five restaurants in the world) and it’s really, well, bluntly, in the middle of nowhere. So, why does it lure so many intrepid foodies? Well, I hope to show you by reporting on our visit and would be keen to hear whether it would lure you, dear reader.

However, it isn’t just the dining that’s highly seductive: actually staying at the apartments is a wonderfully lavish experience and highly recommended. As part of the package booked, we got complimentary sparkling wine, chocolates and fresh fruit upon our arrival (and Aesop toiletries also got me awfully excited, I confess!). I got into my evening wear and when I emerged, we tucked into these goodies in front of an open fire that Tristan had stoked in quite the becoming manner.

So yes, staying at the restaurant’s accommodation is a definite no-brainer.

Onto the meal proper now! Of course the ‘mistake’ to overindulge in the bread before the main courses when house cured butter is on offer is evident. I ‘blame’ that butter, oh luxurious butter, and yes, perhaps the bread is not entirely faultless…

On the particular evening we dined (mid-May, with their omnivore autumn menu, changing with the seasons), our meal started with a playful interpretation of a pork sandwich and a Jerusalem artichoke. Easily the poshest pork sanga I’ve ever eaten and the artichokes were deceptive if you chose to judge them upon looks: its hide was quite tough, but velvet-soft purée was to be found once bitten into. Both provided a textural jaunt in the mouth.

The liquid accompaniment was a glass of Ca’del Bosco Prestige Brut NV from Italy: I fully disclose that my wine knowledge is non-existent and cannot offer any tasting notes above the calibre of “cor, that’s nice!” or “hmm…this one’s not really my thing”. You’ve been amply warned (sorry!).

More textural and aesthetic play was at hand with the first official course – the duck ham (which provided many a ‘cor blimey’ moment!), fig, kohlrabi and autumn blossoms. They’re so gorgeous on the plate that it seems a shame to desecrate them with one’s eating implements, would you not agree? A glass of Lustau dry oloroso ‘Don Nuño’ NV from Spain was perhaps not enjoyed as…politely as it deserved (read: I slugged it down because it was divine).

The tomato on toast with handmade sheep milk ricotta looked far less precious and you would be forgiven for thinking it a trifle…unremarkable? Toast, a chunk of tomato and cheese: the words make it sound unforgettable but it blew all expectations – my eyes widened with the first mouthful. Tristan, a former raw tomato-hater echoed my gustatory giddiness. To accompany, a glass of the Crawford River cabernet rose, 2010 from this here state Victoria.

The little knowledge of the menu I was armed with came largely from Claire’s fab review of the restaurant and the one dish I was really wanting to see was egg yolk, rye, yeast one. When she dined there, her version had asparagus whereas our menu specified that we’d have legumes – no specific one was listed.

It looks so pristine, the way the egg yolk sits atop the toasted rye; again, that conundrum – you don’t want to ‘spoil’ the edible sculpture but when you do, your tongue is amply rewarded. The crunch and toastiness against the egg is blissful. We were served this with a 2007 Dalwhinnie chardonnay from Victoria.

The dishes at this stage become less entrée-like and thus more meat and seafood laden. The first of such courses was the sand flathead with burnt potato, mustard and nashi. Though it surprises me, I enjoyed the ‘accompaniments’ more than the actual fish. There is something about the simplicity of potato done well that I just cannot resist – think, for example, on Attica’s eponymous potato dish. The wine matched was the E. Guigal ‘La Doriane’, 2001 from France.

Next up, a lighter offering – prawn and eggplant with wild mushrooms and cured kelp. The delicate broth paired wonderfully with the scant greens offered, it was elegant and lovely. Heading more into my personal preference in regards to wine territory (reds over whites), a glass of the 1990 Wynns ‘John Riddoch’ cabernet sauvignon accompanied.

The chicken, scampi, buckwheat, miso and sea lettuce offering was wonderful – I’m favourably biased towards buckwheat and miso and enjoyed the scampi more than the chicken. Some really delicate flavours here and again, thoughtful aesthetic touches. A glass of the Laurent-Gevery-Charbertin ‘Tradition’, 1998, from France accompanied.

One more savoury course! This one I gobbled up ‘heartily’ – lamb and carrots, soy cream and garlic flowers, the latter two elements making your standard ‘meat and veg’ extraordinary. Back to Australia wine-wise with a 2005 Highbank cabernet blend.

I am ashamed to admit that by the time dessert courses came out, my stomach stood well and truly defeated and most of my serving went to the (bigger) better half. The first desserty course was fallen fruit – apple, almond, caramel and chamomile. The apple had a candied quality to it.

Reminiscent of Attica’s ‘terroir‘ dish, the next one was plum, fig and walnut, beetroot and cocoa ice. I love the vibrancy of beetroot powder and how seductively it is draped over the fruit. An Italian wine was served – the 2008 Marenco ‘Pineto’ Brachetto d’Acqui from Piedmont.

Last sweet edible sculpture up! To finish completely, combination of pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb and chocolate – quite simple ingredients by themselves but rendered like so, a treat. This was finished with a Sanchez Romate cream sherry, NV, Spain. It would appear I rather have a taste for sherry: my rule of thumb is if I recall more than just the taste, like, for instance, its mouthfeel (which I remember being divine), then it must be something I really enjoyed, again not being wine nerdy.

One can expect that such a sublime, romantic experience will not come cheap (both Tris and I were celebrating our birthdays albeit fairly late) and you can expect a dine-and-stay package for two to come to the thousand dollar mark, but what price happiness (and saving for ages)? Easily one of the most memorable weekends of my life, where everything seemed perfect in that dare I say it, film-like way. I find it hard not to look back on that weekend through rose-tinted glasses, I admit it. Should you be lured to make the trek, you may find yourself in the same position: here’s hoping.

Royal Mail Hotel on Urbanspoon

the prelude to romance is in the eclectic

Most romantic weekend ever.

Oh wait. We’re not there yet.

A stopover was needed for stretching of legs and general refreshment. I was trying to be the best girlie girl I could be just for this particular weekend. Alas, this did mean that Tris drove to and from our exciting romantic destination.

Anyway, our stopover: a charming little place called Eclectic Tastes in Ballarat, near Lake Wendouree. If you’re wondering why no smile on my dial, it’s because I was cold and determined. But more cold. It was freaking freezing that day and I was chilled to the bone merely from hopping out of the car to the cafe’s door!

It was that dead time when you can’t always be certain when you get to an eatery that you’ll get food because the kitchen might be closed, or it’s too close to closing time and indeed we did arrive here at that very time: no main menu for us.

Fortunately, there were still counter snacks and definitely the usual array of hot and cold drinks. Tris and I shared a selection of things though each got a Portuguese custard tart…

…and divvied up a slice of quince tart and a savoury muffin with pine nuts, spinach and fetta.

Served hot with melty butter, Tris, the savoury muffin sceptic (gasp!) was a convert.

The place’s true eclecticism is really reflected in its décor. Littering the walls and cabinets, you can see a myriad of trinkets, old record covers, adorned chairs and tables. Our tablecloth was blue and white gingham which then had a horse complete with brown mane and hooves cross stitched onto it! I was indie-girl (read: predictable) giddy with glee.

And people say they don’t use Urbanspoon anymore – us two tragics still do. I picked this place because it sounded okay and seemed to have a high rating from a sizeable proportion of people. It pays to take a chance sometime. I’ll be back to sample their menu proper when next I visit my favourite lit nerd girlfriend who works as a curator at nearby Sovereign Hill, I’m sure of it.

But, as David Tennant’s Doctor would say, allons-y! Fortified for the moment, it was time to leave the warmth of the lovely cafe and its staff and hit the road again, all the while blasting some of my more tragic DJ podcasts given radio stations were slim pickings once properly en route to our destination.

Eclectic Tastes on Urbanspoon

HK: withdrawal…

Gem and I had made it through Kuala Lumpur’s LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) on nothing more than airline food and nervous energy. She’d been awake the entire time; I’d napped in a cramped half-daze.

Man, I could murder a coffee.

Unfortunately, I was in Hong Kong. Venturing out in to the city for my first coffee I came to a horrible realisation — apparently the only thing Hong Kong denizens like more than shopping and eating is Starbucks. I’m fairly sure south-east Asia single-handedly saved Starbucks from bankruptcy by ingesting their caffeinated swill. You get the picture — it was dire.

I kept an eye out for somewhere better, but came up with nothing. Aside from Starbucks you have Pacific Coffee — a similarly vile beverage dispensary. Forlorn, but not defeated, I contacted former Melbourne coffee heart-throb, @alexlobov. Prior to our arrival, Alex had alluded to some coffee oases in the otherwise stark coffee landscape that is Hong Kong.

Armed with information and Google maps to guide me (courtesy of my Jesus phone), I headed to Fuel Espresso deep within the bowels of the International Finance Centre. You’d be forgiven for walking past Fuel’s pedestrian exterior — more Gloria Jean’s than Seven Seeds; not a funky interior or cool barista in sight  — which is unsurprising given its pecuniary surrounds.

I assume it was America’s proclivity to bastardise food that made the thought of an ‘Americano’ (a long black) off-putting in a supersized kind of way. However, if you can get past the name, you will be presented with a good rendition of a long black. Failing that, all of the usual coffee suspects are represented (with their usual names).


The staff are friendly, the coffee is good (using a Italian house blend that is roasted in NZ). As this store spawned from a successful New Zealand franchise, Fuel Espresso the HK edition is well worth visiting for your caffeine IV.

However, my caffeine addiction was rampant and all-consuming (oh how droll!) so one place was never going to satisfy. Acting on another recommendation from Alex, I journeyed to my next cafe, hoping to appease my caffeine lust.

The beauty of Hong Kong for me is the fat-bastard-enabling public transport. I can gorge myself in Kowloon, then hop on a train and be across the water on Island stuffing my face within minutes. Said enabling transport allowed me to slip from Kowloon to Sheung Wan for my morning coffee(s) at Barista Jam. Barista Jam would not feel out of place amongst the emaciated and skinny denimed set of Melbourne’s coffee scene. Just like Melbourne you can expect some excellent nosh to go with your coffee — I can attest to the deliciousness of their sandwiches, seeking out their club sandwiches like a pig to truffles. Light fluffy ‘Turkish’ bread with tasty fillings left me wanting more and on revisiting with Gem, they were reordered.

But let’s not get distracted — the coffee!

My first coffee was a double ristretto. It was just right with a great acidic bite without being overpowering. I then moved on to one of the single origins (the exact name escapes me) as a long black (Americano) and finished my decadent spree with a latte of the house blend. All were excellent, and with Barista Jam offering a good rotations of singles and blends you shouldn’t go thirsty.

Upon ordering the double ristretto I received an approving nod from barista — you know, one of those ‘in the know’ things. While I consider myself inexperienced with regards to coffee, I have developed sufficiently to recognise a passable coffee and good interpretation of its style. I think in an odd way the barista appreciated my appreciation, did we have some sort of metaappreciation thing happening? Everybody appreciates sympathy within their day-to-day grind (apologies for the terrible pun), and I think this is especially true of the often under-appreciated  hospitality worker. While the people of Hong Kong are amazingly savvy consumers — especially with their food — they are still developing an appreciation of good coffee (as ‘evidenced’ by the 50 Starbucks on the Island alone) and especially of good beer (but more on that in a future post).

However, fear not, weary traveler – good coffee  can be found everywhere, if you are prepared to seek it out.