In the Box in Melbourne

7.35am, Wednesday 8th July, Exhibition Street, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Morning folks, sorry it’s been a couple of weeks since I put a story up – I’ve been back in the Barossa for a week, and went into ‘forgot the blog’ mode. But we’re back out here on the road, so there will be a flurry of catch up stories, as we have been doing some pretty interesting things. 

But first….we’re in Melbourne – elegant sports nut and foodie city capital of Victoria – for a few days, and last night we did our third Rare & Fine dinner upstairs at Box on Collins……yes it’s a restaurant specialising in seafood, yes they’ve got a top bar and wine list, yes it’s a three level long skinny ‘box’ going back off Collins street, yes it’s tucked into the side of the lovely old Regent Theatre, and yes – Adrian and Box on Collins are one of our favourites. We’re not sure how they manage to squeeze 45 people into the mezzanine ……but they do, and Anthony and the gals do a marvellous job of sliding the food and wine courses in and out of that space.

  
  
And just for the record…..in Melbourne, the city that takes coffee very very seriously……..at Box on Collins they do it really really well

  
I didn’t manage to get snapshots of all the courses, but here we go with the two I did catch

  
Char grilled prawns with our 2013 Virgilius – nice solid meaty swimmers with a nice solid red wine drinkers white

  
My choice for top combo of the night – pork, but not the seen on every street corner belly – it’s the loin. And it’s a honey mustard glazed loin, seriously tender and absolutely loved the liquid fruitcake that is our new vintage 2010 ‘Steeple’ Shiraz……brought to you in the bottle direct from the red dirt around the Light Pass church on the Barossa Valley floor. A big hit on the night, and I’d better grab a couple of bottles for my cellar when I get home, as it won’t be long before the ‘sold out’ sign goes up.

So thanks to the Box gang – love having dinner with you all over again, and we’ll see you all same time, same place ……next time

Toowoomba….too good again!

8.04am, Thursday 25th June, on the Warrego Highway coming down from the Great Dividing Range, Queensland

Morning folks, just a little bit scratchy this morning – we did our Rare & Fine dinner last night  with the great Yalumba fortress in Toowoomba – The Downs Club……so named because that part of the world is known as part of The Darling Downs…..famous for producing fabulous beef. The Downs Club has been perched up there in Toowoomba, on top of The Great Dividing Range since 1889 – which makes it the same age as our Tricentenary Grenache, lovely old bush vines sitting in the deep sand between Light Pass and Vine Vale on the Barossa Valley Floor.

 
  

Hey – that’s us!! The Downs Club is like a working museum – it’s that old time Gentlemans Club that used to be where the boys could re group from the fast and furious pace of 19th Century business…..not a bad idea at all and works pretty well today as today! 

 

Oh and now ‘Plantation shutters’  are all the rage…..but they’ve been in style for a hundred years at the Downs Club
  
So thanks again boys Paul, Luke, Ted, Peter, Cam – you know who you are – you’re special! See you same time, same place….next year.

Kingscliff – that’s not in Queensland folks

9.05am, Wednesday 24th June, on the M2 Freeway, driving to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

OK folks, we’ve caught up a bit. Now a quick story on our Rare & Fine event in Kingscliff last night. That’s on the beach, part of the Tweed Coast, and it’s in New South Wales, just south of the Queensland border. The plan was to do a double header – masterclass and one course dinner – with the Kingscliff Beach Hotel, which is one of our Yalumba fortresses in that part of the world. We chose the 2012 Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2009 Octavius Old Vine Barossa Shiraz, and 2012 Signature Cabernet Shiraz for the masterclass – so that we could show the individual variety strengths, and how they combine in such a complementary fashion in the blend. 

  
The boys in the Kingscliff Beach Hotel kitchen put together a ‘taste’ for each of the wines – seared tuna for the Menzies, chorizo (locally sourced from ‘Salumi’) and smoked cheese stick for the Octavius, and a duck & red cabbage slider for the Signature – the 2012 vintage named for our fearless leader Robert Hill Smith.Lovely stuff as the starter!

  
And for the single dish dinner? Slow cooked shoulder of lamb with rocket, fennel and puréed celeriac – with a glass of the 2008 Yalumba Tricentenary Grenache……

  
Another fabulous food and wine night had by all outside the metropolitan areas! Thank you Kingscliff Beach Hotel, thank you to the 40 locals who turned out on a school night, and we’ll see you all next year.

Hated leaving……Hayman Island

4.24pm, Tuesday 23rd June, Bells Boulevard, Kingscliff, Tweed Coast, New South Wales

Afternoon dear readers, and before getting much further down the track, I want to catch up the weekend’s adventure – my first trip to Hayman Island, to meet the folks from the One & Only who have taken over the resort, and are celebrating their first birthday…’in residence’. So the job was, to get from Mackay in Far North Queensland, to Hayman Island – sitting at the top of the Whitsunday group, on the Great Barrier Reef. Now I suspect there were a stack of better options, but my Saturday went like this:

Mackay.     5am Alarm!! And this is why I didn’t go and see the Sydney Hotshots male revue, who were performing in the same hotel as I was staying in…..you know you’re getting old when the sensible alternative is the one you take!! I walked back to the hotel at around 11pm the night before from our fabulous Rare & Fine dinner at Sorbellos a Italian Restaurant, and walked straight past the Sydney Hotshots venue…..sad but true.

                    5.15am Put away one of those tear the top off bowls of Just Right cereal that I remembered to buy   with a bottle of milk the day before

                    5.30am  Taxi to the Mackay airport

                    5.45am  Checked into my Qantas flight to Brisbane, through security, searched, and nursed the first coffee of the day

                    6.55am   load for the 90 minute flight to Brisbane – yay! Bonus, as I had no one sitting next to me, and I dozed out a couple of times

                     9.15am   Claim my bag from Qantas, swap to Virgin, check in for my flight to Hamilton Island, back through security – Yep, searched again because of my metal knee, and yes – randomly selected (yet again) for the dodgy substances swab…yay..clear to go! 

                      9.45am.  Found the freshest looking sandwich at the little food hall in the middle of the Brisbane terminal, second coffee of the day, and read the paper. In hindsight, had I been smarter, I would have bought a couple more sandwiches for later on, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

                    12 noon.    Left 30 minutes late for Hamilton Island, got to sit next to the loudest screeching kid on the plane….but we did get a half sandwich with an egg and lettuce filling that was quite nice – cut into two skinny crustless fingers. Didn’t have a soft drink…..$4 is outrageous for a can of sugar water, even if it is at 33,000 feet! 

                      1.45pm.    Landed on Hamilton Island……quite a short runway with water either end….memorable coming in and dropping onto the deck.

                       2. 15pm. Because we were late in, literally walked off the tarmac to the One & Only check in desk, met the delightful young man who checked us in there and then, took care of picking up the baggage and packed us off to the boat. Did I say boat? What I meant to say was 30 metre luxury ocean launch. Meet the Sea Goddess, the One & Only’s transfer launch – a beautiful piece of ocean going work! All of the rubbish hours taken to get to this point, and the headaches and gritty eyes that went with it……dissolved away as I walked down the jetty to the boat. What lines, what form, and the captain and crew decked out in impeccable whites! OK…..we need to shift gears now, as we walk up the gangway, and enter One & Only world. 

 

Goodbye for now Hamilton Island, I’m off to Hayman on the Sea Goddess

  
I forgot to mention, that if you wish, there’s a glass of bubbles to welcome you on board…

  

But I went for an apple and a seat outside for the one hour ride up to Hayman Island.        

                 

And the crew is tremendously accommodating – it’s no problem whatsoever if you want to spend some time on the bridge

  
10.04pm Same Day, Tuesday 23rd June, Kingscliff, NSW

Just back from our masterclass, one course dinner event at the Kingscliff Beach Hotel, so I’ll catch up a bit more of the whole Hayman Island adventure. So we’re on this sleek wave slicing Sea Goddess for the run up the coastline of four islands – Hamilton, Ross, Whitsunday, and Hook. As soon as you come around Hook Island, the flat horseshoe bay of Hayman Island takes shape, and eventually you can pick out the small harbour to the west, and the resort – as it follows the shape of the bay west to east…..in amongst the rainforest that runs down from the peaks down to the beach. 

  
So once we docked, the luggage is whisked off, and you follow at a much more leisurely pace, escorted to your room to settle in before exploring the resort. 

  
I met the folks responsible for the restaurants, and made arrangements to have an early dinner at Amici – the Italian style trattoria with its own wood fired oven. 

  

  Here’s the lemon prawn and shredded zucchini dish from Amici, and this is where a whole raft load of our wines come to town – Pewsey Vale Riesling, Hill Smith Estate Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier, Yalumba Roussanne – pick one, any one!

  
Even the sides at Amici are dishes in their own right – the mushrooms, bacon and smoked cheese – not just any old bacon, but some really snappy speck – and with these flavours, I’d go with our Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, Running With Bulls Tempranillo, or even the Smith & Hooper Merlot from down in Wrattonbully.

The dining situation is unique on Hayman Island – there are several restaurants and bars, and they rotate the opening hours so that across a three day stay – you can experience them all. Bamboo is the house of Asian fusion, Fire is the fine dining restaurant overlooking its own lagoon

  
Aquazure is the casual daytime beach house cafe and gelateria overlooking in one direction the pools that are perched immediately above the beach…

  
And in the other direction, the cabana style ‘baths’

  
On The Rocks is a casual burger and tapas bar not far from the harbour – I didn’t get down there whilst on the Island, and Bar 50 is the cocktail lounge in the centre of the resort. This is where we did our ‘open bottle tasting’ for the guests on a Sunday evening

  

Last, but certainly not least, is Pacific – opening on to the beach. Pacific does breakfast from 6am every day, and opens for dinner

  
 And the view from the Pacific seats?
 
OK folks, that’s it for me for tonight. Early start tomorrow – headed for Brisbane, then on up the Great Dividing Range to Toowoomba. See you when it’s Wednesday.

6.43am, Wednesday 24th June, still Kingscliff

I’m keen to finish off the Hayman Island story, so before I get picked up at 7am, here we go.

So what about the rooms, the island, the big friendly grouper feeding times, the helicopter sweeps across whatever part of the Great Barrier Reef that you’d like to explore, the diving with sea turtle expeditions, the learn to sail a catamaran option, the Spa, the hiking, and not forgetting the buggy ride to the helipad to watch the sun sink like a rock into the sea. That – dear readers I’ll leave for the intrepid travellers that trek out to Hayman to discover for themselves.

As for me…..it looks like our two training sessions with the In house restaurant staff went really well, and we may very well find ourselves back on Hayman in the not too distant future with our very own Epicurean Weekend – one of the jewels in the One & Only’s cuisine crown…….fingers crossed!

So on Monday morning, my luggage magically disappeared from my room and popped up on board the MV Circa – The double deck ferry sister ship to the Sea Goddess – and I farewelled one of the most fabulous couple of days that I’ve had in the job, as we headed out of the Hayman harbour and south to the airport on Hamilton Island. The Sea Goddess left first, a fraction swifter, with the folks on the earlier flights…… 

 

That’s the Sea Goddess on the left, Circa – my ride to Hamilton Island – on the right  

  
Hamilton Island here we come….

 
And that’s the airstrip, so my time in One & Only world is unfortunately at an end……for now!!

But I can dream of going back!! 

 

Thanks a million One & Only Hayman Island…….see you soon!! 

Postcard from Surfers Paradise, QLD

10.21am, Staghorn a Avenue, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Morning folks, and for a fleeting moment, I’m in Surfers Paradise, a couple of blocks back from the ocean, at the absolutely fabulous QT Gold Coast hotel. 

  
QT Gold Coast call it “nostalgic surfer chic meets Miami catwalk cool” in their advert……and they’re not far off the mark at all! I like it. It’s a bit more South Beach than Miami with all the retro art  deco going on, but definitely with a touch of Australian beach laid back life in there as well. This is going to be my home away from home whenever we’re here to do events…..like our Rare & Fine dinner last night  at Carmody’s restaurant in the Southport Sharks club complex – home of the Gold Coast Suns (Australian Rules) footbal club.

 
But before I get to that…..just a couple of pics for the QT Gold Coast…. 

Mini bar items include the instant beach ball in a can 

 

And ‘thongs in a bag’….essential for trundling about the beach and esplanade

 
And the night light!! Pity this wasn’t a mini bar item……it would have been going home with me!

  

Even the hair dryer is a happening thing

  
Oh oh, time is getting away from me. I have to make the 11am check out, and I’m being picked up at 11.30am to get to our next event – Rare & Fine diner in Kingscliffe, on the northern New South Wales coast. I’ll continue this downstairs.

 

Mackay – sugar sweet and just how we like it

4.02pm, Friday 19th June, Gregory Street, Mackay, North Queensland, Australia

Afternoon folks, I took the milk run baby plane from Townsville today, and made the next hop south to the sugar cane capital of Queensland, Mackay. It’s a tidy coastal town within arms length of the Great Barrier Reef and the stunning confetti pattern of Whitsunday Islands, and I like it! We’re off to dinner tonight at one of our staunchest Yalumba fortresses anywhere in Australia – Sorbellos (yes, that is Italian for ‘mighty fine food’ folks) – and there are 60 wine interested local Mackay people coming with us, so it should be fun in sugar town tonight! I think there’s going to be a lot of this….

  
And tomorrow, I’ll be catching a plane down to Brisbane, then a plane back to Hamilton Island, then the launch from Hamilton to Hayman Island – where we have a couple of events over the weekend. So, expect some pretty scenic stuff. I’m off to organise a present for Sorbellos, because they’ve just had their 18th birthday…..and you can’t miss those red letter special days. See you when it’s much later on tonight.

Townsville, North Queensland ………it’s good to be back!

9.41pm, Thursday 18th June, Sir Leslie Thiess Drive, Townsville, North Queensland, Australia

Evening folks, on a very balmy Townsville evening, with just enough of a breeze to blow the moisture out of the air and cool things off. It’s a different world up here in the tropics, but folks are certainly switched on in this town when it comes to wine and food.After the short hop down from Cairns yesterday morning, we had a very big day, so I’m trying to catch up before continuing to leapfrog south tomorrow to Mackay.

 
Townsville, first thing this morning…..and Magnetic Island, just off the Townsville breakwater this afternoon

  

So job number one yesterday was a lunch with the good folks at The North Queensland Club, 2015 being their 150th anniversary year. The club has a top little library, and whilst waiting for people to arrive, I went for a bit of a fossick through their historical stuff. Here’s what Townsville looked like when the Club first started….

  

  

And look what I found on their library shelf….I would have been happy to hide out in there all day!

  

Actually, it’s getting late….I’ll finish this off tomorrow morning at the Townsville airport – all my best work gets done when I’m on the fly!