Above the Tropic of Capricorn: The best pork belly?

7.49am, Monday 23rd May 2011, Palmer Street internet cafe, Townsville, QLD, Australia
It’s a true to form steamy tropical morning, folks. The rain has just stopped bucketing down, and the big red rock above town (Castle Hill) is just poking through the swirling wet mist. We’re heading south today for Mackay – driving straight through Burdekin Shire, last of the traditional cane burning sugar growing regions.

We finished in Townsville yesterday with a consumer and trade lunch at the wonderful Watermark – top stove on The Strand, which runs along the beach opposite Magnetic Island. David and chef Luke outdid themselves yet again and put on a Sunday lunchtime table that would have looked at home in any city of the world with a hot food and wine reputation. Townsville … just too good. Here are the courses – I’m not leaving anything out!

Started with Jansz and the view of Magnetic Island – my photo does not do the bay justice, but at least you get the big Moreton Bay fig and palm tree beach with the island right on the doorstep idea!

This photo doesn't do it justice ...

2008 Virgilius Viognier + “Butter poached lobster, crab salad and jamon consomme” – Just enough sweet seafood and savoury, and that was a solid section of lobster. Good thing Viognier cuts through the butter and ham like the proverbial knife!

A solid section of lobster

2007 Menzies & 2006 Signature + “Rabbit tortellini, shaved fig, heirloom beetroot and truffle honey chestnut mousse” – You can see a pattern emerging here already – earthy savoury rabbit & truffle with sweet beets, honey and fig. Because the tannins in both these solid walls of fruit are so silky – all is good.

Rabbit tortellini - all is good

2006 Octavius Old Vine Shiraz & 2004 The Reserve Cabernet Shiraz + “Bangalow pork belly & mushroom assiette” – Sounds very simple that dish, but I want to go on the record as saying it’s got to be nearly the best pork belly dish I’ve seen in 18 months of travelling! And there is a real pork belly moment happening around the world right now – which is fab in my book anyway. There was no chessboard square-size cube of pork with a bit of crispy glaze on top like tofee lid – nope – this was the real thing. I took two pictures so you could see the fibrous lovely stuff underneath the crispy outer. And the mushrooms – ‘assiette’ is not good enough to describe the lovely swwet soy-like bed that these lovely slippery critters had obviously been reduced in over a long time. Just the ticket for two more of our top gun reds that are flying right now. Particularly the 2004 Reserve. The perfect wine red carpet for this stellar pork belly to walk down and show its stuff.

Pork belly - the best?

We had a Mystery Wine game to finish with the 2008 FDR1A – several parcels of Eden Valley Cabernet and Shiraz that were earmarked for the 2008 Signature blend, but stood up beautifully on their own – giving us a ‘cool climate or almost European’ version of what the 2008 Signature will look like when it’s released in a couple of years. This was served with a Vermont Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and seeded raisins as the sun started to set and I promised myself yet again that “next trip to Townsville” I would definitely get across to Magnetic Island. It’s always good to have a reason to come back – besides the amazingly staunch support we receive from both the trade and the wine loving public up here.

Now a big PS from yesterday’s blog.

For the people who wanted to know how Joel ‘2 Gunz’ Casey went on the night defending his light heavyweight title? No drama at all. He knocked the Thai lad out about a minute into the second round. Keep an eye on that bloke – he’s 27 and only been boxing professionally for four years and seems to be the role model for a really strong boxing culture that exists up here.

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