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McConnell Marathons

1 Jun

Sorry for the absence!! It seems DDO have been too busy eating or breast feeding to properly document our culinary adventures of late!  But rest assured… we are still eating… rather excessively in fact!  So whilst the other part of DDO is busying herself tending to the little chub – little babe is gaining the weight of a block of butter every couple of weeks! – I thought I’d give y’all a little look into what I’ve been stuffing my face with in her absence from society!

I’m going to start with an oldy but a goody!  It’d been a successful week on the fitness front and i’d just completed my second workout session at the gym.  Feeling pretty excited by my commitment to working on my fitness I thought i’d treat myself to CUMULUS INC… Something about cold weather and craving carbs!  I needed some of that Fried Bread that Cumulus does so damn well!  I called my favourite mid week dining companion Z to help celebrate my new found lease on life.

Filling the Void: Fried Sour Dough!

I don’t know how Z felt about this bread.  Especially given how much I harp on and on about this stuff, but I enjoyed it!!  This was Z’s first time at Cumulus so I let her do most of the decision making (bar the bread and cauliflower salad).  We decided to get 2 starters, 2 mains and a salad.

Smoked mussels, escabeche $9

First to arrive were the smoked Mussels, with the escabeche giving it a nice vinegar-y kick!  Soon after came the soft shell crab which came with lettuce for wrapping up, and kewpie mayo!

Fried soft shell crab, kimchi, lettuce & kewpie $18

I’ve always been partial to soft shell crab!  Only because you generally, you can’t really f*** it up!  Having said that, credit to Cumulus for getting their batter/crab piece size ratio perfect!  SO many textures and flavours topped with smooth sweet Kewpie!  Winner!

Tuna tartare with crushed green pea salad $32

I think by this stage i’m already getting pretty full, and rather boozy.  Some thing about exercise and making you get drunk really quickly…? The Tuna Tartare came at a good time though, as it’s cold, and light.  I forgot almost instantly about my almost full stomach …

Roast Aylesbury duck breast, toasted grains, lentils & quince $36 (back) & Cauliflower Salad

The duck was delicious and completely unnecessary.  And while  I’ve always been a firm believer of not winning friends with salad, for this Cauliflower salad, I always make an exception!  There’s a bit of greenery, a good smack of paprika… those mouthfuls where you get the pop of pomegranate and pine nut crunch!  It’s a pretty good mouth party!

I left feeling it was all a pretty great way to celebrate my new found fondness for working on my fitness and discovering the genius invention that is ‘skins’.   Sadly, I have since fallen off the fitness train.  But I am still wearing my skins, and eating out!

Our next adventure was also an Andrew Mc Connell establishment.   This time we decided to take new DDO mum out on the town while getting a rest from baby duty, with Little L, Z and I meeting her at the newly renovated The Builders Arms Hotel.

Bread & butter

It didn’t take long for us to settle in, order some wine and get our orders in!  It’d been a while since we all got to hang out and try somewhere different, so amidst me losing my shit over the bread being served  (…yeh don’t get too excited!  It LOOKS like fried bread… but it paled in comparison to that of Cumulus… think it was just a regular sour dough!) and trying to participate in the verbal diarrhea happening at the table, we almost let the waiter open a Magnum bottle of  Valpolicella!

We’d ordered the 2010 Ca’Rugate Rio Albo Valpolicella, which the waitress somehow assumed we meant ‘bring us the biggest bottle of it you have!’.  Love a night out with my girls, but I personally don’t want to imagine the state of us (we’re kind of small, driving and 75% of us asian…) after having 1.5 Litres of wine!

Anyway, crisis averted, normal sized wine served, back to the talking at each other and food on its way!

Pig ear scratchings $6

We decided to get an appetizer and an entree to share.  Between the Pig Ear Scratchings and the Roast Chicken Hearts on the menu, I was right in assuming no one would be into eating hearts…which was annoying because I was sooo intrigued by the tiny little things!!  No matter.  The Pig Ear scratchings were given the go ahead and were tasty, salty and crispy!  We also ordered the Corned duck, raw brussels sprouts and prune ($16) which I have no idea how, but I decided not to take a photo of it.  Come to think of it, I can’t even remember what it tasted like… I guess that’s enough said…?!! (The other DDO – it was amazing! raw brussel sprouts were delicately sliced and surprisingly tasty and the duck was pretty amazing)

Fish pie, smoked trout, prawns, hapuka, sorrel $32

For main’s, both N and I decided to get the Fish Pie (it’s seems N has grown soft since her recent birth giving, and has now relaxed on her ‘everyone order something different’ rule).  It was a very generous serving, with really big, fresh chunks of trout and hapuka in a béchamel type sauce inside.

Z and Little L went for the Dry Aged, grass fed Rib Eye, Cape Grim 800g ($69) to share (that big chunk of meat in the back of the photo) which by all accounts looked cooked to order (Rare!  Of Course!!) and juicy.  We also ordered the obligatory side of fries and baby cos.  Z couldn’t finish her steak, but feedback was positive from both of them.  We all sit back rubbing our rather over stuffed bellies as they clear our well demolished dishes… until the suggestion of dessert seems to magically revive us instantly.

Poached meringue, frozen curd, sour quince jelly $14 (front) & suet pudding

We share the poached meringue and the suet (i.e. animal fat – really) pudding special which the waitress convinces us is the BEST thing on the menu.  Thankfully for her, we aren’t instantly turned off at the sound of animal lard baked into a small cake… because that’s all I remember of the little syrup covered cake to the back.  And she was right!  While the meal wasn’t bad, I think the only redeeming factor of this whole meal (from start; with the lack luster bread, and almost catastrophic mis-serving of the magnum to finish) was in fact this dessert.  You probably won’t see me rush back to the Builders Arms in a hurry….but if I had to, it would be for that pudding.  Animal fat – baked and served with cream!

Cumulus Inc- 45 Flinders Lane  Melbourne VIC 3000 | (03)9650 1445
The Builders Arms Hotel- 211 Gertrude Street  Fitzroy VIC 3065 | (03)9419 0818

carlton espresso

28 Jul

Carlton Espresso

It’s wine time, which means nothing other than the fact that it’s past 11am. While other friends might consider an afternoon catch up as being centered around coffee and cupcakes I have the pleasure of being part of a friendship that isn’t that gay or juvenile. The cupcake trend is over, believe it – unless you’ve got a good red velvet then I’m down. But even if I did have a red velvet cupcake, my partner in crime this afternoon would have insisted that I drink match it with liquor – the stronger the better. She knows how to party on a Wednesday afternoon.

Braving the horse shit weather and considering we are both in Carlton all signs point to Carlton Espresso on Lygon Street, which has been the scene of many afternoon wines and even more eye rolls. I guess in this instance it’s not that I don’t like Italians, it’s that the Italians (read: waiters) don’t like me and don’t even bother with the carrying out the most basic function of their job – to connect me quickly and painlessly with whatever I am ordering. Admittedly, the entire scenario would be different if I had the grace, charm and charisma (and lady parts) of Jade but I digress. We sit down, order the usual and at this point I am surprisingly only moderately pissed off at the awful one sided flirting going on by Andre, or is it Mario, or Leonardo or Gogetta Da Wino? This seems to be the case every time we pay Carlton a visit – I wait patiently for the flirting to end so I can discuss whatever critical bullshit it is that I feel the need to discuss. I know, the trials and tribulations of befriending a drinking buddy who is devastatingly captivating to petulant Italian waiters.

I’m not particularly sour in my day to day life, there is just something about an overly confident European that grinds my gears.

Well, what is there left to say? The wine comes out, I drink it, talk about women’s rights and porn and consider eating a complimentary olive but something tells me it’s laced with Rohypnol.

Barossa Valley

3 Jun

Ok, so I know Easter seems like it was a decade ago now, but as the saying goes ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ – or as it were ‘when you’re working really hard and have zero time to blog’. I realize its no excuse, and apologies for the belated post, but the topic of the post really transcends time – I am fully confident that whenever you decide to take in the Barossa, you’re guaranteed to have a good time if you like wine and food.  So here is the well-belated Easter post…

Taking advantage of the 5 day Easter / Anzac long weekend this year (as I am sure many of you did too), J and I headed west to Barossa Valley for a weekend of wining and dining in one of Australia’s most famous wine regions.

Now, whilst we are in no way wine connoisseurs we do know a good drop when we taste it and being in Barossa you’d be hard pressed to not find something you like. From big brand names such as Penfolds and Wolf Blass, to lesser known boutique wineries (some of which have no cellar door) like Tscharke and Burge Family Winemakers, you’ll find it all in and around the Barossa Valley.  The fresh produce in this part of the world is no less amazing, and it is here that you will find Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop, as well a number of smaller establishments all serving up the freshest produce possible.  So here is the DDO review…

Wineries (in no particular order)

Burge Family Wine Makers – a family owned winery (cousin of Grant Burge), you won’t see these wines in your local bottle-o.  Don’t let the small cellar door fool you.  They have a great selection of wines, in particular reds – the Grenache was my favourite – as well as an interesting take on Grappa (called the Shirappa), a fortified shiraz that is surprisingly easy to drink and without the rocket fuel after taste of a real grappa.  Well worth a visit.

Charles Melton – this was one of my favourite cellar door setups so it was a shame that I didn’t find anything I really liked (the value for money equation wasn’t there – good wines but not for that price).  Here, wine tasting is an intimate experience delivered in a dining room with a large timber table seating up to 10 people.

Charles Melton

During the tasting freshly baked bread arrives from the kitchen separated by some French doors, so that it really does feel like you are in someone’s home. The kitchen also offers a tempting lunch menu which can be enjoyed in the extensive grounds – definitely a lunch destination for the next trip!

Hill of Grace Vineyard

Henschke– it may sound clichéd but this has to be my favourite wines, not only because it is very good wine, but also (lucky for me) it was one of the first wines I had before being introduced to Australian wine.  Holding such a special place in my heart, we could not pass up the opportunity for a VIP Tour (VIP for no other reason than the cost of $180 per head I suspect) during which we toured the winery, visited the Hill of Grace vines (some of the oldest vines in Australia) and were treated to a private tasting of the full suite of wines including the eponymous flagship wines Hill of Grace, Cyril Henschke and Mount Edelstein.

Inside Henschke

Private tasting at Henschke

Penfolds - Barossa

Penfolds Magill Estate

Penfolds– probably THE most famous Australian wine internationally, the cellar door itself is a bit underwhelming (and severely overcrowded).  Call me a snob, but in my opinion one of the most overrated wines (yes I hold that opinion of even the Grange).  If you really had to visit then I would recommend the Magill Estate (closer to Adelaide) over the Barossa cellar door – much less crowded, and you can stop for a lunch or dinner at the restaurant.

Taste Eden Valley  – right next to the Barossa, is the somewhat lesser known Eden Valley, and Taste Eden Valley is a collaborative cellar door that brings together the best of the region.  The wines represented here are all smaller scale cellars all with some unique qualities and many of which are available only through Taste.   The ladies behind the counter are friendly and knowledgeable and its just a great way to pass time tasting and learning about some of the more exclusive, boutique wineries in Eden Valley, that are often overlooked.  Poonawatta, Radford and Hutton Vale were some of our notable favourites – but there are plenty more to be explored!

Torbreck – unlike the other big names in Barossa, there is no giant billboard advertising the whereabouts of Torbreck.  Instead there is a simple little wooden farm-house like building set on a small patch of grass overlooking the vines.  Inside, its standing room only but despite its popularity and being overcrowded, you still get a sense of intimacy from the personable service at Torbreck.  Here they know their wine, and you don’t get the revolving door vibe.  If you are starting to suffer from claustrophobia, then wander into the little garden outside to enjoy the tasting in the fresh air.  I always knew Torbreck was more on the exxy side, but after having visited the cellar door, every drop is well worth it.  All wines  bar ‘The Laird’- the most famous Torbreck, which retails for about $700 a bottle – are available for tasting, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bad wine.  My vote goes to The Descendant – a beautiful Shiraz / Viognier blend.

Tasting straight from fermentation at Tscharke

Tscharke – a little known winemaker presently – but definitely not for long – Tscharke Wines is the creation of young 30-something winemaker Damien Tscharke and his lovely wife Eva.  There are no signs and no cellar door at present (its being built as we speak), so private tastings are reserved for those in the know (we met Damien at a wine dinner earlier in the year and we’re still enjoying the wine purchased that night after a few too many glasses).  Its certainly not a large winery compared to the big boys like Penfolds and Peter Lehmann, but there is something really nice about these new discoveries, taking the time to know the story behind the wine and its creators.  The only son (hence the name of the Tempranillo – one of my favourites) with three sisters (Girl Talk – named after the sisters), Damien has a specific interest in developing alternative varietals (Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Albarino , Graciano and Zinfandel all feature in the range), and has done well since the first planting in 1999.  With the addition of a cellar door and small B&B soon – this won’t be kept a secret for long…

Two Hands

Two Hands – with names like Gnarly Dudes, Sexy Beast and For Love of Money, you know you’re not going to get your typical wine experience at Two Hands.  Established in 2000 – the enterprise of 2 friends from corporate and construction backgrounds – Two Hands is one of the younger establishments in the Barossa, its youth gleaned not only from the naming of the wines, but also from the contemporary interiors.  There is also a small menu of pizzas and other casual meals that can be enjoyed in the small, manicured courtyard over-looking the vines.  But be prepared to wait during peak times (i.e. Easter!) as it’s a popular little venue both for the wine and its food!

Yalumba cellar door

Yalumba – I was surprised to find that Yalumba remains a family owned wine business – one of Australia’s oldest ones at that – which is pretty impressive considering the size and scale of not only their marketing campaigns, but also the cellar door – which is really as beautiful as it looks in the SA tourism campaign, particularly at this time of the year when all the leaves are changing colour.

The cellar door itself is quite large, and the wines for tasting are numerous (all 5 pages worth) so you’re sure to find something you like.

Food

The menu at Maggie Beers

Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop – as one of Australia’s much loved cooks, the Maggie Beer Farm Shop had a lot to live up to.  Whilst not a huge Beer fan, my recent self-proclaimed status as a ‘foodie’ (via DDO) meant that I couldn’t leave Barossa without a visit.  The shop is set next to a small lake and there is plenty of grass to enjoy the numerous picnic baskets on offer all day – that is if you can navigate through the hordes of women who want to touch and taste everything on offer in the shop cum café!  Thankfully it didn’t take us long to find a table outside overlooking the lake and the wait for food was acceptable (the staff are clearly well versed in handling hoardes of people!).

Craving something warm, we went with the soup of the day (Chestnut & Pheasant) – hearty and warming, and the perfect consistency; and the homemade Pheasant and Mushroom Terrine which is wrapped in sour cream pastry and served with salad greens, Vino Cotto vinaigrette and Maggie’s Cabernet Sauce – the pastry was golden perfection, and the cabernet sauce was the perfect accompaniment to the gamey pheasant.

Pheasant & Chestnut Soup

Pheasant & Porcini Terrine

For dessert, we couldn’t go past the ice cream – JP went with Strawberries and Cream and I chose the Burnt Fig, Caramel & Honeycomb Ice Cream.

Maggie Beer Ice Cream

With our tummies full, we then perused the offerings in the shop – well I perused, whilst JP positioned himself in front of the pate tasters and had a bit of a personal pate party.

All in all, there’s something for everyone, so definitely recommend that you drop in – and if you time it right you may even make it for the daily cooking demonstrations (at 2pm).

Wanera Wine Room– we hadn’t planned on Wanera, but it turned out to be a pretty good stop gap when we were turned away from Vintners on our first night.  Newly renovated, Wanera calls itself a wine bar, but it certainly had more of a pub feel to it in my opinion.  The food is a little more gastro-pub, and the service was pleasant (if not a little slow).

Potato & Leek Soup

For starters we shared the soup of the day – a potato and leek soup dressed with some pretty lavender flowers.  A little on the salty side, but very warming on what was a cold night.

For mains, JP had the lamb chops which was a hit judging by the very clean plate left over.  I had the fish of the day, which was a kingfish grilled and served on a bed of celeriac mash with peas and ham.  The fish was beautifully cooked and the bits of ham provided little bursts of salty flavour, balanced out by the celeriac.  As a side we went with the Dauphinoise style tower (potatoes) – which looked much more promising on the menu than in real life, but was tasty enough in any case.

Lamb at Wanera

Kingfish at Wanera

Dauphinoise Tower

So whilst Wanera may not yet be as well known as some other establishments, its well on its way to becoming a favourite – well worth a visit if you are in the area.

65 Murray Street, Angaston, SA  (08 85643275)

 

Vintner’s Bar & Grill – Vintner’s came highly recommended by one of our ‘wine advisor’ friends and it certainly is well worth the visit if you are in the area.  The atmosphere is laid back, but professional.  Whilst its not quite fine dining, its not just your regular bistro type dining either, and the menu is modern Australian fare taking inspiration from Italian and Chinese cuisines.

Pork & Prawn Dumplings

I started with the Steamed Pork and Prawn Dumplings with a soy dipping sauce which satisfied my Asian cravings perfectly. The dumpling skins were the perfect thickness and the filling retained the lovely sweet juices of the meat.  Win!  JP’s Chicken Liver Pate was also a hit, served with freshly toasted bread, salad greens and the most amazing pickled cherries!

Chicken Liver Pate

For mains I went with a risotto of corn, bay bugs, fresh pesto and shavings of parmesan.  This was truly carb heaven – the risotto was soft without being soggy and the bugs were sweet and juicy.  JP (as always) chose the steak which was served on a bed of mashed peas.  By all accounts the meat was cooked to perfection – to get a good rare steak is difficult these days.  Accompanying our mains we had the duck fat roasted cecile potatoes (heaven!) and some very sensible seasonal greens.

Steak @ Vintners

Risotto of corn, bay bugs and basil pesto

Chocolate Cream Pot

By this stage, both of us are heading into food coma territory, but we could not pass up dessert.

We chose the special – the chocolate cream pot, which was the perfect size for us to share given that we had already consumed so much.

So if you’re looking for a good feed, Vintners is a top pick!

Nuriootpa Road, Angaston, SA (08 8564 2488)

1918 Bar & Grill – another of our friend’s top picks, and a well known establishment in the Barossa, we had pretty high hopes for 1918, especially after the great experience we had at Vintners, although we were a little wary after a lady at one of the cellar doors had expressed her dissatisfaction with the place.  Much more casual than Vintners, 1918 is actually the old home of Tanunda’s Mayor Wallent.

Fish of the Day at 1918

Steak at 1918

The menu is your typical bistro fare with a number of daily specials. I went with the fish of the day – which was overcooked, and mushy – and JP ordered the steak (again), which did not even come close to the steak from Vintners.  A bit of a disappointment but you never know till you try.  Whilst I wouldn’t recommend 1918, there are clearly those that do enjoy the food here, given its reputation in the Barossa.

4 Murray St, Tanunda, SA (08 8563 0405)

DDO stayed at Meadow Springs – a cute B&B in Eden Valley