Autumn in the woods
iPhone SE2, built-in 3.99 mm lens, 1/60 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200.
Autumn in the woods
Autumn in the woods
iPhone SE2, built-in 3.99 mm lens, 1/60 sec, f/1.8, ISO 200.
A cold but bright winter morning. Light snow overnight, clearing before dawn. Frost in the air. Just after 8 am, but the sun is only just hitting the mountains with warm light. Bozen, in the valley below, is still shrouded with fog.
St Anthony’s Way, Autumn. Two tiny terriers snarl ferociously at me when I stop to take the photo, defending their territory against all-comers. It’s good there’s a sturdy fence between us, or they’d tear me to shreds. Or I’d tred on them without noticing.
Girraween National Park, near Ballandean, Granite Belt, Queensland, Australia. An early morning walk from 6am-7:30am, before the punishing heat of the drought made walking unpleasant.
Queensland is not the first destination that would come to mind for food and wine tourism. However, one part of the state is slowly gaining a reputation for producing high quality wines. The Granite Belt has the advantage of sandy, granitic soils and a relatively high altitude that provides it with a cooler climate than its latitude would suggest.
In recent years, an increasing number of small to medium sized producers have started to produce some exceptional wines, particularly as the styles and cultivars that suit the region are beginning to be determined. Equally, other producers have experimented with unusual or lesser known cultivars as part of the “Strange Birds” scheme, which has been organised by the local tourism authority. Many of these wines are well worth trying.
In my opinion, the main attraction for visitors in the area is the numerous cellar doors. Unusually for a wine region, there is little outstanding in the way of restaurants or, except for a few local producers, food shops. However, this is more than made up for by the many cellar doors. I would recommend the region as a good destination for a short break for those living in or visiting south-east Queensland.
There are a lot of wineries locally, and consequently I have only listed a small number of them. I have limited myself to wineries I have visited and can recommend, but there are others I am not familiar with that are also no doubt excellent.
Many wineries, including Ballandean Estate and Robert Channon Wines, have restaurants or cafés as part of their cellar door. I haven’t yet visited any of these, so am reluctant to make recommendations.
Regular visitors may remember Vincenzo’s at the Big Apple as being an excellent, well stocked delicatessen. Sadly, they closed in 2018.
(Disclaimer: I have no commercial or personal interest in any of the places mentioned. I did, however, work as an apprentice winemaker at Heritage Estate for a few months in 2011-2012, under the previous owners.)
5th January 2020: added a new restaurant (Hanasuka), and a bit more detail about Bents Road Wines and Pyramids Road Wines.
“But like everybody else, as Hollier says, I live in a muddle of eras, and some of my ideas belong to today, and some to an ancient past, and some to periods of time that seem more relevant to my parents than to me. If I could sort them and control them I might know better where I stand, but when I most want to be contemporary the Past keeps pushing in, and when I long for the Past … the Present cannot be pushed away.“
— Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels
Continuing my ‘mini reviews’ or impressions of some restaurants I got to visit whilst I was in Melbourne recently, which I started with my impressions of Hawker Chan.
On my last day in Melbourne, I decided to try and find some of the alleyways for which the city is famous, and the cafés and street art that are so often features of these alleys. On previous trips to Melbourne I had looked for them, but apparently walked past them completely oblivious to what I was missing. So I’d managed to visit Melbourne and not find a decent café… not a great start!
I started by locating Hosier Lane, one of the more famous street art localities, and had a bit of a wander with my camera.
There were a couple of restaurants here that looked promising, but I decided to push on anyway.
A few wrong turns eventually brought me to Centre Place, a lane so small it’d be easy to overlook. It turned out to be a characterful lane full past bursting with tiny cafés and restaurants, all of which looked worth sampling. Certainly, one meal did not seem enough to do justice to the place. But given I was in Melbourne, I felt I had to try both the coffee and the café culture, and after perusing menus for a bit, picked the Little Denn for some lunch. The menu had quite a few options that looked tempting, but in the end I decided on the eggs florentine with rice pancakes, spinach, and tomato, and added some chorizo. I also ordered a café latte.
I suppose it’s expected that I should say that the coffee was the best I’d ever had, a revelation, a miracle of the barista’s art. I would not award it that accolade, but it was very good. (That accolade would go to The Coffee Academics in HK, for their ice drip coffee — much as I realise this might be heresy to Melbournites!). The food was beautiful too, particularly the rice pancakes; the addition of chorizo made the dish for me. Much of café culture has passed Queensland by, so it was a pleasant change to be able to sit in a good café in pleasant surrounds.
After finishing lunch, I decided I should walk around town for a bit, and then go back for a second lunch. After all, I had a late flight home, and wasn’t sure when I’d get dinner. And I certainly wouldn’t get to check out such good restaurants again for a while. It was dangerously easy to rationalise. I didn’t get much further than Federation Square. By 14h50, I was back in Central Place, and this time I decided to try Shandong Mama’s fish dumplings. At the time, I wasn’t aware that this was an offshoot of a larger restaurant in another part of the city centre, but nonetheless it proved a good choice. This was a tiny place too, with just a few tables jammed in to a small shopfront.
I’d read that their signature dish was their fish dumpllings; I went for the mackerel boiled dumplings. The menu describes this as “fresh Mackerel fillet mixed by hand with coriander, ginger and chives into a mousse-textured filling, wrapped in home made very thin dumpling skin“, which it notes is a “traditional recipe from the coastal city of Yan Tai in Shandong province“. Whilst mackerel can be overpoweringly fishy, in this dish, it was delicate and perfectly balanced with the coriander and ginger; the texture of the mousse was beautifully smooth. The dumpling skin was gorgeous too: thin, moist on top, crisp on the base. Lovely.
I resisted the temptation of a bottle of beer (of which there was a good selection), and instead tried their home-made plum juice, which was also flavoured with liquorice. Given that this was my second lunch, my decision to order ten dumplings rather than six may have been somewhat rash, but was not regretted. Much. Though the last dumpling was a struggle, it was not an unpleasant one.
By the time I’d finished and paid, it was time to walk back to Southern Cross train station to get the bus to get to the airport to get the plane. It felt like a chance to walk off lunch, in any case, and to go back over my impressions of Melbourne from a too-brief stay. I’ll be back, of course.
The Little Denn, 6 Centre Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 6h30-17h00 Mon-Fri, 7h30-19h00 Sat-Sun
Shandong Mama Mini, 5 Centre Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 11h00-21h00 Mon-Sat, 11h00-17h00 Sun, no reservations
I visited Melbourne for a few days last month, a rare chance to try a few of the restaurants there. I will post a few impressions here on the blog. They are not quite reviews: I don’t feel I can be as authoritative as that. Nonetheless, it was interesting to try some different dishes, and different cuisines.
One place I felt I really had to visit in Melbourne was Hawker Chan. This is the local branch of a Singaporean restaurant that has been described as the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred eatery, one of quite a few that have opened around Asia. It’d been a while since I’d got to eat so well, so I didn’t need much encouragement to go looking for it. And it’s not often that you get such good food for less than AU$16 (~€10.20)!
Realising that the queues would be potentially quite impressive, I tried to arrive early, getting there at around 17h20. There was already a queue, but just enough that I had time to decide what I wanted before I got to the till. It may have a Michelin star, but there’s no table service! Since the soya sauce chicken with rice is their signature dish, I had to have that. I also wanted bean sprouts, so ordered that too. There will still tables free, so I sat and waited for my meal. Again, no table service: your number shows up on a board, and you go and collect it.
I had no complaints once I actually got my dish. The chicken was rich, tender, and moist. Like Peking Duck (北京烤鴨) the skin was tender, rich, and moist, but the skin crispy and flavoursome. It wasn’t as rich as duck, but richer than I’m used to for chicken. As with Peking Duck, the meat and bone were cut through with a cleaver, allowing it to be eaten with chopsticks. The beans and rice, and the bean sprouts I’d ordered as a side, complemented it perfectly — as did the various chili sauces, and the sweet tea. Chicken can be a bit dry, or a bit bland, if not cooked well — but there was nothing to complain about here. I could understand why this dish attracted the attention of the Michelin inspectors.
It was still early when I left to get the tram back to my hôtel — but, by then, the queue was out the door and starting to stretch along the street. Another quiet weekday for Hawker Chan…!
As the tram rumbled back out to the suburbs, I had some time to think. Arriving back at the hôtel, I bought a half bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon and some chevre as a de facto desert. Impressions of a restaurant, or of a wine, can be shaped by preconceptions. Sometimes, even good food can disappoint if it fails to live up to the hype. I had high hopes for Hawker Chan, based on what I’d read, and it comfortably exceeded them. Realistically, eating out so well for so little in Australia is a rarity, so perhaps I am being less critical than I normally would. The main course was AU$6.80 (~€4.30), the soya bean sprouts AU $6.00 (~€3.80), and my plum juice AU$3.00 (~€1.90) — AU$15.80 (~€10). Nonetheless, I loved the meal, and would be a regular if I lived in Melbourne. I would be interested to see how it compares with the original in Singapore, too…
Hawker Chan, 157 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Open 10h00-22h00 Mon-Sun, no reservations.
Late summer, at the tipping point of autumn. Harvest ahead. Cycling back to Meursault in the early evening. Rain hanging around, spitting, threatening. Grey clouds glowering overhead. As the sun disappears, the clouds relent & turn golden with the dusk; bluegrey & gold, like slate and fire, iron and gold. However the day seemed prior to this, it is a benediction; it is like the threat inherent in those splattered rain drops has passed and been forgotten.
But I was heading back to Meursault. Still in Beaune, not yet in Pommard, & needing to be back before the light faded for the evening. But I couldn’t move on: the light changed from gold to galah pink, the clouds still glowering slate grey above the vineyards.
Eventually, I got back to Meursault. Late, I struggled to find a restaurant open. Luckily, the Hôtel du Centre was still open, just. The dinning room was starting to empty. A couple, a businessman polishing off the last of a bottle of wine. I had magret du canard and a glass of red burgundy. My luck was still with me: the duck was beautiful, rich, flavoursome, seared outside and bloodily red inside. The sole mishap, that I was given a glass of Côtes-du-Rhône instead of the requested Santenay, was no mishap in that it was an excuse for two glasses of wine rather than one. What had been a desperate attempt to get something, anything, to eat, was anything but. What was to be a simple meal, an unexpected pleasure. Serendipity! The meal finished with a glass of an armagnac older than me, and a petit café.
Walking back afterwards, the sky was perfectly dark. Sodium lights lit the village, and the edges of vineyards. I walked past a clos, and looked in through wroughtiron gates at the vines, sleeping before the harvest, unworldly under the orange light. Gold to pink to orange.