“I know so little that writing is like crossing a patch of swampy ground, jumping from one tussock to another trying not to get my feet wet (or egg on my face). Of course at a distance no one can see the ground is swampy, and at a distance too one’s movements are smoothed out, the hesitation diminished. Fifty years on, the anguished leaps may seem like confident strides. Except who will be looking?” — Alan Bennett, 3 August 1981, Yorkshire. From ‘Diaries 1980-1995’ in ‘Writing Home‘.
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.
Ballandean and surrounds
Ballandean Estate, 54 Sundown Rd, Ballandean, Qld 4382. The oldest and largest winery in the district, which was established in 1932. They have a large range of wines, including some easy-drinking wines that may not interest wine enthusiasts, as well as more serious, age-worthy wines. They also have the oldest plantings of Shiraz in the region. The Opera Block Shiraz, “Messing About” Shiraz Viognier, and Saperavi are always excellent quality. Open 9am-5pm daily, except Good Friday and Christmas day.
Pyramids Road Wines, 25 Wyberba Lane (off Pyramids Road), Wyberba Qld 4382. An excellent small producer who make distinctive wines. In particular, their Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot are worth trying, and Bernie’s Blend is generally excellent (the exact blend varies from year to year). Open 10am-4:30pm daily.
Bungawarra Wines, 181 Bents Rd, Ballandean, Qld 4382. Another excellent small producer, with one of the oldest vineyards in the region, producing nuanced, age-worthy wines. Open 10am-4pm daily.
Bent Road Wine/La Petite Mort, 535 Bents Road, Ballandean, Qld 4382. One of the few organic producers in the region (but note they’re not certified), they produce interesting, distinctive wines that go well with food. They make excellent Tempranillo and Marsanne. They are also experimenting with extended maceration for both red and amber/orange wines, and use of Georgian kvevri for many of their fermentations. Open by appointment only.
Wild Soul Wines, Horans Gorge Road, Glen Aplin, Qld 4381. A tiny local producer who make wine from their 1 ha organic vineyard, which is planted with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some Merlot. The wines are light to medium bodied compared with other local wineries, but age well. Open 10am-4pm on weekends and public holidays (i.e., bank holidays), but it’s worth phoning in advance (+61 7 4683 4201) to confirm that they are open.
Stanthorpe and surrounds
Ridgemill Estate, 218 Donges Road, Severnlea, Qld 4380. Producer of perhaps one of the best Chardonnays in the region–in my opinion, anyway. They are also one of two local wineries to produce a Riesling. The Granite Belt would seem an ideal region for Riesling given its cool climate and granite soils, but unfortunately it produces vanishingly low yields when grown here. The resultant wine is lovely, nonetheless. They also have accommodation in small cabins near to the vineyard. Open 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday, and 10am-3pm Sunday.
Robert Channon Wines, 32 Bradley Lane, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. Famous for their Verdelho—which they make dry, sweet, and sparking versions. They are also one of the only producers in the region to make a decent Pinot Noir. Open 10am-5pm on weekends, and11am-4pm on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.
Severn Brae Estate, 49 Back Creek Road, Severnlea, Qld 4352. A good small producer, who also makes his own cheese and preserves. Open 10am-5pm daily.
Casley Mount Hutton, 94 Mount Hutton Road, Greenlands, Stanthorpe, QLD 4380 (GPS: 28.6664 S 151.8045 E). This winery is a bit off the beaten track—I got thoroughly lost on my visit there—but worth the detour. As well as excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, they make a complex, age-worthy Chenin Blanc—a rarity in Australia. Another rarity is that they offer a wide range of back vintages at fairly reasonable prices. Open 9:30am-4:30pm Friday-Monday, including public holidays and school holidays
Boireann Winery, 26 Donnellys Castle Road, The Summit, Qld 4377. One of the most widely known Granite Belt estates, who produce a range of complex, age-worthy red wines. I haven’t yet visited them since they changed ownership, but I presume the new owners are continuing in the footsteps of the winery’s founders. Open 10am-4pm Friday-Monday.
Heritage Estate, New England Highway, Thulimbah, Qld 4376 or 747 Granite Belt Drive, Cottonvale, Qld 4375. A small winery that is known for its excellent Chardonnay. They also make an excellent Marsanne, as well as some very good red wines. I haven’t visited since the change of ownership, but they have retained the same winemaker, and the original owners have stayed on as advisors. The Thulimbah cellar door is open 10am-4pm every day, and the Cottonvale cellar door (which is attached to the winery) is open 10am-4pm Monday-Friday, and 9am-5pm on weekends.
Restaurants and cafés
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.
Hanasuka, 13 Davadi St, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. An excellent small Japanese restaurant, serving a range of simple but delicious Japanese dishes; opened in mid-2019. Open 10:30am-3pm & 5pm-8pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and 11am-3pm & 5pm-8pm Saturday and Sunday. Closed Tuesday.
Sutton’s Juice Factory Cidery & Café, 10 Halloran Drive, Thulimbah, Qld 4376. This local orchard has a very good café and known for its excellent (but expensive) apple pie. It also produces ciders, juices, and preserves, and offers pick-your-own apples, see the entry under ‘Other food and wine attractions’. Open 9:30am-4:10pm daily.
Aussie Beef Steakhouse, 1 High St, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. A decent small restaurant attached to a local motel. They serve a selection of local wines. Open 6pm-late Tuesday-Friday, 5:30pm-late Saturday, 7:30am-9am Sunday; table reservations +61 7 4681 1533.
Vixen’s Bakery Cafe, 23 Maryland Street, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. A good small bakery and café that’s great for a quick breakfast, lunch, or coffee. Open 7:30am-4:30pm Monday-Friday, and 7:30am-1pm Saturday.
Other food and wine attractions
Regular visitors may remember Vincenzo’s at the Big Apple as
being an excellent, well stocked delicatessen. Sadly, they closed in 2018.
Heavenly Chocolates, Pyramids Road, Wyberba, Qld 4382. A small, local chocolate producer that provides an excellent stop off on the way to Girraween National Park. Their hot chocolates are also excellent. Open 10am-4pm Mon-Fri, as well as on public holidays and school holidays.
Sutton’s Juice Factory Cidery & Café, 10 Halloran Drive, Thulimbah, Qld 4376. A local orchard that produces excellent ciders, apple juices, and preserves. It is also possible to pick your own apples during the harvest period, and they have a wide range of heritage varieties. The café is also very good—see the entry under ‘Restaurants and Cafés’. Open 9:30am-4:10pm daily.
Severn Brae Estate, 49 Back Creek Road, Severnlea, Qld 4352. A local winemaker who also produces his own cheese and preserves. Open daily 10am-5pm.
Stanthorpe Museum, 12 High Street, Stanthorpe, Qld 4380. An excellent small museum housed in a number of historic buildings that have been moved to the site. The museum chronicles the history of the area, particularly that of the early pioneers. There is also an interesting (but small) display of Aboriginal artefacts. While the museum doesn’t focus on the wine industry, an exhibit on the Italian heritage of the region contains some history of winegrowing in the area. Open 10am-4pm Wednesday-Friday, 1pm-5pm Saturday, and 9am-1pm Sunday; Admission $7.
Girraween National Park. A beautiful national park that’s a great place to see some grey kangaroos, and to go for either a short, easy walk—or to try walking all the way to the top of the Pyramid for the views. “Girraween” means “place of flowers”, a name that it more than lives up to during the spring. Girraween National Park is a short drive from Ballandean and is on the same road as Pyramids Roads Wines and Heavenly Chocolates.
Bald Rock National Park. This is just across the state border from Girraween National Park and is contiguous with it. Consequently, it’s quite a drive to get there, but well worth it. The view from the top of Bald Rock is worth the walk. Parking is $8 per vehicle.
Note that national parks can be closed due to bad weather or bushfire danger—it’s worth checking online prior to travel.
(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.)
In the third, and perhaps final, instalment of this saga (coughs), I finally bottled the wine. Part 1 can be found here, and part 2 can be found here. It had been on lees since April, with no racking or lees stirring. Time on lees can add complexity to wine, so although I’d originally planned to bottle the wine in May or June, the additional time on lees was most likely beneficial. No need to panic yet!
The hardest part,as is often the case, was cleaning. Since I am cheapskate, I was re-using bottles, which needed washing with water, and then with hot water and sodium metabisulfite in the form of a half a campden tablet. I also used the same food-grade bucket that had been used as a fermenter for blending. I emptied both demijohns into the bucket, along with half of a campden tablet, after tasting the wines to ensure that they had not spoiled or developed taints. Thankfully, neither had.
The wines were bottled using a funnel and some muslin as a filter. Despite this, a small amount of lees made it into the bottled wine, just enough to make the wine slightly cloudy. In the past, this would likely have been seen as a fault, but there has been increasing tolerance of cloudy wines in part due to the natural wine movement — so I wasn’t unduly worried by this. Thankfully, it was all a fairly simple task, and nothing went wrong. Even if it makes it a bit boring to read about…
The last task was to label the bottles. Since the grenache grapes were grown near Red Cliffs in the Murray-Darling region, I labelled it as a Murray-Darling Grenache. Most were labelled as ‘Maison Duley’, some with ‘Chateau de Bas-Beechmont’ as well. (I also noted the grape grower, as it was labelled on the crate of grapes I bought at the Rocklea Market).
So, the real question… how was the wine? Well, it seems good. The colour is a moderate to light strawberry/pink, which is quite good for grenache. When first bottled, it was still quite dominated by liquorice and medicinal characters, with raspberry and strawberry in the background, as well as some more yeasty, leesy character. There was also some stemmy, woody character in there too, presumably from the whole bunches. It was also quite carbonic and fresh, with some carbon dioxide still in solution.
After being left in a glass for a few hours, it seemed more fruity, with raspberry, strawberry, and maybe a hint of balsamic. The stemminess is still present, maybe providing some slightly herbaceous elements to the flavour, but is not dominant or over-bearing. The acidity is fresh and lively, and the tannins are very smooth and understated. Overall, I’m happy with it, and will see what it’s like after it’s like after a month or two. And it’s been fun — which, I guess, was the point…
Anyone who knows me in real life will know that I have somewhat of an obsession with Burgundy — the region, the countryside, the towns and villages, the cuisine, and the wine — and that ‘somewhat’ is somewhat of an understatement. Equally, anyone who lives in Australia will realise that the wines of Burgundy, expensive at the best of times, are even more so by the time they reach Australia. The taxes on imported wines here are, I gather, among the most expensive in the developed world, on top of which must be added a profit margin for the importer and the retailer. As a consequence, the wines are often two to three times more expensive than in the region. On top of this, many of the wines that represent good value in the region are hard to find, or are simply not imported.
Consequently, there is a certain perverse desire to find local wines that — while they are not Burgundy wines, cannot be Burgundy wines, and should not even attempt to be Burgundy wines — have that vitality that distinguishes the most memorable of Burgundies. As an aside, I note that they should not attempt to be Burgundy wines, since this is not something any Burgundian winemaker would ever attempt. A good Burgundy wine is one which is true to its region and its vineyard; it does not attempt to emulate any other wine, however good or famous. Attempting to emulate a Volnay or a Gevrey-Chambertin is, therefore, attempting something that no Burgundian winemaker would consider, and — in a sense — missing the point completely. The attempt to be Burgundian makes it, by definition, not Burgundian.
In part, one could consider this about determining the best regions in Australia for Pinot Noir. This would only be partly the case. My experience of tasting Australian Pinot Noirs is partial at best; there are many well regarded examples that I have yet to try, as well as many that are no doubt equally good but as yet unknown. My budget is one limitation; retail availability is another. I have yet to try Mount Mary Pinot Noir, or any of Bindi Winegrowers’ well regarded wines. No doubt these, and others, deserve their place here; no doubt at some point I will get to try them, and I’ll mentally add them to my list. There are also likely wines that I have tried, and which should be included, but I have forgotten. It is worth restating that the limits of my own tasting experience, and of my preferences, do not in any way define the limits of what could be considered ‘good’ Pinot Noir wines; as such, these thoughts are my opinions, and my opinions only.
Equally, I am sure that there are regions which have great potential for Pinot Noir, but that potential has not yet been reached. While I have tried many very good Adelaide Hills Pinot Noirs, I have yet to try any truly great Pinot Noirs from this region — perhaps, again, because they exist but I haven’t found them yet, perhaps because the potential exists but is not yet being exploited, or perhaps because the region better suits other grapes than Pinot Noir. It is, after all, a fickle and difficult grape with notoriously specific requirements.
This all comes before we get into any discussion as to what represents typically ‘Burgundian’ Pinot Noir. It is obvious to anyone who has tried a few Burgundies that the region encompasses a range of styles, from quite robust, full bodied wines (such as Grand-Echezeaux) to more delicate, light, ethereal wines (as Volnay is often considered to be).
Even these generalisations are difficult: while Volnay is, as I just noted, stereotypically regarded to be at the more light, ethereal end of the Burgundy spectrum; this is not invariably true. It depends on the specific vineyard within Volnay, as well as vintage, and vigneron. Within Volnay, for example, the premier cru vineyards “Taillepieds” or “Santenots du Bas” produce richer, fuller wines than the more ethereal wines of the premier cru vineyard “Cailleret”. As an aside, my somewhat simplistic assumptions about the wines of Volnay were reshaped by a tasting at Nicolas Rossignol‘s new winery, which provided an enjoyable crash-course in the different terroirs of the Côte de Beaune.
Having put that all to one side, I will begin with one observation: for whatever reason (terroir? winemaking talent? coincidence based on my limited range of wines tasted?) the majority of truly excellent Australian Pinot Noirs I have tried have been from Victoria. I won’t attempt to guess why. Here follows a few of them.
I have no notes on the Bass Phillips wines that I’ve tried, as I tasted these before I was in the habit of making notes for most of the wines I try, and before I’d even began to become familiar with Burgundy. Nonetheless, the combination of elegance, power, vitality, and complexity were immediately apparent, and marked these out as serious wines. Sadly, the prices they command make them unapproachable for me, and I admire them from a distance.
Again, no notes. I tried these a good few years after the wines of Bass Phillips, and after several trips to Burgundy. They are also not cheap wines (though not as expensive as those of Bass Phillips), hence, I tried them at an in-store tasting at East End Cellars in Adelaide (hence the lack of notes). They were profound, complex, vital, and Burgundian in the sense that they reflected their vineyard and did not attempt to be anything that they were not. Each of the three wines I tried, from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Gippsland, were completely distinctive. If I were to try to convince a sceptic that Australia can produce truly great Pinot, these are the wines I’d choose.
Hochkirch Wines, Henty, Victoria
2013 Hochkirch Henty “Steinbruch” Pinot Noir Colour: translucent cherry, touch of brick red Nose: strawberry stewed in balsamic vinegar. Sour cherry. Plum. Beetroot. Touch of stemmy earthiness, whole bunch character. Sweet spice. Palate: strawberry, balsamic vinegar. Sour cherry. Plum. Cassis. Beetroot. Earthy, stemmy whole bunch character. Sweet spice. Fresh berry like acidity, smooth slightly drying but structural tannins. Quite sauvage, but quite Burgundian. Elegant, vital, sappy. Medium bodied. Obviously made in a natural style, and a good example of such. 12,5% alcohol. — Saturday, January 19, 2019
2011 Hochkirch Henty “Village” Pinot Noir Colour: translucent burgundy, slightly cloudy (unfiltered, unfined) Nose: stewed strawberries with balsamic vinegar. White pepper, nutmeg and other sweet spices. A touch of old oak. Cranberry. A touch of savouriness. Elegant. Palate: stewed strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Cranberry and other sharp red berries. Sappy, elegant, lively. Stemmy. White pepper and sweet spice. Sharp fresh acidity – like slightly underripe strawberries. Very fine grained slightly drying tannins. Medium bodied, perfumed – could make a comparison with a particularly elegant village level Volnay. V v good. 12,9% alcohol. — Sunday, July 19, 2015
2015 Domaine Simha Tasmania “Amphora Lionheart“ Pinot Noir Colour: cloudy brick red Nose: candied red fruit. Raspberry and cherry. Cranberry? Tobacco, hay, earthy, stemmy, savoury. Sweet and savoury, intense. Palate: fresh berry like acidity, fresh red berries, raspberry, cherry. Tobacco, hay, earthy. Stemmy — some whole bunches in the ferment? Has the spicy, earthy, savoury, stemmy character I’d associate with stems. Very fine, smooth tannins. Complex, unusual, savoury. Eccentric, but really lovely. 12,5% alcohol. — Sunday, February 5, 2017
It’s been about ten days since my last post, and since then I’ve pressed the wine into two 5 L demijohns. I made the decision to press when the ferments where almost dry. I had added the EC1118 a day before I planned to press, to ensure they fermented successfully to dry.
Wineries often use ‘clinitest‘ tablets to test for dryness, since refractometers don’t work well at lower sugar concentrations. These were originally designed for testing for diabetes, but helpfully are also perfect for wine. Lacking these, I used a dipstick test that may or may not also be effective for wine.
As predicted, pressing was an ‘interesting’ affair given the lack of an actual press, and one that took several hours. I initially began by attempting to press using the potato masher I’d been using to plunge the ferment, which did not really provide the level of pressure required. I ended up reverting to the age old technique of foot crushing — after cleaning my feet, I should add. In the event, it was a challenge to fill both demijohns; by the end I was pressing off maybe 20 or 30 mL at a time. Almost not worth it… The first demijohn received mostly free-run, plus some pressings, the second only pressings.
I was surprised — though I shouldn’t have been — that there were a lot of intact berries remaining in the ferment. I suppose I’m used to larger ferments, where the weight of the ferment would have crushed them. As a consequence, these berries released quite a bit of sugar back into the ferments, which restarted in the demijohns. Demijohns I had not bough air-locks for, so had to seal with clingfilm(!). Again, I should not have been surprised.
Intact berries can undergo intracellular fermentation, but this can only produce about 2.5% alcohol, at which point fermentation stops until the berry is crushed, and the yeasts can ferment the juice. This is not dissimilar to the carbonic maceration that is tyical of Beaujolais, but without the blanketing layer of CO2 — hence, it is often called semi-carbonic maceration. It is not uncommon in whole bunch ferments.
The free-run demijohn finished its primary ferment only a few days after, and I added another 25 g/L of sulfites. It is still bubbling slowly, however, so may have decided to undergo at least a partial malolactic fermentation. I have no way to test for this, however. This really is primitive winemaking!
The pressings demijohn is still bubbling away, two weeks after the ferments had first been inoculated. I’m used to inoculated wine ferments only taking 7 – 10 days, so I am somewhat surprised by how slowly it is progressing. I’m also beginning to wonder whether it is also undergoing a malolactic fermentation, which can occur concurrently with the primary, alcoholic, fermentation. Luckily, the grapes had plenty of fresh, lively acidity, so a malolactic fermentation would only help the wines.
It’s a bit hard to sample from the demijohns, so I don’t know how the wines are tasting. Hopefully, I will get to try them in April. As with any wine making, it is a matter of patience.
De-stemming by hand
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/17 sec, f/2.2, ISO 500.
I have been wanting to try my hand at making my own wine for some time. I have, of course, helped others make wine numerous times, first during my oenology course at the University of Adelaide, and as a cellar hand. But I was always following someone else’s instructions, and had little input myself. Perhaps it’s an ego thing, but I wanted to try making a wine myself.
The problem for some years has been obtaining grapes. For years, I’d tried to grow them myself, but without luck. Perhaps it was the south facing slope, the lack of rain, or the poor (free-draining, eucalypt mulch) soil. In Sydney, at least, it’s possible to buy wine grapes from Flemington Market, and this is widely publicised. In Brisbane, there did not seem to be any equivalent… at least, not that I could find online. As it happened, there was. Eventually, I found that Ireland 53 at Rocklea Markets sells wine grapes for a few weeks in March, if you order in advance. Last year, I missed out by a few weeks. This year, I was ready…
After ‘phoning to confirm, I got up at 5:30 am to be at the market by 8 am on Sunday. I bought a crate with 20 kg of Murray-Darling grenache for AU$30. There wasn’t a choice, it was a matter of what was available at the time. The quality seemed decent — a bit of rot, but nothing too serious. I don’t have a refractometer, but the fruit tasted very sweet, and the juice was rich and delicious. Being grenache, it was safe to assume it probably at least 13,5° Baumé, which works out as approximately 14% potential alcohol.
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/20 sec, f/2.2, ISO 200.
The first problem was to de-stem the grapes. Not having a de-stemmer (this was being done on the cheap!), I hand de-stemmed the grapes into a food grade 20 L plastic bucket, throwing in maybe a dozen or so whole bunches. The idea was that the stems would add some tannins and some structure, something which grenache can sometimes lack.
Interestingly, I noticed some of the bunches were more ‘gris’ than ‘noire’ in colour. This would be a phenomenon that would be more explicable in France, where I’d assume that a few vines of grenache gris were planted in among the grenache noir. Since grenache gris is rare in Australia, I assume it’s either within normal variation from grenache noir, or it’s something else altogether. Either way, the bunches were ripe and so went into the ferment…
iPhone SE, built-in 4 mm (~29 mm) lens, 1/33 sec, f/2.2, ISO 25.
Finally, I crushed the grapes as best as I could, and inoculated with R56 yeast (with EC1118 on standby, in case the alcohol levels are too high for this particular yeast). A potato masher served to plunge the ferment. After a few days, the colour looked good, and the wine was starting to taste pleasantly of strawberries. So far, it had not gone volatile or oxidised (a problem with grenache in particular, and with small ferments in general). But, of course, that can always change.
The next challenge is pressing into barrel… given that I have neither press nor a barrel. While small presses and 10 L barrels are available, they are expensive. I am trying to do this on a budget, so I will improvise…
“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.
Street art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 11:37
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 11mm, 1/30 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400.
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.
Eggs florentine at the Little Denn, Central Place, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 12:34
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~47mm) lens, 1/20 sec, f/2.4, ISO 200.
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.
Shandong Mama Mini, Central Place, Melbourne, 23rd January 2018 14:41 Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 10mm, 1/25 sec, f/3.5, ISO 640.
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.
Mackrel dumplings, Shandong Mama Mini, Central Place, Melbourne, 23rd January 14:50
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~47mm) lens, 1/15 sec, f/2.4, ISO 500.
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.
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.
Hawker Chan, Melbourne, 22nd January 2018 17:17
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~35mm) lens, 1/24 sec, f/2.4, ISO 50.
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…!
Soya sauce chicken and rice, Hawker Chan, Melbourne, 22nd January 2018 17:42
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~35mm) lens, 1/20 sec, f/2.4, ISO 50.
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.