Book, stay, enjoy. That's

Monday 30 March 2015

The perfect base from which to explore the gourmet Great Southern

If your idea of a bed and breakfast is a musty old house with a nosy landlady, lace curtains and shared bathrooms then Beach House at Bayside will come as a very pleasant surprise.

More luxury hotel than traditional B&B, the five-star Beach House at Bayside is located in a golf resort complex just 50 metres from Middleton Beach and 10-minutes drive from downtown Albany, the heartbeat of Western Australia's Great Southern region.

There are seven totally private and very modern suites here, all with en suite bathrooms and some with double spa baths.

The rooms are extremely well equipped (think bathrobes, air-conditioning, heated towel rails, minibars, and a selection of gourmet cakes and fresh fruit) in each room, along with fast and efficient free wifi. 

The breakfasts (choose from a buffet or a full cooked menu) are outstanding with offerings including smoked salmon and fresh local mushrooms and there is a room service menu for those who would like to lunch or dine on site. Choices range from gourmet platters to a hearty BLT. 

The little touches continue with free afternoon teas, complimentary port and chocolates after dinner and an honesty bar in the comfortable lounge, where guests can relax with a book, or choose from a range of DVDs.

The owners, Craig and Sally Pullin, both come from professional hospitality backgrounds and it shows. Craig has worked in several restaurants, while Sally worked in marketing for a five-star hotel in Melbourne.

They make themselves available to ferry guests without transport to local restaurants and are a mine of information about local attractions, including the wineries of the Great Southern.

With sand dunes and one of the state's best golf courses within walking distance, it is hard to imagine a better location, although a car is a must for anyone planning to explore the region.

The Beach House at Bayside, 33 Barry Court, Albany, Western Australia. Winter special rates are available from May 1-August 31.

Friday 27 March 2015

How to save money when booking hotel rooms

There is nothing more annoying than finding you have paid much more than you needed to spend to stay at the hotel of your choice.

Anyone paying the full rate for hotels in the current economic environment probably has more money than sense.

With discount websites abounding, and hotels often willing to match or better online prices, it pays to shop around before booking a $400 room that someone cannier than you might have snared for $240. 

There are many strategies that can be used in order to cut costs and find the cheapest room available - and bookings website recently uploaded a guide to some of the best ideas; ranging from telling the reception clerk that it's your honeymoon, to waiting until the very last minute to book. 

Among their tips:

  • Be flexible. By comparing several hotels in the same location you might find a cheaper price.
  • Free extras: Keep an eye out for hotels offering complimentary breakfast, free wifi, or lounge access. These can all help save cash. 
  • Book the standard. Standard rooms are generally the most affordable hotel rooms.
  • Think independent. Look beyond the big hotel chains. Independent hotels can offer excellent rates and services and are often up to 50% cheaper than chains.
  • Show you are loyal. Joining hotel loyalty programs or membership clubs can be a ticket to discounted rates or upgrades. These programs are usually free to join and you'll be able to take advantage of the benefits (better room placement or amenities, discount codes and sales) for your next stay.
  • Check your rate. Make sure the rate you are being offered includes taxes and additional fees. 
  • Know your seasons. Understand the peak seasons and the low seasons, and the events that will be occurring in the city you are travelling to at that time. These factors will affect the rate and availability of hotel rooms. 
  • Plan in advance.  Booking at least 30 days in advance will ensure you get the pick of the widest range of hotel room options. Not only can room prices jump in the lead up to a particular date, but the availability and room choice will be limited.
  • Extend your stay. Rates constantly change and you may find that it's cheaper to stay at a hotel from Saturday to Tuesday than from Wednesday to Friday.
  • Shop around online. Research is the key and you should be sure to check out as many options as possible. There are hundreds of sites out there offering different rates and options. Hotels Combined claims to compare them all. 
My top tip is to check online for the best price at the hotel you want to stay at, and then ring that hotel directly asking them for a better price. Remember they will be saving around 20% in commission that they would pay Expedia or Wotif. Ring during the day and ask to speak to the reservations department directly, as it is unlikely desk clerks will have the clout to do this. They may think you are a cheapskate; but you'll have saved a whole heap of cash. 

Thursday 26 March 2015

Talented young chef opens the Hunter's newest "destination" restaurant

Ask those in the know who is the rising star among young Hunter Valley chefs and you'll most often get the response: "Frank Fawkner". 
After four years as right-hand man to regional star Troy Rhoades-Brown at Muse and Muse Kitchen,  Fawkner has struck out on his own with his new EXP. eatery opening its doors at the Oakvale cellar door. 

I popped in a couple of weeks ago when the restaurant was a building site but Fawkner was confident it would open before Easter - and so it has proved. 
For me, the name smacks of pretence. EXP. is so-named because it is all about the 'exp'erience'. But put that aside, because there is no doubt Fawkner can cook. 
He was head chef when the team led by executive chef Troy Rhoades-Brown achieved two-hat status in the 2015 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.
"The philosophy behind my restaurant is on the experience," Fawkner says. "EXP. is not just about the food and wine. It's about every little thing - the service, music, art, painting, crockery, aromas, furniture and fit-out. It's about every little thing that plays its part in creating something memorable for customers.
"My food is very contemporary. The name EXP. relates to the 'experience' but it also is about being 'experimental' having 'expertise' and 'exposure' to tastes and textures." 
Fawkner began his cooking career at the age of 15 at Mount Broke Wines. He was then part of the opening team at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley where he completed his apprenticeship before moving to London, where he worked his way up to the position of sous chef at Tom's Kitchen. 
When he returned home to the Hunter in 2011 Fawkner joined owners Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown (chef and restaurant manager) at Muse.

Fawkner says diners should not expect a traditional dining experience. 
I've divided the menu into Food from the Earth, Sea, Land and Sky, Cheese and Sweets," he says. "There are no entrees, no mains. I want to give back the freedom of choice to the customer."
While Fawkner says he and Rhoades-Brown both favour a similar contemporary style of cooking, EXP. will adopt a more pared-back approach, with less components on the plate.
"I have established gardens onsite, there are stonewall garden beds filled with herbs and there are 4 x 3-metre garden beds just a rolling pin's throw from the restaurant. I can't wait to just get in the kitchen and start cooking," he says.
"One of the dishes that most excites me is the black garlic risotto with cauliflower, cheddar and nasturtium. It is black and white with nice fresh green leaves.
"From the land and sky section, the ham on toast, with duck, focaccia, fig, macadamia and mizuna also tells a story about what I'm about."
EXP. Restaurant is at 1596 Broke Road Pokolbin, NSW. (02) 4998 7264.

Monday 23 March 2015

A 60s-themed luxury hotel that wants every guest to have a "cosmic experience"

There are very few hotels that take your breath away; but Luna2 Studiotel in Bali is one of them.

The brainchild of British designer Melanie Hall, Luna 2 has a definite visual Wow! factor.

Seeing a gap in the Asian market for high-end, avant-garde hotels with personalised service, Hall created the beachfront Luna2 private hotel in Seminyak in 2007, followed by Luna2 Studiotel in 2013. 

The design is a beguiling mix of cutting-edge modernism paired with 60s pop art. Think the dramatic mosaic of the swimming pool, Andy Warhol prints and suites that feature both free wifi and wide-screen TVs along with retro portable TVs.  

Hall is known for mixing colours, patterns, and textiles - and pairing them with top-notch staff, whose devotion to duty is almost cult like. Nostalgia meets futurism.

“Our aim is to deliver a cosmic guest experience,” Hall says of the boutique hotel that has been described as "what a hotel of the future may have looked like in the 1960s.”

Rock singers and movie stars, although they may opt for the exclusive private hotel, will certainly feel very much at home here. 

There's all the little extras; a luxury private cinema free for guests (recliners, popcorn and food and drinks service), the Space rooftop bar for cocktails, a private nightclub and a poolside lounge for chilling out.

Luna2 Studiotel features a total of just 14 open-plan studios - meaning the staff know all the guests by name - along with the brilliant white Orbit and Lunafood&bar, led by executive chef Errol Defoe, newly flown in from London, where he worked for Michelin stars Tom Aiken and Gordon Ramsay. There is also that rarity in Bali - an award-winning wine list.

During the day, guests can relax on daybeds by the pool, enjoy sunset cocktails with great ocean views or a range of in-house and out-of-house activities ranging from boxfit to yoga. 

There are in-house Lunaspa therapists on hand to pamper and all Luna2 guests receive complimentary access to Canggu Club, Bali’s premium recreational club. 

It is hard to fault Luna2 on position; it is just a short stroll to the beach, with popular restaurants and bars close by, including the famous Ku De Ta, a must for an afternoon tipple. 

The rooms are all over-sized and based on a colour palette of primary yellow, red, blue and green, inspired by Lego, Monopoly and Rubik’s cubes as well as renowned Mondrian artworks. 

This four-way colour scheme is highlighted by both the lobby and poolside, while you'll see posters of Twiggy and Bardot and art installations nodding to 60s chic. Waitresses are dressed in the style of 1960s air hostesses. 
All studios have three TVs; flatscreens in the lounge area and bathroom (essential for watching TV from the tub), and ultra-cute Brionvega TVs at the workstation with wireless headphones. 

Other mod-cons include a pre-loaded iPod & sound dock, iPad and a universal charging station, not to mention ‘in-room shopping offering everything from peanuts to condoms. 

All studios feature king bed (allegedly with pillow menus, although we didn't see any), large private balconies with views to the pool, that all-important complimentary wifi, Nespresso machine and tea-making facilities. 

A member of both Mr and Mrs Smith and Design Hotels, Luna2 Studiotel is at Jalan Sarinande No. 20, Seminyak, 80361, Bali. + 62 361 730 402. Book through Mr and Mrs Smith for an exclusive offer of three nights for the price of two or an 'in-flight' dining experience for two, including a glass of wine each, delivered by a Luna2 hostess.

# The writer was assisted by Luna2 Studiotel, Mr and Mrs Smith and Air Asia.

Saturday 21 March 2015

A Hunter Valley icon gets a new look and vibe

Twenty-five years on and Peppers Convent remains the most gracious address in the Hunter Valley; a perfect splurge destination for wine lovers, gourmets or simply lovers. 

Set among beautiful gardens and vineyards, The Convent was built in 1909 and transported to Pokolbin in 1990. It was once home to the Brigidine Order of nuns in Coonamble in country New South Wales. 

The Convent is currently being lovingly upgraded by owners Matt and Karlie Cowley and has the unique ambience of an indulgent French hotel combined with the character of an Australian country guesthouse. 

It is luxurious but not stuffy and just far enough away from the main road to be an oasis of calm, even on busy weekends in the Hunter. 

The Convent has 17 delightfully idiosyncratic bedrooms; with public areas being made over by interior design expert Karlie and her team, although the old-fashioned bathrooms, are not currently of the high standard of the rest of the property, which generally reminds one of a Relais & Chateau hostelry. 
On-site facilities include a swimming pool, heated spa pavilion, tennis court, boules and a front desk that is manned 24 hours a day. 

The Convent also recently opened the second restaurant on its estate, Eighty Eight. Together with its sister restaurant Circa 1876, Eighty Eight is headed up by executive chef George Francisco, who says the eatery's focus is on sustainable, ethically sourced and grown produce.

All items on this menu are ethically sourced,” American-born Francisco says. “They are organically grown on the property, gathered or acquired locally or sustainably farmed. The ingredients have been nurtured by nature, prepared with respect and cooked with love.”
Chef George Francisco in his potager
There is a strong focus on catering for diners with dietary requirements, including allergies and intolerances. “You can eat vegan, raw and dairy-free – gluten-free, no problem,” says the chef.
Matt and Karlie Cowley say Eighty Eight offers “a relaxed setting and a nurturing, comfort-foods menu” and its is open daily for breakfast and lunch and for dinner on Friday-Saturday, as well as serving high teas.

The adjacent Circa 1876, next door to the Pepper Tree Wines cellar door, is more formal, but not overly so, also with many ingredients sourced from Francisco's organic kitchen garden. 

Open for lunch and dinner it has a menu offering dishes like pan-seared venison with cracked pepper, truffle-scented quinoa, porcini veloute and saffron gel, or  spanner crab pasta with lemon, garlic, chilli flakes and Parmigiano–Reggiano. 

Unfortunately the service was very slapdash on my most recent visit, hopefully an aberration for The Convent complex is a very special place well worthy of a side trip for anyone visiting Sydney who loves good food, wine and being pampered. 

Peppers Convent, 88 Halls Road, Pokolbin, 2320, NSW. (02) 4998 4999.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Malbec: an old grape variety enjoying a new lease of life

Malbec is an old grape variety enjoying a renaissance of popularity thanks to its success in Argentina.

While these dark, inky grapes originated in the south of France and are one of the six varieties allowed under the Bordeaux appellation, the French heartland for malbec is now Cahors in South-West France, where it is also known as Auxerrois and Cot.

The massive popularity of the variety in Argentina, particularly in and around Mendoza, has over the past decade seen malbec become a global phenomenon with sales spiking everywhere from London to Sydney.

Launched in 2011, World Malbec Day falls on the date when – more than 150 years ago – the first plantings of the the grape variety were authorised in Mendoza, Argentina's principal vineyard region. 

This year over 70 events will take place in 64 cities of 50 countries around the world to celebrate how malbec has flourished in its new homeland of Argentina. 

After acclimatising to its new conditions, malbec delivered unprecedented levels of quality and produced unique wines (softer and less tannic, generally than those from Cahors), but remarkably Argentina only started its export drive in 2000.

In 2014, Australia's malbec imports increased by almost 30% compared to 2013 – close to double that of any European nation and Australians appear to have developed a taste not only for malbec, but all things Argentine. 

In Melbourne, the Gauchito Gil World Malbec Celebration at the Ormond Hall on April 17 will feature over 80 malbecs on tasting, along with empanadas from some of Melbourne’s best Argentinean/South American restaurants and a tango show.

One of Australia's leading malbec producers; Ferngrove from Western Australia's Great Southern, will host Making Noise About Malbec at Perth's The Terrace Hotel on April 17 from 4.30-7.30pm. The $40 fee includes wines plus paella and churros. 
At Sydney's Zeta Bar on April 29, six of the best high-end malbecs from some of Argentina's most famous winemakers will be on taste with an Argentine-style canapé degustation, entertainment from tango dancers, exclusive prizes, plus a bottle of malbec to take home. 

There are pockets of malbec planted throughout Australia's wine regions but it is more usually blended with cabernet sauvignon or shiraz than made as a stand-alone varietal - a huge pity. 

Maybe Argentina's triumphs will see more Australian wineries willing to experiment. 

For more information about Malbec World Day visit , or

For events scheduled in Australia go to: and

Tuesday 17 March 2015

The great sporting capitals of the world

If you want to watch the world's greatest sportsmen or sportswomen in action, or even participate in the action, which cities should be on your global itinerary?

London is the only city to have hosted the Olympic Games three times - most recently in 2012 – and is the undisputed world capital of spectator sport.

Whether you want to watch Premier League soccer, Test cricket, tennis at Wimbledon or the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, London is alive with sporting activity just about every day of the year.

For a start, London boasts 13 professional football teams – a figure unmatched by any city outside South America. The Premier League season features five London clubs: Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham United and Crystal Palace - and Watford just outside the city.

      Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal

The English national team plays regular international matches at Wembley Stadium, which offers regular stadium tours and also hosts the FA Cup final and the annual rugby league Challenge Cup final.

If you’d rather join in a pick-up game, Hackney Marshes in east London is home to many amateur sides and is reportedly the single largest collection of football pitches in the world.

London is also an excellent place to watch cricket. The season lasts from April to September and the English capital boasts the rare distinction of having two Test grounds: Lord’s to the north of the city and The Oval to the south. Lord's is home to the Middlesex county side and The Oval to the Surrey team. Both venues regularly play host to England international Test and limited-overs matches.

The English national rugby stadium is at Twickenham, the venue for England’s Six Nations Championship matches, and other internationals, while the London Broncos rugby league team plays at The Hive in Edgeware.

The River Thames, which bisects the city, is the venue for the annual boat race, held between Oxford and Cambridge universities from Putney to Mortlock, as well as the Henley regatta.

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, home of the Wimbledon Championships, is also home to a tennis museum, while Queen’s Club hosts an annual grass court event.

London also hosts regular season matches in the American National Football League, along with major athletics and swimming events while cycling is hugely popular as a participation sport. A stage of the Tour de France was held in London in 2014 passing landmarks including Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. The London Marathon, meanwhile, is one of the most popular in the world.

The largest city in Brazil is the global capital of sports right now; having hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup final in football and being the venue for the 2016 Olympic Games.

The Maracana Stadium, the World Cup final venue, will also be used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics. It once held a world-record crowd of 199,854 but the stadium currently seats 78,838 spectators, still making it the largest stadium in South America and it is the home ground of the super-successful Brazilian national team.

Maracana Stadium

Brazilians are hugely passionate about soccer and Rio is home to leading teams including Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama and Botafogo but you’ll discover impromptu games on its streets, public parks and many beaches.

The athletics events at the 2016 Olympic Games will be held at the new Joao Havelange Stadium adjacent to the Maracana.

Other notable sports events in Rio include international beach volleyball championships. Beach sports are hugely popular in Rio with regular pick-up games of volleyball played on beaches including Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon while the Flamengo basketball team is one of the best on the continent.


Paris may be more associated with chic cafes and haute couture than sport, but the French capital is a passionate host of world-class events ranging from football to tennis and the final stage of the Tour de France each year.

France hosted the World Cup finals in 1998 and the streets of Paris were awash with fans celebrating the home team’s championship win at the Stade de France on the northern fringes of the city.

The Paris Saint-Germain football team regularly draws raucous sellout crowds to its home games at the Parc de Princes. The club has won four French league titles, eight French Cups and the UEFA Cup.

The 80,000-seat Stade de France, built for the 1998 World Cup, is used for football, rugby union and athletics, hosting the French national football and rugby union teams – as well as matches played by the city’s major rugby union club Stade Francais, which plays in the first division alongside Paris Racing Metro 92.

  The Tour de France on the Champs-Elysees

One of the city’s most popular sporting clubs is Paris-Levallois Basket, which competes in the major European competition the Eurocup.

Paris hosted the 1990 and 1924 Olympics and although the starting point and the route of the famous Tour de France changes each year, the final stage always finishes in Paris, and, since 1975, the race has always concluded on the famous Champs-Elysees.

The French Open tennis championships, played on the red clay courts at the Roland Garros National Tennis Centre, is one of the four Grand Slam tournaments while Paris also regularly hosts ATP and WTA professional tournaments indoors.

One of the world’s most famous horse races, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, is held annually at Paris’ Longchamp course, which is home to more than half of the group one courses in France and was a great favourite of Emperor Napoleon.

With 32 municipal stadiums, more than 150 tennis courts, over 30 swimming pools, cycle tracks and many parks, Paris also offers plenty of opportunities for joggers, cyclists and casual sports participants, as well as hosting regular world championships across a range of disciplines. The Paris Marathon, held each April, dates back to 1856.

The city that never sleeps is home to arguably more professional sporting franchises than any other city on earth, making it heaven on earth for fans who can attend a major contest virtually 365 days a year.

From baseball to American football, basketball to ice hockey and soccer, the choices are endless in this year-round sports Mecca with world-famous stadia including Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium.

The boys of summer are the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, the city’s two surviving baseball teams – and baseball is New York’s major sport.

      Basketball at Madison Square Garden

New York and Chicago are the only two cities to have two Major League Baseball teams.

The city is represented in the NFL by the New York Giants and the New York Jets and both play in the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, just across the water from the city. In 2014, the stadium will host the Super Bowl championship game.

Visitors will find basketball being played in parks and parking lots all over the city and there are also two professional NBA teams; the New York Knicks, who play at Madison Square Garden, and the Brooklyn Nets. Likewise, there are two ice hockey teams, the New York Rangers, also based at Madison Square Garden, and the New York Islanders.

Socceroos star Tim Cahill used to play for the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, and the city also has a new team in New York City FC, as well as the second-level New Yorks Cosmos.

Throw in the US Open tennis championship, another of the four Grand Slams, the New York Marathon - the world’s biggest – world title fights at Madison Square Garden and athletics events like the Millrose Games and even the most voracious sports fans is spoilt for choice.

Aqueduct and Belmont Park feature horse racing all months of the year except August while sports including lacrosse and roller derby have niche followings.


Shanghai is the largest city in the world – and many of its residents are too busy getting rich to follow traditional professional sports, although they do like to keep fit in a number of interesting ways.

  Morning dancing in Fuxing Park

Head to Fuxing Park, where each morning sees an eclectic collection of locals going through their workout regimes; which range from swordplay to tai chi; ballroom dancing to calligraphy; kite flying to head-butting a tree; playing musical instruments to playing cards. It is a gathering of everyone and anyone in a beautiful setting – and a unique slice of the city that is not seen by many tourists.

For those who prefer watching to participating, Shanghai is home to several professional football teams, including Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League, one of China’s most popular teams.

The Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association helped develop superstar Yao Ming before he played in the NBA, while Shanghai also has an ice hockey team, China Dragon, and a baseball team, the Shanghai Golden Eagles.

Since 2004, Shanghai has hosted the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix, while the city also hosts the Shanghai Masters tennis tournament, and several major table tennis and golf tournaments along with archery, athletics and dragon boat championships. The annual Shanghai International Marathon is raced each December.

Five other sporting cities not to miss
Vancouver: Hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics and a relatively mild climate and its location means residents can be skiing in the morning and kayaking in the afternoon. There are three ski hills within 30 minutes driving time of downtown. The city’s most popular professional sporting team is the Vancouver Canucks – no surprise given ice hockey is Canada’s national sport. The Vancouver Whitecaps, who play in Major League Soccer, are the other big ticket item with the BC Lions playing in the Canadian Football League.

Tokyo: From sumo wrestling tournaments to marathons, J-League football to two professional baseball teams, Tokyo is a sporting capital that will host the 2020 Olympic Games.

Boston: Home to the Boston Celtics basketball team, the New England Patriots NFL team, the Boston Red Sox baseball team and the Boston Bruins ice hockey side, as well as the Boston Marathon. Enough said.

Manchester: A recent Commonwealth Games host, Manchester is home to two of the world’s most famous football teams, Manchester United and Manchester City; and hosted matches during the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Melbourne: The venue for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix, the Australian Open tennis championships, the epicentre of Australian Rules football and home to the ginormous Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Victorian capital is also home to several world-class golf courses and, of course, the Melbourne Cup.

Sunday 15 March 2015

Alternative grape varieties: the search for the next big thing in Australian wine

There is a lot more to wine in Australia than our current favourites chardonnay and shiraz.

From the warm Riverina to cool-climate Tasmania, winemakers are experimenting with unfamiliar grape varieties from countries as diverse as Italy, Austria, Spain and Georgia as they aim to produce wines with a point of difference.

So while you might not be familiar with grapes called touriga nacional, gruner veltliner and aleatico, it is worth remembering that 40 years ago chardonnay was unknown in Australia and we drank an awful lot of wine made from a dreadfully dull grape called crouchen.
Larry Jacobs with Hahndorf Hill gruner veltliner vines 

Today chardonnay is ubiquitous, along with sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, which was first planted in 1975.

Things change quickly on the wine front and new trends are constantly emerging. A decade ago few of us had heard of pinot gris/grigio, but now it is hugely fashionable. Could fellow Italian white grapes vermentino and arneis be next? Or maybe fiano?

Kym Anderson, director of the Wine Economics Centre at the University of Adelaide, says: “There is growing interest in making wine using 'alternative' varieties such as those grown in southern Europe and South America, in many instances because they are more suited to the Australian climate.

“But getting consumers to purchase wines made from varieties they are unfamiliar with can be a big risk for producers.”

Italian varieties such as sangiovese, barbera and nebbiolo are now almost mainstream, however, along with the increasingly popular Spanish red grape tempranillo and the Portuguese white variety verdelho, all succeeding as drinkers look for food-friendly, savoury alternatives to some of our vinous fruit bombs.

Coriole, from McLaren Vale, is the standard bearer for high-quality sangiovese, a Tuscan grape it first planted 25 years ago. Coriole's lead has been followed by Robin Day, former chief winemaker for Orlando, whose Domain Day vineyards at Mount Crawford feature plantings of garganega, lagrein and sagrantino, all Italian grapes, as well as saperavi, a red grape that's a native of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where its known for its concentrated flavours.

Yalumba has pioneered the French white grape viognier, which has found favour as both a stand-alone varietal and as a blending component that softens shiraz (Canberra's Clonakilla makes a benchmark example).

Zinfandel, a grape that enjoys huge popularity in California as is also known as primitivo, has been promoted by Margaret River winery Cape Mentelle, while the Italian variety prosecco, used in sparkling wines, has been a winner for Dal Zotto Wines and other producers in Victoria's King Valley.
Otto Dal Zotto in his prosecco vineyard 

It is certainly worth taking a step out of your wine comfort zone to sample a new taste sensation – and as many of these wine with unfamiliar names are new to the market some of the prices are relatively low.

So what's the next big thing?

Gruner veltliner, a savoury dry white wine from Austria, has proved very successful for producers including Hahndorf Hill and Geoff Hardy in the Adelaide Hills and Lark Hill outside Canberra.

Petit manseng, made from a little-known white grape from the south-west of France and similar to the Spanish grape albarinho, has shown great potential in warmer parts of the country.

Vermentino is an aromatic and refreshing white grape from Liguria and the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica. It has been hugely successful in the Riverland and Riverina.

Nero d'Avola is the most popular red wine variety from Sicily, making dark, flavoursome wines. It has been grown with great success in McLaren Vale and Heathcote in Victoria.

Or maybe the German hybrid schonburger, or French light red gamay will find a niche in the market, or maybe a variety that is currently completely unknown. Wine drinkers will ultimately decide.

Friday 13 March 2015

How one man helped change the way we dine in Australia

It was almost 30 years ago that I first became aware of a talented young chef called Tetsuya Wakuda. 

I was doing some restaurant reviews for the Daily Telegraph in Sydney and gave a glowing review to the man behind the pans at Ultimo's - a now long-closed spot where the food was an intriguing combination of French and Japanese flavours. 
Tetsuya Wakuda

I later received a hand-written letter of thanks from the chef and sometime later Tetsuya's opened in a terraced house in Rozelle, later switching to the city. 

Tetsuya is the only chef I can ever recall writing a personalised thank you note for a review; and that humble character has stayed with him as he soared to be recognised as one of the greatest chefs on the planet. 

Other, younger, chefs may now be all the rage but it was still nice to see Tets, whose empire now extends to Waku Ghin in Singapore, this week recognised by his peers throughout Asia and the world, for his lifelong contribution to the world of gastronomy.

I received a short press release noting that he has been awarded the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement award - Asia 2015 on Monday, but saw absolutely nothing in the mainstream press.

Born and raised in Japan, Tetsuya arrived in Australia in 1982 at the age of 22 with a limited knowledge of English and a small suitcase. He also brought with him an obsessive interest in food and a quiet determination to open his own restaurant.

He started work as a kitchen hand at Fishwives before falling under the influence of the great Tony Bilson at Kinselas. It was here that Tetsuya learned the classical French techniques that  formed his now renowned style of cooking - blending the purity of his native Japanese food culture with the techniques and style of classic French cuisine.

"My aim was only ever to get a good job doing what I loved," he explains. "I never had a grand master plan and I am quite humbled by this award. 

"Like most chefs I only ever wanted to cook my own food, in my own way and I am thankful that people continue to enjoy that. Everyone in this industry knows that no one chef stands alone and I have been very lucky to have always had such a great team of people working with me." 
Tetsuya's Sydney Mark II
Tetsuya's has now been open for close on 27 years, an eternity in the Sydney restaurant business. In 2006, the chef was honoured as the first sake ambassador outside of Japan, and in 2013 was acknowledged by the Japanese Government and awarded the esteemed ‘Japan’s Master of Cuisine’ title - the first ever internationally-based chef to do so. 

The chef’s great love affair with Tasmania resulted in a formal role bestowed in 2003 as International Food and Beverage Ambassador. In addition to his ambassadorial role Tetsuya has personally financed and supported small producers on the island state, creating new businesses in the food and beverage sector. He also actively supports local Tasmanian artists and craftsmen.

And he remains as humble as ever. 

A couple of years ago, on an icy Tasmanian morning on the banks on the Huon River, the superstar chef  threw a party for several hundred people who turned up on the first day of winter for the launch of his “fishing boat”.

Tetsuya realised a long-held dream when his $800,000 motor cruiser was officially christened Belle – and hit the water at Franklin for the first time but he delighted the locals by organising breakfast for them to mark the occasion. 

The chef invited everyone from TV presenter Ray Martin to local school children to join in the festivities; laying on a jazz band from the Hobart Conservatorium of Music, free coffee and scones for allcomers. 
You would be hard pressed to relate that this is the same man who has won a plethora of awards and has featured as a regular in San Pellegrino's Worlds 50 Best Restaurant Awards since the list’s inception in 2002. 
Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands 
Since 2010 much of his attention has been devoted to Waku Ghin, which he opened in The Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore and is currently rated in the top 10 restaurants in Asia. 
Everyone loves Tets and is is great to see him gain this global award. Today, young chefs that have gone through his kitchen, and front of house staff that have delivered to his exacting standards, populate some of the most celebrated restaurants in the world.
But it hasn't all been plain sailing. Along the way, his marriage broke up, he has no children despite loving them, and he freely admits his work is his life and his work colleagues are his family.
"I've made a life," he said in a long interview with me back in 2009. "I almost have to pinch my cheek to believe what happened but the restaurant is my family. I still love the kitchen; love cooking. It would be nice to be with someone again but it's crazy hours that I work. 

"To be honest, I think it's amazing that other people find time to be a father, a chef and a restaurateur. I may not have family here but I have people I can call family - some very dear friends - so I am very fortunate. My staff are my family, too, and I love seeing them grow."

Tuesday 10 March 2015

The very lovely, extremely luxurious Villa Sungai

There are some people who visit Bali for the nightlife, the cheap beer and the beaches. And then there are others who visit for a sumptuous lifestyle they can adopt for a week or two, the local culture and the delicious food. 
Room to relax

If you fit into the second category rather than the first, let me introduce you to the lovely Villa Sungai, a multiple award-winning property tucked away in the rainforest decked hills of Cepaka, just a 30-minute drive from the bustling beaches of Seminyak and Legian. 

Villa Sungai overlooks a local river, is just a short walk to rice paddies and you can hear the local roosters going about their business, as well as the village pigs and abundant bird-life.

It's like living with the locals, except most Cepaka residents do not have their own (rather large) team of staff on call 24 hours a days, do not have unique access to a beautiful 18-metre infinity pool, massive days beds, Bose sound systems and maxi bars.   

Villa Sungai is over the top in terms of luxury, but in the most tasteful way possible. It is an exclusive-use Australian-owned property, where every guest is made to feel like a king.

After being pampered and coseted by the extremely friendly staff here, staying in a hotel just doesn't pass muster, although all the comfort does come at a price.

First up, Villa Sungai offers a VIP airport arrival service (although the immigration queue at the execrable Ngurah Rai Airport cannot be avoided).The airport butler meets guests as they enter the arrivals hall, helps them with their visa on arrival and luggage and delivers them to the villa car, avoiding the maddening crowds.

The car has cold towels, cold drinks and snacks to fortify you for the drive. Upon arrival you are met by around eight or nine of the staff, who work on shifts around the clock to make sure your every whim is catered for. Like your unpacking done for you? Certainly. Like a refreshing drink, or a cold towel? Here it is. Another one? Right away. 

The staff are headed by Made, part manager/part concierge who can arrange any activities you request, any foods and drinks you require. He is charming, friendly and ultra-efficient. Every home should have one. 

VillaSungai offers three poolside king suites and four en-suite bathrooms, one with an al fresco showers and a bath that was strewn with flower petals for our arrival. Five-star furnishings in Balinese style meet Provencal chic. There's a private couples massages suite and several gorgeous nooks and crannies for reading or listening to music. 

The villa has space for up to six adults and children are welcome. Adjacent but completely private, is a second smaller but equally gob-smacking villa, Sungai Gold. The villas can be rented as a pair for groups of up to a dozen. 

The chauffeured 7-guest air-conditioned vehicle is included in the tariff (and ready to depart at any time). Breakfast and first night canapés are provided free of charge while meals are charged at cost of ingredients only (visit the market with your chef in the morning to see what looks good). Laundry is complimentary; as are all-day Nespresso coffees and TWG teas, while the bar is provided at wholesale prices. Fast wifi is available, resort-quality massages cost just $US30 for 60 minutes, and rooms are serviced twice daily, or more regularly should you require it. 
There is an excellent selection of TV channels, and a massive choice of movies in your pavilion - and for golfers the Greg Norman-designed Nirwana course is just 15-20 minutes' drive from the villa

As we were staying for just three nights rather than the usual seven night minimum, we spent virtually all of our time on-site, loving the luxury. While the staff are there should you need them, and extremely hospitable, they do not intrude. Staying here is like having your own personal lodge.

And what of the food, which is served whenever you want to eat? 

It is better than at most of the upmarket restaurants on the island and served with real care and attention by the delightful Putu and Iluh; among the dining choices are western and Asian specialities.

Think hors d'oeuvres/appetisers like lamb spring rolls with hoisin dipping sauce, chicken satays with peanut sauce, Thai lon with prawns, lime and cashew blue-eye cod rolls with Chinese black vinegar dipping sauce or Thai fish cakes. 

Main courses range from whole baby snapper steamed with Balinese spices, fried sweet pork belly with green mango and chilli palm sugar dressing, Nonya pork satay with tangy pineapple and peanut sauce and braised beef rendang.

The food is seriously fabulous 
For the less adventurous there are burgers, steak sandwiches and spaghetti bolognaise, while desserts may feature Balinese banana fritters with coconut ice-cream or sticky black rice with coconut cream, ginger syrup and banana. 

It's your call. Wayan and the other chefs will make dishes to your instructions, including spice levels. 

It is disturbingly easy to get used to local Bintang beers by the pool, or the delicious signature cocktails: vodka, lime juice, and palm sugar with kaffir lime and lemongrass infusions and topped with soda. 

The wine list, very reasonably priced in a country with very high alcohol taxes includes the local Hatten label and names like Alexis Lichine, Louis Latour, Guigal, Zonin, Domaine Chandon, Wynn's Coonawarra Estate, Cape Mentelle, Astrobale and Drylands, among others.

On warm days (every day, in fact), lime, mint and ginger beer mocktails worked their magic. This is the perfect spot for a small wedding, family get-together or a week doing absolutely nothing.

For details and prices email or go to

# The writer and his wife were guests of Villa Sungai and travelled with assistance from Air Asia.     

Sunday 8 March 2015

Sir Don Bradman, fine Australian art and Henschke Hill of Grace

The Henschke family do not do things by halves. When they unveil a wine, particularly a new release of Australia's iconic single-vineyard shiraz, they do things in style. 

So, for the launch of the 2010 Hill of Grace, how about an invitation to Adelaide Oval for a behind the scenes tour, a tasting of several new releases; a look at the 2010 Hill of Grace alongside the 2002 and 2005 releases, and then lunch in the new Hill of Grace restaurant overlooking the famous pitch?

First stop, the Bradman Collection; a purpose-built museum honouring the greatest batsman in the history of cricket, Sir Don Bradman, and a chance to browse a priceless collection of memorabilia dating from 1927 to 1977, including rare footage and bats used by the great man. 

Next stop the Sheffield Shield Room, which pays homage to South Australia's long cricketing history and a glass of Johanne Ida Selma MD Blanc de Noir from the Adelaide Hills, before a chance to check out the historic old scoreboard, which is still operated by hand, along with a venerable Henschke 1987 Rhine Riesling.

Next up, a tasting of several new and recent releases, including the 2010 Hill of Grace, which will now sell for $699 a bottle. This is a wine of remarkable intensity from a great vintage, destined to be rated with the greatest Hill of Graces. Think ripeness, concentration, balance and a tribute to a remarkable vineyard. 

This is a wise wine, one that is comfortable in its skin even in its youth. 

Other stars across the range included the 2014 Coralinga Sauvignon Blanc ($20), a splendid 2014 Archer's Chardonnay ($30), the 2013 Giles Pinot Noir (a big step up on previous incarnations, $50), the new 2012 Rose Grower (an impressive blend of nebbiolo and barbera, $55), and a sneak peek at the 2014 Johann's Garden ($45), a vibrant blend of grenache, mataro and shiraz with delicious intensity. 

Since 2009, launched last year with a poem by Rupert McCall, each new release Hill of Grace will be matched to an artwork; this year a triptych of old vines by leading Barossa artist Rod Schubert, a distant relation of Grange creator Max Schubert. 

It was unveiled to much applause and a replica of the triptych "A Year Graced By Radiance" will be included in each timber gift box of 2010 Henschke Hill of Grace. which will be released in May. 

The wine is certain to be in huge demand. As was the case in 2000 and 2003, there will be no 2011 Hill of Grace - the wine is only made in fine vintages.    

Then followed lunch at the spectacularly sited Hill of Grace restaurant; an amuse bouche with 2014 Green's Hill Riesling; Inasal duck, mushrooms and pork liver sauce with 2012 Keyneton Euphonium, Suffolk lamb with bunya nut puree, again matched with generous pours of the 2010 Hill of Grace, and a tres leche cake with cumquat marmalade paired with 2013 Noble Rot Semillon. 

It was a quite splendid affair, as you'd expect from the Henschkes, wine royalty who have been making wine since Johann Christian Henschke planted a small vineyard on his diverse farming property at Keyneton, high above the Barossa Valley, back in 1862.

He was one of many Silesians who had fled their European homeland in search of religious freedom, and initially made wine to be enjoyed by his family and friends.

He would be very pleasantly surprised, no doubt, to learn that today the Henschke name is known around the world with the family's flagship Hill of Grace one of the most acclaimed single-vineyard releases, and hugely sought-after by collectors.

Christian Henschke's first commercial release was in 1868, setting the wheels in motion for greater things to come.

Each generation has helped build the business, still owned and operated by the family. Fourth-generation vigneron Cyril Henschke pioneered varietal and single-vineyard wines at a time when blended wines and fortifieds were in vogue.

His greatest legacy was the creation of Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone in the 1950s, shiraz wines from Eden Valley that have captured the wine world’s imagination.

The Eden Valley, Mount Edelstone, Hill of Grace and Lenswood vineyards are all managed by viticulturist Prue Henschke using biodynamic and organic principles.

Prue works alongside her winemaker husband Stephen and in 2006 the couple made the decision to go fully organic, including the use of some biodynamic practices. Sustainability is their watchword.

The famous Hill of Grace vineyard contains some vines that are over 120 years old, while Mount Edelstone was planted in 1912. 

With each sip of wine you are enjoying a slice of family history. 

# The writer was a guest of Henschke Wines.