Book, stay, enjoy. That's

Thursday 30 June 2016

One of Melbourne's best-kept secrets

I've stayed in dozens of different Melbourne hotels over the years, but I'd never set eyes on the Park Hyatt until this week. 

It is tucked away behind Parliament House in a lovely quiet area that is albeit just a short stroll from Spring Street and Chinatown and just four blocks in the other direction from hip Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, home to Cutler Co. restaurant and the impressive new Marion wine bar. 

What I liked most about the Park Hyatt was its ultra professional staff. They were there to help on arrival, check-in was fast and efficient, the morning wake-up call came just as ordered and there was someone to summon a cab at 7am. 

Slick. Impressive.

The rooms were good, too, with free wifi, flat-screen TVs and coffeemakers, with marble bathrooms (baths and showers) and classy amenities. Big towels, too. And lots of power points. There was even a turn down service (but no chocolate on the pillow). 

Breakfast was good - an excellent buffet selection, although the toasters were absurdly slow and need to be replaced. The people I saw sampling afternoon tea seemed to be enjoying it immensely. 

There was also a free business centre with fast machines and newspapers (although I would have liked one delivered to my room in the morning).

I didn't get time to try the Radii restaurant - but there are several excellent eateries within walking distance; including The  European and Longrain.     

I'm told there is a spa, pool and sauna, plus a gym and tennis court. No time, this time, I'm afraid, but the Park Hyatt is very much on my radar as a desirable address - and so much better than the Grand Hyatt not too far away. 

There are 240 rooms and suites in various configurations. I liked mine a lot.

Park Hyatt, 1 Parliament Place, East Melbourne. (03) 9224 1234.   

Wednesday 29 June 2016

The most useful free service in Australian wine turns 25

Some 25 years ago, Penfolds instituted a unique after-sales service to customers; re-corking clinics for older wines that might need a little care and attention. 

The Penfolds Re-Corking Clinics are celebrating that milestone with a national tour of Australia from August-October. 

The clinics provide collectors from around the world with complimentary wine "health checks" for Penfolds red wines, aged 15 years or older.

Peter Gago
Re-corking Clinics allow wine enthusiasts the opportunity to, as required, open and visually inspect their wine, assess the quality, top up, certify, and re-capsule their prized bottles, arresting any further deterioration due to leakage or low levels. 

Penfolds has been providing the Re-corking Clinic service to collectors around the world since 1991, with over 130,000 bottles certified since their inception. 

Wine owners must make a booking for their respective clinic, where the Penfolds winemaking team will be on-hand to assess each registered bottle. 

“After 25 years, the Re-corking Clinics continue to amaze and evolve, transcending all our expectations,” says chief winemaker Peter Gago. 

"As winemakers, it is so meaningful and rewarding to meet collectors and share the personal story of their wine’s unique journey. Professionally it is gratifying to witness the ongoing quality of rare treasures that span so many decades, each one adding to the unfinished story that is Penfolds."

All bottles that are re-corked will be certified and signed by the winemaker. A valuation service is also optionally provided by leading Australian fine wine auction house, Langtons. 

Registrations are now open for the Australian clinics. The program will then head overseas, visiting the UK, US and Canada before the end of the year. 

The Australian dates are:
Perth: August 9-10
Brisbane: August 18-19
Sydney: September 6-8 
Melbourne: September 20-22
Adelaide: October 11-12. 

For information, or to register, see Bookings are essential. 

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Major wine show offers recognition to organic/biodynamic producers

Reflecting a growing industry trend and increased consumer interest, the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards will this year recognise organic and biodynamic wines with the introduction of a new Best Organic or Biodynamic Trophy in 2016.

“It is our ongoing commitment to ensure the awards continue to be most relevant and valuable to the industry, identifying new classes and categories that will recognise the evolving nature of grape growing and winemaking,” said chair of judges Tom Carson from Yabby Lake (above).

“Organic grape production increased by 120% from 2011-2014 with evidence the trend is continuing. The introduction of the new Best Organic or Biodynamic Wine Trophy is a nod to the increasing production of these types of wines in the country, and the outstanding quality we have on offer.”

Conducted by The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV), the RMWA gives producers the opportunity to benchmark their wines against industry standards. 

The winner of the 2016 Jimmy Watson Trophy for best young red, meanwhile, will secure a scholarship sponsored by RASV. The scholarship includes a $15,000 bursary for the winner to embark on an international study tour, providing professional development opportunities and increasing knowledge of the global wine industry.

Entries for the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards are now open at and will close on Friday, August 19. 

Monday 27 June 2016

Plenty of options for vegan wine drinkers

A great many Australians grew up eating meat, wearing fur and leather, and going to circuses and zoos for entertainment.

But times change, and many people now want to know exactly what they are eating and drinking (or wearing). And what to avoid.

Before we became more aware of own bodies, and animal welfare, it probably wouldn't have occurred to us that wines could not be vegan friendly. Wine is just alcoholic grape juice, after all.

Yalumba winemaker Louisa Rose
But the fact is that winemakers may include animal ingredients in their products directly, or they might use them in the fining and filtration processes.

When filtering drinks prior to bottling, companies can use products like isinglass (from a fish bladder), casein from milk protein, gelatin, egg whites, and sea shells, among other items. These products are used to find any impurities and filter them out.

Put simply, fining removes the “rough edges” derived from grape skins and seeds during the wine-making process.

How this is achieved can be a major concern to people with food allergies, or those on strict vegetarian or vegan diets.

But there are many animal-free alternatives in use and several wineries, cider makers and others are now branding their products “vegan friendly” so that vegans can be sure they are not absorbing anything inadvertently.

Look out for Vegan Friendly stickers or statements on the labels of some of Australia's leading wine producers like Yalumba, Cullen and Heartland.

We've been making vegan-friendly wines for a long time,” says Vanya Cullen, chief winemaker at Cullen Wines in Margaret River, Western Australia. “Our vegan wines come from being biodynamic, and certified biodynamic, and then going to a place of even greater purity, but adding nothing.

Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines
Nothing added, or taken away, just grapes going to wine – and a better wine. It's a bit like natural wine. I believe our wines are natural as well as vegan because of this purity in wine growing.

Quality sustainably with integrity is our philosophy and being vegan and natural are outcomes not intended but nevertheless outcomes of this philosophy – and that's great, isn't it?”

Such is the growing demand for vegan-friendly products that some of the great names of Champagne have made it known that their luxury bubbles are made without the use of any animal products.

The fining removes solid particles from wine, creating a stable, clear and pleasant-looking product instead of a cloudy-looking drink – this is ultra-important for the image-conscious Champenoise.

Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck, Taittinger and Duval-Leroy are among the Champagne producers to trumpet the fact that their wines are vegan friendly. (Duval-Leroy relies on natural settling over a long period of time, others are fined using products such as bentonite, a powdered clay).

We do the fining naturally,” says Julien Duval-Leroy, who runs his family's business. “We don’t use anything – not gelatin or egg whites or casein – just time. But to become 100% vegan, we needed 20 years’ experience at natural clarification.”

If you are concerned about what fining agents are used in your wines or bubblies, look out for label information. Many winery websites also list technical details for their various wines.

At Yalumba, based in the Eden Valley of South Australia, all wines, bottled and in box, produced since 2012 are guaranteed by the company to be 100% vegan friendly, a move that came from the desire to make wines that differentiate Yalumba from rival companies.

We strive to make wines that speak and taste of provenance and natural appellation,” said Yalumba chief winemaker Louisa Rose.

The decision to move away from using animal products such as gelatin, milk, and eggs in the fining of our wines was to avoid their tendency to strip away the optimum fruit flavours and textures we work so hard to gain in the vineyard.

We believe this decision is reflective of Yalumba's commitment to a sustainable environment. We want to do the right thing and work with nature.”

Yalumba uses the modern technology of cross-flow filters to clean-up its wines.

At Heartland Wines, based in Langhorne Creek, South Australia, winemaker Ben Glaetzer is succinct: “We don’t use any fining agents so we are certainly considered vegan-friendly,” he says.
Winemaker Ben Glaetzer
Let's be honest. We don’t go out of our way to be vegan friendly. The simple fact of the matter is we make balanced wines that with the benefit of racking, don’t need to be fined using gelatine or albumin or anything else that vegans may object to. So we are vegan friendly by default.”

Surprisingly, not all organic and biodynamic wines are necessarily vegan-friendly, some still use milk as a fining agent.

On the website, potential wine buyers can filter the wines on offer to see which are vegan-friendly, and these include Angove Organic range, along with wines from organic producers Battle of Bosworth, Spring Seed and Gemtree from McLaren Vale in South Australia as well as wines from Rosnay at Canowindra in Central Western New South Wales and Temple Bruer, which sources from several different regions of South Australia. 

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Natural Vegan, a publication devoted to vegan lifestyles. 

Friday 24 June 2016

Why I'm so happy I won't be at the Olympics

I've only been to Brazil once. And only to Rio de Janeiro.

It was a long time ago, but I found it the same threatening, disorganised mess that those going to the Olympic Games are going to find. 

It's a big city with a lawlessness problem. I was robbed of my jeans on the beach and had some white muck sprayed at my shoes so that some spiv from a favela could charge me to clean them. 

Two bad experiences in one destination. I'm a pretty savvy traveller and can't recall being caught out twice anywhere else.

Anyway, I didn't like Brazil, didn't think much of Brazilians and left early. Never to return. 

Then, today, I received a charming email from a Brazilian, Ana Lucia Fernandez, who asked: "As you know, this August (5-21) the Olympic Games will be held in Rio, Brazil, and I wondered if you were considering doing a feature on the country, its culture (which includes food and drink of course!) or any Brazilian traditions?" 

Well no, I wasn't other than possibly to advise people to either stay away or be very much on their guard if they do go. 

Ana Lucia says: "Our company, Brazilian Style Imports, is the major importer of Brazilian food, beverage and barbecue equipment products in Australia. I am actually Brazilian myself and would love to help with any general information you may need about Brazil and its culture, food etc. I can also assist with traditional Brazilian recipes, authentic culinary product samples and more."

I've eaten Brazilian food a few times, and while it is overly meat focused, it is very tasty. 

So if you are looking for any Brazilian gear like, say guava paste (above), or want to hold a Brazilian-style party, take a look at the website

# The author used to be a sports writer and has covered Olympic Games in Moscow, Los Angeles and Sydney. 

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Special release wine marks the retirement of an icon

Bernard Hickin is one of the nicest guys in the wine industry, and has played a major role in Jacob's Creek becoming a major international brand. 

I had to miss his recent farewell for family reasons (he retires at the end of June, but I'm toasting him tonight with a glass or two of a special wine named in his honour). 

The Hickin story is an interesting one. A city boy with no interest in wine, he ended up in charge of one of the world’s largest and most-respected wine brands.

His world changed when he dropped in on a friend who was working at a winery outside Adelaide. 

“Walking in, I remember the aroma of the reds fermenting, the vibrant purple colour of the red caps... it was just like being in another world," he recalls. 

He started a degree at the Roseworthy Agricultural College in the mid 1970s, first worked vintage at Berri Estate in South Australia’s Riverland region under two influential winemakers Brian Barry and Ian McKenzie and then, in 1976 - the same year as Jacob’s Creek was officially launched - he accepted a job with Pernod Ricard Winemakers (then G. Gramp & Sons), makers of Jacob’s Creek.

He was first based in the Barossa but was soon moved to its Griffith winery during a period of significant expansion. He oversaw the progressive move to sparkling wine production and varietal-labeled wines, and worked to produce the best possible wines from the region.

In 1987, Hickin's passion for white, botrytis (dessert) and sparkling wine saw him permanently relocated to the Barossa winery at Rowland Flat as the new operations winemaker. In 1994, he was made senior white and sparkling winemaker, and by 1997 was promoted to group white and sparkling winemaker. 

Passionate, but quietly spoken and always available to the media, he became chief winemaker of Pernod Ricard Winemakers’ Australian wines, a position he held for a decade. From 2010, he took on the additional responsibility of promoting the Jacob’s Creek brand internationally.

His departure is being marked with the release of a special limited-edition wine: the 2010 Jacob’s Creek Limited Edition Shiraz Cabernet. 

The bottle label features a pencil sketch of Bernard, and the release has been overseen by his successor, the new chief winemaker Ben Bryant.

“Bernard has made an enormous impact on Jacob’s Creek, ensuring the wines stayed true to style and excelled in quality over his 40 vintages,” says Bryant. 

“In honour of Bernard’s contribution, we have selected this special wine, blended from 63% shiraz from our best Barossa vineyards and 33% cabernet sauvignon from our finest Coonawarra vineyards, and labelled just 1200 bottles with his name.”

The wine is billed as "the highest-quality wine made under the Jacob’s Creek label" and fewer than 900 of the special gift-boxed commemorative bottles will be available for sale at the Jacob’s Creek Visitors Centre in the Barossa Valley in Australia for $180 a bottle. 

# The wine is a tongue-coatingly rich and intense red, but beautifully structured and still very youthful. It opens up expressively when given a few minutes of air. It will cellar brilliantly, no doubt, although it is bottled under cork, perhaps with an eye to the lucrative Chinese market.  

Monday 20 June 2016

How to feel like you've wasted 50,000 frequent flyer points

It didn't start well - and it didn't get any better.

The premium check-in line at LAX was longer than the regular line - and the Eastern European woman who served me had such minimal English that I seriously could not understand her - heading off in completely the wrong direction.

It immediately occurred to me that Virgin Australia had been engaged in some staff cost cutting.

That point was emphasised by the boarding procedure - which had the American gentleman ahead of me talking about "untrained, minimum wage employees".

On board in economy, there were very few crew to be found to help passengers to the fairly uncomfortable seats. And zero service (or announcements) for 90 minutes after we boarded for a delayed departure.

To keep flyers refreshed there was a 240ml Read tiny) bottle of water in your seat - which you were supposed to re-fill yourself; no easy mission if you were in a window seat (note to self: never again take a window seat on a long-haul flight).

Dinner marked a new nadir. A stale bread roll; a Thai chicken curry without any spice and largely composed of four or five pieces of ultra-tough chook.

Dessert was equally ill-thought-out: a salty caramel ice cream. Salt not being ideal when there is minimal water. What are you thinkingLuke Mangan?

For the next 12 or so hours nothing much - unless you wanted to make your way back for a re-fill of warm water, an apple or a muesli bar. Or maybe I missed some mid-flight 777-300 treat by fitfully sleeping?

I passed on the "breakfast" wrap, vowing not to eat again until I was on terra firma.

I told the cabin steward the food had been awful and he admitted there had been "lots of complaints" about a new service style and urged me to fill in a feedback form. I'm doing this instead.

Luxury travel
All in all a pretty horrible experience and sad waste of 50,000 frequent flyer points. Next time I'd rather pay full fare to fly on a carrier that offers full-service options.

I did point out my criticisms to the extremely charming cabin supervisor who explained this is a new flight format. She listened and that was very much appreciated.

Maybe Virgin would be better advised spending money on decent food and water for the masses rather than boasting about lie-flat business seats for a handful of guests on flights to Perth to LA, investing all its money in "The Business".

To be fair, I am a fan and regular user of Virgin's domestic flights, and a Brisbane-LAX trip 10 days earlier was OK. I love the lounge service in Melbourne, particularly, and Sydney.

Incidentally, prior to this trip I sent three emails to Virgin asking for basic "fact box" material for flights between Australia and the US to use in potential stories. Useful info for any would-be flyers who still read newspapers and magazines (or even this blog). I received no reply. Maybe their PR people simply do not care.

# The writer is a Virgin platinum frequent flyer but is seriously reconsidering his loyalty. 

# Virgin apologised for my experience in an email and offered 7,000 frequent flyer points as compensation. 

Saturday 18 June 2016

Join the glamour set at a chic Los Angeles hotel

The name says it all. Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. 

If you are looking for a chic address that won't demand a black American Express card this hotel is the business. 

First there is the location; right on Beverly Boulevard and within a short stroll (this is one part of LA where you can stroll) of Melrose Avenue, the boutiques of Robertson Boulevard and Rodeo Drive and right across the road from Macy's and Bloomingdales.

Shopping: sorted. 

Within four blocks or so you'll find Hollywood hangout The Ivy, where you can star spot while you wine and dine, top-notch wine bar AOC and legendary Italian eatery Locanda Veneta.

There are fast food options galore, too, and a one-hour foot massage across the way costs just $25 for an hour. 

The hotel itself is a joy. There are staff to carry your bags, a helpful concierge desk, great reception folk and rooms with all you require to live the LA life, including free wifi, super-comfortable beds, cable TV, windows that open, mini bars, luxury bathroom amenities, bath robes, and 24-hour room service. 

There is even something that has become a rarity: a nightly turn-down service. 

As this is a Sofitel there is a French accent to the style. There are 295 rooms including 38 suites; and rooms start from a very reasonable $US229 a night - great value for an urban resort like this.

There is a terrific swimming pool; a business centre with the ability to print out documents, an (expensive) on-site So Spa and a very hip late night bar, Riviera 31, with entertainment and some intoxicating cocktails. 

The one disappointment is the Esterel restaurant with an underwhelming menu and motel vibe that had run out of clams when I ordered spaghetti vongole. It was the only underwhelming experience of a five-star stay. 

But everything else was top-notch and this is a hotel I can heartily recommend.

Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, 8555 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048. +1 310  278-5444 

Declaration: The writer paid a media rate at the hotel.

Thursday 16 June 2016

The boulevard of broken dreams

Early evening. I'm walking Hollywood Boulevard. Sharing the sidewalk with the dumpster divers and panhandlers, tattoo artists, bullshit artists, tour touts and pierced freaks.

The belligerent and the bewildered. Shops selling flick knives, drug paraphernalia and personal tazers. T-shirts three for $9.99. 

There are hookah bars and hooker bars, sports bars and sports cars, deranged vets, the mentally unstable and far-too-thin teenage girls. 

Too many of the guys look like Keith Richards and none of the girls look like J.Lo. All of the security guards are heavily armed. 

It is easy to see why Hollywood Boulevard is known as the boulevard of broken dreams. 

Just metres from five-star hotels and movie-star hangouts, myriad tourists seem oblivious to the street people and the stench of desperation that lingers in the air. 

Think Darlinghurst or St Kilda on a bad night; throw in cheaper drugs, more easily available guns and more desperate people. 

Add some tired buildings looking for tenants and fast-food outlets. 

The glamour has long gone from here despite the movie stars on the Walk of Fame and the porn stars' handprints outside the Hustler shop.

Hollywood Boulevard, for me, anyway, is now just tawdry. 

I don't think I'll be back any time soon. 

Wednesday 15 June 2016

How cool is this rooftop bar? And now it does "boozy brunches"

It has only been open a few months but this uber-cool rooftop bar at Mama Shelter in Los Angeles has already been written up by the likes of Vogue magazine.

On the sixth floor of the hip Mama Shelter Hotel in Hollywood, the bar serves drinks and snacks seven nights a week from 5pm. 

There are nightly movies and superb views in all directions. Sometimes there are barbecues, or a guest DJ playing some tunes.

Want to check out the famous Hollywood sign, or the high-rises if downtown LA while enjoying a sangria or glass of rose? You've come to the right place. 

And now, from Labor Day weekend onwards, the rooftop bar will host "Weekend Boozy Brunches"  That sounds like a great chance to check in with the hip kids.

And, if course, there are Mama Shelter's signature babyfoot tables to keep you entertained when you are not sipping on a cocktail. 

Cool crowd. Cool place. 

Mama Shelter, 6500 Selma Avenue, Los Angeles 90028. (323) 785 6666. For bookings:

Declaration: The writer paid a media rate at Mama Shelter 

Monday 13 June 2016

Oh Canada! Hotels have difficulties with the basics

Canadians are wonderful people; friendly, welcoming and with a similar attitude to life as Australians. 

Unfortunately that laid-back charm does not always translate to quality hospitality - certainly on the evidence of two hotels I have stayed in over the past week. 

The first was the upmarket Omni King Edward Hotel, brilliantly situated in downtown Toronto. The rooms (below) are great. But...

Here, I encountered two issues. After a late-night cognac in the lounge I was keen to pay my bill and head upstairs to bed. Unfortunately the four wait staff were all deeply engaged in conversation and ignored me. 

I approached the bar and the barman finally got the bill heading on my direction. The apologies were profuse and there was the offer of a free drink. But I was tired and didn't really need another cognac. A smart operator might have removed the charge from the account - but that didn't happen. 

I related this story to my sister and her husband, regular guests at the Omni, and they reported having had similar issues in the past.

My second quibble was when I asked for the business centre in the morning I was confronted by machines that demanded a minimum $5 credit card payment. When I am paying $300+ a night I don't expect to be nickel and dimed. A bad look and certainly not hospitable. 

I had an even worse experience at the Comfort Inn Toronto Airport. 

Needing merely a bed for the night before an early morning flight, I opted to pay $100 plus taxes for an unknown quality hotel. 

Mistake. This Choice Hotels property was unable to get a shuttle to me for over an hour - a remarkable effort given the hotel is merely a three-minute drive from the terminal. The reception desk blamed the shuttle driver; and the driver blamed the desk employees. 

I asked to speak to the duty manager, but no manager was on duty. And the person on call never called back. In fact, I am still waiting for a response. 

Throw in a down-at-heel restaurant serving sub-par food and spare beds (and bedding) stored in the corridor (above) and this is a property well worth avoiding. 

Oh, and the 6am wake-up call I requested did not materialize. That was all too predictable.  

Mudgee aims to lift its gourmet profile

The country town of Mudgee in Central Western New South Wales is a gem of a weekend destination for lovers of food and wine. 

And now Mudgee is aiming to lift its profile among gourmets with a new ‘Let’s Skip Town Together’ campaign designed to entice city folk to leave routine - and traffic - behind for a couple of days. 

The Mudgee Region Tourism Board and Destination NSW have unveiled the new program to refresh food and drink tourism and entice back previous visitors.

:We are excited about what is on the horizon for the visitor economy across the Mudgee Region in 2016,” said Russell Holden, chair of Mudgee Region Tourism Board.

Leianne Murphy, acting CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism said: "Mudgee Region is a destination where people can enjoy country living without giving up the fine food and drink they expect in metropolitan areas. 

"Local produce is what makes it so special and it’s embraced by everyone. There is a genuine passion for food and drink in Mudgee region and a genuine desire to share it with others.”

Mudgee is the third largest grape-growing region in New South Wales and one of the oldest wine regions in the state. A 3.5 hour drive from Sydney, Mudgee can also be reached by plane from Sydney Airport via a 50-minute flights, which depart daily. 

Encompassing the towns of Mudgee, Gulgong, Kandos and Rylstone, the Mudgee Region combines country towns, historic buildings and a thriving café scene with boutique markets and galleries to explore.

Mudgee, meaning ‘nest in the hills’, is set amid rolling countryside and offers more than 40 family-run cellar doors 

The region is surrounded by several national parks and world-heritage bushland and landmarks.

For more information visit

Friday 10 June 2016

An agreeable and affordable stopover at LAX

Arriving at Los Angeles International can be hugely intimidating for any first-timer.

Even more so if you need to stay overnight in one of the myriad airport hotels.

Emerging from the arrivals hall at whichever of the many terminals you land at there will be literally dozens of shuttle buses - all heading for different hotels and motels.

The shuttle for the Best Western Plus Suites arrived within five minutes of my calling the hotel - and the three kilometre drive was quick and efficient.

The Best Western Plus is an older-style property but at $170 a night including taxes it does the job and doesn't bust the budget too much.

I arrived at 11am and check-in was not until 2pm but the check-in staff kindly arranged an early check-in and gave me the free wifi code so I could work while they prepared the room.

The room was large and comfortable, the staff amiable, and a welcome gift of some chocolates was a nice touch.

The room had free water, a coffee machine, fridge, microwave and air con - along with a window that opened to let in fresh air.

There was a business centre with computers and printers adjacent to the lobby, and vending machines on each level. There is even an outdoor pool and tub.

The hotel restaurant only serves breakfast but there are dozen fast-food eateries nearby, including Pollo Loco, WoBa Grill and Little Caesars pizza.

All-in-all most satisfactory - without spending a fortune. 

Best Western Plus Suites Inglewood, 5005 West Century Boulevard, Inglewood, California. +1 301 677 7733.

Thursday 9 June 2016

A world-class dining experience in Port Macquarie

It did not start well. Due to an oversight my restaurant booking had been mislaid and I was not expected at The Stunned Mullet. 

Things quickly picked up from there - despite the absence through sickness of owner Lou Perri. 

Maitre 'd James took matters swiftly in hand and I was able to enjoy a superb wine and food experience in the unlikely setting of a New South Wales Coastal resort.

Perri, who also operates Scampi's down the road, is a consummate professional - and that is reflected in both the menu and by his slick staff. 

The space may be a casual one, dominated by an artwork of wine cases, but the food is serious and the walk-in cellar and wine list reflect a global view with a focus on quality. 

Perri is a champion of both local produce and sustainable seafood, so it made sense to steer in that direction; although I was tempted by a bottle of Salomon Undhof gruner-veltliner. Sometimes it is all too easy to confuse Australia and Austria.

There may be a beachy feel, but there some serious technique in dishes like southern yellowfin tuna sashimi (top) with nori ash, ginger gel, avocado, cucumber, puffed wild rice and wasabi. It is a textural triumph.    
Next came the fishmonger's choice (a local mackerel) with toasted rice skin, sweet corn puree, green salsa, squid ink and fennel salad. The fish might have been cooked a minute too long, but the flavours were exquisite. 

Dessert was salty creme caramel with yuzu, spiced rum jelly, brown butter crumb and black sesame gelato; another standout.

The food here is as good as anything you might find in Surry Hills or Fitzroy - the service probably more friendly. You'll need a well-primed credit card but the value is certainly evident.

The Stunned Mullet, 1/24 William Street, Port Macquarie, NSW 2444. (02) 6584 7757.

# The author was a guest of Port Macquarie Tourism

Wednesday 8 June 2016

A bed issue that makes hotel guests irate

It is a sin that an ever-increasing number of hotels are guilty of committing.

You book a king or queen room because you want a big bed - but you don't get what you have paid for.

It happened to me at the Hobart Airport Travelodge - otherwise a clean and well-priced hotel - earlier this week.

What you get instead is two single beds pushed together - covered by double blankets and sheets.

If you are travelling solo and wanted to stretch out then you find a ridge or gully halfway across the bed.

If there are two of you then the ridge/gap can be annoyance.

It is easy to understand why hotels do this.

They can easily switch the room configuration to two singles if that is what is needed.

But it is a move that comes at the expense of other guests' comfort - and means they don't get what they have booked and paid for.

If you order a double or king bed when you book should you just shrug your shoulders and take what you are given, or should you ask for a switch of room?

Your thoughts?