Book, stay, enjoy. That's

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Bald cheese bloke puts Tasmania on the global map

Nick Haddow, the inspirational cheesemaker from Bruny Island Cheese in Tasmania, has won global recognition for his book Milk.Made: A Book About Cheese. How to Choose It, Serve It and Eat It.

Published by Hardie Grant Books, the book was today named the winner of the ‘Single Subject’ book category at the prestigious 2017 James Beard Awards - the Olympics of food books.

Haddow Instagrammed an image of the medal he was awarded at a ceremony at Chelsea Piers in New York.

The award was for books published in English in 2016 on a single subject.

Milk.Made shares his knowledge of making, serving and storing cheese at home, as well as more than 70 recipes.

Accompanied by photographer Alan Benson, Nick visited internationally renowned cheesemakers in Australia, France, the UK, Switzerland and the US interviewing some of the leading cheese experts from around the world.

Hardie Grant publisher Jane Willson said: "We’re thrilled for the recognition that the James Beard Award bestows on a book that we saw as a potential standout in an underpublished category. Credit especially to Nick Haddow for his unwavering belief in the power – and importance – of the subject, and to photographer Alan Benson, who trailed Nick on an ambitious shoot in Europe and the US capturing cheese and dairy farms during a northern hemisphere winter."

Since opening Bruny Island Cheese in 2003, Haddow has quickly earned a reputation for excellence – as well as for a long time being the only legally recognised producer of raw milk cheese in Australia.

Nick has appeared regularly on SBS series Gourmet Farmer with Matthew Evans and Ross O’Meara. The trio has written two books: The Gourmet Farmer Deli Book, and Gourmet Farmer Goes Fishing.

Putting on the Ritz. Enjoy decadent French style in New Zealand

Looking for the perfect excuse to get away for a couple of days during the southern hemisphere winter? 

How about a French weekend at one of the world's leading luxury lodges? 

The acclaimed Lodge at Kauri Cliffs is the venue for a decadent French weekend from August 4-6 with wines from prestigious Champagne house Dom Perignon and food from much-loved French chef Philippe Mouchel. 

“Salute to France” guests will immerse themselves in the best of French cooking, Champagne and style over two days of sublime eating, drinking, learning and absorbing from some of France’s best exports at Kauri Cliffs.

Normandy-born Mouchel trained under one of the greatest of French masters, Paul Bocuse, the only chef in France to have been awarded three Michelin stars consecutively for over 40 years. Mouchel worked at the first Paul Bocuse Restaurant in Japan, and later moved to Melbourne to open the Paul Bocuse restaurant there. 

Today, he runs his own French restaurant/brasserie in Melbourne, simply known as Philippe. 

On the opening, guests will fine food and fine wine in a relaxed ambience with aperitifs and an a la carte dinner followed by a traditional digestif.

A cooking demonstration on Saturday morning will highlight sauces while that evening a Dom Perignon ambassador will host a dinner featuring four courses prepared by Mouchel, each matched to a special vintage of “Dom”. 

The event tariff is NZ$1,900+ 15% GST per person, based on double occupancy and includes: two nights’ luxury suite accommodation at The Lodge at Kauri Cliff, pre-dinner drinks and canapés, daily full breakfast and complimentary non-alcoholic minibar; traditional aperitif and digestif on Friday night, gourmet dinner both nights, paired with Dom Perignon champagnes on Saturday night and a choice of either unlimited green fees or a 50-minute spa treatment per person.

To book, contact The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs on +64 9 407 0010
For more information visit

Saturday 22 April 2017

Stunning resort offers a real taste of Vietnam

Nha Trang is one of Asia's new tourism hotspots; a booming coastal resort city in the south of Vietnam that is known for its many beaches, dive sites and nearby islands.

Its main beach is a long, curving stretch faced by a promenade, new international hotels and many seafood restaurants.

Head just out of town to Amiana on the Bay Nha Trang and you'll find one of the few resorts with absolute beach access; a family-friendly luxury resort overlooking a stunning bay. Sit on the beach and watch the local fishing fleet out looking for squid and prawns.

Built four years ago, Amiana is family-owned and offers a real taste of Vietnam, from traditional mud baths and cooking classes (I can now make a handy Vietnamese pancake) to seafood buffets and learning how to row in traditional basket-weaved coracles.

Other activities range from yoga to kayaking,

The cosy 158-room resort is just a short hop out of town (shuttles run throughout the day) and 45-minutes from Cam Ranh Bay Airport, with links to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

There is a wide choice of villas and rooms, all with either direct ocean or garden views, along with a seawater pool that's the largest in the country, two freshwater pools, and a lagoon beach exclusively for in-house guests.

Bacaro restaurant offers all-day dining and there are three bars, a spa centre, gym, recreation centre, tennis courts and various water sports options.

Guests range from Vietnamese and Australians to Chinese and Russians; which mirrors Nha Trang as a whole.

While the resort offers an ideal beach break for a few days, Nha Trang itself moves at a slightly faster pace with attractions that include the late-night Skyline bar with its rooftop pool and several bars (where the cool kids and cocktail connoisseurs hang out), bustling street markets and many temples. It's small enough to navigate but big enough to offer plenty of diversions.

Head away from the tourists to enjoy traditional Vietnamese dishes at Lang Ngon, an atmospheric open-air restaurant. Think rice noodles with snail, or various frog dishes, along with more mainstream options.

For a step back in time visit the Po Nagar Temple, built by the Cham people in the 8th century and with gardens alive with music performances, small stalls and traditional weavers peddling their wares.

There are two golf courses in the region, with several more planned as the region booms. No wonder with 300 days of sunshine per year and 5.5 kilometres of uninterrupted sandy beach.

Amiana on the Bay Resort Nha Trang, Turtle Bay, Phan Nam Dong St, Nha Trang. 
+84 58 355 3333.

Friday 21 April 2017

How to get up close and personal with koalas - for free

So cute! It is easy enough to interact with koalas in zoos and animal parks, but a lot harder to find them in in the wild. 

On Wild Koala Day (which is actually two days) - May 3 and May 6 - there will be free tours in the You Yangs in Victoria. 

The Koala Clancy Foundation is offering free educational tours in the You Yangs with local experts on both days - although a gold coin donation is welcome. 

Koala researcher Janine Duffy says people are fascinated to learn that there are koalas living wild in the You Yangs, and that some of them are world-famous.

“Koala Clancy, the most famous wild koala in the world, with 32,000 fans on Facebook, lives in the You Yangs with his family,” she said. 

Experienced koala researchers will be leading the tours, which start at 11.45am and 2.45pm on May 3 and May 6. Bookings are essential.

Thursday 20 April 2017

New cruise ship will be heaven for rev heads; hell for others

Norwegian Cruise Line has unveiled details of a unique attraction on its new ship Norwegian Joy, a soon-to-be-unveiled 3,850 passenger vessel purpose-built for the Chinese market. 

In a move that will delight rev heads and send out warning bells to anyone seeking peace and quiet, the new ship will feature a two-level electric go-kart track on its upper level as part of a deal with Ferrari Scuderia watches. 

Norwegian Joy will home port in Shanghai and Tianjin, following a grand inaugural port tour leading up to a christening ceremony on June 27, led by her Godfather, ‘King of Chinese Pop’ Wang Leehom.

The Ferrari-branded track will allow up to 10 drivers at a time to race each other on the course and have photos taken at the finish line to share with friends and family back home. Guests of Norwegian Joy’s The Haven and Concierge class cabins will enjoy a number of complimentary rides as part of the amenities and benefits of their suites and staterooms.

Norwegian Joy will officially be delivered on April 27 in Bremerhaven, Germany. The ship will then set sail for China, where she will be showcased through a grand inaugural port tour featuring one-day events at the ports of Qingdao, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, as well as VIP partner cruises from Norwegian Joy’s home-ports of Shanghai and Tianjin. 

Although it promises to provide "first class at sea" experiences, it sounds like a very specialised cruise vessel with an open-air laser tag course, simulator rides and interactive video walls and two multi-story waterslides. 

Should you be tempted, ring 1300 255 200 or visit

Waterfront luxury in the heart of Tasmania's gourmet country

Coast House, a private, adults-only retreat overlooking the water in the Huon Valley, is one of Tasmania's best-kept boutique accommodation secrets.

Surrounded by orchards, vineyards and small farms in beautiful surroundings, Coast House is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city; tranquil and perfectly equipped for a few days of gourmet solitude.

Quolls, pademelons, bandicoots and wedge-tail eagles are among your closest neighbours on a private peninsula surrounded by water and nature – but provisioned with all life's little luxuries; from Netflix and fast wifi to bottles of local wines (think Sailor Seeks Horse or Devil's Corner).

Completed just two years ago and owned and operated by experienced hospitality professionals Judi and John Willoughby (ex Fairlight), Coast House offers two queen-size bedrooms, each with their own adjoining bathroom, as well as a quiet loft area for reading.

Luxuries include a wood fire in the huge living room (packed with books and games) and heated floors throughout the whole house, a fully equipped modern kitchen overlooking the water, covered verandah, gourmet hamper and luxury provisions on arrival (smoked salmon, sushi, cheeses, bread, fresh fruits, Cygneture chocolates etc).

There is an excellent range of gourmet meals in the freezer (just reheat in the microwave) with wine included, as well as gourmet breakfast ingredients.

Check out the fully stocked larder with pasta, rice, sauces, oils and all essentials, and fridge with free-range eggs, local bacon, quality muesli, fresh apple juice from down the road, yoghurt and other breakfast treats. 

The bedrooms feature luxurious linens and original artworks, while a stroll to the private beach on Beaupre Point might yield a harvest of mussels and oysters from the rocks.

For longer stayers, there is a full laundry - and well-behaved dogs are welcome by prior arrangement to enjoy the many walking trails on the 40 hectares.

Coast House is 10 minutes to Cygnet village, 55 minutes to Hobart and 1 hour 10 minutes to Hobart Airport – but many guests do not leave for the duration of their stay, preferring to explore Cygnet Coast Road with its blueberry farms, wild blackberries and small vineyards.

Rates start from $550 – or $750 for two couples - a bargain when shared four ways.

For bookings see (03) 6295 1876 or 0409 446 290

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Airline to crack down after MPs behave like spoilt brats

Air India (AI) is preparing to launch a new set of standard operating procedures - including the introduction of heavy fines - to crack down on unruly flyers.

The move follows air-rage incidents involving politicians who behaved like badly-behaved children on flights.

"Recent incidents of unruly behaviour and assault on AI employees by passengers (whether VVIP or otherwise) have caused severe damage to the morale of employees," said an Air India spokesman. "Even a hotel has right of admission reserved. AI must have a procedure for handling unruly passengers."

Passengers delaying flights beyond two hours in an air rage incident could be fined over $30,000 - although exactly how the airline would force miscreants to pay up is unclear. 

The draft SOPs detail steps for the crew and ground staff in the event of ugly incidents such as two recent controversies involving parliamentarians Ravindra Gaikwad and Dola Sen.

Gaikwad was banned from flying by six airlines after he assaulted a senior Air India official with his sandals, allegedly angry over the state-run carrier shifting him from business class to economy on a domestic flight. 

But he was removed from the "no fly" list after parliamentary intervention. In India, VVIPs and VIPs wield enormous power. 

Air India says the Gaikwad incident caused a flight delay of 90 minutes. He did not apologise and has not been charged. Clearly a tool. Sen had an argument with the cabin crew and delayed his flight for 39 minutes.

The proposal lists six steps to tackle similar situations, including informing the airport manager, no direct interaction with media, immediate filing of police complaint, assessment of damage, and fining a misbehaving flyer in accordance with the length of the delay.

Wouldn't it be nice to see drunk, petulant or arrogant flyers fined after they have inconvenienced every else on to their flight? Can't see it happening though.

Why shiraz, sparkling wine and Tasmania are Australia's wine winners

Australians love drinking wine - particularly if it is Australian, and even more so if it is shiraz. 

With May nominated as Aussie Wine Month, the Dan Murphy's chain has released the results of a fascinating survey in which Australian sparkling wine, shiraz and Tasmania emerge as the major winners. 

# Shiraz remains Australia’s favourite varietal - in every state and territory
# Australian sparkling wine still outsells Champagne more than five to one
# 84% of all wine purchased at South Australian Dan Murphy’s stores is Australian wine, making South Australia the most parochial state 
# The range of Tasmanian wine at Dan Murphy's has increased by 44% in the last 12 months

And expect to see more shiraz on your bottle shop shelves with 53 shiraz products added to Dan Murphy’s stores across the country over the past 12 months.            

While the nation’s favourite grape has seen the largest increase of shelf space across the country, while local pinot noir was the second in line for products added to Dan Murphy’s shelves, with an additional 47 products added in the last year.

Peter Nixon, head of Dan Murphy’s Wine Panel, above, believes the Aussie palate is in a transition phase, with more Aussies beginning to also appreciate a lighter, more elegant glass of red as well as the full-bodied hearty styles which we are world famous for.

“The emergence of elegant red wine styles adds to the repertoire of Australian wine drinkers," said Nixon. "A lot of younger wine drinkers prefer the lighter taste, and with increased international travel, have trialled these varieties in the places they’re most popular such as Burgundy. 

"Excitement in these styles means Aussie wine drinkers are continuing to enjoy the nation’s favourite grape, shiraz, as well as gentler styles and everything in between.”. 

Despite the interest in overseas varietals, Australian’s passion for a sense of place is helping drive Tasmanian product with wines from the island state growing faster than those from any other region in Australia.

Nixon believes the increasing interest in food and wine tourism to the state may be to thank for the growing interest in Tasmanian wine.

“With the growing culture of food and wine travel, it’s not surprising to see the nation’s interest in Tasmania as a destination for fine wine and dining has increased over the last few years," he said. 

Monday 17 April 2017

Flight report: business class on Vietnam Airlines

"So Vietnam Airlines, what are they like?" asked one friend. "They are not a full-service airline, are they?" asked another. 

Which suggests Vietnam Airlines have some PR work to do to lift them out of the same imagined category of budget Asian airlines like Air Asia and Scoot. 

Yes, Vietnam Airlines is a full-service carrier. Your fare includes baggage, meals and all that you would expect. 

And Vietnam Airlines also offers a fully lie-flat business class bed in business class (below) and a very comfortable premium economy cabin.

It also now flies direct from Sydney to both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi - and I was in premium economy one way and business the other for the recent Hanoi inaugural. 

The thrice-weekly Hanoi service is operated on a 274-seat Boeing 787-9, adding 85,000 seats annually and there are now 17 flights each week on Vietnam Airlines between Australia and Vietnam. 

The Boeing 787s business seats are configured 1-2-1, guaranteeing every traveller direct access to the aisle and, thoughtfully, an AC power outlet that accepts Australian plugs without an adaptor. 

Yes, there is Champagne before takeoff; Heidsieck & Co. Monopole, and a choice of cocktails from an impressive list after takeoff. 

The business wine list reflects Vietnam's French heritage with two reds a St Emilion Grand Cru and a Beaumes de Venise  and two whites (a Bourgogne Chardonnay and a Bordeaux Semillon Sauvignon Blanc), but the food can pack a spicy punch. 

Think business class choices like herbed salmon and smoked duck (or mains like braised beef ribs with dried lily buds and steamed rice, or prawn mousse on sugarcane and green mango relish).

For breakfast try a traditional English brekkie, or a traditional beef pho (noodle soup).  

The cabin crew could maybe do with some smiling lessons (Vietnam Airlines is a state-owned enterprise), and the entertainment is quaintly old fashioned (Brocade Weaving of The Tay People, anyone?) but I managed to sleep almost all the way - the greatest luxury business class can provide. 

Business class return fares sell from $3,250 including taxes, fees and limousine pick-up on arrival in Hanoi, and earn SkyTeam frequent flyer points.

Sunday 16 April 2017

How to enjoy a cheeky glass or two of red without feeling guilty

Do you sometimes feel a little guilty when you enjoy a pre-dinner wine, or perhaps an extra glass of red before bed? 

What if by downing an extra glass or two you were actually doing some good; helping those less fortunate that yourself. Call it getting pissed with a purpose (but in moderation, of course). 

Vinomofo, the successful online wine seller, has unveiled a new wine that aims to help prevent homelessness; 100% of all the proceeds from the Homeless Grapes Project McLaren Vale Shiraz go towards helping the disadvantaged.

The 2016 project, the second, features some big names with Charlie Seppelt from Hickinbotham Wines using grapes donated by Chalk Hill. Last year, more than $40,000 was raised for Adelaide homeless centre the Hutt St Centre. 

Vinomofo co-founder and CEO Andre Eikmeier said the project was a priority for his team. 

"Our aim has always been to do some good by connecting people with wine, whether it is making wine for an amazing project like this, lending a hand to those in need or donating through our Wine For Good project when checking out online." 

The wine, pretty decent drinking right now, is on sale for $15 a bottle at and Michael Francis from Hutt St Centre urges wine lovers to do some good in a most unusual way. 

"This funding helps to ensure people are offered opportunities to change their lives," Francis says. "It gives them options for their future."

Saturday 15 April 2017

What I learned from my first Airbnb experience

Unforgettable trips start with Airbnb. Book unique experiences and homes in 191 countries. That's how the blurb goes, anyway.

I'm usually an early adopter of new technology but something held me back from using Airbnb until recently. 

I really don't like the idea of sharing someone else's bathroom, and I certainly don't feel comfortable kicking back and relaxing in someone's lounge space. I'd rather stay in my bedroom. 

I also like the comforts that hotels offer; luxury bathroom amenities; a newspaper in the morning; 24- hour room service and, best of all, privacy.

But needs must and a couple of weeks ago I needed a room overnight in Sydney when the only hotel rooms still available were fetching $500-$600 a night. Sydney was literally booked out. 

So I filled in the online form, painless enough, and chose a room and bedroom for $110 a night in Pyrmont, an area I know well.

Unfortunately, $110 become $150 because, as a newcomer to Airbnb, I had not switched the default payment system from US dollars to Australian dollars.  

The location was spot on, my host excellent at communication and providing address details. The apartment was clean and well equipped, the bedroom small but comfortable with a nice balcony. A welcome note on a chalkboard was nice and there was wifi, apparently, but my host went shopping before I thought to ask for the code, and the only TV was a shared one in the main lounge

My biggest problem, however, was that the bathroom was across the hallway; so if you wanted a shower, or even just a wee, you needed to be mindful that you might bump into someone on your way. And you certainly didn't want to do an explosive poo in case someone in the room next door were to be repulsed. 

And I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable cooking in someone else's kitchen while they were present. 

So maybe I'm antisocial, or I'm too set in my ways. but living in close proximity to strangers is not my thing. 

Nonetheless, I gave my room a positive rating and my host said I was a nice guest. All good. 

Would I use Airbnb again? Yes, but only if the facility was a completely self-contained apartment or house. I'm just not capable of sharing facilities. Grumpy old me. 


Friday 14 April 2017

That's the spirit: from cider to Tasmanian apple brandy

The team behind the hugely successful Willie Smith's Organic Cider has launched a new line of apple spirits crafted in the south of Tasmania. 

The spirits are named in honour of Charles Oates, a regional pioneer in the Huon Valley. Charles Oates Fine Apple Brandy is created from distilling Willie Smith’s apple cider, made from fruit grown at the Smith family orchard in the Huon Valley.

Before commissioning a locally built Alembic still last year, the decision was made to work with Redlands Estate to distill some cider. This spirit has been aged in a range of tokay, muscat and sherry barrels in the style of the delicious French apple brandy calvados. 

“We are overwhelmed with how the product has turned out, it’s dark and rich colour and flavor is so exciting to see and taste, we can’t wait to bottle our small batches and share it with the people of Tasmania” says Dr. Tim Jones, head cider maker and distiller at Willie Smith’s and Charles Oates.

More apple brandies will come online in the future. 

"I first fell in love with Calvados when I was visiting France on a research trip four years ago," says Willie Smith's co-founder Sam Reid. "It’s an absolutely delicious spirit and I knew that it was something we just had to develop in Tasmania. The still enables us to make a traditional-style calvados whilst also improving the quality of our cider. 

‘If we produce a batch we’re not 100% comfortable releasing we can just distill it and make apple spirit. In this, we’ve also found a way to reduce wastage in the cider making process, so it’s a win-win."

Award-winning author and calvados fan Richard Flanagan was presented with the first-ever bottle and the brandy is on sale both at the Willie Smith's Apple Shed and online as of Monday. 

Charles Oates Fine Apple Brandy will be available in 200ml ($80) and 350ml ($120) bottles and stock is limited. 

Thursday 13 April 2017

New hotel set to open at Sydney Airport

Anyone needing to stay overnight at Sydney Airport will have an even wider choice of hotels when the Mantra Group opens the new-build Mantra Hotel at Sydney Airport in June.

The nine-level hotel - which has moved into its fit-out phase - is on track to open in late June and will feature 136 contemporary guest rooms, a restaurant and bar, car parking, and an integrated lobby and reception space.

Mantra Group area manager for Sydney, Neil McDonald, said it was an exciting moment to see the structure of the hotel completed.
“The completion of the geometric-inspired building exterior marks a significant event in the property's construction and we're thrilled to see this landmark building taking shape,” he said. 
“Once open, the hotel will address Sydney's real need for greater, and more contemporary, on-airport hotel accommodation.”
Work will now move to the interiors with rooms painted, joinery being fitted and soft furnishing being added.
Mantra Group chief executive Officer Bob East said the hotel aims to meet the demand for business travellers looking for conveniently-located accommodation close to the airport and its terminals.
“It will be a contemporary iteration of an airport hotel and will mirror how people typically interact at an airport, featuring a 24/7 atmosphere and service, informal meeting spaces and a relaxed dining and service culture," he said.
"We expect our loyal Mantra guests will readily embrace this new hotel and the hotel's dynamic food and beverage offering will distinguish it as a standout in the area.”
The restaurant and bar will serve a "provincial" menu, featuring regional beef and sustainably-sourced local seafood, served with local draught beer, wines and handcrafted cocktails.
The new hotel also has several sustainability measures under consideration including solar panels, rainwater storage tanks, electric car charging station and bicycle facilities for staff and guests.
Mantra Hotel at Sydney Airport is located a short distance from the T2/T3 domestic terminals at 3 Ross Smith Avenue. It will be the eighth Mantra property in Sydney. 

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Hill of Grace is back, setting a new high

The Henschke family has been making wine since Johann Christian Henschke planted his first vineyard in the Barossa’s Eden Valley in the early 1860s. 

Today, fifth-generation winemaker Stephen Henschke and his viticulturist wife Prue are recognised around the world for their quality wines -and for Australia's benchmark single vineyard wine, the Hill of Grace Shiraz. 

A two-year wait for the release of the 2012 Hill of Grace will end on May 1. There was no Hill of Grace from the difficult 2011 vintage and numbers are down for both 2013 and 2014. 

The good news is that the 2012, successor to the stellar 2010, is a cracker that I scored 97/100 when tasted at yesterday's media and key trade preview at Lumé in Melbourne. 

Hill of Grace was revealed alongside several other new wines, which hit retail stores this week and include the 2016 Five Shillings Shiraz Mataro. 

While the new Hill of Grace will retail for a record high $825, the Five Shillings is an absolute bargain with an RRP of $33. 

Made from 10-year-old Barossa Valley/Eden Valley vines, it is vibrant and plush with brisk tannins that ensure it will cellar for a decade or two.

And what of the Hill of Grace, made from fruit grown on a four-hectare dry-grown vineyard in the Eden Valley, where the vines are believed to be amongst the oldest producing vines in the world? 
Johann, Stephen and Prue Henschke at the launch
Stephen Henschke says he was filled with joy when 2012 proved to be an exceptional vintage. “We experienced mild weather throughout the growing season, with a slow ripening period that delivered lower yields and intense fruit flavours, great colour, high natural acidity and beautiful, mature, fine tannins," he said.

"From my experience, the greatest wines we have made have been from vintages like this. Henschke Hill of Grace 2012 Shiraz is a captivating expression of this extraordinary vintage. 

"It has trademark alluring five spice, star anise and black peppercorn aromatics, with a palate of incredible length and purity wrapped by beautifully integrated layers of silky tannins and flavours that linger endlessly.” 

My notes describe it as "the complete package; inky but restrained, intense but balanced. It has a beauty that whispers and grows in the glass." And it is bottled under Vino-o-Lok as Stephen Henschke detests the unreliability of cork. 

Certainly well worth seeking out sooner rather than later. But do make sure to also taste the Five Shillings.    

For details see or go to for a video presentation. 

Monday 10 April 2017

A very tasty dinner for $9.90

Melbourne's Chinatown. Dining solo. Looking for cheap and cheerful. So many choices. 

Fortunately, I choose right tonight, discovering the Rice Workshops chain. 

It's basic in the extreme. You stand in a queue to make your order, move along the line to pay, then seek a vacant stool at which to eat. 

I order a spicy chicken karaage; crunchy lightly battered chicken pieces served in a big bowl with spicy mayo, steamed rice, salad and crisp pickled vegetables. 

The large portion is hearty, the chicken crisp on the outside, moist inside and mayo tangy and moorish. 

A soft drink costs $2.60, Japanese beer a little more. You help yourself to plastic forks and spoons, chopsticks, various sauces and chilled water. 

Should you still have room for dessert, some green tea soft serve costs $2 or is free if you can show a student card. 

My dish was surprisingly good; better than at a number of far more expensive eateries. 

Other rice, curry and udon noodles options include kimchi beef, chicken katsi curry, and tempura prawn udon, all available for under a tenner. 

Any snack (think spring rolls, pork gyoza or a spicy squid skewer) is $2.50 or $3.90 with a can of soft drink. 

So tasty Japanese-accented food, fast service and a studenty ambience. Who'd have thunk it from a chain with a dozen or more outlets. 

Check out the Chinatown outlet. I was impressed. Hopefully you will be, too. 

Rice Workshop, 238 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000. 

Saturday 8 April 2017

Boom! Don't go blundering about in the Vietnamese countryside

Vietnam is a superb holiday destination. Hanoi, Halong Bay, Nha Trang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City are all magnets for vacationers. The weather is great, the food is fabulous and prices affordable. 

One thing visitors should not do, however, is blunder into rough terrain, particular in the central regions of the country. 

It is estimated the 800,000 tonnes of unexploded ordinance was left around the country at the conclusion of the Vietnam/American War. 

More than six million hectares of the land is the country in mine and bomb polluted - accounting for 18.82% of Vietnam's total area, the Vietnam News reported. 

An astonishing 100,000 people have been killed and injured since the war ended, as a result of UXO explosions, many in the former DMZ, and particularly around Quang Tri. 

The US Army used more than 13.5 million tonnes of explosives during its failed war campaign and around 5% of it remains unexploded today. So be sure to look out when tramping about.