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Friday 30 June 2023

Meet Tasmania's newest winery cellar door


It actually opened its doors over a month ago, but the official ceremony to mark Tasmania's newest cellar door happened today. 

The ribbon at the Bream Creek Vineyard cellar door on the Tasman Peninsula was cut by Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff - as vigneron Fred Peacock joked it had only taken him 33 year to get around to opening a tasting facility. 

And what a cellar door it is, with amazing views of the vines, Marion Bay and Maria Island, slick staff and some delicious looking platters. 

Initially the cellar door will be open five days a week (Wednesday-Sunday) between 10.30am and 5pm.

Two different tastings will be available: a self-guided tasting of four selected estate wines ($10) and a premium guided tasting of the estate and reserve riesling, estate and reserve chardonnay and estate and reserve pinot noir ($20).

All current release wines will be available for purchase, as well as a number of cellar door only wines, and many will be served by the glass.

There will also be some back vintage wines available, along with platters (cheese or small goods) along with Tassie Gold oysters from just down the road at Blue Lagoon Oysters.

The cellar door address is 321 Marion Bay Rd, Bream Creek. 

Thursday 29 June 2023

Hotel goes the extra mile for pampered furry friends

Does your dog like to be pampered?

If Melbourne is on your travel agenda then Pullman Melbourne on the Park had just launched a new pet suite for humans and their four-legged friends.

One of the hotel's suites has been upgraded to a pet's paradise, with the room including a private courtyard, grass mat and kennel.

“We are constantly looking for ways to expand our offering to make our guests' experience more enjoyable and what better than being able to bring your pet on holiday with you?” said general manager Stephan Leroy.

“We have extended our five-star service to cater to the needs of both pets and their owners, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay for all.”

So the room service menu features pet dishes like Unleashed Puparazzi: diced cooked Australian beef fillet, mixed vegetables and braised barley; and Pawfectly Healthy; poached chicken with oats, olive oil, spinach and egg.

With Fitzroy Gardens and Yarra Park right around the corner there are even some interesting walks for canine companions.

The offering also includes co-branded gummi tote bags and treats, poo bags and a frisbee for all guests to take home, along with a number of items available in the room to loan.

“We are delighted to join forces with Pullman Melbourne on the Park and bring the Paws on the Park collaboration to life,” said Natalie Asseraf, gummi's founder and CEO.

“At gummi, we know that our pets are fully-fledged family members and deserve only the best. Our colourful and fun products are designed to enhance our pets' lives and we're thrilled to be extending that to Pullman's guests and their fur-babies during their hotel stay.”

Pullman Melbourne on the Park's Pet Suite is now taking bookings directly via the hotel.

Pricing is in line with the daily room rate, with no additional charge for pets. And 10% of proceeds from all bookings will be donated to The Lost Dogs Home.

Book Accor Hotels via

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Virgin Australia ushers in new aviation era

Today marks the start of a new era for Virgin Australia, which has taken delivery of its first new, fuel-efficient Boeing 737-8 aircraft in Seattle.

The new MAX family aircraft are fitted out with next generation seats which include device holders and in-seat power, and are 40% quieter and at least 15%more fuel efficient per flight compared to the 737-800 NG fleet, the airline said in a statement.

The acquisition came on the same day as Virgin’s inaugural Cairns-Tokyo (Haneda) service, which will operate using the 737-8 aircraft from the end of July.

VH-8IA is one of 33 MAX family aircraft that will join the Virgin Australia fleet over the next five years.

Virgin Australia Chief Operations Officer Stuart Aggs said the new MAX family aircraft are a critical part of the airline’s transformation.

“These new aircraft will allow us to grow capacity and support more efficient jet services,” he said.

“And, importantly, they will reduce emissions by at least 15% per flight compared to the 737-800 NG fleet, supporting our commitment to targeting net zero emissions by 2050.

“While our approach to decarbonisation is multi-faceted, fleet modernisation is a critical part of progressing our sustainability ambitions and represents a significant opportunity to reduce our emissions intensity in the near term.

“We expect our fleet renewal program, combined with other fuel efficiency initiatives, to support over 80%of our 2030 interim target to reduce Virgin Australia’s carbon emission intensity by 22%.”

Not your traditional Indian: a fusion menu to challenge expectations

It is fair to say that recent Melbourne restaurant arrival DesiNental is not your standard Indian eatery.

Banish all thoughts of traditional curries, tandoori chicken and naan bread.

Instead think quirky burgers, Indian fried chicken and chips with spicy dipping sauces.

Owner Gurvinder Sandhu, known to all and sundry as Gary, says his vibe is Bombay, Bollywood and Burgers. 

Which sounds interesting. It's certainly on my list for next time I am in Melbourne

The restaurant on High Street, Prahran, bills itself as Australia's first Indian fried chicken and fusion burger bar. 

The menu highlights include House Masala Fries with twisted dipping sauces like date and tamarind mayonnaise, roasted cumin and plum chutney aioli. 

Or perhaps Soya Chaap with chaat vegan soy meat, grapes, lime, spring onions, tomato and sweet and sour glaze (actually that one sounds dreadful). 

I'd be more tempted by the IFC (Indian Fried Chicken), or burgers with chicken, red meat and vegetarian options. Think a Super Smashed Samosa Burger or the Delhi Tikka Burger with fried chicken, creamy tikka masala sauce, nigella seeds, roasted cumin and plum chutney aioli. 

Kulfi, an Indian take on an iced dessert, comes in flavours including pistachio and cardamom; mango and rose, and raspberry - and part of the proceeds of kulfi sales go towards a rotating selection of charities including earthquake victims in Turkey and cancer research.

DesiNental is open 5pm-10pm Tuesday to Thursday; 5pm-11pm Friday, and 1pm- 4pm and 6pm-11pm on Saturday. 

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Rotorua unveils a unique indigenous wellness experience

Been to Rororua lately?

The New Zealand city has a new tourism attraction with the opening of the luxury Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa.

Located on the shores of Lake Rotorua, the new facility was officially opened by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

Wai Ariki combines the region’s healing geothermal waters with the centuries-old legacy of local iwi (tribe) Ngāti Whakaue culture, healing practices and manaakitanga (hospitality).

Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa general manager Rania Sears says Wai Ariki is not only a unique development for Rotorua, but also reclaims New Zealand’s pre-eminent position on the global wellness stage.

Which might be just a little bit of hype.

“Wai Ariki is the living embodiment of the reason the geothermal city of Rotorua was first established," she says. "Since the 1800s, people have been visiting our city from all over the world to experience the region’s healing geothermal waters.

“We are so proud to deliver an experience that is tightly woven with who we are as Ngāti Whakaue and to be able share our uniqueness with the world in this way.”

Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa has been described as the the most significant luxury spa development in New Zealand for more than 100 years and is also one of only a handful of indigenous-owned operations in the world.

Elements of te ao Māori are infused throughout the development, including through the physical design of the building, its spa and wellness experiences.

“Every element is founded on Ngāti Whakaue principles, practices and stories, reflecting the whakapapa (kinship) we have with the natural environment, from the heavens, to the water and the earth," Sears says.

“These have come to define us through time. In particular, the hot and cold experiences – while delivering therapeutic benefits – draw on the story of our ancestor, Ngātoroirangi, who called on life-saving geothermal heat when he was close to perishing on the cold and ice of Mount Tongariro.”

The site - managed by Belgravia Leisure - has two main spa areas: Wai Whakaora (restorative journey) and Te Ahuru Mōwai|the Sanctuary - a premium space for bathing and spa treatments. There is also a café and gift shop.

Coonawarra has its first distillery in three-quarters of a century

Family-owned Majella is one of the stars of the Coonawarra wine industry - and is also now a craft distiller.

Majella has just released a gin and an Eau de Vie - and a brandy made from grape spirit is in the works.

The whole project came about by chance.

Co-owner Brian "Prof" Lynn was asked by a retail store manager: "When is Majella going to make a gin? With the Majella name on it we could sell some".

With plenty of pressings left over after each vintage, it seemed like a good idea, except Prof thought "Why not distil it and make that old-fashioned product: brandy."

After looking at using a contract distiller, the Majella team decided to go it alone.

They purchased a still from Burns Welding and Fabrication in Griffith, NSW, and now own a 970-litre copper "pot still" (below).

It is the first commercial still in Coonawarra since one was removed from what is now Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Winery in the early 1950s. It was installed in the early 20s to make spirit for both brandies and fortified wines.

By law, brandy has to be aged for at least two years in oak barrels before it can be released as Australian Brandy.

"We've had some in barrel now for just over seven months and it's looking very good indeed," Prof says. "Hopefully in a couple of years it will be a great Australian craft brandy."

But the Majella team has the distilling bug.

"While we are waiting for the brandy to age gracefully we've used the spirit we've made to make two new products," says Prof.

"We've taken some of the brandy spirit that we've already distilled, mixed it with some botanicals, aged it for a while and then re-distilled it as gin.

"This has given us a smooth, traditional London Dry-style gin, perfect on it's own but a gin that mixes exceptionally well with tonic water or soda.

"The botanicals we have used are very traditional - juniper, coriander, fresh lemon peel (from our own orchard), and a little orris root and angelica root."

When someone asked "What's your gin like?" Prof replied that it was just a very simple gin, and that is what its called: A Simple Gin by Majella.

It is bottled in 500ml rectangular bottles and sells for $65 per bottle.

And then there is the Eau de Vie, French for "water of life", billed as "an absolutely marvellous cocktail base". This one is $55 a bottle.

You can buy both at

Monday 26 June 2023

Wine is a boom industry in Britain

It was once considered a joke, but the British wine industry is booming.

Plantings of wine grapes have increased by 74% over the past five years due to soaring demand, Decanter magazine reports.

There are now 943 vineyards spread across Britain, accounting for 3,928 hectares under vine, a new report from national organisation WineGB reveals.

England has 3,855ha under vine, while 70.3ha of Wales and 1.9ha of Scotland are now dedicated to viticulture.

The industry produced 12.2 million bottles in 2022, which represents a 130% increase on the 5.3 million bottles produced in 2017 and sparkling wine trailblazer Nyetimber (above) is now imported into Australia by Deja Vu Wine Co. 

Sparkling wine accounts for 68% of UK production, a figure that has remained pretty consistent over the past five years.

Viticulture is now the fastest growing agricultural sector in the UK, official government figures show.

The industry employs 2,300 people on a full-time basis, while a further 8,300 people are employed in part-time or seasonal work.

Sam Linter, formerly of Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex and the chair of WineGB, told Decanter: ‘These truly are exciting times for English and Welsh wine. We have become an internationally acclaimed wine growing region of the highest quality."

Kent is a hotspot for wine production, as it accounts for 1,033ha under vine – 26% of the country’s total plantings. Then come West Sussex, East Sussex and Hampshire. 

Chardonnay is the most widely planted variety accounting for 31% of total plantings, followed by pinot noir (29%), pinot meunier (9%), bacchus (8%) and seyval (3%).

Tourist destination wants visitors to try a digital detox

Ever wished you could be somewhere that is really switched off? 

Finland has just introduced the world's first phone-free tourist island with visitors to Ulko-Tammio island being encouraged to stay offline this summer. 

Anyone travelling to the island, located in the Eastern Gulf of Finland National Park, will be asked to keep their phones in their pockets this summer. 

The aim is to encourage holidaymakers to switch off their smart devices, take a break from social media and enjoy nature. 

Ulko-Tammio is promoting itself as "the world's first phone-free tourist island" - although it is not clear how, or if, the ban will be enforced. 

The Eastern Gulf of Finland is known for its rugged islands and charming coastal villages adjacent to the Baltic Sea.

“The island of Ulko-Tammio, which is located off the coast of Hamina, will be a phone-free area this summer," says Mats Selin from Visit Kotka-Hamina. 

"We want to urge holidaymakers to switch off their smart devices and to stop and genuinely enjoy the islands.”

Sunday 25 June 2023

Meet the wine tasting that is a complete racket

Tasmania's Holm Oak Wines has a very special link with the game of tennis - a link which is reflected in a new cellar door tasting experience.

The new celebration of cool-climate pinot noir is linked to the achievements of Australian tennis player Jack Crawford, who won six grand slam singles titles - including Wimbledon, the US Open and the French Open in 1933.

The structured tasting will incorporate the story of Launceston’s Alexander Patent Racket Co. Ltd, who made Crawford’s iconic racket “The Cressy Wizard.”

The Alexander Patent Racket Co. was founded in 1925, and at its peak it made 750 rackets per week with a unique flat-topped design.

It made a special racket for Crawford, with superior strength and allowing for the strings to be tightened to a higher tension.

Crawford's global profile put the small company on the international map.

In the 1930s what is now the Holm Oak estate belonged to Alexander North, a director of the Alexander Patent Racket Co. He and his son planted the land with trees to potentially produce wood to make rackets.

The endeavour did not come to fruition, but it did create a beautiful property with rich, fertile soil perfect for a vineyard.

The new tasting experience will allow wine lovers, tennis fans and history buffs to hear more of Holm Oak’s connection with one of the biggest names in Australian tennis history.

The naming of Holm Oak’s wines, The Wizard, The Hot Shot and The Protégé were inspired by local tennis history and will be tasted side by side.

The new tasting, to be known as Top of our Game, launches on July 1 at Holm Oak’s cellar door in the Tamar Valley.

Before or after the tasting, guests can examine the Duffy family collection of tennis memorabilia, including Tasmanian-designed and crafted tennis rackets.  

Winemaker Bec Duffy says she is often asked what inspires the name of her wines.

“Customers are always surprised to hear that the Holm Oak story is intertwined with world-class tennis," she says.

"It’s a privilege to craft our distinctive small-parcel Tasmanian wines on this site, steeped in tennis history. We love to think that we share the same values of quality, perseverance, and spirit of innovation as our tennis-loving forefathers.

"This new tasting gives us a chance to tell the fascinating story of Launceston’s role in Jack Crawford’s success.”

The Top of our Game wine tasting will cost $40 per person and bookings are essential.

Saturday 24 June 2023

Head to Port Douglas for a special taste of the tropics

Port Douglas is always a tempting destination - but even more so when there is a food and wine festival happening.

I attended the Port Douglas Carnivale a few year ago and that event has now been complemented  by Taste Port Douglas, the seventh edition of which will be held from August 10-13.

Several of Australia's top chefs and hospitality talent have been lined up to visit Far North Queensland by organisers Spencer and Reina Patrick at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Port Douglas resort.

Tickets are now on sale for culinary masterclasses, signature dinners and food experiences at

Among the stars who will be in attendance are TV chef Massimo Mele from Grain of the Silos in Launceston and Peppina in Hobart; Adam D’Sylva from Lollo, Tonka and Coda in Melbourne; Guy Grossi from the Grossi Group; Ian Curley from The French Saloon and Kirk’s Wine Bar and Jerry Mai from Pho Nom and Bia Hoi.

Other big names will include journalist, author and TV presenter Matt Preston, star sommelier and wine writer Samantha Payne and restaurant industry legend Raymond Capaldi.

All will join forces with local producers and restaurants to dish up a culinary program of over 20 food- and drink-focused events.

“We are stoked to collaborate with Australia’s diverse and talented culinary community at Taste Port Douglas," says local star chef Spencer Patrick.

"They are the key ingredient to the festival's reputation as one of Australia’s most celebrated and dynamic gourmet weekends of the year. 

"Culinary events of this scale contribute to skill-sharing and fostering interstate relationships in the hospitality community, providing unique opportunities to connect key players to the region’s suppliers, growers and producers and a hungry audience of local chefs."

Friday 23 June 2023

Anyone for a 123-year-old bottle of Chateau d'Yquem?

So you'd like to own one of the rarest bottles of wine in the world?

If that's your bag then British auction house Dreweatts will next month be offering a bottle of 1900 Chateau d'Yquem.

When this bottle was produced Queen Victoria was on the throne and the second Boer war was in full swing.

The bottle, at 123 years old, has been carefully stored in the cellar of a private collector for many years (Chateau d'Yquem is known for its longevity due to its high sugar content).

It has been given a conservative estimate of £3,200-£4,200 - which seems ludicrously low given (a bottle of 1811 Chateau d'Yquem sold for £75,000 in 2011, making it the most expensive bottle of white wine in the world).

Dreweatts says it expects bidding from around the world.

The bottle has provenance and was re-corked at the Chateau in 1996.

d'Yquem, of course, is coveted for its concentration, complexity and sweetness.

Mark Robertson, wine consultant at Dreweatts, said: “Having been re-corked at the Chateau in 1996 and stored beautifully by a collector and restaurateur ever since, this 1900 Château d’Yquem is a compelling combination of a mouth-watering colour, provenance and historical importance.

"Château d’Yquem’s enchantment is her ability to age and I often tell my clients to buy Château Climens for themselves, but Château d’Yquem for their descendants."

The bottle will be offered in Dreweatts upcoming sale of Wine, Champagne and Spirits on July 4.

Hotel with "secret" doors the site of mystery thefts

Imagine having several thousand dollars stolen from your hotel room.

Then discovering that your hotel has secret doors disguised as mirrors that allow direct access into hotel rooms.

Imagine the hotel owner coming up with a totally weird excuse for the secret doors.

And then discovering that the local police have made "no progress" three months after the theft.

The excuse from the un-named hotel owners is wonderfully Thai, too, especially with the doors being locked on the outside.

His version was that the secret doors enabled "mistresses" to escape. Which would not be possible with the doors shut from the outside.

This is a story from Kanchanburi in central Thailand (pictured above) - two hours from Bangkok - and the media is too scared to name the hotel involved.

Which means that all the hotels in the Kanchanaburi region - where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers meet and form the Mae Klong River - are under suspicion.

Stranger and stranger.

The victims were two families who checked in and stayed at the hotel on April 26 of this year.

They filed a complaint with the officers at the Meaung Kanchanaburi Police Staion but there was zero progress, so they shared their story with the Thai media with the English language paper The Thaiger splashing the report.

Now, unfortunately for the Thai tourism industry, the story has gone global.

The victims helped each other in checking inside their rooms, doors, and windows until they discovered the secret doors hidden behind mirrors.

The hotel owner has argued that the victims could not prove the existence of their assets and he could not be responsible for their losses if they left their belongings in their rooms.

Our Thai correspondent reports that the hotel isn't named because a Thai business can sue for damages their business. So beware of leaving anything of value in a Thai hotel room - and don't expect much help if valuables do go missing.

Thursday 22 June 2023

AirAsia triumphs for 14th straight year

I have invariably been impressed by AirAsia, as regular readers will be aware. I also recently took an airasia Superapp famil.

I was not surprised, then, to hear this week that AirAsia has been voted the world’s best low-cost airline at the Skytrax World Airline Awards 2023 for an unprecedented 14th consecutive time.

The awards results covered over 325 airlines with AirAsia emerging on top in its hotly contested category.

Over 100 nationalities of travellers participated in the online survey, with 20.23 million eligible entries counted in the results from September 2022 to May 2023, a period when AirAsia had steadily increased its network back to over 130 destinations.

In accepting the award at a ceremony at the Paris Air Show 2023 in France on Tuesday, Capital A CEO Tony Fernandes said: “We are immensely proud and grateful for this meaningful award given to us by the Skytrax organisers, voters, and the incredible supporters of AirAsia.

"Getting an award of excellence for 14 consecutive years is a remarkable achievement, one that fills our hearts with joy and humility. This is an extraordinary feat for any company in any industry, even more so for our proudly Asean brand.”

Edward Plaisted, CEO of Skytrax, said: “AirAsia is a survey passenger favourite and has delivered a remarkable degree of consistency year-on-year since the world's best low-cost airline category was introduced to the awards programme in 2010.

"The recognition from customers should be a great source of pride for the airline management and staff in what has been a difficult period as travel returns after the Covid pandemic.”

With 170 planes already back in service across the group, AirAsia expects to have all 204 reactivated by the end of August.

To celebrate AirAsia today launched sales fares from:
$149 from Perth to Bali or Jakarta
$234 from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast direct to Kuala Lumpur
$294 from Sydney direct to Bangkok
From NZ $134 from Auckland to Sydney
From NZD $479 from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur

How much can you snaffle from your hotel room?

Luxury hotels offer a panoply of temptations. 

There's that nice bar of soap, the good smelling shampoo and body lotion, the super comfy slippers. 

You might fancy a sachet of tea for your next camping trip, or perhaps a hot chocolate powder.

But what are you entitled to liberate from your hotel room, and what must stay where it belongs?

Earlier this week I overnighted at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne and the hotel conveniently provided a list of what it gifts to you, what you can borrow from reception and what you must pay extra for. 

Remember they have all your credit card details so if you've taken a liking to a bedside lamp and half inch it then you will pay in the long run. 

Obviously, the rules vary from hotel chain to hotel chain, but I think the Hyatt list serves as a good guideline to what the big hotels see as "promotional material" and what they do not. 

Under its "To Keep" list the Hyatt includes the likes of bath soap, shampoo and conditioner, body lotion, slippers, toothbrush and the various sewing and nail kits found in most hotel bathrooms. So help yourself to anything you do not use. 

Likewise a coffee sachet or teabag will do no harm, particularly if you have not used any of them during your stay.

Under "To Borrow" the Hyatt lists loan items like phone chargers, yoga mats, cufflinks, even an office chair or a spinning bike. Which is most helpful should you need them.  

But you'll ned to buy most other items if you forget them, or want to take them home, including toiletries, nail clippers, Panadol or sunscreen lotion. 

And you are not encouraged to take items ranging from pens, minor transgression, to TVs, which could end in a likely arrest. 

I like to take any basic toiletries I have not used, things like vanity kits, shampoos etc and donate them to local charities. The recipients of even a small gift might find them a treat. 

Feel free to join me. Just leave the bedside radio/alarm alone. 


Wednesday 21 June 2023

Calling all serious chocolate lovers

July 7 each year is World Chocolate Day - and it is no surprise that Mövenpick hotels across Australia and New Zealand plan to celebrate in style.

Mövenpick hotels celebrate the joys of chocolate 365 days a year with in-house guests treated to sweet treats at the daily chocolate hour.

Now Mövenpick hotels have launched a new World Chocolate Day accommodation package running throughout July.

The World Chocolate Day packages at each hotel include accommodation, a chocolate welcome gift, chocolate-themed welcome drink, breakfast, access to the hotel's free daily chocolate hour and unlimited free chocolate ice cream for kids 12 years and under.

Rates start from $269 per night. 

To book visit and choose from Mövenpick Hotel Melbourne on Spencer, Mövenpick Hotel Hobart, Mövenpick Hotel Auckland and Mövenpick Hotel Wellington.

In addition to the World Chocolate Day package, there are also an assortment of chocolate-themed experiences for both visitors and hotel guests to try throughout July…

In Melbourne, try the 'Death by Chocolate' Ice Cream Parfait featuring a warm 70% dark chocolate fondant, layers of chocolate mousse and a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Available at Mövenpick Cafe for $20 per parfait (serves 1-2).

In Hobart, Chocology Afternoons (a sweet twist on a traditional high tea) will be available daily at Tesoro restaurant for $39 per person and will include a chef's daily selection of six house-baked treats including mini cakes, tarts and chocolates, one ice cream affogato and a glass of sparkling wine. Bookings essential.

Book Accor Hotels via

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Melbourne laneways are works of art

The laneways of Melbourne are notable for the artistic graffiti found on their walls. 

Here are just a few that caught my eye when I took a stroll this evening. 

No fatties: meet the airline clamping down on overweight flight attendants

Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines is at the centre of a storm after it imposed body weight limits for flight attendants. 

The airline has been subject to criticism after it introduced a new rule which requires cabin crew to weigh no more than a ‘standard limit’ or face grounding, Travel Mole reported. 

The rules cover a height and weight ratio and attendants 5% or less over the limit will have their weight monitored monthly. Those heavier would be grounded and put on a "weight-reduction plan",  Chinese media reported.

The airline says the rule applies to both males and females.

The standard is ‘based on the human body weight reference and matched with the healthy weight range measurement for the crew’ the airline said.

“This is intended to advocate healthy living habits and maintain a good professional image and healthy physique.” 

The rule has sparked angry responses on social media, heavily critical of the airline.

CNN, meanwhile, reported that other Asian airlines have made headlines in recent years for imposing weight rules on cabin crew. They include Air India and Pakistan International. 

Monday 19 June 2023

Melbourne winter hotel special is a sparkling affair

Winter in Melbourne can be seriously chilly but Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street has launched a bubbly package to make the season just a little more bearable.

The heritage-listed hotel has partnered with Champagne House Pommery to launch a "Winter Wonderland" package.

Think a king deluxe room transformed with candles, twinkling fairy lights and white fur-lined walls, along with a bespoke white and cream floral installation by florist Victoria Whitelaw. 

And while I have not sampled this package, hotel GM Jeremy Healy is one of the best in the business and certain to ensure it is a success. 

The Winter Wonderland package, available to book from now until August 31, includes a complimentary bottle of Pommery Apanage Blanc de Blancs NV and macarons, along with a Pommery embroidered guest robe and sustainable bamboo slippers.

Guests will also enjoy breakfast for two at the hotel’s restaurant Luci, housed in the grand foyer of what was once Melbourne’s Equity Chambers building.

Prices for the package start from $444 including early che-in and late check-out, so share with someone special. 

Luci will serve a Winter Wonderland menu throughout the season featuring steak tartare, popcorn chicken, oysters and caviar, all accompanied by a glass of Pommery Brut Royal NV, with the option to upgrade to Pommery Apanage Blanc de Blancs NV should you wish.

At The Douglas Club, the hotel lounge bar, two limited-edition Pommery-infused cocktail creations will be served. 

The first, Tarte Tatin, is a melange of Pierre Huet Calvados, fino sherry, cinnamon syrup, Reposado, topped with Pommery Champagne; and second, It’s Summer in France, a blend of Australian-made Gospel Straight Rye, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, honey syrup, Pommery Champagne, crystallised verbena and mint.

Bookings for the package can be made online via

Sunday 18 June 2023

Special edition wine casks make an artistic point

First koalas, now bees.

Winesmiths, the bag-in-a-box wine range from the people at Yalumba, have collaborated with Australian artist Billie Justice Thomson, who has turned her focus to Australia’s native flora and the honey bee, with her illustrations printed on limited edition two-litre Winesmiths packs.

The packs are now rolling out into liquor stores, with the entire collection to be available from August to December. Part of the proceeds from sales of the shiraz and pinot grigio will be donated to the Wheen Bee Foundation charity to aid research.

Thomson is known for her nostalgic illustrations and paintings of iconic food and drinks.

The limited edition designs appear on the sauvignon blanc, semillon sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and dry rosé.

The shiraz is excellent - well worth keeping a box on hand - while the pinot grigio is fun and lively. I also enjoyed the semillon sauvignon blanc a lot. 

The artist says her inspiration was drawn from the the vineyard.

“It was such a great process, we looked at the native plants that grow in and around the vineyards,” she said.

“Bees and native plants play an important role in the biodiversity of vineyards and ultimately in the wine itself. I’ve always been attached to natives, they’re so uniquely Australian.

"They’re so rugged and often a little bit strange.”

Winesmiths’ senior brand manager Lisa Antoney says: “The Winesmiths Billie Justice Thomson edition shines a light on the sustainable environment required to make our wines, as well as the sustainability benefits our packaging delivers.

“Just like an artist, our vineyards require as much love and attention to drive a healthy eco-system, delivering beautiful natural flavour and yield. We don’t compromise on quality in any way.”

This is the second iteration of Winesmiths' limited edition casks, with the producer having previously worked with Mulga the Artist to raise money for koalas.

The Winesmiths x Billie Justice Thomson limited edition will have an RRP of $16.

Saturday 17 June 2023

A popular Adelaide Hills weekend celebrates cool reds


The Adelaide Hills Winter Reds wine festival will feature a new Fire + Feast theme in 2023.

To run from July 28-30, the festival will comprise events across the cool-climate region that is just a short drive from downtown Adelaide. 

There will be a total of 48 red wine-focused events happening over the three days, including 
lunches and dinners matched with Adelaide Hills red wines. 

Fireplaces and heaters will be in evidence just in case the temperatures dip too far. 

There will be Tour + Taste events for those who want to experience the Hill’s diversity by visiting a few wineries in one day. 

Think live music and DJs, fire pits, mulled wine, casual food, and wine tastings, of course. 

General admission is $15 and includes entry and a souvenir Riedel wine glass. 

Other premium events incur an extra charge. 

The events themed as Cosy Classes will be hosted by an expert and guests will be taken through curated wine tasting flights, discussing points of interest on each wine. Some classes will compare Adelaide Hills pinot noirs and syrah to their French counterparts. 

In addition, the Adelaide Hills Wine Region has partnered with RAA this year to offer special discounts to its 800,000 members. In particular, RAA members can get 20% discount on the bus loops which depart from Adelaide Franklin Street bus station and Mount Barker.

“Winter Reds is a fabulous example of what the Adelaide Hills wine region does so well," says Alex Trescowthick, president of Adelaide Hills Wine Region. 

"There’s an excellent diversity of red wines on show: pinot noir and shiraz/syrah of course, but also gamay, nebbiolo, mencia and cabernet sauvignon expressing our cool climate with elegance, purity and freshness."

Friday 16 June 2023

Ryanair imposes booze ban on Brits behaving badly


Ryanair has a reputation as a "cheap and cheerful" budget airline - but even they have their limits.

Infuriated by misbehaviour from passengers flying to party island Ibiza, Ryanair has banned the carrying of duty-free alcohol on all its flights from UK airports to the destination.

The airline imposed the rule after what it described as "several anti-social incidents", Travel Mole reported.

The airline has emailed all customers booked on future Ibiza flights telling them any duty-free alcohol must be checked in - which would be a major blow for airport duty-free outlets located after check-in.

Any passengers attempting to smuggle alcohol into the cabin could be removed from the flight with no refund, Ryanair said.

One booze-fuelled incident led to 15 people being kicked off a flight earlier this year and causes a five-hour delay.

More recently, a man on a stag weekend apparently woke up inside an overhead baggage compartment on a flight.

The new rule is "to prioritise the comfort and safety of all passengers," Ryanair said.

All change at leading Sydney hotel restaurant

There's a new chef, a new menu and a new vibe at Silvester's at the Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay.

Indian-born Abhi Dey, fresh from stints at two New Zealand culinary hotspots, is the new head chef.

Prior to arriving in Australia last month, he was working at Harbour Society, the flagship restaurant of chic boutique hotel SO/ Auckland by Sofitel, and prior to this at The Sugar Club at Skycity, where he was head chef after the departure of the chef/founder Peter Gordon.

Dey, who has also done a stage at renowned Bangkok eatery Gaggan, has just launched his new menu, which focuses on cured meats, fresh seafood and prime meat cuts.

The a la carte choices include freshly shucked oysters with gooseberry; king prawns with lemon butter and chilli, and mains including Murray cod with avocado and whey butter.

There us also a seasonal five-course ‘chef’s selection’ menu that will feature a range of dishes including Spencer Gulf kingfish served with persimmon, lemon myrtle and almond fraiche; dry-aged Wollemi duck with Davidson plum ketchup and beetroot, and Margra lamb rump with black garlic, wood ear mushrooms and bone marrow.

“The provenance of ingredients and seasonality is an important part of our philosophy at Silvester’s," Dey says. 

"We are working with some of Australia’s most respected producers. Our commitment is to
the farmer and we love sharing the story behind each dish. This allows us to take guests on that journey
when they dine with us.”

Silvester’s is open for dinner Thursday to Saturday from 6pm. See

# Silvester's Restaurant is named after the Silvester’s Brothers, two of Sydney’s early butchers, who traded on the corner of Pitt Street and Bulletin Lane in the early 1900s.

Images: Steven Woodburn 

Thursday 15 June 2023

Renowned Tasmanian cider maker produces its first RTD

Willie Smiths is one of a number of trailblazing cider producers in the Huon Valley, the southernmost part of Tasmania.

Over the past decade the fourth-generation business has made a national impact with a number of cider releases, including its regular lines, seasonal releases and single-apple varietals.

Willie Smiths also hosts the annual Huon Mid-Winter Fest, coming up next month, where anyone visiting should try to sample the family-owned company's first RTD, which goes by the name Dark River Stormy Seas.

The name is a tribute to the Huon River, which flows beside some of the company's organic apple orchards, and the wild seas off the Tasmanian coast.

The super-refreshing pre-mixed cocktail is blend of twice-distilled apple spirit, which has been spiced and blended with brewed ginger beer and lime zest. Best enjoyed well chilled, or over ice it packs a zingy kick. 

The new cocktail weighs in at 6.0%ABV and a case of 16 x 335ml cans costs $95 (or much less for cider club members).

For details see

Swiss hospitality skills shine at Bali family resort

I am a big fan of the Movenpick hotel brand - as regular readers will probably be aware.

I have stayed in Movenpick properties in Melbourne, Hobart, Bangkok and in Europe, and always been impressed by the adult-but-fun vibe and the polished Swiss-inspired service.

My most recent Movenpick stay was at the Movenpick Resort and Spa Jimbaran Bay in Bali. 

There is a different feel here as this is first and foremost a family-friendly resort - but there is the same attention to detail with food and drink.

There is a wellness vibe, too, with the resort fewer than five minutes walk from Jimbaran Beach. and the choice of relaxing poolside in one of the swim-up hammocks, or perhaps unwinding with a massage at the Arkipela Spa.

When it comes to food think excellent buffet breakfasts, the same chocolate hour sweet treats you find each afternoon at every Movenpick, and a dinner menu with something for everyone whether your tastes extend to western dishes or Asian flavours. 

The casual Anarasa restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and guests can choose between eating indoors or al fresco.

Anarasa overlooks a tropical garden and pool and offers Asian dishes, artisanal Balinese specialities and international favourites.

Guests can choose between visiting live cooking stations, a la carte service or buffets depending on the time of day.

There is a dedicated children's dining zone - as well as a kid's club - which means parents can enjoy some "me time" while wining and dining.

Anarasa offers vegetarian, dairy free and gluten free menu options so there is something for everyone. So if you want wraps, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas or a range of deserts you are well catered for. 

I stayed Asian with a tasty wonton soup, kung pao chicken (above) and a non-alcoholic cocktail (below).

There is an Indonesian buffet every Wednesday evening for guests to get a taste of local flavours like sizzling satay selections and tasty nasi goreng. A taste of the Indonesian street food scene without leaving the resort.

Each Monday, the Jejala Pool Bar and Anarasa Restaurant feature a "buy one get one free deal" on a range of cocktails made from the local arak rice spirit.

The reception-level bar also showcases cocktails that feature drinks made by the local East Indies distillery.

There is also a Movenpick Café in the adjacent shopping centre, providing tasty treats throughout the day, as well as tasty western breakfast options (below).

The shopping area also contains several other dining options; from ice cream to Korean fried chicken or Balinese spare ribs.

Open just five years ago and with a "new" feel, the hotel offers a range of different room and suite options, depending on how many there are in your party and what your priority is.

All rooms feature air conditioning, hair dryer, ironing board and iron, alarm clock, coffee/tea-making facilities, bottled water and hair dryer, as well as a fridge. The alarm clock is important as you don't want to sleep through the afternoon and miss your free chocolate treats (below).

Close to the airport, but unaffected by noise, the Movenpick overlooks local beaches (a shuttle buggy is a convenient option), with local fish markets and seafood beach eateries, Uluwatu temple and several surf beaches nearby.

The only glitch during my stay was when my room was not available for my on-time arrival. But the staff reacted with immediate concern - a tribute to their training. I spent a short time working at the complimentary computer kiosk in the lobby and I was soon installed.

I was also impressed by the efficiency of my post-stay transfer to the airport.

For full details see

Book Accor Hotels via

# The writer was a guest of Movenpick Resort & Spa Jimbaran Bay and flew to Bali as a guest of airasia Superapp.

Wednesday 14 June 2023

A bite of the Big Apple: Qantas resumes flights to New York

Qantas has today resumed flights to New York, with services from Sydney taking off to the Big Apple for the first time in more than three years.

The launch of QF3 also marks a new route for Australia's national carrier with flights to New York operating via Auckland instead of Los Angeles.

Flights will initially operate three days per week using the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, increasing to four from October.

Travelling on the inaugural flight, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the airline was thrilled to be carrying Australians to New York once again.

“While the world has changed dramatically since the start of Covid, one thing that hasn’t changed is the lure of New York City,” he said.

“Since international borders re-opened, New York has been one of the most popular destinations for our customers who have been connecting on our partners from Qantas flights arriving into Los Angeles and Dallas, so it’s not surprising that we’ve seen very strong demand since our New York flights went on sale.

“The launch of the route has been made possible by the delivery of new 787 aircraft in recent weeks and brings us closer to returning our international capacity to what it was before Covid.”

The Qantas Group is expected to return to around 100 per cent of its international network pre-Covid capacity by March 2024, up from around 85% of pre-Covid levels today.

“The flights are great news for Australian tourism, helping to bring more visitors from the United States to explore the best of New South Wales and beyond with connections from Sydney across our extensive domestic network,” Joyce added.

“Flying via Auckland makes it easier for travellers from all parts of Australia to access New York, with the choice of 11 daily flights across the Tasman from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

“Offering more room and fewer seats than most of our competitors, the cabins onboard these aircraft have been designed with long-haul travel in mind.”

Qantas now operates three of the top five longest flights in the world, including Perth-London and Dallas-Melbourne.

Halliday awards finalists named

The Halliday Wine Companion has announced the shortlisted wineries, winemakers and viticulturists for the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion Awards.

The finalists were chosen by a new-look tasting team headed by new chief editor Campbell Mattinson, one of the founding editors of Halliday Magazine in 2012 and a Halliday Wine Companion reviewer since 2013.

Over 8500 wines were tasted, and over 50 new wineries discovered.

The shortlist features wineries from Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, and New South Wales.

The winners will be announced on August 2 at the Stokehouse in St Kilda.

WINERY OF THE YEAR: All Saints Estate, Rutherglen; Bleasdale Vineyards, Langhorne Creek; First Creek Wines, Hunter Valley; Giant Steps, Yarra Valley; Leogate Estate Wines. Hunter Valley; Oakridge Wines, Yarra Valley; Penley Estate, Coonawarra; Pepper Tree Wines, Hunter Valley; Yalumba, Eden Valley; Yangarra Estate Vineyard, McLaren Vale

WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR: Colin McBryde, Adelina Wines, Clare Valley; Gerald Naef, Patina Wines, Orange; Jim Chatto, Pepper Tree Wines, Hunter Valley; Kate Goodman, Penley Estate, Coonawarra; Mark Messenger, Juniper Estate, Margaret River; Michael Downer, Murdoch Hill, Adelaide Hills; Paul Dahlenburg, Eldorado Road & Baileys of Glenrowan, Beechworth/Glenrowan;
Sam Middleton, Mount Mary, Yarra Valley; Samantha Connew, Stargazer, Tasmania

VITICULTURIST OF THE YEAR: Bart Maloney, Vasse Felix, Margaret River; Dr Dylan Grigg, consultant, various; Jacob Stein, Robert Stein Vineyard, Mudgee; Liz Riley, Scarborough Wine Co & Mistletoe Wines, Hunter Valley; Mark Walpole, Fighting Gully Road, Beechworth; Michael Lane, Yangarra Estate Vineyard & Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, McLaren Vale; Rhys Thomas; Swinney, Frankland River; Stuart Proud, Thousand Candles, Yarra Valley

BEST-VALUE WINERY: Billy Button Wines, Alpine Valleys; Bleasdale Vineyards, Langhorne Creek; Bondar Wines, McLaren Vale; Bremerton Wines, Langhorne Creek; Briar Ridge Vineyard, Hunter Valley; Carillion Wines, Hunter Valley; Dappled Wines, Yarra Valley; De Bortoli, Yarra Valley; Mordrelle Wines, Adelaide Hills; Oakridge Wines, Yarra Valley; Two Hands Wines, Barossa Valley; Xanadu Wines, Margaret River

BEST NEW WINERY: Entropy Wines, Gippsland; Fleet Wines, Gippsland; Gaffy & Neal, Mornington Peninsula; Gentle Folk, Adelaide Hills; Joshua Cooper Wines, Victoria; MMAD, McLaren Vale; Neldner Road, Barossa Valley; Nightfall Wines, Coonawarra; Terrason Wines, Victoria; Winmark Wines, Hunter Valley

DARK HORSE WINERY: Anderson & Marsh, Alpine Valleys; Curator Wine Company, Barossa Valley; Emilian, Yarra Valley; Mount Eyre Vineyards, Hunter Valley; Topper's Mountain Wines, New England

Horse racing to end in Singapore

Horse racing is often controversial. 

Animal welfare issues, cruelty, "wastage" and deaths from race falls are frequent topics - but the sport generates millions of dollars.

Singapore, which has hosted horse racing for two centuries, has, however, decided enough is enough.

The Singapore Turf Club will close its doors in October and racing will end after being a popular pastime since British Colonial days 180 years ago. It was founded in 1842.

The course will be used for public housing as the Singapore Government says housing needs are greater than the need for people to see horses being whipped for entertainment.

"Singapore is a city state with limited land,” the Finance and National Development ministries said in a media statement.

The Turf Club was in the past popular with visitors, expats and locals. It was visited by Queen Elizabeth II at its previous Bukit Timah location.

The current course is at Kranji, near the Woodlands district adjacent to the causeway overlooking Malaysia. The 124- hectare Kranji grounds opened in 1999.

Horse racing started to gradually lose its appeal about a decade ago when Singapore got its first casino, Travel Mole reported.

Spectator numbers have fallen by about half since 2010 and the pandemic closure also took its toll.

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Is your wine PR message getting to the right people?


Today I received a press release from a winery that said: "You are not important enough to send a sample to, but here is what other wine writers thought about a wine you have not tasted."

Not in so many words, of course, but that was the clear message.

And it was sent by high-profile PR company that no doubt charges handsomely for its services.

I get the message. Some wine writers who saw the wine liked it, and reviewed it favourably. 

"It has captivated wine reviewers," the release said. "It has emerged as an unexpected superstar."

That is a message the winery probably wants to get into the hands of cellar door staff, its reps, its distributors and even to sommeliers. 

But instead this was sent to media. Not the right/write market.

I don't know of a single wine writer who would run a story about what other reviewers think of a wine that they haven't sampled. That just wouldn't make sense and would also be unethical. 

It is, of course, up to wineries who they send samples to. If they send them at all. Understood. 

Budgets are tight and ROI is important. And I am no James Halliday or Huon Hooke, who incidentally scored the wine 91 - hardly a superstar result. 

But here is the kicker: "The wine recently earned a bronze medal at the Langhorne Creek Wine Show, underscoring its exceptional quality and recognition within the industry."

OK. The producer is happy. But the agency should have offered some sage advice to its client.

I have asked this particularly agency not to send me any more of its releases.        

Indigenous food to take a starring role at Sydney Opera House

Indigenous chef Mark Olive is to open a new restaurant at the Sydney Opera House in July.

To be known as Midden by Mark Olive, the eatery will showcase the talents of the Bundjalung man, who will helm the venture.

Olive will create a menu that draws on his Indigenous Australian heritage and heroes a produce-focused menu of native Australian ingredients – from wattle seed and bush honey to saltbush and succulents, the press release says.

Midden by Mark Olive will replace Portside in the western foyers of the Opera House.

Seasonal menus will feature choices like damper bread infused with native herbs served alongside whipped eucalyptus butter and blue gum-smoked barramundi; wallaby shanks braised in bush tomato, and quandong-glazed chicken stuffed with warrigal greens.

Matinee high teas will be served on Wednesdays and weekends.

“Opening a restaurant at the Sydney Opera House on Tubowgule, Gadigal country is a dream come true," says Olive.

"I could not be prouder to follow in the pioneering footsteps of leading Indigenous Australians like Rhoda Roberts, Justine Saunders and Stephen Page, who have brought incredible First Nations storytelling to this place over the past 50 years.

"Of course, the land on which the Opera House stands was a gathering place for ceremony and culture for thousands of years before the building itself was ever conceived and I hope the menu we’ve created will give guests a real taste of that millennia-old history and maybe even inspire some to cook with our vibrant native ingredients at home too.”

Sydney Opera House Chief Customer Officer Jade McKellar said: "We’re excited to welcome celebrated Indigenous Australian chef Mark Olive and Doltone Hospitality Group on board.

"Together, they will deliver an inspiring new dining experience that embraces Australia’s distinct and diverse native produce within one of the most iconic settings in the world.

"Midden by Mark Olive will be integral to the Opera House and all it stands for, and I can’t wait for our visitors and audiences to enjoy this unique food offering that celebrates our First Nations’ heritage.”

Midden will open daily for lunch and dinner plus for the matinee high teas.

For trading hours and bookings visit the Sydney Opera House website.

Image: Yazzen Omar