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Monday 20 May 2024

New boutique resort unveiled for Hamilton Island

The team behind Hamilton Island and qualia is to launch a new boutique hotel in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.

Hamilton Island Enterprises has unveiled The Sundays - which is being promoted as a family-friendly destination in the World Heritage-listed region.

The Sundays will be situated at the northern end of palm-fringed Catseye Beach and will have 59 rooms "designed to capture the essence of Hamilton Island's tropical surroundings and blue water views".

There will be the choice of either a balcony or terrace, overlooking the Coral Sea and the hotel's gardens. Interconnecting rooms, designed for families, will also be available.

The hotel will feature private cabanas around a pool exclusively for guests and a waters-edge restaurant and bar offering al fresco dining with views of Catseye Bay.

The hotel is set to open in autumn 2025, providing employment for over 100 full-time equivalent hospitality workers in the region.

Pete Brulisauer, CEO of Hamilton Island, says, “The Sundays marks over 20 years of continuous significant investment in Hamilton Island by the Oatley family.

"In developing its ethos, we were inspired by the essence of what makes a Sunday so special - relaxing, treasuring time and fostering connections with loved ones, and embracing nature. 

"It will be a place where you can expect an extraordinary experience for all ages amidst the breathtaking natural beauty of The Whitsundays in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.”

Brulisauer says in recent years Hamilton Island, accessible via direct flights in under 2.5 hours from major Australian East Coast cities, has seen a sharp increase in domestic travellers seeking a luxury tropical island escape without the hassle and time of international flights.

The project is estimated to cost over $30 million. 

Sandy Oatley, chairman of Hamilton Island Enterprises, says: “We are responding to our guests' request for more family-focused boutique accommodation, in our ideal location. 

"We remain focused on continuing to enhance Hamilton Island's reputation as one of Australia's most iconic holiday destinations.”

The Sundays complements Hamilton Island's wide-range of accommodation offerings, including the luxury resort qualia, the boutique beachfront hotel Beach Club and the family-friendly Reef View Hotel and Palm Bungalows.

Reservations for The Sundays will open in Spring 2025.

Yalumba marks 175 years of family excellence

The Hill-Smith family and its Yalumba brand will celebrate 175 years of winemaking on November 17.

In era where businesses sometimes last just a few years, Yalumba will be celebrating 175 years of multi-generational family ownership. 

The Hill-Smith family (above) will mark the anniversary with a series of releases and experiences at its home in Eden Valley and abroad.

Established in 1849 by Samuel Smith and today in the hands of fifth-generation proprietor and industry pioneer Robert Hill-Smith, Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, driven by the spirit of innovation passed down through six generations.

Robert Hill-Smith describes Yalumba’s 175th anniversary as “a genuinely momentous milestone”.

“This anniversary is not only a nod to years passed. It is a reflection of our resilience and a commitment to mastering our craft, generation after generation. It also acknowledges the many exceptional fine wine people that have come through the gates of Yalumba across three centuries, with shared love for our property, our wines, and our industry,” he says. 

“Most of all, it is celebration of an exciting future ahead for our family business and the world of Australian fine wine. While we celebrate our past 175 years, we keep our eyes firmly set on the next 175 as the generations before us have done.”

Yalumba is about to debut a Museum Collection featuring a limited selection of the great vintages of its finest wines, aged up to 20 years. Each of Yalumba’s Museum Collection wines is "testament to the family’s dedication to wines of pedigree and its treasured old vines", which include The Caley Cabernet & Shiraz, The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz, The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon, and The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz.

The Yalumba Museum Collection will be released with very limited quantities available from the Yalumba Wine Room and partnering fine wine outlets and restaurants around the world.

Image: (L-R) Jessica Hill-Smith, Robert Hill-Smith, Lucy Hill-Smith

Sunday 19 May 2024

Luxury resort showcases global female star chefs

The Datai in Langkawi, a resort with a global reputation for excellence, will showcase some of the world's top female chefs for its 2024-25 edition of The Chef Series.

The Malaysian rainforest retreat has been a drawcard for 30 years now. Here is my report from a decade ago:

The Datai's signature dining programme aims to celebrate gastronomic talent from around the world.

With a chef selection boasting nine Michelin stars between them, cuisines from across Asia and Europe will be showcased.

Each chef will create a bespoke menu guided by the produce of Langkawi and the organic ingredients cultivated in the resort’s zero-waste Permaculture Garden.

The names featured in The Chef-fe Series 2024-2025 are:

June 2024:
Florence Dalia of 16 by Flo, Taipei, Taiwan (formerly two Michelin stars)

August 2024:
Cristina Bowerman of Glass Hostaria, Rome (one Michelin star)

October 2024:
Angela Hartnett of Murano, London (one Michelin star) with
Lisa Goodwin-Allen of Northcote, Lancashire, UK (one Michelin star) and
Nieves Barragán Mohacho of Sabor, London (one Michelin star)

January 2025:
Ana Roš (below) of Hiša Franko, Kobarid, Slovenia (three Michelin stars and one Michelin green star)

Most of the dinners will be held at the resort’s spectacular fine dining venue, The Dining Room, overlooking the main pool and the Andaman Sea. It's a dramatic setting.

Selected chefs will also offer cooking demonstrations, some giving guests the chance to join a cooking masterclass.

Arnaud Girodon, CEO of Datai Hotels and Resorts, said: “This year’s ‘Chef-fe’ edition of The Chef Series promises to bring some truly extraordinary culinary experiences to our guests, who have come to know and love our resort for its exceptional dining in the dramatic surroundings of the rainforest.

"Through our guest cheffes, who represent some of the very best gastronomic talents from around the world, we are honoured to have the opportunity to showcase the bounty of exquisite local produce grown on-site and supplied by ethical producers and artisans who share our vision.”

The Datai is situated on the north-west tip of the island of Langkawi in Malaysia. It has 121 rooms, villas, and suites. See

Is this new brand your next hotel tribe?

Enjoy a colourful hotel vibe?

TRIBE, a design-led midscale brand from Accor, is about to make its New Zealand debut: in Auckland.

TRIBE Auckland Fort Street (it is their branding, I'm not shouting) will become the brand's first address in the country "serving as a stylish destination where guests and locals can work, play, and relax with a like-minded community of entrepreneurs and adventurous travellers".

The new hotel is located on Fort Street, just a short walk from central Britomart and the Commercial Bay precinct.

It will have 60 guest rooms described as "compact but ultra-comfy", along with a lobby bar, terrace, and social hub.

The media blurb says TRIBE Auckland Fort Street "will prioritise intelligent, functional, design-driven spaces that give guests everything they need and nothing they don't".

Accor Pacific Chief Operating Officer PM&E, Adrian Williams, said: “The introduction of TRIBE to New Zealand underpins our expansion strategy throughout the region - to introduce brands and hotels that respond to the needs and wants of modern travellers.

“Today's travellers seek simplicity, affordability, and connectivity in a design-led environment. They know that comfort and fair prices can co-exist and that's exactly what TRIBE hotels offer - spaces that are smart, stylish and comfortable, at a great price.

“We are excited to partner with CP Group to introduce this one-of-a-kind concept to New Zealand with TRIBE Auckland Fort Street. With its bold personality and socially connected culture, the hotel will become a hub that excites and inspires both travellers and locals.

“We know that TRIBE will resonate both with domestic and international guests in New Zealand and look forward to debuting the brand's first address here.”

TRIBE currently has over 15 hotels across the globe with a further 40 currently under development, including flagship addresses in France and the UK.

The Australian-born brand has one hotel in Australia - in Perth - but has been largely focussed on European destinations, particularly in Paris suburbs.    

See for more details, or take a look at

Saturday 18 May 2024

Hundreds stranded as chaos continues in Pacific paradise

It is not how most of us envisage New Caledonia. We tend to think of images like the one above.

But the political unrest in Noumea has led to scenes that are a long way from the idyllic beaches and French style we usually associate with the destination.

We've seen the ugliness on TV news bulletins; burning cars, smouldering buildings, broken windows and angry mobs roaming the streets.

They are scenes that will impact the tourism industry on Noumea for years to come.

France, the colonial ruling power, has declared as a state of emergency and extra police and troops are on the scene after six deaths.

The rioting followed planned changes to the New Caledonia constitution to allow long-term residents to vote in local elections, even if they no longer called the island home. 

Thousands of tourists, including Hundreds of Australians, now find themselves trapped on the island with their dream holiday having turned into a nightmare.

The airport, however, remains closed with protestors blocking entry roads.

Local carrier Aircalin, Qantas, Air New Zealand have all cancelled services indefinitely, while cruise ships are re-routing their ships.

Noumea has been one of the most popular and frequently visited destinations on cruise voyages from Australia. Whether that will return to normal remains to be seen.

Qantas has reported the airport will be closed until at least Tuesday. And those stranded have complained of zero assistance, or information, from consular officials and Australian government officials. 

To stay up to date see

Gibson unveils a new wine and a new look

Barossa Valley vigneron Rob Gibson is today launching a new wine, and a new branding. 

A new premium shiraz - the 2021 Gibson Burkes Hill Single Site Eden Valley Shiraz ($85) - is the first single vineyard offering that Gibson Wines has released in its 28-yeer history. 

Winemaker Gibson, a Baron of the Barossa, has a long history with the grape variety, but has always blended fruit from difference sources. 

The Burkes Hill vineyard in the Eden Valley is one of the region’s most picturesque sites and has established a reputation for producing exceptional fruit. 

To date, however, the vineyard has been known for standout rieslings, which have been crafted for Gibson by star former Peter Lehmann winemaker Andrew Wigan. 

Gibson describes the 2021 vintage as “one of the best of my 50 years’ experience so far”. 

“2021 has proven to be a really compelling year and the best wines will have great age-ability," said Gibson (below).

“This is a counterpoint to how we’ve normally expressed the Barossa’s regional hero variety. 

"It’s extending the conversation about the diversity of sites. The Burkes Hill site has sub-block diversity. It’s a microcosm of our more common approach with shiraz across the Barossa.”

The first 100 six-packs of 2021 Burkes Hill Single Site Shiraz have been released in limited-edition timber cellar cases for $700, including a a museum quality, fine art paper panorama of the Burkes Hill vineyard by renowned photographer, Dragan Radocaj. 

Each is individually numbered and signed by both Rob Gibson and Radocaj. See

The release also marks "a purposeful polish" to the Gibson brand with a new brand marque, Dirtborn Barossa, reflecting Gibson's geology background (The Dirtman) and his down-to-earth character. 

This will feature on all labelling going forward and the cellar door has also undergone a refurbishment.

What about the wine? 

My notes describe it as an undeniable an Alpha red. A macho prop forward with a deft offload or two in its skills set.

Despite coming from a cooler site, it has plenty of sass and style. I wish I had not opened my bottle as I suspect it will be glorious in a decade or so.

Friday 17 May 2024

Meet the Melbourne visionary challenging chocolate's big guns

You need to have a lot of bravery - and an equal amount of talent - to take on the big boys of the chocolate business like Cadbury and Nestlé.

Melbourne-based Pana Barbounis is both brave and talented.

He is the man behind Pana Organic, a team passionate creating Vegan and organic treats that ahave made a big impact in a short time.

Pana's diverse range includes chocolate, frozen desserts, baking products, spreads, snack bars, and beverages that are all plant-based, gluten-free and dairy-free.

That's a whole lot of hip appeal in for one brand.

"Organic has always been a huge focus on foods we ingest," says Pana. "Something to not be contaminated. As consumers discover some of the hidden industry practices, we will see a continuous shift towards organic products.

"Plant-based options are something many are moving towards and many are making more of a conscious decision and will equally want to see this grow."

Asked how hard is it for a small business to compete with global giants like Cadbury and Nestlé, he says: "They are the leaders and have been around for 100+ years, and naturally, they would like to protect their space.

"At Pana Organic, we think we can co-exist with everyone and spread the love."

Do Vegan chocolates taste different to milk brands?

"There was a bigger gap in the beginning of the plant-based chocolate journey. Over time we have gained more knowledge, experience and understanding on how ingredients perform and are able to reduce the gap and offer consumers a delicious plant-based alternative.

"Raw was a trend that has come and gone. Organic and plant-based are here to stay, in my opinion. Gluten-free is an interesting trend as more people are diagnosed with this allergy, so I see this trend growing over the next few years for sure!"

So what makes the Pana brand succeed?

"Simply, my great relationship with food and the understanding of growing your own organic food."

Recent profits have been reinvested into the business and the brand has ventured into the freezer aisle with Pana Organic Frozen Desserts tubs and stick varieties including flavours like Burnt Fig & Caramel and Maple Peanut.

Pana Organic is available in Woolworths and Coles nationwide along with independent grocers. For a full list of stockists see

How bats are playing a role in a new wine range

You don't see a lot field blend wines any more, with single varietals very much in fashion.

A field blend is a wine made up of two or more types of grapes, where the grapes are planted together in the same vineyard, brought in together at harvest and co-fermented in the winery.

Fowles Wine at Avenel, just 90 minutes north of Melbourne, has defied fashion with its new Fieldsong range, with a white blend and a red blend from the cool-climate Strathbogie Ranges.

Both wines are aromatic and bright with the red just edging my vote.

The White Field Blend is a true fruit salad with sauvignon blanc, riesling, arneis, pinot grigio and chardonnay coming together in delightful harmony. A vinous Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with a guest appearance from James Taylor.

The Red Field Blend is s similar collection of talents that proved a very friendly partner for a Thai red duck curry.

Here mourvèdre is the unlikely band leader with pinot noir. merlot, shiraz and sangiovese adding the harmonies.

Owner Matt Fowles says his team is always looking at ways they can work with the power of nature to create exceptional wines and help restore and regenerate the environment as they go.

“Fieldsong is the outcome of the care we put into our environment and shows what can be produced with a nurturing and holistic approach to nature and winemaking,” he said.

“The range is inspired by the cacophony of sounds and variety of fauna that call our vines home, paired with the overwhelming sense of calm we feel when walking through our vineyard blocks.

“At Fowles, we aren’t just focused on making good wine, we strive to be at the forefront of environmental developments that help protect our ecosystem - leaving them in even better condition than when we started.”

With that in mind, the winery’s latest project is investigating the value of some of Fowles’ smallest inhabitants - the microbats that call the winery home.

The winery has partnered with the University of New England (UNE) for a ground-breaking study into insect-eating micro-bats as a means of vineyard pest control, which could ultimately save Australia’s wine industry $50 million per annum.

The joint study is focused on the potential utilisation of natural resources in the broader wine industry and harness nature’s powers to promote a regenerative environment.

There are 16 species of insect-eating microbats in Victoria, 12 of which call Fowles’ vineyards home. These small vineyard residents consume up to 100% of their body mass in insects each day. This means that a colony of 100 bats, weighing 10 grams each, could remove up to one kilo of insects every night.

“We are fostering a balanced farming system and seek to repurpose and utilise what is available on the property," says Fowles.

“This current project with UNE represents a leap forward - the most comprehensive study yet - aimed at unravelling bat diversity and their ecosystem contributions within vineyards.

“Our main priority is not yield, it’s about embracing the power of nature, surrendering to the chaos and seeing the incredible quality that it brings.”

Both the Fieldsong wines are food friendly, and offer excellent value at $30. 


Thursday 16 May 2024

Mangan reveals new Melbourne eatery

Luke Mangan, one of Australia’s highest-profile chefs, has announced plans for a French-accented new restaurant in his hometown of Melbourne. 

“The secret's out,” he said. “My new Melbourne venue Bistrot Bisou opens next month on the corner of iconic Flinders Lane and Spencer Street.”

The eatery will be located in the Hotel Indigo.

“To me, my old hometown of Melbourne has always had a European feel to it... and we'll be bringing that same feel (and taste!) to the menu at Bistrot Bisou.”

So think twice-baked Gruyere souffles, creme brulees and apple tarte tatins, plus house-made terrines and steak frites.”

Mangan owns and operates restaurants in Sydney, and at sea on P&O cruise ships.

Image: Lawrence Furzey Photography

A nifty liquid taste of Italy to enliven Australian tables

Everyone needs the occasional alcohol-free day, or two. Even wine writers.

The trouble is that most of the faux alcoholic drinks on the market are just a bit shit and eye-wateringly over-priced.

Water is boring if your trying to match it with food and a lot of commercial sodas are absurdly sweet.

One alternative to saccharine sodas is very adult newcomer SPRIO Spritz.

This Australian-made beverage has been created by a wine expert and a hospitality stalwart (both of Italian origin), and aims to replicate the flavours of the Mediterranean in a a sophisticated and healthy way.

It is being billed as "possibly the world’s first carbonated beverage made specifically to pair with food".

There are actually several products making similar claims, but there ae some defiinite Sprio plusses: premium fruit extracts, low to no sugar sweeteners, and natural colours and flavours .

The recommendations are picking up a SPRIO Sicilian Lemon Spritz to pair with seafood, shellfish and salads (or anything you would squirt fresh lemon on; in my case salt and pepper squid); enjoying the balanced bitterness of the SPRIO Chinotto on any antipasti, or sampling the SPRIO Blood Orange Spritz with white meats: chicken, pork and veal (although it went brilliantly with some mortadella).

The men behind the brand are Anthony Nania, a wine expert and educator, and hospitality veteran Fabbio Navarroli (Tuscan Bar).

“What started as an idea for a brand name in early 2014 while I was staying at a friend’s winery in Castel San Pietro [in Emilia Romagna], became a 10-year concept," says Nania.

"In 2022 Fabbio and I decided to embark on our journey to produce an excellent quality “all-natural”, low to zero sugar spritz-style soft drink range, with fine, elegant champagne-style bubbles, and a fresh lasting taste and flavour like no other.

“We wanted to develop a drink for the discerning health-conscious individual - that would only contain high-quality natural ingredients, be highly enjoyable and become the drink of choice that would pair exceptionally with or without food. All this without any fanfare or plethora of broken promises of so many products.”

After sourcing the Sicilian lemons, Blood oranges and Chinotto from Calabria and Sicily, the team began producing Italian style artisanal beverages.

The SPRIO Spritz collection is currently available in select health food stores, and fine food grocers. Cartons of 24 can be purchased directly from the website. Cartons of 24 cost $88. Visit to order or find out more about the brand:

Walking and eating: an insider look at undiscovered Spain

A couple of decades ago Ben Groundwater and I worked together on the sub-editing desk at a major metropolitan newspaper.

That was in the day when newspapers cared about facts, grammar, accuracy and honesty.

Our job was to turn some appalling drivel into stories that could grace the pages of the paper.

Ben, however, had serious wanderlust and over the past 20 years he has become known as one of Australia's best travel writers - with a serious focus on food.

He's also a tour guide, who has led successful epicurean tours with World Expeditions, including two sold out food trips to San Sebastian and an almost fully booked Japan food tour.

Now he is hosting ‘Picos and Pintxos’, a tour of the Asturias and Basque regions of Northern Spain, in May 2025.

If you fancy sampling the region’s fine wine, cheese and seafood you can combine it with three guided coastal walks, including the Camino del Norte, and three days guided hiking in the Picos de Europa mountain range.

Ben knows his stuff, having lived with his family in San Sebastian.

“I am so excited to share the Basque culinary experiences that were most memorable during my time living in this unique area, along with the beauty of what I consider to be Europe’s most underrated region, Asturias," he says.

“The wilderness we will be hiking through is some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen, the food in both Asturias and the Basque Country is incredibly good, and each night we will be sleeping in hotels and boutique guesthouses that ooze charm and character.”

This trip will incorporate Ben’s favourite parts of his sell-out San Sebastian tour with World Expeditions, including the market tour, wine tasting and a pintxos tour through San Sebastian's Old Town. 

New elements include a Michelin-starred dining experience at Ayalga in Ribadesella, a guided tour of the Guggenheim museum, and two walks on the ancient pilgrimage path, the Camino del Norte, part of the Camino de Santiago.

This ‘foodie’ trip is not suitable for Vegans or vegetarians, as substitutes at some places are simply not possible.

The tour runs from May 21-June 1 and will cost $6590 per person twin share.

See w 

Wednesday 15 May 2024

New resort in one of Vietnam's most desirable destinations

Hoi An is one of the most spectacular destinations in Vietnam - and it is about to gain a new resort destination.

The Wafaifo Hoi An Resort in the ancient heritage capital will open its doors September 1 and bookings are now open. 

The privately- and locally-owned boutique property will offer 134-rooms and suites and a range of dining and lifestyle outlets, a 10-minute walk from Hoi An’s UNESCO-listed heritage attractions.

The resort is aiming to deliver a modern interpretation of Hoi An hospitality, dining, wellness and community lifestyles. 

“The museums, night market shops, restaurants and bars in the old quarter in Hoi An are really bustling again,” said Mikkel Krantz, commercial director of Wafaifo Hospitality. 

“With the upturn in tourism, the timing is right for us to unveil wonderful new hotel rooms and dining options that reflect Hoi An’s unique melting pot culture.” he said.

Rooms include balcony options, king-sized or twin beds, high speed wifi, 24-hour room service, and electronically switchable privacy glass between bedroom and bathroom. 

The Xua & Nay international and Vietnamese restaurant in the resort will have the only Josper oven and grill in central Vietnam. 

“In rooms and food, our quality will be high, but pricing competitive,” said Krantz. “We are creating a community experience where both locals and international tourists, we believe, will be pleasantly surprised and delighted in equal measure.”

The resort will also have  a 25 x 6-metre swimming pool and wellness, spa, gym, fitness, beauty and health options. 

There will also be DJ sessions by the pool (oops, not sure about that - bring earplugs), a cinema, kids’ club, outdoor playground and a retail lobby shop. 

In early 2025, the Wafaifo Resort Hoi An will also add luxury suites and a signature Vietnamese fine dining outlet.

Hoi An is a 40-minute drive from Danang International Airport in central Vietnam. 

Polar opposites. Travel from the inside looking out

Enjoy travelling vicariously with some quirky companions?  

How about a journey from New Zealand to Spain undertaken almost entirely by train? 

Meet amusingly eccentric French horn player Gregory Hill and his German violinist wife Anne. 

Gregory somehow came up with the idea of travelling from one point on the globe - his home in Wellington - to its exact upside, or antipodes, which turns out to be somewhere between near Salamanca in Spain. 

He remembers doing a similar exercise with an old school atlas. Now he decides to try it real life, which turns into a 38,000 kilometre trip in 78 days, with 31,000 of those kilometres covered by rail. 

On the right tracks, so to speak. The trip from Saigon to Spain was conducted entirely on steel tracks. 

So 33 trains, 19 countries and a whole lot of interesting, sometimes amusing, encounters, fortunately completed before Covid made a trip of this nature impossible.

The trip takes us from New Zealand’s Northern Explorer to the Eurostar and a wide range of trains with stops Xi'an and a hilarious experience with Chinese bureaucracy, and possible drug dealers in Siberia.

Well illustrated with maps and photos, this is a fun armchair journey with Gregory and Anne with musical interludes including the Bolshoi Ballet and the Paris Opera. 

The Antipodean Express is published today in Australia by Exisle Publishing. $44.99. 

Qantas axes Shanghai flights; adds Brisbane-Manila

Qantas has announced a shake-up to its Asia flight network, dumping Sydney-Shanghai, but adding Brisbane-Manila (above).

Qantas will drop flights to Shanghai from July 28, citing "low demand".

The Australian flag carrier resumed its Sydney-Shanghai service in October last year after it was paused during Covid, but demand has not recovered as anticipated.

Qantas will continue to monitor the Australia-China market closely and says it will look to return to Shanghai when demand has recovered.

Customers can continue to travel to Shanghai and other destinations in China on Qantas flights to Hong Kong with onward connections on partner airlines.

Customers booked to travel on Shanghai flights after July 28 will be contacted and offered a full refund, or can contact Qantas or their travel agent to discuss rebooking on alternative flights.

Aircraft used on this route will be redirected to boost flying to other destinations across Asia where there is increasing demand or new tourism opportunities.

Customers will have access to a new international route out of Brisbane with the flying kangaroo set to begin flights to Manila from October 29 operating four days per week with Airbus A330 aircraft.

This will mark the first time the airline has flown between the two cities in more than 10 years.

The flights add to Qantas’ existing daily service from Sydney and will add more than 100,000 seats between Australia and the Philippines each year.

“We’re always looking to ensure that we have the right aircraft, on the right routes and at the right time of year to best meet the needs of our customers," says Qantas International CEO Cam Wallace

“Since Covid, the demand for travel between Australia and China has not recovered as strongly as expected. In some months, our flights to and from Shanghai have been operating around half full.

“That’s why we’ve decided to suspend this route and boost flying to other popular destinations with a new route from Brisbane to Manila and additional flights to Singapore and Bengaluru."

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Wine industry group slams Australian Budget

A peak Australian wine industry body has slammed the 2024 Federal Budget delivered today.

Australian Grape & Wine condemned "the lack of assistance for grape growers and winemakers" in the Albanese Government’s Budget. 

It called it a "missed opportunity" that ignored the industry's pleas for urgent support.

"This Budget provides no relief for the serious challenges facing growers and winemakers in regional communities across much of Australia," said CEO Lee McLean. 

“The industry’s struggles are not the result of normal market fluctuations, but stem from factors outside the industry's control, including the loss of our largest export market [China] in 2020.”

McLean criticised the omission of the industry's "modest" pre-budget requests, including a $30 million sustainability package, $36 million for export assistance, and $20 million for domestic wine tourism.

"We made it crystal clear - many in regional wine communities across Australia are on their knees and need urgent government action to stop a bad situation from becoming a catastrophe," McLean said. 

“While China’s decision to lift import duties is positive, it will simply not resolve the issues facing growers and winemakers. 

 “The economic shock experienced by our industry has led to unsustainable prices for grapes, an oversupply of wine, and increasing economic disadvantage in regional Australia.

"It's a damning indictment of just how dire the situation is when the refund on an empty wine bottle is worth more than what many of our growers receive for the grapes that fill it.” 

Australian Grape and Wine Inc is the national association of grape and wine producers. 

Image: Deborah Middleton, 

Hotel to shine a light on Vivid celebrations with fun cocktails

One hotel that's really getting into the spirit of Sydney's Vivid festival is the Hyatt Regency Sydney.

Two of its venues - Zephyr Sky Bar and Jackalberry - will be joining in the colourful fun of Vivid from May 24-June 15.

In partnership with Four Pillars Gin, these venues are promising "an unforgettable Vivid experience" including immersive activations, cocktails and views over Darling Harbour from Zephyr Sky Bar.

Sky Bar offers panoramic views of Darling Harbour, making it a perfect vantage point to soak in the Vivid lights.

Guests will be treated to a theatrical cocktail experience as signature Vivid cocktails are crafted tableside from a mobile cocktail trolley.

During this period, the bar will be decorated with décor including neon signs, Vivid-inspired media walls, and vibrant decals. I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds like fun.

The limited-edition Vivid cocktails include Shiraz Breeze (Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin, lime, sugar, mint, topped with soda) and Strawberry Blush (Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin, strawberry-infused Oscar Sweet Vermouth, Rubi Mistelle and Marionette Bitter Curacao).

At Jackalberry, guests can dive into Vivid cocktails featuring glow-in-the-dark concoctions and funky glassware.

The venue will be transformed with neon signs and quirky coasters, creating a Vivid-styled ambiance.

Limited-edition Vivid cocktails include Jackalberry G&T (Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin, St Germain elderflower liqueur, cucumber, edible flowers and Fever-tree Elderflower Tonic, served in a light-bulb glass); and Peach Yuzu Fizz (Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin, Choya Yuzu Liqueur, Massenez Peche shaken with lemon juice and sugar syrup, topped with Fever-tree Soda Water and served in a High-Ball glass).

I suppose a beer would be out of the question?

The hotel is also offering a Savour, Sip, Stay package inclusive of breakfast for two, Vivid-themed cocktails at Jackalberry bar and a late check out.


Heritage Paddo pub gets million dollar makeover

Heritage Paddington pub The Royal Hotel has just been given a million dollar makeover across all four levels. 

The Royal sits at the Five Ways junction, with the historic building dating back to 1888 and reign of Queen Victoria. 

The hotel was purchased by Public House Management Group in 2015 and work started on the renovations last year. 

Starting from the ground up, the Royal’s sports bar has been expanded to take over the previous bottle shop area and provides multi-screen viewing for sports lovers. 

On level one is the popular Veranda Bar and Balcony, and one floor up is the Elephant Bar, which is dedicated to private events and functions. 

The jewel in the crown is The Royal’s rooftop with views over the Sydney city skyline, 

With the new-look Royal comes a fresh menu, designed by PHMG executive chef Scott Greve. 

Classics like the Royal burger, LPs hot dog and steak frites with Café de Paris butter complement more modern dishes like the Poke Bowl. 

There are a range of regular offerings, including Monday-Friday happy hour from 4-6pm with $6.50 house wine, beer and bubbles and a Monday-Sunday bottomless dinner from 5.30pm-7.30pm every evening with a a two-course sharing menu including bottomless selected cocktails, wines and beer for $105 per person. 

Traditional Sunday roasts are another favourite. 

The wine list, however, is disappointing with a very limited choice by the glass and, peculiarly, one one wine from the Hunter Valley and none from anywhere else in NSW. Some serious work is needed here.  


Images: Maria Boyadgis 

Culinary stars align to lift spirits in Far North Queensland

A very popular food festival in Far North Queensland (FNQ), Taste Port Douglas, will return to the tropics from August 8-11 for its eighth year.

Some of my all-time favourite chefs are among the line-up this time around with organisers predicting this year's festival is set to the biggest and best yet, with dining experiences spanning across both its home of Port Douglas and, for the first time, Cairns.

Following a turbulent start to the year, weathering Tropical Cyclone Jasper, Taste Port Douglas’ co-founders Reina and Spencer Patrick are excited to bring the area back to life, welcoming an all-star line-up of some of the nation’s top culinary talent. 

Chefs involved include the great Mark Best (ex Marque in Sydney, my one-time special occasion favourite); Colin Fassnidge, who I first met when he was cooking fresh off the plane at Le Grande Bouffe in Rozelle in 2004, working in a hole-in-the-wall kitchen, and Massimo Mele (top image), who has created Peppina, the tremendous Italian-accented eatery in Hobart's The Tasman hotel.

Other standouts include local hero Nick Holloway from perennial favourite Nu Nu, and Victorians Ian Curley, Adam D'Sylva and Raymond Capaldi, all of whom will escape the Victorian winter to show off their talents, along with several TV cheffie types including Manu Feildel.

On the menu this year will be a smorgasbord of events, masterclasses and tropical parties, backdropped by the reefs and rainforests of the tropics.

Local eateries will welcome a series of chef-led events, including the long seaside luncheons, ‘A Night of Fire’ at Flames of the Forest (above), and several new events.

There will be a total of 25 events taking place over the four-day weekend.

Following a turbulent start to the year, weathering Tropical Cyclone Jasper, Taste Port Douglas’ co-founders Reina and Spencer Patrick say they are excited to bring the area back under a positive spotlight.

“This year's Taste Port Douglas will be a culinary celebration like no other, with a spectacular line-up of events and masterclasses hosted by some of the best talent in the country," says Spencer Patrick.

"Following the cyclone in December it’s been a tricky start to the year for the local community and businesses, and we’re now excited to see the festival bring FNQ back to life, welcoming both interstate and international guests to feast with us once again.

“We hosted more than 10,000 visitors at Taste Port Douglas last year, many of whom travelled from overseas to feast with us, and this year we anticipate an even bigger crowd with bringing our capital city into the action.”

Tickets ware on sale now at, where you can also see the full festival program.

Monday 13 May 2024

Tetsuya's to close after 37 years

Superstar Tetsuya Wakuda is closing his eponymous Sydney eatery after 37 years.

The Sydney CBD eatery will shut at the end of July after a remarkable run of excellence under the man who helped change the way Australians eat.

I first tasted Tetsuya's cooking when he was at Ultimo's - remarkably that was four decades ago.

I've been fortunate enough to dine at his Rozelle and Kent Street locations on several occasions since - and the experience has always been outstanding.

The hugely influential Japanese-born chef had planned to move to a new location, but has now decided to shut up shop.

In a statement he said: “Our plans to relocate Tetsuya’s to a new site after it closes at the end of July have unfortunately not worked out and I have made the very difficult decision to permanently close the restaurant after 37 years of business.

“We have spent the last 18 months planning the move and the new restaurant so this was not an easy decision, but sometimes things just don’t go to plan.”

Guests should book now if they want to dine again with the man affectionately called Tets.

There are just 79 days until its final closure on July 31.

Here is a story I wrote about the great man a few years ago: 

Scoot flights failing to take off

Do you have a booking with Singapore-based budget airline Scoot?

It might be worth having a back-up plan.

Scoot has been forced to cancel several flights during May citing a "variety of operational reasons", industry news portal Travel Mole reports.

Supply chain issues are at the heart of Scoot's problems.

The airline says it is suffering a shortage of aircraft parts, which is affecting its reliability record.

The Singapore Airlines-owned carrier hasn’t revealed how many flight cancellations it will make this month.

“Scoot sincerely apologises to all affected customers for the inconvenience caused by this disruption,” it said.

“We proactively contacted all affected customers.”

For customers it is unable to rebook on other flights, Scoot will offer refunds on unused portions of their tickets. Which is not great if time is of the essence. 

Crafty spirits: Geelong region emerging as a whisky hotspot

The Geelong and Bellarine region is known for producing some outstanding cool-climate wines, and it is now emerging as centre for whisky production.

From distillery doors to whisky tasting rooms, single malt whisky to whisky gin, Geelong and The Bellarine have plenty of tourism options ahead of World Whisky Day on Saturday, May 18.

The local tourism body has highlighted some of the best offerings, including The Whiskery in Drysdale (above).

The Whiskery is the cellar door for Bellarine Distillery and you can sip on their own 'OAK' single malt whisky, which is the first release in their flagship series. A second flagship whisky is currently in the works, expected to be released in late 2024/early 2025.

The Whiskery is also home to a large selection of global whiskies, along with Bellarine Distillery's award-winning range of gins. You can also choose from a range of cocktails, local wines or craft brews, which can be paired with food, best enjoyed on the outside lawn by the fire. It's a lovely spot on a sunny day.

In Geelong, family-owned craft distillery Ceres Distilling Co have several whiskies in the works, which will be released in the coming months.

In the meantime, you can try their rather unusual 50% ABC Whisky Gin, which has been aged in French oak whisky barrels.

The Whisky Gin, along with their range of gins and vodka, can be sampled at their distillery and bar. Stay on for lunch or dinner and enjoy a charcuterie board or share plate that has been designed to match the craft spirit experience.

Another distillery playing in the whisky space is Queenscliff Distillery.

Famous for its Bellarine gins, the team is currently working on a whisky, with a release date soon to be announced. Until then, whisky lovers can choose from more than 200 international whiskies, rums and gins at their Whisky Bar.

FarmDog in Wallington also has a single malt whisky in production. Distilled on-site, the whisky is being aged in both American and French oak barrels and will be ready in 2026. Currently on offer are whisky sampling flights which features whiskies from far and wide.

FarmDog is located on McGlashan's Estate - a family run operation producing wine, small batch gin, craft beer and now whisky. Tasting flights are available for your drink of choice and can be paired with a pizza or grazing plate. There is also accommodation on the property.

For more details see

Sunday 12 May 2024

New restaurant has Indian Ocean views and a global vision

It has been described as the most anticipated restaurant opening of the year; and Gibney certainly looks the part.

The waterfront eatery has been described as 'luxurious Californian country club meets Parisian hotel lobby'.

Gibney is a sophisticated seaside brasserie and grill located in Cottesloe and overlooking the Indian Ocean.

With a capacity of approximately 160, this brasserie and grill will be formal in its approach with tablecloths, jacketed wait staff, all soft furnishings, marble, brass and high-end tableware.

The menu draws inspiration from classic steakhouses and brasseries around the globe.

“We’ve drawn inspiration from the great bistros and brasseries from the past by remaining true to what has come before," says head chef James Cole-Bowen. "Classic presentations, sauces and flavour combinations bring Gibney into the present and beyond."

So expect dinner dishes like half a Western rock lobster with curried buckwheat, vadouvan butter and fried curry leaf; and Amelia Park lamb rump with mint salsa verde, feta, olive and parsley.

The by-the-glass wine list features local stars including Cullen, Singlefile and Moss Wood, while the by-the-bottle list is impressively global in reach.

Gibney joins the Kailis Hospitality Group portfolio, alongside coastal venues The Shorehouse in Swanbourne, Island Market and Canteen in Trigg, Kailis Fish Market Café in Fremantle and the recently announced Magic Apple Wholefoods, due to open later in 2024.


Slovenia celebrates as tourism numbers soar

From being an often-overlooked part of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has emerged as a popular tourism destination over the past two decades.

Regular readers will know it is a favourite with Gourmet on the Road.

Since gaining independence, Slovenia has actively participated in various international communities, particularly in Europe.

Joining NATO and the European Union two decades ago presented Slovenia with significant challenges but tourism continues to play a vital role in showcasing Slovenia's beauty and fostering international connections.

Twenty years have now passed since Slovenia joined the European Union.

In a celebratory speech, Prime Minister Dr Robert Golob stressed that Europe is much more than a collection of countries or a political institution.

"Europe is Slovenian tourism experienced a revitalisation with Slovenia's full EU membership, significantly fuelling its growth and success over the past two decades," he said.

"Tourism stands as one of the most important and at the same time promising sectors of Slovenia, playing a vital role in its economic performance, development, and global visibility and reputation of Slovenia."

Tourism contributes nearly 10% to the gross domestic product, with over 92,000 individuals employed in the sector, accounting for 10% of total employment.

Over the last 20 years, the influx of foreign visitors has tripled, while overnight stays have surged by 2.6 and total tourist numbers by 3.7 times.

Tourism promotes Slovenia as a sustainable, green destination at the crossroads of the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Karst and the Pannonian Plain, offering exceptional diversity in a small space, which in turn provides a wide range of interesting experiences for lovers of healthy, active holidays, cultural experiences, gastronomy, and business visitors, Slovenia Info says.

If you are wondering how to get there, a bus from Venice to the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana takes about three hours. So next time you are in Italy maybe consider a side trip.

Image: Lake Bled, Nick Gracner,

Saturday 11 May 2024

Mornington Peninsula to warm up over winter

Been meaning to visit the Mornington Peninsula wine region in Victoria? 

The Mornington Peninsula Winter Wine Weekend might be the excuse you've been looking for. 

The four-day celebration offers "a new look, new food and new events" from June 7-10. 

Key events include ‘The Winemaker's Truffle Dinner’, bringing together 13 wineries at The Village Hall at the Red Hill Showgrounds, each winery hosting a table with wines chosen to match dishes featuring new-season truffles. 

Winemakers will be bringing their rare back vintages, cellar selections and large format bottles. 

Wineries featured include Paringa Estate, Montalto, Stonier, Quealy Wines, Main Ridge Estate, Handpicked Wines, Crittenden Wines, Ocean Eight, Lindenderry, Rahona Valley, Red Hill Estate, Tar & Roses and Yabby Lake.

Saturday’s Winter Wine Festival is the weekend's showcase; featuring 40 wineries pouring their new vintages and special releases all under one roof. 

The Village Green at the festival will feature new food partners including the Long Paddock Raclette Bar, Red Gum BBQ – and Pinchy’s Lobster Bar. 

“We are excited to welcome wine lovers back to the Mornington Peninsula for another incredible Winter Wine Weekend,” said Olivia Barrie, CEO of Mornington Peninsula Wine. 

“This year’s program has a number of new opportunities to experience an incredible array of wines and food from our talented makers. 

"Whether you’re a seasoned wine connoisseur or a newcomer to the world of wine, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.”

Enjoy Christmas in July in Canberra - in June

Right across Europe, Christmas markets are a joyous tradition with festival goers braving the cold to enjoy themselves with mulled wines and roasted chestnuts.

Anyone who has watched the nightly weather forecast on TV will know that the Australian capital of Canberra reaches European-level low temperatures over winter.

Hence, the Xmas in July festival is returning to Canberra for its third edition.

Over 60,000 people attending the free festival in 2023, enjoying fire pits, and comforting winter food.

Returning for four days and nights of French-European Christmas vibes, the event will be held on the Parkes Place Lawns in the middle of the National Triangle in Canberra from June 27-30. So not really in July, at all.

The festival will offer artisanal products, comfort food, wooden huts, and Christmas decorations and fairy lights.

Over 40 pop-up restaurants are promised, showcasing French and European cuisines. So think melted cheese stations serving raclette and fondue; gnocchi in creamy mushroom sauce and oversized German hot dogs.

Hot chocolate and chocolate cocktails with toasted marshmallows will return, along with the ubiquitous mulled wine bars.

“In France, Christmas is all about embracing winter, feasting together, enjoying warm comfort food, delicious drinks and music surrounded by beautiful lights," says Vincent Hernandez, the festival director.

"It’s amazing to see how the Xmas in July brings everyone together in the middle of winter to do just that in Australia.”

For details see

Friday 10 May 2024

Afternoon high tea on the right side of the tracks

It's certainly not the 5.10pm to Blacktown.

For those who like the train trips to be stylish and fun, The Vietage by Anantara has announced the introduction of a second railway carriage to operate a daily return journey between Nha Trang and Quy Nhon from May 15.

Building on the resounding success of the existing carriage running every day between Da Nang and Quy Nhon, the new custom-designed addition will offer "a timeless luxury travel experience through south-Ccntral Vietnam".

The five-hour journeys meander through the scenic Vietnamese countryside.

With 12 reservation-only seats in private booths of two, the carriages have big picture windows to reveal the stunning views.

A sit-up bar gives guests the chance to watch mixology masters in action as the on-board hosts create rail-inspired cocktails and mocktails.

There is also a dedicated spa area for 15-minute head-and-shoulder treatments.

An sumptuous afternoon tea experience features taste tempters like poached Bai Dai lobster and Dalat caviar along with finger sandwiches, pastries, cakes and traditional scones with all the trimmings.

An artisanal cheese and charcuterie platter rounds off the occasion.

Refreshments include a tea selection from the Vietnamese tea brand Epicurean Sao, ethically-sourced local coffee from La Folliet, plus free-flowing wines, cocktails, beers, mocktails and soft drinks.

An à la carte menu also offers premium wines and champagnes for pre-order, while caviar fans can purchase extra portions on board.

Guests will be hoping to view a water buffalo, Vietnam’s national animal, as the train makes its way through the country.

Guests travelling from Nha Trang to Quy Nhon can enjoy combination accommodation experiences with Anantara Quy Nhon Villas for a luxury beachside break.

A number of packages are available but this excess does not come cheap.

A one-way ticket aboard The Vietage by Anantara between Nha Trang and Quy Nhon costs $US420 per person, including luxury afternoon tea, a 15-minute head and shoulder treatment, free-flowing wines, cocktails, beers, mocktails, soft drinks and a selection of local tea and coffee.

The Vietage by Anantara departs from Nha Trang every afternoon arriving at Dieu Tri station in Quy Nhon in the evening. It then continues up to Da Nang, arriving after midnight.

Running in the opposite direction, The Vietage by Anantara’s additional carriage departs from Da Nang every morning, arriving at Dieu Tri station in Quy Nhon in the early afternoon and then onto Nha Trang for a mid-evening arrival.

It sounds spectacularly good. For details see

Experience the Aurora in all its winter glory

Winter in Hobart is the perfect time to explore Tasmania's night sky, alive with vibrant stars and the ethereal Aurora Australis that projects hues of purple and green glows.

One of Hobart's leading hotels, The Tasman, a Luxury Collection Hotel, has just launched its "Skygazer'' Experience.

The new offering is led by Tasmanian photographer and Aurora chaser Luke O'Brien, who will offer participants an intimate photography lesson, showcasing the stunning features of the southern night sky - subject to local weather conditions.

The Aurora - often too subtle for the naked eye - , its celestial presence is best viewed through digital lens photography. Travellers will be rewarded for bracing the dropping mercury with a hot spiced apple cider and a Waverley Mills soft Merino wool scarf to rug up in.

'"Skygazer" experience inclusions are a night sky photography session with Tasmanian photographer Luke O'Brien; transfers to and from the locations selected by the photographer; spiced Tasmanian apple cider; Tasmanian Waverley Mills merino wool scarf and The Aurora Chaser's Handbook for guests to take home as a keepsake.

Comprising three linked buildings - Heritage, Art Deco, and a new contemporary design wing - The Tasman is the first Luxury Collection hotel in Australia.

For an overnight stay at The Tasman, rooms start from $350 per room per night.

Check out

The "Skygazer" Experience' is bookable from June 1-August 31 from an additional $580 for an individual experience, or $450 per person for a group experience, bookable via the hotel concierge at 03 6240 6000.

Thursday 9 May 2024

Another airline bites the dust

Heading to Vanuatu over the next few days?

Hold your horses.

Air Vanuatu has cancelled all flights to and from Australia and New Zealand and reportedly gone into administration.

Hundreds of passengers have been left stranded across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific

Last month, a former Minister of Infrastructure and Public Utilities reported that Air Vanuatu was facing a serious situation of bankruptcy.

Brisbane Airport said it was aware that Air Vanuatu would not operate flights on Thursday and Friday, and advised passengers scheduled to fly with the airline not to travel to the airport.

The Vanuatu Tourism Office later said it was aware of reports the airline had entered voluntary administration.

"We are conscious of the impact this situation has on travellers, ticket holders and the industry and on behalf of the Vanuatu tourism industry extend our apologies to anyone affected," the tourism organisation said in a statement.

"We are in contact with Air Vanuatu and the Vanuatu government and will share updates as they become available."

Port Vila-based Air Vanuatu has been in business for over 40 years and has fleet of six aircraft.
The Vanuatu Daily Post newspaper reported that the airline board has been disbanded and that Ernst & Young had taken over as administrators.

The airline website said only: "Due extended maintenance requirements on our Aircraft the following services listed below are impacted. We are working with our partner carriers to minimise the disruption to our guests."

It showed all flights over the next three days to and from Australia and New Zealand as "cancelled".