Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Australian superstar chef who remains unknown at home

Neil Perry, Shannon Bennett and Matt Moran may have higher profiles at home, but Newcastle-born and raised Brett Graham is Australia’s most successful chef on the global stage.
Graham began his cooking career at Scratchley’s, “a simple Newcastle
Brett Graham
fish restaurant”, at the age of 15, but now has two Michelin stars at The Ledbury, Notting Hill, London, which is regarded as one of the best restaurants in Europe. He also has a share in acclaimed gastro pub The Harwood Arms.
Now 34, the man known to his friends as ‘Bazza’ worked under notoriously harsh taskmaster Liam Tomlin at Banc restaurant in Sydney, winning the Josephine Pignolet Award – for which he earned a trip to Britain. Working at The Square under chef Philip Howard, he was named ‘Young Chef of the Year’ in 2002.
For eight years, The Ledbury has been at the top level (it currently ranks No. 10 in Restaurant magazine’s new 2014 world’s 50 best restaurants list) and unlike many other celebrity chefs, Graham is almost always behind the pans, although he took a few days off to cook at a $1000-a-head Starlight Foundation fundraising dinner - his first trip to Sydney for five years - and for Qantas epiQure club members at the luxurious rural getaway Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa late last year.
He also found time to host a cooking class for Hunter TAFE students as part of his Brett Graham Scholarship program, which helps young Australian chefs reach the next level.
I sat down with Brett during his busy schedule to find out about his rise through the restaurant ranks and conducted this interview that first appeared in Selector Magazine: www.selectormagazine.com.au/
What was the biggest break you have had in your career thus far?
Winning the Josephine Pignolet Award for young chefs when I was working at Banc. I won a trip to London, a city I knew nothing about at the time, and ended up working at The Square, a two-hat Michelin restaurant in Mayfair. It was a different world. I learned a lot while I was working with Liam Tomlin – he ran a tight ship, but he was an amazing guy and it was a terrific learning experience. He was a fantastic mentor, a hard worker and it was the most important part of my career. He finished off a lot of chefs and taught them what it means to run a successful restaurant.
You only come back to Australia very occasionally. Any plans to return and open a restaurant at home?
Not in the immediate future, no. I’ve got a successful restaurant and am responsible for a lot of staff. I take that very seriously. I have an English wife, Natalie, and that is where my life is right now. We bought our first house in Richmond a couple of years ago and are nicely settled.
Brett Graham and Neil Perry at Wolgan Valley
What is the key to getting access to the best produce?
You have to build long-term relationships with your suppliers; that’s a major key to sourcing the best. You want produce that is prepared to your specifications, which is why I send my suppliers Christmas presents rather than the other way around. You want consistency and quality all the time. I’m on the phone from 7.30am each morning talking to suppliers to find out what is available for that night’s service.
What is the major difference between menus in Australia and those in Britain?
There is a real appetite in Britain for wild game and fowl. I’m a very keen hunter and I see a growing interest in dishes using ingredients like venison, pheasant and partridge. Australians should certainly be eating more kangaroo. I’m not into the idea of eating wombats or possums, but kangaroos need to be controlled and they produce very good quality meat.
What is the key to your approach?
It has to be seasonal produce; produce that reflects what is happening outside at that particular time. I also want my staff to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone dining at The Ledbury has the best possible experience. Eat seasonally, eat locally.
You’re one of the hardest workers in the industry. What drives you?
I like to be in my own restaurant, and like to be at the pans. I want to be there for lunch and for dinner and we do six lunches and seven dinners each week. I do have to have a day off every now and then. I only do charity stuff away from The Ledbury. I’m not into going to different events as a celebrity chef. All that means is that the standards at your own restaurant will eventually drop. I don’t care about what restaurant critics have to say about what we do, either – the most important reviews we get are from our customers. I’m not interested in looking after celebrities. The most important people are our regulars. I might recommend a steak medium-rare, but if a customers wants a steak well done, then that’s what he is going to get.
Are you a believer in wine and food matching?
We have four sommeliers on our team, which shows the importance we place on wine service. We have over half a million pounds worth of wine in our cellars, so we have some lovely mature wines. We tend to drink wine older in England than people do here where a lot of people are drinking 2011s and 2012s. It’s an eclectic list with anything from Bass Phillip to Felton Road and, my favourite, Château Lynch-Bages. Australian wine sells well, but not amazingly.
What has struck you about the hospitality industry while you have been at home?
It worries me that training here seems to have been cut back. Australian chefs have always had a reputation for being the most well-organised, the best drilled, but I think England now is putting more emphasis on training and is going forward, where Australia is going backwards. What Australia has to do is stop cutting back funding for TAFE training. It is so important for young people to get the best possible training and that’s why I’m so passionate about my scholarship program. Front of house also needs more recognition. It is a real skill to get waiting a table right.
The Ledbury lusciousness
What advice would you have for aspiring young chefs?
Travel internationally. It broadens the mind and exposes you to different ideas and flavours. I’m always happy to give talented people a chance. Any Australians who want to work at The Ledbury for a week or two should be encouraged. You have to give back.
How important would it be for you to win a third Michelin star and where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
If it happens it could change a whole lot of things, but the game plan is not about a third star, or about better cutlery, or putting more truffles on a dish, it is about making The Ledbury a terrific place to enjoy dinner. In 10 years’ time? No idea mate. Some part of me would love to have a farm, but that’s just a dream.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Want to be right at the centre of the Margaret River action?


There is one major choice to be made for visitors to Margaret River. 

Given it is a three-hour drive from Perth you are likely to need accommodation for at least a couple of nights (and for several to explore this beautiful region properly).

So do you want to stay out in the vineyards? Or where the restaurants and bars are, in Margaret River township. 

My preference is to have a long lunch at one of the many excellent winery restaurants (Voyager Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Vasse Felix, Hay Shed Hill, Cullen, Knee Deep, Aravina Estate and Xanadu among them) and then spend my evenings in town, where there are plenty of options right on the doorstep and driving is not necessary.

A new discovery (for me, anyway) is the delightful Traill apartments, directly above The Dome eatery and across the road from the Margaret River Visitors Centre. 

Whether you want to dine at Muster or Swings Taphouse, enjoy a beer or a glass of wine at one of the two pubs, or sample a range of ethnic foods, everything is but a stroll away. 
Deco Aparttment bedroom


Known as the Deco and Marine penthouses at The Traill, the two apartments are in contrasting styles but both beautifully equipped for a short- or long-term stay, including for self-catering. 

Housed in a French provincial-style building to reflect the South West’s connection with the French explorers, the two upmarket penthouses each have two bedrooms and plenty of room in which to relax and entertain.

The Deco Penthouse has a classical Art Deco style with French doors leading out to an expansive terrace that's ideal for a late afternoon aperitif or a cocktail party, while the Marine Penthouse has blue and white decor, French shutters and a definite seaside vibe.
Marine Apartment lounge 


Both are equipped with air conditioning, TV and DVD systems, cooking facilities, wi-fi, laundry facilities, Foxtel channels, private phones and bath/shower/spa in each en suite bathroom.

This adults-only accommodation features luxurious king-size beds and is surprisingly quiet given the location - and also has its own off-street parking. 

The Traill, 99 Bussell Highway, Margaret River, 6285. (0409109241). www.thetraill.com.au. There is a two-night minimum stay requirement.

     

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Queenscliff - the perfect place to do absolutely nothing



There are few places where strolling around doing nothing are as appealing as Queenscliff, once the de rigueur holiday destination for Melbourne’s rich and famous.

Many Victorian-era buildings and an old-style pier (right) remain intact in this historic old resort town, 30 kilometres from Geelong by road and a ferry ride from Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula.

Many visitors enjoy taking a steam train ride along part of the old railway track to Melbourne, while others are content just to walk out along the pier past the stoic fishermen.

This is also a slow-paced shoppers’ heaven with a wide range of arts and crafts stores, old-fashioned sweet shops, places selling hand-made jewellery (my wife was particularly taken by the earrings at Portobello and underwent some retail therapy) and second-hand bookshops. There are half-a-dozen galleries selling the work of local artists.

The Vue Grand Hotel serves modern cuisine to an appreciative local audience. Casual Ginger Mai's and the Couta Boat Café are also popular.
We were also delighted to find an excellent providores store that would not be out of place in Paddington or South Yarra; Farm Foods.
There are probably a couple of dozen places to stay if sea breezes and long walks are your thing, ranging from the Athelstane House and the venerable Vue Grand to self-catering options including Banks at Queenscliffe and Ruby's bed and breakfast. 

The Vue Grand is an iconic and historic 32-room boutique hotel with a range of comfortable  accommodation, including the Turret Suite with its magical water views. 
Try the Grand Dining Room for a fine experience (sample a five-course menu for $85, or $135 matched withe Bellarine Peninsula wines), or perhaps the Vue Street Bar for a more relaxed meal and a glass or two of craft beer.
The Vue Grand Hotel, 46 Hesse Street, Queenscliff, Victoria. (03) 5258 1544. www.vuegrand.com.au
    

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A fun and funky Bangkok hotel with gourmet options


Some hotels give off the right vibe from the moment you enter the lobby.

In the case of the Pullman Bangkok Hotel G, that vibe is ultra-cool. This after all, is a hotel that has female DJ spinning chill-out tunes right across the way from the check-in desk.

Formerly the Sofitel Silom, the refurbed and re-imagined Pullman stands out from the crowd in a city that is chock-a-block with classy and affordable hotels.

It's a big hotel, something that doesn't always sit well with me, that features 469 stylish rooms (think almost all-white decor) with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the impressive and constantly changing Bangkok skyline. 

The hotel, unashamedly aiming for a market of hipsters, has a good selection of food and beverage outlets, 12 meeting spaces, a fitness centre, open-air pool and spa. But it is the staff, uniformly cheerful and helpful, that play just as big a role as the the hotel's urban attitude.

I liked the speedy check-in, the snack bar and bar in the lobby, the comfortable lobby chairs and the ground-floor 24-hour burger bar a lot. I liked the videos playing in the lifts, and the art installations. 

But I liked my well-equipped room even more. Spacious and bright, its features included a pillow menu, bathrooms with separated bathtub and shower, Roger & Gallet bathroom amenities, iPod and iPad docking station, free wi-fi in all areas, satellite/cable TV with a good choice of overseas channels, minibars, coffee and tea facilities and flat-screen TVs. 

For those with the cash to flash, G Suite rooms offer personalised private check in and butler service, along with large separate living areas and private bars, and there are also executive floors with access to a private lounge. 

The hotel also offers concierge and secretarial services - and there are free Mac computers in the lobby for guests to use. 

The star of the show, however, is Scarlett Wine Bar & Restaurant (right) with its panoramic views of the Bangkok skyline. This buzzing bar and bistro has an excellent selection of both cocktails and wine, and the city’s largest selection of cheeses, charcuterie and tapas.

The 25 Degrees restaurant serves real burgers around the clock in a milkbar-themed setting while Playground, over two levels, is a laid-back cocktail bar.

Impressive breakfasts are served in the Mistral Restaurant, which somehow lacks the energy of the rest of the hotel. 

With early bird rooms here starting from around $90 a night, it's easy to enjoy five-star luxury at three-star prices.

Pullman Bangkok Hotel G, Silom, 188 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500
T. +66 2238 1991. www.pullmanbangkokhotelG.com

Thai Airways International flies 40 times a week from Australia to Bangkok with connections domestic Thailand, Asia, India and Europe, South Africa and Los Angeles. For more information, quotes and bookings visit thaiairways.com.au.
  

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Luxury on a pauper's budget: Hobart's latest accommodation star

Is it a hotel? Not really. Is it a guesthouse? Not exactly. Is it a hostel? Well not like any hostel you've stayed in before.

Rose Flynn and Antony Langdon, the young owners of Hobart's newest chic accommodation offering, call their new property Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse. 
Picture: Nick Osborne 


Open just a week, it has been described as being perfect for those with Champagne tastes on a beer budget.

A beautifully restored 1895 mansion in the suburb of Battery Point (with an extension built in 1910), Montacute has delightful gardens, plenty of car parking and is within walking distance of both Salamanca Place and downtown Hobart. 

From the outside it looks gracious; and inside is a revelation with recent renovations and some tasteful decorating resulting in what looks like a chic, boutique hotel with lovely lounges, verandahs and nooks and crannies. 

The bedrooms, too, are simple but delightful. All feature beds with crisp cotton linen, duvets, woollen blankets and fluff pillows with reading lamps and power points for all and free wi-fi throughout the property. 

So how, then, can double rooms in this delightful establishment cost just $50 per person per night? And shared room with bunks (ideal for backpackers or groups of children) cost just $40 per person? 

The answer is that none of the rooms have en suite bathrooms; all washing facilities are shared. 

Which Langdon and Flynn don't see as an issue for most of their guests.

"Since we've opened we've found a lot of people would prefer to save a couple of hundred dollars a night on accommodation and spend that money enjoying Hobart's many gourmet offerings," they say. 

There is nothing wrong with the bathrooms. They are modern and impeccably clean. And unless Montacute is full to capacity there should be no issues with waiting for a shower or to brush your teeth. 

So Montacute is luxurious and welcoming - and brilliantly situated - if you are willing to compromise on having your own facilities.

Cooking facilities include a spacious kitchen with a range of appliances like microwaves and sandwich makers, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans and plenty of fridge and freezer space for those who wish to self cater, although there are also several good takeaway food outlets in the neighbourhood. 

There is a long dining table, and tables for two on the upper and lower balconies, as well as outdoor tables with umbrellas and picnic rugs for those who want to laze on the lawn with a glass of Tasmanian pinot noir (Montacute is BYO right now but plans a wine list focusing on local producers).

The bunkhouse hires out brand new bicycles for $25 a day, or $20 after 1pm and also organizes a range of excursions to the likes of the Huon and the Derwent valleys. 

I can see many people in rural Tasmania using it as an overnight accommodation option after attending the theatre or a concert in Hobart. But they might have to fight off canny interstate and overseas visitors for a room, or bunk.

Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse, 1 Stowell Avenue, Battery Point. Hobart. (03) 6212 0474. www.montacute.com.au. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A little slice of Launceston luxury

Launceston is a delightful city - the gateway to the Tamar Valley and full of historic buildings and beautiful parks. 

Settled in 1806, Launceston is one of Australia's oldest cities and was named after Launceston in Cornwall. There are many well-preserved Victorian and Georgian homes.
It retains a very English feel and moves at the pace of country town. Locals and visitors alike enjoy a mix of top-notch eateries like Stillwater, Black Cow Bistro and Novaro's as well as many charming cafes (head to the Charles Street precinct for some of the best). 

Spectacular Cataract Gorge, with its chairlift rides, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery and City park with its Japanese macaque monkeys are all popular leisure destinations.

Tasmania's second-largest city, often overshadowed by Hobart, is at the junction of the North Esk and South Esk Rivers, where they join to become the Tamar River, as is arguably the city's best hotel.

I've stayed at Peppers Seaport (above) several times, most recently a couple of weeks ago, and always been impressed by its dramatic setting overlooking the water - but less so by the staff, some of whom have been a little, shall we say, sharp and distracted.

Not so on my most recent visit when the service could not have been better, even though I was mysteriously allocated a disabled person's suite, suitable for someone in a wheelchair.

No matter. The suite had spectacular marina views and was spacious and well equipped with iPod dock, satellite TV and wi-fi capability. Some guests get complimentary wi-fi. 

Just a short walk from Launceston town centre and 15 minutes drive from Launceston Airport the hotel is built in the shape of a ship on the site of an old dry dock. 

And the accommodation is very stylish. You can pick up a luxury marina view suite on internet booking sights for around $260 - which is great value - and other rooms and suites are even more affordable with city view rooms starting from around $169.

Mud Bar and Restaurant, now run by former Stillwater chef Don Cameron, is part of the same complex and the waterfront Seaport strip with its cafes and eateries (including a fish and chippery) is just a few paces away. 

The hotel gives guests a voucher for their car window to prevent parking issues and is 15 minutes' drive from both Launceston Airport and the start of the Tamar Valley Wine Route. 

Peppers Seaport Hotel, 28 Seaport Boulevard, Launceston. (03) 6345 3333. www.peppers.com.au/seaport 

Friday, 11 April 2014

So just how much should you tip?

How much is a fair tip - and who should get one? 

It is a question that confronts travellers every time they enter a new country. What are the local rules? 

Even at home in Australia you'll find differing opinions. We had a very good lunch today and ended up with a bill for $72, which I paid by debit card. I left a $10 cash tip because both the meal and service had been good and I was in a good mood.

On another day I might have left $7 - I generally tip around 10% if I've been happy with my meal, and slightly more if the staff have been outstanding. 

In the United States, of course, I would be considered stingy. With almost all servers on the minimum wage they rely on tips to survive. A minimum 15% (and often 20%) is required. Menu prices, however, are often very reasonable and servers usually very professional. 

In some countries, like Thailand, leaving small change after a meal is enough, while in others, like China, Japan and Malaysia, a tip is not required as wait staff are paid more than a living wage. 

A recent MasterCard survey of 7932 respondents aged 18-64 in 14 Asia/Pacific countries found only 4% of Japanese said they were accustomed to leaving a tip at a restaurant - they must be a popular lot in the US. South Koreans, Taiwanese and New Zealanders are also stingy tippers, reflecting the culture of their own countries. 

Thai diners came out on top - 84% said they leave a tip - while diners from India (78%) and the Philippines (73%) were well ahead of the 46% of Australians who say they regularly leave a gratuity. 

"Cultural nuances can make tipping a rule of thumb in some Asian markets, while in others it can be discouraged or even considered rude," said Georgette Tan of MasterCard. 

Wikipedia tells me "tipping is not the norm in Australia". Hmm. I know a lot of workers who would disagree. And what about this? "There is no tradition of tipping somebody who is just providing a service (e.g. a hotel porter)."  

I'd certainly be inclined to tip if someone went beyond the call of duty, maybe holding onto kids while you check in, or helping with the excess amounts of luggage many parents are forced to travel with.

And we've only covered restaurants and front-line hotel staff. What about cab drivers, porters, concierges, barbers, baristas, takeaway delivery guys, room maids and masseuses?


I just checked a US website that recommends you tip bellmen/porters $1 to $2 per bag, $5 minimum, concierges $5-$20 depending on the service, housekeepers $2 to $5 per night, valet parking dudes $5 and room service a minimum of $5. That's just added a whole heap to the cost of your hotel stay and is well worth bearing in mind when budgeting for a North American holiday.

And what to do when service is not up to scratch but a hand is still out?   

What about those con merchant porters at Denpasar Airport, or that bloke at a hotel in Perth who took one suitcase for me and seemed to expect a $10 thank you? 

My head hurts just thinking about it.    

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A hotel revolution that will delight guests

Ever checked into a hotel late in the evening after a big night out and then cursed the fact you have to check-out at 10am?

Ever arrived at your hotel hot and sweaty only to be told you cannot check-in and enjoy a refreshing shower until 3pm? 

Well, one Malaysian hotel is addressing those issues with the Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur announcing its newest innovation: The Majestic 24, which means you pay for 24 hours of hotel room and actually get to use it for 24 hours. 

The new scheme, initially to operate until the end of September, casts aside the traditional hotel practice of a standard check-in and check-out time. Now guests enjoy a full 24-hour stay at no extra cost.

The Majestic 24 plans means guests will now be in control to determine their own check-in and check-out time without worrying about old-fashioned deadlines. It's perfect for anyone wanting to catch a few hours of sleep before catching a plane at an ungodly hour. 


"“As our hotel receives guests from all over the world, we feel that this will allow our guests some flexibility, particularly weary business travellers who may only stay for one or two nights," said Majestic general manager Jeffrey Mong. "This should ease them of the worry of having to check-out at a specific time or pay an additional charge for a late check-out." 
Guests booking a room through the website (www.majestickl.com), email (tmklresv@ytlhotels.com.my) or over the phone can now state their preferred check-in time and can choose to check-out at the same time on the day of their departure.

The Majestic 24 is open to all guests and is applicable for stays on any day of the week and to all room packages, including the business stopover package that includes breakfast, complimentary wi-fi, laundry and a two-way transfer to Kuala Lumpur International Airport via the KLIA Express Train.

The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur opened its doors in December 2012 and includes a restored iconic building that was constructed in 1932 and was once the grand Hotel Majestic, a KL legend. 

The new hotel has 300 rooms and suites and is the only Kuala Lumpur’ member of The Leading Hotels of The World group. It owned and managed by YTL Hotels. 

# Please note I have not stayed at the Majestic Hotel and am not recommending it. I simply applaud its initiative.  

The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur, 5 Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. +603 2785 8000. www.majestickl.com

# Since posting this I have been advised that the Hotel U in Chiang Mai and the Novotel at Bangkok Airport also have similar, if less publicised, policies. Let's hope it is a trend. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

Glitzy and glamorous: Perth's place to see and be seen

You can tell a lot about a hotel from its front-line staff. If the guys who greet you at the front door are smiling and efficient; your baggage gets stored and taken to your room with minimal fuss and check-in is quick and painless then the hotel probably has its priorities right. 

And so it proved with a recent one-night stay at the flashy Crown Metropol; part of Perth's casino complex at Burswood. 
The Crown Metropol is clearly a hotel for those who like a good time. Perth is a party town and the Crown complex is at its epicentre. 

There are a lot of people visiting the Metropol who are beautifully groomed but have spent too much time in the tanning salon - and maybe a little too much money at their tattooist, but what the heck, they are having fun. The vibe is a little like the Gold Coast on steroids - after a visit to the cosmetic surgeon.

Here, on the banks of the Swan River, Crown completed an eight-year $750 million redevelopment of a tired site two years ago with two international hotels, Crown Metropol and Crown Promenade, alongside a 24-hour casino, a 20,000-seat indoor stadium, and spa and fitness facilities. 

The restaurants are world-class, with Neil Perry's Rockpool Bar and Grill, another Nobu outpost and Bistro Guillaume among the higher-end choices.

The 11-storey Crown Metropol comprises 395 guest rooms and two VIP "mansions" - to which I was not invited. 

The lobby is alive with drinkers, gamblers and party goers and rooms are surprisingly reasonable, starting at under $300 a night. 

The rooms are well equipped with 24-hour room service, wi-fi access, iPod docking stations and the latest in-room movies and cable television channels. 

There are all the usual accoutrements; pools and business centres, but forget the flashy lobby and attention-grabbing lifts: it was the staff that make the Metropol stand out from the crowd - and made it so much better than the very disappointing (and more expensive) Pan Pacific downtown. 

Crown Metropol Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Perth, 6100. (08) 9362 8888. www.crownmetropolperth.com.au 

Friday, 4 April 2014

How hotels manage to infuriate their guests

Just the other day I drove up to a hotel in Perth in my rental car. It was early evening and I was only staying briefly: I had a dawn flight to catch the next day.

The first thing that struck me was that the hotel did not have any parking. But the guy at the front door assured me he would valet park the car for $40 a day, but with an additional $30 charge should I actually want access to it. Or there was a car park down the hill that would charge $30 overnight. 

I opted to put a couple of dollars into a parking meter down the street and to walk around 40 metres - saving of $68 on the hotel's first option and of $28 on the second option. 

Now call me old fashioned, but I recall when hotels used to be in the hospitality industry. They wanted to cosset their guests and make sure they were looked after. 

Now many hotels are looking to gouge their guests as often as possible - and often at a ridiculous nickel and dime level. 

Take wi-fi charges. Wi-fi access is offered free by hotels in many parts of the world as a service to guests. Just about any guesthouse or cafe in Asia offers it as a matter of course. 

Yet this same Perth hotel wanted $25 a day for wi-fi  - and the Sydney hotel I was in the next night wanted $24.95. It is gouging on an extraordinary scale. 

The owner of a hotel in Launceston tells me that high-speed ADSL2 costs him $500 a month for the hotel - just $17 day over his entire property. 

Just work out the profits being made by hotels charging $25 or more a day when they could avoid all the irritation by simply building in an extra 50c charge on each room night.

Then there is the turndown service and evening room check (changing used towels etc). That used to be pretty standard in all luxury hotels. Now you need to ring down before 6pm and request a turndown service. 

The same with the "clean, green" scam, where unless you put your used towels in a specific spot each day or they will be recycled for use the next day. Hotels says they are helping the environment. They are also offering a lesser service and saving themselves heaps of money in washing costs. 

Other hotel tricks that grate: 

# Having $200 taken from a credit card as a "guarantee" - and then being told on checkout it will be refunded "within seven working days". 

# Charging for a daily newspaper (something that used to be a gesture of goodwill). 

# Bottles of room-temperature water in rooms for which the hotel wants you to pay $8.50 or more. 

And don't even get me started on mini bar charges ($7 for a small packet of crisps was the most recent outrage).

And sometimes I wonder if the people who design hotel rooms have ever had to stay in one. 

There are the power sockets that are impossible to find, or so close to the ground that most plugs will not fit. 

There are bedside lights that require you to get out of bed to turn them on and off. 

There are bedside alarm clocks that are fitted to shine a light directly into your face as you attempt to get to sleep (and then emit a shrill tone and wake you at 5am because the last occupant of the room had an early flight to catch). My tip: Use your iPhone as an alarm and pull these things out at the socket.

Then there are the luxury hotels that use the cheapest possible toilet paper, or save costs by offering small, cheap bath towels. Or dirty cheap shower curtains that cling to your body.

Then, of course, there are the ludicrous check-in and check-out queues at even the best hotels; staff in serving roles (hello Sydney hotel) without even basic language skills and hotels that want to charge for use of their business centre simply to print out your boarding pass. 

Throw in hard pillows, air-conditioning remote controls that demand a degree in aeronautical engineering, windows that will not open to let in fresh air and ridiculously complex showers in which you risk scalding yourself while setting the temperature.

And rooms that are not ready by the 2pm check-in time; when the same hotel wants you out by 10am.

Oh, and curtains/blinds that do not shut properly, elevators that are too small and too slow and plastic coded room keys that fail, necessitating a walk back to reception and another wait for that slow lift and for the receptionist to finish their private conversation.

It's a good job I love travelling so much!  
  

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Star chefs named for Savour Tasmania in May

Will Meyrick, whose Sarong restaurant on Bali was recently named No.1 in Indonesia and among the top 50 in Asia, heads the guest list for the 2014 edition of leading Australian food and wine festival Savour Tasmania.
Meyrick (above), a Briton who spent time cooking in Sydney, is known for his innovative takes on traditional Asian street food. He also runs Mama San in Bali, where I dined late last year, and the E & O in Jakarta. 

Now in its sixth year, Savour Tasmania combines premium local produce with global culinary expertise to raise the national and international profile of the Tasmanian food and beverage industry.

Other star chefs involved include Sydney wild child Daniel Hong (below right) of Sydney’s Mr Wong, Ms G's and El Loco, Christopher Shane Chan Yai Ching of Nobu Melbourne, and Daniel Wilson of Huxtable in Melbourne.

The celebrations kick off on Wednesday, May 21, with a pork-themed event hosted by Wilson and matched with beverages from the Coal River Valley in the recently refurbished Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s Watergate Courtyard.

On Thursday, May 22, Meyrick will pair with Andre Kropp, executive chef of the Henry Jones Art Hotel, for a five-course Asian dinner with matched wines.

Other standout events include the Savour Long Table Dinner on the Hobart waterfront on Saturday, May 24. The event will be Asian-styled and will include dishes from guest chefs Meyrick, Hong and Chan Yai Ching.


The celebrations also include the Red Wine Weekend, on May 24-25 at which vignerons and winemakers from Tasmania will showcase their best wines and masterclasses will be hosted by the likes of Nick Stock, Roger McShane and Sue Dyson, Gerald Ellis, Tim Goddard, Curly Haslam-Coates and yours truly. Tickets are $25 at the door or are available for $21.50 online at 

www.eventfinder.com.au/2014/tasmanian-red-wine-weekend/hobart

Savour Tasmania was launched by Premier Will Hodgman at lunchtime on April 3. Tickets went on sale on April 4. For the full program and prices visit www.savourtasmania.com.au or phone 1300 795 257.