Saturday, 30 May 2015

A Hunter Valley chef finds himself in "the zone"


I've been eating food cooked by Emerson Rodriquez for several years now - right back to the time he took over the kitchen at Peppers Guest House. 

But I've never seen so much consistency of flavour or quality as when I ate recently at the chef's latest home: Emerson's Cafe and Restaurant at Adina Vineyard at Lovedale in the Hunter Valley.

The chef patron has almost 20 years of experience and he and his wife Samantha focus on seasonal menus promoting locally sourced produce at sensible prices. 

He enjoyed success at Emerson's at Pokolbin, but is shining even more brightly in the casual ambiance of his new venue overlooking the Adina vines and olive groves. The terrace is a lovely choice in summer.

At a recent lunch paired with Adina wines, there was a dazzling array of dishes. To be frank, I was not particularly hungry after several days of eating my way around the Hunter, but my appetite was revived by dishes like miso-cured Tasmanian salmon with pickled cucumber, soy jelly, seaweed dusted puffed rice and fresh horseradish cream, a wonderfully vibrant start. 

Then came a duo of Berkshire pork with an ash-coated pork fillet alongside a slow-roasted pork belly wrapped in braised savoy cabbage, caramelised Gala apple, date puree and crisp cavolo nero - the two pork dishes serving as a counterpoint to each other in terms of texture. 

That was followd by a sous vide-cooked duck supreme with duck hash, carrot puree, split peas and crisp barley with an orange glaze; rich but not too rich.



Then came another duo; roasted lamb rump and slow-cooked lamb shoulder with brussels sprouts, parsnip cream and pickling (pickled) onions. 

And to finish; banana fritter, house-made Nulkaba Farm honey ice cream and dulce de leche

Lovely food in a lovely setting - and there is the option of an eight-course dinner degustation matched with local wines, while al a carte dishes can be served individually or to share. Every plate is beautifully presented.

 I'd like to see more attention paid to the menu writing (pumkin for instance) but the service here is bright, friendly and knowledgeable. 

Next time I want to try char-grilled spatchcock with zucchini, glazed baby carrots and roasted pinenuts, or maybe ras el hanout-spiced king prawns, with crusty ciabata. 

There will certainly be a next time - and Emerson's is certainly worth a visit during Hunter Valley Wine and Food Month in June.   


Emerson's is at 492 Lovedale Road, Lovedale, NSW. 02 4930 7029. www.emersonsrestaurant.com.auBreakfast Saturday and Sunday: 8am-11am, Lunch Wednesday-Sunday: 11am-3pm. Dinner Thursday-Sunday 6pm-10pm. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Spoiled for choice at Hong Kong International Airport

There are airport lounges and there are airport lounges, Some are barely functional with a choice of soft drinks and snacks and a handful of day old newspapers.

Then there are the Cathay Pacific lounges at Hong Kong International Airport; five in all, offering a wide choice to frequent flyers, business and first-class passengers and those lucky enough to snaffle an invite.




When my flight was slightly delayed last week (it made up the time during the flight), I was delighted to find myself ensconced in the luxury of The Pier, the lounge closest to the departure gate of my Hong Kong-Melbourne Cathay departure. 

There's a warm welcome, a choice of seating arrangements, a massive array of daily newspapers from around the world; plenty of power points for charging phones and laptops, a good selection of wines and snacks and, holy of holies, a noodle bar where were your dishes are made fresh to order. And very good they are too.




The Pier services gates 62-66 at HKIA; The Wing at gates 1-4; The Cabin is at gate 23, The Bridge at gate 35 and there is a fifth lounge in the arrivals hall. 

Cathay Pacific boasts that its lounges offer daybeds, luxurious showers and space to relax, refresh, work or socialise. You can choose whichever sanctuary suits you the best. 

The Wing is the flagship lounge and has been widely praised for its architecture. There are 35 Cathay Solus chairs designed to accommodate single and the lounge is managed by The Peninsula Group, which also owns Hong Kong’s iconic Peninsula Hotel.



Like at The Pier, there is a noodle bar, and passengers can enjoy delicious Char Siu Bao pork buns as well as a choice of noodles. 

There is a long bar overlooking the runway and a coffee shop, as well as an area with six fully equipped IT workstations, as well as high-speed wifi. The lower level also features a total of 24 shower suites lined with Travertine stone and warm bamboo wood.

The Haven, in the first class lounge, features a buffet spread that is frequently replenished as well as an a la carte menu and a Champagne Bar. 

Like The Wing, The Cabin was designed by London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners. The modern design is separated into five zones for working, relaxing, being entertained and refreshments. The IT Zone has wifi, a choice between PCs and Macs and a video conference suite. 

Guests can also borrow one of 20 wifi enabled iPads that have been pre-loaded with the latest apps including newspapers, magazines and games.



There are plenty of dining options at The Cabin including a self-service buffet and Cathay Pacific’s first delicatessen - The Deli - where they can enjoy made-to-order hot sandwiches, fresh antipasti and salads. There is also a Health Bar serving freshly squeezed juices and hot or cold Chinese herbal teas.

The Bridge consists of north and south wings, each extending from the central reception
area. The north wing features The Bakery, which offers freshly baked bread and pizzas, as
well as sandwiches, pastries, Asian and Western soups, and fresh salads. 

The south wing features The Bistro, a self-service food area and the Coffee Loft, along with nine shower suites.


The Pier, where I spent my time, is designed to feel like a luxurious apartment. I thought it was great, but it is apparently due to undergo a refurb soon.   

Finally for passengers arriving in Hong Kong who want to freshen up, there is The Arrival, which offers eight showers as well as workstations, wifi, televisions, and international papers and magazines. There is also a complimentary self-serve buffet. 

For details of who can access the lounges see www.cathaypacific.com.au 

Cathay Pacific has over 70 flights a week to Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, offering a choice of flying in economy, premium economy or business class.Cathay has at least three flights daily from Sydney, three flights daily from Melbourne, daily flights from Brisbane, seven flights weekly from Cairns and Adelaide, and ten flights weekly from Perth. 

The writer was given lounge access by Cathay Pacific   




Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The airline passengers from hell

Regular fliers dread being sat next to the grossly obese passenger who spills over into their seat; the chatterbox who never stops talking; the imbecile who considers the aircraft an ideal place in which trim their finger nails or, perhaps worst of all, the passenger with extreme body odour issues. 

But there are also parents who make no effort to prevent their offspring from screaming from takeoff to landing and dozens of other pestilent fellow fliers. 

On a recent long-haul flight I identified several types of traveller among a particularly moronic bunch who pushed my buttons. Which most annoys you? 

Passengers who cannot hear pre-boarding announcements and march to the front of the queue even though they are in row 15 and rows 50-65 are being instructed to board? 

Those who walk to the back row of the aircraft and then turn around and try to walk back against the tide having inexplicably missed row eight? 

Passengers who carefully place two or three pieces of luggage in the overhead compartment, sit down, then realise they need a book, iPad or whatever, get back up and spend 10 minutes sorting through the bags while blocking the aisle.  

Those who wait until the plane is ready to taxi to decide to go to the toilet?

Passengers who wait until just before takeoff to decide their child's nappy needs changing and need to be herded back to their seat? .

Those bring on massive suitcases far too heavy for them to lift into the overhead cabins - but expect fellow passengers to risk life and limb to help them lift their gargantuan weapons? 


Travellers chronically unable to work out that D comes before E, or 15 before 50, who stand puzzled like a rabbit in headlights in the aircraft corridor while other more savvy passengers try to squeeze past them? 


Those who bring on massive bags and packages swinging from their shoulders, oblivious to the fact that they are assaulting other passengers as their burdens swing from side to side and crash into those unfortunate enough to already be seated?


Those who, after takeoff, talk at full volume to those next to them, oblivious to the fact that 50 or more people really don't wish to listen to their banal conversation.

Or dribblers who push their seats fully backwards as soon as they sit down and then need to be told multiple times to put them up straight for takeoff and landing.

Or maybe you have your own personal gripe about your fellow travellers? Do let me know. 

      

Monday, 25 May 2015

Somewhere special to stay in Macau

In most other hotels my room would have been at the higher-end of the scale; reserved for high rollers or those lucky enough to possess either black American Express credit cards or unlimited expense accounts. 

At the Banyan Tree Macau, however, this suite with its own relaxation pool and sweeping views across the water to China is an entry-level room. 



The Banyan Tree is an all-suite property, part of the massive Galaxy casino complex but also quiet and separate. Because while gambling is a major reason to visit Macau, it is far from the only one.

You'll find fantastic food - both Chinese and Portuguese - some of the finest spa facilities on the planet and plenty of shopping and adventure, too. If you feel like it you can even bungy jump from the Macau Tower.


The hotel is located in the Cotai quarter, a 15-minute drive  minutes from Macau International Airport and the Taipa ferry terminal (with direct connections to both Hong Kong and Hong Kong International Airport, as well as Chinese destinations). 

It is one of those hotels that still believes in old-fashioned virtues like service. There is someone to take your bags as you arrive, to hand you an umbrella if it is raining and if you ask for a newspaper it is delivered to your room within a couple of minutes. An evening turndown service (and a little gift) is de rigueur

There are 256 suites at this urban resort, including the ultra-exclusive Presidential Suite and 10 villas with their own gardens and private swimming pools. 



The Banyan Tree Macau is the first resort in Macau to feature relaxation pools in all its spacious suites, which start at 100 square metres - and there is also a Japanese onsen-style tub in the bathroom, which comes with all mod-cons, including a heated toiled seat and big fluffy towels. 

There is free wifi, and it is reliably good, too, without the block on sites like Facebook and Twitter that you find in mainland China. 
  
All rooms have massive LCD TVs, stereo systems, mini safes, mini bars, bathrobes, an iPod docking station, BlueRay DVD and coffee machine. 

There are two on-site restaurant, the high-rise Belon, offering seafood and grills, with an extensive wine selection and Saffron, an all-day dining restaurant offering Thai cuisine and superb buffet breakfasts (although an absence of Vegemite was noted). 

In a complex with several other hotels and the Galaxy casino, there are endless other options for eating out, and several more traditional options can be found in Tai Pa village, a 15-minute walk away.



Spa aficionados can seek solace in the award-winning Banyan Tree Spa (above), spectacularly designed with 19 treatment rooms. There is also a gymnasium and indoor swimming pool on the 31st floor, as well as an outdoor pool with private cabanas.

Banyan Tree Macau, Avenida Marginal Flor de Lotus, Cotai, Macau, China. +853 8883 6888. www.banyantree.com/en/cn-china-macau

For details on visiting Macau: www.macautourism.gov.mo

Cathay Pacific has over 70 flights a week to Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, with direct high-speed ferry links to Macau taking less than an hour. 

For details see www.cathaypacific.com.au and for fares visit www.cathaypacific.com/cx/en_AU/destinations/flights-to-hong-kong.html 

# The writer was a guest of Macau Tourism  



  



     

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Comfort and courtesy on Cathay Pacific

Flying long-haul is not as much fun as it used to be. There is much less room to move, security is all pervasive and many planes are full to capacity. 

Both Cathay Pacific flights I took to and from Melbourne en route to Macau last week were jam-packed, but after a few years of not having flown with the Hong Kong airline I immediately felt at home. Cathay's cabin service feels as comfortable as a favourite pair of slippers.


Travelling on a discount economy ticket, I had two contrasting experiences; the luxury of being upgraded to business class on the way out (fresh orchids in the cabin are a nice touch), and a seat at the crowded back on the plane - 60D - on the way back.

Outbound, I took full advantage of the lay-flat bed - I love sleeping on planes - but on both legs I was taken by the fact the crew seemed to be both proactive and proud of what they were doing. This was a contrast to several other carriers I have flown with recently, including Singapore and LAN. 


I had dozed off and missed the meal service on the economy leg but the crew were happy enough to offer to get me a meal and provided water immediately every time I requested it. 

It wasn't perfect (my wine failed to make an appearance in business), but there was a general feel-good factor that is often missing nowadays. It is easy to see why Cathay's current slogan is #LifeWellTravelled. 

Even in economy on the A330 I managed to grab a few hours of sleep.   

Of course, Australia has had a long relationship with Cathay Pacific since it was founded in 1946 by the Australian Sydney de Kantzow and American Roy Farrell, who each put up HK$1 to register the airline. 


The pair bought a war surplus DC3, affectionately named Betsy, which they operated out of Shanghai, and flew cargo flights between China and Australia. 

They subsequently moved to Hong Kong and started operating passenger and cargo charter flights primarily around South-East Asia.  

In 1959, flights began on a new route between Hong Kong and Sydney and today Cathay Pacific operates over 70 non-stop flights a week from Australia to Hong Kong. 


One of the highlights, as it was in the past if my memory serves me well, is the food. 

Even in economy class guests are offered a choice of Asian and European dishes (on my flight sauteed beef with black bean sauce, braised chicken or penne pasta with a tomato/mushroom sauce), with light salad starters, and main course followed by cheese and dessert and, a post-dinner ice cream. 

Breakfast featured fruit, yogurt and a choice between omelette with veal sausage and Hong Kong favourite congee with dried bonito fish, peanuts and chicken. 


Cathay Pacific’s larder is also stocked with snacks, including sweet treats and noodle soups. 

In business class there is a selection of four entrées on long haul flights. I opted for Serrano ham with a tomato salad, then a delicious stir-fry of prawns and scallops in a shallot and ginger sauce. That was followed by a cheese platter and a choice of Maggie Beer ice creams.

Breakfast featured one of the best dishes I have had in the air; stir-fried egg noodles with barbecued pork and kailin. Spot on, and restaurant quality.   

The wine list featured offerings from France, Australia (d'Arenberg and Fox Creek), Austria and Portugal while the Dow's Late-Bottled Vintage Port 2009 was a lovely way to finish dinner. 

Cathay Pacific has over 70 flights a week to Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, offering a choice of flying in economy, premium economy or business class. Cathay has at least three flights daily from Sydney, three flights daily from Melbourne, daily flights from Brisbane, seven flights weekly from Cairns and Adelaide, and ten flights weekly from Perth. 

For details see www.cathaypacific.com.au and for fares visit www.cathaypacific.com/cx/en_AU/destinations/flights-to-hong-kong.html 




Friday, 22 May 2015

A terrific discovery: somewhere quirky and fun to stay in Melbourne

Don't you just hate it when you are quoted, say, $250 a night for a hotel room and end up in a shoe box paying an extra $50-60 because you needed to use the wifi, wanted a breakfast juice, fancied a beer and some crisps from the minibar and had the temerity to watch a movie?


There are no such problems at Ovolo Laneways, a quirky apartment hotel in downtown Melbourne that is inspired by the city’s eclectic sub-cultures. 

Think graffiti art on the walls, bright lights, space, no hidden charges. And you are right in the centre of the action on Little Bourke Street with Chinatown on your doorstep and Federation Square and Spring Street's restaurants and wine bars just a short stroll away.


Ovolo Laneways' new Penthouse and Terrace Suites pay tribute to the inner-city creativity - and the laneway which the apartments overlook is itself decorated with street art. 

I sampled a Terrace suite last weekend and it ticked all my key boxes; comfortable and clean, free wifi, plenty of power points, and a free minibar with a load of Coopers beers, soft drinks and waters, as well as complimentary crisps, peanuts and chocolates.


There is plenty of kitchen space, enough room (and the equipment) to whip up some cocktails and enough funky space to hold a party.

Both the Penthouse and Terrace suites include two-bedrooms, en-suite and second bathrooms, spacious lounge and dining areas, three flat-screen TVs, state-of-the-art sound systems and chic little private balconies perfect for a late afternoon cocktail. Although I must admit six remote control units is overkill in anyone's book. 


And, as previously mentioned, all Ovolo Hotel guests receive free daily replenished in-room bar and snacks, breakfast, happy hour in the Lo Lounge, access to a Nintendo Wii and games, Apple TV and wifi - all complimentary. 

The beds are extremely comfortable and the bathrooms well equipped. A friend had reported noise issues, but I had none. It might pay on check-in to request a quiet room if city noise is likely to be on concern. 


There is good news, too, in the lobby, where reception is manned by bright, knowledgeable people a million miles away from some of the slack-jawed nincompoops who check you in and out of chain hotels nowadays. 

Ovolo Laneways is full of surprises and hidden treasures, just like Melbourne," says hyperbole-driven Dirk Dalichau from Ovolo. So think touches like a Nespresso machine in the lobby and random artworks in the corridors.

The 43-room boutique hotel is close to the theatre district, boutique shopping precincts, an abundance of renowned eateries and bars and iconic Melbourne laneways and was the first international property to be acquired by Hong Kong brand Ovolo Group in 2012.


Ovolo Laneways was voted Australasia’s Best City Boutique Hotel at the 2014 World Boutique Hotel Awards. 

Options range from studios for short business trips to the entertaining potential of the Penthouse and Terraces. 

Room prices start from $260 for a studio (and can be found cheaper online) and there is flexible 24-hour check-out on offer - a huge bonus for anyone with a flight to catch. 


Ovolo Laneways is at  19 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 3000. (03) 8692 0777.  

To celebrate its new suites, Ovolo Laneways is offering 25% off for stays booked until July 2015, although terms and conditions apply.  

For more information visit: www.ovolohotels.com

# The writer was a guest of Ovolo Hotels 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The best time of the year to visit France is right now

France is a magical country to visit at any time of the year, but if you want your vacation to coincide with some of the most exciting events then you can't beat May and June.

The days are becoming longer and everything is still open (not so during the holidays in late July and August).

And you can take your pick from events including the fabulous Fete de la Musique nationally and the French Open tennis on the clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris. 

Here are just a handful of the May-June highlights in France: 
Cannes Film Festival
May 13-24

You'll have to hurry but Cannes Film Festival is one of the essential events for the film industry globally and is attended by directors and actors from around the world. An event that can't be beaten in the glamour stakes. 

Monaco Formula 1 Grand PrixMay 21-24 
 
Since 1929, the Monaco Grand Prix has been among the most prestigious car races in the world and thousands of spectators flock to the city street circuit to feel the excitement first hand. 

French Open tennis championshipsMay 24- June 7 


The most stylish of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the French Open on the red clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris attracts a chic crowd along with the rabid sports fans. 

The Weekend of the Grands CrusMay 30-31 

The weekend when the Union of the Grands Crus of Bordeaux invites lovers of great wines to experience an exceptional two days among the best wine labels of Bordeaux. An opportunity to taste the finest wines and discover the secrets behind them.

The Night of Museums May 16 

The Nuit des Musées initiative offers an opportunity to see culture in an unusual way: by night, and entirely free of charge! A unique way for people to discover the rich diversity of French museum collections. 

Fête de la Musique
June 21


Every year the Fête de la Musique is celebrated across the country, with the arrival of summer celebrated by free concerts and performances in bars, clubs, concert halls and on the streets. 

Le Mans 24-Hour Race
June 13-14
 


One of the most eagerly anticipated events on the sporting calendar, Le Mans brings together the biggest and best in motor sport for the world's most prestigious endurance motor race.



Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Newcastle: a great city for a stroll

A few weeks ago I wrote about Newcastle's resurgence as gourmet destination. During my brief stay in the city I also spent a lot of time exploring on foot (fear of booze buses rather a sudden need for exercise). 

Now the good folk at Newcastle Tourism have unveiled some new walking tours that explore various facets of the city. All you need is basic fitness and some time to spare - and there are some great bars and eateries to pop into along each walk.


Newcastle Memorial Walk
For panoramic viewa of the city and the surf – with a dose of history – stroll the region’s newest attraction, the Newcastle Memorial Walk. It was officially opened on the eve of Anzac Day 2015 and the walkway offers views from the coastline to the valley, not to mention a view of the city lights after dusk that’s hard to beat. Newcastle Memorial Walk features a series of soldier silhouettes and the names of thousands of locals who enlisted from the Newcastle area. 


Artists’ City Walking Tour
Setting off on foot isn’t just for nature lovers, it’s also a fabulous way to see the downtown area with fresh eyes. Newcastle is a city that has always supported, hosted and inspired artists and public art (including some great graffiti). The self-guided Artists’ City Walking Tour begins at Obelisk Park - one of iconic artist Margaret Olley’s favourite drawing spots - before taking in a range of galleries and public art sites before concluding at the impressive Newcastle Art Gallery


Convict and Industry Walking Tour
To explore Newcastle’s early years as a convict settlement and visit remnants of the city’s great industrial origins, take the Convict and Industry Walking Tour. Beginning at the Convict Lumber Yard, the walk takes in significant archaeological sites from the city’s convict past and concludes at the Newcastle Museum, a fascinating space full of artefacts from the region’s industrial and convict heritage.

Newcastle at War
A self-guided walking tour, Newcastle at War invites visitors to delve deep into the city’s war-time tales. Beginning at iconic Fort Scratchley and finishing at the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre at the city’s library.

Two-wheel alternative
For those who prefer to explore on two wheels, why not hire a bike from Interbike’s station at Crowne Plaza in the heart of the Honeysuckle precinct? 

Further information on Newcastle’s walking tracks and trails, including maps and guides, can be found at www.visitnewcastle.com.au/maps-guides

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

New taste treats at Zin House in Mudgee

Accomplished cook Kim Currie and winemaker David Lowe have combined to open up Zin House, a Mudgee restaurant housed in a farm house that takes its name from the zinfandel vineyard that the site overlooks. 

There are also views of the organic Tinja vines, an organic garden where much of the produce is grown and 40 hens to produce eggs with the balance of the ingredients coming from neighbours and trusted regional producers.



Owner/cook Currie is designing weekend lunch menus based around six classic courses and there is an optional wine flight to match. The tables are communal and lunches have been known to last long into the afternoon. 

Lunch costs $75 per person with a flight of six half glasses of wine for $35.

All meals are cooked simply and from scratch, and in addition to weekend lunches there are also tapas on Friday and Saturday nights, along with a range of gourmet events. A farm shop is planned.

Currie says the dishes are intentionally simple. “We do as little as possible,” she says. “No foams, no droplets, no smears, no deconstruction, no stacks, no tweezer arrangements. Just real food cooked freshly, from scratch.”



While the six-course menu changes weekly it follows a pattern of bread/butter/oil/olives; charcuterie; tart; slow-cooked meat with salad; cheese; dessert/coffee.

“We grow our own organic beef and lamb and our pork comes from Putta Bucca free range,” Currie says. 

“The garden is heavily planted with herbs, salad greens and seasonal additions. We get honey from our own hives, eggs from our chooks and make constant raids on the property's orchards. There are major new plantings of figs, feijoas, blood plums, quinces, blood oranges, lemons, limes and persimmons.”

The wines are made by Lowe, one of the country's leading organic winemakers, and a few friends, although for those who can’t resist a drop of Champagne there’s Ruinart, Moet, Krug and Dom Perignon on the list. 

Zin House is at 329 Tinja Lane, Mudgee. (02) 6372 1660. www.zinhouse.com.au.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A new decadent delight: Tasmanian caviar

Huon Aquaculture was started in 1986 by a young southern Tasmanian couple, Peter and Frances Bender; sheep and cattle farmers who decided to dabble in producing top-class fish. They had one pen of fish and one employee. 

Almost 30 years on, Huon Aqua employs around 500 people and is the largest privately-owned producer of salmon in Australia.




The company was Tasmanian exporter of the year in 2012 with its premium products much in demand globally, including at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market.

Now Huon Aqua is entering a new phase: producing three ranges of high-quality salmon caviar for the Australian and Asian markets.




Traditionally, the term caviar refers only to roe from wild sturgeon in the Caspian and Black seas, but depending on the country, caviar may also be used to describe the roe of other fish such as salmon, trout and whitefish. 

This decadent traditional delicacy can be enjoyed as a garnish or a spread and is a superb companion for either vodka or quality sparkling wine. 

Huon Aquaculture last week launched its 2015 season caviar harvest with input and advice from Christian Zuther-Grauerholz, the co-owner of Dieckmann and Hansen, the world's oldest caviar house. 

The star turn is caviar from salmon reared in the wild waters south of Australia's island state.

“It is direct from the Southern Ocean and that’s one of those unique characteristics that no other caviar producer can claim on the international market,” Frances Bender said.

“We’re not trying to be black caviar or beluga caviar. All we’ve ever wanted was to be uniquely Tasmanian and we think the new season caviar is just that.” 





The launch was a black tie affair at Hobart’s newest restaurant, The Glass House on Brooke St Pier - and local sushi master Masaaki Koyama (above) was on hand to serve Huon Aqua sashimi alongside the caviar. 

Asked about Huon Aqua's recipe for success, Frances Bender said: "It’s all about getting the basics right – and paying attention to detail."

She says the stress-free and pristine Huon environment in which their sashimi-grade salmon are raised has a lot to do with the company's success.

“We are very proud of this region,” she says. “It is a clean, beautiful place with a real sense of community and we wanted our product linked with the region – hence the name. 

"We think it is great that the story of the Huon is now being told all over Asia. And it is great that we can be champions for this remarkable region.” 

The three caviars in the range are Huon Premium Caviar, Reserve Selection Ocean Grown Caviar and Reserve Selection Hand-Milked Caviar.

For details visit: shop.huonaqua.com.au or drop in to the Huon Aqua tasting facility on Brooke St Pier in Hobart. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

All change at the Wolf Blass cellar door

It is all change at the Wolf Blass cellar door in the Barossa Valley after a recent re-design.

Paying homage to Wolf Blass’ iconic Black Label wine, the most famous red blend in the Wolf Blass stable, the cellar door has recently created an impressive Black Label Wall, showcasing what is believed to be the world’s only collection of every Black Label vintage since the winery’s inception in 1973.
The wall is a tribute to the Black Label’s unprecedented Jimmy Watson success, Australia’s most publicised wine award.  Black Label is the only wine in the country to win the coveted trophy four times and has collected over 230 show gold medals.

For those who fancy themselves as amateur winemakers, the cellar door is offering two educational and interactive wine experiences. 


Guests can ‘Blend it like Blass’ by taking the Black Label’s regional components and then using them to blend their own version of the wine. The experience is available for $40 per person for a minimum six guests. 

If a more rustic tasting experience appeals, guests can taste ‘Black from the Barrel’. 


They taste the two individual components directly from the barrels, alongside the current vintage Black Label cabernet shiraz. This is available for $20 per person.


Black Label is a blend of fruit from across South Australia. It’s not about individual regions, vineyards or varieties, but blending the best components together. 
Over 100 different parcels of fruit are initially selected, then narrowed down. 
Predominately a blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, Black Label often includes a touch of malbec or occasionally merlot. The regions vary from vintage to vintage but usually include Langhorne Creek, the Barossa and McLaren Vale. 
Adding to the cellar door’s offerings, visitors can check out a new installation of a life-sized artwork titled ‘Wolfie’. The oil and acrylic work is by one of Australia’s most recognised artists and fellow South Australian, David Bromley. 
The painting, which hangs proudly on the Black Label Wall, was created as a celebration of Wolfgang Blass’s 80th birthday. The artwork, depicting him wearing his trademark bow-tie, was entered in this year’s Archibald Prize.  

Wolf Blass is located at 97 Sturt Highway, one hour north of Adelaide. Opening hours are 10am-4.30pm daily. For more information visit www.wolfblasswines.com

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Why Wirra Wirra decided to buy a tiny winery

McLaren Vale winery stalwart Wirra Wirra has taken a major leap into cool-climate red wine territory with the acquisition of renowned Adelaide Hills pinot noir producer Ashton Hills just before Easter.

Ashton Hills was founded by Stephen George in 1982 and built a reputation as one of Australia’s finest proponents of pinot noir, grown on a 3.5-hectare, unirrirgated vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley.

Wirra Wirra managing director Andrew Kay said the purchase was a logical expansion for his winery, which was founded in McLaren Vale back in 1894.
Wirra Wirra boss man Andrew Kay

We first made white wines from Adelaide Hills fruit back in 2003 when [Wirra Wirra founder] Greg Trott saw the potential of the cool-climate region, but the red wine opportunity has eluded us until now," said Kay. 

"The chance to build upon the legacy of Stephen’s work was too good to pass up and for it to happen not only with his blessing, but also his ongoing contribution, is incredibly satisfying for us.” 

Kay said George had a definite role to play with the brand in the future. “Stephen will continue to reside at his home at the winery and he is keen to mentor our wine-making team in the intricacies of pinot making 'Ashton Hills style', as well as be involved in a hands-on capacity in the vineyard.”

Stephen George said he feels very comfortable handing the reins over to Wirra Wirra.

I feel a definite rapport with their people and having seen how respectfully and successfully they have managed their business in the wake of Greg Trott’s passing,” he said. 

“I believe the legacy of Ashton Hills is in safe and sensitive hands and in fact I’m looking forward to helping them work through a long list of opportunities that I have compiled over the years, that lack of time and resources have prevented me from undertaking.”

To say Ashton Hills has flown under the radar except for those in the know would be an understatement. The winery does not even have a website. 

Kay said Wirra Wirra would continue to make its own Adelaide Hills range of white wines, but did not rule out an expanded offering under the Ashton Hills label.

Wirra Wirra is independently owned by members of the Trott family and private investors.