Tag Archives: Restaurants

Toque Time: the 2018 Good Food Guide Awards

gfg2018

This year, the Good Food Guide Awards was a national affair, rather than a shindig in each city. Why? Apparently “frankly, it was the right time”.  (This may be corporate speak for “we needed to cut costs, it’s tough in newspaper land right now”.)  So inner city and regional were all combined, and Northern Territory even got  a look in! Must have been a very long night.

There were specific gongs for certain categories, and the full list of hats below. Vale Jeremy Strode, how very very sad.

Restaurant of the Year: Attica, Victoria
New Restaurant of the Year: Saint Peter, New South Wales
Chef of the Year: Daniel Puskas, Sixpenny, New South Wales
Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year: The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store, Tasmania Vittoria Coffee Legend Award: Jeremy Strode 1964-2017
Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year: Kylie Millar, Attica, Victoria
Food For Good Award: Orana Foundation, South Australia
Bar of the Year: Arlechin, Victoria
Sommelier of the Year: Raul Moreno Yague, Osteria Ilaria, Victoria
Wine list of the Year: Aria Brisbane, Queensland

Three Hats

NEW SOUTH WALES VICTORIA QUEENSLAND
Quay Attica Urbane
Sepia Brae
Minamishima

Two Hats

NEW SOUTH WALES VICTORIA QUEENSLAND
Aria Cutler & Co. Aria Brisbane
Automata Dinner by Heston Blumenthal Esquire (down a hat)
Bennelong Estelle by Scott Pickett Gerard’s Bistro
Bentley Restaurant & Bar Ezard GOMA Restaurant
Biota Dining Fen (new entry) Stokehouse Q
Cirrus (new entry) Flower Drum Wasabi
Est. Grossi Florentino Upstairs
Ester Igni (new entry) SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Firedoor (up a hat) Kuro Kisume (new entry) Hentley Farm
Fleet Lake House Magill Estate Restaurant
Fred’s (new entry) Lume Restaurant Orana
Icebergs Dining  & Bar O.My (up a hat)
Lucio’s Provenance WESTERN AUSTRALIA
LuMi Dining Rockpool Bar & Grill Cullen Wines
Momofuku Seiobo Rosetta (up a hat) Vasse Felix
Monopole Saint Crispin
Mr. Wong Spice Temple TASMANIA
Muse Restaurant Ten Minutes by Tractor The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store
Ormeggio at The Spit Vue de Monde (down a hat)
Oscillate Wildly Woodland House ACT
Pilu at Freshwater Aubergine
Porteno (re-entry) Ottoman Cuisine
Restaurant Hubert
Rockpool Bar & Grill
Saint Peter (new entry)
Sixpenny
Tetsuya’s
The Bridge Room (down a hat)

One hat

NEW SOUTH WALES VICTORIA QUEENSLAND
10 William St A La Grecque 1889 Enoteca
4Fourteen (new entry) Amaru ​Blackbird Bar & Grill
Acme Anchovy E’cco Bistro
Aki’s Atlas Dining (new hatter) Gauge
Bacco (new entry) Bacash Harrisons by Spencer Patrick
Baccomatto Osteria Bar Lourinha Homage
​Banksii (new entry) Bistro Guillaume Kiyomi
Beach Byron Bay (new entry) Cafe Di Stasio Madame Rouge (new entry)
Bellevue Captain Moonlite (new hatter) Mamasan Kitchen & Bar
Billy Kwong Catfish Moda
​Bistro Molines Cecconi’s Flinders Lane ​Montrachet
Bistro Officina (new entry) Centonove Noosa Waterfront Restaurant
​Bistro Rex (new entry) Coda Nu Nu
Bodega Copper Pot Seddon (new hatter) Otto
Buon Ricordo Cumulus Inc. Rick Shores (new entry)
Catalina Da Noi Rickys River Bar & Restaurant
Caveau Donovans Sake Restaurant & Bar
​China Doll Doot Doot Doot (new hatter) Social Eating House
Cho Cho San ​Elyros Spirit House
Clementine (new entry) Embla Tartufo
Continental Deli Bar Bistro ​Epocha The Euro
Cottage Point Inn French Saloon The Fish House (down a hat)
Da Orazio Pizza & Porchetta Highline at the Railway Hotel The Hats
​Darley’s Ides ​The Long Apron (down a hat)
Eschalot Il Bacaro The Peak (down a hat)
Felix ​Kakizaki (new hatter) The Survey Co.
Fratelli Paradiso ​Kappo The Tamarind
Glass Brasserie Kazuki’s The Wolfe
Hartsyard ​Lee Ho Fook
​Harvest (new entry) ​Ma Cave at Midnight Starling (new hatter) WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Izakaya Fujiyama Maha Billie H
Jade Temple (new entry) Marion Il Lido
Jonah’s Masons of Bendigo Lalla Rookh
Kepos Street Kitchen Matteo’s Liberte
Lolli Redini ​Montalto Long Chim
​Long Chim (new entry) MoVida, Lulu La Delizia
​LP’s Quality Meats Noir Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth
Margan Restaurant, Nora The Shorehouse
Ms. G’s Oakridge (new hatter) Voyager Estate
Muse Kitchen (down a hat) Osteria Ilaria (new hatter) Wildflower
Nomad Oter
Otto Paringa Estate SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Paper Bird (new entry) Philippe (new hatter) Africola
Paper Daisy (down a hat) Port Phillip Estate ​Appellation
Pearls on the Beach Public Inn Botanic Gardens Restaurant
Pendolino Ramblr (new hatter) FermentAsian
Queen Chow (new entry) San Telmo (new hatter) ​Osteria Oggi
Restaurant Mason ​Source Dining Press Food & Wine
​Rocker (new entry) Stefano’s (down a hat) Shobosho
Rosetta (new entry) Stokehouse (re-entry) The Currant Shed
Sagra ​Supernormal The Pot by Emma McCaskill
​Sake (Double Bay) (new entry) TarraWarra Estate (new hatter) ​The Summertown Aristologist
Sean’s Panaroma Tempura Hajime (new hatter)
Sokyo ​Terrace Restaurant TASMANIA
​Sotto Sopra (new entry) The Point Albert Park Aloft
​Spice Temple (down a hat) The Press Club (down a hat) Dier Makr
St. Isidore (new entry) ​The Recreation (new hatter) Fico
​Stanbuli ​The Town Mouse Franklin
Subo Tipo 00 Stillwater
​Sushi e Tonka Templo
The Antipodean (new entry) Trattoria Emilia (new entry)
The Apollo Tulip NORTHERN TERRITORY
The Bathers’ Pavilion Wilson & Market (new entry) Hanuman
The Dolphin Hotel
The Gantry ACT
The Paddington Chairman & Yip
The Restaurant Eightysix
The Stunned Mullet Italian & Sons
The Zin House Lilotang
Three Blue Ducks (re-entry) Monster Kitchen & Bar
Tonic Otis Dining Hall
Town Pulp Kitchen
Uccello Temporada
​Yellow

Honolulu, Hawai’i

Honolulu remains a hugely popular travel destination for Australians – in fact I heard so many Aussie accents everywhere I thought we’d taken over the place.  An easy plane ride (well compared to Europe or New York), clean beaches, plenty of shopping and warm weather all year round, what’s not to love?

If you don’t feel like sightseeing, it is a great place to just relax by the pool or beach, cocktail in hand, for a week or two.  Despite the crowds, the beaches are sparklingly clean – you won’t find any washed up Woolies plastic bags or coffee cups, it rather puts us to shame.

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If you do want to get off your beach chair, there is plenty to do. It’s worth hiring a car, driving through the pineapple fields, and checking out the serious surf on the other side of the island.  For those with small people, the Honolulu Zoo and the Sea Life Park are popular; luau’s, though a little commercial, are entertaining.

Having been here before, we didn’t do much sightseeing this time around.  But with the boys a bit older now we thought a trip to Pearl Harbour would be worthwhile where you can wander through the museums and watch a couple of films.  The calculated attack was quite extraordinary in its planning and execution considering the lack of technology and resources at that time. You can then take the short boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial; its all sad and quite touching and nicely done.  I’m not sure why but there were flowers from the Australian Embassy that day.

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We also did the hike to the Diamond Head Monument.  If you’re someone that exercises, you won’t find this too difficult –  I even saw people doing it carrying babies and toddlers on their front or back.  But me, not being one of those people, nearly keeled over.  But there are great views at the top. If you’re there on a Saturday morning, across the road you’ll find the KCC Farmers Markets, where you can grab a shaved ice to cool down.

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It is pretty easy to get around using TheBus (flat $2.50 for adults and $1.25 for kids over 5, whether you travel for five minutes or fifty) or the Waikiki Trolley (flat $2 for everyone); otherwise Uber it.

And where to eat? You won’t struggle for choices, particularly on the main strip.  The Cheesecake Factory is a bit of a Waikiki institution.  The lines are long, the place is loud, the serves are huge – you get the general gist of the adjectives. When we saw that for our group of eight people we had a few cocktails, beers, a mixture of high priced (rib eye steak and salmon) and low priced (fish burger) dishes, that including the tip it was US35 per person, its understandable that there are queues every night. The food is pretty decent and with over 200 items on the menu you are bound to find something.  A particular highlight was  my ahi poke stack – loved it.

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With lots of the flights from Australia landing early morning, you’ll be in search of breakfast.  In my pilates class of all places I heard that Bill Granger had opened up a Bills, so we headed there.  The menu has been Hawaiianised a little, but a lot of Sydney favourites are there, and we enjoy our breakfast sitting on the small terrace.  The fit out looks to me like Miami art deco style and its an airy space.

We also try it for dinner one night.  Our server brings out all the entrees and mains at once, which is a bit odd, but the food is tasty and well priced.

My sticky pork is absolutely delicious, and the schnitzel also gets the thumbs up.

The kids want to try an American Diner for dessert, so afterwards we head down the road to Denny’s, the regular haunt of Jack Reacher.  Looking at the menu, if you’re on a budget and need a big feed and aren’t worried about cholesterol (plus cover your eyes so you don’t see the notes showing the staggering number of calories in the meals), then you’ll like this long standing American chain. The desserts were $4 each or so and just huge.

But the best treats in town are the malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery.  Leonard’s has been making these Portuguese treats since the 1950’s.  You can buy them plain or with a filling – I bought vanilla, chocolate and coconut – go vanilla all the way.  Absolutely gorgeous and all of $1.50.  I did try a few other malasadas during our trip and none were as good as these.

Another treat I loved was this honeydew melon ice block we got at the pool – can we get these in Australia?

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A place that has stood the test of time is Arancino di Mare.  We came here eight years ago and liked it, and found it still to be the same homestyle, casual Italian we remembered.

For a bit of family fun head to Tanaka of Tokyo.  The teppanyaki chefs have some good moves, and in our case some dry wit as well.  Unfortunately the vegetables and fried rice were ordinary, but all the seafood and meats were very tasty and well cooked. There is no food throwing done here like the teppanyaki we find in Australia – it is not considered safe.  We thought it was pretty funny that a country that allows you to freely carry arms thinks its too dangerous to throw an egg.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Il Lupino, which turns out some pretty flavoursome Italian. My wild boar ragu was rich and fragrant.

One night we hop on TheBus to Pier 38 to try Nico’s seafood restaurant. It almost feels like sitting at the Sydney fish markets.  By day you order at the counter and take a number, but at night its table service.  Lots of fresh seafood at good prices.  I saw a ahi poke sampler on the menu and ordered it, for a “sampler” it was huge and I would have been shelling out a fortune for that much tuna in Sydney.

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The clams and tuna steak are nicely done but the battered fish is a winner with a very thin and crispy batter and beautifully cooked fish.

One night we Uber it to Waialae Avenue, ten or so minutes from the main strip. A lot of dining choices here, among them we spot a craft beer place, Vietnamese, a French Bistro, a Chinese restaurant that is heaving with Chinese patrons, and a place called Mud Hen Water which has a great looking menu and is also very busy.  But we’re here to try Town, whose philosophy is “local first, organic wherever possible, with Aloha always”. (Aside and a bit of trivia for you that we learned from Cousin Jay our Pearl Harbour tour guide – Aloha doesn’t just mean hello, it can also mean love.  Trivia two – did you know the Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 letters?).

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The house bread is fantastic.  And we both adore the ahi tartare on top of  a small risotto cake – one of the most delicious things we had on the trip.

It is all tasty, fresh and nicely presented by enthusiastic and friendly staff.  One of the boys has pappardelle and they are silky smooth.

After dinner we walk up the road to Via Gelato. The gelato is handmade and the flavours change pretty much daily. Depending on the day, you might find flavours like ginger lemonade, apple pie or lavender.

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Accommodation

For the first few days we stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, or the Pink Palace as its commonly known.  The beachfront location is great and the foyer is pure Grand Old Hawaii, but the rooms are a little dated and the bathrooms very small.  Views are cracking – we arrived on the 4th of July and it was very busy with a huge regatta about to start.

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If you are staying in the Mailani Tower section, it has a small pool, but otherwise its a shared pool with the Sheraton next door and it gets very crowded and hard to find a seat.  But the kids loved the pool slide which they went on a thousand or so times.  I wanted to rent a beachfront chair ($40 per day, even if you only turn up for an hour), but found out that people rent them like, 25 years in advance (would be nice if the hotel tells people this when they make a reservation) so get in early.

Then off we went to The Big Island and when we came back we stayed at the Halekulani.  Good location, lovely rooms (though a tiny shower and bath), huge balconies, and probably the best swimming pool on the strip. Great breakfast buffet too.  The place is branded to death, in case you forget where you are (I was surprised they didn’t have Halekulani stamped on the toilet paper, it was on everything else) and every night there was a different treat at turndown – one night there was a little book light, which was cool.  But having come the incredible warmth of the staff at the Four Seasons in Kona, I found this place a little snobby.  The gestures were all there, but not the same soul as our Kona stay.

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The Cheesecake Factory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Big Island, Hawai’i

Arriving at Kona Airport, we realise how different this island is to Oahu.  There’s miles of arid landscape, next to miles of green rainforest, both interrupted by somewhat violent yet occasionally beautiful hardened rivers of lava.  Mother Nature has been busy here.  It is very literally The Big Island, and you’ll need a car to explore.  Though a guide tells us that it was once upon a time the small island, growing over time from the eruption of volcanoes.

There is a lot to do here, and in our six days we only manage some of what we’d planned, underestimating time and distances, and wanting too to spend time relaxing at our gorgeous resort and enjoying the spectacular sunsets on the “Kona side”.  Funny that the west side is one of the driest spots in the USA, while the island’s largest town of Hilo (pronounced Hee-lo) on the east, some two and a half hour drive away, is one of the wettest.

The boys want to know if Panulu’u Black Sand Beach really is black, and one morning we set off on the two hour drive.  Its a lovely scenic route of coast, mountain, coffee and macadamia plantations.  In some areas they are trying to promote re-growth of plants, but its a hard ask through the lava.

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There are also a few small strips of shops with interesting antique and vintage stores, as well as this…..

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And yes, Black Sand Beach is indeed black.  Shoes are recommended, as understandably the sand is scorching.  So turtles love it, and there are a few wandering around.  One has laid an egg, and someone has built a little protective barrier around it.

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On the way back we stop in at a bakery for a treat. They do a roaring trade in Lilikoi (passionfruit) Malasadas, their best seller.   But I don’t think they are quite as good as the ones at Leonard’s in Oahu.

We next head to Papakolea Green Sand Beach, the southernmost point of the USA.  You’ll need a four wheel drive and some serious experience in off road rough driving to get here.  Otherwise there’s a group of drivers with suitable trucks and experience in navigating the bumpy terrain.  If you’re game, you can walk the rocky three miles from the car park – it is about an hour walk and a tough one in scorching heat.  Calling it green sand is a bit of a stretch, but the setting is pretty spectacular.  Nearby there is a cove where the sand is in fact green, but without such a dramatic backdrop.

On another morning we check out Hapuna Beach which is popular with the locals.  Easy to access and sparklingly clean, it is lovely for a swim.

In Kailua-Kona you’ll find Hulihee Palace, once the modest Summer palace of the Royal Family.  There is no longer a monarchy in Hawai’i, as the members of the family died out.  One of the larger towns in the island, it is still a fairly low key place.  There is a pier which could easily be turned into another Santa Monica type place, but I suspect it is a very conscious decision for the island not to go down that path.

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After walking around, we make a pit stop at Kope Lani Ice Cream which has some interesting flavours.  You’ll find Kona Coffee to be a popular flavour on the ice cream front in Hawaii.  Like Champagne or Parmeggiano, the rules around what can be called Kona Coffee are very strict.  The beans must come from a very specific area, and they are all hand picked.  The coffee plantations are all small family owned businesses; we met a few of the families during our stay, and it really is a labour of love. I would have loved to buy some of the coffee beans to bring home and support them, but at over US$80 per kilo of coffee, it was a bit of a stretch.

Driving up a mountain one day we stop at Holukaloa Garden Café.  Its almost classifies as in-the-middle-of-nowhere, but we are clearly onto something as very shortly the place is full.  They are all about slow food made from scratch. The glorious tomatoes are from the owners farm and under my fish is a bed of unfamiliar but really delicious greens. The Marito’s generous vegetarian lasagne is topped with a tasty macadamia pesto.

The most awesome thing we do is a helicopter tour of the island.  We debate this one a bit as it is quite an extravagance. But I come across a local magazine with an offer for a good size discount, and the deal is sealed.  The friendly ground staff give us a safety briefing (“please turn your devices to helicopter mode” they deadpan) and our pilot Koji gives us a briefing of our route.  The flights generally go for 1.5-2 hours, and Koji advises we’ll be on the longer end today as there is sniper training going on at the military base that day and we’ll have to go around it – I wasn’t  entirely sure if he was joking or not!

It is a pretty amazing way to look at the island.  Kealakekuka Bay is stunning, and apparently the site of Captain Cook’s death – there is a monument there in his honour.

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Along the way the landscape alternates between thriving green and volcanic black emptiness.

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We pass a 10 mile crack in the ground – the result of a 1975 earthquake.

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We then head towards one of the volcanoes.  This one is currently active, but not dangerously so.  Even though we are a long way up, when the pilot opens a small window and tells me to stick my hand out, it is scorchingly hot.

Continuing around the island, we head up to Waipi’o Valley – just stunning. There are some seriously long waterfalls.

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And then we circle back to Kona Airport.  What a ride!

Accommodation

We stayed at the Four Seasons Hualalai – wow. It was fabulous.   And it wasn’t just the stunning surrounds (I have never seen such amazing frangipane trees)…

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…or the turtles wandering on the shore

…but the warmth and sincerity of the staff, and the fact that they think of everything (“ma’am, would you like me to clean your sunglasses for you?”). At the pool station where you can grab towels, there is not only sunscreen, but goggles, toddler swimming nappies, leave-in hair conditioner, and goodness knows what else.  There are very cute toddler sized sunbeds at the small pool (there are several pools, so it is never crowded). At turndown a locally made ceramic jug and cup are placed on each bedside table with cool water. On the balcony, there is a small hanging rack for your swimmers (why don’t all beach resorts do this?).  And throughout the rambling resort, there are several fully equipped laundry rooms for guests so that you don’t have to return home with a suitcase of dirty washing. The rooms and bathrooms are a little dated, but very spacious.

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Sitting on our balcony, I enjoy this local pineapple soda.

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Our booking comes with quite a large voucher for the restaurants which we make good use of, as they are expensive and alternatives are a ten to thirty minute drive away. Ulu Ocean Grill is Japanese/Asian and it holds its own against Sydney’s Sokyo or Tokonoma. And while the prices are similar to Sydney, the servings are much bigger.

The Ahi Poke (pronounced pok-ee, it is almost a national dish) is prepared at the table and served with taro chips. Sublime.

I adore the kochujang sauce that comes with the crispy calamari, I want to pour it over everything.

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The miso Kombacha is perfectly cooked and the side of corn has a sauce with a kick.

Beach Tree, which serves largely Italian, while expensive, is excellent.

If only it didn’t have to end! Ziplines are popular on the island, but the boys did not weigh enough (you need to be at least 70 pounds) so we’ll need to put that on the list for next time.

Four Seasons Kona, http://www.fourseasons.com/hualalai/
Paradise Helicopters, https://paradisecopters.com/

Ulu Ocean Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Toque Time (Sydney) – The SMH Good Food Guide 2016 Awards

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It is restaurant award season again and this year the GFG has announced Sydney first, with Melbourne to follow.    There’s been plenty of criticism of food critics over the past year, with many saying they are less relevant with the myriad of food bloggers like yours truly, and the immediate nature of feedback via Instagram and other social media platforms.  But most bloggers and ‘grammers will go to a restaurant only once, snap a quick pick, tick a box on their ‘to do’ list, and move on (I must plead guilty to that on occasion).  These guys on the other hand, will visit each place 3-4 times, take copious notes, and make their way through the menu before pronouncing judgement.  It sounds like a dream job, but frankly I couldn’t eat that much rich food or eat out so often, having been sustained on Southern Italian peasant food for most of my life.  But anyway, the winners are…….

Best Bar –  Monopole
Best Bar Food – Rockpool Bar & Grill
Best Cheap Eat – Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Restaurant of the Year – Bridge Room
Best New Restaurant – Bennelong
Chef of the Year – Pasi Petanan (Café Paci)
Regional Restaurant of the Year – Fleet Restaurant, Brunswick Heads
People’s Choice Award – Catalina, Rose Bay

Sydney Metro

Three hats
Bridge Room (up a hat), Quay, Rockpool, Sepia
Two hats
Aria, Bennelong, Bentley Restaurant and Bar, Berowra Waters Inn, Café Paci (up a hate), Cottage Point Inn (up a hat), est, Ester, Four in Hand (up a hat), Guillaume (re-entry), Icebergs Dining Room, Lucio’s Italian, LuMi Bar & Dining (new hatter), Marque, Momofuku Seiobo (down a hat), Mr Wong, Ormeggio, Oscillate Wildly (up a hat), Pilu at Freshwater, Porteno, Rockpool Bar & Grill, sixpenny, Spice Temple, Tetsuyas

One Hat
10 William St (new hatter), ACME (new hatter), Ajo Italian Restaurant (new hatter), The Apollo, Bather’s Pavillion, Billy Kwong, Bistro Moncur, Bistrode CBD, Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay (new hatter), Bodega, Buon Ricordo, Catalina, China Doll, Cho Cho San, Felix, Firedoor (new hatter), Fratelli Paradiso (new hatter), Gastro Park (down a hat), glass brasserie, Izakaya Fujiyama (new hatter), Jonah’s Restaurant, Kepos Street Kitchen, Longrain, LP’s Quality Meats (new hatter), Monopole, Moon Park, MoVida, Ms G’s, Nomad, Osteria Balla, Osteria di Russo & Russo, Otto Ristorante, Pendolino, Sagra (new hatter), Sake Double Bay (new hatter), Sean’s, Sokyo, sushi e, Three Blue Ducks, Uccello, Ume Restaurant, Vini, Yellow

Lost hats – 4Fourteen, Aki’s, Alpha, Arras, Bar H, Black by Ezard, Café Sopra, Fish Face, Flying Fish, Hartsyard, Longrain, Lox Stock and Barrel, Sake CBD, Vincent

Regional Winners

Two Hats
Aubergine, Biota, Muse Restaurant, Subo, Zanzibar Café

One Hat
Bistro Molines, Caveau, Courgette, Darley’s Restaurant, eightysix, Eschalot, Fins, Fleet, Lanterne Rooms, Lilotang, Lolli Redini, Monster Kitchen and Bar, Muse Kitchen, Ottoman Cuisine, Pearls on the Beach, Pialligo Farmhouse, Restaurant Como, Restaurant Mason, South on Albany, St Isadore, the Stunned Mullet, Temporada, Tonic, Town Restaurant and Café, Waters Edge, The Zin House

Beverly Hills & Los Angeles, California

losangeles (6)This post is based on more than one visit. Whenever we go to the USA, we inevitably fly home out of LA, so always do 2-3 days there before heading home. I must say I do like the vibe of LA, entrenched as it is in movies and TV; everyone you meet is connected to it in some way, or wants to be in it. Lots of happy, smiley people – must be all that blue sky and sunshine  – or they hope that you’re someone who’ll ‘discover’ them. With generally lovely weather all year round, it makes a great last stop before leaving the US.losangeles (11)

Then of course there’s the famous Rodeo Drive…..losangeles (3)

….and the Beverly Wilshire where “Pretty Woman” was set. We have stayed there and the service is excellent.losangeles (2)

The Badgely Mischka store is the site of the “Big Mistake. Huge” scene.losangeles (8)

The first time we went we did this awesome three hour tour with a guide called “LA Story”, who had lots of interesting stories to tell and taking us to the major sights.  We started off with the Dolby Theatre where they hold the Oscars.

You can see they are planning to hold the Oscars here for decades to come – plenty of blank spaces waiting to be filled.losangeles (17) The stars go for a few kilometres – there are over 2,500 of them.losangeles (16)

In the front of the Chinese Theatre (where the Oscars were originally held) there are all the concrete handprints.  The Marito perfectly matched Arnold Schwarznegger – I am not sure if that is good or bad.losangeles (15)

The guide also took us up to a very pretty spot called Greystone Mansion, which isn’t visited a lot – in fact there was no one there at all where we went. Plenty of films have been shot here.losangeles (18)

Next we went for a drive around Hollywood and Beverly Hills checking out mansions like this one.  There are some incredible houses…..losangeles (7)

….and also some slightly weird oneslosangeles

And of course up to the Hollywood sign – you can’t get very close as the security is tight, but there are some great spots for photos.losangeles (5)

Though apparently you have to be careful!losangeles (4)

There’s also the Santa Monica Pier; yes it is touristy, but it’s still lovely for a wander.
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And if you’re up for theme parks, of course there’s Disneyland and Universal Studios.

Tips for Disneyland
losangeles (1)I never went to Disneyland as a kid so went as an adult with my own kids. I didn’t have high expectations actually and I had a total blast! Here are a few (hopefully useful) tips:

1. Try and stay at the hotels on the Disneyland resort complex – either the Disneyland Hotel or the Grand California (but note they tend to book out a long time in advance). Why? A few reasons. First, it’s a nice stroll from there to the park so you don’t have to get a shuttle; on the way you’ll pass plenty of cafes and restaurants and a few stores. Secondly, staying at one of these hotels lets you enter Disneyland or California Adventure Park (note these are two parks next to each other in the grounds), an hour before general admission. We actually ended up going on some rides early in the morning before breakfast, there were no queues at that time. Third, if you don’t want to walk to the park from your hotel, show your room key and you can get the monorail which drops you off inside the park, so you don’t have to go through the (sometimes very long) queues at the entry.  And finally, if you buy items at the stores, several stores will send them to your room for you, rather than having to carry them around all day.

2. Be prepared for the fact that the food inside the park is generally horrendous and very expensive. I think you can bring your own, but not sure what condition it would be in after some roller coasters and on a hot day!

3. Wait till your kids reach 125cm (my personal opinion). I saw loads of people with smaller children and toddlers and strollers, and sure there is stuff for them to see and do, but they can’t go on many rides if they aren’t at this height.  If you have kids of varying ages and one is smaller, one parent ends up going on the ride with some kids while the other one waits with the younger child – not quite as much fun!

4. Take note of which rides offer a “Fast Pass”. The queues for the popular rides can be astronomical, so some have a Fast Pass option which allows you to go down the “fast” queue. Just go up to the Fast Pass kiosk for that ride, scan your Disney admission pass, and it will allocate you a specific time for the ride and a ticket. When it gets to that time, go to the ride, present your Fast Pass, and you get to go down the very short and quick queue. Note that you can’t just wander around collecting Fast Passes for every ride one after the other; once you have used one Fast Pass ticket you can get another one for the next ride. There are a limit to the number of Fast Passes per ride, so often your allocated timeslot might still be a few hours away.

5. If you go pretty full on, in three days you can do most of Disney (assuming you won’t want to go on every single ride) and have a wander through California Adventure Park; the latter has a lot less rides. We found three days enough, but if you want to take your time, go for a 5 day pass.  The “Park Hopper” ticket allows admission to both.

6. Disneyland does not have a ‘low season’ – it is ALWAYS busy!

7. Rides not to miss – the “mountain” rides (Ice Mountain, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain); Indiana Jones; for Star Wars fans Star Tours is great. In California Adventure Park we loved Soarin’ Over California and the Grizzly River Run is fun

8. Various hotels and restaurants in the theme park offer “character breakfasts” where Disney characters are wandering around at breakfast entertaining the children. These are ridiculously expensive. Plenty of characters wandering around the park you can take photos with so I don’t think this is essential.

Universal Studios
Unlike Disneyland, it’s a fairly small park and a day here is enough. If you pay extra there is a “front of line” pass which lets you skip the queues – the wait times for some of the rides on the day we were there were well over an hour. Next year the Harry Potter ride opens and queues will be even bigger.losangeles (9)

The backlot tour is very cool. All the sets are fake – made out of plastic and wood. Some of the building facades are roll on fibre glass, and the buildings are narrow and not at all full size. Clever camera perspective makes them appear much bigger.losangeles (21)

For instance the Psycho house is really small in real life!losangeles (23)

Sets get used and re-used with a bit of tweaking so that you don’t recognise them from previous films. Here is the Back to the Future set which has been used many a time. The gazebo was used more recently in Saving Mr Banks.losangeles (20)

You’ll see how they create a flood….losangeles (19)

And the fake subway that was first built for Boneslosangeles (10)

And the War of the Worlds set that took nine months to build for less than five minutes of film timelosangeles (25)

We also got to go into the prop room which was very cool. It’s a four level building, with larger stuff like furniture down the bottom, and tiny things – as small as hair clips – on the upper levels. You’ll see “hold” signs throughout where various shows have reserved an item.losangeles (22)losangeles (24)

Where to eat in Beverly Hills
We’ve tried quite a few places, from casual to high end. For casual and family friendly Italian, try Il Fornaio or Il Pastaio in the heart of Beverly Hills. For something a little fancier, try Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza – sophisticated environment, excellent service, and some great food. I particularly liked the duck “alla mattone”. For steak Wolfgang Puck’s Cut is renowned, and it is very good with very attentive staff, but comes at a price. Ivy, the supposed celebrity haunt, was a big miss on the food, even though the surrounds are pretty – overpriced and overhyped, even though every guide book suggests it. Villa Blanca, apparently owned by one of the Real Housewives, is pleasant, sit on the verandah and people watch. Scarpetta has also opened in Beverly Hills – if it is anything like Scott Conant’s New York one, it will be worth a visit. For a sweet treat after dinner in Beverly Hills there’s plenty to choose from on South Santa Monica Boulevard – Sprinkles for cupcakes, then Sprinkles Ice Creamery, the Ice Cream Lab for liquid nitrogen ice cream, Sugafina for pretty sugary things, and then Italy’s Amorrino Gelateria, which is great quality gelato.  I have heard the Grand Central Market in downtown LA is great, but ran out of time.

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San Francisco

After 11 days of sun and sand in Miami and Turks & Caicos, we were ready for some city. I hadn’t been to San Francisco for a very long time and forgot what a great vibe it has. It doesn’t have the intensity and excitement of New York, it’s more like a warm friend who is happy to see you again. Very walkable (some would disagree with all those hills!), lots of helpful polite people, good food and plenty to do. We did see a lot of homeless though which was quite confronting and heartbreaking.

On our very first morning to re-acquaint ourselves we hired a GoCar. These GPS guided three wheelers are sort of a cross between a car and a motorcycle and great fun.   The GPS tells you where to head as well as giving you some interesting commentary along the way, and plenty of opportunities to stop, take photos and look around. Loved it and recommend it. Bookings can be made online.sanfran (2)

It takes you on a really nice route along the water, and drivers are generally very considerate of the GoCars, which don’t go overly fast. You’ll stop at various points and beaches, getting progressively closer to the Golden Gate Bridge.sanfran (3)

You’ll also stop at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts.sanfran (4)

Along the way you’ll pass some very nice – and no doubt seriously expensive – real estate.sanfran (23)

And there’s the drive down the crooked Lombard Street which gives the GoCar breaks (and your wrists) a serious workout.

In the neighbourhood nearby is Chestnut Street with its own little shopping strip. Stop in at Delarosa, a bustling, family friendly neighbourhood Italian. Delicious pasta and pizza at great prices, beautiful mixed Summer tomato panzanella salad. Loved the Zucca Highball drink too.sanfran (20)

Save room for dessert, because the “Coppa” desserts are worth having.sanfran (10)

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Around the corner on Fillmore is Woodhouse Fish Company, which serves up some very fresh and well priced seafood, including $1 oysters on Tuesdays. I liked the DIY iced tea – they give you a glass of ice and freshly squeezed lemon juice, then you add the tea and sugar syrup to your liking.sanfran (8)

The steamed clams were delicious, and the fish had a nice light crispy batter.  Lobster roll was disappointing though.

woodhouse_markedFor Modern Californian, give Nopa a whirl. They have a woodfire oven here and use it well, you could taste the smokiness, even in the slow cooked nine hour Bolognese.  They used fried quinoa with the squid, which I hadn’t seen done before and it added a lovely texture to the dish.sanfran (28)

sanfran (29)On the sightseeing front there is so much to do both in the city and its surrounds that it’s hard to know where to start. Note that the SF MOMA is unfortunately closed until 2016 – do go if you’re there after that, fabulous museum.

Half an hour from the city is Muir Woods in Marin County, where the giant redwoods live. You can do various walks, none are particularly strenuous. Best to go early – we got there at about 8.30am and by the time we finished our walk around 10.30am there were a hoard of tour buses and a long line of cars streaming in, the blissful silence was lessened.sanfran (26)

On the way back you can stop in the pretty town of Sausalito for a stroll. Some lovely art galleries and cafes here too.sanfran (27)

I also did a bit of a reminiscence walk around Berkeley (catch the BART), where I did a finance course many years ago. It’s a very pretty university campus, though the town has lost some of its distinct ‘hippiness’ that it had when I was there.sanfran (19)

For a bit of history head over to Alcatraz. But be warned you need to book tickets several weeks in advance. We were there on 9 July (I booked our tickets back in May), and the next available tour date?sanfran (14)

Although it has deteriorated, you can easily imagine the bleak life of the prisoners. Crime doesn’t pay!sanfran (17)

sanfran (18)From the Alcatraz pier you can stroll over to the Exploratorium, which is an awesome science museum for kids (though I have to say the Marito and I enjoyed it very much). It has lots of exhibits that cover concepts around motion, sound, light, spatial perspective, technology and nature; you can easily spend 2-3 hours here. Avoid mornings when all the school groups come.sanfran (13)

Back on the food trail, at Embarcadero you’ll find the Ferry Plaza, and on several days of the week, the Farmers Market. There is some beautiful produce for sale, and different food stalls on different days – Thursday seemed to be the most popular food stall day. We had some excellent organic coffee there too.sanfran (21)

sanfran (22)Inside the Ferry Plaza building there are permanent stores selling bread, cheese, wine, homewares, as well as restaurants and cafes.sanfran (6)

sanfran (7)In the Mission District (catch the BART to Mission 16th Street) you’ll find San Francisco’s famous Tartine Bakery. Out of the city, on a residential type street, mid morning on a grey and drizzly Wednesday, there was a line out the door and you couldn’t move inside. It’s worse on weekends. Great coffee and plenty of treats on offer. Below is a pain au chocolat (flaky and light), their famed morning bun (we loved it, that was the favourite), the frangipane tart (take it or leave it) and the chocolate tea cake (good distinct chocolate flavour but not too heavy).tartine1_markedsanfran (12)

To go to have later we bought a lemon tart (tangy, I thought it was decent but not great, though the Marito loved it) and the chocolate hazelnut tart which was disappointing, not hazelnutty enough. I have to say that our own Lorraine comes up trumps on the tart stakes.sanfran (15)

I didn’t get to try the sourdough bread they are particularly famous for – they don’t sell bread in the mornings. It’s a bit of a trade-off – go in the mornings, miss the bread. Go in the afternoons, miss the morning bun and other treats.

I have to have one burger while I am in the US and a friend suggests Super Duper Burgers. It’s a straight forward burger with a tasty patty – but what I really noticed is the freshness of the other ingredients such as lettuce and tomato, which bring it together very nicely.sanfran (9)

For some Modern Californian Italian fusion, there’s Jersey on 2nd Street. Instead of traditional arancini, here they are done with tuna confit; the polenta with rosemary, honey and pecorino; and I adored the soft shell crab salad which had a bit of a kick.sanfran (24)

The ragu was done with guanciale making it rich and hearty, with nicely made papardelle; and a good pizza selection too. Very friendly service.sanfran (25)
We finished with some cannoli – four cannoli for six bucks? Bit of a no brainer.sanfran (5)

There is plenty more to do, some of which I did last time I was here and skipped this time – like the Powell-Hyde cable car (go in the afternoon if you can, morning queues can be huge), going up the Coit Tower for sweeping city views, and strolling around neighbourhoods like China Town and Haight Ashbury.

Accommodation
We stayed at the Saint Regis Hotel on 3rd Street. Very impressed with the service, a really solid hotel, and a great location very close to Union Square, all the shopping, public transport and plenty of restaurants. The kids liked their welcome goody pack.sanfran (1)

We also had some seriously amazing pancakes at their breakfast restaurant, Vitrine (the photo does not do them justice). I’m trying to get my hands on the recipe.sanfran (16)

Thanks for having us SF!

South Beach, Miami

Standing in the queue to board the flight, we are chatting to a native New Yorker. “You know”, he says to us, “Miami used to be the place where old people went to die, then BOOM, now it’s the hip place to be”. Got it. We get to South Beach and I can see what he means, bars, clubs, restaurants, trendy hotels, art deco bought to life, and of course that long long stretch of beach. Lots of young couples, families, girls on a weekend getaway, bucks groups.

We stay at The Setai, an Asian inspired hotel on Collins, where the surrounds are serene and the service excellent. Collins Street is the main strip, right on the beach where you’ll find most of the larger hotels. In June, we are in what is considered the start of “low season” as it’s the time of year where the heat really starts to crank up and the humidity can as well, but it was nothing over the top. Avoid August and September, when it is apparently unbearable, and lots of places shut down.

We have a lovely view from our room. First thing in the morning it is deserted and quiet. Quite different to somewhere like our own Gold Coast where early morning you’ll see hundreds of people power walking, casually strolling or running.miami (13)

By late morning it’s a rainbow of colour, umbrellas and beds set up calling the beachgoers, the music turns on and the day begins.miami (11)

On the advice of a friend who’d just been, we use Uber a lot to get around – it is super efficient and quite a bit cheaper. Jose, Luis, Leopold, Roberto, we meet some colourful locals. One is a violinist; most don’t speak a lot of English, with Spanish being the primary language here.

Off Collins you’ll find Lincoln Road Mall, which is a sort of out door mall.  It starts off with lots of touristy junky shops and (slightly dodgy) electrical shops, and then becomes progressively nicer, with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants to stop at along the way.

miami (14)One night we head to Macchialina on Alton Street for dinner. You won’t stumble across this place, it’s a bit away from the main drag, but it is worth knowing about. Chef Michael Pirolo is producing some seriously good Italian food. Our server Paul is – of course – from Noosa of all places; he’s been living in Miami for 5 years. He tells us we’ve happened on a food gem and he isn’t wrong. This would have been one of my favourite meals in three weeks of travel in the US, and I thought the prices were reasonable for the quality.

The octopus with a concentrated tomato and potato crema is devine, a stand out. We soak up every bit of the sauce with the excellent bread.miami (15)

So too is the eggplant parmigiana. Clever how he has created and individual serve by wrapping eggplant layers around a gorgeous ball of mozzarella rather than the typical layering.miami (16)

The pasta dishes hit it out of the park. The short rib and taleggio lasagne and the mushroom tagliolini are rich and fragrant and my favourites; though the cavatelli Macchialina and the spaghetti vongole aren’t far behind.miami (5)

Afterwards, the boys feel like some gelato and Paul suggests we head towards South Pointe for a stroll and stop in at 4D gelato along the way. We wonder what 4D might stand for, and find out it was started by 4 brothers whose surname starts with D. They don’t do any “out there” flavours here, it is the Italian classics, executed very very well.miami (12)

Gelato in hand, we head towards South Pointe, it is a lovely evening stroll.miami (17)miami (18)

The following night we try Joe’s Stone Crab, a bit of a Miami institution, open for over 100 years. It is a much larger restaurant than I expected, but that doesn’t stop it from filling up, and in the peak months the wait can be long.miami (19)

The calamari is very tender and tasty, and the fish has a nice batter. The lobster roll is juicy but I have had better. We love the side of corn which is roasted with a little lime.miami (10)

Then on to some big fat juicy crab legs. All that crab meat! The Marito and I ponder how much this would cost somewhere like Golden Century.miami (20)miami (21)

Although we are stuffed we squeeze in the recommended key lime pie – delicious.miami (22)

We also give Quality Meats a whirl. At first, it reminds me of Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney. An old art deco building restored, excellent and knowledgeable staff, and a comprehensive choice of cuts of meat. miami (6)

I like the amuse bouche of sweet watermelon with a salty sour crumb, and the house bread is fluffy with a nice smattering of herbs, served warm.miami (8)

The sauce for steak is prepared at the table, which is a nice touch. But our Neil trumps them on the meat; the filet mignon, ordered medium, is still alive when we cut into it, and my bavette is overcooked, and the cured orange salad too sweet.miami (7)

But we do enjoy the sides, nicely charred asparagus, and corn brulee – yes brulee – creamy and sweet but not overly so.miami (9)

If you can peel yourself away from the beach and pool and head downtown, do go to Wynwood Walls and the surrounding streets – some fabulous artwork and graffiti awaits.miami (1)miami (2)miami (3)miami (4)

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