Tag Archives: Restaurants

Puglia, part 2

Something you’ll see a lot of in Puglia is olive trees.  Everywhere.  Some really young, and some, revealed by their oversized, gnarled,  and intricately twisted trunks, really really old.  The oldest ones, clocking up some 3,000 years, are deemed archaeological monuments.  We passed a sign saying “olivari monumentali” (monumental olives) – I guessed some of those ones were there.  Anyhow, it turns out that Puglia is Italy’s biggest olive oil producer, cranking out some forty percent of the nation’s production, explaining their dominance in the landscape.

Something you’ll also see as you drive around Puglia is a multitude of towns you want to stop at or unusual buildings. “Stop the car!” I’d yell at the marito, which sometimes got a positive result, and sometimes didn’t.  Oh for more time.  So many more places to go back and see.  This little town, from a distance, looked like some kind of Disney fortress holding a princess.  Not as much close up, but I want to see what is behind those walls next time.

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Once we checked out of Don Ferrante in Monopoli, we had a few hours before we were due at our masseria, Critabianca.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to detour to Grottaglie, a town renowned for it’s ceramics.  The Fasano family, the best known studio, have been in operation since the 1700’s.  There was plenty to like as we wandered from studio to studio, a few little things we bought home and others we bookmarked with photos – they happily ship to Australia.  By the way they all shut down at 1pm for the afternoon siesta, so do come in the morning or after 5pm and stay for dinner.   After a wander we headed to Cutrofiano where our beautiful farmhouse awaited (post on that coming soon!).

The next morning we headed to Grotta Zinzalusa.  The photos here completely understate the magnificence of this rock formation.  You can go in the cave for a wander, or hire an umbrella and chair for a day, or just lay your town on rocks and some did and jump into the sea from there.

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But we were after a sandy beach and headed further to Baia dei Turchi (Bay of the Turks).  You park your car and then walk a few hundred meters through thickish foliage down a narrow path, eventually emerging to a large stretch of sandy beach with a bit of wave.  There are chairs and umbrellas for hire, but a large public stretch if you prefer not to.  Beautifully clean and very enjoyable.

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That night we headed to the nearby small town of Galatina.  Like almost every Italian town, there is a piazza of sorts.  This one has some pretty greenery and lots of benches, where armies of Nonnos were gathered for a post siesta chat.  I came here to try the pasticciotti at Pasticceria Ascalone, the supposed inventor of the treasured Puglian sweet, back in the 1700’s.  And the pasticceria has been owned by the same family all this time, handed down generation after generation.  And it was a damn fine pasticciotto, but my favourite was still the one at the Gran Forno Santa Caterina.

We asked the lady behind the counter where we could head for a pizza, and she sent us to a place nearby called Goji.  I was a little dubious with a name like that, but it was great food with an even better ebullient owner who made us feel so welcome.  The Small People demolished everything.   There were also some expert dough throwing skills on display.

One night we went for a wander in the town of Nardo’, where we ate at a pleasant trattoria who’s name escapes me (and there was a great gelato shop and pasticceria nearby too).  Here I had to have orecchiette with cime di rapa (chicory), a signature dish of the region.  But this one came with some beautiful silky burrata which balanced out the bitterness.

We stopped by Santa Maria di Leuca, the very bottom tip of Puglia.  It’s a pretty little town too with some luxe day beds to spend the day if you like.

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But we were headed to Pescoluse, a lovely stretch of coastline.  It’s a large sandy beach where you can walk and walk quite far out, the water remaining shallow.  We relaxed here quite happily.

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That evening we headed to Otranto, another seaside town.  There is a huge castle and some lovely churches, but the laneways were very crowded and it was the one place I found rather touristy with an overload of gift and food shops and spruikers out the front.  I’m sure there are some good places to eat here but I think you need to do your homework beforehand.

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So we hopped back in the car and headed to the town of Maglie where we stopped at Il Fusticino.  The Small People happily devoured pizza daily, whereas my standard order was whatever fresh seafood pasta was available, not yet over the fact that I could get a pasta with a generous amount of seafood for 10-12 euro.   After dinner we popped in at the pasticceria next door (completing my daily pasticciotto fix) and handed over an embarrassingly small sum of money for four sweets.

I did really like Gallipoli (yes Italy has one too) a charming fishing village.   There was a seafood market here where the fish was so fresh that most of it was still alive.   Plenty of lanes and buildings to wander here, restaurants and cafes and market stalls. We stopped at a hole in the wall which was part deli and part bakery, where several locals were packed in buying stuff to take home for lunch.  We figured it had to be good and squeezed in to get some panzerotti.  So good.

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Lecce, often called “the Florence of the south” was also on our visit list.  Though our time here was shorter than we wanted with the GPS sending us around in dreadful circles.  Near the large piazza you’ll find some Roman style ruins, a castle or two (castles are du jour in Puglia, no town is complete without one), a lovely park, a good bit of shopping, and sweet shop after sweet shop!  The tools made from chocolate were very cool indeed.

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For dinner we went to Trattorie Le Zie.  This was one of those places where the simple appearance of the food totally belies it’s taste.   Absolutely delicious.    I finally ordered a “tiella” which is another local dish of baked mussels, rice and potatoes (I had tried to make thiss before our trip and failed miserably) which was just so flavoursome, I did email them and ask for the recipe but didn’t have any luck.  I must try and make this dish again.

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It was unfortunately at the end of our stay when we discovered the beautiful Melendugno coast.  The stretch here from Sant Andrea to San Foca is gorgeous, which beach after beach and stunning rock formations.   The area around Grotta della Poesia (Poetry Grotto) is particularly beautiful.

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Here you’ll see lots of mad Italians jumping off a cliff several stories high into the grottos (there is a smaller one for the less adventurous!).

More Puglia to come!

London

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Did I ever mention that I’m a bit of a rewards points junkie? I accumulate points every chance I can, hoarding them specifically for long haul travel every few years. And here we are, leaving the single digit Sydney winter morning temperatures behind, stepping into an unusual stretch of glorious twenty eight degree blue sky days in central London. “A heat wave” the UK press was calling it.

I hadn’t been to London for some years, and previous trips had been work related. I’d forgotten what the crowds are like. People think Sydney is getting crowded, we have nothing on these throngs. A friend I caught up with who had moved here from Sydney nine months earlier said that the crowds and congestion was one of the most difficult things to get used to.

With such lovely days we mostly walked rather than doing the underground, clocking up some 65km in four days. We saw, we shopped, we ate. But if you’re like The Marito and I, and need to start your day with a coffee, be prepared for some sticker shock. Coffee pricing was a bit of an anomaly. Our morning flat white was typically £4.50 (almost $9 Australian). Whereas you could get a pastry at Selfridges for £2, a takeaway sandwich at Marks and Spencer for as little at £1.30, a tasty ham and cheese baguette for £3.30 or two eggs on toast at a café for £6.50.

Sights and things to do

Tate Modern
One of the wonderful things about London is all the free museums, with a voluntary donation. Only special exhibitions require a paid ticket. I was really looking forward to the Tate Modern (there is also the Tate Britain) and with just cause. Walking around and seeing Dali, Warhol, Picasso, Magritte, Kandinsky and the like was a real privilege. We all loved it.

As is often the case with modern art, it can be controversial and prone to a few WTF moments. The Marito saw a white triangle hanging on the wall and thought it looked like something our builder had cut out at the reno site. And the smear of plaster looked courtesy of our gyprocker. A display on the floor of what looked like a series of poo perhaps was – when I read the description it said it was a reflection of “organic matter”.

It’s a fabulous art museum, don’t miss it.

The British Museum
This was hands down one of the most impressive history museums I have ever been to. Again, free entry. I had organised a “treasure hunt” through THAT Muse (Treasure Hunt At The Museum). The lovely Daisy met us at the entry and gave us a great museum overview and introduction, and then gave us the treasure hunt we had selected and the rules. It was really good fun finding the pieces on our hunt – we paired up in twos, and if there is another family on the hunt at the same time you can compete with them. It was an entertaining way to see the museum. They also do hunts at the V&A and the Louvre.

Hamleys
It’s sad that the iconic FAO Schwartz in New York closed down. Hamleys is the London version and great entertainment – multiple floors of fun, live product demos and cool displays. They have a lot of their own unique branded products as well as major brands. One of the Small People walked away with a giant BB8, who we hauled with us on the rest of our trip. He’s now safely esconced in Australia.

Kensington Gardens
We had a wander through the expansive Kensington Gardens, amused that many Brits not coping with the “heat wave” were lying in the park on towels with half their gear off. You pass all the cottages where the various royals and staff live before getting to Kensington Palace, where you can buy tickets to see a few rooms. On the day we were there it was Princess Diana’s birthday, and people had started putting flowers and tributes.

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Changing of the guard

It is one to tick off in London but it does move rather slowly and if you haven’t read up on how it works you have no idea what’s going on. We went up to the Victoria Monument to see it, which gave us freedom to move around and see the various troupes coming from various directions. I would have loved to have done a Buckingham Palace tour but it is only open for certain weeks of the year.

And here’s London’s nicest (camera shy) policeman – so incredibly polite, and also patient with the hoards of people that were asking him for directions.

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Borough Market
What a wonderful market! There’s a great variety of bread, pastries, fruit, meals to go, and lots of taste testing on offer. You could definitely come for breakfast our lunch. Some days of the week are only a “half market” so do try and catch the full market if you can.

I was really keen to go to Westminster Abbey, but the line was enormous.  If there is a “skip the line” ticket option, go that route.  We also wandered over to Big Ben but that was scaffolded for work, and Trafalgar Square was largely closed off too.  We had also planned a wander to Covent Garden but ran out of time.

The food halls
All the big department stores have food halls, usually in the basement or ground floor, where you can buy groceries but also sandwiches, salads, rotisserie items and ready meals. At the more “everyday” end is Marks and Spencer which we popped into quite a bit at lunch. The Small People, going through a teenage growth spurt, currently have hollow legs. They have almost reverted to newborn status, needing feeding every 2-3 hours, and we would regularly stop in for food on our walkabouts.

The next level up is Selfridges, who’s bakery and chocolate halls are impressive.

But the Harrods food hall is another level entirely, with luxe and incredible displays. At the caviar bar, where not a single seat was free, a quick menu scan showed prices starting at £44 and going up to £790.

Shopping
Oxford Street is a huge shopping strip, a good few kilometres on both sides to occupy you, same with Regent Street. You can also veer off into bits like Molton Lane which has some nice stores. There are all the big name brands you’d expect as well as some great British brands I’m partial to. Shops are generally open from 10am and close at 9pm, except for Sundays where it is more like 12pm to 6pm.

Breakfasts

Duck and Waffle
If you can’t be bothered queuing up for the London Eye, Duck and Waffle on level 40 of the Heron Tower in Bishopgate gives some sweeping views of London. Open 24/7 there is a pretty cool bar and a sit down restaurant, which we tried for breakfast. I had their signature duck & waffle dish and the confit of duck was delicious and indulgent. The Small People’s eggs were very good too, and they said that their first taste of “British sausage” hit the mark. It is a pricey breakfast with the view but also something different. Service was good.

45 Jermyn St
Next to Fortnum and Mason, I loved the interiors of this stylish bar and bistro and think it would be a fun dinner venue. The breakfast, while tasty, was very small and a bit frugal. My wild mushroom omelette was delicious, but came with no toast, and the small people got one small slice of bread each with their scrambled and fried eggs.

Dalloway Terrace
A stone’s throw from the British Museum, where we were headed that morning, Dalloway Terrace which I had heard good things about seemed like the ideal venue. We had a mixed bag experience. Service was all over the place and rather hopeless, but it was probably the best coffee we had. My shakshuka was incredibly delicious and I want to try and replicate it, but the Big Breakfast that the Small People ordered was dry and extremely unappealing, and not really that big for £16.

Daisy Green
Daisy Green is run by Aussies, as the Bondi Breakfast on the menu gives away. Daisy has a few siblings in other parts of London including Scarlett, Timmy and Darcey . It was a tasty and generous breakfast with some good creativity, we all really enjoyed it and certainly would have come back if it wasn’t our last day. We also had our first coffee under £4. Friendly staff.

Dinners

Unintentionally, we seemed to end up in the Soho area every night for dinner. I looked up various places before our trip and saw where I wanted to go, and they all just happened to be in the same area. Like New York’s Soho, there are plenty of choices clustered together.

Pastaio, Soho
I knew we’d be having plenty of pasta in Italy but I’d heard great things about Pastaio. And Steve Parle’s silky handmade strands certainly delivered, with a lovely simplicity that any nonna would approve of. There are also some great prosecco slushies, and my lemon one was very refreshing. It’s in a really fun laneway area, joining Kingly Lane where people were spilled onto sidewalks with a beer and lots of other venues to choose from. There are no bookings here.

Rosa’s Thai, Soho
A relatively cheap and cheerful Thai chain, there are a handful of Rosa’s across parts of London. The marinated pork skewers and the stir fried egglant dish were particularly delicious.

Yuautcha, Soho
This modern Chinese diner with a splash of blue rather than traditional red ticked a lot of boxes. Truly excellent service and really tasty food. We loved every dish.

They also have a very pretty pastry counter which you can eat in or takeaway.

NOPI, Soho
I had to try and Ottolenghi restaurant while I was in London, and booked NOPI sometime in advance since it was a weekend. Loved the fit out of this place with all the brass, and checkout the “hall of mirrors” style bathrooms. The food was delicious, I would love to get my hands on that eggplant recipe which The Marito and I particularly liked. And the twice cooked roast chicken. The only dish we didn’t enjoy was the chickpeas, as the spice overpowered and drowned the ingredients.

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Baked chocolate ganache, plum soil Malt barley ice cream, date fudge and chocolate soil

Accommodation
I had a whole bunch of Hyatt points (refer paragraph 1) from years of staying at Hyatt hotels for work and cashed them in for a few nights at Hyatt Regency The Churchill (otherwise this place is pretty pricey). Fantastic location, a stone’s throw from Selfridges and the Oxford St shopping strip, and the Marble Arch tube station around the corner. Decent sized rooms for central London but tiny bathrooms, if one of us was in there it was already crowded.

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Thanks for having us London! A few shots from around town.  Next up, Puglia.

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Toque Time: the 2018 Good Food Guide Awards

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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

2016gfg

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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