There are those trips that you vividly remember the architecture, the scenery or the adrenaline-rushing adventure. Our recent trip to Australia with Sherri and Phread to commemorate some 40th birthdays had most of those aspects but also included a healthy dose of excellent cuisine.
As you all have gathered thus far, our first week was at the Dairyman’s Cottage where we had access to farm-fresh free-range pork products, eggs and whole milk. The cottage is in the Barossa Ranges smack dab in the middle of vineyards and numerous cellar doors open for wine tastings. We visited some of the neighbouring towns and hamlets and found the Barossa Valley Cheese Co and Gully Gardens in Angaston, the Apex Bakery in Tanunda, Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop in Nuriootpa.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stop at the Cheese Company where we picked up a variety of their best: La Petite Princesse, Geo and La Dame as well as some chocolate-covered glacéed figs and quince paste. Our next stop was the Apex Bakery for some crusty loaves to enjoy with local wine and cheeses.
Another afternoon, we meandered our way to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop. None of us really knew what we were walking into… it was the most curious of destinations. There is a double-sized teaching kitchen previously used to film Maggie’s cooking series The Cook and The Chef. It is now used for a daily demonstration of how to use verjuice – a mildly acidic alternative to vinegar popularized throughout Australia by Maggie. The shop has samplers of all of Maggie’s products. The patés, dried mustard apricots, dukkah, candied dried kumquats were our favourites.
One of our most sincere and special memories of Australia will be our Saturday night dinner at the Dairyman. Michael, our host, invited us for dinner along with his three farmhands, Nate from Wales, Luka de la France and Jens hailing from Sweden. We assembled around a picturesque farm table in his side yard with an assortment of mismatched wooden chairs. An enamelware pitcher held flowers from the gardens, a warm breeze blew in the air as Luka declared he picked some music for the Canadians… Céline Dion! We began with bread, cheeses and wine followed by a generous platter of mixed roasted vegetables fresh from the market paired with a crackled roast pork from the farm. The two farm hounds, Ruby and Massey, were more than happy to take care of any fatty parts left on our plates. Earlier in the afternoon we had poached ten pears in mead from Chateau Dorrien with some orange zest. These were paired with the reduced poaching liquid and vanilla ice cream. We continued chatting into the night as we finished several bottles of wine and a bottle of port.
Our last day in the area, we found Gully Gardens – one of two establishments in the Barossa that dry their own fruit. We picked up yoghurt-dipped dried pears, macadamia brittle (that’s for you, Linda!), dried fruit chocolate bark and some other hostess gift items.
Eric and I continued our journey through Melbourne in the direction of the Great Ocean Road. We dined at the Bended pub in Geelong on our first night. The lemon myrtle calamari was suggested by our waitstaff as they were out of fish ‘n’ chips – and what a great choice. Reminiscent of pesto, the lemon myrtle coating was a nice change from usual batter and deep fried way of serving calamari.
The following night, we found ourselves in Apollo Bay – just about halfway through the Great Ocean Road. After a quick visit to UrbanSpoon, we decided to visit a local tapas restaurant, Chill @ the Bay, for our Christmas Eve dinner. Throughout our meal we enjoyed a great Riesling sourced from a Barossa cellar door we had visited. We essentially had three courses – the first round of tapas included a roasted mushroom croquette, grilled parma ham wrapped asparagus, local scallops on a bed of cubed chorizo, tomato and red peppers, Manchego cheese croquetta, and lamb brains served with pickled red onions on creamy mashed. It seemed unfortunate that the brains were fried – but you could still recognize the structured lobes when cut open. Eric had a small bite and couldn’t bring himself to have more. Too bad for him! We followed that with the spicy paprika prawns, chorizo and rocket with grilled bread. We capped the meal off with the featured nightly cocktails: Silk Stocking and French Martini. The attentive and jovial waitstaff were a pleasure and quipped that we shouldn’t mix our drinks when we asked for more water! This stumbled-upon treasure was a highlight of the trip.
Unfortunately, we probably didn’t plan so well to be on the road for Christmas Day. We figured a touristy area would have plenty open for us – we were wrong. We arrived in Warrnambool – a town of 33,000 residents – and hardly a soul could be seen. We eventually headed to a neighbouring hamlet, Port Fairy, and found a Chinese restaurant open. At least we got fed!
Eric and I then flew to Sydney where we met up with my sister, Paula, and her husband, Michal. Then the true feasting began! We went to the Dee Why ocean strip on our first night and indulged in an immense seafood platter. The most interesting items served were smoke salmon gently draped on fruit and a prehistoric looking Balmain Bug.
The following few days consisted of starting the day off with Paula’s home juiced preparations (kale or beet based) followed with ocean strolls or more vigorous valley hikes. We had great meals and snacks at home (I’ve already replicated Paula’s roasted rosemary grapes – to be blogged soon!) but were so lucky to benefit from Paula and Mike’s three years in Sydney to dine the finest locations around town. This began with a trip to the Sydney Fish Market where we picked up some Abalone sashimi, whose iridescent shell is used for mother-of-pearl, an assortment of oysters from their favourite source along with a feast of other seafood options (loved the grilled octopus). We were all stuffed for the afternoon! However, we couldn’t leave the market before picking up some chocolate covered fruit. I hear the strawberry was the best…
Another evening, we headed to the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Just beside Luna Park (which could easily be called Lunatic Park by the look of it!) is The Deck. With its million-dollar view of the iconic bridge, we all had a night to remember at the Deck.
Last but not least of Paula and Mike’s favourite Sydney dining locations is the Chef’s Gallery. Touted as a modern take on yum-cha (Australian for Dim Sum), our table had a smattering of interesting dishes which included a variety of steamed dumplings, potstickers, a duck and lychee dish, spinach noodles with lotus root, along with soups and vegetable side-dishes.
Our visit to Australia was short – but provided a full sensory experience. The sights, smells, tastes (have YOU tasted Verjuice?), sounds (those are odd birdcalls) and touch (thanks to the anemone!) of the Land Down Under will undoubtedly continue to live in our memory for quite some time.