Archive for the 'drink' Category


Taste of Sydney 2013

Taste of Sydney is a foodfest. Dozens of restaurants, and food and drink producers, from the area set up outdoor tents where you can sample their wares. I went last night on a pass courtesy of the good folks at Yelp.

Last night was the first night for Taste of Sydney and it runs until the end of Sunday. It’s held in a fenced-off area of Centennial Park and is made to be very comfortable. There are lounge-y areas, tall tables for standing, live music, funky lighting and bar areas, and a general atmosphere of laid-back foodiness.


Most of the food producers had free tasting samples, and I hit quite a few of them. Nibbles of cheese, meats, pastas, juices, dips and much more were easy to come by and almost uniformly delicious. All the exhibitors had packaged goods you could buy to take away of course.

The restaurant stands each served a small menu of appetiser-size dishes. This makes it an excellent opportunity to sample some of the popular, high-end Sydney restaurants without actually getting a reservation (if any of them do that anymore) or splashing out on an entire dinner. The queue for Porteno‘s stand, for instance, was very long.

Aside from all the free sampling I bought some suckling roast pig from 4 in Hand (delish) and a falafel kit from Sami’s Kitchen (making it tonight, the samples were tasty)

As I walked around I realised how many food-related TV quasi-celebs there are in Australia now. Besides the real chefs like Kylie Kwong I spotted about a dozen folks I recognised from peripherally catching popular food shows like My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef over the last few years. Each season of those includes so many contenstants that it results in a huge number of recognisable faces. Lots of exhibitors last night were taking advantage of them.

The vibe at Taste for Sydney was fun, the choices were many, and the grub was very good. But if I’d had to pay the $30 entrance fee just to get in and try the tiny free samples I would not have found it to be good value. The food for purchase were in very small portions and none were priced cheaply. I’ve never felt bad about paying to properly try out a restaurant I wanted to go to, so paying for the privilege to sample last night wasn’t the thrill it might have been for others who like to test things out first; for those folks this would have been heaven. And there certainly seemed to be lots of people there.

So thanks Yelp for spotting me entrance to something I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.


Yelp Elite event: Good Libations at the Oak Barrel

I like going to places – bars, restaurants, B&Bs, and so on – and I like writing about them. In London I had some great times, and got to attend a lot of fun events, because I contributed a lot to review site Qype.

Qype doesn’t have the same sort of fun event-driven culture here in Australia, but Yelp – a similar review site that’s very successful in the US – is starting just that here. So I’ve been contributing reviews. And becoming one of the “Yelp Elite” here. That means I get invites to Yelp events.

Last month I won a pass to a craft beer festival at The Oak Barrel, an excellent bottle shop here in Sydney. It was a very fun afternoon.

Last week I was invited to another tasting event back at the Oak Barrel, with just a dozen or so others from the local Yelp “Elite”. Called Good Libations, it was all about exposing us to beverages we mightn’t have tried otherwise. They really showcased themselves as one of Sydney’s top-notch bottle shops for the discerning buyer, and I don’t recall any of us in the crowd saying we’d tried any of the drinks before. The guys running the show had a wonderful table laid out, and made the night fun.

We started with a Happy Goblin Pale Ale, made by a couple of blokes up in Mount Ku-Rin-Gai. I liked this, nice and malty.

Then came the wines, five of them, covering quite a range:

  • Henschke Julius Riesling 1995 (Eden Valley, Australia) – a tinge of gold colour given the age, with rock melon and lime flavours, quite nice.
  • Les Temps des Cerises 2010 (Languedoc, France) – dull blood-coloured, with a cinnamon cherry aroma, and a spicy, dry, volatile organic taste. It was challenging, but went really well with cheese.
  • Jauma ‘Blewitt Springs’ Grenache 2011 (McLaren Vale, Australia) – very light, nothing on the nose, spicy and elegant but overpowered by the cheese.
  • Sutton Grange Estate Syrah 2006 (Bendigo, Australia) – a super dark, waxy, medicinal wine that took some getting used to; would require some serious pairing to enjoy.
  • A mystery wine; we played a game to guess where it was from, which I lost, and I don’t recall what it was.

In an interesting theme, all were organic wines (and some were “natural”, and at least one biodynamic).

Finally we had a boutique WA whisky, a Limeburners single malt barrel m6, which was fantastic: warm, nutty, and very balanced, especially with a couple of drops of water.

It reinforced my notion that the Oak Barrel is the place to go for top-quality hooch. It was also really great to meet some other local Yelp folks, all of whom were really nice.

The most important thing I learned? Probably, “Don’t waste a good shit-horn.”

You can read other people’s review of the night and see photos with a writeup, though I suspect you might need a Yelp account to do so. You can look at the photos alone on flickr.

Where do we start?


Sydney Craft Beer and Cider Fair: thanks Yelp!

Woo hoo! Free beer!

Sydney centre for “wine, spirits & education” Oak Barrel is holding its inaugural Sydney Craft Beer & Cider Fair later this month. Looks good. They’ve got craft beer from Australia and around the world.

Yelp, the online review and event community that’s recently launched in Australia and that I contribute to, is one of the Fair’s sponsors. They recently hold a competition for Yelp users here to win a double pass to the Fair. The competition was to “tell us what you’d call your own personal craft beer or cider brand”.

I used my internet name in conjunction with my love of dark beers, sci-fi films, and bad puns to come up with Timinator Dark Lager: I’ll Be Bock.

And, lucky me, I won. To be fair only eight people entered; you can see the other entries here. But I’ll take it!

I’ll blog again after the event on May 26th. Assuming I can still type, that is.


My Rick Stein review on Great British Chefs

Great British Chefs is an online community that – unsurprisingly – focuses on, and promotes, great British chefs.

Proving that great British cooking sometimes happens outside the British Isles, they’ve posted my review of a recent meal I had at Rick Stein at Bannisters here in Australia.


Wineries we visited in Margaret River

My youngest brother and his wife recently visited us here in Australia, from Canada. It was really great having them here. They made the most of it; you can read more on his blog if you like.

They’re wine folks, like us, so one of the highlights was something that was as new to us as it was to them: a flight across to Perth and three days in the Margaret River wine region of Western Australia. The countryside is beautiful out there, the coast is breathtaking, the food is great, and the wine is top-notch.

I wanted to make a record of the wineries and wines I liked for future reference. Lucky you (if you have my taste in wine): you can have this list for free. Also, Cabernet Sauvignon is the highlight wine of the Margaret River, and that’s reflected in a lot of my favourites.

In no particular order:

  • Swooping Magpie. Another super-friendly, very boutique producer, with a cellar door in his garage. Prices were very reasonable. Best of the bunch was his 2010 Verdelho and his 2008 Shiraz, really the only bottle of that variety I liked much on this trip.
  • Deep Woods Estate. Small, rustic, with a friendly gent. I forgot to take notes here, but it was typical: cab sauv was the winner. Less typical: the gent was friendly enough to let us take home a barely-touched bottle! Yay! Buy their wine, all of it!
  • The Growers. A cellar door collective of small producers. A fun spot, an entertaining gent behind the bar. None of the wines were fantastic, but some were decent, and all were incredible value for money with most bottles working out to be $10 or less! I’d drink the 2010 Niche Semillon Sauv Blanc and the 2009 Niche Shiraz again.
  • Swings & Roundabouts. Busy, fun place, with great lawns and woodfired pizzas. Their 2010 Cab Merlot was ok. Their 1.5 litre bottles of white and red are BBQ-aimed value for money at $22 each.
  • Woodlands. Wow. We went here by mistake, but it was one of the best. Tiny, unassuming, no frills, but what winemaking. Highlights: 2008 Margaret Reserve Cab Merlot, 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve de la Cave, 2009 Cab Sauv Alma May, and 2006 Robert Cab Sauv. They only do one white (a sign of craftspeople: only do what you’re good at). They also do 200 bottles of straight Cab Franc each year; I might have to get in on that.
  • Knee Deep. Gorgeous, small, friendly, fun. We wanted to do lunch, but they were booked for a wedding. 2009 Kim’s Chardonnay wasn’t bad, 2009 Sue’s Cabernet was good, 2008 Kelsea’s Reserve Cab Sauv was superdelicious.
  • Clairault. A bit fancy, but not huge, and the guy behind the bar was really great: funny, friendly, and very informative. Everyone liked their 2010 Semillon Sauv Blanc (53%/47%). I thought their 2007 Estate Cab Sauv (with just 8% Merlot) was fantastic.
  • Laurance. What a poncy, gold-statue, art gallery, tasting-charging bunch of tosh. And their wines are awful, except for the 2009 Icon Cabernet, which is fantastic.
  • Redgate. Small, but nothing special, nor overly friendly. Still, their 2011 Chenin Blanc and 2010 Rosé were more than drinkable. And their non-vintage Rhapsody In Red was a decent not-with-food and drunk-chilled at just $19.
  • Watershed. A large place, with restaurant and function rooms, but friendlier than most its size. I fancied their 2009 Senses Viognier, their 2010 Senses Zinfandel, and their 2008 Awakening Cabernet.
  • Howard Park. Too big, busy, and impersonal. There was some big event going on. Plus, there are two roads in and out, and we got lost by not going out the one we came in. Liked their 2008 Chardonnay, and their single vineyard 2009 Leston Cab Sauv.
  • Hay Shed. A very friendly – and knowledgable – guy at the cellar door. The 2010 Hay Shed Hill Shiraz Tempranillo, at $20, was an easy-drinking BBQ wine. Their 2009 Block 2 Cab Sauv was very good, and their 2008 Kerrigan+Berry Cab Sauv was top notch.
  • Wise Wine. Nice spot, with great views. There was a wedding reception going on. Highlights were their 2011 Sea Urchin Verdelho, their 2008 Lot 80 Petit Verdot, their 2009 Eagle Bay Cab Sauv, and their tawny port.
  • Stella Bella. We were looking forward to this one a great deal, as we’ve been drinking their wines since our first visit to Australia. They did not disappoint: it was one of the best cellar door experiences we had, with laughs, discussion, and tasting of things we shouldn’t have had (wink wink). I loved a lot of the wines here, but wound up buying and shipping home two bottles each of their 2007 Suckfizzle Cab Sauv, 2011 Skuttlebutt Savvy Cab Sauv, and 2007 Suckfizzle Sauv Blanc Semillon.
The other big non-beer finds in the region were:
  • Bootleg Beer. Excellent beers, great outdoors eating areas, good vibe. Liked all their brews except for their Hefe, which was too banana-y.
  • Margaret River Venison. They farm their own deer, produce all their meats, and will let you try all their fabulous produce.
  • Yallingup Woodfired Bread. No web site. Google it and you’ll find others’ mentions. It’s hard to find, unless you ask a local. But my god, is it worth it.

Quick trip to Port Stephens

Today’s a holiday in most of Australia, the Queen’s birthday. For a quick getaway we spent a night up in Port Stephens.

It was cold and rainy – you can’t plan the weather – but a nice break from the city. We stayed at a nice B&B, saw some of the country music festival that was on, and did a bit of bushwalking. We also had an enjoyable stop at the always-fun Murrays Brewery.

A few pics can be found here.

The view outside at Murrays Brewery. Click to embiggen



The upper echelons of beer

Last weekend I was at a bar in Sydney known for its beers, imported from around Australia and the world. A gent was at the bar in front of me, ordering, and I was waiting my turn behind him.

“Hey, what’s that beer like?” the gents says to the bartender, pointing at a chalkboard sign. “Mikkeller?”

“It’s very good,” the bartender says.

“Okay, I’ll try a bottle of that,” says the gent. He also orders a glass of something else they had on tap, I didn’t catch what. The bartender cracks the bottle, pours the draught, and the gent hands over a fifty dollar note for the two beers.

The bartender gives the gent fifty cents in change.

“Wait a minute, that was fifty dollars I gave you.”


“But you only gave me fifty cents back.”


“Fifty dollars for two beers?”

“The draught is $7.50, but the bottle is $42.”

“FORTY-TWO DOLLARS? FOR A BEER? I thought the sign was saying $4.20.”

It was a 330ml bottle, I’d like to add.

“Yes,” says the bartender, “It’s one of the five rarest beers in the world.”

Stunned silence from the gent. Then, mumbling, “Well…I guess I could…” Then he sort of trailed off. The bottle was open and his extremely expensive beer was sitting there, sharing its gold-plated carbonation with the atmosphere.

“Look,” says the bartender, “If you’ve made a mistake just say so, and I’ll give you your money back.”



I’ve made a mistake.

The bartender gave the gent his $42 back, and took back the opened bottle of Mikkeller. I didn’t see what he did with it.

I wanted so much to taste it.


Logan Road in the Gabba, Brisbane

The last couple of times I’ve been in Brisbane – including this weekend just passed – I’ve found myself in the Gabba, at the new antique/dining district development at the end of Logan Road. It’s a great little corner of the city.

Last Friday night we:

  • Wandered into Attic, one of the antique places. They were throwing a cocktail party, open to all. We guzzled some tasty bevvies, ate some snacks, and browsed their old stuff.
  • Had a pricey cocktail (to balance the previous free ones) at cool bar Canvas.
  • Ate some delicious grub at the laid-back Crosstown Eating House.

Marrickville Festival, David Suzuki, and Bar Awards

Sydney continues to unveil bits of fun for me to enjoy.

  • On the weekend was the Marrickville Festival. The two main streets here closed to traffic and opened to stalls selling all sorts of things. Much of it wasn’t interesting, but the food was great (I had Portuguese and Indian). And there was a stage of live music through the afternoon. Unfortunately it chucked down buckets of rain all day, so we didn’t stay too long.
  • On Sunday night we saw one of the great Canadians speak at the Opera House: David Suzuki. The scientist, environmentalist and educator is nearly 75 and doing his farewell speaking tour. He was passionate and thoughtful and funny and energetic. It was quite touching to see and hear him; I’d nearly forgotten what a cultural icon he is back in Canada. And he’s no small shakes here in Australia, either, as the Opera House main hall was packed.
  • Last night we attended TimeOut Sydney’s Bar Awards. In hindsight it was probably bad to attend an event with never-ending absinthe cocktails on a Monday night. But it was awesome for hipster/poser/wanker-watching.

WLG pop-up restaurant

I never had the chance to go to the Bayswater Brasserie, the recently-closed bistro-style eatery in King Cross, though I hear it was quite good.

I went to the building last night, however, for WLG, the Brasserie’s new (if temporary) assignment as a pop-up restaurant showcasing New Zealand food, drink, chefs, and servers. For two weeks the place will have a rotating menu of Kiwi dishes, designed and cooked by Kiwi chefs. All the wine and beer and coffee comes from New Zealand. It’s essentially a gustatory tourist show for our southeastern neighbour.

It was a good deal. A sample plate of starters, a choice of three mains, a dessert, and coffee for $29 per person. All wines were $7 per glass (or something like $27 per bottle).

I got the heads-up about the event from TimeOut, and got tickets a couple of weeks ago; I think it’s all sold out now, though you can walk up and hope for no-shows. Last night was the only night we could make it. It was also opening night. I knew that meant there was a high probability of chaos. In the end we did get some of that in the form of very long waits and slightly scattered service.

But everyone was very nice during that extended service. The vibe was great, and the brasserie looked good and was packed elbow-to-elbow (dining was at long, shared tables). All the food was good (barring the average whitebait in our starter plate), especially my just-right venison. Some of the wines were quite good. The coffee, from Mojo, was excellent.

WLG seem like a lot of fun, good value, and a great idea. The pop-up nature means they’re never going to work out all the kinks, so expect things to take an hour longer than they should, sit back, and enjoy. And maybe plan that trip to NZ.