Lunch at Cullen Winery, Margaret River, Western Australia

Cullen Winery has a reputation as producing some of Margaret River’s best wines. It claims to be the first winery in the region in 1971.  However, if you speak to their neighbours Vasse Felix Winery, they might tell you a similar story.

What I love about Cullen, besides the award winning wines, gorgeous setting with a cellar door made of stone and the adjoining restaurant that over looks the vines, is Vanya Cullen’s philosophy of biodynamics and the use of organic produce.

Cullen Winery has the kind of vegetable garden that my Italian grandparents would have approved of.  Crops are planted in rotation, some are left to go to seed so there are crops for next season, and it fertilised with nurtured with natural compost.  Head Chef Matt Egan can venture out to the garden and pick what will be featured on the menu that day. Edible flowers from chives that are going to seed, or the flowers from sugar snap peas and other such pretty edible flowers are often used to decorate dishes.

Sustainable seafood tasting plate

Sustainable seafood tasting plate

Zorba and I shared the sustainable seafood tasting plate for entree ($23); seared whiting with raw vegetable salad, smoked barramundi with apple, saffron and celery remoulade, and seared scallop with pickled ginger and wakami salad. Every element was divine. The scallop was my favourite, caramelised on the outside and perfectly cooked. The wakami salad has a delicious asian seaweed flavour and added a wonderful texture to the soft scallop.

For main, it was hard to look past the seared Cone Bay barramundi with herbed macadamia crust, potato puree and fennel cream ($39).  Crunchy nuts crusted skin on the fish, perfectly smooth potato paste, crunchy fennel shavings and the delicate fennel flavour.  I could have that dish once per week and not ever get sick of it. Really beautiful. And healthy.

Cone Bay Barramundi

Cone Bay Barramundi

Zorba had organic beef sirlion, rosemary potato gratin, vine roasted tomatoes and baked mushrooms with balsamic glaze ($38).  He finished every last mouthful in almost record time. He was absolutely satisfied with his lunch.

Organic sirloin

Organic sirloin

We washed our lunch down with a glass each of Cullen Chardonnay ($13.50)

I’ve had the pleasure of eating at Cullen several times and every mouthful is not only delicious, it actually feels like I’m eating nutritious food that is energising my body.  It feels good.

After lunch, we drove a short distance to Gabriel Chocolate for coffee – delicious mocha.

Cullen is a fantastic place to go for lunch. It is not cheap, but it is good and there’s the added bonus of knowing that you are going to have a lovely drop to go with your lunch – their wines are renowned around the world for good reason.

FACT FILE

Cullen Winery
4323 Caves Road, Wilyabrup (Margaret River Region) Western Australia 6280
(08) 9755 5277

Cullen Winery Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Top 5 Roof Top Bars in Perth

In Perth, it seems that roof top bars are the new black. And why not? Not only are they a fabulous way to use space, you are up high and often have magnificent views as a result.  Here’s my top five list of roof top bars in Perth:

  1. Mechanics’ Institute Bar
  2. Bob’s Bar at the Print Hall
  3. The Aviary
  4. The Green House
  5. The Conservatory

Special mention must go to a local of mine, The Cabin in Mt Hawthorn, and the Roof Top Movies - whilst not technically a bar, you can buy beer there and it is a super cool space.

1. Mechanics’ Institute Bar

Urban, grungy, warehouse feel with scaffolding, exposed brick and long plank tables – then inside their bar tenders are renowned for their cocktails. Entrance is via a back alley making this Northbridge roof top bar feel like you could be in Melbourne lane way. Best of all, you can order a Flipside Burger from the bar and it gets delivered to your table.  Beer is reasonably priced as are cocktails that range from $12 to $17.  It’s a busy place and the bar is often two deep on Friday evenings.  Despite the staff shaking and stirring cocktails for eager patrons, the efficient service means you are served quite quickly.  A cool place that attracts a mixed age group. I like it.

Mechanics Institute

Mechanics' Institute Bar on Urbanspoon

.

2. The Print Hall – Bob’s Bar

Part of the Brookfield Place complex in the city, the Print Hall comprises of several bars and restaurant in the old West Australian newspaper building. The roof top bar is an ode to Australia’s larrikin former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.  Bob’s Bar is popular with young hip city dressers.  The wine list was average, the service was good, the large ottomans, wooden outdoor furniture and roof top shrubs are nice. Love that part of the roof can close to keep the rain or cold out.  It’s a slick city space that charges Perth city prices.

Bobs Bar Print Hall
Print Hall Fine Dining on Urbanspoon

.

3. The Aviary – the Nest

This place certainly made a splash when it opened in November last year (2011). Queues would be the norm most nights of the week.  Artificial grass, big canvas umbrellas, high wooden tables, massive big screen (awesome on Melbourne Cup day!) and a killer view are the elements that set a über cool ambience at the Aviary.  In the Bird Cage downstairs and indoors, you’ll find a restaurant that has had mixed reviews. Expect to pay Perth city prices for a drink here.

The Nest roof top bar is a great place for a drink when the sun is out and it’s not too hot.  On those baking Perth summer’s days, you might go looking like a cool chick, but there’s big chance you’ll leave as a roast chook!

Photo from the Aviary Facebook page

Photo from the Aviary Facebook page

The Aviary – Nest Rooftop Bar on Urbanspoon

..

.

4.  The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse sometimes gets overlooked as a roof top bar because it has such a good reputation as a restaurant. The outside is alive with stacked planter boxes that make this place unique and, well, green. Everything that was used to build the Greenhouse was from recycled material – the stools are converted from wooden packing crates to form seats and candle holders are empty jars.  The roof top bar is small and has a lovely feel to it.  Surrounded by planter boxes growing herbs that are used in the kitchen downstairs, the Greenhouse roof top bar sits in the shade of the tall buildings around it. A great place to have a drink before eating downstairs.

Photo from the Greenhouse Facebook page

Photo from the Greenhouse Facebook page

Greenhouse on Urbanspoon

.

.

.

.

.

5. The Conservatory

The Conservatory was the first cool roof top bar to open in Perth when it opened its doors and its roof in 2011.  That’s right, it has a super cool retractable roof.  Artificial grass gives the indoor space an outdoor feel and when the roof is open, well, I suppose you are outdoors. Kind of.  The stairs leading up require some skill to negotiate particularly if you are wearing high heels.  The wooden tables and outdoor BBQ give it a relaxed vibe. It’s popular with the city set on a Friday evening. The restaurant has had mixed reviews and expect to pay Perth city prices for drinks. It’s a pleasant space for a drink and a shared plate of nibbles.

Photo from Conservatory's Facebook page

Photo from Conservatory’s Facebook page

The Conservatory Rooftop Bar on Urbanspoon

.

.

.

.

So what are Perth city prices?  Expect to pay $8 for a half pint of beer on tap, $10 or more for a Corona beer, $12-15 for a glass of wine, and $18-25 for cocktails.

What is your favourite roof top bar in your home town?

Evening of magnificence – Vue De Monde, Melbourne

An evening of magnificence began with a drink at Lui Bar on level 55 of the Rialto building in Melbourne.

The table, with uninterrupted views of the open kitchen, had a leather top, the cutlery was leaning against gnarled pieces of wood much like chop stick holders and smooth stones had been machined with grooves to hold candles and salt and pepper.  Our leather bucket chairs had the kangaroo fur line their outer side. One could be forgiven for not noticing those details because the view across Melbourne was breathtaking-beautiful.

Before we had even seen a menu, some morsels of food were put in front of us:

  • Oyster
  • Salt cured wallaby
  • Smoked eel, white chocolate, caviar
  • Peas, pistachio, strawberry

The salt cured wallaby (kangaroo) was prepared at our table. The dish that sound most unusual is the smoked eel with white chocolate and caviar. Who would think of such a combination? Shannon Bennett, that’s who. He has really put his mark on the Australian culinary scene. Back to the smoked eel – it was delectable!  The white chocolate was a subtle thin and crispy shell over each piece of eel that added a hint of sweetness next to the saltiness of the caviar.

Smoked eel with white chocolate and caviar

The peas, pistachio and strawberry was also interesting because it came out initially looking like a soup, but in fact it had a frozen lid that we had to crack through.

Peas, pistachio, strawberry under a frozen lid

It was refreshing and tasted amazing.  I was getting so excited with what was to come.  Hopefully a menu!

Before seeing a menu, we were presented with freshly churned French butter with an array of different breads.  One of my dining companions is gluten intolerant and they happily brought her out some gluten free bread so she could taste the butter.  I had to add salt to the butter as it lacked something, despite being soft and creamy. I also love salt and especially the lovely salt flakes you see in restaurants of this quality.

The waiter did arrive with our menu and we took the conservative option of four-courses at a cost of $150pp.  As you will read on, we had much, much more than four courses. We each had over 11 dishes each!  Ok, some of those were mere tastings, but for what we paid, it was seriously good value for first class execution and produce quality.

Sadly with our conservative menu choice, matching wines were not available. However, the sommelier guided us on which wines by the glass would suit our dish.

The recommended wine for my entree of Greenvale farm Pork, marron, egg cream was a 2011 Henschke ‘Eleanor’s Cottage’ Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Eden Valley, South Australia.  The wine was delicious and I don’t say that about white wine flippantly.  Fresh, slightly buttery balanced with acidity. A lovely drop. The pork belly was amazing.  Delicate, moist, salty set off beautifully next to the sweet marron.  I was in heaven. Really, I was.

Greenvale farm Pork, marron, egg cream

Time for a palate cleanser.  Micro-herbs were presented to each of us in a bowl, to which the waiter poured liquid nitrogen. So dramatic with smoke rising from our bowls as the herbs were snap frozen. We were then given a mortar each to smash and grind the frozen herbs into small pieces.  Fun!  Then a quenelle of lime grapefruit sorbet was placed on top for us to mix with the herb crumbs.  So fresh and, um, cleansing.  Perfect palate cleanser that was fun to put together.

Liquid nitrogen being poured into our palate cleanser

Main course was next. What wine should I have with beef?  Obviously a red. When the 2004 Torbreck ‘The Steading’ Grenache Blend, Gomersal, South Australia was recommended, I was delighted.  Torbreck has a fabulous reputation, deservedly so.  The wine was luscious, smooth, slightly chocoloately, hints of tobacco – I could go on, it was complex and delicious.  I savoured every sip.

The Blackmore beef, nettle, potato was scrumptious. The beef was tender, it just fell apart. The white swirls on top in the photo below are actually sheets of potato. It took me a little while to figure that out because the texture was in between crisp and soft and the shape was nothing like any potato dish I have seen anywhere.  Delicious with an awesome sauce.  More red wine, a little beef – oh yes, foodie heaven for sure!

Blackmore beef, nettle, potato

How excited did we all get when the cheese trolley came around? The smiley Italian waiter explained the different cheeses on offer.  Whilst some of the girls chose what they wanted because they have an aversion to strong blue cheese, I was happy for the choice to be made for me as I love almost all cheese.

Smiley waiter at the cheese trolley

With my four delicious cheeses, I enjoyed the crisp lavash style bread that came with them and a glass of NV Alvear, ‘Vino de Licor’, Moscatel, Morikes de Montilla, Spain.  

Dessert, my favourite course. How was I going to fit it in?  An almost impossible task. The chocolate soufflé was put in front of me and the waiter place a knife in it to create a cavity, to which he poured into cream.  Oh my.  However, on tasting, the dish was not my favourite. I could really taste the egg in the soufflé and no enough chocolate.  I love chocolate and to be honest, would have preferred just a straight block of chocolate!  It was cooked beautifully, but I was so full, I wasn’t going to force myself to eat something that wasn’t transcending me further into food heaven.

Petit fours came out next – what more food?! This was not on the menu, but a cute touch to finish the evening.  The eucalyptus leaves made out of pink musk invoked childhood memories of eating musk sticks.  I also remembered that I didn’t really like them when I was seven years old, and not much has changed since. The mini lamingtons were cute and tasty and the two-up gums were clever but not that tasty.

After our last course, we were given a tour of the kitchen.  Of course I spotted a couple of thermomixes among the appliances. We were shown the commercial vats that were cooking stock for the next day, the chill freezer, and the private dining room. What a treat!

All in all, we had a brilliant night.  Four of us girls felt fussed over by the waiters who were very patient with our constant questions about the food, the wine, and requests for more bread.

Our four course meal was really an 11-course journey into foodie heaven.  And not to forget the bread.  What we thought would be a two hour meal was a four and half hour night of magnificence.

Thanks Holly Hands, Anu Malaviya, and Jessica Wyld for a great night out in one of Melbourne’s top restaurants.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

FACT FILE

Vue de Monde
Level 55, Rialto Tower
525 Collins Street,
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9691 3888
E: vuedemonde@vuedemonde.com.au

Open for dinner Monday to Saturday, lunch Tuesday to Friday and Sundays. Bookings essential.

Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Lui Bar, Vue De Monde, Melbourne – bar review

Wow, what a treat! The evening of magnificence started with a drink at the oh-so-posh Lui Bar. The well-dressed staff were polite yet chatty and gave advice and recommendations as to what cocktails we might after quizzing us on our tastes.

The decor was stunning – old school psychiatrists couches clad in leather, leather bucket chairs with kangaroo fur outers, antique silver tray tables, and leather covered round foot stools. A lot of wood and a lot of leather.  However, I was a bit distracted by the VIEW of Melbourne from the 55fth floor of the Rialto building. With a glorious sunset backlighting the view of the city out to the bay, the only way it can be described is ah-mazing!

The cocktail menu was extensive and contained interesting blends as well as the trusted favourites. I was interested to see a Margaret River Gin listed under the Australian Gins heading.  Apparently it is a new distillery and has just come into stock. It was lovely and smooth – not at all harsh like some of the mass-produced cheaper brands.  Just lovely.

After selecting our drinks, we settled back and enjoyed our luscious surroundings and soaked up the view.

Drinks at Lui Bar

After an hour, our reservation at restaurant Vue De Monde was ready.  Yippee!  My taste buds were in for a extra special treat and I was super excited.

FACT FILE 

The Lui Bar 
Level 55, Rialto
525 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
E : vuedemonde@vuedemonde.com.au

Open every day. Check website for times.

The Lui Bar on Urbanspoon

Cape Lodge, Margaret River, Western Australia

Conde Naste Traveller magazine voted Cape Lodge as one of the top ten boutique hotels in the world in 2011 and 2012 and it’s easy to see why.  It is fine dining done with understated elegance.  Tables are nicely spaced apart, the wait staff are well briefed and carry out their duties like European professionals, and the restaurant is beautifully appointed with views over a little lake (aka a dam).

Head Chef Tony Howell changes the menu daily to reflect the fresh produce he has been able to source that day.  It is magnificent for dinner and breakfast. This is a dining experience no foodie would want to miss.

This terrific clip, put together by Tourism Western Australia, showcases Cape Lodge’s restaurant and head chef Tony Howell.

I could eat here every day and never grow tired of it.  Never ever. Although I’m not sure I’d be a able to fund that – it is pricey, but for what you get, it is extremely good value. Especially breakfast.

It’s no surprise that world’s best chefs are all staying at Cape Lodge during the Margaret River Gourmet Escape that is coming up.

FACT FILE

Cape Lodge
3341 Caves Road, Yallingup Western Australia.
Tel: +61 8 9755 6311
Stay@CapeLodge.com.au

Restaurant is open every day for breakfast and dinner. Bookings essential.

 
Cape Lodge Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Yallingup, Margaret River Region, Western Australia

Beautiful scenic laid back Yallingup is a fantastic place to have a weekend break.  The name Yallingup is an Aboriginal word meaning “place of love” (the “up” part meaning “place of”).

Located about 3 hours drive south of Perth, 40-mintues north of Margaret River township, Yallingup is renowned for its great surf, award-winning wineries, spectacular coastline, ancient caves, and as an added bonus, the country side is dotted with unique art galleries.  Famous surfer Taj Burrow, current fifth in the men’s world ranking, lives in Yallingup.

The Margaret River Region is also a bio-diverse hot-spot, meaning that there are over 2500 species of flora in the area.   It’s stunning.

We stayed at the Seashells Yallingup Resort which is next to the iconic Caves House accommodation and pub.

The one bedroom apartment was beautifully refurbished, well appointed and spacious.  It exceeded my expectations. I was expecting much less for the special price of $110 per night.

It is easy walking distance to Yallingup Beach and surrounded by beautiful gardens and loads of trees.  Admittedly, I was apprehensive about staying so close to Caves House – a pub that has a reputation for big nights.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  The room was quiet and comfortable.  In the apartment we a washing machine and dryer, foxtel, leather sofa, kitchen with a dishwasher and a lovely balcony complete with BBQ.

Whilst there are so many beaches in the area worth noting – Yallingup, Canal Rocks, Smith’s Beach, it was Gracetown that we loved. Check out my photos in the slideshow below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

FACT FILE

Seashells Yallingup
Yallingup Beach Road, Yallingup WA  6282
Tel: +61 8 9750 1500
Email: yallingup@seashells.com.au

Here’s an extract from the tourism website:

Located at the northern end of the region, Yallingup has bred some of the world’s greatest surfers. Home to a relaxed local community, Yallingup is a small town nestled amongst the trees along the coast, just south of Cape Naturaliste.  After its caves were discovered by European settlers in 1899, Yallingup became popular with tourists – today, tourism and viticulture are Yallingup’s primary industries. The beaches of Yallingup are well known surfing locations, and are also suitable for fishing. The Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park houses Canal Rocks, a coastal rock formation, and limestone caves.  The Cape to Cape Track runs across the beach to the west of the town and Yallingup is one of the few towns located along the track.

Tetsuya’s Restaurant, Sydney

O. M. G. Tetsuya’s is one of the most expensive dining experiences I have ever had and it was also one of the best, making the saying ring true, “you get what you pay for”.

It’s all about the food and excellent service at Tetsuya’s.  As it should be.  At prices that make it one of the most expensive restaurants in Australia, my expectations were high, and they were surpassed!  At $210 per person for the ten course degustation menu plus another $95 for matching wines, I was already $300 lighter and that was without an aperitif, digestive, and water.

The menu:

Our menu

and the paired wines:

Matching wines

The second spectacular course, savoury custard with avruga. Avruga is a type of seafood – a black caviar if you like, and a new taste sensation for me. This dish was Hubba’s favourite by far. She is still talking about it!  The balance of flavours was dazzling.  Delicate and delectable as well as warm and comforting.

Savoury custard with Avruga

Salad of the sea

The next course, salad of the sea, was visually beautiful and again, deliciously tasty. A lovely mix of textures and flavours.

The NZ scampi with chicken liver parfait and walnut vinaigrette was lovely too. The servings are very teeny tiny, makes me wonder if the effort of putting that dish together was all worth it.  Not complaining – it was delicious.  Just a comment.

Following was Tetsuya’s signature dish, Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout with fennel, unpasteurised ocean trout caviar.  Oh yes.  Silky, soft, amazing and it felt really fresh.  The salty caviar with the sublime ocean trout was one signature dish that I’ll remember for years to come.

Tetsuya’s signature dish: Confit of Petuna ocean trout with fennel, unpasteurised ocean trout caviar

I haven’t mentioned the wine! The Riesling, a 2009 Tunkalilla by Brian Croser from Oregon in the USA was so moorish.  Best riesling I think I have ever had.  Do you know the most exciting part – the next wine we had, was the 2010 Pierro Chardonnay from Margaret River!  One of my favourite wineries in the Margaret River region, renowned for top quality expensive wine. I felt a bit worldly knowing about this wine when it was presented! All the wines were good, but these were the two that stood out for me.

The rest of the dishes were phenomenal – I could describe each one in detail, but it would be a lie.  Why? Because I was having too much of a good time catching up with great friends, and enjoying the matching wines…that everything after the first five courses is slightly blurry in the memory banks. But luckily, my photos are not!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is no fancy decor, themed rooms, expensive artworks, ornate chandeliers or the like – the decor is pleasant, refined, elegant, and understated.

Dining at Tetsuya’s is a once in a lifetime experience.  It is hideously expensive, seriously ridiculously expensive, but you know what, I’d do it all again. It was sublime and the sort of dining experience I will think about and relish over again and again and over again.  So, if you were to average the cost of each memory, it’s not that expensive really…

Thank you Tetsuya’s for a wonderful night x

FACT FILE

Testsuya’s Restaurant
529 Kent St, Sydney
Tel: 02 9267 2900
www.tetsuyas.com

Ten course degustation menu starts from $210pp and matching wines at $95pp.
There is valet parking at $20 per vehicle.
It’s open for Saturday lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Booking is essential.

Tetsuya's on Urbanspoon