Monday, June 13, 2011

The Newmarket Hotel, Melbourne - The Best Chef's Table in Australia?

I'm always on the lookout for good food experiences in great spaces.... and this weekend in Melbourne I think I may have found the location that gets my vote for the 'best Chef's Table in the country'.

This is the private dining space at the Newmarket Hotel in St Kilda, Melbourne.

It's like a Caravaggio painting.

A long wooden table with red vinyl and chrome swivel chairs seating up to 16 people.... buttressed by the glass-fronted kitchen and a roaring open fireplace to the left of frame.

And suspended above it... a magnificent installation of  hanging long red chillies, garlic bulbs and dried artichoke heads.

A food chandelier. Truly inspired.

And all behind this non-descript heritage facade on Inkerman St.

The Newmarket is the brainchild of the same group of food entrepreneurs who gave us Melbourne's Albert Park Hotel , the Middle Park Hotel and The Royal Saxon Hotel at Richmond.....

...and their architects Six Degrees.

The space is a mix of hip and retro...with these dramatic concrete arches, painted blue ceilings, skylights

flowing outdoor spaces 

...just made for gathering with friends.

A raunchy wallpaper frieze from the original building has been lovingly reproduced

va va voom....

Which brings us to the food.... a modern take on Cal-Tex (Californian Mexican)... rotisseried rare breed meats (goat, lamb, beef), wondrously soft tacos, salads and wood-fired flat breads to have individually or shared.

We start with the oysters. Squeaky fresh and filled with ozoney sea-water

Tom Thumbs and Rusty Wire

...and saucer-sized angassi's which were a meal in themselves

wood-fired cheese and tomato flat-bread

fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil leaf and pomegrante seed salad

And the dish to make men swoon....

beef rib-eye roast with jus, corn relish and corn puree.

Can Melbourne set the food bar any higher?

You just have to come here with a big party of friends.
This is a place where memories are made.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Margan Restaurant - Broke, Hunter Valley, NSW

The sustainability theme of our weekend continues with lunch at the Margan Wine estate in Broke in the Hunter Valley.

It's restaurant -  Margan  - was awarded the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food Guide's Sustainability Award this year.

The restaurant is surrounded by acres of gardens...

... vineyards...

....and a sprawling vegetable garden that supplies the restaurant with most of its seasonal produce.

The restaurant is filled with natural light reflected onto its sandstone walls

Crusty homemade ciabatta with a grassy, peppery new season olive oil and a fruity balsamic.

The menu changes daily depending on what is ready for harvesting from the kitchen garden.

The freshness of the ingredients, the magical touch of the chefs and matching wines from Margan are going to blow you away. You MUST visit here soon.

amuse bouche:  salmon tartare on crostini

salmon carpaccio and roe with citrus vinaigrette, baby herbs and crispy salmon skin

as beautiful to eat as it is to look at it

grilled harissa prawns with a chilled green gazpacho soup

the spicy gazpacho was made from parsley, coriander, green peppers and cucumber from the garden - of course!

stuffed crispy-skinned chicken with  morcilla, king brown mushrooms and porchini jus.

This sent me to heaven.

The vegie garden is beckoning...

First stop the chook house which supplies the restaurant with its eggs

in return the chickens feast on organic kitchen scraps. Yum, yum.

A little foraging for bugs and grubs....

potatoes ready to harvest


asparagus just beginning to poke through

every herb under the sun

I want to live here.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Test Drive - goget carshare

Our long weekend test drive of the goget carshare service got off to a bad start.
The car we had booked was a Toyota Prius - a hybrid car which has a dual petrol and electric engine designed for greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

Elise the Prius (all goget cars have names) was parked conveniently in her 'pod' on Macleay St, Potts Point - a Sydney City Council designated space for car share cars.

goget has hundreds of pods located in most of Sydney's inner city suburbs. Car share schemes make sense. Cars are conveniently located for quick shopping trips or longer journeys. Using them is cheaper than running a car of your own and of course they are better for the environment.

All goget cars are fitted with an electronic locking device and members receive a swipe card 'key' that opens and closes the car. Straightforward you'd think but it took us some time to find the swipe box which we eventually located near the side window on the driver's side door. If just opening the car was a challenge for us little did we know what lay ahead....

Next we had to work out how to start the engine which wasn't easy given that there was no manual in the car just a 6 - step instruction sheet which wasn't very clearly written.

The minutes were ticking away as we pressed buttons and released foot brakes to no avail. Our nerves were fraying as every attempt proved futile. This was harder than breaking into Fort Knox.

Finally after 15 minutes of sweating and snapping we cracked the magic start code. It involved putting a  'plastic black stick' attached to a cord (not a traditional key) into a slot, pressing the power button and stepping on the brake pedal.

The console lit up like the cockpit of a small plane and the engine whirred into action. There were monitors showing the engine and battery efficiency and  touch button screens to control music and air conditioning. Did it really need to be this complicated?

Anyway... in went our luggage into what we were surprised to find was quite a generous-sized boot space (considering the tanks and technology below). The interior of the car was clean and in good condition but because the car had been parked on the street it was covered in leaves and dust from nearby building work. You could hardly see out the windows. A quick stop at the Wooloomooloo service station, a few buckets of water later and off we set to the Hunter Valley.

The first thing you notice is how eerily quiet a Prius is. So quiet in fact that when you stop at lights it's difficult to tell by listening if the car is running at all. We were impressed with how much grunt it did have for a hybrid and our 4 and half hour journey to the farm we were staying at just near Aberdeen was comfortable and went without a hitch.

Late Sunday afternoon with the sun casting long shadows over the golden paddocks and it's time to hit the road back to Sydney with a night stopover in a guesthouse in

The next morning is when THE HORROR BEGINS.

We awake to find a flat tyre on the front right wheel.

Fortunately the property's fix-it man sees two clity slickers in meltdown and comes to our aid.

The Prius ( like many modern cars) is only fitted with a temporary spare tyre and we'll need to go to a tyre specialist in Cessnock to get the tyre repaired and changed. And it will be slow going. Our 'noddy' tyre can only tolerate speeds of up to 80 km per hour.

In Cessnock the tyre repairers discover a nail in the tread but say it can be fixed if we can wait about 30 minutes.

We are a little stressed at this stage because the delay could make Mark late for work back in Sydney.
We park in a nearby side street to wait. We think a little music will help calm our nerves but when we try to play a CD without starting the engine we set off the car's immobiliser. For a quiet car the Prius's alarm can certainly make a lot of noise. Weirdly the doors lock us in and we're trapped in this head splitting cacophony.

This is where Mark loses it Basil Fawlty-style and starts shouting at Elise as if she was a real person.
Somehow the doors unlock and we escape looking at Elise as if she has become Christine in the Stephen King book.

Mark is exploding with a white rage I have never seen before.... raling at goget, Priuses, noddy spare tyres and  cars without proper metal keys. I tell him firmly to go for a walk while I ring the goget help centre.
The woman I get through to is very helpful and talks me through what has happened, how to switch off the alarm and how to restart the car.

30 minutes later we manage to start the car again, get the repaired tyre fitted and hit the freeway for the last leg of our trip back to Sydney.

For the first hour we drive in exhausted silence.
This was not how we expected our road test to go.

We reach Sydney drop off our bags outside our apartment and I park Elise back in her pod.
A 3-day hire of Elise costs roughly $100 per day and includes all expenses.
Overall the service was clean, convenient and we hardly used any petrol. A manual in every car is essential though.
Would I use goget and Elise again? Definitely, now that I am more familiar with the start and stopping system of the Priuses.  And no doubt some of our problems were caused by our own ineptitude. 
Would Mark use it again.... what do you think?

Saucy Onion travelled courtesy of goget car share.