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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Wangaratta and Beechworth

By the time we arrived in Wangaratta, there wasn't much time to look around the town but I'd love to return when the
Jazz Festival is on.

Pizza and Pasta

We had dinner here, nice touch with the stamp they put on the paper "table cloths". I had a delicious trout fettucine and there were also wood-fired pizzas on offer. Although it looked like they literally slapped on the topping as a slab. (I think it was just the way it came out after baking!)

The service was great, no orders were mixed up or lost for our big group. I'd go again!Café Martini
Bull’s Head Hotel,
87 Murphy St,


Is about 30 minutes' drive East of Wangaratta. In the main street are shops full of pretty homeware and we even found an African shop with sculptures and jewellery.There's plenty of Ned Kelly history around and explains the souvenirs you'll see!

Budget Accommodation
The Old Priory is set up for school camps so most rooms had bunk beds. Even if you had a double bed, there was a bunk bed in the corner! It's very basic accommodation and it was a bit eery
walking down long corridors, discovering a sudden cluster of rooms tucked away behind a door or finding a massive room with 20 bunk beds however there was a lovely sitting room with a fireplace and the interior consists of warm, wooden panels and expansive ceilings.

You get a simple breakfast of cereal, juice and toast. Good value when a double only cost $80!
Beechworth Bakery
Or you can have your breakfast here! The infamous Beechworth Bakery that has spawned sister bakeries in other country towns and brought the owner Tom O'Toole fame as an author and motivational speaker. I actually went to a lunch that Tom spoke at and that man has energy; he also has a real understanding of customer satisfaction and just works on good old common sense. As he said, baking isn't anything new it's how you serve your customers that makes the difference.

Having said that, a controversial topic is how Beechworth Bakery doesn't have a numbering system for their queue so when the shop is packed - as it apparently often is - you hope the counter staff remember who got there first! (There's even a framed explanation of why they don't have a numbering system due to the number of complaints/requests!)

As we had to do tastings for you we had lunch and dessert! I had a pie - as one should in a country bakery - and Niki didn't chastise me for having tomato sauce! :-) The pastry was lovely and flaky, the filling tasted like real meat... no complaints.

The desserts in the photo (from the left): a bee sting, a Bundy ball and a blueberry snickerdoodle. (I think it was a snickerdoodle... but isn't that a "cookie". A funny name anyway!). The bee sting custard was cold so that'd been in the fridge; I'm not a fan of custard cream, strange but I'd rather have had a bowl of runny Bird's custard! Still the pastry was OK. The Bundy ball had actual rum in it, the first time I could see why it's a "rum ball"! (Reminded me of a friend at uni who only drank Bundy and coke.) And finally, the snickerdoodle was a nice way to polish off the meal. There was a layer of sweeter custard underneath the glazed berries and the pastry was a good solid shell that didn't crumble under one bite.

This isn't meant badly but Beechworth Bakery isn't producing specialty products to tempt and stand out. If you want good, standard products this is a place to go.

The Beechworth Bakery
27 Camp Street
Victoria 3747

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Friday, August 25, 2006

High Country

We recently sang in Wangaratta which is just under 3 hours' drive from Melbourne so we made a weekend of it. Driving up the Hume Highway is straight forward but a boring trip, especially for the driver - fortunately I wasn't driving!

On the way, we decided to just pick a town for lunch and settled on Seymour because it's relatively big... there must be a lot of choice! We didn't even make it to the town as we spotted this vineyard just off the highway.

Yes, we all did wonder if Seymour is famous for its wines but this is the start of the winery trail to Goulburn Valley! The above picture is of the Somerset Crossing Vineyard.

I don't know why but the crisp country air makes me want to eat bread and steak... so it was their "steak stack" for lunch. This was accompanied by a glass of
rosé (I've previously posted my thoughts on rosé) that I selected only because of the name, "Lacrime rosé". Perhaps a play on lacrimosa but does that mean too much of it will make you cry?

To be honest the wine was a little too much like Ribena, but the steak stack was perfect. The steak is sliced in half so that you don't end up chewing chunks of meat and the bread (very generous as you can see) was buttery with garlic and herb. Served with good bacon and caramelised onion, you're set for the rest of the journey!

T had a steak with nice thick chips and I know Niki had something a bit healthier that the waitress did have to confirm twice. (Niki, was it a filo pastry with chicken and cheese?)

We didn't have time for wine tasting but all in all, a nice surprise off the Hume highway and a good stop for a meal in a lovely setting.

Somerset Crossing Place

1 Emily Street,
VIC 3660

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Battle of the Chocolate Truffle

Cin posted about the Chocolate Fire Cafe and one must always try new chocolate places! :) I was in a rush so couldn't sit down to test the claim of "best hot chocolate" but I decided to put Chocolate Fire up against Koko Black as they were so close to each other! (Although I did buy other varieties, I settled for the truffles in my taste test.)

First impressions
As Cin noted, the service isn't great and when I was there, there were only two of us. Nevemind, it gave me more time to feast my eyes on the huge array of chocolate dipped fruit, the New York style choc dipped Pringles... pretty much whatever you can dip? It's certainly not as glamorous as Koko Black but it's fun and bright!

Packaging (Just because...)
Chocolate can come in a plain bag as far as I'm concerned but if you're going to surprise someone with a treat the Koko bag does look good.

Truffle Time
This is the Koko Black one rolled in cocoa. If you like more bitter chocolate, this is it. A lovely texture that melts away, finished too quickly!

Chocolate Fire Cafe has more variety, there are truffles rolled in Dutch cocoa, dark chocolate, white chocolate but I went for the milk chocolate. (Well, I wasn't being strict in direct comparison so thought a little variety would be OK.) T's vote is for this one because it's sweeter and oh boy, it is so much sweeter.
As you can see from this photo, this truffle is much gooier and probably not what I would normally associate with truffle texture. But it was good and if you want something to sink your teeth into, this is it.
The truffles were about the same in price ($1.40 each I think) but you can see which one is value for money!
I don't think I'll choose one over the other simply because I think it's great that so many people are making a deal of chocolate. I would guess that both shops are marketing towards different groups, Koko is upmarket and decadent (they are a "salon") whilst Chocolate Fire is fun (a "cafe") and moves away from traditional treats. (No, I can't see Koko dipping pringles quite yet!)

So if you're in Melbourne go enjoy some chocolate!

Both shops are in Royal Arcade, the Koko Black is more towards Bourke St Mall and if you keeping walking into the arcade, Chocolate Fire is down some stairs to the right.
Royal Arcade
335 Bourke St


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ay Oriental Tea House

I love the mango pudding that you get at yum cha - I think you can get instant mango pudding but I'm yet to try. Ay Oriental Tea House is what I would brand "posh yum cha" - not quite the loud food on a trolley experience in Chinatown or in Box Hill, and not so cheap that you roll out of the restaurant having only spent $15 a head.

Having opened a series of Ay tea shops and the Prahran restaurant David's, the owner opened Ay Oriental Tea House combining tea shop and restaurant in this "Shanghainese tea house". The tea list - for both purchase and consumption - is of course long and varied with recommendations for steamed and fried foods. The decor is "ye Shanghai" - think East meets West, art deco, red pillars, Shanghai in its hey day - and if you need dim sum at night, this is the place to go.

This photo was just at the start and how much food you get is dependent on how good the service is. Unfortunately this can vary depending on the number of diners and the number of staff on. You might be happy to order a la carte and I believe this was the original intention, but trays of food are brought out and I like seeing what the kitchen decides to send out - although inevitably, the one thing that you really wanted will be brought out at the end when you can't eat any more!

You'll get the usual choices but the food is good and there is a much smaller chance of getting a soggy dumpling or octopus swimming in oil (as you may in a restaurant churning out food for the masses). The Shanghainese fare like the dumplings were magnificent. Note that you do purchase tea by the cup (a big earthen mug); given "yum cha" means to drink tea you'd expect to get a refill, one mug just didn't do the trick.

Ay Oriental Tea House

455 Chapel Street,
South Yarra

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Europen Adventure

I'll be in Europe very soon - Niki and I are singing there! Yay!! Most of all, I am looking forward to getting away from work.

I've been taking note of foodie recommendations so if you have suggestions (Italy, Switzerland, England, France.) please leave me comments or email me. Even if I'm not visiting the suggested destinations, someone else might.

Just as a start...

Blork blog
Passionate Cook

Passionate Cook
Sarah Cooks

Sarah Cooks

Macaroon tasting bien sur!
Cha Xiu Bao
Passionate Cook

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Quick dinner: Chicken with Tomato and Bocconcini

Inspired by a Karen Martini recipe for chicken with tomato and bocconicini, I threw this together for dinner. The only work was chopping up the ingredients and it was super quick to cook. If you're really out of time, just use the straight recipe!

Here is the original recipe:

Karen Martini's Pan-fried chicken with tomato and bocconcini
4 Chicken breast fillets, trimmed
1 Tbl Olive oil
1 Brown onion, sliced
1 clove Garlic, crushed
1 large Red chilli, seeded and thinly sliced
400g can Chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup Chicken stock
4 Bocconcini, halved
1 cup Basil leaves

1) Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over high heat.
2) Brush the chicken with the oil and sprinkle with sat and pepper. Cook for 2-3 mins.
3) Add the onion, garlic, chilli, tomatoes and stock, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 mins.
4) Add the bocconcini and cook, covered for 1 minute.
5) Place the chicken on serving plates, spoon over the sauce and top with the basil.
Serves 4

My variation:
1) I used 3 chicken breasts (they came in threes!) so cut up the chicken and compensated with extra veggies. Next time, I'd use thigh meat as the breast meat was a little tough.
2) I added in a sliced eggplant* and instead of chilli, used chopped up red capsicum*. I suppose you can always add some chilli flakes for a kick but I didn't feel like anything spicy. I thought the capsicum added a little more sweetness to the tomato sauce.
3) I also used smaller bocconcini which was interesting as it melted slightly and it was almost like eating liquid pizza. That sounds really off but tasted really delicious!
4) I forgot to buy the basil but I don't think I would have added it anyway. It was tasty enough and I tend to associate basil with just tomato and bocconcini on their own.

*aubergine, bell pepper