Secret Osteria, Lake Como and a Special Risotto

Wander around the little lanes and back streets of the smaller and less touristy villages of Lake Como and you will find some real gems. One perfect but modest osteria can be found in Cernobbio, a village accessed easily by bus or ferry. I¬† prefer the ferry option, not only for the wonderful views of the Palazzi and gardens along the way, but just to hear the ferryman call out the names of the villages en route, “Torno, Moltrasio, Blevio, Cernobbio”, lazily trilling those ‘r’s and the nautical sounds of whistles, ropes and gangway planks landing.

Lake Como ferry on the way to another small village.

The day we went to Cernobbio, the wind was icy and the ferry was almost empty: we were well rugged up for the day. It was early November and most of the large gardens had closed for the season. Among our fellow travellers was a young chap, honey blond hair perfectly groomed, sporting a mustard coloured scarf carefully arranged over the shoulder of an expensive and conservative blue outfit, tanned ankles bare above sockless and effeminate boating shoes, with a newspaper tucked under one arm. Too affected to embody the insouciance of a Castiglione courtier, la bella figura gone awry. An aimless and idle palazzo owner perhaps? He was the only other passenger to leave the ferry at Cernobbio. The place looked deserted.

We wandered around Cernobbio: it had that empty, out of season look. Although not accustomed to taking coffee at 11 am, it seemed like a sensible thing to do, given the weather. And this decision led to a most wondrous find, the¬†Osteria del¬†Beuc, a small worker’s cooperative and restaurant up a back lane in Cernobbio. This is where all the locals were hiding on that cold November morning. At one large table, a group of older men in sensible jackets were grazing on morning snacks to go with their pre- lunch wines. A few tables away, couples were partaking of coffee but there was a sense of expectation in the air. More people were beginning to arrive. I glanced at the paper sheet listing the menu of the day. The gregarious waiter/front of house/barman advised that I should book immediately as there was only one table left for 12.30. Good advice. I ordered a Spritz and settled in for some more people watching, buoyed by the glowing euphoria that only a Prosecco laced with Campari can produce at such an ungodly but most welcome drinking hour.

By 12.40, the place was packed. The elderly gentlemen reluctantly vacated their morning table and wandered back to the safety of their separate homes, wives and a home cooked meal. The table was then replaced with a large group of hungry young office workers. Smaller tables were occupied by elegantly dressed couples, some accompanied by small, pampered dogs on leads: the place was alive as the enthusiastic waiter theatrically went about his business.

But then, dear reader, you didn’t come all the way with me to Cernobbio to simply ogle the locals, although if you’re a bit like me, you probably enjoy a bit of people watching as you travel through life, inventing scenarios and stories for each one. The food at Osteria del Beuc is well priced and seriously very good. Honest and simple food cooked perfectly. The lunch menu came with prices for one, two or three courses, 9‚ā¨/ AU$14, 12‚ā¨/AU18/ ‚ā¨14/AU22, which included a 250 ml carafe of wine per person. Of course I went for the three course option.¬†

For il primo, I had a composed salad of endive, spinach and soft white cheese, beautifully dressed while Mr T had a zucchini frittata. Then came a creamy risotto dish, perfectly cooked, nicely moistened, cooked in red wine, with rosemary and Taleggio cheese, the latter still visible and just beginning to melt. Sadly there is no photo, but if there were, it wouldn’t look great- just a pile of wet white rice on a plain plate. And yet it tasted sensational. The bread supply was generous. A fairly ordinary chocolate mousse followed. This didn’t detract from the overall delight of the meal and the venue: I have come to expect unimaginative desserts in Italy and should remember not to order them, unless there’s a visible¬†nonna on site who may have just baked a homely torta of fruit or nuts.

I have worked on recreating that lovely risotto dish and will continue to refine it. The Cernobbio version retained a lovely creamy white appearance and perhaps used less red wine and a little less rosemary than my version. Every time I make this, my heart flies back to Lake Como. Below is a version but feel free to play with it to suit your palate.

Risotto, red wine, rosemary and taleggio. Large serving for two or three. Ugly but good.

Risotto al Vino Rosso, Rosmarino e Taleggio. Risotto with Vino Rosso, Rosemary and Taleggio.

Ingredients for two smallish serves. Adjust quantities to suit your appetite, bearing in mind that it’s a rich dish and best served with a simple salad before or afterwards.

  • 150 g Carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 red onion, very finely chopped
  • 150¬†ml¬†good quality red wine ( the one you’ve opened for dinner is best)
  • 350 – 400 ml vegetable stock ( it’s always better to have extra on hand)
  • 20 gr butter
  • 40 gr or more of Taleggio ( substitute Stracchino if on a budget)
  • 40 gr grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or more to taste
  • a teaspoon of very finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • salt and white pepper to season

Method

In a small saucepan, warm the vegetable stock and keep it on a low heat. In a separate cast iron casserole, choosing a suitable size for the measure of rice you are using, add the butter and saute the onion gently until soft and pale golden. Add the rice and toast for a minute or two. Then add the red wine and heat, stirring, until it is fully absorbed. From this point, begin to add a ladle¬†of hot stock to the rice and stir through on low to medium heat. Don’t stir too vigorously: an occasional stir is enough. Once that stock is fully absorbed, continue to add more ladles, one at a time, for around 20 – 25 minutes, as per the usual method of risotto making. The only way to judge the readiness of the rice is by biting it. If the centre is still hard, continue cooking. Once ready, turn off the heat, and add the rosemary and Parmigiano and half the Taleggio chopped into smallish chinks. Stir through then cover with a lid and leave to steam for a few minutes. When ready to serve, add the remaining Taleggio to the dish.

For Helen Legg.

Osteria del Beuc, Via Felice Cavallotti, 1 Р22012 РCernobbio, Como, Italia

 

 

A Visit to Testaccio, Rome

Testaccio in ancient times was the centre of trade along the Tevere, and in the centre of this suburb stands Testaccio Hill, which is made up entirely of broken clay amphorae or vessels, a kind of Roman midden pile, providing archeological evidence of ancient everyday Roman life. I would love to go digging in that pile of remains, a highly unlikely¬†prospect. In the meantime, I went digging for culinary treasure at the Testaccio market, a venue often heralded as one of Rome’s food havens.

On the way to Testaccio Market
Testaccio, a Roman working class suburb with great bars and restaurants. Gentrification here we come. Just like Brunswick, Melbourne, complete with hipsters too.

Testaccio is a plain looking working class suburb that is on the turn. The bars and restaurants look more appealing than many of those located in the tourist traps around Rome, though they are being discovered and some are beginning to blandify their offerings to suit small tour groups run by American food bloggers. In one such establishment, Flavio Al Velavevodetto, I had the best Carciofi alla Giudìa, that classic Roman Jewish dish of deep-fried artichoke, and a rather insipid Pasta e Ceci, redeemed only by the cute bottle of their own freshly pressed olive oil, which went straight into my handbag. The restaurant is carved into Monte Testaccio and you can view amphorae shards in the hill through carved out arches in the rear wall.  Perhaps this is a worthy reason to visit in itself.

The best of Rome’s Carciofi alla Giudea at Flavio Al Velavevodetto
Not like Nonna used to make. Pasta e Ceci at Flavio Al Velavevodetto

The Testaccio market building is modern, fairly ugly, and not particularly appealing. However, If you have an apartment in centro and are after fresh ingredients, this is the spot to shop. Other offerings include an outdoor cafe, a shop touting a list of so-called Strit Fud snacks, a concept I still find jarring in the Italian context, and a wonderful little corner bar offering a tall glass of Prosecco at any time in the morning for ‚ā¨2

Prosecco for breakfast at Testaccio Market.

 

I was intrigued by the padrone of the prosciutto shop, who hand cut his special cured meats. A small crowd gathered as he carefully shaved off thin slices of Cinta Senese, that Tuscan pig with its own DOP.

Hand cut Prosciutto
The art of hand cutting prosciutto
Cinta Senese

While the produce is fresh and appealing, the market was, for me, underwhelming. We needed that glass of Prosecco.

Rome you seduce me

and begging me to return

Obsessed, I obey.

 

For Unlikely, at WordPress and Ronovan’s weekly Haiku

The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld. Bistro and Kitchen Garden

People who know about the culinary delights of the Royal Mail Hotel are prepared to travel three hours from Melbourne to dine there. Overseas travellers also make the journey into the Western District of Victoria: the word has spread far. The Royal Mail Hotel has been a two hatted restaurant for some years now and continues to win annual awards. The dining room, and the more affordable bistro, are definitely on the foody itinerary.

Carror risotto, with baby carrots and herbs.
Carrot risotto, with baby carrots and herbs. $26

The Bistro, now called the Parker Street Project, is open every day,  whereas the fine dining restaurant, with 5, 7 and  9 course set menus, is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday and lunch from Thursday to Sunday. We visited on a Monday and were delighted to find well priced and stunningly good food at an affordable price in the Parker St bistro. Under its present incarnation, with new chefs and a revitalised menu, it is even better than the last time I visited in 2009.

Fish and chips with a difference. Port arlington flathead, hand cut chips, baked vegetables and brocollini.
Fish and chips with a difference. Port Fairy flathead, hand cut chips, baked vegetables and broccolini. Smoky Pimenton aioli. $24

The key to the success of the hotel is not simply the dedicated world-class chefs, assistants and trainees who work here, but the vibrancy of fresh, organic produce. The Kitchen Garden, which was established in 2009, is the largest hotel garden in Australia. Run on organic principles, it spreads over more than an acre. Eighty per cent of the vegetables, herbs and fruit used in both the dining room and the bistro, comes from this huge productive garden. Chefs pick twice daily: it’s their larder, green grocer and inspiration.

Beautiful just picked green salad, with a paper thin slice of turnip, simply dressed
Beautiful just picked green salad, with a paper-thin slice of turnip, simply dressed. $8

The head gardener, Michelle, will tell you which flowers the chefs love best, ( for instance, society garlic, viola, nigella, cornflower, nasturtium ) and what wonderful beer they are now making with the Verbena. Most of the produce grown here are heritage vegetables and rare herbs, which are not generally available to chefs.¬†Michelle uses a number of organic practices ‘such as using ducks to control pests like slugs and snails and using compost derived from vegetable waste, grass clippings, spoilt hay from chicken coops and animal manure from nearby farms to build up soil structure and provide nutrients.’ She also has fabricated wire cages to protect some crops from the ducks and white cabbage moth, has made circular shade cloth surrounds for blueberries, encourages early tomatoes with wind and frost surrounds, does some experimental planting in hot houses, and trains berries onto tall wire strained structures. The whole tour is an inspiration. If you are a keen vegetable gardener, ¬†you must not leave Dunkeld without a visit to this garden. Ask questions and learn. And try to get your tour when Michelle is on duty, if you are a garden fanatic like me. The chefs lead the tours on the other days. Tours cost $15 per person and last around 45 minutes. A staff member will drive you to the site, given its location some distance from the hotel.

Royal Mail Kitchen Garden
Royal Mail Kitchen Garden

Take your own tour of this amazing kitchen garden by opening this media slide show of photos separately.

Staying at the Royal Mail Hotel is a treat, with private suites facing the grand view of Mt Sturgeon, a large swimming pool for hot days, and great walking, which start within the hotel grounds. If you don’t wish to splurge, the caravan park has spacious powered sites for $25 a night, which are set on a shady creek, and also has cheap overnight self- contained cabins. ¬†Dining in the restaurant is rather special, but you will also do very well in the bistro. The new Parker Street Project, is managed by Stephen, a friendly, hospitable young man who really loves his job. Enthusiastic staff make a huge difference here.

Chefs at work. Dining Room, the royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
Chefs at work. Dining Room, the royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
a customer sits on a shady veranndah at teh Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, set under the watchful gaze of Mt Sturgeon.
A local sits on a shady verandah at the Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld, set under the watchful gaze of Mt Sturgeon.

More details about the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia can be found here.

Moeraki Surprise, Fleurs Place. New Zealand.

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A Basket of Quince.

Sometimes fate sends you a nice little surprise. We were driving along the highway heading towards Dunedin, about 40 kilometers south of Oamaru, when I noticed a sign on the road promising a bowl of seafood chowder at the local tavern of Moeraki.  Moeraki, the tourist brochures informed me, is known for its boulders sitting on a beach: no mention of the nearby town or tavern. Stuff the boulders, I thought, just give me that soup. We detoured off the main route and pulled up at the Moeraki tavern only to find it well and truly closed. Chiuso. We knocked and banged a few times in the hope that someone might magically appear but it remained locked. Seats up. Lights out. I felt really cheated. My taste buds, alert and eager, now grieved as they slowly considered the inevitable exchange- a big bowl of fishy chowder was about to become a mundane home-made cheese sandwich in the back of the van.

Seaview from Fleurs
Seaview at Moeraki

At this point, still hoping for a loaves and fishes miracle, I peered down towards the sea and noted a rather large group of cars gathered around what looked like an industrial tin shed. It was a Wednesday and around 1.30 pm- a funeral perhaps, or maybe a fishing co-op? or a party? There were no other signs of life in this deserted holiday town.

Decor at Fleurs

We headed down a narrow one way road towards the tin shedded promontory and, lo and behold, we discovered the fabulous and very famous little restaurant, Fleur’s¬†Place, sitting right on the edge of the sea. It was busy, mostly with young Asian travellers who were obviously in the know. I hadn’t heard about Fleurs, making the discovery all the more serendipitous.

Upstairs at Fleurs Place, Moeraki, New Zealand.
Upstairs at Fleurs Place, Moeraki, New Zealand.

On entering, I felt very much at home. The wood lined interior, which utilised recycled materials, windows and staircases and lots of quirky decor, contained an upstairs mezzanine, reminding me of my old home and those of all my friends. Old hippy houses, hand-built idiosyncratic places that I have come to miss. Then I noticed the chalked sign offering freshly caught fish daily. It was a hallelujah moment. A table for two please.

Fleur buys fish from the lpacla fisherman
Fleur buys fish from the local fisherman daily.
Fleurs Place
Fleurs Place, fishy metal sculpture above the bar.
Quirky decor at Fleurs Place
Recycled decor at Fleurs Place

We chose an inside table- the last one available, although the upstairs section, with its few tables looking out to sea, was also very inviting.

Fleurs Place
Fleurs Place, stairway to the mezzanine dining area.

We shared a platter consisting of a generous serve of smoked eel p√Ęt√©, some smoked salmon slices, a beetroot chutney, croutons and assorted gherkins and caperberries. It was very good indeed.

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A generous serve of chowder at Fleur’s Place.

We followed this with seafood chowder. It was not the chowder of my imagining, but rather one made from a rich tomato and  home- made fish stock. Studded with local clams, mussels, fish chunks and scallops, it was a generous bowl and came with plenty of bread.

An empty bowl of chowder, Fleurs Place, Moeraki.
An empty bowl of chowder, Fleurs Place, Moeraki.

There were some lovely desserts on offer, including slow poached quinces, but we were ready to hit the road again. It was only much later that I found out a little more about Fleur and her life as a chef at Oliver’s Restaurant in Clyde, Central Otago, as well as the comments by Rick Stein. I recommend this place highly although beware, most main course fish dishes are costly, around NZ $40 or so,¬†but then the sizing is generous. Fresh fish includes¬†blue cod, John Dory, moki, blue nose, gurnard, sole, flounder, groper, and crayfish.¬†Regional organic growers supply most of the other ingredients, including unique New Zealand vegetable varieties and the wines come from Central Otago.

You can find out more about Fleur’s restaurant here

http://media.newzealand.com/en/story-ideas/new-zealand-chef-fleur-sullivan/

and I highly recommend this fascinating interview, which includes a wonderful story about the whales visiting again. 

http://www.dumbofeather.com/conversation/fleur-sullivan-is-a-restauranteur/

Cafe Bellino and the Demise of the Local Italian Restaurant.

Hand crafted thin crusted pizza at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.
Hand crafted thin crusted pizza at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.

Dean Martin sings ‘Cha cha cha d’amour” in the background; locals drop in for a quick chat or a coffee, groups greet each other warmly with ‘auguri‘ or buona sera‘. Introductions are swift- meet Dino or Toni- as working men greet their friends and gather for an antipasto or a hearty bowl of pasta and a glass of rosso. Poking one’s head in to greet the chef at work in the semi open kitchen seems to be the norm. The style is distinctly Italo- Australiano and I feel very much at home here. Front of house is a charming young waiter from Milano, no doubt working on a 457 working visa, like so many other young Italian camerieri in Melbourne, and the pizzas are truly excellent, dare I say, the best I have had in a long while. At $13- $15 for a large hand crafted thinly crusted pizza, they are a steal. ¬†But here’s the sad news. Cafe Bellino in Victoria Street, Brunswick has less than 90 days left to run! Like so many others in the district, the couple responsible for the excellent cooking here is about to retire. The signora is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren: restaurant life is hard work, she explains. The young Milanese waiter hopes to be able to work for the new lessee, but no one really knows what kind of business will replace the beautiful little Cafe Bellino.

Young Italian Camerierie at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick
Italian Cameriere at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick

It’s a common story around the inner suburbs of Melbourne, as more Italian couples reach retirement age and sell up. A recent closure was Cafe Mingo in Sydney road, when Jo, his wife and helpers retired. Their simple Italian restaurant became home away from home for many. I loved the way that Jo would slide over a complimentary plate full of sweet wafers and a tall bottle of grappa at the end of a meal. Sweet memories. The place has since become an Indian restaurant. It’s always empty, there is no licence and no ambience. It has lost its soul. Last week when we dropped into La Bussola Ristorante e Pizzeria in Lygon Street east, we found that retirement had struck again! La Bussola, home of the simple pizza and cheap pasta, a warm retro space where you could bring your own wine or buy a caraffa di vino da tavola for $10, has become the Compass Pizza Bar. The emphasis is now on the word “bar” as this seems to be how the young Brunswick cafe managers make their money. It’s all about mark up and less about the food. We were ushered into the old retro space but shock horror, a head-phoned ¬†DJ had been installed, playing extremely loud music at 6pm. We were told curtly that our BYO bottle was not welcome, and no, we couldn’t pay extra for corkage or glasses. We promptly left.¬†Another wonderful family run institution had become gentrified and in my humble opinion, wrecked. Crap bottled wine, of unknown source and vintage, was offered at a starting price of $32 a bottle. Most were more costly.

Antipasto selections at Cafe Bellino.
Antipasto selections at Cafe Bellino.

The simple joy of stepping out for a pizza or a bowl of pasta with a shared a bottle of wine is quickly vanishing. I have nothing against licensed restaurants. Most of the old style BYO places hold full licences as well, offering the diner a choice. What disturbs me are the ridiculous mark ups on wine at these new hipster places. Take a bottle of ordinary wine that retails for $8 and mark it up to $35 or more. Why? Isn’t turnover and ‘bums on seats’ more important in these leaner times? Cheap, affordable wine, as well as BYO wine, has made the Melbourne suburban restaurant scene dynamic and lively in the past. These practices enabled families to regularly dine out at their local restaurant, introducing children to restaurant life and the culture of food. Simple places with prices to match. Hipster joints with their huge mark ups on wine will attract only one type of customer, young affluent singles and childless couples. A sad trend indeed, and one that would never happen in France!

If you’re in the area, footloose and fancy free or loitering with intent and in need of a drink, a coffee, or a bowl of something authentically Italian, try Cafe Bellino, 281 Victoria St, Brunswick VIC 3056. ( Just around the corner from Sydney Road). Open from 10 am to 10 pm. Closed on Sunday. You only have 80 days left.

Cha cha cha d’amour
Take this song to my lover
Shoo shoo little bird
Go and find my love

Cha cha cha d’amour
Serenade at her window
Shoo shoo little bird
Sing my song of love

Bangkok Cheap Eats. 2014

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There are over 7,000 restaurants in Bangkok listed on Trip Adviser and there are probably another 10,000 or more that aren’t, not counting all the street food stalls. Temptation is everywhere in this glorious city of food. I am always plotting my next meal adventure, which can involve great hikes in the heat or elaborite map making exercises to explain the directions to a taxi driver.

We also have a few little eating rituals. Lunches come in cheaply at a dollar or two per head and then we lash out at dinnertime. We rarely go into the big business centre, home to some glorious ( and expensive) restaurants, preferring to support those in our own neck of the woods. Image

An early lunch at my favourite little Chinese place is essential, especially if it’s teeming with rain outside. Located opposite the Fort in Banglamphu, it is not listed anywhere and doesn’t have an English name. It is spotlessly clean and reminds me of Old China town shops in Penang and KL before they all disappeared. A bowl of prawn wonton soup with or without noodles is 60 Bhat ( $2.00) and with a big glass pot of iced tea with lemon, 30 Bhat ( $1.00), this will keep you going until you are tempted by a second lunch. There is something about wontons, tropical rain and tea, or am I strange?

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Another little place nearby, but in the backpacker area of Rambuttri, the Gecko Bar, an old timer, whips up a a generous plate of vegetarian Pad Thai, studded with egg, tofu, greens, nuts and lime, which will set you back 35 Bhat- $1.00. Just perfect with a pot of Chang beer on a hot day ( which is every day here). Chang beer- large bottle for two people- 80 Bhat.Image

And something sweet to share? These caramel peanut biscuits are cooked on the street in a big oil filled wok. They are irresistable. Six big nut filled bickies for 20 Bhat or 70 cents. Are they healthy? probably not. Do I care?

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Next instalments- the Coup d’etat, up market Bangkok restaurants, street food and Indigo shopping.

 

 

Ake Ake Vineyard and Restaurant. New Zealand Road Trip.

Travelling around the North Island in a motorhome provides a great chance to taste some regional cooking, especially in out of the way spots. Ake Ake vineyard is located a few kilometres from the little town of KeriKeri, near the Bay of Islands. We booked for dinner one Sunday night ( this is necessary as the dining area is quite small) and were able to park our large motorhome and camp there for the night. This offer is only available to vehicles that are completely self contained. No facilities are provided, just a little spot alongside the vines out the back of the restaurant. I love this flexible approach to camping in New Zealand. This enabled us to try a wonderful bottle of Ake Ake wine then trot off to bed after our meal.Image

Above- Waking up to a chilly but sunny morning in the vineyard.

The entrees were few and this was the only disappointing part of the menu. I should mention that I don’t eat meat, only fish, and so this limited my choice. Three items were on offer- garlic and parmesan ciabatta, ( $9.50 ) seafood chowder ($14.50) ¬†and a vineyard platter for two ( $25.00). There was also a special of the day which was meat based.Image

Starting with garlic bread, to me, is not a sound idea for dinner although it is a crowd pleaser and would probably go well with the platter at lunchtime. As I was ordering the main course of  fish, this left very little choice for entree. I had the garlic bread and shared it with Mr Tranquillo, who ordered the chowder. The bread was very filling ( four large slices) and very garlicky. It is fortunate that I love garlic.  His chowder was subtle and creamy and included prawns, a scallop and fish.

My fish of the day was a substantial piece of dory, cooked perfectly, served on a bed of tiny roasted Autumn vegetables, with a house made tomato sugo and pesto.($33.00) while Mr T had the gnocchi, which was also served with the Autumn vegetables, a tomato and sage butter and shaved parmesan. ($27.00 ). Both meals were substantial and very satisfying.ImageImage

For dessert we both ordered the creme brulee of the day, ( $12.50) served with ice cream and a biscotti. The brulee was studded with blueberries and although well executed, with a perfect toffee top to crack, the blueberries detracted from the creamy sensation of the custard. The accompanying ice cream was sensational- a cassis gelato, and the little biscotti was house made.

ImageAbove- Mr T can’t resist creme brulee and I was a little slow with the photo!!

The Ake Ake Chardonnay was one of the better wines we tried in New Zealand and it is a shame we didn’t start the evening with a quick wine tasting to sample the others.

I would recommend Ake Ake Vineyard and Restaurant for its honest cooking and reasonable prices. It is a modest establishment set in the middle of the vineyard and I suspect it would be a great spot for lunch with friends. Then the platters and breads would shine.Image

Ake Ake Vineyard

165 Waimate North Road, Kerikeri

New Zealand.

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New Zealand Road Trip. The Mangonui Fish Shop.

The ‘World Famous’ Mangonui fish shop is located on the water front at Mangonui, Doubtless Bay, in the North Island of New Zealand. The town has two distinct districts:¬†the original historic town, then further around the bay, the residential area, mostly consisting of beach houses. The original town is well worth a detour off the main highway.

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“In 1769, Capt. James Cook sailed past the entrance to the area and recorded in his journal ¬†“doubtless a bay”, hence the name. At the same time, the French ship¬†St Jean Baptiste¬†of Fran√ßois Marie de Surville was anchored within the bay. Each ship was unaware of the other.

Not long after, European traders, whalers, sealers and missionaries arrived here and Mangonui became a thriving port providing supplies, repairs and R & R for the many ships and their crews. Kauri trees grew in abundance and their trunks were sought-after for their length and diameter to serve as spars and masts.”¬†More info here.

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The town is picturesque and quaint, retaining many original weatherboard buildings from the early days. Coffee shops, waterfront pubs and other tourist facilities line the streets. The use of public space is generous, as are most public spaces in New Zealand, with boardwalks, grassy areas and seating along the waterfront. There is also a nearby Lions park set up for ‘freedom’ camping.

The fish shop perches on the water and is inviting, with alluring signs promising fresh seafood and fish cooked on the premises. The interior seating area is large, with a casual restaurant layout plus sea fronted high benches and open sided windows with plastic blinds. They also sell wine, beer and non alcoholic drinks.

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We ordered two fish of the day,Tarakihi fish, and one serve of chips. The fish is indeed fresh, is battered and cooked to order. Sadly, the batter on our order was poorly executed. The batter, which was a tempura style mixture, didn’t stick to the fish, hence the fish became oily. It was necessary to tear off bits of fish as the batter fell off in pieces. The sizing was small. We were informed by the shop assistant that the average sized fillet weighed between 80 and 100 grams. The chips were tasty and well done, but few. One scoop cost $3.00.

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Total cost for a packet of two freshly cooked fish of the day, with one serve of chips? $19.00. The lemon wedges are free.

The view is really outstanding but the prices are over inflated and the cooking is not up to scratch for a fish and chip shop. This place is probably set up for bus tours and large groups and so tourist prices apply. Perhaps next time I would ask for the snapper, paying a little more for a bigger piece and insist on the batter sticking in true fish and chip shop style!

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Pizza Wars. La Porchetta, Greensborough

Is the Pope a Catholic? This is the response that comes to mind when the waitress asks us if we would like our pizza with anchovies! We always order Pizza Napolitana because of the anchovies, so the question strikes me as very odd.  Yes, please!  Anchovies are the best thing about  pizzas. Young chef Daisy loves anchovies and usually picks these off first, followed by the olives, savouring all that saltiness, before eating the plain doughy remains.  Her favourite outing is a train ride, followed by a pizza at РLa Porchetta! Some of you may be thinking РPizza Industriale and you would be right. La Porchetta is a pizza chain franchised throughout Melbourne, often making more headlines for gangland or mafia activity than for pizzas. Providing a large family style restaurant setting, it fits my policy of reviewing all pizza restaurants in Melbourne. There may be thousands so its a mission of some proportion. Humble and famous are included.

Although La Porchetta has a formulaic approach to their menus, some branches do better than others, ¬†with new chalked menu offerings. The Greensborough branch does it well. The pizza menu also offers two styles- Traditional and Artigianale. ¬†Artiginale/ artisan¬†is to Pizza what bespoke is to Kevin McCloud’s house renovations. As far as I’m concerned, I am the only one in Melbourne making truely artigianale pizza, but I digress. I am yet to try one of these supposed hand crafted numbers from La Porchetta!

We ordered a large Napolitana, $14.50, and a half litre of house wine, $7.50. The retro styled carafe of cask wine was light and dry and suited the occasion. Cheap and cheerful.

My ratings. Setting- 5, pizza- 5, value for money- 10, the Irish waitress who loves kids, gives them stamps and coloured pencils and does tricks, 100.

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These are considered some of Melbourne’s better Pizza restaurants. I am keen to try them all.¬†http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/top-10-eat-out/a-guide-to-melbournes-best-pizza-20130507-2j49d.html

Pizza Wars. La Bussola Bistro

It doesn’t pay to be the Number 1 Pizzaiolo here in Australia; your business premises might be subjected to midnight shootings by jealous gangland members. Peaceful Melbourne, frequently named the world’s most livable city, has an underbelly. Our local Mafia members, like elsewhere, are all interconnected to fresh markets, Italian restaurants, and money laundering, you name it. The recent shootings of the Woodstock businesses ( http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/gangland-dispute-believed-to-be-behind-pizzeria-shooting-20131031-2whuv.html ) meant that Mr Tranquillo and I decided to eat our pizza at a less notorious pizzeria last Friday night. I am one of those greedy people who likes the pizza straight from the oven, not steamed in a delivery box, so my search for Melbourne’s best Pizza restaurant ( a dangerous mission!!) will not include delivered pizza.

La Bussola ( the compass) has been around for ever and is one of my favourite haunts for pizza. Situated in the super cool end of Lygon Street – Brunswick East – it has not succumbed to the gentrification of pizza. No wood fired oven. No minimalist decor. No young smart wait staff in black, no reviews by food critics. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA¬†La Bussola Cafe sells honest pizza ( and pasta) like the good old days. The base is thin and nicely charred. The toppings are traditional. The Pizzaiolo is tired and often grumpy, as he spins each pizza disc in the air, then returns back to his corner and newspaper. His wife, a smiling presence, makes the pasta. A family sized pizza ( 35 cm) is $17.00 with a generous but not gluttonous amount of topping. It’s a BYO restaurant, with a $1.50 per person surcharge for corkage or you can buy some very cheap house wine, which is cask wine served in re- cycled wine bottles!! This makes for a very cheap night out for two – $10.00 each with own wine. ¬†No wonder it is so busy on a Friday night. Most of the other customers were eating pasta, which averaged around $11.00 per piatto.
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But wait for the decor! We are talking RETRO heaven. I love the brown tiles, the mustard coloured pay phone in the corner, the arches, the faux brown wood panelling. Straight out of Madmen. This authentically retro restaurant should be subjected to heritage listing!

This place is an institution with locals and is deservedly popular. How should I rate it? 10 for traditional pizza styling, 7 for the actual pizza, 8 for location, 10 for remaining a truly un- gentrified, cheap and retro island in the midst of a trendy sea.

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La Bussola
319 Lygon St
East Brunswick
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia