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A Microcosm of Good Food and Wine in New South Wales

A Microcosm of Good Food and Wine in New South Wales

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Australia's Hunter Valley, where the country's wine industry was born, matches wine and food superbly

Wood for the oven and a selection of local wines outside Muse in Pokolbin, New South Wales.

Looking back on the trip I made to Australia with chef Jonathan Waxman of Manhattan's Barbuto, etc., late last year — late spring in the southern hemisphere — I find myself thinking about the felicitous interweaving of restaurants and wineries in Hunter Valley, the most celebrated wine region in New South Wales.

Most wine regions have good food in the vicinity (though strangely enough — and hard though this is to believe today — until the 1970s the culinary pickings in Napa and Sonoma were very slim indeed). What we liked about Hunter Valley, though, was the seamless integration of food and wine: Most of the restaurants we went to were either physically attached to wineries or adjacent to them, and while their wine lists certainly acknowledged other wine regions, in Australia and beyond, the restaurants without exception offered major support to local vintners.

We also liked the fact that so much of the food that ends up on local tables is actually grown or raised in the valley, from figs and tomatoes to chicken and beef, and that all the support systems seem to be in place — not just wineries, but microbreweries, distilleries, cheese producers, and smokehouses (like the one at Lovedale, whose range and quality of products impressed us).

The only drawback to visiting Hunter Valley for Americans is that it's a long trek to Sydney (though not a long one from Sydney to the valley). But there's so much good to eat and drink once you get there that we'd say it's worth it.

Books for wine & food lovers

Books are one of my great passions, so books about wine, food or travelalways excite me. Here are a couple of books that may well interest some of you as Christmas presents, for the foodie in your life – even if it’s you.

Firstly a work of fiction

It constantly amazes me how few novels are set in and around the world of wine. So many of us enjoy wine that it seems to me to be natural subject matter for a novel, especially when you think how beautiful and exotic most wine regions are. However, few publishers seem to agree, so there are only a handful of novels set around wine and I am always on the lookout for more – perhaps I should write one? This piece details a few as do the responses.

So I was excited to be sent a review copy of:

Pinot Envy
by Edward Finstein
Published by Bancroft Press at $21.95 / £18.50
Available in the UK from Amazon @ £15.80
and on Kindle @ £6.91
Available in the US from Amazon @ $18.28
and on Kindle @ $11.02

First off this is a light read, a fun thriller type of book that aims more at amusement that suspense – if you think male Janet Evanovich that gives you some idea of the tone. Other reviewers have likened this to ‘noir’, more for the Pinot Noir joke I expect as I cannot imagine what sort of noir they have read.

No this is a caper more than anything else, being gentle, fun and even amusing every now and again. It is set in San Francisco and Napa Valley in that very alien – to me – wine world where everything is swanky with private wine collections and people only drink the finest wines, even our supposedly normal hero.

Woody Robins is that hero and he has a similar job to me actually, I liked him – he loves wine and cats, so what’s not to like – and we first meet him midway through investigating a missing bottle of wine. Not just any bottle either, but a double-magnum of Le Chambertin that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte before he became Emperor – quite a MacGuffin.

I cannot tell you that this is a great book or even particularly well written, but it is great fun and the part that deals with Woody’s life has a promising array of characters to enrich future instalments. I would happily read more books about Woody, but would hope for either more suspense or laughs as well as a tighter grip on the writing. Every now and again a clumsy phrase is used to get lots of information across and it does spoil the flow somewhat.

However, I am being fussy, as I should be, Pinot Envy is a good fun read that adds to the all too small library of novels set around wine and anyone who likes wine or a caper would enjoy reading it.

My second book is very different

The Great Cornish Food Book
by Ruth Huxley (editor)
Published by Cornwall Food & Drink at £17.99
Available from Great Cornish Food

If the British food revolution has passed you by, then this book is a great place to start. I defy anyone not to fall in love with how this book looks and feels. Designed to resemble a scrapbook, every page is a joy, rich with photographs and content. It would be torture to read it while hungry!

There are chapters on Cornish seafood, telling us all about sardines, curing fish, filleting fish, the effect of Rick Stein on the county and much more as well as some wonderful recipes – the crab sandwich looks delicious.

The photographs make me salivate!

Then there are sections on foraging for food like wild garlic and wild strawberries, as well as more coastal treats like samphire, laver and sea beets. Frankly there is a wonderful surprise on every page , the chapter on Cornish cheeses in particular had me salivating, while the Cornish pasty recipe made me really want to have a go.

Not sure that I could resist!

Rather wonderfully it isn’t all about food either, Cornish wine, beer and cider also get a look in, so there really is something for everyone.

This book is a constant delight and would make a great present for anyone who loves food. It would also be a wonderful gift for anyone who does not realise how good British food now is and how seriously food is now taken in this country, so any French friends or relatives – anyone got Jacques Chirac’s address?

So there you are, two book ideas in good time to go on your Christmas gift list.

Food & Wine Pairing

Bintu Hardy's blog, brings you delicious food and drink recipes inspired by your pantry staples. In her blog post for Waitrose Cellar Bintu, uniquely paired Alexandre Merlin champagne with Sierra Leonean grilled prawns. This product is no longer available and has been replaced with Charles Lecouvey Brut NV.

Giulia Mulè

Giulia is an Italian food & travel blogger and photographer. She lives in London, where she spends most of her time visiting coffee shops, restaurants and street food markets or baking cakes at home. In her blog post for Waitrose Cellar Giulia paired a delicious Balinese chicken curry with Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru.

Alexandra Coleman

Alex is a 20-something who writes about top restaurants, recipes, secret bars, where to go for the best nightlife and which weird and wonderful events you need to go to.When she's not doing that you'll probably find her exploring the City's streets on the lookout for the next big thing in foodie wonderland. Alex matched a healthy Peanut Crunch Superfood salald with the refreshing Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc.

Neil Davey

Neil Davey is the author of The bluffer's guide to chocolate and The bluffer's guide to food and has also written for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. Neil made a delicious pasta with slow-roast shoulder of lamb ragu, broad beans, mint, capers and lemon to match our sumptuous Moss wood Amy’s blend.

Marianne Weekes

Marianne Weekes has been writing her popular family and lifestyle blog, since January 2010 and covers her favourite passions in life food, travel, her home and her family. This year she was thrilled to reach the finalist stage in the Brilliance in Blogging Awards and has plenty of exciting projects lined up giving enough material to take her into the next decade. Mari cooked up an aromatic sea bass with lime kaffir leaves and chilli to pair with cune rioja reserve.

Luiz Hara

A Japanese-Brazilian chef who is passionate about good food, wine and travel. He has written The London Foodie blog since 2009, today one of the top 10 UK Food Blogs. He currently host Japanese Supper Club events and cookery classes from his home in Islington. Just as mad about wine, Luiz has an Advanced Certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) which encouraged him to write about his experiences with wine and spirits and matching them with food.

A Diner

Tick Tock Diner (Clifton, NJ)

Now, let’s talk about diners. There are over 500 diners in the state of New Jersey, and most of them are open 24 hours a day.

They serve typical diner food such as breakfast all day, burgers, meatloaf, pot roast, and milkshakes. Most diner food is actually really, really good, and they give you so much that you definitely won’t go hungry… and they’re cheap!

Since Michael grew up in Northern New Jersey, he has spent quite a bit of time enjoying the Tick Tock Diner, and he still talks about how great it is.

The Tick Tock Diner has been in business since 1948, when it quickly became an iconic business. They also have a location in midtown Manhattan. Their huge portions at a reasonable price bring customers back time and again. They are open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and every day of the year, including Christmas.

Get Directions to Tick Tock Diner

Tick Tock Diner is located at 281 Allwood Road in Clifton, New Jersey. Click on this link to get directions to Tick Tock Diner from your location.

Here is a list of all diners in New Jersey so you can find the one nearest you.

Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, New Jersey (Photo courtesy of Tick Tock Diner)


d'Arenberg is a well known Aussie winery in the states for wines like The Hermit Crab, Dead Arm and The Stump Jump. One wine you might not know or appreciate is the 2007 Custodian Grenache which is foot trodden and aged on lees to keep the flavor fresh and bright.

Distinct black cherries, stewed plums, dark red fruits and raspberries (almost blackberries) complimented by tobacco, earth and spice box surround the fine grained tannins. In other words, it was rich and robust without being hot or overpowering, yet smooth as a baby's butt. The reason it works is this Grenache has medium weight, yet great depth and complexity. If Grenache was a musician, it would be in a cool ass jazz trio with Syrah and Mourvedre. The three of them are hip and stylish on their own, but when they come together, they create magic.

Lamb can be a wonderful protein if seasoned correctly. Mutton might not be the way to go, but the three ways chef Peter Reschke prepared lamb not only showed off what this region has to offer, but how versatile lamb can be.

Matching wine with food means combining elements with similar levels of intensity. All three lamb creations, along with the wine had similar weight or intensity of flavor. Add in the complimentary dark fruit with key seasonings and you have another great localized pairing. For about $20 you can't go wrong. I'd highly recommend picking up a bottle. Thank you to the chefs at D'arrys Verandah.

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017

It’s a testament to how much Australia’s culinary standing has risen globally that Melbourne was chosen for the announcement of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2017. Two Australian restaurants – Attica and Brae – made it onto this esteemed list. The awards ceremony held earlier this month at Melbourne’s historic Royal Exhibition Building attracted around 1,000 guests, a veritable who’s who in the world of food and wine.

New York restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, was named the world’s Best Restaurant for 2017, as well as Best Restaurant in North America. Housed in an art deco building overlooking New York’s Madison Park, the restaurant’s multi-course seasonal tasting menu celebrates the city’s rich history and culinary traditions. Co-owners Will Guidara and Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm enhance the fine-dining experience with a sense of fun, blurring the line between the kitchen and the dining room.

Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (Eleven Madison Park) at the Chefs’ Feast during the celebrations in Melbourne.

Last year’s No.1 restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, ranked at No.2 this year and retained its title as Best Restaurant in Europe. Showcasing a broad cross-section of cultures and cuisines, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list includes restaurants from 22 countries across five continents. France, Spain and the USA each have six restaurants on the list. Now in its 15th year, the list welcomed six brand new entries and three re-entries.

France doubled its number of restaurants on the list, and now has six entries, including three in the top 20: Mirazur (No.4), Arpège (No.12) and Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée (No.13). Alleno Paris Pavillon Ledoyen debuted at No.31, earning the Highest New Entry Award, while another Paris-based restaurant, Septime (No.35), claimed the Sustainable Restaurant Award.

Spain retained its strong presence on the list with three of its six restaurants landing in the top 10. Former No.1 El Celler de Can Roca led the contingent at No.3, with Asador Etxebarri at No.6 and Mugaritz in San Sebastian at No.9.

South America boasts five restaurants on the list, including the debut of Tegui in Buenos Aires at No.49. Chef Virgilio Martínez boasts two award wins. His restaurant, Central (No.5), in Peru, was named Best Restaurant in South America, and he won the peer-voted Chefs’ Choice Award.

The winning chefs and restaurateurs celebrate at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne.

Among the seven restaurants in Asia on the list, Japan and Thailand each claim two entries. At No.7, Gaggan in Bangkok won the Best Restaurant in Asia title. Restaurant Andre, Singapore, climbed 18 places to No.14 while Den in Tokyo debuted at No.45.

The city of Copenhagen fared well, with two of the Danish capital’s restaurants recognized: Geranium (No.19) and Relae, a previous two-time winner of the Sustainable Restaurant Award (No.39). Heston Blumenthal had double reason to celebrate. As well as being the 2017 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, his London restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, rose nine places to No.36.

Dan Barber’s progressive restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, rose 37 places to No.11 to earn the Highest Climber Award. Ana Roš of Hiša Franko, Slovenia, was named the World’s Best Female Chef 2017 and New York-based pastry entrepreneur Dominique Ansel took the title of World’s Best Pastry Chef. Since opening his SoHo bakery in 2011 and launching the Cronut, his influence has extended to London and Tokyo.

Dan Hunter (Brae) and Ben Shewry (Attica), at the Chefs’ Feast, Melbourne.

Melbourne restaurant Attica (No.32) retained its title as the Best Restaurant in Australasia, while Dan Hunter’s Brae in regional Victoria (No.44) was a first-time entry on the list. Peter Gilmore’s wonderful Sydney restaurant, Quay, featured at No.95 on the 51-100 list that was announced prior to the awards ceremony.

Founded in 2002 by William Reed Business Media, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants is a globally recognised gastronomic reference point. The awards are based on the votes of an influential group of almost 1,000 international leaders in the restaurant community.

Group editor William Drew said Australia’s exciting and dynamic food and wine scene had made it the perfect destination for acknowledging excellence and celebrating the successes of the world’s culinary landscape. Australian chef Neil Perry designed a menu with a strong focus on Australian produce, ahead of the official ceremony where the award winners were announced. David Blackmore Wagyu, Fraser Island spanner crab, Paroo kangaroo, Mooloolaba tuna, West Australian scampi and oysters from New South Wales and South Australia were some of the highlights on Perry’s menu.

Tourism Australia partnered with State and Territory tourism organisations and the tourism industry to offer 100 visiting chefs and media a tour of some of Australia’s best food and wine experiences. Tourism Australia managing director, John O’Sullivan, said the benefits would be long-lasting. “Through these first hand, authentic experiences, they will share our Restaurant Australia story beyond these shores, helping to inspire new audiences of travellers and lovers of great food and wine to follow in their footsteps.”

Martin Benn, Shannon Bennett, Peter Gilmore, Lennox Hastie, Analiese Gregory, Kylie Kwong, and Jock Zonfrillo at the Chefs’ Feast, Melbourne.

Many of us are familiar with Lebanon's rich culinary heritage, courtesy of the Lebanese diaspora and food writers such as Claudia Roden and Anissa Helou. Yet the prevalence of popular Lebanese dishes such as tabbouleh and hummous in our supermarkets is not yet matched by Lebanese wines despite a long history of grape cultivation dating back to the Phoenicians.

A Microcosm of Good Food and Wine in New South Wales - Recipes

Quarantini – I love this term, meaning a martini drunk in isolation, or more generally any cocktail enjoyed during quarantine at home during Covid-19.

Tourism NSW virtual cocktail making session at Brix Distillers with bar and cocktail consultant Charlie Ainsbury and Amy Cooper making a Daiquiri and a Mojito.

I think most of us who imbibe have been drinking more during ISO, especially initially, but much like our relationship with cooking in ISO, where we are taking the time to try new recipes, we are expanding our traditional drinking choices and mixing it up, trying old-school cocktails and experimenting with new ones.

Cocktail Masterclass

I was lucky to be invited by Destination NSW to participate in a Cocktail Masterclass via Zoom, as a way of helping some of the state’s distillers. I was delivered a beautiful ‘Quarantini Kit’ beforehand, (haven’t deliveries become an excitement during lockdown?) which included all the ingredients required to make two cocktails.

It was a rum cocktail kit, and along with mint, soda water, limes and passionfruit, was a bottle of Brix white rum. Brix Distillers is located in Surry Hills in the heart of Sydney CBD and their white rum recently won gold for Best Unaged Pot Still Rum at the 2020 World Rum Awards. That’s pretty awesome for a distillery that only opened in 2017.

Actually, I have to confess, I’m not a huge fan of rum, especially dark rum. Yet white rum is the basis of my two all-time favourite cocktails, the daiquiri and mojito. And guess what? They turned out to be the two cocktails featured in this masterclass. What a win!

Preparation felt like gearing up for a a science experiment, with a list of required utensils (knife, chopping board, glasses etc), but the hardest part was deciding where to set up. Alcohol and computers aren’t a great mix (yes, I may have once spilt a glass of wine on my keyboard) so Zooming on my PC at my desk was definitely out, which meant using my iPad mini. But where? The kitchen would see other family members coming and going, so decided on the dining room table. But as sitting down to shake cocktails seemed weird, I brought in a kitchen bar stool. Then began the fiasco of getting the iPad to the right height (you know the drill, not looking up your nose, not looking down on your head, tilting it without it toppling over). I was certainly in need of a cocktail by the time we began.

Setting up or the Zoom cocktail masterclass

Quarantini Hour was presented by journalist Amy Cooper and award-winning bartender Charlie Ainsbury. To help us get ‘in the spirit’ Charlie had created a rum-inspired Spotify playlist, which I had going in the background – think Rum & Cola by Calypso Rose and Cocktails for Two by Machito Orchestra.

Amy Cooper and Charlie Ainsbury conducting the Zoom masterclass from Brix Distillery

Basic Sour Cocktail

We started with a daiquiri, one of the ‘building blocks in the cocktail lexicon’ according to Charlie. “Bartenders are showoffs,” he says. “They look like they know thousands upon thousands of recipes, but they all stem from seven basic categories.” And the daiquiri belongs to the ‘sour’ category, which is:

  • 2 parts spirit (60ml) – rum
  • 1 part sour (30ml) – lime or lemon
  • 1 part sweet (30ml or 2tsp) – sugar

But if you swap the spirit to gin you have a gimlet, to vodka you have a kamikaze, whiskey a whiskey sour . Simple! The sour can be lemon or lime, whatever you have, so long as it’s fresh, “Lime juice comes from a lime, not a bottle,” says Charlie. And the most liberating thing for me was the sweet part doesn’t have to be sugar syrup (you know, that ingredient you never have, that takes 15 minutes to make, by which time you’ve given up and resorted to wine).

Passionfruit Daiquiri

We start our daiquiri with 2 teaspoons of raw sugar in the cocktail shaker, then add 30ml of fresh lime juice, swirling it around to help dissolve the sugar. Then we add 60ml Brix White rum, and to give this daiquiri a tropical flavour, pulp from 1 1/2 passionfruit. (This could be swapped for fresh mango for a mango daiquiri or strawberries for a strawberry daiquiri. Because we have the balance of our cocktail sorted with the first three ingredients, we won’t upset it by adding any sort of fruit.)

Shake, Rattle ‘n’ Roll

We add ice to the shaker, pop on the strainer and lid and ‘get our shake face on’. With one hand over the top of the shaker and one under the bottom, the idea is to make the liquid go up and down in the shaker as fast as possible. (This is where you can break out a move, develop your own signature shaker style.) When the shaker gets too cold to handle, it’s done.

After taking the top off the shaker, it pays to hold the strainer in place as you pour into a cocktail glass. For decoration, float half a passionfruit in the centre of the glass. Voila!

I love a refreshing mojito, so much that I have tried making them (not very successfully) at home, hence my experience making sugar syrup, which I thought was an essential ingredient. But Charlie tells us any type of sugar can be used – castor sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, demerara sugar, even maple syrup or honey! (This info was reason enough to love this workshop.) Two teaspoons of sugar is the equivalent to 30ml of sugar syrup. Too easy.

Directly into a highball glass we put:

  • 2 tsp raw sugar
  • 30ml lime juice
  • dash of soda – swirled together to help dissolve sugar
  • leaves from two large mint sprigs
  • 60 mls rum
  • stirred with a spoon, including up and down, to bruise mint and dissolve sugar
  • Added ice to top of glass, added some soda and stirred again
  • garnished with squeezed mint sprig (squeezing releases aroma)

My mojito – not the best presentation, I admit. Needs more mint and ice.

Delicious. Turns out the mojito is Charlie’s favourite drink too. He also gave us his top four favourite Sydney Rum Bars, being Brix Distillers, The Lobo Plantation, Burrow Bar and Jacoby’s Tiki Bar. Also check out Kittyhawk and Newcastle’s Blue Kahunas as many of these places are offering home delivery during Covid-19 so you can still get your rum fix in isolation.

NSW has many rum distillers

And when travel restrictions lift and we are allowed to move about New South Wales once more, consider a rum-themed tour. Here are some distilleries to add to your road trip.

    – Mendooran, 45 minutes from Dubbo in Central West NSW – Corowa, on the banks of Murray River – North Tumbulgum, Tweed Valley – Byron Bay – Cresent Head, on the Maria River in the Mid North Coast – Jingera, Snowy Mountains – Bathurst – Tintenbar, between Ballina and Byron Bay

For more information visit and if you go on a NSW Rum-ble, don’t forget to post to social media using the hashtags #LoveNSW or #NewSouthWales

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary Quanantini Kit from Destinaion NSW to participate in this masterclass, but I have no affiliation with any of the companies.

Vine dining

There’s a new wave of excellent wine bars in Sydney, and three of the best also deliver food that’s worth seeking out in its own right, writes Pat Nourse.

Love, Tilly Devine
91 Crown La, East Sydney, (02) 9326 9297.
Licensed, bar.
Cards AE MC V EFT.
Open Tue-Sat 5pm-midnight Sun 3pm-10pm.
Prices Small plates $3-$24.
Vegetarian Two dishes.
Noise Not quite shouting-loud.
Wheelchair access No.
Plus A rockin' wine bar.
Minus Not comfortable.
The Wine Library
18 Oxford St, Woollahra, (02) 9360 5686.
Licensed, bar.
Cards AE MC V.
Open Mon-Sat 11am-11.30pm Sun 11am-10pm.
Prices Sandwiches $9-$12 small plates $5-$23.
Vegetarian Two sandwiches, four salads, assorted snacks.
Noise Loud and funky.
Wheelchair access No.
Plus Buzo goes booze-o.
Minus No Reschs on tap.
10 William Street
10 William St, Paddington, (02) 9360 3310.
Licensed, bar.
Cards AE DC MC V.
Open Mon-Thu 5pm-midnight Fri-Sat noon-midnight.
Prices Entrées $6-$18 mains $14-$27 desserts $7.
Vegetarian One entrée, one pasta.
Noise Noisy.
Wheelchair access No.
Plus Smashing service.
Minus The food can lack polish at times.

It&rsquos always a thrill to come across a grape variety you don&rsquot know, especially from an area with which you&rsquore fairly familiar and when it adds another dimension to the wines already on offer there.

The question I get asked most often as a wine writer is how long wine keeps. It&rsquos one of those &lsquoHow long is a piece of string?&rsquo questions: it depends both on the bottle and the drinker. Some people relish mature wines that have acquired complex aromas and flavours. Others would much rather drink wines while their fruit is at its most intense.