Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

13 September 2017

SYDNEY AND SOUTH IN THREE DAYS

An impromptu trip over the ditch brought a little relief from spring rain and delicious opportunities to check out what Australian restaurateurs were up to. We weren’t out to hit high-end places, preferring to check out places that had been on a wish list for a while.

For the birthday boy’s celebration, we made a three hour trip to Rick Stein’s at Bannisters. The hotel the eponymous restaurant is in is perched on a cliff with great views over the ocean. It is, as expected, a goodie with a seafood predominant menu that pays homage to Rick’s international culinary travels. Little scallops in their shells, sweet little mussels, and Indian influences in the fish. The fingerling potatoes, roasted were superb. (Hey, but charging $2 for water in a hotel room that costs $495 a night is a bit steep.)

Next day the spectacular drive from Mollymook Beach to Bowral wound, literally, over a tree clad mountain range with steep gullies and beautiful views at every twist and turn. Kangaroo Valley is simply gorgeous, a small picturesque town in the middle of nowhere.

I’d been curious and eager to eat at Biota Dining in Bowral since acquiring James Viles gorgeous restaurant book two years ago. It is filled with stories of his local suppliers. The dining room, I suspect, is probably stunning at night, but at lunchtime is dark and flat. The food was lovely but no-one took any time to tell us those stories of the ingredients or explain the chef’s inspiration. Regardless, we loved the crisp salty school prawns, a sublime albacore and ruby grapefruit dish that tangled with avocado in the hollowed-out fruit, and then we got our fingers and chins mucky devouring a very tasty kingfish head.

And so to Sydney; no need to go into detail. Here are the recommendations after three days of judicious feasting:

• Saint Peter – in a simple Oxford St storefront, young chef/owner Josh Niland is showing Sydney (known forever for its seafood) just how to select, age and cook fish. Sit at a crammed table and eat sardines, tiny anchovies, just shucked icy oysters, or aged hapuka and perfectly cooked red emperor on a bed of buttery succotash, or any and everything else that comes from the sea. But fish and shellfish are only ever served if wild and sustainably caught. Only gripe was the really mean wine pour by the glass. I reckon they get about 15 pours from a bottle. So order a whole bottle!

• Fred’s – perfect. Yes perfect. A stunning room with a truly open kitchen, great wine list, and everything we tried was so damned delicious, obviously simple but cooked with thought. The snapper ceviche glowed with delicate marigold petals and herb tips, the lamb was amazing – rack and leg slices and the fish, a tranche of hapuka was perfectly cooked.

• Three Blue Ducks – always worth the trip to Bronte Beach. I have been before but the cooking is up a notch for this blatantly casual neighbourhood café. The special – a seafood plate- with spicy garnished oysters, delicate baked scallops in a radicchio leaf and a lovely marinated raw fish salad (pic above) made a perfect lunch. And we then ate a crisp chicken sandwich. If you go in daylight hours, take a walk around the corner to see the cemetery. It might be the most expensive piece of real estate on any coast given over to bones – you’d be dead lucky to end up in that resting area.

• Sydney Seafood Market – untidy, touristy, expensive but it’s not all bad. So much fun to see the many busloads of international visitors tucking into truly gargantuan seafood feasts, and to eat sparkling fresh oysters, delicious prawns and much more.

• Anason – the new area between Darling Harbour and the Bridge is known as Barangaroo and is filled with eating opportunities. This Turkish place serves up incredibly tasty food that’s cheap and delicious. The breads and dips (labne with burnt butter and chillies, a rich roasted hummus, etc) were moreish, the octopus oh so tender, the wild greens in filo and a cured salmon salad all lovely. And perfectly acceptable Turkish wine. The apple tea and baklava made perfect partners to end.

• Mr Wong – you can’t go wrong with their roast duck. At least 250 large ducks were drying at the back of the kitchen. We had a half portion with pancakes and I can see what the fuss is about. Deliciously crisp skin, flavourful duck. Also the dim sum are classy – try the crab and bamboo shoot crystal prawn dumplings in golden soup. It was the ultimate comfort food for the finale in this stunning magical place.

15 August 2017

LONDON

In all my years living and visiting London I tended to stick to areas I knew. My first flat was in Shepherd’s Bush, I had lived in West Hampstead and usually stay in hotels around the West End and Soho.

So it was timely when visiting the city that we branched out of our zone. A new hotel, The Ned, a much admired multi-million pound recent renovation of the old Midland Bank in the City of London was recommended so I jumped, thinking it would force me to venture into the East End. So glad I did.

The Ned is on Poultry (love the street names that hangover from the 16th century) and is a hotel of magnificence, filled with luxurious furnishings and action. The ground floor has restaurants and bars to suit all types and can only be described as a scene. Loved the Jewish deli and their matzo ball chicken soup at £3, drank cocktails at the bar with a live jazz performance, and the Sunday brunch in the foyer has to be seen to be believed. In fact you might not need to venture out. But we did.

Spring, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant in Somerset House, Westminster has a daily changing, seasonal menu served in a beautifully restored light filled 19th-century drawing room within an old government building on the banks of the Thames. Her food is simple, fresh and clever. Loved her citrusy fish and great wine list.

We headed where I’d never been before to Typing Room, The Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, for Saturday lunch. The hotel is quirky, and the restaurant in the front serves a fantastic modern menu, which started with superb grainy IPA sourdough and Marmite butter! We ate our way through the degustation; my favourite dish was turbot, peas, green asparagus and lemon verbena.

That evening, the array of mezze at Honey & Smoke delivered to our table was almost overwhelming. This place, as casual as can be, was on my all-time wish list (just as Spring was) for I am a huge admirer of Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s Honey& Co book. The place did not disappoint – fantastic tasty Israeli inspired food and after the mezze, superb meats, tasty octopus and whole fish from the open fire grill. 216 Great Portland St, Fitzrovia, London W1

Everyone visiting Britain needs to have a pub meal so we headed back by bus into the depths of the East End to The Marksman at 254 Hackney Rd, Hoxton/Shoreditch. It was Michelin Pub of the Year and the food was terrific – fresh, cooked to order and a far cry from the usual pub pies and sandwiches. It seemed a bit scruffy in its old brick building but very welcoming and we ate upstairs, away from the bar where it was breezy and interesting with a choice of indoor or the terrace. I loved my brill with samphire.

Finally two tips: Borough Market near London Bridge is a must for foodies. Loads of fresh food stands, intriguing bars and cafés and brilliant shops like the Neals Yard Cheese shop pictured above. Do not miss the opportunity to have some of the best oysters in Britain while you’re at the market. And if you want a quick fix while you’re trundling around, the fast food at Leon is great. It’s mainly takeout but there are always a few seats in most stores which are absolutely everywhere throughout London. I still hanker for their South Indian Fish on Rice with fresh lime which I ate twice during my four days there.

13 August 2017

COOMBESHEAD FARM IN CORNWALL

We drove along winding country lanes to find Coombeshead Farm where we were booked to spend a quiet night before heading on to Bristol, Bath and London.

This place is the stuff of dreams once you get there - a comfortable old stone farmhouse surrounded by kitchen gardens, farm land with chickens and grazing sheep and an award-winning Millenium Walk that weaves its way through a copse of very English woods and surrounding meadows. Tucked into the northern corner of Cornwall, not far from Launceston, it is owned by Tom Adams, (a London chef known for his barbecue) and April Bloomfield (of New York’s Spotted Pig fame), and is run as a boutique country hotel where up to five couples are hosted each night. Dinner and breakfast are included in for a very reasonable 160 to 180 GBP per night per couple.

The atmosphere is welcoming and easy. Relaxing before dinner at an outdoor table over a gin and tonic was a cool way to meet the other guests. Such is the reputation of this place after only a year in business that most of the others were chefs (and partners) or industry insiders. The food supervised by Tom Adams and his partner Lottie is based on the modern approach of curing, fermentation and outdoor cooking over fire. All around the kitchen and dining room, various ferments were evident – lovely fruits, pickled, juices and more doing their thing for future diners.

Outdoors that evening we were served some pre-dinner exceptional ham and lardo handmade on the farm, bread crisps with thyme, honey and whey, and one of the simplest, most effective starters in the history of cooking – two fresh crisp lettuce leaves, plucked from the garden mere minutes before being served, dusted with dried miso powder. Bold!

Moving indoors to the communal dinner table we munched on through Adam’s exciting menu while we chatted with our companions about the wonderful world of food. Truly exceptional sourdough – you can enrol in bread workshops at the Farm – was accompanied by a parade of equally exceptional vegetables such as peas and cream, beetroot, kefir and parsnip, artichoke and sunflower, turnips and blue cheese and some very fine duck with gooseberry and sorrel. Our main course was a small tranche tender beef and to finish we had a dessert of nettle curds with rhubarb and pineapple weed. A wide selection of fermented juices and natural wines were offered, and thankfully, some more conventional wines too.

Next morning’s breakfast table was set with fresh strawberries from the garden, honey from the hives, jams from the pantry and yet more of that wonderful bread made in the kitchen. There were also house-made sausage and rillettes, and some fabulous pastries, straight from the oven.

Be warned, book ages ahead. I had an email from Coombeshead Farm this week, advising all Saturdays for 2017 are booked out but there was availability for five nights only until October!

If you are in the area, call, as you never know, they just might fit you in for dinner. Coombeshead Farm, Lewannick, Launceston, Cornwall PL15 7QQ

2 August 2017

FISHY TALES PART 2 CORNWALL

It’s an interesting drive from Dartmouth to the Cornwall coast. A famous Brunel bridge to pass by, numerous roundabouts that were supposed to ease the traffic but cause all sorts of mayhem and two mile back-ups, and the opportunity to drive the narrow country lanes to visit the famous Lost Gardens of Heligan. All in the rain, but not-to-be-missed. The New Zealand Walk in the gardens was beautiful, the vegetable patch just taking off and the café really good, despite the busloads of school-kids on end of term treats.

Fowey, pronounced Foy, our destination thankfully had an excellent dentist to fix a tooth that had been dislodged, threatening to make my life miserable. The little town is ancient, so old that there’s barely room for a car to drive along the narrow lane behind the houses and businesses that look over the port. The Old Quay Inn where we were booked sat amongst crooked old houses, but was comfortable and welcoming. Our dinner was perfect, the work of chef Richard Massey who has a light modern touch. We ate it looking over the harbour, spending a restful evening after a long walk around the cliff tops, and savoured local fish, stunning crab entree and crisp skinned fresh halibut with seasonal asparagus, peas and a wonderful cod croquette with some good Chablis wine.

Next day we headed to Falmouth, a much bigger town, but perched on the river mouth with acres and acres of small boats tethered in the slipstream. The Greenbank Hotel is a gem, an old fashioned place with up-and-down corridors that run for miles and loads of history. It’s well positioned but it’s advisable to book one of the new rooms that are spacious, modern, well lit and gaze over the river. We couldn’t get in to the two recommended restaurants of Falmouth, Olivers and the Wheelhouse – neither take bookings on line - but the hotel restaurant served us well, and once again we had a lovely table overlooking the water with an adjacent lively bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. Early next morning we hiked off to town to join a roomful of Englishmen who had no appreciation of my applause when the All Blacks scored. Luckily for them, the Lions won. Grrr.

The drive to Padstow took us away from the coast on some major roads, and we happily ignored the know-it-all GPS commentary advising us to take little country lanes. Those lanes are so narrow that often you have to back up if a car comes from the opposite direction. Stressful! Padstow is probably the most touristy-overrun town in the South West. I adore Rick Stein but a quick fish and chips from his takeaway was quite enough for me and we were quickly out of there, headed to Port Isaac, about 30 minutes away.

Port Isaac is miniscule, with a brutal harbour entrance and is most famous for the TV series, Doc Martin, still filmed there. Accommodation is sparse (stay at The Old School House) but the real star attraction for me was Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. The meal there, a five course seafood degustation priced at £125, was a real sensation of freshly caught fish and seafood, expertly cooked and garnished and not a jot of pretension. Outlaw, a thoroughly hospitable and personable yet shy man, who might easily double as a Lions front row thug, is the master of beautiful simplicity in the kitchen, as he cleverly matches expertly cooked seafood to seasonal ingredients.

The lobster! The lobster! The lobster! The best I have ever had in my life. Sweet succulent and cooked so that is was still juicy and moist, and garnished with fresh broad beans, thinly sliced fennel and courgettes in a little buttery jus. That’s it above and we could actually see the lobster pots bobbing about in the choppy coastal sea below the restaurant. It does not get much fresher or better than this. Truly the best meal of my entire trip.

14 July 2017

FISHY TALES PART 1 DORSET AND DEVON

A trip to the southwest of England to seek local seafood in late June, early July, before British School hols was a great time to beat the crowds and traffic. We flew into Gatwick to rent a car with GPS (absolutely essential if you want to drive away from the main routes) and three hours later arrived at Lyme Regis. Accommodation was booked for this two week trip, along with most of our dinners, as even at this time of the year, there’s huge pressure on good hotels and excellent restaurants in sleepy Devon and Cornwall.

Our first night was spent at Lyme Regis’ Alexandra Hotel, a comfortable old English establishment where you imagine they could easily have filmed Fawlty Towers, although the efficient friendly staff were a far cry from the enigmatic, awkward Basil and Sybil. We had great ocean views as the hotel sits close to the cliff top with a grand carefully mown lawn reaching out to the waterfront garden park. It was only a ten minute walk to Hix Oyster Shack for dinner where we were in heaven. The fishy menu is great – freshest of oysters, local fish and shellfish, all overseen by one of Britain’s hero chefs, Mark Hix. The view from the deck is even better to the charming little port (see pic above.) Briny oysters, sparkling fresh cod with cockles, lemon sole and a stunningly simple local tomato salad and interesting wines like gruner veltliner and vino verde set us up for the journey ahead.

Next day to Dartmouth, a beautiful town clinging to the bank of the River Dart and a centre for seafaring, as the Britannia Royal Naval College towers over the town and numerous yachts, boats and vessels ply the river mouth. Apparently two cruise ships call into the port each year and as luck (or not) would have it one was anchored smack bang in the midst of the moored boats the very day we arrived. The town was filled for the afternoon with cruise passengers, shuffling around and scoffing the food specialities of the region – rich creamy fudge, battered cod and chips, Devon cream teas and stacks of Cornish pasties. When I was young a traditional Cornish pasty was a thing of wonder with its crusty crimped pastry and filling of chunky vegetables but latterly it has transmogrified into such weird emanations as Balti lamb pasty or the ubiquitous Butter Chicken pasty.

Dartmouth is also famous for its steam railway excursions. I’m not quite sure just why British men are so fond of the railway – maybe it harks back to those metal die-cast models they grew up with that chugged around model railway tracks set up in their bedrooms. There’s probably no hope for the next generation either, due to their preoccupation with Thomas the Tank Engine. Anyway I’m married to an engineer so on our second day we headed off on a return journey on a gleaming steam engine, powered by coal, along railway lines that clung to the coast. The guy responsible for all this is the esoterically and lyrically named Isamabard Kingdom Brunel who masterminded many railways, bridges and other feats of nineteenth century engineering. Brunel become a fascination on our journey as he was a brilliant and prolific engineer with works throughout the south west.

If you get to Dartmouth, stay at the Dart Marina Hotel. The new rooms are lovely, - spacious and modern, which seemed almost revolutionary in this old town and across the river you will spot the steam train tooting along every hour, saving you from taking the trip along with half the kids from the local primary schools, like we did. And you can eat the arguably best kipper in the whole of the country for breakfast.

Dartmouth is home to the centre of Mitch Tonks’ empire. We ate at his signature restaurant Seahorse. It was one of those lovely old fashioned dining rooms with a lengthy expensive wine list and masses of freshly caught fish. He specialises in cooking over fire and the roasted scallops in the shell were sweet and tasty, the marinated halibut was citrusy and our woodfired roasted fish main courses, perfect. The next evening we chose to eat Mitch’s fish again but this time at Rockfish, one of a chain he has introduced. We ate a substantial crab cocktail followed by more lovely roasted fish at half the price (and half the refinement) of the previous evening. At Seahorse we’d enjoyed the company of a couple at the neighbouring table. The chatter was erudite, discussing politics, art, property, economics and everything else. The next evening we loved the old birds at the next table who told us they had “left the husbands behind as they don’t like fish” as they tucked into a feast of huge crab each, licking their fingers clean. “Tomorrow night,” they boasted, “we’re going to eat with our men at one of the oldest pubs here. We can have steak and a bottle of red wine each for twenty quid!”

1 July 2017

VIENNA TO SALZBURG

“High on hill was a lonely goat herd, yodeleee, yodelayee….” You haven’t experienced Austria until you have passed by acres of green hills and pine trees surrounding intricately built wooden houses with terraces fringed with flower boxes blazing with colour.

It would have been easy to take the train from Vienna to Salzburg, but everything would have flashed by and some of the most picturesque places would have been obliterated by the dark tunnels that carve paths under the mountains. So we drove. Two of the areas we passed were breathtakingly beautiful.

Leaving Vienna we headed north in Lower Austria and drove through the Wachau region. From Krems to the west you drive through Durnstein, Wessenkirche, Spitz and other pretty towns along the banks of the Danube. This is a wine region, where the lovely floral gruner veltliner and Riesling grapes flourish, clinging to steep terraced hillsides that drop dramatically to the river. It is a UNESCO Heritage area. Plenty of wineries offer tastings and food.

We stayed the first night in Emmersdorf an der Donau, a charming village that you don’t even notice from the road. From here we could cross the Danube river to explore the stunning Melk Abbey, and eat typical stodgy food in any number of cafés. The best food was actually in the Stiftsrestaurant within the Abbey.

Next day we decided to quickly cover the miles across the countryside so we could enjoy the lake region in the Salzkammergut and Upper Austria, and after an hour or two we left the fast lanes of the motorway at Gmunden. We were now passing along spectacular roads where every turn presents an even more amazing view of sparkling lakes and spectacular mountains. We were headed for Hallstatt, another UNESCO protected site. We loved it, despite being one of the most touristy towns in the world (see pic above.)

Hallstatt Heritage Hotel was excellent and my trout for dinner there was probably the best meal I had in the entire week. And you can take the funicular for magnificent views and a trip down into the salt mines.

Next day to Salzburg, but not before we meandered through tiny villages and meadows, with more wonderful views. If you get to Salzburg, a great town for exploring on foot as the old area is devoid of cars apart from the taxi that drops you at your hotel, pop in to the Goldgasse Hotel in the ancient street of the same name. The food is delicious and a nice take traditional fare.

The Salzburg Museum is a must do, and the Castle, along with narrow lanes filled with laughter and music. This is Mozart town. His birthplace is a golden house in the centre of town, there are Mozart shops everywhere, but best of all is Schloss Mirabell across the river where every day there are Mozart concerts.

Our biggest regret was not allowing enough time to visit Hangar, near the airport, with a private collection of cars and a stunning restaurant, all owned by the owner of Red Bull! And then again there will always be the Sound of Music Experience, for another time perhaps.

29 June 2017

VIENNA

Despite the 35C temperature in the shade (!) I fell in love with Vienna. Not the food, as it hadn't changed much since I last visited this glorious city in the 70s.

What I truly loved was the elegance, the cleanliness, the magnificence of everything inside the Ringstrasse and the transport options around the city. A stunning tram system, clearly marked cycle ways on every street, and the central area of the city cleared of traffic and devoted to those who choose to walk.

Do not miss the Sisi Palace with its royal collection of silver and gold, and dedication to Empress Elizabeth who was a unique spirit and feminist. Or the Secession building with its Beethovenfries created by the city's artistic star Gustav Klimt. Or the collection of Klimt paintings including The Kiss, in the wonderful Belevedere Palace. Or the Kunthistoriche Museum and St Stephens church in the centre of town. Take the Ringstrasse tram for its entire route and wonder at the impressive buildings enroute.

For eating go to one of the traditional old cafes, despite the tourists, such as Cafe Central or Cafe Sperl, where the food is almost as old as the decor but a little dowdiness goes a long way to capture the spirit of the 19th century. And eat a healthy lunch behind St Stephens at Miznon, an outpost of the famous Israeli cafes, where it's self-ordering but the Roasted Golden Cauliflower is not to be missed. Take an afternoon break in the luxury of the Palais Hansen Kempinski Hotel lobby and eat the best apple strudel in town. Take a taxi out to the vineyards for dinner at one of the famed Heurige restaurants where you can drink local gruner veltliner with your roast chicken or schnitzel and listen to corny live music. And make a reservation at Freyenstein in Thimiggasse for a very delicious set menu meal that is worth the taxi fare.

And finally the best. Music. Search for one of the concerts that Vienna is famous for. If you haven't booked before you leave home, the concierge at your hotel may land you, at a price, the best seats in the house for a concert in the Musikverein Golden Hall. We did this and it was the BEST concert I have ever been to. Vienna Symphony Orchestra and a 120 strong choir playing Beethoven's Ninth. A true life- changing experience.

6 June 2017

FOOD AND WINE CELEBRATIONS AT CREATIVE MATAKANA

CREATIVE MATAKANA popped up on the arts and culinary calendar recently. Talented tutors arrived from around New Zealand in the rural town of Matakana, to stage Creative Matakana, a week of workshops and events that included textiles, fiction writing, glass kiln work, sculpture, harakeke weaving, walks and inevitably, parties and social gatherings.

Wine and food has been central to placing Matakana on the map so it was imperative a series of lunches to showcase local artisan products, wines, beer and cider were included on the programme. Four top chefs from around New Zealand were invited to cook with locally sourced and foraged food for an audience of foodies that journeyed from as far away as Wanaka, Wairarapa and Wellington.

Below you can see the menus from the four events, Vines, Sea, Fire and Earth with our four participating chefs, who cooked with fabulous local produce and offered a fabulous range of local beverages. I am so honoured to have curated this section of the Creative Matakana programme, and worked with so many helpful and generous people.

6 June 2017

DAY 1 VINES: BEN BAYLY AT BRICK BAY AT CREATIVE MATAKANA

Everyone’s favourite chef, Ben Bayly of The Grove and The Grounds worked with produce from Brick Bay’s farm to create a very special menu to begin the four dasy of food and wine celebrations at Creative Matakana.

It was shared gig as local chocolate maker Nicolas Bonnaud and artist and sometime chef Morgan Haines assisted and played their part to create a fabulous interactive feast in the Didsbury’s home at Brick Bay. Phil from Whangaripo Valley Buffalo arrived with still warm fresh buffalo milk to taste too. A lunch locals are still talking about!

TO START Chicken & Mushroom Leigh John Dory roe with cracker Freshly shucked Mahurangi oyster

Wine match: Brick Bay Rosé 2016

ENTRÉE Terrine of Whangaripo buffalo curd & wood fired piadina

Wine match: Brick Bay Pinot Gris 2015

MAIN Crépinette of Brick Bay Suffolk lamb Roasted Brick Bay Tamworth pork shoulder

Wine match: Martello Rock 2014 & Brick Bay Pharos 2013

Pre dessert Brick Bay Rose wine pops

DESSERT Honest Chocolat pave, Brick Bay honey roasted macadamias, Matakana satsuma, Whangaripo buffalo crème fraiche.

Wine match: Polish off that Brick Bay Pharos 2013

6 June 2017

DAY2 SEA: WITH GIULIO STURLA OF ROOTS AT CREATIVE MATAKANA

All the way from his award winning Roots Restaurant in Lyttleton, Giulio Sturla arrived to create a stunning seafood feast with local seafood. The famous Hays of Mahurangi Oysters shucked their shellfish on the deck, overlooking Omaha Beach, before the fishy feast commenced.

Giulio had brought a few surprises from his kitchen, yet foraged for local produce too. surprises, food, chatter and love.

To start: Freshly shucked Mahurangi oyster, fermented capsicum sauce, watercress and verjuice dressing Jones Road Cider

Entrée: Fresh Lee Fish Kahawai Escabeche, broad bean miso, Lime cured Kahawai, Duck Breast Prosciutto With pickled radish, gooseberries, cherries and local Red Globe grapes Plume Bakery Bread with Salumeria Fontana new season’s unfiltered extra virgin olive oil Wine OBV Pinot Gris 2015

Main: Roasted and smoked hapuku, with hazelnut milk and black garlic. Local runner beans with almonds. Wine match OBV Montepulciano 2013

Dessert: Matakana Feijoas roasted on the bbq, goat cheese ice cream, buckwheat crumble with Matakana honey comb