Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

19 March 2018


No cuisine on this planet exhibits as much careful design, attention to detail, focus on the seasons and the finest ingredients as Japanese restaurant cuisine.

The chance to explore the food and eat around Tokyo with 12 clever chefs, the 2017 finalists and ambassadors from USA, Australia and New Zealand was not to be missed. There were myriad meals, lots of delicious Ōra King salmon, fun outings, a little exercise (mostly of the karaoke variety) and one hell of a lot of rain. I never stepped out without an umbrella over my head the whole week.

But the ultimate experience for me came at the end of the trip when our bus arrived at Mikawaya Ryokan in the misty mountainous Hakone region, after a lengthy journey from Tokyo via an exceptional visit to an organic soy, miso, tofu and pickle manufacturer Yamaki Jozo in Saitama where we were treated to an outstanding vegetable lunch with everything local.

Here’s the thing about Japan. There is so much history and culture, and every single person is highly respectful and embraces that with passion. No-one should ever visit Japan without staying in a ryokan for at least one night for an immersion into this exceptionally unique cultural experience. And like many other traditional ryokans, Mikawaya is at least 130 years old with a long history of genuine hospitality.

On arrival at the entrance, shoes are removed and given to the welcoming staff, generally older women who have trained all their life to look after the ryokan guests. Little slippers are handed out, travellers are greeted with a refreshing drink and the customs, rules and expectations of the ryokan explained. It’s then off to the rooms, along dark mysterious corridors, where those slippers are left at the door for guests must never step onto the tatami mats with footwear. Beds are made up nightly with mattresses on the floor.

I’d stayed in ryokans on previous trips to Japan, and so I knew that travellers usually share rooms. A group of six or eight might get a large suite, while four or less would share a smaller one. It was unusual for such a large group as ours (28 people) to arrive and book in together, so obviously and luckily there was not a room large enough for the whole party.

A special feature is the onsen - a hot bath - and every ryokan has large shared baths, while some have rooms with their own private smaller bath. There’s ritual and tradition for bathing too, as women and men are separated and no swimsuits or garments are worn. Extensive washing of the body must take place before you plunge into the bath. It is a heaven sent experience and I managed to fit in four hot baths in 36 hours.

Ryokans offer dinner and breakfast (never lunch) as part of the room charge and Mikawaya’s cuisine was exceptional - kaiseki dinner of multi courses with Japan’s finest fare. Sometimes meals in a ryokan are served in the room, but our party had dinner and breakfast set for us at a very long table in the dining hall. We’d all changed into yukatas, a garment not unlike a cotton bathrobe, topped with a heavy linen jacket that you wear around the ryokan, to the onsen and to dinner. It is comfortable, relaxing and really democratic as everyone looks the same, so you’d never know who usually wears Prada or who buys their gear at Uniqlo!

That dinner was exquisite enough to write a book about. Every course is beautifully plated up for each guest and our menu ran from an introductory hors d’oeuvres platter to a hot pot with the treat of seasonal matsutake mushrooms, a sashimi platter with beautiful sparkling slices of fresh fish, a ‘boiled pot’ sweet lobster stew, through to a grilled pot – sizzling abalone steaks which were delivered to the table still squirming in their shells and then cooked on individual hot plates with sake and a heartattack sized lump of butter for each.

At that point many would be groaning but not enthusiastic chefs! I learned they can eat and eat and eat. We were only half the way through, as next each of us was given a stunning decorated seasonal platter that contained grilled barracuda, grilled shrimp, boiled chestnuts, persimmon and pumpkin, and a deep fried fish ball. Then came another highlight, some very thin slices of wagyu beef and tongue to be cooked shabu shabu style in steaming broth – rich, tasty and meltingly tender. You know you’re almost at the end of a Japanese meal when the rice arrives alongside a little bowl of pickles and some wonderfully comforting miso broth. And the finally a platter each of dessert – seasonal fruits, cake and a chestnut flavoured bavarois. Needless to say, lovely sake flights, large bottles of Japanese beer and a few wines went down with our dinner too.

I am not even going to begin to describe the intricate breakfast next morning. Another sensation of Japanese thought and care. But a word of warning. It can take some fortitude to eat pickles, rice and preserved fish at 8am, but they are delicious. Unlike the Western style breakfast offered that we thought we wanted on our second morning. It included a rather weird ‘ham and eggs’ accompanied by crunchy green salad, tomato sauce and corn kernels. When in Japan, do as Japan does!

29 October 2017


(In 1992 the NZ Guild of Food Writers invited Gourmet magazine’s food writer, Fred Ferretti, to travel from New York to Auckland for a week of feasting. To welcome Fred and his wife, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo we invited them to join the committee for dinner. We dug a hāngi pit in my backyard with the help of a couple of mates. Fred wrote this story for the much loved but now defunct Gourmet magazine and it was published in early 1993.)

"If you do not have manuka wood to burn, if you cannot get stones from a river, then you might just as well forget about having a proper hangi," Ruben Oneroa was saying one afternoon in a backyard in Auckland, New Zealand, as he watched wisps of smoke seep through a large mound of freshly turned soil and up into the leaves of the lemon trees.

We were in the yard belonging to our friends Lauraine and Murray Jacobs, in the Remuera section of Auckland, on an incline of Mount Hobson. Ruben and the Ihaka brothers, Daga and Dave (all three are Maori) had dug up the earth so that we might experience a true hangi, a tradition of those Polynesian first settlers of New Zealand, an outdoor feast with which they mark salient events in their personal lives and their history.

The stones that Ruben was talking about — between swallows of beer (another ingredient absolutely necessary for an honest hangi) and occasional tastes of green-lipped mussels lifted from a nearby barbecue — were of lava. "And you cannot have stones that have been in salt water," he said. "They will crack and split when you warm them. They will sound like guns. You have to have proper stones from fresh water. And manuka." Manuka is an extremely hard wood from the tea tree that burns slowly and with great heat.

Ruben, Daga, and Dave had excavated a rectangular hole about four feet by two and almost three feet deep and piled in it logs of manuka, which they ignited and covered with lava rocks. After two hours the rocks and wood ashes were removed and the hot lava re-bedded in the hole. On top of the rocks the men placed a tray of open metalwork onto which were layered, in ascending order, slabs of fatty pork; whole chickens; racks of lamb; jacketed potatoes; chunks of kumara (pronounced CUE-mara), a marvellous yellow sweet potato; and slices of pumpkin. The loaded tray was covered with lengths of linen, the linen with bolts of thick sailcloth, the sailcloth with burlap, and the burlap with the pile of loose dirt left from digging the hole. The food for the hangi thus "steams" under the soil, Ruben said.

The hangi, a culinary treasure, exemplifies much that is good about New Zealand's cuisine: its simplicity and lack of adornment. In my visits to Auckland and to Wellington I ate lamb and venison, grilled and roasted; fat mullet, kingfish, snapper, trevally, salmon, and tuna (all just pulled from the water, fish that tasted as fish ought to, whether steamed, panfried, or smoked); and thick pea soups with ham. I also ate fine vegetables and fruits — leeks, small sweet tomatoes, parsnips, tangelos, Braeburn apples, and "drinking nuts," which is what coconuts are called in the Saturday Polynesian market at Otara, near Auckland.

As we waited Ruben showed me an old lithograph in Lauraine’s kitchen, of an 1844 hangi wherein the Maori baked nine thousand sharks, one hundred pigs, and eleven thousand baskets of potatoes in a celebration of amity with new English arrivals to their country. "It was a major hangi," he said, "the kind we usually have to observe an important event like the accession or funeral of a leader, any occasion when we would have a hui," or important discussion.

Would we have a hui at our hangi, I asked?

"We are having one," said Ruben. "Have a mussel."

For about three hours, the buried food cooked, and then Ruben bent over the pile of smoky dirt, sniffed, and pronounced the food done. He and Daga and Dave shoveled the earth away and asked me to help shift first the burlap, then the canvas, then the linen. Finally the four of us lifted the enormous metal tray up and onto a table, where the meat and vegetables were sliced and served.

Into the night we ate pork, chicken, and lamb; softened potatoes, kumaras, and pumpkin; and all manner of greens and salads that others had contributed to the hangi. Moist and sweetly aromatic with the flavour of the kumara, the meats, tubers, and roots had cooked through perfectly. A glorious introductory hangi it was.

"You have learned a lot today, have you not?" Ruben asked.

Indeed I had. In the course of my afternoon hui, as the foods steamed, I had learned about lava rocks from fresh water and manuka wood; about the need for fatty pork to be the foundation of a successful hangi; that a little smoke will not harm lemon leaves; that good beer is necessary for the orchestration of a hangi.

"Good," said Ruben. "Now the haka."

A haka, he explained, is a Maori dance that concludes every hangi. To participate, one waves one's arms about while jumping from one foot to the other, up and down, back and forth, scowling and sticking one's tongue out to ward off enemies and unfriendly vapours.

"I'll watch," I told Ruben.

13 September 2017


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


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


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


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


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


“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


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


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.