Thursday, 9 March 2017

Five of the best places to Instagram autumn in Australia

Mt Tomah in the Blue Mountains' Botanic Garden puts on a spectacular autumn display each year. Image: Supplied

Take a swathe of perennials, a few arches of trees ablaze in copper and orange tones and throw in a few perfectly placed park benches and you have yourself a happy place. After a stroll through the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mt Tomah, you can gaze across the valley, which has pockets of vivid copper and red foliage. The hatted Tomah Gardens Restaurant is a great place to enjoy a kaleidoscope of autumn colours and enjoy all the region has to offer. Time your visit to coincide with the annual Leura Harvest festival. Click here for some Insta inspo. 
Fall's gold: Canberra turns on a riot of red, gold and yellow during autumn.

Autumn in Canberra is every bit as stunning as it looks. The beauty of doing some leaf-spotting in the national capital is that it's so easy to get amongst it. The bike lanes in Canberra are one of the best things about the city and the vast parks, nature strips and tree-lined streets make it one of the best locations to peep at #leafporn.  Book in to a Mushrooms and Minibeasts Family Walk at Canberra's Arboretum in the April school holidays, which includes a hike through the Himalayan cedar forest. See Visit Canberra for inspiration.
Treehuggers unite at Centennial Park in the centre of Sydney. Image: Chris Gleisner

The woodlands of Centennial Park in the heart of Sydney, NSW, can be easily covered on foot, skates or pushbike. Picking one must-see spot is a challenge but circumnavigate the park and you are sure to satisfy your urge for some seasonal leaf spotting. Strolling around this park is such a peaceful way to celebrate the season and bid farewell to summer. Make the most of the great outdoors in the milder weather and book in an outdoor movie at Moonlight. BYO blanket.
Moss Vale Garden is one of the jewels in the Southern Highlands' crown. Image: Destination NSW

Walk around the historic township of Moss Vale before veering off the path and finding your very own Highland hideaway. Leighton Gardens are situated in the heart of town and perfectly situated for family picnics. The best fall foliage happens at the start of the season. Visit Southern Highland Food and Wine Clusters for inspiration. One for the calendar is the Festival of the Roast Autumn Foodie Field Day at The Loch, Berrima

Saturday, 4 March 2017

A few of my favourite island getaways

Picture this: you are supine on a banana lounge, sifting sand through your sweetheart’s toes, studying cotton-wool clouds that appear to have been Velcro-ed onto the sky.  You have just slurped down a chilled mojito from the beach bar and are mustering up the energy to walk over the crystalline sand and slip into the turquoise sea. Before you can say “mi wantem bia”  (“I’d like a beer”) I give you a few of my favourite island getaways.

InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa. Image: Justin Mott (Mott Visuals).

Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa 
Chances are you won’t venture far if you stay at the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa. The resort is all about indulgence. Soak up the sun on a day bed by the infinity pool, sip cocktails as the sun slips over the Pacific in the uber-cool KamaLounge  or just mosey over to Natadola Beach to continue your schedule of lazing the day away. Located on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, the resort is about 40 minutes’ drive from the airport.  Visit

The lobby of Anantara Layan Phuket.    Image: Supplied
Anantara's The Residences, Phuket
Located along Phuket's stunning sunset coast, The Residences at Anantara's Phuket Layan resort overlooks breathtaking Layan Beach. The boutique collection of 15 spacious private pool residences is next level: perched on the side of a jungle-clad hill with panoramic views of the Andaman Sea, The Residences will make you want to bask in barefoot luxury for the remainder of your days. It's the ultimate rock-star hideaway where you can bring the entire entourage and skinny dip in your private plunge pool away from the paps.

Pangkor Laut Resort in Malaysia is paradise on legs. Image: @carlagrossetti
Pangkor Laut Resort
White-sand beaches, clear greeny-blue seas and villas with skinny legs standing knee-deep in the sea makes this feel like the poshest piece of paradise. Intimate, tranquil and elegant all at once the island is a fixture on the A-lister circuit. Rimmed by lush vegetation, the island is renowned for its abundant birdlife and electric sunsets. Cue couples canoodling in the sand, friends sharing cold beers by the bar and the more active doing laps of the island in a kayak. The late and great Italian tenor Pavarotti declared Pangkor Laut paradise. Expect opera on the playlist.

The Champagne Pools on Fraser Island are one of many reasons to make a beeline for this island.
Kingfisher Bay Resort, Fraser Island
The beaches on this, the world’s largest sand island are, as expected, pristine. But it’s the translucent blue of the freshwater lakes and craggy cliffs at Indian Head that are the real show-stoppers. By respecting their surrounds, the eco resort’s staff really go the extra kilometre in inspiring guests to reduce their environmental footprint, too.  

Iririki Island Resort has recently undergone extensive refurbishment.    
Iririki Island Resort, Vanuatu
Staff at Iririki Resort start working their charm the minute you are spat off the ferry from Port Vila. A highlight of staying at the resort is that it stays true to that laidback South Pacific vibe. At Iririki, expect your day to go something like this: wake up, enjoy coffee and breakfast on the verandah at Micheners, meander down the palm-fringed path to the beach, swim, kayak, have lunch, enjoy a siesta, flick through a book, enjoy a cocktail and kava by the pool, have dinner, go to bed. Iririki offers an annual special:  get a resort credit of $200 with any room booking of 5+ nights.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

5 Reasons to Celebrate the 2017 Tomato Festival

Tomatoes are enjoyed all over the world -- in salads, sugo, passata, pickles, bruschetta, pizza, chutney, relish and sauce. So the time is again ripe to give the Lycopersicon esculentum a bit of love at the Royal Botanic Gardens' award-winning Tomato Festival in 2017. Choose from spicy events that range from a 72m-long table lunch to a produce market selling heirloom varieties as well as various talks and workshops with gardeners, Michelin-starred chefs and celebrated local artisans. Best of all, because of the festival location in the #BotanicGardenSydney, visitors get to relate their food back to botany.

Tomato purists unite for the annual Royal Botanic Gardens' annual Tomato Festival 
1. The Pomme d'Amour Lovers' Dinner
Want to get a bit saucy? Squish in alongside your lover for this new romantic dinner set on the harbour foreshore. Make your Valentine see red at the first-ever Lovers' Dinner in the heart of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney with a three-course dinner and open bar. Surprise your paramour with a bouquet of roses and personalised invitation to join you at the candle-lit dinner as part of the package. Visit website.

The Pomme d'Amour Lovers' Dinner is a new addition to this year's Tomato Festival. 
2. Learn How to Make the Ultimate Pasta Sauce
Tomatoes are at their peak at the tail-end of summer which makes it the perfect time to embrace a cooking class with Two Michelin-Star and multi award-winning chef, Milan-born Luca Ciano, who joins the line-up at the Tomato Festival's cooking and learning hub. You can also give Ciano's specialty pasta sauces a twirl as they are available to taste and buy at the event. This is Italian cooking at its best. Seasonal. Simple. Bellissimo. Click here for more details.

3. The Longest Tomato Lunch
Enjoy the humble fruit from the nightshade family at Sydney's Longest Tomato Lunch, which returns this year on February 18 and 19. Expect a tomato supper of Roman proportions with dishes such as: gazpacho; semi-sun-dried tomato focaccia with Pepe Saya butter; tomato-braised chicken and Chermoula spice; red and white quinoa, pumpkin, currant and chilli eggplant. The 72m-long table will be set for 250 people and laid out under a gorgeous white marquee in the Flower Bed Lawn at Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens. Tickets on sale now until February 10. Visit website

The Longest Tomato Lunch was a sellout success last year. This year, there will be double the tomato love. 

4. Pizza Plants for Kids
Talk about a pizza with the lot. While the parents are busy enjoying the Longest Tomato Lunch, the kids will be entertained on an interactive adventure through the garden. Pizza Plants will take children on a treasure hunt to find pizza ingredients, plant yummy herbs to take home and make a mini-pizza to eat. Click here for more details. Also new this year is the Tomato Odyssey, where children grab their tomato passport and go on an adventure around the Mediterranean to enjoy fun Greek-themed activities such as tomato throwing and Olympic sack races.

Did someone say mini pizza-making classes for kids? Bring it. 
5. The Second Mouse Cheese Company
Located in Orange, the Second Mouse Cheese Co. is all about artisan cheeses that are handmade with love including camembert, haloumi, quark and feta. Tomato and cheese are, let's face it, the perfect plate mates - whether on a sandwich, pizza, or stacked on top of a pile of fresh basil.
For bookings, visit the Tomato Festival website

Monday, 23 January 2017

Where to eat and drink in Surry Hills

Surry Hills wears its gritty history on its sleeve, with many of its bars and restaurants embracing the rough-hewn element of postcode 2010 and proudly celebrating its past. While the tangled streets around Surry Hills once reverberated with the whir of sewing machines and hum and clatter of manufacturing equipment, it is now more widely known for being knitted with fab places to dine and drink. This is largely due to an influx of artists and creative types who have, since the 70s, helped transform the neighbourhood once known for its brothels, rag traders, razor gangs and sly grog shops, into one of Sydney’s most fashionable suburbs. Here are six of the best.

Enjoy the passing of time at The Clock Hotel's The Whisky Room.                                                           Image: Supplied

The Whisky Room

Totter up the stairs at The Clock Hotel to find this cosy den crammed with eclectic collectables such as sporting trophies, leather-bound books, vintage maps and ye olde things. Bag a comfy leather booth near the bar and ask manager Daniel Molnar to unleash something wonderful from the malt vault, which features more than 100 of the world’s best whiskies. Better still, bunker down for one of the monthly whisky flights designed to celebrate a country, region or brand. Get set to swizzle with a Whisky Sour or Malt Express (Black Bottle, fresh espresso, vanilla syrup and Amaro). Aaaah, whisky. You are so much more than just a code word representing the letter W.
The Whisky Room, 470 Crown St, Surry Hills + 61 2  9331 5333,

Cute as a button: The Button Bar wears the area's ragtime history on its sleeve.                   Image: Supplied

Button Bar
This cute-as-a-button bar is the little sister of both the Pocket Bar and Stitch, with all three proudly pinning the area's ragtime history to their sleeves. Just see how many puns you can drop about the bars having things sewn up before bearded bartender Brett Harris entices you to button your lips with the Last Word: a clean crisp cocktail shaken with gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice. The dark wood-panelled bunker of a bar has a bit of a pirate theme running as well as a playlist that you will want to Shazam. Alternatively, you can hem and haw about whether to imbibe a Jolly Roger or Berocca Fizz. Top off a few drinks with a margherita pizza to share.
65 Foveaux St, Surry Hills, 02 9211 1544,

Harpoon Harry is spearheading a campaign to encourage diners to eat more Latino food.          Image: Supplied
Harpoon Harry
Make like a barbed missile and shoot straight to the ground floor public bar at the 100-year-old Macquarie Hotel, which is spearheading a campaign to encourage diners to eat more Latino food. Harpoon Harry is barbacoa heaven, using aromatic woods such as ironbark and hickory to cook sustainable meats that please the crowds of liberal, literary locals. Head chef Paul Wilson’s menu speaks Spanglish, with the focus on authentic Latin cuisine: think big, butch cuts and roasted vegetable dishes made to share: pork barbacoa served with mole, beef brisket with fried bread, roasted eggplant and sweet potato bravas. Vive la revolucion.
Harpoon Harry, 40-44 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills, 02 8262 8800, 

Goro's is a Japanese word used to express approximation and it's madcap vibe makes it lots of fun.        Image: Supplied
Goro is a Japanese word used to express approximation. Fittingly, the fun and loose izakaya-style bar has been modeled on a character called Goro, who may or may not be an approximation of a real human. For that reason, the venue has the potential to be almost anything you may want it to be. The food and drinks are Japanese in influence and the huge space has more than a few spots to sit and sip sake. While the menu is full of unfussy Japanese street food such as yakitori, karaage and gyoza, the wacky interior is filled to bursting with items collected by someone who is either well travelled or has watched too many episodes of Iron Chef while wearing a onesie.  84-86 Mary St, Surry Hills, 02  9212 0214,
Head to Surry Hills Eating House for a taste of regional Thai food with Chinese/Malay influences.  Image: Supplied.

Surry Hills Eating House
The Surry Hills Eating House sums up what makes Sydney such a vibrant dining destination.  Chef Sujet Saenkham and the Spice I Am and House team has taken over legendary Harry’s Chilli Crab restaurant and given it an overhaul. While Harry’s has crept crablike down to 188 Elizabeth St, SHEH has been given a makeover, zhoozhed up with polished wood floors, a sexy tiled bar and light pouring through the arched windows. A highlight of the menu, which bases itself in southern Thailand with a few side trips to Malaysia, is gai pae sa, comprising chicken poached in a rice wine sauce served with a blast of chilli ginger dip. SHEH, Level 2, 198-200 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills. 02  9212 4092,   

Ask the bearded bartenders, 'what's up brew?'at The Keg and Brew.                                   Image: Supplied

Keg and Brew
Sure, Sydneysiders love a dirty grungy pub. But we are also partial to a craft beer. The recently refurbished KB Hotel on Foveaux St is now more gentrified than grungy, but it also showcases the sheer brilliance of local brewers such as 4 Pines, Young Henry’s, Batch Brewing Co and Willie the Boatman who are committed to ensuring we are all sated. At KB, it’s all about the Bourbon, beer and bites. After a few boutique brews, kick back in the leather seating and weep for joy at breaking your carb fast with a pulled pork po’ boy and deep-fried Twinkie. The centre bar and original wall tiles remain, as does the down-to-earth vibe. 26 Foveaux St, Surry Hills, 02 9212 1740,

The lobster roll has well and truly landed in Sydney. This is the Keg and Brew's take on the traditional New England fare.

Monday, 12 September 2016

VINIQ cocktail worth a shake

VINIQ liquer gets its shimmery shake on in this bespoke cocktail created to celebrate the launch of the liqueur.
Viniq Liqueur launched in Australia this week. The liqueur, which is a fusion of premium vodka, Moscato and natural fruit flavour gets its shimmery shake on with a pearlescent sheen when it's shaken all about.  

To celebrate the launch of the liqueur in Australia, follow the recipe for this bespoke cocktail created by VINIQ ambassador and Australian bartender of the year Kurtis Bosley. 


VINIQ-ly Chic recipe: 
• 50ml VINIQ liqueur 
• 15ml vodka 
• 10ml Creme de Peche de Vigne 
• 30ml fresh lime juice 
• Dash of rhubarb bitters 
• 10ml fresh grapefruit juice 
• 4 mint leaves 
• 1 cucumber strip 


Add all liquid ingredients and 2 mint leaves into shaker, add ice, shake hard for 10 seconds, double strain into a vintage coupe, add ice, garnish with a cucumber strip and mint.   

VINIQ is available from Dan Murphy's stores for $24.99

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Tea festival: a steep learning curve

In the frantic, frenetic caffeine-fuelled city of Sydney, there's something rather reassuring about the ritual of making tea.  After a hugely successful inaugural event in 2014, the Sydney Tea Festival is back at Carriageworks on August 21 with dozens of specialty tea purveyors and a series of expert-run workshops.

Learn all about the art of taking tea, which is as much about the ritual as the beverage itself.   Image: Supplied
Sydney Tea Festival co-founder and owner of The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar Corinne Smith says this year's event is expected to attract more than 5,000 tea lovers on the day.  “Tea is trending in Australia at the moment and the success of last year’s festival is a testament to that. Given Australians buy $384 million worth of tea every year, we only envision the festival getting bigger and better over time.” 

This year's Sydney Tea Festival is set to attract crowds of up to 5000 tea lovers.                    Image: Supplied
Sydney Tea Festival co-founder and owner of Perfect South Green Tea Renee Creer adds that the event "celebrates what specialty tea in Australia is all about – quality, diversity and creativity.”

Creer defines specialty tea as the leafy grade tea produced with the intention to enhance characteristics in the leaf. She says it tends toward a more artisan approach to manufacture as opposed to mass-production and tea packaged as loose leaf, rather than packaged in tea bags.

The Tippity trio will be teaming up with Black Star Pastry for a tea and dessert pairing workshop. Image: Supplied.
Forget wood panelling and red upholstery. The tea market will be held under the broad rustic beams of the Carriageworks building with the long antique room featuring dozens of stallholders selling and sampling tea. 

Sydney Tea Festival is housed in the rustic rail sheds of Carriageworks in Eveleigh.            Image: Supplied 
Those who appreciate a steaming cup of tannins will find everything from specialty top-drawer loose leaf teas to herbal tisanes of all styles and tea pots from Samantha Robinson Handmade Porcelain. There will also be mountains of macarons from Mak Mak, Black Star Pastry treats and steamed buns and pandan pancakes from Tsuru Food Truck. Best of all is the brew lounge where you can kick back and listen to music while sipping a sneaky cup of LongLeaf Tea Vodka

The Sydney Tea Ceremony has a line-up of workshops on how to best extract flavour from dried tea. Image: Supplied.
Lovers of quality ceramics will also get ample opportunity to demonstrate their obsessiveness toward quality teaware at stalls selling items made of clay and hardened by heat. In keeping with the environmentally friendly nature of the festival, festival-goers will also be given the option to buy a $5 tasting cup to sample tea, which will double as a souvenir.

Tea geeks will also be on their knees in gratitude when they sign up for a talk, tasting or demo held by some of Australia’s leading tea specialists. Workshops will cover a range of topics, such as tea basics and blending, tea ceremonies and tastings, tea and dessert pairing, tea and meditation and much more. 

Learn all about top-drawer teas and herbal tisanes at the Sydney Tea Festival.          Image: Supplied
This year, workshop sessions include Tea Leaf Reading with Annie O'Reilly, a Tea and Chocolate Pairing class with Koko Black Chocolate and The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar, a bespoke chai blending class with Chai Walli Uppma Virdi and an Art of Tea Blending class with The Tea Atelier.

Organisers are expecting a crowd of about 5,000 to converge at Carriageworks for the Sydney Tea Festival. Image: Supplied
 If you have a taste for tea or want to learn more about the leafy brew, visit the Sydney Tea Festival website. Tea workshop tickets can be purchased in advance via Eventbrite. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Take a country cooking class in the Southern Highlands

Everything about Fox Hill Farm in NSW's Southern Highlands screams country charm.         Photo: Carla Grossetti
Lynne Derwin loves nothing more than to teach visitors to Fox Hill Farm the joy of country cooking.
Up until 2009, chef Derwin and her husband John, a civil engineer, ran the highly successful Roundstone Vineyard and Winery in the Yarra Valley until it was destroyed in the bushfires that roared through the valley in February 2009.

Lynne Derwin loves sharing the joy of country cooking.       Photo: Deirdre Worsley
The couple lost everything apart from a flock of Suffolk sheep, which relocated to Fox Hill Farm with the Derwins in 2012. The fact the sheep are huddled together outside the kitchen of Lynne's new homestead located in the Southern Highlands gives the classes real warmth and connects us to Lynne's life in Victoria and, of course, that devastating loss.

This flock of Suffolk sheep are part of the family at Fox Hill Farm. 

The mood, however, is anything but sombre and while the hands-on class touches on Lynne's past, it is very much devoted to the here and now, of learning the secret of rustic home cooking, with time and patience essential ingredients.

A visit to Fox Hill Farm puts that 'tree change' back on the agenda.       Photo: Deirdre Worsley.
The day starts with a gumboot gambol down to the kitchen garden to gather ingredients, followed by a demonstration led by Lynne who is on hand to help you master the art of making everything from golden crusty bread to kale and watercress soup, lamb with mint dressing, beef bourguignon, potatoes Provencale, mixed leaf salad, a beet and feta salad and roast pears with maple syrup and vanilla creme fraiche. It's an ambitious yet manageable menu.

Guests arriving at Fox Hill Farm are offered treats of kohlrabi topped with smoked trout. Photo: Deirde Worsley
Each person is assigned a course and rather than there being a 'knives-out' competitive vibe in the kitchen, what I loved about this class is that it felt like a family affair - especially considering Lynne's daughters, Kristy and Phoebe, are on hand to help with everything from hosting to the washing up.  

Fox Hill Farm Country Cooking Classes use produce plucked from the homestead's kitchen garden. Photo: Deirdre Worsley.
Central to Lynne's class is a desire to show how easy it is to make good, honest home-cooked country cuisine. At the end of the hands-on class, we sit around the farmhouse table and chat about what we learnt, elaborate on what our favourite dish was and talk about any new cooking skills we'd like to learn. We also tuck into a five-course meal - the result of our combined efforts - and a well-earned glass or two of local Sutton Forest Estate Wine, Bungonia Creek Wines and Southern Highland Wines.

Roasted beetroot and feta salad and potatoes Provencale are part of the rustic banquet to share.  Photo: Carla Grossetti 
This is real farm-to-fork cooking as the school responds directly to the seasons, giving visitors a taste of country life while celebrating nature's bounty from the surrounding farmland. Anyone who has ever collected a windfall of fresh herbs and vegetables from a kitchen garden will appreciate the emphasis on local, seasonal produce and how much that impacts on taste and flavour.

Thyme one of the essential ingredients plucked from the kitchen garden to add to beef bourgignon.   Photo: Deirdre Worsley.
The four-hour class also walks you through various basic techniques - from browning meat, to thickening a sauce, deglazing a pan and the importance of assembling your ingredients before you start. Classes are for no more than 10, which makes for an intimate setting in which to ponder what lessons we will take home from today when we next attempt Sunday lunch.

Lynne oversees the lesson as we all chop, stir and mix in unison.    Photo: Deirdre Worsley.

Aswell as learning about how to get the most out of seasonal ingredients, the class is an advertisement for cooking with an Aga oven, which is the centrepiece of Lynne's kitchen. Rather than being a lecture where we all sit around taking notes, the class feels very much like Lynne is working to recreate her family album.

Lamb with mint dressing was one of the hearty mains prepared by the group.    Photo: Deirdre Worsley
The classes run on the second Wednesday of every month and, over winter, catch the Southern Highlands at its magical wintry best. While novices will definitely come away with a greater understanding of country cooking, it's also certain that participants will leave with a few new food-obsessed friends. Those who want to stay and play in the leafy country lanes of the Southern Highlands should visit for inspiration.

The Fox Hill Farm Country Cooking Class is followed by a convivial feast.     Photo: Deirdre Worsley
Fox Hill Farm Country Cooking Classes cost $150 and are held on the second Wednesday of each month or by appointment. Visit for more details.

Bungonia Creek Wines are sourced locally and proffered as part of the Fox Hill Farm feast.