A Secret Garden

Pinto1Last weekend we had a long, fume-laden trek through the traffic to the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo. Fortunately, and to our very great joy, it turned out to be well worth the effort. Winding up through the hills above Manila, we eventually ourselves in a quiet, leafy subdivision high above the city.

Here, tucked away behind wrought iron gates, through a walled courtyard, and along a cobbled path that led into an enchanting garden, we met our friends for a delightful lunch in the garden café, where we sipped on my favourite Sauvignon Blanc (Craggy Range – so far the only Sauvignon Blanc I truly love) and eating a heavy-duty, mouth-watering, barbecue lunch of deep fried pork knuckle, beef steak and dinosaur ribs. Actually, they were really beef ribs, but they were large enough to make me seriously consider dinosaurs or genetically modified cows. And they were overflowing with flavour. The meat literally fell off the bones and I don’t think I have consumed so much protein in one sitting EVER, but I loved every mouthful, especially from our prime position under the trees, looking out across wide lawns and alluring flower beds.

Later, my One & Only – an avid trawler of art galleries – was in seventh heaven as we wandered through room after room of paintings and sculptures.  And it was also one of the most attractive galleries we have ever seen with its high ceilings and plenty of natural light. The buildings, roughly plastered, whitewashed and flat-roofed, have a thoroughlyPinto6 Mexican, or Mediterranean flavour. They spill down the hill in a series of rooms, galleries and courtyards, filled with a huge variety of contemporary Filipino art. We were lucky enough to have four of the artists dining with us, which delighted my One & Only in particular, as he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to discuss Filipino art with some of the artists themselves.

I was equally blissed out by the surrounding Silangan gardens, beautifully landscaped and scattered with intriguing
sculptures, many made from recycled household objects – the dragonfly with wings made from pieces of a wire fan guard, for example, or the bulldog made of what looked like the offal of an old car engine. And everywhere we walked there were lovely old wrought iron, four poster beds topped with comfortable mattresses on which to lounge beneath shady trees, or on patio areas by the pool, or out on the flat rooftops of the house and museum. Victorian birdcages hung from trees and verandas, housing brightly coloured parrots, parakeets and lorikeets. There was even a small, white private chapel in the garden, decked out with statues and an amazing sculpture of a seemingly airborne Christ above the altar.

Pinto, it would appear, is a peculiarly apt name for this wondrous Pinto3art museum, as it is not only the word for “colourful” in Spanish and “painted” in Portuguese, it is also the Filipino word for “door.”   And entering through the pretty little arched gateway is like stepping through the wardrobe to Narnia or through the looking glass into a wonderland of creativity and artistic fantasy. I would highly recommend that you take a day off and head for the hills, to experience this glorious spot where art and nature meet and blend.  Take your time. Wander. Absorb. Enjoy. Tours are available, for those who don’t have the artists on tap, and there is much to see and explore. We will definitely be calling in again, despite the traffic. And with a very reasonably priced entry fee, it is even more tempting to visit again and again.


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Bondi & Bourke

BnB.2Bondi and Bourke arrived on the Makati restaurant scene last summer, and it already seems to have collected quite a lot of fans. The One and Only discovered it at its ‘NOT-A-Soft-Opening’ back in June, and I finally got to check it out this month. Twice.

An Australian Gastro Pub in Legazpi is certainly novel. Well, the menu says gastro pub, but the decor actually suggests fine dining with its cream leather chairs, edgy bar and open plan kitchen. The menu, however, is full of dishes o-so-familiar to the pub-dwelling Aussie. Here you can happily indulge in fish and chips, burgers, schnitzels and pies – even Oysters Kilpatrick, an old favourite that I haven’t tasted since the 90s. (For the uninitiated, this is an Aussie classic: oysters in their shells topped with diced bacon and Worcestershire Sauce and lightly grilled till the bacon is crispy. Particularly tasty for those not mad about oysters au naturel.) Chicken parmigiana also gets a look in – with a personal note to local bloggers: Americans may familiarly call it a chicken ‘parm’ but in Aussie-speak, it’s a ‘parmy.’ (Colloquial Australian adds ‘y’ or ‘ie’ to everything.)

My first visit involved a cosy dinner for three, with said oysters, salads and a cake with a candle to celebrate a lamington cakebirthday. Don’t start imagining the usual Filipino birthday cake, with multiple layers and inches of icing, though. This was an iconic Aussie offering in the form of a light, fresh lamington. Never heard of it? Lamingtons are cubes of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and then rolled in grated coconut. This one even had a thin layer of jam and cream in the middle. (I highly recommend trying them here, as making them at home can be a thoroughly messy business.) As a special treat, it was large enough to share a spoonful each with the birthday girl, after we had been joined by most of the staff for a round of singing.

Last week I went back for lunch, eager to try the home-made pies. For the non-Aussies amongst you, meat pies are as ubiquitous to Australian street food as pizza is to Italy, or siopao is to the Philippines.

So here I sit, at a table by the window, beside a living wall of green pot plants, waiting for my friends to arrive. I watch a large group of businessmen pour through the door into The Roast Room, a large, private dining room. I admire the elegantly Spartan décor, and spend some time describing what I mean by a lime and soda to a baffled waitress. (It’s a standard Aussie pub drink, often served in pint glasses when alcohol is not required. The original South Australian variety needs Bickfords lime cordial, but fresh lime juice will do just as well – minus the sugar syrup please.)

Then my friends arrive and we chat for a while before turning to the menu.

BnB.4The service here is decidedly slow, but the staff is friendly and engaged. And, as promised by my One & Only, my pie is terrific. I have found it hard to find decent pastry in Manila – any tips welcome – but this is puff pastry at its best: light and a little crisp around the edges. And the filling – classic steak pie – is sumptuous and rich, if a little runny. And hot! (Just refer to the now blistered roof of my mouth, and take your time. Don’t rush in, as I am always inclined to do.) Surprisingly, no tomato sauce was forthcoming, but luckily my friend – who had got an espresso cup filled with homemade tomato sauce for her fish and chips (go figure), was happy to send it my way. She was also able to take supper home to her husband, as the serve of fish and chips was more than generous for one.

So I am going back soon to try the parmy, the chicken pie, and the sticky date pudding, to see if it is as good as Mum’s. I would definitely recommend Bondi and Bourke as the ideal dining spot for the homesick Aussie, but it also seems to be very popular with the locals, which is great news. And just remember to ask for sauce with your pie – coz in Australia pie’n’sauce go together like fish’n’chips – or love’n’marriage!


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Café Culture

art gallery cafeSo here I sit in my favourite coffee spot in Manila, contemplating my coffee cup as palm trees flutter and spotless azure skies belie the approaching winter. I am intensely grateful for the air-conditioning that is dispersing the cloying humidity with alacrity. To quote Carlos Celdran, Manila has two seasons: hotter and hottest.  But in here I can hide from the heat and sip my coffee in cool, calm peace.

It’s true, I mostly seem to write articles about tea, which is strange, as I am actually more of a coffee drinker. I remember my flat mate, way back in our university days, trying to persuade me to drink tea with her, and I bluntly refused, comparing it, unflatteringly, to dirty washing up water. These days I have grown quite fond of tea, especially first thing in the morning, but by mid-morning, I must go in search of a beverage with a bit more oomph. It’s also a good excuse to catch up with friends over a cappuccino or caffè latte.

Drinking coffee as a social lubricant has been popular since coffee beans first appeared on human horizons sometime around the 10th century. Legend has it that the history of coffee drinking began in the Ethiopian highlands, where a goat herder watched the stimulating effect of the small beans on his goats.  He passed the news on to the Abbott of the local monastery who experimented with the beans to create a drink that could help him to stay awake during long hours of prayer. Whether this tale is true or apocryphal, word soon spread east to Arabia with Yemeni traders. By the 16th century, coffee beans were being cultivated across the Arabian Peninsula and into Turkey and Egypt.

Yet in Arabia, and later in Europe, coffee drinking created religious controversy, due to its effects. Some judicious marketing of its medicinal properties, however, soon ensured popular acceptance, and any further arguments against its consumption were finally laid to rest by papal approval in the early 17th century.

Planters soon realized that coffee trees will only thrive in the belt around the equator between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. So, as demand increased, fierce competition developed to grow coffee beyond Arabian borders. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Dutch were successfully producing coffee on Java and Sumatra. Meanwhile, Columbus had headed west from Spain, in search of a trade route to the East Indies. Instead, towards the end of the 16th century, he tripped over the Caribbean. By 1720, coffee plantations had been established here by both the French and the Dutch.

All this enthusiastic gardening obviously resulted in much greater coffee production. This coffee boom lowered costs so that eventually coffee, like chocolate, once a novel and exotic drink only for the well-heeled elite, became readily available to the masses. Personal fortunes and new nations would be built on the back of the coffee trade, as coffee grew into one of the world’s most profitable commodities.

Here in the Philippines, coffee trees were planted by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Plantations flourished, and for a while, during the 19th century, the Philippines would be one of the largest coffee producers in the world.

An American report suggests that coffee consumption has not risen dramatically in recent decades, but, as I have long suspected, locale has changed and quality has improved. And I am reminded of the moment I first realized that society was changing.

When I was growing up in South Australia, my mother’s friends would ‘drop in for a cuppa’ which generally meant a cup of teabag tea, or a mug of Nescafé and probably a cigarette around the kitchen table. These days there is a dazzling choice of caffè latte, cappuccino or corretto, Americano, espresso, macchiato, ristretto or perhaps a freddo – a mêlée of coffee types that sound like the lyrics to a song – and generally we have vacated the kitchen and  migrated with friends to pavement cafés and coffee shops.

When our daughter was born in the early 1990s, the renaissance of a long-lapsed café culture was just beginning in Australia. Marrying into an Italian-Australian family had introduced me to the voluble snobbery of ‘proper’ coffee over the instant variety. The Italian and Greek coffee culture was having the same effect on Anglo-Australians across the country. My mother, however, looked decidedly nonplussed when I suggested she babysit her sleeping granddaughter while I dashed out to replenish the nappy supply and grab a quiet coffee at the mall. “But we have coffee in the cupboard,” she advised me, puzzled by my odd behaviour.  I raised my eyebrows witheringly at the jar of instant coffee and made for the mall, and a cup of ‘real’ coffee.

Twenty years on and Australians have developed a national obsession for what we call ‘decent’ coffee. Starbucks was booted out years ago for its unsatisfactory offer of pricey and very ordinary coffee. Today, barista training has become par for the course for every job-hunting teenager. And it seems Manila is following suit. While the Philippines is still a haven for large coffee chains like Malaysia’s ‘San Francisco Café,’ London’s ‘Costa’,’California’s ‘Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’ and the ubiquitous Starbucks with its blends and excessively sweet, flavoured additives, Metro Manila is watching a gathering storm of independent coffee shops and specialists with a lean towards high quality, locally produced coffee in more salubrious surroundings. O and the Australian made Toby’s Estate of course, the only place you can find a ‘flat white’ in the Philippines as far as I know.

The Refinery opened in Rockwell last year, since when I have become a regular customer. The décor is a mock-up of the industrial-chic made popular in older cities, with its polished concrete floor, recycled wood paneling, and high, beamed ceiling, and despite its pretensions, is appealing to the eye. It serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and swaps coffee for cocktails for the evening crowd, and it has received good reviews for its efforts. I am equally happy with its standards of food and service, but I generally just come for the good coffee, the company and the comfortable atmosphere. Cheers!

* The photo is mine: a wondrous example of coffee art served to me at the Art Gallery Cafe in Adelaide, South Australia last year.

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Of Llamas and Lighthouses

unnamed (1)“…I didn’t really think through what a lighthouse keeper actually did. I was attracted by the romantic notion of sitting on a rock, writing haikus and dashing off the occasional watercolor.”  ~ ‘Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper,’  by Peter Hill

My One & Only is also attracted by the romantic notion of lighthouses. Hardly surprising then, that on discovering there was a lighthouse on our route back to Melbourne, he would want to visit it. We decided to make it an overnight stay.

Port Fairy is a pretty coastal town in south-western Victoria, at the end – or the beginning – of the famed Great Ocean Road. It was first named way back in 1828 by the captain of a small cutter, The Fairy.  A few years later, a successful Tasmanian seal hunter, John Griffiths bought a small whaling station here. Within a decade. so many whales had been slaughtered there were none left, and Griffiths was forced to close down his business.

Meanwhile a wealthy Sydney solicitor, James Atkinson, bought over 5000 acres of the surrounding land at £1 per acre.  He built a harbour and established a settlement which he named Belfast after his own birthplace. In 1887, twenty five years after his death, residents petitioned the Government to rename the town Port Fairy.

Today, Port Fairy still focuses on the sea, but today, the primary industries are no longer seal hunting and whaling, but fishing and tourism. Nowadays people come to watch the whales, not kill them. And to visit the lighthouse.

The lighthouse was built in around 1859, from local bluestone, on the eastern end of Rabbit Island. Originally, this island was a cluster of three separate islands but construction and coastal accretion have created a single island known as Griffiths Island – the only sign that remains of one of the area’s original inhabitants. The island is linked to the mainland by a concrete causeway, but in the old days lighthouse keepers would have needed a boat to reach the mainland. Perched right on the edge of the sea, the tiny Port Fairy lighthouse was built to guide local boats around the reef and into the harbour, not to alert the larger trade ships sailing further out between Adelaide and Melbourne.

The lighthouse was automated in the 1950s, although the original lens and globes are still in place, and the lighthouse keepers left the island. Sadly, the original stone keepers’ cottages were demolished, and now the island is home only to a mob of swamp wallabies, a colony of mutton birds – known more elegantly as the short-tailed shearwater – and this petite, sweet, red and white lighthouse.

We wander out in the early evening, to stretch our legs after a lengthy drive cross-country from Robe, through Millicent and Mount Gambier. The causeway crosses over sand banks and rock pools and skirts along the edge of the River Moyne. There is a cold wind blowing, and we are grateful for the protection of the low trees when we reach the island. The pathway is sandy, lined with information boards about the island’s history and the natural environment. Deep holes have been dug into the sand along the edge of the path – I suspect penguins, but it turns out to be the work of the wallabies. The island lacks trees but is coated in dense shrub perfect to disguise any nesting birds.

We follow the trail to the lighthouse. Large black boulders rest on the sand, remnants of an earlier volcano. The sea is calm, the mutton birds are noisy, the wallabies are lying low. We clamber across the pitted rocks to look in the rock pools. The One & Only takes photos of his lighthouse from every angle. Sadly we can’t go inside – it is rarely opened to the public – but apparently, we read later, there is an unusual spiral staircase to the top. We meander back into town as the light fade.

Port Fairy is an attractive coastal town, trimmed with pretty weatherboard and stone cottages, its wide streets lined with huge, orderly Norfolk pines, planted in single file. Bordered to the north by lush farmland, to the south by the rough and boisterous seas of the Bass Strait, tonight Port Fairy feels relaxed, quiet and calm. Some of the older buildings – a church, a hall – are made of the same pitted black volcanic stone we saw on the island.

Home tonight is at a lovely B&B on the edge of town. Clonmara is self-styled ‘a little bit of Britain’ at the end of the Great Ocean Road, and here our genial hosts are pleased to offer you respite from the road in a tiny tea room in the original white-washed stone cottage, built more than 150 years ago on what is now the Prince’s Highway. As well, there are four modern and elegant cottages tucked amongst the trees in the leafy back garden. With amazing attention to detail, the owners have created a haven for a romantic tryst, claiming that they have added everything they have ever found appealing – or found lacking – during decades of world travel.

llamasOur room is modern, elegant, decadent, with tall windows framed in eau de nil drapes. French doors open onto a small private garden overlooking a thriving vegetable patch. We can hear the gentle cluck of chestnut coloured chooks from the hen house at the bottom of the garden. The garden ends at a small creek. Across the creek is a large paddock where the family’s pet alpacas roam, leggy, woolly and seemingly content with life among the gum trees. (Yes, I know alpacas are not quite the same as llamas, but I liked the alliteration with lighthouses. Call it poetic license!) Back inside we admire the vast and luxurious bathroom fitted out with a strong shower, a deep and inviting spa bath, thick, fluffy towels and all sorts of potions, lotions, and unguents – even a couple of small rubber ducks.

A small but well-kitted-out kitchen is tucked neatly into a corner, the bar fridge armed with drinks, the kitchen table set with chocolates and a pretty little decanter of Victorian port. Opposite the bed, a deep, comfy sofa faces a generous television that can swivel towards the bed. A tall, tubular gas stove graces the corner for cold winter nights.  So, despite a long list of restaurants on offer, we opt for a quiet night in. We cook a simple meal with the help of the microwave, sip a South Australian Pinot Grigio, and finish off with a Bodum pot of the best coffee ever discovered at Costco.

In the morning, we wend our way under the willow and past flower beds brimming with spring blooms to a small courtyard garden at the side of the old cottage. Here breakfast is served beneath a slim, graceful silver birch, while a handful of tiny, friendly sparrows dart eagerly around our feet. White wisteria drapes itself over a wooden trellis and pots of red geraniums are clustered on the flagstones.

We chat enthusiastically with our host, Doug while his wife cooks a delightful breakfast – usually his job apparently –  skimping on nothing, especially not the conversation. We only leave after I have indulged in a little retail therapy at the gift shop, promising to be back soon to try the afternoon tea.

*Of course my One & Only took the photo of the lighthouse. The alpacas came from Google Images, with thanks.




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Coming Home

rockwellOctober. Manila. Home at last to my own bed, my own bathroom, my own aromas. My bruised and battered suitcase unpacked after weeks on the road, my portable wardrobe tossed onto the laundry floor. A glass of wine waiting.

From my tiny balcony that clings tenaciously to the side of the skyscraper that I call home, I listen to the endless cacophony of car horns, and watch the horizon, hazy with heavy, turmeric-coloured pollution that refuses to be dispersed by the torrential rain storming through the city two or three times a day. In the distance, a herd of cranes stretch long iron necks towards the mercurial lightening. My wine is warm in minutes, and I must commit the cardinal sin of adding ice to keep it chilled. In the background, the washing machine whirrs softly, industriously. Thunder cracks unexpectedly above my head, gleeful as I flinch histrionically. The air is thick and steamy – even up here, so close to the angels – settling over my lungs like a wet woollen blanket.

Down below, in the protected fortress that is Bel Air, familiar rooftops slumber in their safe, green nest, unperturbed by the sharp, incessant barks of anxious dogs. Beyond its boundaries, the concrete river, the main vein of the city, flows sluggishly southwards to the sea, bearing madcap buses and myriad cars in its wake. Behind me, the elemental river takes a more circuitous route to the sea. Squeezed like a hardened artery into a straitjacket of high concrete walls, the murky cloaca of this over-burdened city is choked with green weed, broad barges and all the detritus of the human hoards that cluster along its banks. Insect-like ferries flit from side to side. Battered jeepneys roar along its flanks, spewing clouds of black smoke into the submissive air.

It is a far cry from the southern land in which I was born. Familiar yet fantastical, I have grown fond of this seething, subversive city over the years; of its gently smiling, kind and tolerant people with their incorrigible, child-like enthusiasm for celebrations and all things familial and edible; of its quiet acceptance of the harsh disparity between rich and poor; the incongruous juxtaposition of religious fervor and shopping fever. Always challenging, often frustrating, and endlessly  patient with my intolerance and inflexibility, Manila has taught me the strength of adaptation and acceptance, skills I had wrongly assumed I possessed in abundance after decades of living as a footloose and transient migrant.

I come and go from this hectic city, born, alternately, on wings of furious frustration to flee and inexpressible relief to come home again, the returning as much a necessity for my sanity as the leaving. Grounding me. It is a home I have not chosen but have learned to love like you might a recalcitrant child, despite all its crimes again my innate need for order and self-control. When I frown, it smiles warmly and holds out its arms in forgiving, eager joy that I am still here. And I succumb. I sip my watery wine. My shoulders drop. I exhale.

*Thanks to Google Images for the view.

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A Long and Winding Road to Foodie Heaven

IMG_3011Adelaide, South Australia, where the Adelaide plains stretch like starched sheets north and south along the eastern edge of the Gulf of St Vincent. Fifteen kilometers inland they start to wrinkle into the foothills of the Mount Lofty Ranges, which rise up to their highest point at Mount Lofty, two and a half thousand feet above sea level. From this not-so-mighty peak, the ranges reach out across South Australia for almost two hundred miles, from the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula all the way to Peterborough in the north. They also clamber east towards the Murray River where they are ironed out again to roll smoothly, unhindered by more than a mild bump, to the Victorian border.

Mount Lofty is encompassed by a bountiful, beautiful region commonly known as the Adelaide Hills, which has become renowned for its wineries, microbreweries, cheese makers and craftsmen. Apart from the freeway, which cuts a broad swathe, west to east, to touch down at Murray Bridge, the Hills region is an often perplexing maze of narrow, winding roads through valleys and hills, dipping and twisting round eucalypts and wattle trees, vineyards and orchards, through deep cleft gullies covered in thick bushland, round cow paddocks and conservation parks that are home to many native animals, including koalas, kangaroos and the blue-tongued lizard.

It is also home to a rather gorgeous new restaurant.

The Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard is a boutique winery in Lenswood, just five miles shy of Lobethal, a Hills town 2011MethodeTraditionelle-resized-200x300famous for its Christmas lights and cottage industries. Originally an apple orchard, this steep, rural 25-acre property was reborn as a vineyard in 1992. Too high in the hills to accommodate the more common South Australian Shiraz, the vineyard’s range of cool climate wines includes Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Rose, Pinot Noir and a Methode Traditionelle sparkling wine – heaven and the French forbid we should call it champagne. In good hands, MLR Vineyards have recently begun to acquire a generous collection of awards, including a gold medal last year for the 2014 Riesling at the 2015 Australian & NZ Boutique Wine Awards and a number of James Halliday stars – accolades indeed from a highly respected source.

After a long and winding drive up through Uraidla and Forest Range, we finally pulled up on the side of a quiet back road, thickly lined with gum trees, uncertain whether we had hit the right spot. An unobtrusive sandwich board assured us we had arrived, and we wandered down the drive towards a modern, barn-like building of corrugated iron and recycled timber, attached to an old stone cottage.

Partners Sharon Pearson and Garry Sweeney discovered this hidden treasure of a winery half a dozen years ago, finally completing their own long and winding journey to find the perfect property on which to realize their dream of creating premium cool climate wines. It is a far cry from the media career in which Sharon immersed herself in Sydney for thirty years, but it is only a stone’s throw – in Australian terms – from her roots in Murray Bridge. Both owners welcomed us warmly to their new restaurant and paused intermittently throughout the afternoon to chat with us about their experiences.

IMG_2955The bar and restaurant area is light and airy, yet intimate. Local art graces the walls. An open fireplace – an unnecessary accoutrement on this first hot day of spring – squats cheerfully in the middle of the dining room. Glass doors are peeled back to reveal  layers of wooden decks, where wooden tables overlook steep hills, the foremost strung with row upon row of neat green grape vines like fairy lights. Centre stage looms an enormous silver gum tree, standing guard over the vineyard and the rolling, rumpled hills.

Until recently, the MLR Vineyard used to serve simple cheese platters and gourmet pies to wine tasting enthusiasts who had found their way to this secret little nook. One such visitor was so delighted with the winery and it’s glorious location that he asked to join the team. Local chef, Matt Fitton, until lately sous-chef at The Playford, felt the winery would be enhanced by a fine dining restaurant. He shared his ideas with Sharon and Garry, and within months they had succumbed to his enthusiasm and opened the restaurant.

Matt is a johnny-come-lately to the culinary world, but he followed his dream and has already made a big impression. He won Restaurant and Catering’s Apprentice of the Year for 2013 and followed up as a finalist in the 2015 Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Young Chef Award. Not bad for a young man who used to work in the bottle shop of a busy pub in Kensington. Matt’s menu for the MLR Winery combines both artistic talent and culinary skill. Making elaborate use of seasonal, local produce, Matt creates eye-catching dishes full of flavour, texture and colour.

Seated out on a broad wooden deck that hangs precariously out over the crest of the hill, we soaked up the scenery and a first glass of wine before turning to the menu. The menu is short but sweet, and the limited choices meant we IMG_2963could order everything on offer. We divided the entrees and the main courses without any arguments, claiming one each, but agreeing to share.

My octopus, both braised and charred, was a delight: a fat, luscious tentacle, curled artistically across a bed of sprouted lentils and diced olives and perfectly cooked – al dente with not a whiff of rubber, and lightly blessed with delicate yellow flowers.

Our guide – and my oldest friend (OF) – chose a slow-cooked duck egg, which boasted a yolk like a golden orb to thrill the eye and the taste buds. It was served with tender diced asparagus and a smattering of nuts and grains to add a lovely touch of grittiness to each mouthful. It was garnished with ‘floss’ which I later discovered was not related to dental hygiene, but is a popular dried pork product – rousong – used in Chinese cuisine as both a topping and a filling, and is textured like coarse cotton candy (fairy floss).

Our older son (OS) and budding connoisseur of all things edible settled on the raw beef – carpaccio Australian style, the plate splashed with raindrops of green rocket purée and wild garlic that caused a wasabi-like gasp. Cured egg yolk was, oddly, crumbled over the top, looking like wattle blossom had fallen on the plate. I don’t know that it added to the flavour, but it certainly added glamour.

The One & Only gallantly took on the charcuterie board: a generous spread of his favourite salamis, a rich and delicious homemade pâté and a quenelle of seeded mustard, which we were more than happy to help him with.

The menu kindly provided recommendations for matching wines, but having discovered the winery’s 2013 Chardonnay, we looked no further, especially as it came highly recommended by both Sharon and her smiley assistant. With its light but not lingering hint of wood and a delicate note of citrus, it was perfect on a warm, summery afternoon.

Our main courses proved equally satisfactory. Artfully presented, each dish was a joy to the eye even before the food reached our taste buds, where it was also well received. And Matt, had amused himself – and us – playing around with some traditional dining options.

IMG_2967Roast pork was exchanged for a sous-vide pork loin. Sous-vide is a French term for steaming food in airtight bags, low and slow, so the meat is cooked evenly throughout, while remaining amazingly moist. It was served with fried sprouts and braised chard (that leafy green vegetable long popular in the Mediterranean), and enhanced by quandong, a small, uniquely Australian stone fruit with a rhubarb-like tartness, which usurped the more traditional pork-and-apple-sauce combination with glee. This dish was a firm favourite with the OF and the OS.

‘Tatiara” proved to be the name of the meat purveyors rather than the name of the sacrificial lamb, and Australia’s largest exporter of meat. Luckily for us, some of it had found its way to lunch. Cooked to a tender, melt-in-the-mouth medium rare, this shoulder and back strap of lamb was embellished with wild garlic flowers and a scoop of leprechaun green peas and diced beetroot, fresh and dainty, scattered like confetti, with which the One & Only was particularly delighted.

Now, I don’t usually bother with chicken when dining out, as it’s one of those bog standard ingredients I often cook at home in various formats, but this time, unexpectedly, I was tempted to alter the habit of a life time. Somehow the description of moist chicken breast dressed simply in macadamia nuts and those small, squashy Swiss mushrooms (sautéed lightly to the colour of dark chocolate) and scented with a whisper of tarragon proved irresistible. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Finally, our son chose the goat’s cheese tortellini. It was served with a theatrical flourish, a white bean velouté poured over the bowl of pasta and spring veggies at the table. Yet somehow it failed to impress. The pasta was stodgy and heavy, and the goat’s cheese filling had been used too sparingly to lift this rather bland and flavourless vegetarian option, despite the colourful addition of  those amazing fresh peas.

Luckily, the side dishes made up for it. The blanched asparagus was sprinkled in toasted almonds and highlighted by a simple splash of lemon juice; an accompaniment to this favourite vegetable that I will use for ever more. The beetroot was a little undercooked, but it was accompanied by a soft, zesty feta and a bitter twinge of rocket that distracted and delighted.

At this point of the proceedings we would have felt guilty to ignore the desserts, so we didn’t. Two ice cream based IMG_2989desserts and a cheese platter were brought to the table with a clutch of spoons. The “Cake and Camomile” (tea flavoured ice cream) sounded interesting, but was not as inspiring as the “Textures of Chocolate” with its ball of brown butter ice cream atop a scoop of chocolate mousse and a thick, heavy chocolate ganache ’tile’, decorated with freeze dried mandarin that crunched – and tasted – like honeycomb.

The cheeses were all created in the Adelaide Hills, the olives and apples likewise, all espousing the excellence of the local produce. I particularly loved the dish of biscotti-sized croutons, crisp and crunchy, a perfect accompaniment for the soft and creamy triple brie and the blue cheeses. (The Mount Jagged cheddar didn’t mind them either.)

Finally, at the point of post-prandial collapse, we were offered a small scoop of claret-coloured sorbet made from the 2015 Shiraz and blackberries. It was a sophisticated finishing touch to a sublime afternoon.

*With thanks, yet again, to my One & Only for the lovely photos.

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Train Tracks

imageLast night, over dinner, we were discussing past and potential train trips around Australia, which reminded me about a piece I wrote last year about a journey from Sydney to Canberra..

A train broods menacingly beside the platform swarming with perspiring humanity over-burdened with baggage, like camels, too busy boarding to pay attention to the pouts of an inanimate object. There is the usual scuffling panic as announcements indicate that departure is imminent. Early for once, and already arranged neatly in my space, I watch smugly.

As the train pulls out of the CBD, the skyline rapidly diminishes from high rise to lowland suburbia, and the railway line is now hemmed in by cyclone fencing and tarmacked roads. Rubbish, like magnetic particles, clings to the rim of the track, plastic bags, cans and chip packets blossoming amongst the ubiquitous weeds and parched grass. Concrete slabs span dribbling drains that were once brazen creeks, free and untrammeled. Grey walls and corrugated iron sheds squat resolutely by the tracks, embellished in graffiti that is neither artistic nor poetic.
Whisking through suburban stations too rapidly to read their names, we skim past school ovals, backyard fences, besser block warehouses, stations old and new, all bearing the same platforms and the same signs: Way Out; No Smoking; Smiths Crisps. Then miles of thick cables, gravel heaps, and napping carriages. On and on and on, suburbia seems to peter out, then scuttles back into view, an endless game of hide-and-seek.

And I am reminded, disturbingly, of Jeannie Baker’s beautiful picture-book Window, which depicts the insidious creep of suburbia and industrial estate across paddock and bushland.
And then suddenly, unexpectedly, we are free. The urban sprawl fades away. A final tarmacked road dissolves into dust. Now we are passing through open paddocks sown with spindly stands of grey gums and sprinkled with cows leaning rigidly towards the grass like the plastic toys we had as children.

Encased in our single-minded snake skin, we dart through raw channels of blasted ochre rock that disgorge themselves into unblemished bush. Dense green walls of trees and shrubs smother the landscape for miles, then melt away. Odd, isolated, scrawny white gums, their bleached, bone-like branches bent and twisted as if crippled with arthritis, cling to rocky outcrops.

A dab of floral colour, purple and yellow, flares up in the dappled light beneath the trees like the flicks of a paintbrush, as a kookaburra flits suddenly away, skittering off its wooden post, startled by our unexpected and sinuous arrival in his landscape, too large a snake to battle with alone.
A stretch of river spreads out behind a rocky dam, its waters sequined with sunlight and beaded with water weed, engulfing a shorn-off Stonehenge where no druid has ever sacrificed on that broad altar stone with curved sickle knife.

Lonely farmhouses peer at us glumly from beneath overhanging verandahs like heavy eyebrows. Telegraph poles salute stiffly, and we are chased down the track by a narrow dirt track that runs alongside for two or three miles until it staggers to a stop, like kids determined to give you that final farewell wave at the corner.

Yerrin-bool, Mitt-agong, Bow-ral, Burradoo, Bun-danoon, Bunga-dore, chanting a rhythm in time to the clacking of the steel wheels on the iron girders.

Buttercup yellow soursobs are scattered along the dry verges. Ferns, deep green and dusty, smother the banks. A five-bar gate, a rusty, corrugated iron shed, a shrinking waterhole, gaping like a wide-mouth frog, crying out for rain that won’t fall for weeks yet.

Another sandy track through the trees, like the Road Less Travelled, arrives at a remote weatherboard station with a hyphen of a platform, too short to contain even one carriage of our serpentine train. A flock of white birds twinkles across the stubble of a recently shorn heat field.
The outskirts of another country town: low cream brick bungalows stark and new inside their fenced and barren quarter-acre blocks, clustering together for warmth like refugees at the town limit, wanly watching the comfortable, established town below.

Diggers gouge through the dry, lumpy earth, stockpiling barricades of mallee roots that lie across the ground like so many carcasses. And meanwhile this glinting silver thread stitches its way south, under bridges, over roads, pulling the edges of the fabric together, zipping up the railway sleepers, ka-thunk… ka-thunk… ka-thunk….

Under a broad blue tablecloth of sky, stained by a streak of bleached white cloud. Sunshine strikes a wire fence so it glitters and sparkles like cobwebs full of dew.

A kangaroo breaks cover, disturbing a crabby cockatoo, who squawks and flaps, beating his vast wings in irritation, before swooping off over a row of dollhouse-sized weatherboard cottages, neat and sweet like maiden aunts that coo over a graveyard lazing serenely across the slope of a hill.

And I sit, glued to the window. Marking time. Heading home.

*With thanks to Google images for the kookaburra on a fence post.


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Lunching in North Melbourne

While Internet access has been intermittent these past couple of weeks, eating experiences have not. So where to start? Let’s begin at the beginning, in Melbourne…

imageAs a witty friend couldn’t resist commenting on Facebook, it’s amazing what you will find at auction rooms. Last week it was my long lost godson, at The Auction Rooms, a trendy new diner in North Melbourne. The front of the building, with its faded blue walls, was unprepossessing, but we discovered a hip new lunch destination within. The cafe inhabits the old WB Ellis auction house, an urban, industrial-chic interior and it is now a home for coffee aficionados and foodies alike.

You can’t reserve a table on the weekends at The Auction Rooms, but we had wandered in all the way from the south eastern suburbs via the Victoria markets to Erroll Street, North Melbourne, so we waited patiently on a bench for an available table and watched the bustling scene before us. It didn’t take too long before we were ushered to a lovely table in the window at the rear of the building.

We perused the drinks menu eagerly, and found our first decision easy. A reunion of such magnitude deserved bubbles, and we duly ordered an Airlie Bank, Coldstream Chardonnay Pinto Noir from the Yarra Valley. 85% Chardonnay  to 15% Pinot, it had lashings of citrus flavour and a subtle splash of apricot, and received rave reviews from us all.

It took longer to decide on lunch. No more will you find the Big British fry up, imageheavy in carbs and cholesterol, nor the more pedestrian breakfast of cornflakes, muesli, or toast and Vegemite. The closest we got to a familiar breakfast was “mixed grain and seed porridge with almond milk, macadamia crumble and poached fruit” or, with a nod to our British nursery heritage, a “soft boiled egg with rye soldiers.” Instead Persian, Cuban, Spanish and Japanese flavours fluttered across the menu, eclectic but enthusiastically healthy. And a few of the ingredients left us reeling, so we called our friendly waitress over for translations. Many dishes were topped with a poached egg, presumably to enhance the breakfast theme, and there were several vegetarian options, including a vegetable tagine and a pea and goats cheese frittata. And for the sweeter tooth: brûlée French toast with passionfruit labne, poached mandarin, macadamia crumble and white chocolate ganache!

The majority of offerings were included on the breakfast menu, but from 11am there was a small selection of lunch options. The Godson was tempted by a warm salad of confit duck, brussel sprouts, kipfler potatoes, and a 63° egg accompanied by Jerusalem artichoke crisps and a shiitake broth. A cosmopolitan combination indeed.

Our patient waitress, when asked about the 63° egg, explained that it is cooked at a lower temperature than normal, and the egg comes out glossy, cooked, but ever-so-slightly slightly sloppy. Such a description would have deterred me: I am not a fan of sloppy eggs, but The Godson was made of sterner stuff, and bravely made the call to try it. Fortunately he was not disappointed.

My One & Only chose a dish that sounded more like a bar snack or tapas, but was in fact quite a large and filling serve of chilaquiles (pronounced chee/lah/KEE/lehs according to the menu), which are described as toasted corn tortillas, topped with shredded pork, salsa roja, cheese curd, black beans and a fried egg. I helped out, as usual, and it proved to be a flavourful and crispy plate of glorified nachos.

imageI looked no further down the menu, once I discovered the seared ocean trout with potato and kale rösti, poached egg, salsa verde, horseradish cream and a ruby grapefruit & watercress salad. The trout was superbly cooked, the skin crispy, the flesh moist and firm. My egg, thankfully poached at a regular temperature, and therefore not a bit sloppy, was perfect. And I loved the salsa verde, which provided a fresh, tangy descant to the salmon.

When our plates were clean and the bottle of bubbles drained to the last drop, weimage started to murmur about checking out the cake counter. There we discovered a larger-than-life and irresistible – to me – marmalade friand and an even larger chocolate and walnut brownie that the Godson chose with alacrity, and we  gleefully succumbed to a little self-indulgence.

As we headed out we found atram stopped only moments away, to spirit us back to Franklin street station and the suburbs, totally satisfied with our jaunt into the city, and our family reunion. Next time, dear Godson, we won’t leave it so long!

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Pomelo, Prawns and Peppercorns

DSC_0796I have adored Thai food since we landed in Bangkok in the early 90s. Fresh, flirty and brimming with flavour, it has long been a favoured Asian cuisine globally.

People’s Palace has been our family’s favourite restaurant since we landed in the Philippines five years ago – and I am guessing it is probably many people’s favourite Thai restaurant in Makati. So there is a certain sense of preaching to the converted.  But why haven’t I written about it before? Well, it is hardly a new or secret dining destination. Also, I am generally too busy dwelling on every wonderful mouthful to take either notes or photographs. But I visited it again this week with a new friend, and was reminded why I still love it so much.

People’s Palace is located in Greenbelt 3, overlooking the park and chapel. There is a large, open modern dining room inside that can seat lots,  but – and it is my only complaint –  the acoustics or lack of soft furnishings mean noise levels can become deafening when the restaurant is full, which, let’s face it,  it usually is. So when the weather permits, we prefer to sit outside, on the lovely, leafy, quieter outdoor terrace amongst the exotic tropical plants and the warm breezes.

People’s Palace is the brainchild of Scottish restaurateur, Colin McKay, who has been whipping up a portfolio of top notch restaurants in Manila since 1996, and is obviously a bit of a magician when it comes to consistently serving up fabulous food. He also has a knack for training his staff to a wonderfully high standard – a rare trait in Metro Manila. I have never needed to complain about the quality of the food, and the waiters seem able to combine a light and friendly touch with efficiency, and will rarely keep you waiting.

My favourite dish is, and forever shall be, the prawn and pomelo salad, an iconic dish of subtle tastes and textures:PP4 perfectly cooked, large and luscious shelled prawns; pulled pomelo (allow for a dollop of writer’s license, OK?) fresh toasted coconut and fresh coriander or cilantro, which adds zest to any dish, whatever you care to call it. Pomelo is a citrus fruit native to SE Asia, something between a pink grapefruit and an orange, but of firmer, less juicy flesh.

We all have our favourites, but to be honest every dish we have eaten here is absolutely scrumptious which, oops, may not be a word generally used for serious restaurant reviews, but you get the gist. From the red curry with prawn and pumpkin to the Vietnamese spring rolls or the larb gai (that spicy minced chicken salad, perfumed with mint), every dish is fresh and beautifully presented, and so far People’s Palace has never let us down.

My companion and I opted to share, which strikes me as the best way to eat in a Thai restaurant, for then there is never any fear that someone else has chosen the better dish.  Apart from discovering a common passion for the PP1prawn and pomelo salad, we also picked green chicken curry with eggplant, kaffir lime and basil. While I am more than happy to make this dish at home, I struggle to improve on Chef Colin’s recipe. Green chicken curry originates from central Thailand, where coconut milk starts to infiltrate the kitchen, and becomes more and more popular the further south you travel. Gaeng keaw wan translates as “sweet green curry”, which totally neglects to mention that it can also be incredibly hot, depending on how liberal the chef has been with the green chillis.

Luckily, our kind waiter was happy to top up our rice from a big silver bowl whenever we needed it to dispel the heat of that innocuous-looking creamy green sauce. Likewise our water glasses.

And finally, we chose a pork and peppercorn stir fry with red curry sauce and long beans. Usually the dish is made PP3with fresh green peppercorns (they look like sea grapes), which is a traditional northern Thai recipe that was once made from wild boar, but is now just as popular with farmed pork. Unfortunately, the kitchen had run low on the fresh variety and we made do with the dried variety, having been assured it tasted almost exactly the same. We certainly found nothing to complain about. The pork was beautifully cooked, tender and spicy, and highlighted with those pungent peppercorns, and a rich, red curry sauce. A handful of al dente beans added a satisfying crunch.

But don’t feel obligated to follow my lead, feel free to make your own choices. You can’t really go wrong. And later, for the sweet of tooth, try the cardamom panacotta, or the mango and passionfruit pavlova – or for the more traditionally minded, there is a dish of sticky rice and mango or a Thai tapioca pudding.

And then sit back and relax, finish your wine and loosen your belt, and wonder why you always order far more food than even the hungriest teenager can devour in one sitting…

*With thanks to Sachiko for lending me her phone to take the pics, as this time I didn’t even bring my camera! Hopeless.

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Introducing Sicily

logoThis weekend we were invited to L’Opera, Paolo Nesi’s flagship restaurant in The Fort, to make a new acquaintance: Sicily. Now in its 21st year, L’Opera is a stalwart on the Manila restaurant scene, consistently serving up deliciously authentic Italian food and good service. This time, we were in for a special treat, at the Sicily Champions League.

Chef Paolo – Chef, Sommelier, Educator – lived up to all his titles for this event. He had created a menu with a matching wine list with which to introduce us to Sicily’s best wines and most popular dishes. We began with a long glass of Martini Prosecco and a short class on the history of wine-making on this, the largest island in the Mediterranean, perched on the tip of Italy’s boot-shaped mainland.

With the aid of an easy-to-follow Power Point presentation, Paolo raced through the history of the grape in Sicily. Sicily appears to have changed hands with almost every passing century. The Phoenicians, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Spanish all had a positive influence on the developing local wine industry. The Barbarians turned their backs on viticulture in favour of beer, and the Muslims halted its growth for a hundred years or so, after invading Sicily in the 6th century. Yet, despite all the comings and goings of invading armies and colonization, the wine industry in the 21st century is alive and thriving. And the food has not suffered, either, from this smorgasbord of culinary influences.

Wines in Sicily are an interesting and unusual bunch. Sicily seems to have its own line in grape varieties, uncommon
anywhere else in the world. Our first sample was a Fondo Filara Etna Bianco 2012 made from Carricante and Cataratto grapes, which are  quintessentially Sicilian. Catarratto vines grow mostly in the west of the island, while118 Carricante has been cultivated on the slopes of Mount Etna for centuries.  The volcano provides an almost melodramatic climate ranging from snow to hot sunshine, and a wonderful, mineral-rich terroir thanks to all that lava. Generally the vines lie about 1000m above sea level, the added elevation also heightening the acidity of the grapes. Carricante  is the dominant grape in Etna Bianco, and is popularly blended with Catarratto to create a light, bright citrusy wine with a dash of ‘apple and hawthorn,’ the acidity of the Carricante muted by the subtle gentility of the Catarrato to create a smooth, refreshing wine. It is a recommended accompaniment for ceviche or sashimi, so it was hardly surprising that Paolo had paired it with an assorted Sicilian appetizer that included a tasty swordfish carpaccio. This was accompanied by a  orange and fennel salad sprinkled with Parmesan, refreshing and light, and bite-sized arancini, that traditional Sicilian snack of fried rice balls. Here the size of ping pong balls, they nested in a flavourful home-made tomato sauce, moist and moreish.

I remember arancini well from a trip to Sicily three years ago. In the Palermo markets, arancini the size of cricket balls graced every food stall. And I clearly recollect a huge swordfish, sliced down the middle, standing head up, tail down in the local fish market, looking for all the world like it was diving through the counter.

The second wine was the Red Queen to the White Queen above: a Fondo Filara Etna Rosso 2010 made from Nerello Mascalesce and Nerello Cappuccio. Grown primarily in Sicily and Sardinia, Nerello Mascalese grapes are believed to have originated in the Mascali area in Catania on the east coast of Sicily, but have since migrated up to the slopes of Mount Etna. So these are tough vines too, for co-habiting with the largest active volcano in Europe means Etna is constantly blowing ash over them like a chain smoker at a party. Nerello Mascalese is often blended with Nerello Cappuccio, which adds both color and an increased alcohol level to the wine.

This happy red wine was chosen to accompany a casarrece con pesto alla siciliana.  Casarrece is a hand-rolled slim, scroll of pasta, slightly porous, and perfect for soaking up the sauce. Although it was a relatively light and delicate pesto sauce, the virile scent and taste of basil nonetheless stood up bravely to a wine described as ‘dry and robust’ with ‘elegant hints of wild red fruit, spices and liquorice’ and ‘a pleasant balsamic finish.’ I hope it is on their à la carte menu, this dish alone would be well worth a prompt return visit to l’Opera.

mount etnaRagusano is a hard cow’s milk cheese produced in Ragusa, Sicily that Paolo has used to coat a fresh tuna fillet before sautéeing it in white wine: tonno alla Palermitana, presumably a speciality from Palermo. Personally I prefer my tuna simply seared as it is too inclined to dryness if cooked much beyond rare. Served, however,  with an unusual black cous cous cooked with squid ink and seafood, the plate presentation was attractive, and the tastes blended well, neither dominating the other, the cous cous providing a riveting texture.

The wine to accompany it was also riveting. The Bianca di Valguanera, it was generally agreed around the table, looked and tasted like a golden yellow, wooded Chardonnay. In fact, it is made from Insolia grapes. These grow primarily in western Sicily, where they are also used to produce Marsala wine. Recognized for its nutty aroma, the Insolia grape has many pseudonyms, including ‘Ansonica’ in Tuscany, but is described as a modest, unassuming grape of little character.

And yet, this particular wine is quite distinctive. Perhaps it is due to oak fermentation, its intimacy with the yeast, or the bottle aging, but, like Chardonnay, Bianca di Valguanera has a complex intensity of both bouquet and flavour, and has been described as ‘aristocratic,’ with ‘good longevity.’ It is also quite difficult to come by, so sadly, it seemed, I wouldn’t  be acquiring a case on my way out. Anyway, it is supposed to be excellent with strongly flavoured fish like salmon and tuna, so Paolo had matched it well. However, it could have been colder: room temperature did not do it justice.

And onwards to the main dish: capretto al forno con patate e caponata.  Some people at our table look aghast at the notion of goat, while others swiftly offer to eat any neglected offerings. Slow roasted, the goat was tasty but decidedly dry. My One & Only assures me that there was a sauce, but I must have had a mere splash, as a little moisture would have gone a long way. However, the roast potatoes and caponata  – Sicilian ratatouille, as Paolo describes it – were a flavoursome mix. And the wines that arrived to pre-empt the goat were fabuloso.

We were spoilt with two wines for this course: a Morgante Don Antonio 2010 – a pure Nero d’Avola – and a Cos imagesSerasuolo di Vittoria Pithos 2012  – 60% Nero d’Avola, 40% Frappato – which is aged underground in open terracotta pots. Paolo described it poetically as a ‘beautiful woman without any make-up.’ I fell in love with the Nero d’Avola grape  quite recently, although it was a long way from its Sicilian origins, having migrated south of the equator to the Adelaide Hills. There, the Bird in Hand winemakers were concocting a glorious, aubergine-coloured  wine, full of plums and cherries and chocolate, and low in tannin. This Nero d’Avola is also full of dark flavours like sour cherry, espresso, cinnamon and blackberry, seasoned with pepper and a dash of oak. According to reviews it is best cellared until 2015. Looks like we caught it at its peak!

Cos Serasuolo di Vittoria Pithos 2012 liked its dark tones too: namely cherry and chocolate. I have to admit I got totally submerged in the wine, and took little notice of the unassuming roast goat.

Needing a breather from such a constant flow of food and wine, I wandered away to chat with a good friend at a neighbouring table – and nearly missed out on my Sicilian dessert medley. As it is now common knowledge that I do not have a sweet tooth, this may not have been an unmitigated disaster, but I was keen to try it out nonetheless.

There were three contestants on our medley platter: a sponge cake soaked liberally in rum known locally as baba, and incredibly popular with the Sicilians; a shot of iced espresso topped with a splash of fresh cream, and a cannolo alla Siciliana, filled with sweet ricotta and chocolate chips. Cannola has never been my favourite Italian dessert, and I have to say this did not alter my perception one jot: a non-event that I willingly traded with my neighbour for another espresso granita. I was also more than happy to trade my final wine for another glass of my favourite “chardonnay-that-wasn’t”. While I am sure it was an excellent Sicilian fortified wine, its tongue-twisting sweetness suited my One & Only much better. So in the end everyone was happy. Buon Appetito!

*With thanks to Google and my One & Only for their lovely snaps of Sicily. I sat beside my camera all night, at L’Opera, and totally failed to pick it up!

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