>pee wee’s at the point


Alec Fong Lim Drive, East Point Reserve, Darwin

After a full day out exploring the beautiful Litchfield National Park near Darwin, my plans to experience a spectacular sunset over the ocean were scuttled when I had a blow-out on my 4WD in the middle of nowhere. Luckily I still had a faint signal on one mobile phone (how I wished I’d borrowed a satphone from work though) and RAC were soon on their way to help.

Hurtling back to Darwin I could see the sun disappearing fast and I knew my dreams of sipping a glass of wine whilst enjoying the sun melt into the water were gone. Nonetheless, hungry and worried that all the restaurants would be shut by the time I got back to the hotel for a shower, I headed for my original destination, Pee Wee’s at the Point.

The sky was almost dark by the time I got there and I could see the lights of Darwin lighting up across the bay. I could imagine how beautiful it would have been an hour earlier. Friendly wait staff showed me to a table with the best night-time view and I settled back with a glass of Henry’s 7 shiraz viognier from SA. The wine list was pretty good with lots to choose from by the glass including sparkling shiraz (must remember this for Orlando).

My starter was a single bug tail raviolo with lemon thyme and a tomato confit. It looked innocuous enough but it was divine: I was almost full afterwards.

Having been recommended to eat all the barramundi I could in NT, I chose a pan roasted crispy skin barramundi fillet, marinated in green spice paste, with coral Enoki mushrooms, asparagus, a crispy mudcrab potato cake and sea urchin butter. Couldn’t actually tell there was real sea urchin in the butter, but nonetheless the whole dish was fabulous – well balanced, beautifully presented and the fish was falling apart with freshness. The tiny rectangular potato cakes looked innocuous enough: delicious and full of flavour, but very heavy. Despite myself I could not finish them. I am not sure they “went” with the rest of the dish – maybe more of a dumpling idea would have been preferable.
Sitting back with a pot of peppermint tea I could imagine why this is one of the favourite dining spots of Darwin. I will certainly make plans to get here in time for sunset next time I am in town.

fiddling while Rome burns


The Strand, Williamstown

It turns out I have a day off on Friday, a day with an extreme fire danger. Needing to go out into the fresh air rather than sit inside, despite the high temperatures, I head to Williamstown.

The Strand restaurant overlooks the marina and the city. On a Friday lunchtime it is quiet enough, with only two of the terrace tables occupied. I sit at the table with the best view and the further position from the crying baby, and settle in with my new copy of Vanity Fair.

The menu is short but appetising. An array of seafood, fresh pasta and steak proves difficult to choose from. I struggle to choose between a tiger prawn and rocket risotto and a seafood curry. The seafood curry wins out.

My starter, a Greek salad, is chunky and delicious, with just the right amount of olive oil and oregano but sadly missing the red onion promised on the menu. There could be a lot more feta cheese – two chunks is miserly even without considering the price.

The seafood curry, strangely, is served with risoni instead of rice, a bit like a bouillabaisse. I am put off momentarily but the dish wins out in the end. I scoop up tiger prawns, lumps of white fish, freshly steamed mussels and the odd scallop all swimming in a hot coconutty red curry gravy. It lasts an age.

Across the road a young man lets his girlfriend have a try on his shiny new motorbike. She wobbles wildly and he stops her before she topples over. Undeterred, she tries again, swerving madly behind some grasses which obscure her inevitable downfall. I, and the people at the table beside me, stop eating to watch the spectacle. The young bloke runs towards the girl, alarmed. We can’t see the motorbike but can just about see the sun glinting off the top of her helmet as she sits, no doubt despondent, in the shrubbery. Moments later, he has the motorbike back on its wheels. He caresses it fondly. No sign of giving the girl a hand up. Both tables wail as a stationery van parks in front of us momentarily, blocking our view. You couldn’t pay for this quality of live entertainment over lunch.

I finish my glass of Wild Duck Creek shiraz malbec and gaze across the city. The haze is partially from the weather and partially from the fires still going across the state, many today quite close to the city. My colleagues are watching the Country Fire Association fire list grow and deploying volunteers to where the people are congregating. Like Nero I sit and do what I do to relax. Today is not my day.

At just over $70, my two course lunch with wine was worth it. Discreet and friendly service, perfect setting, excellent food (notwithstanding my lack of red onion – I like red onion). I will be back for dinner some evening.

>The Station Hotel

>Station Hotel
59 Napier Street Footscray

Adam and I ventured into the inner west for dinner tonight. A convenient fifteen minute walk from my house turned out to be more like half an hour, so I was late for our date and I found Adam outside on the pavement. The bar at the Station is still a bit of a standard suburban Melbourne hotel, and a little less fragrant than the boy is used to… I concurred when I wandered in, I have to say. I would not have been too relaxed sipping a nice glass of red at the bar by myself.

Undeterred, we presented ourselves at the dining room which upon first glance appeared a little crowded, a little noisy, a little lacking in atmosphere. We are usually more interested in the gossip and the wine than the food, but we both noticed it. A glass of 2004 McLaren Vale Brini shiraz grenache soothed us as we perused the menu: heavy on the steaks, and to my alarm very heavy on the seafood as starters. Adam does not do fish. Ever.

He reassured me that he would not starve, and we both chose soup for starter: mine a provencal fish soup and his a traditional French onion soup. Both were excellent.

Our charming Mancunian waiter took us through the complexities of a menu with no less than eight steaks on there. The provenance of each was listed along with where it was farmed, what it was fed, and the length of time it was aged. The only thing we were not privy to was the beast’s name.

Eventually we both settled upon the same thing: a 250g Sher Wagyu (Victoria) 450 day grain fed wagyu rostbiff. This means it comes from a cow from a particular breed which has been fed on a special grain diet for at least 450 days. A rostbiff cut is part of the rump – the rump without the cap, if that means anything to you.

For the uninitiated, wagyu beef is from a breed of cattle that is genetically predisposed to intense marbling of the flesh, giving the steak an incredible tenderness and flavour. I had never eaten one until tonight.

Our steaks were served simply, with a generous green salad, some chunky chips and some bearnaise and pepper sauces on the side. They did not disappoint. Without exception I can say this this was simply the best steak I have ever eaten. Adam reckoned a steak he’d been served in Chicago some months earlier came pretty close, but he was deeply impressed too.

We ate slowly, carefully. I put my knife and fork down after every second mouthful. This was a meal not to be rushed.

After carefully enjoying every morsel, we were tempted by dessert. My bread and butter pudding was feted as one of the best desserts in Melbourne: it was very good, but not the best I’ve had. Adam’s dessert special of pannacotta, berry compote and blood orange sorbet went down a treat. Again, he savoured every mouthful, and declared it the best dessert he had ever had. The strange tiny red berry-type things in his compote we could not identify until the waiter explained that it was sago.

Food aside, the decor of the restaurant area was fine, but the layout of the tables was a little institutional. It needs something to break up the monotony of three simple columns of tables, and maybe make things a bit more intimate at least in places. Some more comfortable seating would also be welcomed. Both us had numb backsides after the first hour.

Not bad for a simple straightforward suburban hotel, even if the new owner used to be the executive chef at the Botanical. If they could just make the bar more welcoming to diners before and after dinner, they will really be onto a winner.

Nevertheless, I am delighted such excellent steaks are being served so close to home. This will become a regular haunt, no doubt.


>Busselton Highway, Margaret River, WA

Saturday night in one of the best wine-producing regions in Australia. We had a reservation in Waves, a well-known seafood restaurant on the main strip in the town. We’d been out all day marvelling at the amazing scenery of the Southern and Indian Oceans, and vainly looking for whales. I was ready for dinner and more than ready for a glass of wine.

The restaurant was almost full when we arrived: we were glad we’d booked. The restaurant appeared to be run by a husband and wife team, the husband cooking and the wife running front of house. We got a table away from the windswept door and settled in to read the menu.

The first thing that I noticed was that the menu had no alcoholic drinks on it, and no other wine list was offered. To my horror I realised that when the man had said earlier on that they were BYO, he meant BYO only. Shit. I would never drink a bottle of wine on my own, Orlando doesn’t drink red and we were leaving the next morning on a plane to Melbourne. There was no point in heading to the off-licence for a bottle now.

I was sitting in the middle of a wine region with only sparkling water to drink.

Orlando sensibly tried to take my mind off things while we read the menu. It was late by Australian small-town standards: 8.30pm meant a few things were off the menu. Spookily we both chose the same things – seafood chowder to start, followed by swordfish.

We are both huge fans of chowder. I have never been able to find a decent recipe to make at home, so we always order it when we see it. It is difficult to better some decent Boston chowder or the legendary Moran’s of the Weir chowder served with real Irish brown bread.

This was not half bad. Laden with white fish, king prawns, mussels and crayfish, it had no cream in the base but it was full of flavour. We made it last by dunking our bread into the broth, and savouring every mouthful. It was sensational.

I go on and off swordfish, so I haven’t had it for a long time. This was beautiful: served with roasted tomatoes, green beans and creamy mash, everything was drizzled with basil oil and the fish was perfectly cooked. Again, we ate slowly to make it last.

Around us the tables slowly emptied. A local couple, well-known to the owners, came in late and were treated like royalty. I could hear the chef talking to the sous-chef, telling him quietly that these were very special customers and he should take special care preparing their food.

There was no chance of dessert: we were stuffed. Despite the disastrous no-wine situation (and those of you who know me understand) it was a great meal. I would have no hesitation recommending Waves as a good place to dine in Margaret River – but don’t forget to pick up a bottle of the local stuff before heading in.


>85 Bussell Highway, Margeret River, WA

Our first Friday night in the town of Margaret River, the centre of the eponymous wine region, and I was ready to go. My appetite whetted by a bottle of Clairault cabernet sauvignon in my hotel room, and numerous other local wines by the glass, I was looking forward to a couple of evenings with good food and good local wine to enjoy. Wino’s did not disappoint.

A casual bar and restaurant, Wino’s boasts an excellent wine list and a good choice of wines by the glass, which is what I am always looking for. We arrived early for our table and settled into the bar with glass of Juniper Estate cabernet for me – served in my very own baby carafe. The bar food listing itself was tempting – fresh Coffin Bay oysters, raw or Kilpatrick; chorizo; duck pate and goose rillette. The clientele seemed to be a mix of locals and visitors, with plenty of people around us being welcomed back again or engaging in a bit of local gossip with the wait staff.

In the restaurant, the menu was not the longest, but there were plenty of specials on order and we struggled to choose. I went for a fresh ravioli with pumpkin which was divine: plump and bursting with flavour. Orlando’s calamari and chorizo was similarly appetising: it should have been served with mussels but he negotiated larger portions of the other two ingredients instead. I am not sure it would have worked with the giant mussells invariably served here in Aus.

Given we were not in a Chinese restaurant, it was no surprise that Orlando ordered pork belly for his main course. Beautifully presented on a rectangular platter, the portion size was not large but the flavours were good and the pork properly crispy.

My fillet of snapper was served on a bed of comfort-food mash and drizzled with the essence of the Mediterranean itself.

I can see why this place gets booked up for weekend dinners long in advance. I availed myself of a few postcards at the counter on the way out. I would not have been unhappy eating there two nights in a row.

>Brisbane Hotel

>292 Beaufort Street, Northbridge, Perth WA

A night out with old colleague Johnno, his partner Chrissie and Orlando in Perth was a welcome change from eating alone. Johnno recommended the Brisbane Hotel, having heard good things about it.

As is fitting for a Perth bar, much of the Brisbane’s footprint is outdoor seating. I guess that is a selling point on those balmy Mediterranean nights. In August, however, although the day had been warm and sunny, the nights are still cold, so we chose an outdoor table close to a heater for our drinks, ready to wander indoors when we ordered food.

At the bar the wines by the glass were decent enough. The three rather large cockroaches scuttling along high on the wall above the bar were a little off-putting though.

We drank and chatted and ordered food. Three of us went for the fish and chips, reputed to be the best in town. Orlando ordered a salmon Caesar salad. We were not disappointed. The fish was impossibly fresh and perfectly cooked in the lightest of tempura batter. The chips were fresh and hot. Orlando’s Caesar salad certainly looked the part, with a huge lump of char grilled salmon atop a tower of salad (which in itself was impressive).

The inside area was certainly not as atmospheric as the outside: we sat at a high table on bar stools like most others, and the layout implied a focus on large groups drinking rather than a more intimate gathering. Nonetheless, not a bad place to spend the evening when the importance was firmly on catching up, chatting and putting the world to rights.