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The historic tunnels underneath Seppelt Winery are now open to the public thanks to local businessman Dan Ahchow.

Find your drive at Seppelt Winery

If a place could express a personality, the Grampians region would be characterised by a quiet kind of modesty. Where many destinations within driving distance of Melbourne jostle to be noticed, this hamlet (only two-and-a-half-hours from the CBD) has the tourism drawcards without the look-at-me noise.

Cue a visit to the Seppelt Winery in the town of Great Western. While the history of this winery (now owned by Treasury Wine Estates) and the sparkling wines on offer at the cellar door are enough to justify the trip, it’s what is hidden below the surface that is the biggest highlight. Beneath the cellar door lies more than three kilometres of underground drives, or tunnels, which were excavated by goldminers beginning in 1868. They house private wine collections, old vintages, and tunnels of irreplaceable history (and dust – lots of dust). And they are now open for public tours and private parties thanks to Dan Ahchow, his father, and a passion for the region’s winemaking history. 

“Through friends I heard that Treasury Wine Estates had decided to mothball the Seppelt site and, knowing the historical significance, I wondered whether we could get together as locals and put our hand up to keep the site open,” says Dan, who now runs the tourism and hospitality side of Seppelt and is the managing director for Great Western Enterprises. 

The entrance to Seppelt's famous wine drives.

Originally owned by Joseph Best and his brother Henry (who eventually went on to open Best’s Great Western winery down the road), the winery was taken over by businessman Hans Irvine in 1888 after Joseph’s tragic death. Hans proved a pioneer of his time when he employed Charles Pierlot, a French winemaker, to produce sparkling wine in the traditional Champagne method.

“Intertwined with that,” says Dan, “was the fact that Hans Irvine was a politician and when Australia federated in 1901, he was the Member for the Grampians in the Federal Parliament.”

History pervades the entire site, where you can extend your stay and sleep in the original cottage built by the Best brothers, or the vine lodge built by Hans Irvine at the turn of the century. It has been occupied by some very notable visitors, including Dame Nellie Melba and Mark Twain. “Or you’ve got the glamping bell tents and the 1970s brick veneer dwelling that’s the Winemakers Quarters,” adds Dan. 

Apart from wine tastings and a meal at the Drives Café, the winery offers underground dining to groups of more than 10 people. “Each of the drives is named after someone who had an integral part in the site,” says Dan. “In the Dame Nellie Melba drive we do a lot of underground dining events and there’s a funky little bar that’s set up, too.”

Although Seppelt has certainly put Great Western on the map, it’s the dining and accommodation options cropping up that will have travellers taking notice. “Great Western is certainly a cute little wine village and the aim is to try to maintain the character,” says Dan. “We’re pretty passionate about our food. Sometimes it can be a little daunting getting in your car to drive two-and-a-half hours, wondering whether you’ll have good coffee and food. I can assure you that you can relax knowing that you’re going to be well fed.”   

Words Georgia Lejeune. She travelled as a guest of Grampians Tourism.

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol.

Enjoy windswept beach views from The Flinders Wharf. Image: Natasha Mulhall

An island home

Flinders Island locals Jo and Tom Youl have poured heart and soul into a new venue that both showcases and nurtures local talent.

If you look down as you fly into Flinders Island (via Sharp Airlines from Melbourne or Launceston) you'll mostly see open fields of green rather than fences, houses, highways or traffic lights – and this is the basis of its appeal.  

The tiny remote destination, which lies off mainland Tasmania's north-east coast, is a nature lover's dream. Until recently, though, it wasn't on the map as a restaurant destination, despite its reputation for meat and seafood production.

"It made me really sad," says Flinders Wharf co-founder Jo Youl, "that we have all this beautiful produce on the island, but you couldn't go out to eat it anywhere."

Jo and her husband Tom decided to do something about it. With the help of a local government grant and a team of helping hands they built The Flinders Wharf, a waterside restaurant and meeting place for locals and visitors alike.

Image: Natasha Mulhall. 

As you might imagine, finding staff on an island with only 900 residents can be a struggle, which is why the Youls are inviting big-name chefs to train people who live on the island during weekend kitchen takeovers. These weekend sessions are not only a drawcard for visitors (expect to see names such as David Moyle, Luke Burgess and Ali Currey-Voumard on the roster), but they also provide essential training for locals who want to improve their skills without leaving home.

No matter who is in the kitchen, you'll find seasonal Flinders Island-sourced ingredients on the menu, from crayfish to sea urchin, abalone, pears, honey and foraged ingredients like fennel pollen, stinging nettle and kelp.

You can even go find your own treats: bespoke packages offering scenic flights, diving, walking, foraging and lunch in a secret, private location are available.

The venue shares the space with zero-waste Furneaux Distillery and there's an on-site provedore, live crayfish tank and working bee hive – BYO jar and fill it with fresh honey straight from the source. On the second level you'll find incredible ocean views, a co-working space (a rarity on the island), Unique Charters and Flinders Skin & Day Spa.

Over winter, The Flinders Wharf will be open Sunday to Thursday from 8am until 5pm, and Friday to Saturday from 8am until late. The exception is the month of August, when The Flinders Wharf will be closed during the low season.

Words Nola James. She travelled as a guest of The Flinders Wharf.

Picnic flouts North Carolina traditions with its barbecued meats – and diners are loving it. Image: Eric Waters.

Sustainable "craft" barbecue in North Carolina

You know you've made it when your restaurant is listed as a neighbourhood amenity on real estate advertisements. "Five minutes to PICNIC!" cry the for-sale posters in a small yet rapidly gentrifying suburb in the city of Durham, North Carolina.

In this part of the world there's nothing unusual about living within minutes of a barbecue joint, although it doesn't usually increase property value. This is the South, after all, and pit-smoked meats are practically religion.

Here traditional barbecue means low-fi roadside stalls without table service or alcohol, where secret recipes are passed down through generations of cooks. Self-taught pitmaster Wyatt Dickson, who started out cooking pigs in law school for his frat brothers, knows he's ruffling a few feathers with his upscale restaurant and cocktail bar, but he's not going to apologise for it. "This is just who we are."

For a start, there are a lot of dishes on Picnic chef and co-owner Ben Adams's rule-breaking menu that are not in keeping with traditional North Carolina barbecue, like fried green tomatoes – "no-one owns fried green tomatoes," Dickson says – and a porky Brunswick stew, which would be more at home in Virginia or Georgia.

Then there's the smoked spare ribs and spice-rubbed brisket – these two get a section on the menu labelled “non-native barbecue”. And the fried chicken – well, it's not barbecue, but it's not an afterthought, either. Free-range birds are brined in smoked buttermilk for an extra meaty flavour. The dish is so popular that a couple of months after opening, Adams had to double the number of deep fryers.

Pitmaster Wyatt Dickson and chef Ben Adams. Image: Eric Waters. 

If there is one area of Dickson's cooking that's North Carolina through and through it's the pulled pork. His heritage-breed whole hogs cook for 18 hours over wood and charcoal in custom-built smokers before they're hand-pulled to make sure every order contains only the good stuff.

The pigs are bred to order by business partner and occasional bartender Ryan Butler. He's also a free-range pig farmer with a small farm about 10 minutes away that caters specifically to the restaurant.

"Not all pigs are barbecue pigs", says Dickson. "This way we have an exclusive relationship with the farmer. 

"You've got to have the right amount of fat [on the pig], in the right place and in the right quantity, and to get that, well, it all comes down to how they're raised."

If you ask the traditionalists, Picnic isn't "real" North Carolina barbecue. The prices are higher because free-range meat costs more. They serve cocktails (until late!). The barbecue sauce is a mix of vinegar-based eastern and tomato-based western Carolina styles. Why? Because when you own a restaurant you can do whatever you want, and Dickson and his crew like it that way.

So, you might call it "craft" barbecue, or "yuppie-cue", but whatever it is, it's a celebration of progressive Southern dining that caters to a diverse population.

"A lot of people are not from here," Dickson says, "so we're only 'sort of' traditional." And judging by the full house night after night, it seems a lot of people really like it. 

Words Nola James

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol.

A Melbourne institution 135 years in the making

After being closed since 2015, Melbourne’s iconic King & Godfree is back in business – and it’s now much more than a grocery store.

If you don’t count the last four years of construction, there’s been a deli and grocery on the corner of Carlton’s Lygon and Faraday streets since 1884. But this renowned locale – in the heart of Melbourne’s world-famous Italian café precinct – has never been home to a gelataria, rooftop bar, café and wine bar. Drop by next time you’re in the Victorian capital to see it for yourself.

Known as King & Godfree (or K&G to the locals), the culinary venture has been in the Valmorbida family since 1955. Its latest iteration, which opened its doors in December 2018, is the brainchild of Italian food patriarch Carlo Valmorbida’s grandchildren, Jamie Valmorbida and Luca Sbardella, who have given the space a major facelift.

At street level – in the same building as cult gelateria Pidapipó – you’ll find a one-stop shop inspired by the gastronomias of Rome stocked with Italian and locally-sourced meats, cheeses, fresh pastas and house-made antipasto. 

It sits alongside a cafe space that transforms into a casual wine bar in the evening. If you’re looking for brunch, enjoy house-roasted espresso, panino stuffed with cold cuts and cheese, or a plate of salumi. The party really starts after 4pm with aperitivo hour and a rotating selection of complementary cicchetti (Venetian-inspired snacks like chips, olives and croquettes).  

While we’re still on the ground floor, by mid-year (at the latest) you’ll be able to enjoy a more formal dining experience at Agostino, billed as a neighbourhood wine bar, shop and cellar.

The intimate 50-seat space, which has its own entrance on Lygon Street, is modelled on the classic enotecas of Italy and will offer a short, sharp menu ranging from marinated olives, crudo and oysters, to delicious fried snacks and five or six pastas, backed by a few main plates.

In a sustainable step there will also be an ever-evolving tap wine program, which includes an exclusive gargenega by Yarra Valley winemaker Mac Forbes, and a 50-bottle list that covers all bases from classic to natural, Italian to Australian.

A reserve list features wines from the venue’s cellar wine room (which will be available for private events), including rare and fine wines that have been cellared since King & Godfree closed in 2015. 

But the crowning glory (literally) has to be Johnny’s Green Room, a breezy rooftop bar with views of Melbourne’s skyline that’s named for a long gone but not forgotten Carlton dive bar that was frequented by local musicians, artists and students during the 1960s and ’70s. 

There’s space for around 200 people (and with those views they’ll need it). Pull up a pew on a terrazzo bench that was repurposed during the building’s most recent renovation and tuck into arancini, polpetti and prawn sandwiches while sipping a namesake K&G spritz of pompelo, grapefruit and prosecco. 

  • Johnny’s Green Room is open from noon–late daily
  • King & Godfree Espresso bar is open from 7am–late daily
  • King & Godfree Deli and Grocer is open from 8am–8pm daily
  • Agostino is scheduled to open by mid-2019 

Words Nola James

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Thanks to sophisticated new venues like Alibi, Sydney's hotel restaurants are changing for the better.

Five-star hotel dining in Sydney

Once the preserve of clueless tourists and Groupon voucher-toting locals, Sydney's hotel restaurants now host some of the city's best fine dining.

Chef Takashi Sano is tending to one nigiri at a time, using just a fingertip to dab soy over a sliver of peach-pink ocean trout that sits atop a throne of vinegared sushi rice. Behind the counter beside him are others in chef’s whites, some glazing morsels of kingfish and tuna in sauce using small wooden pastry brushes, others searing salmon with blowtorches and depositing sashimi onto platters of dry ice.

It’s Friday night at Sydney’s Sokyo, and the restaurant is humming with activity. Yet, despite the zippy tempo of the dining room soundtrack, the stream of waitstaff in every direction and the animated chatter of the many punters, the kitchen is a bubble of unwavering, monk-like focus.

For the last six years in a row, Sokyo has won a hat at the Good Food Guide awards – not to mention plaudits from Gourmet Traveller, Time Out Sydney and the AFR. But the Japanese eatery, located in the lobby of The Darling hotel, is just one of a growing number of hotel restaurants upping the ante in Sydney.

Dine in at Sokyo to enjoy a contemporary menu full of sashimi, tempura and melt-in-the-mouth meats. 

Within the same complex as Sokyo lies three-hatted restaurant Momofuku Seiobo, where executive chef Paul Carmichael brings a Bajan twist to Australian ingredients and inventive Asian-European fare. It has proven a smash with the critics, garnering an array of formidable titles such as Australia’s Restaurant of the Year (twice) and Best Fine Dining Restaurant (Time Out Sydney Food Awards 2016).

In the neighbouring suburb of Chippendale, boutique heritage hotel The Old Clare houses yet another standout dining option: one-hatted Automata. Here, modern Australian fare is always on the menu, the five- and seven-course tasting menus an ode to seasonal ingredients and bold flavours, with seafood a regular fixture.

One of the most groundbreaking newcomers on the hotel dining scene is nestled snugly within the Ovolo Woolloomooloo, where the industrial guts of a former wharf and passenger terminal meet whimsical design. Open since March 2018, Alibi is the first hotel bar and kitchen in Australia to offer 100 per cent plant-based degustation dining. Headed by prestigious SoCal chef Ed Kenney, the menu elevates humble ingredients (pulses, roots, seeds, fruits) to rockstar status – kimchi dumplings topped with a cloud of ginger foam; kelp fashioned into tendrils of spaghetti and served with dehydrated olive dust; charcoal steamed buns that cradle roasted carrots and cashew hoisin.

“There is a huge amount of competition in the Sydney hotel scene,” explains Alibi’s head chef Jordan Brogan, of the experimental fare now concocted in the city’s kitchens. “People are starting to travel just to go to a certain restaurant. Hotels are focusing more on having the best restaurant around, not just a nice restaurant in a hotel for the guests to eat. We want to be the next big thing.” 

Words Chloe Cann

This jaw-dropping view makes Lightfoot and Sons' cellar door a must-visit.

Explore Gippsland’s forgotten corner

It’s ironic, but until recently East Gippsland wasn't known for its culinary scene, despite its reputation as a prolific food bowl. That’s all changing with an influx of superstar chefs and up-and-coming winemakers, who are putting down roots in the region and transforming it into an exciting new hub for food and wine lovers.

Take the freeway three and a half hours east of Melbourne to explore these gems yourself.

Lightfoot and Sons

When I arrive at Lightfoot and Sons, my breath catches. The cellar door is suspended over a sheer drop, which opens up into a wide agricultural valley.

Rob Lightfoot, who runs the family winery with his brother Tom, effortlessly multi-tasks as multiple groups drop in for a tasting. “They have to travel out here specifically to find this place,” he explains. “We’re not on a main highway like a lot of wineries.”

They might be tucked away on a back road 15 minutes outside of Bairnsdale, but it’s clear they don’t have to worry about a lack of visitors. This could have something to do with those sweeping deck views – unsurprisingly, the cellar door was named among Gippsland’s best by Gourmet Traveller Wine in 2018 – or it could be because of their award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay, which have been hailed by wine critics, including James Halliday.  

The winery is open for tastings every day from 11am. 

The Lightfoots’ success didn’t come without some trial and error in their early years. When the vineyard was first established by their parents Brian and Helen Lightfoot in 1995, they planted varieties like cabernet sauvignon and merlot that haven’t thrived in Bairnsdale’s coastal climate. “It’s been a bit of a learning experience,” Rob admits. But that fearlessness serves the winery well today. Winemakers Tom and Alastair Butt have recently started experimenting with some limited releases – their most recent being a 50/50 blend of pinot noir and shiraz.

“A lot of people coming out here want to see the different stuff,” Rob says. “It’s a great way to keep things interesting in the winery.”   

The Long Paddock

In nearby Lindenow, a sleepy town overlooking sunburnt river flats and distant mountain ranges, I stumble across the Long Paddock, a rustic café with unexpected pedigree. It’s run by husband and wife team Anton Eisenmenger and Tanya Bertino, who earned their stripes in restaurants such as Circa in Melbourne and the Ledbury in London before moving back to Bertino’s rural hometown.

Tanya Bertino and Anton Eisenmenger transformed an old bakery into their popular country café

Everything about this café is homey – from the living room-style décor and mismatched chairs to the delicate floral china. Though Eisenmenger and Bertino have a long history in fine dining, they prefer to serve up unpretentious dishes that celebrates the region’s produce.

I enjoy a generous helping of local spinach, brie and spring onion tart, with pickles and Riviera mâche, so creamy you want to lap it up with a spoon. But it’s the dessert cabinet that really draws my attention, with its patisserie-friendly collection of fruit tarts, cakes and pies. I choose a meringue with homemade fruit salad sorbet, strawberries and cream, and it’s just like mum’s cooking – dialled up to 11.  

Sardine Eatery and Bar

Less than a year after opening, Sardine Eatery and Bar received a one hat rating at the Good Food Guide Awards. This is testament to the hard work that chef Mark Briggs and partner Victoria Hollingsworth have put into their sophisticated venue.  

The eatery is a focal point in the coastal town of Paynesville, where it sits opposite the ferry to Raymond Island. Briggs, who served as head chef at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, is passionate about sustainable seafood, and makes it a point to incorporate less popular fish into his skilful dishes. This includes the restaurant’s hero dish, whole sardines from nearby Lakes Entrance, which are traditionally – and, as I discover after tasting them, unfairly – shunned by Australians.

No visit to Sardine is complete without trying the namesake dish – whole Lakes Entrance sardines with coriander mojo.

Briggs also adapts his menu according to the catch of the day. During my visit, the whole fish is creamy coral perch with samphire and smoked tomato. For those who don’t eat seafood, there are equally innovative vegetarian and meat dishes on offer, from honey glazed zucchini flowers to Gippsland pork loin with burnt onion broth.

Northern Ground

After only recently taking over Northern Ground, chef and owner Rob Turner has rebranded the Bairnsdale café into a sleek, almost rebellious eatery that stands in stark contrast to the more traditional township around it.

“I wanted to give people somewhere different to go in Bairnsdale,” he explains. “Somewhere almost Melbourne-like.”

The venue certainly looks the part – it’s outfitted with dark wood benches and defiant street art. The courtyard is reminiscent of a city laneway. And the menu is all about modernising country cooking while leaning on local produce – my toasted banana bread is decorated with berries from Picnic Point Farm just down the road and whipped honey yoghurt from nearby Kalimna.

Northern Ground is quickly becoming a go-to brunch spot in Bairnsdale thanks to its creative menu.

“I don’t go down the local route just to say that it’s local,” Turner explains. “I use local because it’s the best. Why wouldn’t you use it when it’s right on your doorstep?” 

Turner, who was a development chef for Marks and Spencer in the UK, was drawn to Gippsland for the lifestyle and can’t see himself leaving now that the region is starting to change. “You used to have to go to the city if you wanted to eat quality dishes, but it’s more collaborative now, hospitality here … and people are really loving it.” 

Words Emily Tatti. She travelled as a guest of East Gippsland Marketing Inc.

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Pennicott Wilderness Journeys take visitors on a seafood adventure off Bruny Island.

The freshest seafood in Tasmania

In Tasmania, there’s nothing quite like going out on the water and hooking a prized catch. Sure, restaurants and cooking schools such as the Franklin, the Agrarian Kitchen Eatery and Palate are all adept at showcasing Tasmanian produce, but getting out of the restaurant setting adds a fresh dimension to the food experience.

Next time you’re on Australia’s southern isle, try one of these day adventures.

Tasmanian Seafood Seduction

As experiences go, few rival Pennicott Wilderness Journeys for sheer indulgence. After jumping aboard at Hobart’s Constitution Dock, a full day of cruising the pristine waters off Bruny Island awaits. As we take our first sips of local wine and cider, a sack of freshly harvested oysters is shucked aboard the boat, and some guests quickly get in on the action. Skipper Kate Wilson suits up and takes the plunge into the clear waters, pulling up sea urchin and abalone. She then prepares fresh crayfish, taking us through the process step-by-step so we understand how she’s getting the best out of the catch.

Rockjaw Tours

A visit to the Furneaux Islands, in the east of Bass Strait, is unforgettable. This area has a true island spirit that makes Hobart look like a bustling metropolis. Chris Rhodes, known to most as “Rockjaw”, runs tours from Flinders Island both on land and water, searching for seasonal catches. We jump aboard Roxette in search of the famed Flinders Island crayfish. Our small group of five learns from Rockjaw, and by the end we’re setting and pulling craypots like experts.

Travel during the Flinders Island Food and Crayfish Festival (from 11-14 April 2019) to enjoy seafood prepared by some of Australia's best chefs.


This family-owned tour company dwells somewhere between fly-fishing masterclass and meditation retreat. Guests can enjoy guided tours into Tasmania’s inner waterways on single or multi-day trips. 

Stepping into the Esk River, the water flows fast and strong and the stones underfoot are slippery. But once the lesson begins, we start to understand the technique that seems so elusive – even if we don’t quite master it. We cast for brown and rainbow trout; some of the last wild trout left in the world. It’s another experience that confirms Tasmania as a next-level food destination.

Words Max Brearley

Discover another side to Victoria’s High Country

Prosecco, the eponymous northern Italian sparkling wine, put King Valley on the map in the late 1990s, when winemakers of Italian descent embraced the style. These days the region is just as famous for the fabulous wines, cheeses and mustards of central tourist hub Milawa, but drive a few kilometres south and you’ll find there’s much more to discover. 

Myrrhee Premium Boer Goats

Connie and David Northey ran a cattle farm on their 90-acre King Valley property until the bushfires of 2007 tore through their property. The cows made it out safely, but with no feed or fences left behind the pair decided it was time for a change of direction.   

They started again a year later with 35 goats (and one billy) in a process Connie refers to as “trial and error farming”. It worked: they’re now running at full capacity, which means 250 goats on 90 luscious acres where their premium boer goats are free to run, skip and bleat under the watchful protection of two large and fluffy maremma sheepdogs.

Goats playing at Connie and David's Myrrhee homestead.

Connie and David breed goats for meat, not dairy, although Connie admits she does get attached (which isn’t surprising, she knows each and every one of the herd on a first name basis). There wasn’t much interest in goat meat when they started out, but Connie says that more and more people are willing to give it a try. “Goat is significantly leaner and higher in protein than other red meats. It tastes a lot like lamb, but sweeter and without that fatty film of oil.”

If you’ve never tried it before don’t worry, it’s easy to cook. Douse it in chopped tomatoes, white wine and fresh herbs (try rosemary, oregano and parsley, but whatever you can find in your garden will work), cover it with foil and cook it low and slow for four hours or so.

King Valley Walnuts

Here’s a bit of nut trivia for you: wild deer prove a significant threat to the walnuts of the King Valley. They don’t even eat them, but they do love to scratch themselves on the sturdy branches of the tree, liberating the nuts for local wombats, echidnas and wallabies.

Luckily Carol Kunert and Mike Burston have more than 3000 walnut trees on their Myrrhee farm, so they’ve got a few to spare for the native wildlife. They also own about 300 sheep, although they’re not interested in eating the walnuts.

King Valley Walnuts' Carol Kunert with one of her 3000 walnut trees. 

“Before we moved here most of [Australia’s] walnuts came from California or China,” says Kunert, who relocated from Melbourne to the King Valley with Burston (her husband) in the early 1990s with the aim of establishing a little local competition.

“In the beginning we had to convince people to eat walnuts,” she says. Not anymore – the pair grow 25 tonnes of walnuts every year, which they sell whole, as kernels, and processed into walnut oils, pickles and flour and butter. You can stock up online and at farmers’ markets around Victoria. 

Casa Luna

“I was on the train to work one day, and I just looked around and thought, ‘I don’t have to do this’,” says David Byles of the lightbulb moment that inspired him to purchase 35 acres of remote land in Myrrhee. This was followed by the construction of four well-appointed bed and breakfast suites, and an adjacent residence that doubles as library, living room and restaurant. 

David’s partner in both life and hospitality Gwenda Canty, a former caterer, is the heart of the business, putting her superb cooking skills (and extensive collection of Italian cookbooks) to good use to create personalised three-course menus matched to local King Valley wines. 

David Byles and Gwenda Canty at Casa Luna.

If the weather’s good you can dine al fresco overlooking Boggy Creek – the waterway that runs through Casa Luna’s bottom paddock – and the produce is all seasonal, as David is a keen gardener. Time your visit for the end of the growing season and if you’re lucky, he’ll send you home with a car boot full of surplus produce.

Red Feet Wines 

Newly established King Valley winery Red Feet is a family affair. Siblings Megan (business manager), Damien (winemaker) and Vince Star (cellar hand) started small 10 years ago, buying their 33ha farm and building up a piece at a time until they had enough equipment to start the Red Feet label.

These days production is in full swing, and they make a boutique range of sparkling, red and white wines from King Valley grapes. If you pop by their new cellar door they’d be more than happy to give you a tour of their adjacent sangiovese vines, whip up a cheese plate or talk you through their new releases while you look across the valley (the view is incredible).

You might even bump into a few other Stars when you’re there – Megan, Damien and Vince are only three of nine kids, although the others haven’t chosen a life of wine. Perhaps one day they may wish to reconsider. 

Sangiovese and syrah in barrel at the Red Feet Wines cellar door.

While you’re in the area, stop for a coffee and a wander at Brookfield Maze. The on-site cafe makes great espresso-style coffee, plus there’s a giant chess set, a bocce court and a 1.1 km hedge maze to explore. 

Words Nola James. She travelled as a guest of Tourism North East.  

Images Michael Pham.  

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Auckland restaurant reaches new heights

From a dizzying 53 floors up, Josh Barlow gained a new focus for The Sugar Club. The incredible view across New Zealand’s capital city reminded him of the local produce available.

“I was looking out at this view around me and I felt like I wanted more of that on the plate … we showcase the best key NZ ingredients.”

The Sugar Club has been a leader in the fusion food scene since chef Peter Gordon launched it 32 years ago. Recently celebrating its fifth anniversary at SkyCity, it has also seen an invigoration with Barlow coming on board as executive chef in May.

Peter Gordon oversees the restaurant from London, with regular visits and calls, while managing other restaurants in Auckland and England. When I interviewed them two weeks into their working relationship, Gordon said Barlow had already energised the restaurant, bringing skills honed at restaurants The Bath Priory, Hibiscus by Claude Bosi and Fera at Claridge’s.

Through their collaboration, Josh Barlow and Peter Gordon are shaking up the popular Auckland restaurant. 

“What I’m seeing Josh doing in the kitchen is this sophisticated European [style] with a backbone of France through it. It’s all about really good flavour, and that’s exciting.”

Adds Barlow: “It’s almost a fusion sort of thing between my background, coming up here. For me it’s about using all of those techniques that I’ve learned in the last 15 years and making it fit this brand.”

Finding the sweet spot

When The Sugar Club first opened, in Wellington, the food scene in New Zealand was very different. “We couldn’t find goat’s cheese, so we made our own goat’s cheese; we couldn’t find sundried tomatoes, so we made our own sundried tomatoes. We made all our own bread, which was unusual at the time. We kind of made everything because we had to,” says Gordon.

The second Sugar Club opened in London in 1995. Within six months it was named Best Pacific Rim Restaurant by the Evening Standard and received the Time Out award for Best Modern British – a contradiction that highlighted the flaunting of stereotypes and categories at the time. 

“We were like ‘we're kind of neither, really’ and that's when this term fusion came up.” 

A culinary legacy 

The concept has been used and much abused elsewhere since – but what defines good versus bad fusion?

“You've either got a good palate or you haven't. There was a time where a chef, Andrew Worral-Thompson in the UK, who said ‘fusion or confusion. They are the same’,” Gordon laughs. 

“I think with fusion it's the characteristics. If you put lemongrass in a risotto the Italians would say ‘that's a disaster, you can’t do that’. But actually rice and lemongrass are Asian and it's the Italians that add mascarpone and parmesan [in the first place]. It's about the way you look at it.”

Fusion in action: the Hawke's Bay Wagyu Hanger, with wild garlic, charred baby gem and smoked bone marrow.

The Sugar Club has both a la carte and tasting menus. The latter is not the dull marathon of some tasting menus; it’s interspersed with unexpected, fun finger-food snacks like crunchy rabbit croquettes and house-made bread which we slather with whipped butter with seaweed powder. Memorable larger dishes include a South Island monkfish with Singaporean kawakawa sauce and kimchi pumpkin; Barlow forages for the kawa kawa leaves on the way home. 

The modern touch

Despite a glut of fine dining places folding in recent years as some customers move towards more casual styles, The Sugar Club’s tasting menu is going strong. It’s probably partly because the food and atmosphere is cultivated but not pretentious, and partly because they master dietary requirements. The restaurant has vegan and vegetarian tasting menus, and when I order a regular tasting menu with gluten-free options it doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

Barlow says it’s something “we have to do now … You don't want vegetarians to be put off purely because you don't do a tasting menu for them. It’s about being imaginative with it as well. Making them feel like they are getting a similar standard of everything. They are not an afterthought.” 

The incredible view from The Sugar Club lounge. 

Local chefs have not only become more flexible, they have also seen an improvement in the ingredients available to them. When Barlow came back to New Zealand four years ago, he was impressed with how far the food scene had progressed during his stint working in the UK.

“I just saw this huge jump and there were farmer’s markets and there were people growing stuff and supplying restaurants. [There are now] interesting ingredients, interesting varieties. It’s all local, it’s all amazing.” 

As The Sugar Club continues to evolve, what’s next? Barlow says: “To keep going, to cook good food. One thing that I'm always about is constantly being better than you were last week or yesterday. I like it when … it's about the progression. That's what keeps you interested because no two days are ever the same.” 

Words Sophie Hull 

Viva vermouth – try this recipe

Vermouth – wine infused with botanicals – has long been one of the world’s most versatile cocktail ingredients. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to make a negroni, a martini or a manhattan without it. 

We recently dived into the world of vermouth in the latest edition of Mercedes me magazine, and now we would like to share an exclusive recipe from new book The Book of Vermouth, which celebrates all things vermouth.

Melbourne Fruit Cup

This modern-take on a Pimm’s cup only uses products that have been made in Melbourne, where Book of Vermouth authors Shaun Byrne and Gilles Lapalus are based. You can, of course, use whatever brands you like to make this lower-in-alcohol cocktail.


30ml Maidenii Classic vermouth
30ml Melbourne Gin Company gin
45ml Capi dry ginger ale
45ml Capi lemonade
Ice cubes
Strawberries and basil leaves, to garnish


Combine the vermouth and gin in a chilled Collins glass, then gently pour in the ginger ale and lemonade.

Carefully top with ice cubes to retain the fizz, then garnish with strawberries and basil leaves.

Image and recipe courtesy of The Book Of Vermouth by Shaun Byrne and Gilles Lapalus. Published by Hardie Grant Books. RRP $39.99.

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Plaza de la Constitucion in San Sebastian Old Town.

San Sebastian: a culinary delight

It’s easy to see why Spain’s San Sebastian is one of the world’s culinary hot spots. It has 10 Michelin-starred restaurants, four establishments named among the World’s Top 50 Restaurants, and Lonely Planet recently named pintxos, or Basque tapas, as the top foodie experience anywhere.

Splurge at Michelin three-starred gems such as Akelarre, Arzak and Martin Berasategui, and savour the always playful innovative dishes at Mugaritz, currently ranked the ninth-best restaurant in the world. This, by the way, is where Australian chef Dan Hunter of Brae was a head chef for two years. Dine also at Michelin one-starred Mirador de Ulia, where the panoramic views over San Sebastian and its bays are as delectable as the cuisine.

Gourmet days

While you can find a serviceable cup of coffee pretty much anywhere, it’s well worth crossing the Urumea River to Sakona Coffee Roasters in the Gros neighbourhood. Owned by four-time Spanish barista champion Javier Garcia, Sakona is an airy, light-filled space where you can enjoy an excellent espresso, and filter coffee from beans roasted in nearby Irun. They do a pretty good smashed avocado on toast, too.

Slow cooked duck at Mirador de Ulia.

For lunch, head around the corner to the newish Topa Sukalderia, an inspired casual restaurant of polished concrete and wood that is the brainchild of Mugaritz’s Andoni Luis Aduriz. With dishes like Basque pork tacos, tuna ceviche, chocolate quesadillas and some mighty fine pisco sours, Topa Sukalderia celebrates the centuries of history that connect Basques with Latin America. Another lunch option is to try out the creations of next-gen chefs at the cafeteria of the pioneering Basque Culinary Centre.

After dark

Before long, it’s pintxos time. You can’t really go wrong here, except by not trying a bunch of places. Do some research to find the house specialties of old-school places, such as Bar Txepetxa, which offers mighty fine boquerones (vinegar-cured anchovies) on crusty bread with diced peppers and onion.

Hang out with the locals at Bar Antonio in the downtown area and try their sublime potato and onion tortilla Espagnola, crayfish aioli, and house-cured anchovies. Excellent larger dishes, or raciones, include carpaccio de atún rojo, paper-thin slices of tuna sprinkled with slivers of red and green guindilla peppers as well as made-to-order hot dishes such as a delectable langoustine ravioli.

Ganbara is a jewel in the heart of the old town. Its bar is groaning with tantalising dishes that go down well with the excellent wine selection. Be sure and savour the delicious white asparagus, crab tartlets, duck foie gras and an assortment of sublime grilled seasonal mushrooms.

End your evening with an excellent gin and tonic at La Gintonería Donostiarra, which has a selection of some of the finest gins in the world. 

Words Susan Gough Henly

Dining in the desert

There was a none-too-distant time when most Australians’ knowledge of native foodstuffs was limited to witchetty grubs and survival tips from 1980s TV show The Bush Tucker Man. Recently, however, bush foods have gone mainstream – attracting fine-dining plaudits for their distinct flavours and ‘superfood’ credentials. And arguably there could be no more apt setting for a bush-tucker inspired feast than an open-air restaurant in Australia’s arid heart. 

Sunset sessions

Tali Wiru – meaning 'beautiful dune' in the Pitjantjatjara language of the local Anangu – takes place atop a blazing red hill overlooking Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The crowning experience of Ayers Rock Resort’s Bush Tucker Journeys, the four-course degustation is a manifestation of the Voyages group’s efforts to weave Indigenous elements into the visitor experience of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

Diners (limited to 20 per night) arrive in time to catch the photographic golden hour over the vast landscape. As sunset illuminates Uluru, waiters appear with canapés: smoked crocodile with tart Davidson plum in a pillowy bao; seared South Australian scallops with a finger-lime dressing; and beetroot puree on a Tasmanian mountain-pepper crostini with Kakadu plum – the planet’s most potent natural source of vitamin C.

Tucking in

The small, open-sided kitchen issuing these bites is a hive of activity, with executive chef Vanessa Grace at its helm. In developing her menu, Grace took the opportunity to experiment with a gamut of native morsels. Many of these foods, Grace explains, were traditionally eaten straight from the plant or ground, but prove too sour or astringent for many palates in their raw forms. Instead, she integrates the age-old flavours into Modern Australian cuisine.

One of the innovative Australian dishes on offer – rosella and lychee petit gateaux.

Ingredients range from the distant (Glacier 51 Toothfish from the Antarctic Heard Islands), to those from ‘just down the road’ (Alice Springs quandongs, fermented and paired with pressed wallaby). Throughout, bush-food flavours punch through – such as the beads of finger lime on an entree of king prawns, or an ‘Aussie Pav’ sprinkled with citric green ants (a garnish worth hundreds of dollars per kilo). Matched wines represent iconic regional drops, including chardonnay from Margaret River and Mornington Peninsula pinot noir.

Kicking back with the stars

Just as guests fall into the dreamlike torpor of good food and wine, the lanterns are extinguished for a stargazing session on the restaurant’s celestial ceiling. First is a classical lesson, identifying zodiac constellations and the bearing for due south (which, out here, would send you on a 1000km trek to the SA coast).

But the highlight is the Indigenous star talk. Australia’s First People, thought to be the world’s first astrologers, navigated by the stars for tens of thousands of years, and Voyages’ guides share a handful of the many mythologies stamped across the sky. Diners finish their night around a fire pit clutching hot chocolate or cognac, left with ancient stories on their minds and a new appreciation of Australia’s home-grown bounty. 

Words Krysia Bonkowski. She travelled as a guest of Voyages Indigenous Tourism.

Oyster shucking at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, Maine.

The most surprising foodie town in America

Portland in Oregon may be the epicentre of American hipster chic, with beards and tats and lattes till the cows come home. But there happens to be another Portland, one that doesn’t take itself quite so earnestly, on the other side of the United States – the formerly gritty port city on the south coast of Maine.

Set on Casco Bay on the Atlantic coast north of Boston, the 'other' Portland may have just 63,000 inhabitants but there are 536 registered food service establishments, which means one restaurant or food truck for every 118 people. It even trumps San Francisco as the city with the most restaurants per capita in the United States. Way back in 2009, Bon Appetit magazine named Portland the Foodiest Small Town in America.

It certainly helps that just outside its doorstep are some remarkable raw materials. More than forty-five million kilograms of lobster are hauled from Maine’s icy waters every year. And there are clams, oysters, scallops, crabs, cockles and mussels not to mention Atlantic Bluefin tuna, mackerel, cod, bluefish, and much more. Maine wild strawberries are prized and so are its many varieties of potatoes and apples, its Berkshire pigs and belted Galloway cattle, its wild mushrooms and maple syrup. 

Bite into Maine, a popular Portland food truck offering fresh lobster rolls and sandwiches.

Culinary trailblazers transformed these impressive raw materials into dishes that draw people to Portland just to eat. Sam Hayward started the restaurant Fore Street in the late 1990s with a locavore focus and wood-burning oven and Rob Evans transformed Hugo’s restaurant in 2000 to feature locally foraged, fished and farmed products. Both are still going strong. 

Hayward also has Scales Restaurant, specialising in sparkling fresh Maine seafood on the renovated Portland pier while his business partners, Dana Street and Victor Leon, offer seafood with a Mediterranean twist at Street and Co. in a classic Portland red-brick building nearby. Not far away, Christopher and Paige Gould offer a daily changing menu at Central Provisions, where diners can sit at the bar and watch the chefs in action.

Pop into Eventide Oyster Co. and you'll enjoy the buzziest oyster bar in the country serving more than a dozen different varieties as well as terrific cocktails and some of Portland's best craft beers. Owners Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley also run the edgy Asian fusion spot, The Honey Paw, on one side and Hugo’s on the other. Rob Evans is down the street with his hugely popular Duck Fat restaurant, which specialises in homemade sandwiches and, you guessed it, duck-fat fries.

Japanese-born, New York-trained Masa Miyake is another trailblazer who has been serving Maine seafood like lobster, sea urchin, mussels and swordfish with a Japanese twist. His spin-off Pai Men Miyake restaurant offers gyoza and tonkatsu ramen from the pigs and chickens he raises on his own farm.

Portland is a thriving brew town too. Be sure and visit Rising Tide and Allagash breweries and for a local watering hole, check out the atmospheric Blyth and Burrows.

While you’re here, for old time’s sake, don’t forget to grab a lobster roll at the Bite into Maine food trucks. And for dessert, go to The Holy Donut for a wild Maine blueberry donut made not from flour but Maine potatoes.

Words Susan Gough Henly

Pt Leo Estate’s dining rooms, cellar door and terrace all overlook the sculpture garden.

Pt Leo Estate’s five-star dining destination

It is a truth scientifically proven that wine tastes better when paired with a stunning view. That’s why Pt Leo Estate’s latest chardonnay (recently awarded 95 points by Halliday magazine) is best enjoyed at flagship fine-dining room, Laura.

Of course, the accompanying scallop pie (crostoli-like pastry filled with buttery bay scallops and topped with sweet caramelised onions) helps, too.

The recently opened 45-seater – named for, and overlooking, Jaume Plensa’s eponymous seven-metre-tall? sculpture – is the latest addition to the eight-month-old winery and sculpture park at Merricks, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

Laura’s interior is a step up from the bistro dining room, replete with leather-topped tables and hand-blown Zalto glasswear.

The estate is only a youngster – vines were planted on the property in 2004 and the $50 million sculpture park (curated by Geoffrey Edwards, previously of the NGV), 120-seat bistro and cellar door opened just in time for the tourist season of 2017.

Landing culinary director Phil Wood was a coup. He left the Rockpool Group’s Eleven Bridge Street, relocating to launch the bistro (read, slightly less formal but still luxe) portion of the venue. Now, he’s ready for phase two.

Culinary director Phil Wood moved from Sydney to the Mornington Peninsula to oversee the Pt Leo Estate kitchens.

Laura (the restaurant, not the sculpture) is a natural extension of the pre-existing dining area, whose floor to ceiling glass windows curve around the park, offering floor-to-ceiling views of the art that will stretch to Phillip Island on a clear day. There isn’t a bad seat in the house.

Tables are leather-finished; the wafer thin wine glasses hand-blown; the cutlery ebony-handled; and the skilled wait staff are largely imported from Melbourne and Sydney’s metropolitan centres.

Sommeliers Ainslie Lubbock (ex-Attica) and Andrew Murch (from Rockpool Bar & Grill) control a 600-bottle strong list that explores territory much larger than the peninsula’s usual catchment. It’s mostly Victorian (including the estate’s own chardonnay, shiraz, pinot grigio and syrah), but you’ll spot sake, Beaujolais and Champagne, too.

Unlike the à la carte bistro offering, Wood’s uber-local menu is presented degustation-style, although guests can nominate the number of courses they’d prefer.

The short, sharp offering changes frequently, “a bit more often than I’d like,” says Wood; he’s had a steep learning curve with the peninsula’s swift growing seasons. Bay scallops and corn might come in one day, duckfish and parsnips the next.

The fast-changing menu has a local focus; here Flinders Island mussels are served with polenta ground from locally grown corn.

There’s the lion’s mane mushroom that’s “glazed like a chicken wing” (which doesn’t taste like chicken, more meaty mushroom) and miniature duck egg omelettes doused in beetroot-hued “vineyard sauce” (made from the estate’s pinot noir). But the theatrical, jet-black salt-baked “carrots” are the main event – peel back the hard exterior and you’ll find a juicy chicken and duck sausage cheekily disguised as a vegetable.

Our advice is to have it all. Why hold back? And besides, you can always take a leisurely sunset stroll through the winding 3km sculpture trail before heading home. And with 50 local and international works on display (many of which have been hiding in private collections for years), you might want to take your time.

Laura is open from noon–10.30pm Thur–Sat, and from noon–5pm on Sundays. Bookings are essential.

Words Nola James

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 
The historic Grand Hotel Taipei. Image: Mary O'Brien.

Why Taiwan is Asia’s hottest new food destination

The arrival of the Michelin guide in Taiwan confirms what many have known for years – Taiwanese food is damn good. The capital, Taipei, has a rich and diverse dining scene, ranging from food stalls to simple low-cost eateries to sophisticated top-notch restaurants.

Now, for the first time, the international food bible has rated 20 of Taipei’s best restaurants worthy of star billing with Cantonese Le Palais snatching the highest honour – three stars.

Taiwan has an interesting food culture, influenced by China, Japan and indigenous tribes. Its also got extremely good produce and Taiwanese people are seriously addicted to eating out.

Local specialties

A good starting point is Din Tai Fung, the Taipei dumpling institution that spawned an empire (there are now branches in Sydney, Melbourne and other international cities). Of course, the Taiwanese outlets serve the finest dumplings of all.

At the base of towering Taipei 101, people often queue for up to an hour for a table at this iconic Din Tai Fung, the biggest outlet in the city. There’s a buzz here plus plenty of Instagrammers making a fuss of the xiao long bao (pork soup dumplings). Our friendly waiter, Ethan, warns us to poke a hole in the dumpling to release the juice and avoid being burnt or splashed.

Xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung.

Another local favourite is bubble tea – a sweet concoction of cold black tea, milk and sago pearls. In Chun Shui Tang tea shops, which are credited with inventing the drink in the 1980s, bubble tea is made to order and shaken not blended. Try the tea shop at Eslite Spectrum Songyan Store and visit the arts and crafts Songshan Cultural and Creative Park next door. 

Of course, you can’t visit Taiwan without tasting the famous “stinky” tofu – deep-fried fermented bean curd. Ignore the dirty socks smell and tuck in – it’s soft and creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Dai’s House of Stinky tofu, also in Xinyi, is recommended.

For sheer razzmatazz and sense of history, enjoy dinner at Yuan Yuan in the famous Grand Hotel, which was built by leader Chiang Kai-shek to entertain foreign dignitaries in the 1950s. This northern Chinese-style cuisine is popular with locals and the fish dishes, range of fine teas and red bean rice cakes are not to be missed.

Michelin-starred delights

Back to the Michelin list and one of the biggest surprises is the one-star Ming Fu. Hidden down an alley, this humble six-seater local eatery was noted for its “Buddha jumps over the wall” soup and braised chicken with pickled gourd.

Upmarket Japanese RyuGin and Chinese restaurant The Guest House were awarded two stars, while 17 other restaurants earned one star. A total of 110 restaurants made it into the guide including 36 eateries in the Bib Gourmand section (under $56).

Eight eateries were recommended for traditional beef noodles including the no-frills 60-year-old Halal Chinese Beef Noodles restaurant in Da’an. 

Words Mary O’Brien

The stunning Mott 32 dining room.

Where to eat in Hong Kong

With upwards of 14,000 restaurants, Hong Kong is a dream destination for food lovers. And here, eating out is a national pastime – tiny apartments, cramped living spaces and a culture of business relationships being sealed over a meal means that the people of Hong Kong eat out, a lot. With traditional noodle bars sandwiched next to, above or below Michelin-starred eateries, there’s plenty to choose from. Here are just five options to put on your list.

Mott 32, Central

Nestled under the Standard Chartered Bank Building is this renowned restaurant that serves Chinese fare set amidst nods to Big Apple style. Named after 32 Mott Street in New York, site of the first Chinese convenience store to open in the city in 1891, Mott 32’s menu features Cantonese, Szechuan and Beijing cuisine styles, dreamed up by executive chef Lee Man Sing, who previously led the kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental. Two dishes stand out: the signature apple wood roasted 42 days Peking duck and the BBQ pork, featuring prime Iberico pork flown in from Spain. It’s easy to understand why bookings are recommended – when we arrive at 11:45am there are already small groups of office workers outside, waiting to secure a coveted table.

Ho Lee Fook, Central

Forget getting into this bustling Asian diner located in the heart of Central without a reservation. It’s loud, it’s dark and it serves up some of the tastiest dishes in Hong Kong. The décor is inspired by old school cha chaan tengs (which translates to “tea restaurant”) and late night Chinatown hangouts in 1960s New York, but the food is all about local Asian flavours. Expect inventive takes on traditional classics, all served up in generous portions from Taiwanese-born chef Jowett Yu.

Braised abalone with oyster sauce at Rainbow Seafood Restaurant.

Rainbow Seafood Restaurant

This hugely popular joint (local celebs are said to make it one of their first stops for a taste of Hong Kong after stints overseas) gets packed on weekends, so it’s best to get there early. The seafood is fresh – live crustaceans and fish are displayed at the front of the restaurant – and the beers are cold. Lamma Island is a quick ferry trip from Central Pier or do like some locals and charter a yacht. There are also various walking trails around the island, if you feel like you need to work some of the calories off.

Arbor, Central

As I emerge from the lift on the 25th floor of the H Queen’s building, which is home to numerous galleries, I quickly realise this fine dining venue is different from any other that I’ve visited in Hong Kong. Finnish chef Eric Räty is behind the fusion of Japanese ingredients with French culinary techniques. He draws on nature for his inspiration, with each dish designed to reflect the woods, forest or trees. Perched in a skyscraper within a fiercely air-conditioned space, the combinations of natural with manmade and simple with complex over a nine-course tasting menu make for an unforgettable dining experience.

Garden Lounge, Central

Sit back and relax in this refined and airy venue, set within five-star The Murray, Hong Kong. It's a popular spot on weekends for families and groups – and it’s easy to see why. The service is swift and thoughtful, while the menu features both Asian and European dishes. The wonton noodle soup goes down a treat for lunch on a drizzly Sunday afternoon and you can’t go past the dessert trolley – who could resist New York cheesecake? Afternoon tea is, however, where Garden Lounge really shines – tuck into traditional sweet and savoury treats, speciality teas and a selection of champagnes and wines.

Find out more about Hong Kong's newest luxury hotel and what's hot in this bustling city, in Mercedes me magazine. 

Words Lucy Siebert. She travelled as a guest of the Hong Kong Tourist Board and The Murray, Hong Kong.

Try this truffle recipe tonight

Winter weather calls for warming soups, bold red wines and rich flavours, making truffles the perfectly decadent ingredient for cold and rainy nights.

Truffles are now grown in different regions in Australia and New Zealand and local chefs have been quick to embrace the precious produce – as featured in the latest Mercedes me magazine July 2018

Acclaimed chef, TV personality, owner of Melbourne’s Maha and Mercedes-Benz Friend of the Brand Shane Delia has shared one of his favourite truffle recipes for you to try at home.

Smoked truffle hummus, ground chicken and mushroom butter

Serves: 6
Preparation time: 1 hour, plus overnight for soaking
Cooking time: 10–15 minutes


250g chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tbsp tahini
80ml lemon juice (2½ lemons)
Splash olive oil
Salt to taste
150ml water, warmed
4 drops liquid smoke

Spiced chicken:
70g ghee
1 brown onion, peeled and finely diced
150g diced Swiss brown mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
250g chicken mince
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 tsp toasted and cracked cumin seeds
5 stalks parsley, leaves only, plus a few for garnishing
1 lemon, juice only
Flaked salt
2g truffle
Extra virgin olive oil, to garnish


To make the hummus, drain chickpeas then place in a pot, cover with water, bring to the boil and cook for about 30 minutes, or until chickpeas are soft. Remove and drain.

Using a high-powered blender, combine with remaining ingredients until a smooth consistency is reached. Add extra water if needed. Refrigerate until required.

For the chicken, add ghee to a heavy based pan over medium high heat. When ghee is warm, add onion, garlic and mushrooms and cook for a few minutes until lightly coloured.

Add chicken and break up with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking and stirring for 10 minutes before adding pine nuts to the pan. Cook and stir for a further five minutes until chicken is dark brown, sizzling and crisp.

Add cumin and stir through. Tear parsley leaves and add, along with lemon juice and flaked salt. Microplane the truffle through the chicken and mushroom mixture and stir through. Spoon hummus into a bowl and create a little nest for the chicken.

Spoon in the chicken and drizzle with olive oil. Add a few parsley leaves and serve with warm flatbread. 

Recipe courtesy of Shane Delia

Talking fine wine with Mount Mary’s Sam Middleton

Mount Mary has had a lot to celebrate recently. The family-owned and operated vineyard, which can be found in the heart of the Yarra Valley in Victoria, was named the ‘2018 Winery of the Year’ at the Halliday Wine Companion Awards, proving its wines are among Australia’s best. The winery has also just released its 2016 Marli Russell by Mount Mary wines.

We caught up with head winemaker Sam Middleton to find out more about Mount Mary, their newest label Marli Russell by Mount Mary, and what life is like as a third-generation winemaker.

What did winning Winery of the Year mean for your vineyard?
That was an awesome accolade to receive, and I think it reflected the amount of work we’ve done in the changing of the generations since my grandfather [founder and renowned winemaker Dr John Middleton] passed away in 2006, and my dad [David Middleton] took over as owner and CEO. It was a challenging time, because the ‘figure’ that the whole business had been built around was no longer here. It was up to us to stand on our own two feet. Winning the award meant a lot to us and gives us great confidence for the future.

What encouraged you to follow your family into winemaking?
When I left school, I wasn’t necessarily thinking I would go into the wine industry. I think looking back on it now, having grown up at Mount Mary, it was inevitable I would become a winemaker. I’m passionate about making wines from the Yarra Valley and in particular from this site. I’m also really passionate about being part of a family business that we can pass down through the generations.

Mount Mary's scenic Yarra Valley vineyard.

What wine varieties do you produce?
We still make the four original Mount Mary Vineyard estate wines – two whites, chardonnay and Triolet (a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle), and two reds, a pinot noir and a cabernet blend called the Quintet (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot). In 2008, we also commenced a new project, which led us to our second label, Marli Russell by Mount Mary.

How would you describe the Marli Russell by Mount Mary wines?
When we started the project, we were thinking about what was happening to the climate, and what varieties our vineyard is going to be well suited to in 30 or 40 years’ time. We wanted to keep the French theme running through the business, so we looked to the Southern Rhône Valley, which is a really warm region, and the varieties that originated there for inspiration – white grapes like marsanne, roussanne and clairette and red grapes like grenache, shiraz, mourvedre and cinsault.

We hope these wines will be enjoyed on release. That’s not to say they can’t be aged; however, our aim with these wines was to showcase a fresh style that reflected what these varieties bring to the table naturally – to be fruit expressive, vibrant and lively. We also wanted them to fit within the Mount Mary framework in terms of style, which is elegant, restrained and food-friendly.

What foods pair well with the Marli Russell by Mount Mary RP2?
Anything that pairs well with pinot is going to pair well with these cooler climate grenache-based blends. I really enjoy a glass with slow cooked lamb at this time of year.

Would you suggest cellaring them?
The Mount Mary Vineyard estate wines have a great reputation for ageing. A lot of our customers will buy them to put into their cellars because they know they improve and consistently age. But the idea behind the Marli Russell by Mount Mary label was to make wines that are more appealing in their youth. So you don’t necessarily have to age them. They’re ready for enjoying right now.

Words Emily Tatti

To celebrate the latest Marli Russell by Mount Mary release, owners of Mercedes-Benz vehicles can purchase a limited edition Red Wine Collector’s Case showcasing this range. Log in and navigate to the benefits section in Owners Online to find out more.
Vanilla slice from Sydney.

Pretty in puff: Australia’s best pastries

Since the early ingenuity of medieval French bakers (there’s been a recognised distinction between pastry cooks and regular cooks since at least the thirteenth century) the popularity of custard, cream and fruit-filled pastries has spread around the globe, with bakers from Britain to Bangkok putting their own spin on the classic dough of flour, butter and water.

Sure, we’re thousands of frequent flyer miles away from our Parisian pastry heroes, but how does Australia’s offering stand up? We take tour of our capital cities to find out.


Melbourne’s latest pastry obsession is “PAFU”, a single-item bakery that opened in Melbourne’s CBD late last year selling sweet pastries filled with custard and stewed apple (similar to an apple turnover). The word “pafu” means “puff” in Japanese; however, despite the branding, the bakery's owners say that the pastries were invented in Melbourne for local tastes. No matter where they’re from, they’re still great. Must be all that custard!

PAFU's apple pastries are custard-filled to order.

Also keep an eye out for Lune, the Fitzroy-based bakery that put Aussie croissants on the map with a starring role in a 2016 New York Times article titled “Is the world’s best croissant made in Australia?” Owner Kate Reid announced in February that she was looking for a city site to sell croissants and coffee to busy commuters (although we assume you‘ll still need to stand in line).


It’s hard to go past Sydney’s cult bakery Black Star Pastry. In fact, few people do – the bakers at Black Star’s four NSW locations turn out 15,000 slices of their signature strawberry watermelon cake each week. In December they released a new take on Australia’s classic vanilla slice (dubbed the “vanilla slice slice baby”). Flavours include mango and passionfruit, pandan and kaya, and strawberry and vanilla, all with retro ’80s designs on top.


Husband-and-wife duo Jay Patey and Emma Choraziak opened Argyle Street’s Pigeon Whole Bakers in 2015 after selling their popular West Hobart cafe with a similar name (Pigeon Hole) to focus on bread and pastry. It’s nestled next to hip restaurant Franklin in the base of the old Mercury newspaper building; don’t miss the Eccles cake, puff pastry filled with currants, butter and brown sugar that’s traditionally served with cheese (Jay adds a sprinkling of parmesan for an umami kick).

Pigeon Whole's eccles cakes are a sweet-salty treat. 

Newcomer Imago Bakery and Patisserie is shaking things up, too, thanks to a vibrant take on a pain au chocolat made with real raspberry layered with flaky pastry for a luminous twist. Baker and owner David Flukes opened the Elizabeth Street outlet in January of this year, but his colourful creations are already winning fans.

This eye-catching raspberry-swirled pain au chocolat can be found at Hobart bakery Imago.


In Canberra the croissants will come to you, literally. Fyshwick-based bakery Dream Cuisine launched a weekend delivery service late last year, with owner Owen Saddler piggy-backing off his wholesale orders to bring pastries to the people. Previously only available at local farmer’s markets, Owen’s buttery croissants, blueberry and lime Danishes, and salted caramel scrolls will arrive fresh at your door on Saturdays and Sundays. If you’d like an extra sweet start to the day pop some colourful macarons in your basket, too.

Dream Cuisine's pastries are home delivered. 


If you’ve ever had an egg tart at yum cha you’ve had a “Chinese” pastry, although that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Han's Patisserie’s Yunan-born, Adelaide-trained pastry master specialises in traditional treats from his homeland; his signature rose petal pastries (also known as xian hua bing) originated in southern China’s Qing Dynasty around 400 years ago. Today they are made with a flaky lard-based pastry and filled (like a small scone) with a fermented jam made from local South Australian rose petals and honey.

Adelaide's Han's Patisserie specialises in Yunan-style treats.


At pan-Asian patisserie Chu, self-taught husband-and-wife team Ryan and Seren Chu turn out inspired takes on classic French pastries with kaya and coconut croissants; lacquered, mousse-topped sponges and choux puffs filled with matcha cream and yuzu gel. The set-up is geared towards take-away, so make like a local and grab a cake and coffee (they use beans from Dukes Coffee) to enjoy in beautiful Hyde Park, which is just across the road.


Check your calendar before you head to Morningside bakery Flour & Chocolate – owner Lachlan Scott only bakes in-demand items on particular days: on Tuesdays it’s American-style “cinna-buns”; Wednesdays and Thursdays are for doughnuts filled with salted caramel, custard or raspberry jam; and Fridays are for a rotating selection of brownies. If you can’t clear your schedule, don’t worry – his raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry or apple crumble Danishes are available all week.

Flour & Chocolate sells a rotating selection of sweet and savoury Danishes.

Words Nola James

Mitchelton magic

A favourite Victorian winery has been revitalised with a luxury hotel.

Wineries have begun to rise above the humble cellar door, with many boasting art installations, luxury accommodation, and fine dining. Victoria is leading the charge with the likes of Pt. Leo Estate and Jackalope on the Mornington Peninsula, and now Mitchelton, 90 minutes north of Melbourne, has joined the scene.

The Goulburn River has long shaped the countryside around Nagambie, particularly where it winds through the Mitchelton estate. It was in this spot in 1836 that Major Thomas Mitchell crossed the river on his 900-kilometre journey from Sydney to Melbourne. In 1969, Ross Shelmerdine planted the first vines, naming his new winery after the renowned explorer.

The Mitchelton landscape offers spectacular spots for guests to explore. 

It is an easy drive from Melbourne, past horse studs, pastures and orchards. As you get closer to Mitchelton, green waves of grape vines replace the gum trees. Approaching the estate, the road splits and there is a glimmer of gold and the striking 55-metre tall Mitchelton tower with its glinting tip appears. It’s quickly becoming a local landmark.

“The tower is so spectacular,” says managing director Andrew Ryan, who purchased the property with his father in 2011. “Just before sunset it takes on this golden hue and casts beautiful shadows.”

Guests can linger and watch the sunset from their own ‘vineyard’ room, or if they’d prefer, sunrise from a ‘river’ room in the new luxury hotel. “The hotel is the final piece of the puzzle,” says Ryan. “It’s a way to become totally immersed in the estate.”

Architecturally designed rooms by Hecker Guthrie.

The 58 rooms and day spa were designed by architectural and interior design firm Hecker Guthrie and feature earthy, natural materials such as ceramic lighting, wool rugs, linen curtains and timber furniture.

“The design team wanted to draw upon the rural location of the property as well as its working background,” says interior designer Hamish Guthrie. “We didn’t want this to appear as a city hotel stuck in the countryside, but rather a space that has a relationship with its setting.”

Beyond the rooms, the Ministry of Chocolate café offers a peek into the world of handmade chocolate through its viewing window. Meanwhile, the cellar door is the ideal place to sample estate favourites such as shiraz and riesling. The onsite restaurant, Muse, complete with original brickwork floor, is led by executive chef Jess Hayes, who highlights local and seasonal produce in the internationally inspired menu.

The riverside pool at Mitchelton Estate. 

While there’s plenty to keep guests occupied at the estate – take a dip in the sparkling 20m infinity riverside pool or visit the soon to be open aboriginal art gallery – there are also other attractions within the local area. Those in an active mood can board the Goulburn Explorer up to Tahbilk – another iconic Victorian winery – and a new microbrewery is also planned for Nagambie.

Words Lindy Alexander

Destination to dine for

Be prepared for an exquisite dining experience in stunning surrounds at Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, Victoria.

Melbourne may be a foodie city, but some of the state’s best dining experiences are found beyond the urban sprawl. One such place is Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel where the focus is firmly on fresh produce, food and wine.

The latest evolution in the hotel’s fine dining offering, Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel celebrates the talent of executive chef Robin Wickens – who took over from acclaimed chef Dan Hunter of Brae fame in 2013 – as well as the extraordinary wine cellar of owner Allan Myers AC QC.

Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel.

Setting the scene

The recently opened restaurant boasts a sleek construction that takes in dramatic views of Mt Abrupt and Mt Sturgeon, the two rugged sandstone peaks that stand sentry over the tiny village of Dunkeld. This spectacular setting is just a three-hour drive from Melbourne, at the southern end of the Grampians National Park in western Victoria.

Inside, floor to ceiling glass dominates the dining room – and provides diners an uninterrupted view to the mountains. In the evenings, as the sun retreats and the peaks melt into the shadows, outdoor lights highlight the sculptural forms of gum trees in the foreground: a breathtaking view.

The restaurant at Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel includes a Chef's Table, located in the kitchen, which can seat up to four guests.

The menu is set, with five or eight courses and optional matched wines (or choose from the 120-page wine list, voted Best Hotel Wine List globally by the UK’s Fine Wine magazine), and every ingredient used in the kitchen comes from the Royal Mail’s organic kitchen garden, the Myers’ farm and local producers.

Wickens and his team take these ingredients and let them sing in inventive ways. Maybe a delicate roll of carrot, as thin as paper with cardamom salt and orange, designed to melt in the mouth, to start; or a morsel of sweetbreads on brioche with mustard greens and parsley root. The menu is designed to delight and surprise – and it does.

Beyond the restaurant

While the dining is sensational, there are opportunities to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes. There are daily tours of the kitchen garden – a guided walk through the gardens reveals the extent of the kitchen’s commitment to seasonal and heirloom produce.

Guests can also visit the hotel’s cellar door. Housed in a low-key wine store, the cellar is nonetheless home to the largest collection of Burgundy in the southern hemisphere. Visitors can try some of the world’s most iconic labels alongside sommelier Matthew Lance.

Deluxe rooms at the Royal Mail Hotel offer views of the landscaped native gardens and the stunning Grampians National Park. 

Most diners book in to stay at the hotel, which has had an elegant makeover, so it’s popular with couples celebrating anniversaries or a weekend away. One nervous man even popped the question halfway through dinner on the night I visited. She said yes, of course.

Words Justine Costigan
The Baxter Inn, Sydney

The rise and rise of whisky

Not so long ago, whisky was seen as an old man’s drink. But hit TV shows such as Mad Men and Suits have given the spirit a glamorous makeover. Add in some star power – David Beckham is co-owner of the trendy Haig Club single grain scotch – and it’s no wonder the coolest bars around Australia are either specialising in whisky or putting it the spotlight.

“A few years back whisky was seen as the type of stuffy spirit that would be drunk in old men’s clubs with leather-bound chairs, whereas these days it’s really becoming a young person’s drink,” says Stuart Morrow, manager of Sydney’s whisky-centric Baxter Inn.

A cursory glance around the country shows there’s no doubt that the whisky scene is booming. In Melbourne, Starward Distillery is drawing the crowds to its new Port Melbourne digs and tasting room. Meanwhile, in Sydney, on the bar front, Tokyo Bird specialises in Japanese drops and The Wild Rover has an Irish bias – highlighting that whisky is a global affair.

As well as traditional scotch, Irish and American whiskies, Japanese whiskies enjoy a strong cult following. Taiwan and India are also distilling whisky. Boutique Australian distillers, such as Tassie’s Lark Distillery and Sullivans Cove, rate well internationally.

Meanwhile, in capital cities around the country, bars specialising in whiskies are making their mark.

Sydney – supply and demand

Hidden in a basement off Clarence Street, the Baxter Inn (2017 Australian bar of the year) is a relaxed bolthole serving more than 800 whiskies. Two scrolling library ladders are required to access the spectacular back wall of spirits.

Morrow says the whisky drinker stereotypes are long gone and it’s not unusual to see young women ordering neat whisky.

“Once upon a time whisky had to be neat or on the rocks – and even to have it on the rocks was scoffed at – but people are now starting to play around and mix it,” Morrow says.

Cocktails are popular (30 per cent of its patrons opt for them) with whisky and fresh apple juice the big seller, he adds. Of course, an Old Fashioned – bourbon, water, sugar, bitters and a twist of orange peel – is always in demand.

“Whisky is as versatile as wine – it’s so different based on terroir, production and country of origin,” he explains.

Melbourne – trend setter

Not surprisingly, the competition between whisky bars is stiff, but Melbourne favourite Whisky & Alement was recently named the best whisky bar in the country by Australian Bartender Magazine.

Co-owner Brooke Hayman says there has been a definite move to embrace whisky since 2012. The growing range of drinks and the increasing number of bars is fuelling the trend.

Whisky & Alement offers weekend whisky classes that are booked out weeks in advance. “It’s the ‘Wikipedia effect’ where everyone’s keen to learn, taste and to know something a little bit different,” says Hayman.

She explains that Australians tend to like big, heavy sherry- or port-matured whiskies but traditional peaty, smoky scotches are always in fashion also. Seven out of 10 customers at the Melbourne bar prefer their whisky neat. “We are focusing these days more on flavour profile rather than age,” Hayman says. “[In the past] There was a common misconception that older whisky was better.”

Elysian bar in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

Social media plays a huge part in the whisky movement, according to Kelvin Low, owner and bartender of Melbourne’s Elysian bar in Fitzroy. He posts one to two new whiskies every day on Instagram, which draws people into the bar.

“Consumers are very reactive: they know the distillery names and the flavours they like,” Low says. This means, he says, that there’s no point stocking lots of whiskies if the bartender’s knowledge can’t back them up.


• Whisky & Alement, 270 Russell Street, Melbourne
• The Baxter Inn, Basement, 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney
• Society Salamanca, 22 Montpelier Retreat, Battery Point, Hobart
• Cobbler, 7 Browning Street, West End, Brisbane
• Dominion League, 84 Beaufort Street, Perth

Words Mary O’Brien

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Melbourne's Kisume.

Inside Australia’s most luxurious Japanese restaurants

Australia is no stranger to world-class Japanese cuisine – it has been 10 years since international fine dining favourite Nobu opened its doors in Melbourne and in Sydney, while Tetsuya’s Japanese-Australian fusion is regularly named among the world’s best. Now, with a host of luxury Japanese restaurants nationwide, it’s easier than ever to dine on “omakase” (chef’s selection) and “kaiseki” (carefully balanced, multi-course haute-cuisine) menus featuring the finest in tempura, tataki and toro. Here’s our guide to enjoying one of the hottest contemporary dining trends.


Sake Restaurant, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane 

After a two-year sabbatical executive chef Shaun Presland (former resident of Japan, ex-Nobu chef) has returned to the helm of the Sake restaurant empire. He brings a fresh menu to re-invent the brand (which has five outposts across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) including sashimi made from Spencer Gulf kingfish treated with a yuzu-jalapeño dressing, salted and seared Cape Grim tataki in ginger and soy, and sustainable toothfish in sweet miso and mirin finished over a coal-fired grill.

121 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; 33 Cross Street, Sydney (and other locations)


Yamagen, Gold Coast 

izakaya Yamagen recently unveiled a fresh new look, having spent the last 30 years as a homely teppanyaki restaurant until its absorption by the glitzy QT resort complex. Now, along with a full refurbishment, the restaurant has executive chef Adam Lane at the helm. His modern Japanese “table seki” menu is influenced by international techniques - think sashimi tacos and wagyu beef gyoza with soy mustard, all garnished with traditional Japanese greens harvested from an on-site rooftop garden.

7 Staghorn Ave, Surfers Paradise

Wagyu beef tataki with crispy garlic, baby shiso and ponzu.


Kisumé, Melbourne 

Chris Lucas’s Chin Chin sibling Kisumé, with animated and cheeky sushi master K.S. Moon at the helm, is a triple treat. Prime position is at one of 12 seats at the top-floor kaiseki table, where a 15-morsel selection may feature mud crab, sea urchin and caviar; alternatively, you could sip from one of 150-plus bottles of chablis in the adjoining bar. Downstairs it’s a la carte – snare a spot at the sushi bar where specialist chefs from Japan, Hong Kong and Korea hand-form rolls to order, or sink back into charcoal grey velvet armchairs for miso-lime and wagyu beef tartare.

175 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Miso and lime tartare of wagyu beef with shiso and quail egg.


Sokyo, Sydney 

Sokyo (a portmanteau of “Sydney” and “Tokyo”) embraces its waterside casino location with plenty of high-rolling panache from breakfast to dinner. It’s easiest to get a table in the main dining room where the sashimi-based menu of chef Chase Kojima (another ex-Nobu recruit) features Tasmanian sea urchin and Taiwanese freshwater eel. True sushi devotees vie for a spot at the eight-seat omakase bar, leaving the menu selection to the masters: options change daily and each piece is perfectly hand formed.

The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont

Spicy tuna with crispy Hokkaido rice from Sokyo’s nigiri selection.


Marumo, Perth

It’s not easy to get a booking for Marumo’s three-hour, seven-course omakase-style dining experience. In fact, you’ll need to book months in advance, with reservations only released a few times a year. It’s worth the wait, however; chef and owner Moe Oo’s one-man kitchen turns out some of the best Japanese food in the west. The humble yet high-end menu changes on a whim, but you might find cuttlefish inari and scallop sashimi on the table. There’s no wine list, so feel free to BYO.

22/145 Stirling Highway, Nedlands

Marumo chef Moe Oo specialises in sashimi.


LiloTang, Canberra 

Located in the centre of Canberra’s ultra-hip Barton Precinct, LiloTang is much more than a hotel restaurant. Framed manga adorns the walls of the slick Tokyo-cool dining room that, with its concrete floors and quirky service, is still casual enough for a mid-week meal. Head chef Shunsuke Ota’s coal-fired, white-hot robata grill is put to good use for smoky, yuzu-pepper miso pork belly skewers and chargrilled scotch fillet with herb miso and spicy dried plum. Sukiyaki (hot pot) gets a modern spin with duck breast and tempura egg.

Burbury Hotel, 1 Burbury Close, Barton

Smoky char-grilled yakitori skewers. Photo: Rebecca Doyle.

Words by Nola James

Melbourne chef Shane Delia is taking his signature dishes on the road.

Meals on wheels: the Biggie Smalls food truck

It's not uncommon for restaurant empires to start on the back of a truck – Texan barbecue joint Franklin BBQ, famed for its six-hour wait, began life as a caravan; Melbourne's mod-Indian restaurant Babu Ji evolved from a curry truck in Kyneton, Victoria – but for Biggie Smalls' Shane Delia, launching a food truck spin-off of his hip-hop themed Smith Street "kbab" house in Melbourne was the next logical step.  

The customised Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which Delia plans to take to festivals and events, is generally found at Melbourne's Federation Square from Wednesday to Sunday, but it'll be on the road more once an online truck locator is launched early June.  

The day-to-day menu is a greatest hits reel of meats and falafel rolled in chargrilled bread - there's the Dirty South: fried chicken, lettuce, pickled onion and aioli; and the Juicy: beef, lettuce, cheese and mustard. Plus crinkle-cut fries in paper buckets and crispy, gooey mac and cheese fritters.   

"It's definitely not like
 running a high-end city restaurant," Delia says of his roaming kebab van, which he'll motor around town (beats blaring from an integrated sound system) in the lead up to opening a south-side Biggie Smalls in Windsor in September.  

"Not everyone's going to Smith Street," he says, "this way we can gear up to bring [kebabs] to the people." 

He describes the van as "the Mack Daddy of food trucks"; it's kitted out with the same professional kitchen set-up as his Middle Eastern restaurant Maha, although here with the capacity to store ingredients and a self-sufficient refrigeration system  you could book it for a private kebab party in your backyard or a seven-course corporate banquet for 200 people. 

While Delia is hesitant to commit to a second vehicle – "It's only been six months!" – he sees loads of opportunities to integrate the truck into his charity work. "We've got a mobile kitchen on our hands that could do some really good for the community," he says. "It's not just about making money." 

Words Nola James 

Mercedes-Benz Magazine features the best on food and wine around Australia and New Zealand.

Low & Slow, Adelaide.

Australia's stylish American barbecue

Barbecue has gone upscale – here are the best places to indulge around Australia.

Australia has been having an American barbecue moment in the past few years, with restaurants across the country putting their own spin on the concept with a style of dining that would be called "yuppie-cue" in the American south – think table service, cloth napkins and cutlery.

As well as adding some creature comforts, Australia's take on American-style barbecue has been more general (much like what you'd find in London or New York) with a single venue covering what would normally be state-by-state variations on the theme: Memphis-style dry rubbed ribs, Alabama-style smoked chicken and North Carolina whole hog often end up together in a single wax-paper covered tray.

Mike Patrick, co-owner of Melbourne's Fancy Hanks, attributes the sophistication of the barbecue trend to cultural differences.

"In Austin, Texas you'd queue up for hours outside," Patrick says, "but be able to buy cans of beer from the gas station next door for $2 each.

"Melbourne has a high standard of expectation; the dining community loves to embrace cuisines from all over the world, but on our terms – it's a little too cold in winter time to be queuing all day outside!"

Be it the full "yuppie treatment" or just a trendy once over, here's where to find Australia's most stylish American barbecue.


Old Faithful Bar & BBQ, Perth

The city's first American-style barbecue joint is a trendy cafeteria-style space with a cocktail bar that's known for its flavoursome beef brisket (given a local touch with Australian native spices) and potato salad served in paper cups.

86 King Street, Perth


Low & Slow
, Adelaide

Another food truck-turned-restaurant success story; Low & Slow's historic waterfront location is decked out with a low-key Americana-vibe. Don't miss the smoked kransky sausage and weekly changing all-American house-made sweet pies.

17 Commercial Road, Port Adelaide


The Smoke BBQ, Brisbane

In the trendy suburb of New Farm, Pittsburgh expat Stephen Johnson's smoked meats come courtesy of an imported Kentucky smoker and California. It's more shopping mall chic than fine dining; crowds gather for towering piles of spicy "hurricane" wings and smoked brisket mopped with Memphis-style sauce served with coleslaw and mac 'n' cheese.

85 Merthyr Road, New Farm


Crumb Street Diner, New Town 

Hobart's favourite barbecue joint recently relocated its Nashville-style hot chicken and burnt brisket loaded fries to Hobart's inner-north – upgrading from paper plates to table service in the process. Up next is an adjoining cocktail bar and bistro called Brother Mine; they're expecting to open the doors mid-July. 

31-33 New Town Road, New Town 


Fancy Hank’s, Bourke Street

Meet Melbourne's luscious new restaurant and rooftop bar combo from meat-masters Mike Patrick and Kent Bell. A two-tonne smoker takes centre-stage in their sleek diner; decked out in a deep wood trim with a central marble bar, they're serving seriously good brisket and killer cocktails. Head up to their rooftop bar for tater-tots covered in smoked chicken and ranch dressing.

1/79 Bourke Street, Melbourne


LP's Quality Meats, Sydney

A full-service, no-expense-spared homage to smoked meats from the team behind Argentinian-style grill Porteño. Their Texan Southern Pride wood-fired smoker takes care of business; think smoked beef short ribs and paprika-rubbed whole chickens served alongside chic house-made cold cuts.

16 Chippen Street, Chippendale

Words Nola James 

Mercedes-Benz Magazine features the best on food and wine around Australia and New Zealand.

The book of Brae

The publication of Dan Hunter’s new book Brae: Recipes and Stories from the Restaurant is a welcome excuse to try the food of this brilliant chef-philosopher

Since it opened in 2013, Dan Hunter’s Brae has been universally lauded, winning multiple Regional Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year accolades. It’s currently listed as #2 in the Australia’s Top 100 Restaurants list.

Although it may be special occasion dining, Brae never feels pretentious or over-the-top. Housed in a stylishly renovated historic timber cottage with an emphasis on light and views, designed to focus your attention on the landscape of coastal south-western Victoria and the beautiful ingredients it produces.

Hunter’s approach to food is like that of a great choreographer; melding classic technique with contemporary flavours, all founded on a profound respect for ingredients. Much of his food is presented simply: the artistry is in the surprising combinations of ingredients and the way the hero products are allowed to sing.

On a hot, late-summer day, with the buzz of bees and insects in the garden and the aroma of native bushes and lavender in the air, we’re presented at the table with a thick slab of the farm’s own golden honeycomb. It’s sliced and served with an earthy mouthful of blood-red barbecued baby beetroots and salty rainbow trout roe. In a menu that stretches from half a dozen small tastes to four larger plates and two desserts, we feast on tiny packages of prawn, nasturtium and finger lime, salt grass lamb, King George whiting, and a highlight – a glowing tarte tatin of caramelised yellow cherry tomatoes. A menu that’s a beautifully told story with locality, seasonality and simplicity at its heart.

A walk around the farm and gardens reveals Hunter’s philosophy at work. At its peak, the garden is a lush tangle of vegetables and herbs and the orchard’s trees are heavy with stone fruits. We see the huge outdoor wood-fired garden where the restaurant’s bread (quite possibly the best this writer has ever eaten) is baked to crunchy, chewy perfection. What’s not grown on the farm is sourced from the coast (Brae is just 17km from the Great Ocean Road as the crow flies), western Victoria and throughout the state.

While his vision may already feel perfectly realised, Hunter’s plans for Brae stretch into years if not decades. “This is not a pop-up,” he jokes, surveying the 30-acre farm. “This is a long-term thing and there’s serious investment here. You know you can come back (to the restaurant) because it will still be here.”

Brae: Recipes and Stories from the Restaurant by Dan Hunter

RRP $75 (hardback) phaidon.com

Published May 2017

Brae is open for dinner Thursday to Saturday and lunch Saturday to Monday.

Six luxury guest suites are available for booking for diners. 

4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra, Victoria.

Words Justine Costigan 

Tiny town Newrybar rewards foodies in loads

New South Wales’ Northern Rivers region is increasingly gaining traction as a sophisticated gastronomic destination, and the unassuming village of Newrybar is helping to lead the charge.

Restaurants in the area – like the award-winning Fleet in Brunswick Heads or Paper Daisy in Cabarita Beach – are champions of the Byron Bay hinterlands’ casual approach to fine dining. At restaurants like these, you can expect nothing short of top quality food and wine just steps from the beach, and without even the need to take your flip-flops off if you so desire.

The front verandah at Harvest restuarant overlooks Newrybar village's quaint main street.

In Newrybar Village, about 25 minutes drive from Byron Bay, Harvest restaurant is housed in a Queenslander style building surrounded by a veggie garden, while the refurbished early 1900s cottage next door is home to the onsite deli. Here, locals and tourists alike can peruse shelves stocked with products from both local and international artisans – think condiments and preserves, wood-fired sourdoughs, pastries, local charcuterie, boutique cheeses and a selection of sweets. For those dropping in but not dining in the restaurant, the deli also has ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads, and coffee available for takeaway.

At Harvest restaurant, forager and food researcher Peter Hardwick (pictured above, left) works closely with executive chef Bret Cameron (pictured above, right) to bring local food to life. As well as sourcing top quality meat, seafood, vegetables and fruit from the area, this also means incorporating wild plants from local beaches and riversides in the sophisticated menu.

“They’re self-seasoned greens,” Hardwick quips. Their saline environments mean these plants come ready with a salty tang. Hardwick has been foraging for 40 years and was the first person to get a foraging licence in New South Wales. He also studied horticulture to augment his passion, although “forager” has only really become a trade in the last five years, in sync with food fashion.

“Foraging is the ultimate example of sustainable practice,” says Hardwick. The more diversity in food, the better, he explains. It’s nature’s traditional way of coping. In the face of climate change and the potential upset of current agricultural systems, a return to foraging could be one possible answer.

Fresh harvesting isn’t the only option either, and preserving food is something that’s also on Hardwick’s radar. For example, he’s a fan of pickling sea blight in white vinegar. At Harvest, you can expect a side of education with your courses, and both he and chef Bret Cameron are full of knowledge.

Pastries and wood-fired breads, baked in Harvest's 107-year-old Scotch oven, are available from the Deli.

After completing his chef’s apprenticeship in New Zealand, Cameron left the Aussie coast to earn his stripes in Europe, with a stint at the Michelin-acclaimed Greenhouse Restaurant in London. On return to Australia, he worked at acclaimed restaurants in both Byron Bay and Sydney’s beachside suburb Bronte, and had the chance to work with celebrity chef and Masterchef Australia and My Kitchen Rules judge, Colin Fassnidge in his flagship Sydney restaurant, The Four in Hand.

Eventually, Bret’s intrinsic local and organic food philosophies led him back to the Byron hinterlands region, and Newrybar.

The "Wild Harvest" dinner combines local ingredients and freshly foraged fare. Pictured: fish fillet with avocado, daikon, aniseed myrtle, charred kelp oil.

With help from Hardwick, Cameron plates up the “Wild Harvest” dinner every Wednesday – serving experimental dishes with Hardwick’s latest foraged fare. Expect to see coastal or riverside plants like samphire, which has flavour a bit like banana, or sea rocket with its signature peppery taste.

The restaurant’s bar pours handcrafted cocktails – think an Aussie-style negroni using local Brookie’s Gin with native garnishes – which guests can enjoy alongside a platter of oysters while relaxing on the front verandah overlooking Newrybar’s main street.

In line with its sustainable philosophy, Harvest composts all its green waste, and has installed solar panels and an onsite grey water treatment facility. The wine list, curated by sommelier Rus Berry, also reflects this ethos while highlighting some of Australia’s best wine regions.

If you’re looking for any more reason to visit this tucked away town, there are a few. Across the road, Driftlab stocks a curated collection of clothes, accessories, books, music and vintage accessories. Next door, Newrybar Merchants works as a collective of local artisans, showcasing fine goods from art pieces to skincare products. Boutique guesthouse The Art House is a great choice for a luxe stay, plus with its local businesses and attractions, the main street packs a punch.

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Words Lachean Humphreys

In conversation with coffee guru Matt Perger

In a city that's known worldwide for its caffeine, award-winning barista Matt Perger is about as close to coffee royalty as you can get in Melbourne. Here St Ali's head of coffee shares what's trending in coffee. 

What does the term “specialty coffee” mean in 2017?

So many cafés are serving coffee that's pretty good or, at the very least, not bad. This means the selling point of “specialty coffee” is becoming commoditised. Too much special is a paradox, so businesses are finding other ways to rise above the tide. For me, specialty coffee isn’t just delicious coffee. It’s a package deal. It’s everything a business can do to make the experience of drinking coffee more valuable than the average. This includes brand, music, customer service, uniforms, interior design, copywriting, food accoutrements, and many more difficult-to-execute dimensions of a cafe.

What are people drinking right now?

Lots of coffee businesses would want you to know that black coffee is on the rise. This is true, but only in comparison to how much black coffee was being drunk before, which was very little. Australians, in particular, are addicted to milk. About 90 per cent of coffee sold in Melbourne contains milk. And, if people don't want to drink dairy any more, they don’t always migrate to black coffee; some will do but many more are taking advantage of the new wave of alternative milks such as almond, macadamia, oat, coconut and cashew.

Where are baristas focussing their efforts in brewing great coffee?

It turns out brewing really great coffee isn’t that difficult. With the right beans that are roasted well, excellent equipment and a consistent method, anyone can make truly delicious coffee. This brings our focus to the somewhat lost art of customer service and engagement. If we can make customers happier and more knowledgable then they’ll be much more likely to come back. 

What’s the role of the farmer now?

Ninety nine per cent of the farmer’s role is still the back-breaking work of growing and producing good coffee. The labour involved in this alone is frightening and that’s without necessarily aiming for quality. The other one per cent is slowly becoming more savvy about marketing and networking. Farmers who receive exposure through national competitions such as Cup of Excellence or other private auctions can find their income multiplied by 10 times in a year. Unfortunately, not every farmer can win a competition, so they’re beginning to form closer relationships with exporters who market their coffee directly to roasters around the world for higher prices than their local market.

How can people get the best coffee experience at home?

Any coffee brewing device is capable of making delicious coffee. Every coffee brewing device is also capable of making absolutely awful coffee. The most important thing is the coffee itself and the water you brew it with. Buy good quality coffee (not from the supermarket!), use filtered water and the rest will fall into place.

What is Sensory Lab/St Ali doing that other coffee businesses aren’t?

I believe we're really good at asking questions and being rational. Our enemies are status quo and dogma. We love performing research, conducting experiments and asking hard questions. We constantly create the path that others in the industry will follow.

Images Catherine Sutherland 
Words Matt Holden 

Discover more about St Ali's CEO Salvatore Malatesta's coffee philosophy in 

Mercedes-Benz Magazine.


McLaren Vale luxury escape

South Australia has been named one of Lonely Planet’s top regions for 2017 – and after a weekend exploring intimate eateries, accessible cellar doors and luxury accommodation in McLaren Vale on the Fleurieu Peninsula, just 45-minutes drive outside Adelaide, it’s easy to understand why the state is attracting such global accolades.

A taste of McLaren Vale

After touching down in South Australia, visitors can be in the village of McLaren Vale in just over an hour. The town’s pretty main road, lined with boutiques, galleries and cafés, is the ideal place to stop for a mid-morning coffee break or early lunch at noteworthy foodie establishments such as Salopian Inn and The Barn Bistro.

Vines are, in some cases, just a few hundred metres from the town and there’s no shortage of nearby cellar doors, including Hugh Hamilton Wines, Primo Estate and Serafino.

Heading towards McLaren Flat, we pop in at award-winning Yangarra Estate. Here, unusually, we have the cellar door all to ourselves and enjoy a tasting while sitting back on perfectly plumped cushions, the wind rustling in the trees overhead and the nearby stream gently trickling by. It would be oh-so-easy to stay for another hour but there is more to see, do and taste ...

Luxurious accommodation at McLaren Eye

A short drive away is our luxurious weekend digs – McLaren Eye – a couple’s retreat with breathtaking views all the way to the shimmering sea in the distance.

Late afternoon is the perfect time to sit on the deck and watch the resident kangaroo family graze in the paddocks. As the sun slips away and the day draws to a close, a ceiling of glimmering stars is revealed and the temperature drops in classic South Australian style.

Exploring local wineries

The following day we head to Beresford Estate where visitors are welcomed to the sleek black architecturally designed tasting pavilion. Tastings (bookings are a must) are paired with seasonal fare, ranging from fresh crusty bread and local olive oil to duck breast with seasonal greens. 

Enjoy wine tasting and food pairings at Beresford Estate's architecturally designed cellar door.

McLaren Vale winemakers pride themselves on taking an innovative approach, and nowhere is this more evident than at d’Arenberg. A major regional producer with a heritage stretching back three generations, the estate has embarked on its biggest expansion with a new and groundbreaking cellar door experience. The new building, named The Cube, will house a new-age cellar door, restaurant, private meeting rooms and large-scale event spaces. Scheduled to open in mid-2017 and featuring a slew of high-tech offerings including virtual reality experiences and a wine mist room, The Cube is set to transform the visitor experience to McLaren Vale. For the moment, it’s business as usual at the cellar door and d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant.

d'Arenberg's The Cube will be open to visitors from mid-2017.

Another lovely lunch spot is Harry’s Deli at Wirra Wirra where we tuck into a freshly made toastie and seasonal salad, overlooking the Scrubby Rise vineyard.

We fight the urge to wile the afternoon away in Wirra Wirra’s gardens and continue onwards to Bekkers Wines, one of the region’s top estates, which produces fine wine in French styles. Winemakers Toby and Emmanuelle Bekkers greet visitors to the cellar door before sharing their approach to winemaking and talking through a tasting of their sought after wines.

There’s only one way to finish a day in McLaren Vale and that’s with a sunset dinner at Star of Greece, named after a tragic 1888 shipwreck. Set atop the cliffs at Port Willunga, the ocean-side setting delivers a spectacular South Australian sunset, painting the sky with pinks and oranges, while we tuck into natural oysters, salt and pepper squid and Kangaroo Island King George Whiting.

Discover more: McLaren Vale and Adelaide

While McLaren Vale is firmly established as a world-class food and wine destination, the region's new specialty coffee roastery, Dawn Patrol, is also making a name for itself. At the café and tasting room, set among the vines at Kangarilla, visitors can sample a range of roasts and buy 100 per cent traceable beans.

Besides McLaren Vale’s outstanding food and wine offerings, there are plenty of other activities, including horse riding and cycling, to keep visitors busy.

Alternatively, with Adelaide less than an hour’s drive away, it is possible to spend a day in the capital, exploring its thriving wine bars, restaurants such as rooftop establishment 2KW Bar and Restaurant, boutiques or one of the city’s many large-scale events.

After a memorable weekend in McLaren Vale, we depart South Australia wondering only one thing: when will we be back?

Words Lucy Siebert

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Five unforgettable cellar doors

You simply can’t deny it: enjoying wine is as much about the time, people and place as it is about what’s in your glass. And when you’re sipping that wine in the place where it was created, set amid a backdrop of oak barrels and rolling vineyards, well, it doesn’t get much better than that. Or does it?

These days, wine enthusiasts can expect more than a view-blessed vantage point and barrels acting at spittoon stands.

Here are five cellar door experiences in Australia and New Zealand that offer that little bit more.

Bespoke tasting

Vasse Felix, Margaret River WA

We’ve all been there: three-deep at the tasting counter, struggling to hear the cellar door staff over the din of another bus load or buck’s party. That’s fine if you’re simply there to drink and dash but if you’re keen to learn about vintage vagaries, the winemaker’s input and the vineyard’s terroir, you may be left wanting. Luckily you’ll find no shortage of top cellar doors offering a seated tasting experience. At Vasse Felix, in WA’s rolling Margaret River region, you’ll be invited to recline in luxe leather couches in the Wine Lounge and enjoy a self-styled tasting flight accompanied by gourmet platters.

Winemaker for a day

Foxey's Hangout, Mornington Peninsula VIC 

For those of us who’ve dreamed of owning a winery, there’s now a far more cost-effective way to craft your own wine. A visit to Foxey’s Hangout on the Mornington Peninsula has just the opportunity. Here, you can craft sparkling wine under the guidance of winemaker of Michael Lee, sampling a range of Foxeys’ own sparklings before settling on your base wine (chardonnay or pinot noir) and desired level of sweetness, known as dosage. You’ll walk away with a bottle of your personal blend, as well as the insight gained into the winemaking process.

High-end experience

Cloudy Bay, Marlborough NZ

A visit to Cloudy Bay in New Zealand could arguably be the ultimate in wine experiences. Tour the rolling Marlborough vineyard in a helicopter, spend an afternoon on the 54 foot Beneteau Oceanis sailing yacht with sparkling wine in hand on Marlborough Sound, or sign up for their two-day ‘Forage’ experience, with an itinerary including seafood masterclasses, wine tastings and blending sessions as well as exclusive winery tours. 

Bird’s eye view

D'Arenberg, McLaren Vale SA 

At McLaren Vale’s d’Arenberg, you can skip the winery walk in favour of taking in the vines and the nearby coastline from the sky in the 1930s Waco biplane. You’ll follow this up with a winemaking session at the Blending Bench to get your creative (grape) juices flowing, and finish up with a degustation lunch matched with the best d’Arenberg wines.

Tawny tasting

Seppeltsfield, Barossa Valley SA

At Seppeltsfield, sample Tawny from your birth year in their historic Centennial Cellar. These wines are best enjoyed after 40 years or more, so it pays to have a few decades under your birthday belt. If you take the Centenary Tour you’ll also be treated to a private tasting of premium Seppeltsfield fortifieds and the ethereal 100-Year-Old Para Vintage Tawny.

Find out more about these and other winery experiences in Australia and New Zealand, in the July 2016 edition of Mercedes-Benz Magazine.

Image Cloudy Bay
Words Sarah Gamboni

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Experience a New Nordic cooking class at founder Claus Meyer’s Meyers Madhus

You’ve probably heard of Rene Redzepi and Copenhagen’s Noma, four-time winner of Best Restaurant in the World, but did you know that the concept of New Nordic cuisine was actually developed as a manifesto by Redzepi and his business partner Claus Meyer to revolutionise the way Scandinavians ate?

At Noma, Meyer plays a more behind-the-scenes role, but he’s also kept busy with his own foodie empire. His Meyers Madhus (“food house” in Danish) offers cooking classes for adults and children alike, while his Art Deco building, the Standard, features the Almanak casual dining spot; Studio gastronomic restaurant; and an intimate jazz club. Meyer’s Copenhagen delis offer affordable, healthy food and he has developed chef-training programs in Danish prisons as well as a world-class restaurant and training program in Bolivia.

For those who want to learn more about the New Nordic philosophy, cooking classes in English are on offer at Meyers Madhus’ headquarters in Copenhagen’s hipster Norrebro neighbourhood. I simply couldn't resist the chance to take part in a class.

Taking a hands-on approach

I arrive at the sleek, light-filled, storefront cooking school at 5pm and sit with 17 other students around a long table to sip on wine and beer and nibble cured fish and meats.

Chef Nico Danielsen explains that New Nordic cuisine is quite simple – it’s all about using local, seasonal foods. Since it is early autumn, we’ll be using local fennel and lovage, oysters, celeriac, plums, blackberries and raspberries. New Nordic cuisine also uses sustainable local staples, substituting grape seed oil for olive oil, apple cider vinegar for lemons, barley for arborio rice and so on.

Danielsen describes the four dishes we’ll cook and breaks us into teams of four and five. We are an eclectic bunch, including a French engineer, a Canadian political advisor, a Taiwanese marketer, an American fashion designer, an English consultant, and even an Aussie chef. There are also five Danes (three mothers who want to expand their repertoires, a primary-school teacher and an environmental consultant).

New Nordic techniques and flavours

Our first dish is grilled, pickled and fresh shaved fennel with poached egg and crispy wheat croutons. This dish utilises different cooking techniques – raw, pickled and grilled, poached and baked – to maximise flavours and textures…crispy, creamy, salty, sweet and tangy…within one dish. The key skill that Danielsen shows us is how to poach an egg!

Dish number two is celeriac with an oyster emulsion – a lighter, healthier version of pasta carbonara. First off we make a celeriac pasta and then learn how to shuck oysters before making the rich oyster mayonnaise.

Dish three is the piece de resistance: seared chicken and chicken confit with barleyotto, lovage salsa and pickled onions.

We debone an organic chicken, learn how to “confit” the legs, thighs and wings in boiling then simmering grape seed oil (not duck fat), grill chicken breasts on one side at high heat before letting them rest to cook through and remain moist. We pickle pearl onions so they are bright crimson and make a New Nordic risotto with barley (“barleyotto”). Instead of parmesan, we use unripened smoked cheese and hard salty Vesterhavs cheese and we make a sour lovage salsa to substitute for pesto. The beautiful dish is full of bright flavours to delight the palate.

Finally, we make a plum and fresh berry compote with Skyr ice-cream and crunchy oat flakes with freeze-dried black currants. The plum and berries have an intense multi-layered sweet and sour flavour and the ice-cream from Iceland’s renowned high-protein, low-fat Skyr yogurt is extremely creamy. We bake oats with black currents in thin crispy layers in the oven. The proof is definitely in the pudding.

As we feast together, all agree that every dish is packed with clean, tangy flavours with plenty of creaminess and crunch. Even better, we made them ourselves.

Image Meyers Madhus
Words Susan Gough Henly

Meet David Vitale, founder of New World Whisky Distillery

Previously housed in a former Qantas hanger in Victoria’s Essendon Fields, Melbourne’s New World Distillery, purveyor of Starward Whisky, has since pulled up stakes and moved to Port Melbourne. Opening in November 2016 and four times larger than the former location, Melburnians and visitors can enjoy tasting and touring just 10 minutes from the CBD.

The young small batch craft distillery prides itself on its innovation and modern approach. David Vitale, CEO and founder, explains.

Why whisky?

While living in Tasmania (in 2007), my wife and I were looking to set up an organic microbrewery, but that style of beer doesn’t travel well. I stumbled across Lark Distillery in Hobart and it was like a lightening bolt had hit me – all of the things I liked about craft beer could also work with craft whisky.

What was your first single malt whisky experience?

An 18-year-old Macallan whisky finished in a sherry cask, while sitting on the waterfront in Hobart. I wasn’t really a big whisky drinker until I discovered Lark Distillery. It really opened my eyes up to a new world.

Tell us about your distilling process.

We’ve taken more of a brewing approach than a distilling one. Australian malted barley is milled, and then pushed into a mash tun where we’ve added hot water. We extract the liquids into a fermenter, add yeast and distil for three days. We end up with a beer most like Belgium-style ale that’s quite aromatic and with lots of flavour. We transfer that into the still, double distil it twice and at the end of the process we’re left with a beautiful clear spirit that we then barrel age for three years.

How do you achieve such an outstanding product in such a short period of time?

Melbourne’s four seasons in a day adds dynamism to our environment, which means our whisky can come to market sooner and with lots of flavour. Plus, we use Australian wine barrels for aging. The flavour in those barrels and the climate that we have gives Starward its distinctive profile.

Tell us about your range.

Starward Solera is a sweeter style whisky using Australian Apera barrels. Our flagship whisky is the Starward Red Wine Cask Single Malt matured in Australian Red wine barrels.

Why "whisky" and not "whiskey"?

There’s a lot of conjecture to the way in which Australian whisky is spelt. Melbourne itself has quite a deep and rich whisky making history that dates back to the gold rush, with a slot of small distilleries established then. We looked at the historical name back in those days and it was without the ‘e’ so without the ‘e’ it is.

Would you agree that Australia is in the midst of spirits renaissance?

Absolutely. I think that there’s a general open-mindedness. We run master classes and tours of the distillery every weekend and the spectrum of people who visit the cellar door ranges from 25-year-old women to the tweed jacket wearing, pipe smoking Scotsman, and anything in-between. That’s really an exciting place for us to be. In the first instance, it’s a broader market than we originally anticipated, and secondly, it talks to the fact that there is an upward mind towards spirits in general.

How do you recommend drinking whisky?

The drink is best served for the occasion you’re at. I make a distinction between tasting whisky and drinking whisky. For tasting, typically you have it neat or with 20 per cent water just to understand the whisky. When you’re drinking it, it’s a different occasion altogether, so it’s more to meet the occasion or the environment. At a barbeque where it’s 35 degrees Celsius, drinking a whisky neat isn’t appropriate.

Try at home: the Starward Rob Roy


60ml Starward Wine Cask Edition
15ml sweet vermouth
Two dashes aromatic bitters


Add ingredients to mixing glass with ice
Stir until well chilled
Strain into cocktail glass
Garnish with orange peel twist.
Starward Whisky is at 50 Bertie Street, Port Melbourne.

Image New World Distillery 
Words Veda Gilbert

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. 

Delicious discoveries along the Farmgate Trail

An hour south of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula has enormous charm and appeal with world-class golf courses, excellent wineries with award-winning vineyard restaurants, quality art galleries, hot springs and spa facilities, fabulous regional produce and endless surf and bay beaches – edged with those wonderful, brightly-coloured bathing boxes that are so…well, Victorian.

So bountiful is the region with myriad small producers, quality gardens and farms, fresh produce markets, gourmet brewers and wine experiences that Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism has produced a user-friendly fold-out Wine Food Farmgate map and guide with directions and relevant details.

Pick your own berries and cherries, make your own gin and charcuterie, buy top local cow, sheep and goats cheese and fresh organic produce, sip wine with the winemaker, savour cider and beer with local brewers, and choose rare-breed meats, salamis and produce to take home.

Exploring Red Hill and beyond

Fortunately for food and wine-lovers, many of the 100-odd farm gates are concentrated around Red Hill – the ridgetop village centrally located between Dromana on Port Phillip Bay and Shoreham on Westernport Bay.

At Mock Red Hill, Sheryn Mock runs a cider lounge in a former apple cool-room. The 20-ha property has been an orchard for more than 200 years, and today, its 8500 apple trees and 150 pear trees produce a range of excellent ciders from dry, classic and sweet to non-alcoholic sparkling apple and pear juices – even a cherry liqueur blended with a 10-year-old brandy. Take home their naturally fermented oak-aged apple cider vinegar and flavoursome freeze-dried fruits.

Go early to pick cherries at the Red Hill Cherry Farm where third-generation cherry orchardist Trevor Holmes insists the stonefruit are sweeter in the mornings. Some 20 different varieties ripen at varying times during the short summer season from mid-November to mid-January. Unpicked berries quickly find their way into homemade port, beer, cider, juice and yummy ice-cream.

Housed in a near century-old former passionfruit factory supplying pulp fruit for Passiona, Trofeo Estate winery matures wines in huge terracotta amphora. Try their amphora chardonnay, pinot noir or shiraz then take a vineyard terrace seat at Whispering Vines Café and lunch on prawns in kataïfi pastry, paper-thin beef carpaccio or the catch of the day – perhaps bay snapper with calamari.

Thirsty work

Nominate a designated driver before heading for the Crittenden Estate Wine Centre to enjoy a structured flight of wines. Today, in what was the Crittenden family’s original home, participants can learn from one of the winery’s knowledgeable team as they sip and savour a choice of five different flights of handcrafted wine. “It’s unique on the Mornington Peninsula,” says Garry’s winemaker son Rollo whose range of 25 wines reflects his passion for traditional varietals. “It’s a clear and succinct way to convey my message about our wines,” he adds.

Established in 2009, Bass & Flinders is the only distillery on the peninsula – it even produces its own alcohol. Their pride is Ochre, an aged eau de vie, plus they have tapped into the worldwide revival in artisanal gin, using interesting botanicals. Gin-lovers can create their own signature tipple in Saturday afternoon gin classes.

Get hands on 

You can learn how to make gourmet sausages, salamis and all things charcuterie at special winter classes at Woolumbi Farm. For several years, Kenneth and Sonya Neff have been enjoying their own free-range lamb, beef, pork and smallgoods produced from their small herd of Belted Galloway cattle, Wessex Saddleback pigs and black-faced Suffolk sheep in true paddock-to-plate style on their small farm in Tyabb. In recent years, they opened a farm shop to cater to like-minded folk who cared about where their food came from. In their classic barn building, they sell fresh meats, salamis, hand-made jams, chutneys, sauces and more – plus a delightful methode champenoise apple and pear cider aged in French oak.

Dine in style

There are countless peninsula restaurants, many attached to vineyards offering excellent dishes to compliment their estate-grown wines. One of the newer dining experiences is Cook & Norman, a welcoming casual Italian trattoria in Flinders, known for its hand-made pasta. Share some kingfish carpaccio and calamari fritti before considering spaghetti with Crystal Bay prawns and pippies, orecchiette with nduja (spicy salami) and broccoli or their light-as-air gnocchi with braised lamb and cavolo nero.

Base yourself centrally, perhaps in one of the three generously proportioned one-bedroom Lakeside Villas at Crittenden Estate. The spacious vineyard accommodation overlooks a natural lake in the very heart of the peninsula, and is ideally situated to explore the region – allowing you to travel in a different direction each day. Recent refurbishment has elevated the level of comfort to one of the best in the region.

It doesn't matter which direction you head on the peninsula, you will never be disappointed – with spectacular vistas and guaranteed surprises at every turn. Go to winefoodfarmgate.com.au to download the main trail map or choose themed maps such as Cider and Ale, Cherries and Berries, The Great Indulgence (chocolate and cheese) and Wine and Dine for a more tailored experience.

Words Tricia Welsh

* Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol.