Papa Jack’s – Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

Papa Jacks

I don’t know about you, but I love a revolt against the ordinary, average, homogenized tedium that thrives in our global existence and threatens to smother not only our culture and food heritage, but snuff out its evolution without a backward glance. On the up side, I love the dichotomy it’s creating and the more and more prevalent kick-back and cross-cultural, multi-dimensional gastronomic celebration it’s cooking up. Point in case – Papa Jack’s. I’m going to borrow from my previous blog on the Best of My Breakfasts in Brisbane (because I wrote it and I can) ….“Old but new, funky and just bordering on the edge of recreation, Papa Jack’s will transport you to the Creole South the second you walk through the door. It’s soul food served with a side of swamp blues and green tomatoes.”

So impressed was I with their breakfast and hanging out for a substantial something different and  the soufflé I knew they had on the menu a little while back, I abandoned my ever-growing bucket list of new spots to hit and headed back to Papa Jack’s.

MusslesOf course I left it too long and missed the soufflé. I might have been devastated but for the creative genius of a dish that at first glance seemed a bit weird and a little off my taste chart. My curiosity overcoming my usual distaste for cold seafood and tomato juice, I felt compelled to order the applewood smoked mussels with a “virgin Mary” sauce.  Exciting, zingy and utterly refreshing. The sweet smokiness of the applewood pops out through the flicker of heat in the sauce and swirls around the delicate salty flesh of Kinkawooka mussels.

Pork BallsHaving already departed from convention I kept going, and rather than ordering something more substantial I followed my mussels with the pulled pork boudin balls. Risky, having ordered the same just a week ago at another restaurant and being bitterly disappointed with a dry, unseasoned and really rather tasteless vestige of the same. Not so here. Happily rolled up with some rice, a little spice and Chef Grant Skinner’s characteristic dollop of Creole zing in his Dijon truffle mayonnaise, these perfectly crisped, crumbed delights restored my faith.

My husband ordered “Le Big Burger” with onion rings and house-made pickles and being as our lunch was a prelude to the Pinot Palooza (Pinot Noir wine festival), could not have been happier with himself. Cheesy FriesServing up a decent burger with a difference is not easy and sometimes simplicity is best not messed with, but Papa Jack’s wagyu version with creole cream cheese is substantial, balanced and contemporary without being overtly funky. It’s enough on its own, but you wouldn’t want to miss the cheesy fondue coated fries sprinkled with bacon crumbs. In retrospect, just as well I didn’t order the substantial main I might otherwise have considered.

As for the Pinot Palooza, if you didn’t make it this year I’m afraid you’ve missed it, but if you’re a pinot noir lover and you don’t want to miss next year make sure you get on the mailing list at We had a great afternoon and spent a fabulous hour with Esquire’s Restaurant Manager, Alex Beazley, who expertly guided us through his pick of the best six pinot noirs and shared some anecdotes, experience and some particularly gorgeous tastings with us. Notably Curly Flat’s 2011 Pinot Noir (personal favourite), Crittenden’s Gepetto and finishing with a generous splash of Chambolle Musigny from Burgundy.


The Townmouse – Carlton, Melbourne

It’s places like these that really do separate the mice from the men. Chic industrial finishes belie the seamless complexity and beauty of the dishes here. This is what gets me really excited about food – cracking creativity pulled together with subtle sophistication and the greatest respect.

The menu is short, but by no means simple. It’s perfectly suited to a great night out with friends, but just as apposite for the lone diner – as is the service. I never fail to appreciate the easy, warm welcome and comfort some establishments are so deft at lavishing on solo travellers.

Parfait PSThe wine list is equally impressive – comprehensive and clearly crafted to complement a universal menu. A stunning variety of wines by the glass are happily conducive to the little taste travel the menu maps out. Profiterole B copy copyA sweetly oaked, subtle French chardonnay starts the journey in style with a blushing pink, silky smooth smoked duck liver parfait and carries through just as well with the goat’s cheese profiteroles with caraway, thyme and honey.

The menu is expertly fused from a diversity of the world’s best cuisines and you can literally go from France to Italy and Spain on one plate.

Chicken A Delicate poached chicken with ricotta dumplings, pickled king oyster mushrooms, Spanish avruga butter with savoury herbs and subtly infused garlic oil make the perfect entrée – or main if you start with tapas as I did and pair it with a veggie dish. Perhaps some summer beans with preserved orange and rosemary ricotta, or some slow roasted red cabbage with prune, parmesan and red apple?

If you’re curious like me, this is one of the few places you can try orange wine and I highly recommend it. I tried the 2008 Denovolo Italian orange and I’m pleased I did. It’s complexity is completely at home with the menu, although I would recommend it with a more robust dish than the chicken.

You’ll find The Townmouse at 312 Drummond Street, Carlton – a short but happy deviation from Lygon Street.

Note: I apologise for the poor quality of these photos – I literally popped in for a quick bite (sans my real camera) not expecting to be so utterly wowed and had to resort to my trusty iPhone.

Gerard’s Bistro – Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

130928 Gerard's Bistro CharcuterieRecently rated one of Brisbane’s best restaurants by Gourmet Traveller, Gerard’s has been on my bucket list for a while. The attraction? Modern middle-eastern cuisine served share-style, intriguing décor and an impressive wine list. It’s also conveniently located if you’re heading towards the Valley for a show – walking distance from The Tivoli and the Judith Wright theatre and close enough to the Powerhouse for a quick pre-show dinner if you’re driving.

The menu is diverse and thoroughly contemporary – house-made smallgoods and pickled accompaniments abound and its clear smoking is a technique favoured by chef Ben Williamson.130928 Gerard's Bistro charcuterie 3

The charcuterie board with Lebanese pickles goes so much further than the usual well-sourced and assembled offering. The house-made chorizo paste has a fabulous kick and works really well with the pickles. The liver pate packs remarkable flavour for its feather-light smoothness and finishes beautifully atop the seeded crispbread. The prosciutto is delicately smoked but watch those pickled chillies.

130928 Gerard's Bistro Suckling Pig PSSuckling pig with pear, walnuts and Jerusalem artichokes is the signature dish and it doesn’t disappoint.

The Pategonian toothfish with mussels and jamon is perfectly complemented by lentils shot through with a hint of lemon.130928 Gerard's Bistro Pategonian Toothfish 1 Both dishes work beautifully with sides of smoked potatoes with tahini, sumac and nigella; and roasted beetroot with shankleish, barberries, hazelnuts and lemon balm. Also on the menu and fantastic with our selection is the Stoneleigh Pinot Gris.

With all this we left no space for sweets, but will happily return to finish the experience.

A side note – if you’re a real foodie with a penchant for collecting recipe books, pop into Scrumptious Reads, just diagonally across from the entrance to Gerard’s. It’s open late and is the perfect appetising distraction on the way in if you’re a little early for your booking.

Day 6 – Margaret River

Hay Shed Hill EntranceAll good things and so on ….Sadly, it’s our last day. Typically, the sun cracks through the clouds and strobes gold through the trees. We’re off to Hay Shed Hill for breakfast. If you want something different this is where it’s at.

Hay Shed Hill Building

The café offers local produce with a distinctively Middle Eastern bent. I order the shakshuka – my first – and I’m hooked. Eggs cracked into a spicy tomato base, baked with chorizo and served with sesame flatbread. A good chilli hit so not for the spice-shy.


Stomachs lined, we face up for our last wine-tasting in the region and we’re not disappointed. With many outstanding Chardonnays and Cab Savs under our belts, it’s the 2011 Shiraz Tempranillo that grabs me. 86% Tempranillo, 14% Cab Sav, nice and spicy with complex tannins. The 2009 Block 8 Cab Franc is deliciously fragrant and a great way to end.

We send off our week’s stash and head for a sweet finish to the Margaret River Chocolate Company. Chocaholics be warned. I have never seen so much chocolate in one place in my life. Let alone so many interesting versions of it.Margaret River Chocolate

No tasting notes here – try everything. It’s all melt-in-your mouth, roll your eyes, bob your head, gushingly, embarrassingly perfect.

We pop in at the Silk Road and then hit the road towards Perth, travelling via Cottlesloe beach, where we stop for a lazy sunset drink at Indiana, stroll along the beach and wistfully yen for just one more day.

Day 5 – Margaret River

Leeuwin EntranceThe big wet is showing no interest in dissipating and we choose this day to dedicate almost entirely to one of the greats – Leeuwin Estate. We start with a wine tour. Not much happening at this time of the year but still interesting and the personal attention and private wine-tasting that follows makes it all the more worthwhile. We work our way through almost the entire offering, from the Prelude range through the Art Series. Leeuwin Art 1There’s probably nothing I can say that James Halliday and other wine boffs haven’t already said. All I can say is if you visit Margaret River and there is a winery you should not miss, this is it. This is premium wine and testament to Leeuwin’s heritage.

Leeuwin GardeNow so soggy outside we can barely see the Karri trees surrounding the property, our happy haze draws us to the crackling hearth and the promise of food.

Leeuwin Menu Pic

With my usual lack of restraint and want for trying everything, I start with the Art Series tasting plate. Oysters paired with the 2012 Riesling; Thai curry scallops with the 2012 Sav Blanc; d’Argental Lingot with cherry gel and candied walnuts is heaven with the 2012 Chardonnay; although the confit duck loses its legs a little against the 2008 Cab Sav.

Leeuwin Spanner Crab SouffleNot wanting to make a pig of myself but unable to resist crab or soufflé, I order this entrée instead of a main and Leeuwin Roast Artichokespair it with a side of roast artichokes and a glass of the Art Series Chardonnay. A happy pairing albeit with a slightly saggy soufflé.

Roger has the Rangers Valley scotch fillet with truffle fondant and horseradish bearnaise. He’s not a fan of gristle so this disappoints him, but the truffle fondant and béarnaise is sublime.Leeuwin Steak

On our way home, we pop into Watershed, impressive though a little exposed on a blustery day. We’ve heard the owner is dabbling in Manjimup truffles and vow to return to the vast restaurant, but for today I’m here to pay homage to their Senses Shiraz. A year ago I was lucky enough to pick up a few bottles of their 2010 vintage – outstanding and deserving of the Visy Gold award it picked up. Not as blown away by the current offering but one to watch. In the meantime, if you’re a fan, try the Zinfandel. Not many of them around (only five last time I checked) and this is a goodie.Watershed 2

Day 4 – Margaret River

Busselton JettyA glance at the forecast tells us today is likely to be the fairest of the rest, so we bolt up to Busselton. Foiled again. Stormy seas have muddied visibility and the aquarium at the jetty is closed.

So instead we head up to Cape Naturaliste, stopping at Dunsborough to see Christian Fletchers’ photo gallery. Breathtaking talent and well worth the detour. En route to Cape Naturaliste we stop to take pictures of the millions of lilies scattered across the fields. I’m told they’re noxious here but I still love them.

At Cape Naturaliste we pay the nice lady for passes to the lighthouse and then wish we hadn’t. It’s small (much smaller than Cape Leeuwin) and sealed in with an eight foot fence that precludes any decent shots of the view.

Wise WinesIn disdain, we consider our options and make the best of logical decisions. We head to the next winery. Wise Wines is just off the road heading back from the lighthouse. The view from the cellar door and restaurant is spectacular with a vista from the lush valley to the ocean beyond. The wines complete the experience.Wise Wines View The Pinot Grigio would make an Italian proud and the 2010 Lot 80 Cab Sav is stupendous. The finesse of the tannin curls delicately around cassis, vanilla and settles on a wisp of smokiness.

We take the scenic ocean drive to Meelup Bay. If you see no other beach in WA, see this one.Beach Meelup

Wills Domain ViewJust about everyone I know who has been to Margaret River has recommended our next stop and with good reason. Will’s Domain is perched atop a valley and is a feast for both scenery junkies and fusion foodies.Wills Domain Brisket Their eclectic menu is bold, complex and creative. I opt for the Ningaloo wagyu brisket with pickled walnuts, quince, kale and parsnip – served on a platter. My husband has the “Big Red” pork collar and belly with smoked shallots, dumplings and pear – served as a casserole.

A chilly mist rolls up the hill and snaps at our ankles as we head for the next winery – Pierro. As we get out of the car I can smell the lees and my tastebuds start a little jingle. My husband loves the LTC – an SBS with a “little touch of chardonnay”. I adore the 2011 Chardonnay. Sure the 2009 scored big but I can’t imagine much difference with a bit of cellaring. As for the 2009 Pinot Noir – yum, yum, yum – and just the thing for a cold night in front of the fire.

Day 3 – Margaret River

Let-the-liver-off day. We head south to see the caves, the forest, some beaches, Augusta and Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. Lake Caves 1Lake Caves is our first stop. A very steep track takes us down to the cave entrance and into the mystical netherworld of dolomites, stalactites and many other-ites.

Karri TreesThese caves are enchanting and more so for being surrounded by the magnificent towering karri trees of the Boranup forest. These giants grow to 90 metres, making them the third tallest tree in the world.

Hamelin BayWe brave the blustery wind and take a walk along Hamelin Bay – only sorry it’s too miserable to navigate more of what looks like a very scenic pathway over the cliffs. Cape Leeuwin LighthouseWhale-watching plans thwarted by the weather, we pop into a bakery at Augusta for a very hearty potato and leek soup and square up to the elements to get some snaps of Cape Leeuwin lighthouse and the old water wheel.Cape Leeuwin Augusta Water Wheel

The drive to Jewel Caves from here takes us through some of the most gorgeous countryside I’ve ever seen (including Scotland). These caves are significantly bigger than the Lake Caves, with more formations and vast chambers. Each is unique though and I recommend doing both. Nature’s galleries often really are the finest.Jewel Caves 4

Day 2 – Margaret River

Wanting a day for both of us to kick back without driving and get a decent orientation of the area, day two is spent in the good company of Harvest Tours.

General VineyardWe are collected from our chalet by Jamie, co-owner, tour host and son of a local dairy farmer. Knowing that Harvest Tours is family-owned, devoted to personal attention and devoid of big tour company hustle, we’ve booked the wine tour for foodies – encouragingly affordable and great value.

After collecting 2 other couples, we start at Adinfern wine estate, just south of Cowaramup (which oddly is named after a bird, not a cow). Here we are introduced to the craft, passion and challenges of the winemaker before supping the results – with some gentle guidance on the art of wine-tasting sans the snobbery.

Next we head into Cowaramup for delightful delicacies made by the resident Italian chef at Margaret Riviera. Here you can sample home-made pesto, dukkah, flavoured oils and stock up for those evening platters in front of the fire. Directly next door is a gorgeous gift shop and across the road is a bottle store dedicated to the region’s wines.

MR Providore is our next stop. ProvidoreMy husband and I have this little joke. I’m irrevocably addicted to little jars – notably those filled with jams, salt rubs, nuts, tappenades, pickles, marinades, sauces … you get the picture. I have a pantry full of the little buggers. If we ever had a famine, we could live for months on them. Well, this is little jar (and big jar) heaven and my poor man has hardly finished groaning before I mentally clear out the first aisle.

My picks – the lemon curd, shiraz sauce, Moroccan couscous and raspberry jus. Don’t worry – you can taste most of them first. His picks – dark chocolate liqueur and macchiato liqueur. Do not miss tasting these – even if you think they will be too sweet. For those as useless at baking as I am, this is a great way to finish a dinner party. I’ve already done it and will be ordering cases of the stuff for Christmas gifts.

Vasse Felix Fireplace BarAppetites armed, we’re off to Vasse Felix for more wine tasting and lunch. This is the first (and only) Sauvignon Blanc Semillon that I enjoyed. I’m sure there are some exceptional varieties around, but I’m not a Semillon fan and Vasse Felix has got this blend to perfection for my palate. Probably as much to do with the subtle oaking to add a touch of spice and tannin as a deft hand. The Chardonnay is everything you’d expect from the exceptional care taken to produce a wine with very satisfying texture and depth but remarkable purity. You could stop there and you wouldn’t be disappointed, but don’t miss the chance to taste the Heytesbury Chardonnay, especially if you can get the 2010 vintage. This one snagged 12 gold awards for good reason.

For an everyday ready-to-drink-now red the classic dry is entirely quaffable. For winter perfection and with one of those delicious venison racks I mentioned earlier, try the Shiraz. Very different to a Barossa Shiraz, with more white pepper than black but a gorgeous hit of spice and a hint of jasmine, vanilla and coffee. The Cab Sav is outstanding too, but I must stop or risk sounding like they’re paying me to write this (which they’re not).

Vasse Felix has a warmVasse Felix Pork Belly, inviting cellar door and this theme is carried through to the restaurant. Situated upstairs the view of the luscious grounds and the creek is a perfect backdrop to the stone and wood interior kept toasty with an impressive hearth. The food is hearty too. The lamb shanks are substantial though a little lacklustre, but the pork belly is outstanding.

Nothing better after a little (or big) lunch than a little chocolate. Especially when it’s dark, organic, freshly crushed and tempered from the best cocoa beans in the world. I’ve been to Belgium. I’ve gorged on Belgians chocolate made by boutique chocolatiers in Brugge and Brussels. Until now, I would have bet anything that you’d not find better chocolate in the world. And forgive me, but at the very least I would not have expected to find it in Australia. Aptly named after an angel (and my grandmother), Gabriel chocolate is – pardon the pun – heavenly.

Well fed and bouncing off the walls from our sugar hit, we brave the hammering rain and puddle-hop into Windows Estate. It’s all about subtlety and finesse here. Our tasting comes with perfectly paired local cheeses and a lovely history of the winery. The basket pressed Cab Sav is gorgeously earthy, while the Chardonnay balances fresh citrus notes with a creamy nuttiness to perfection.

Waterfalls Pinda RoadSurprisingly, after all this, we have time for a little detour en route to Yahava coffee; and Jamie takes us to an enchanting waterfall off Kevill Road. Worth the few minutes it will take you to get there off the main road.

An idyllic day that you would think could get no better. Until we arrive back at our chalet and glimpse a woman walking by with a roo in tow. Thinking we’ve had too much wine we continue staring until curiosity gets the better of my husband and off he goes for a chat (as he does). Turns out this dear lady is a roo rescuer and has a baby joey slung around her mid in a blanket. The roo following her is one she saved a couple of years ago and has not been able to release back into the wild. The little joey is only 6 weeks old and so needs 24/7 nurturing – for a total of six months. The world needs more people like this. And hats off to Willy Bay for offering their resort as a “soft-release” area for these bouncing beauties.Baby Joey

Day 1 Margaret River

Fermoy EstateLiterally down the road from our resort is the estate that produces one of my favourite summer drops – Fermoy Estate’s Sauvignon Blanc. Their Cab Sav has scored well but it was the Sav Blanc I discovered first so I’m partial. That said, the 2012 lacks a little of the edge of the 2009 vintage, but it still sits close to some of my favourites.

From here it’s a short skip across the road to Evans and Tate. I’ve always enjoyed their everyday range (their classic and Gnangara labels) but was blown away by their Artisan range.  Their 2012 Sav Blanc is beautifully balanced with a dash of Semillon and old French oak barrelling gives it the complexity, texture and length that I adore. For now this is only available at the cellar door and online.

Around the corner on Caves Road is Lenton Brae. This is a special smaller family winery and their wines  are exceptional. You’ll likely find Jeanette (the winemakers’ mother) at the cellar door and the family dog keen for a scratch out front. A must-try here is the award-winning Wilyabrup Chardonnay & the Cab Sav. Neither of these award-winners are cheap but they are worth every cent and be warned – if you start here you’ll be setting off from a high bar. Thankfully they also offer a delightful,  more affordable Brightside Chardonnay – not as complex but just as delicately crafted.

Venison ShopFrom here it’s off to the Venison farm/shop. Here you can taste (and of course buy) anything from venison chorizo, liverwurst and kransky to full venison racks and steaks. It’s places like this that make me glad I so often go for self-catering. I highly recommend trying the rack (and the chorizo, and the kransky, and … well as much as you have time for). I marinated the rack in a mixture of lemon zest, olive oil and finely chopped rosemary and roasted it for about 25 minutes on 180˚C. I served this with a gorgeous Shiraz sauce (also from the Venison shop). On another night I sliced up some chorizo which I mixed in with tagliatelle and a simple sage butter.

XanaduI digress … from the Venison shop we headed to Xanadu for another wine tasting and some lunch.  This was undoubtedly my favourite food experience in Margaret River. The restaurant is perfect for a cozy winter lunch. Stone interior, blazing fireplace, timber floors and the food is exquisite.

Xanadu Oxtail CanneloniWe shared the oxtail cannelloni as a starter (and immediately regretted not getting one each). All the  flavour you’d expect from a properly slow-cooked oxtail but with hardly any residual fat and off the bone in a silky smooth cannelloni tube with mushroom broth and manjimup truffle.

Xanadu Pork Belly Terrine RilletteFor a main I combined two entrees. Great idea and so glad I didn’t miss either of these masterpieces. Pork three ways – hock terrine, confit belly and smoky rillettes with pickled veg and treacle bread; and the perfection of the scallops with feather-lightness ofXanadu Scallops goats curd delicately encased in a maple pumpkin tube nearly brought me to my knees.
Xanadu SteakMy husband’s beef fillet with mushroom ketchup and potato boulangere was buttery perfection and substantial enough to keep him happy.

We both loved the Chardonnay, the Cab Sav was outstanding and we had a couple of surprises here too. Roger was really taken with the Viognier – unusual for him as he’s not normally partial to too much wood. I wasn’t expecting to find a Graciano, nor such a good one. Not surprising is that Xanadu’s chief winemaker, Glenn Goodall, is up for winemaker of the year.

With tummies well-lined it’s off to Stella Bella in anticipation of their Tempranillo. What a lovely cellar door – and I’m talking as much about the ambience and delightful duo of ladies in attendance. Very knowledgeable, very relaxed and happy for a chat. Just as well too – as they have many wines worth tasting and taking your time over. The Tempranillo was honest, but I especially loved the Chardonnay and their Sangiovese Cab deserves a nod too.

Coffee time. By now a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but worth it regardless. Look no further than Yahava coffee works. All organic, freshly ground and the first coffee I’ve tasted that stands up to Brunetti’s in Melbourne. They do coffee tastings too. I strongly suggest trying their iced coffee. First sniff is syrupy sweet and close to off-putting, but do try it with a little milk. We tried this on our tour the following day (coming next) – nearly all of us had the same initial reaction – and nearly all of us bought a bottle to take home.

Margaret River

General Vineyard

Someone once told me that heaven will be the best of your personal ideals and favourite places. Well then, if I’m good enough Margaret River is where I expect to spend at least some of my celestial retirement.

General Dairy FarmI haven’t seen grass this green since Scotland. The fields are groaning with cattle, sheep, calves and lambs. There are wild roos and every so often you’ll catch the receding pom-pom of a rabbit’s tail.

Knowing it would be cold and wet in August and wanting something with a well-equipped kitchen to make use of all the amazing produce I’d heard Will Bay Gazebo Damabout, I spent hours searching  for the perfect place. Willy Bay Resort on Metricup Road was just that. Surrounded by forest with two dams on the property and adjacent to a vineyard, our chalet had a gourmet (Miele) kitchen, gas fireplace, spa … and a manager with an Irish accent.

The weather was just what we expected … and just what we wanted. Living in Brisbane has its perks, but every now and then it’s nice to have a little season – and wine country in winter is idyllic.

Margaret River is best known for it Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Armed with suggestions from friends and some good direction from my wine guru (Andrew McAllister of Langton’s), we happily worked our way through some of the best wineries in Australia over 6 days. Margaret River produces only about 4 % of Australia’s wine yield, but accounts for up to 25 % of the country’s premium wines.

Beach MeelupOf course we couldn’t spend all day every day wine tasting (really, I hear you ask?). Luckily the area has an abundance of galleries, artisan producers (venison, chocolate, coffee, cheese, silk, etc.) and some of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. Enchanting caves abound and the forests are magnificent. You can go on wine trails for foodies, sit back in the saddle for a bush trail or have a massage in the comfort of your own accommodation.

I hope you enjoy reading about this magnificent region as much as we enjoyed visiting it. If you are planning a trip and want to know more about anything I’ve mentioned please feel free to send me a question through the “comment” option on this blog.

In the meantime, stay “tuned” – more to come….