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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Guest post: Home Hill Wines, Huon Valley, TAS

Guest post by Stewart Kennedy.

Home Hill Wines (38 Nairn Road, Ranelagh, Tasmania) is one of the best and most understated winery/restaurant experiences I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying!

We first visited Home Hill during a Tasmanian visit about four years ago. Then, it was a lunch to remember, and this latest visit was just as good. Pinot Noir is their specialty, but after lunch today, I can also recommend the oysters and the lamb "done in various ways" as a main.

The chocolate-covered strawberries and "Pinot chocolates" were indulgent extras, not often on the menu:

The atmosphere at Home Hill is modern and relaxed. We booked ahead, but for Friday lunch it was not really necessary. Weekends, I am told, is another matter.

Oh - you can sit outside, too! There is something special about enjoying lunch among the vines with only tweeting birds to listen to. I loved it.

Home Hill Winery Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Joe's, Palais Theatre

Heading towards the Palais for a Neil Finn/Paul Kelly concert, we wanted to grab a bite to eat in St Kilda first. Being somewhat broke, I wanted somewhere near the theatre, cheap and filling. A quick Google search revealed the convenient proximity of Joe's (formerly Greasy Joe's) - a St Kilda institution that I'd never been to.

Joe's Bar and Diner (64-66 Acland Street, St Kilda - near the McDonald's!) was rebranded from "Greasy Joe's" just recently, and now seems to be aiming for a clean, fun, American vibe. Burgers are a large feature of the menu and, happily, they hover around the $13 mark. Between 4.30 and 6.30pm is special time: any beer and any burger for $15 - apparently served with chips, as seemed to be the case when we were there. I don't drink beer so couldn't really take advantage of the deal, but I think my chips were thrown in as a gesture (or by accident).

I went for something different: the "Lady of St Kilda", featuring ocean trout, harissa, lemon, cabbage and lettuce on a brioche bun. It was an odd combination of juicy, sour, oily and crunchy on the slightly sweet, dry bun. I'm still not sure if I liked it or not - but I ate it!

My friends tried the "Cheeseburger Baby" and the "Classic Joe" - both more conventional, and seemingly tasty, although one friend squished up her cute nose at the bun, declaring it too dry.

So it seems the burgers were generally regarded as... okay. Thankfully, the chips were AH-MAZE. I don't know what they did to them, but they were seriously awesome.

We sat at a large communal table, up high on bar stools which were a bit annoying, but we had a pleasant view of the street and anyone coming or going:

The rest of the place was taken up by (normal height) tables and a large central bar. There are also tables outside in a designated footpath area.

It was time to run off to the show, so we asked for the bill, but it was forgotten. SAD FACE. So we asked again, paid and walked all of 200 metres across the road to the stunning, if somewhat worse for wear, Palais Theatre (Lower Esplanade, St Kilda) - another institution of the area, and indeed of Melbourne.

Inside, we couldn't figure out if we were allowed to take drinks into the auditorium or not (wouldn't you put up a sign? -- surely otherwise you'd be asked ALL THE TIME), so we asked. We weren't. SAD FACE NUMBER TWO. So some of us skipped the support act (Lisa Mitchell... sorry, but meh) and drank our wines upstairs, looking out across all the slow-moving, zig-zagging people.

People-watching is always fun, especially when you know they're your kind of people because they like at least one thing you like (in this case, for me, the AWSBALLZ master of music, Neil Finn). And the grandeur of an official-looking historic building is always breathtaking. However - and it could be a funding issue; I don't know the details - the Palais could certainly use a bit of TLC and/or sprucing up.

The lack of air conditioning on a hot day (or even air filtering... pffft, you call those liddle round things way up there fans?!) made for a sticky wait. We were alerted to the start of the show by chiming bells - a quaint touch, so much cuter than those horrid electronic beeps you get at some places.


The temperature was slightly better but still warm inside the theatre. All those bodies... But once Neil Finn and Paul Kelly came onstage, to the sound of cicadas, in the dark, holding lanterns - I didn't care. As usual, both iconic musicians were professional, entertaining and pitch-perfect, and together, truly a class act. I nearly cried three times.

Sorry for the bluriness. We were sitting quite far back.

Paul's cover of Crowded House's "Into Temptation" was breathtaking - I didn't want it to end - and Neil's performance of Split Enz's "Message To My Girl" made me want to play it on repeat for the next week. I also loved this line from Paul Kelly's "Love is the Law": 

Love is always hopeful, 
and never dreams that it can fail.

The lighting effects were fantastic, based on a bush landscape backdrop, but with changing colours and effects. The band members comprised Paul's nephew Dan Kelly on guitar, Neil's son Elroy on drums, and a swingin' female bassist by the name of Zoe Hauptmann. It was nice to see a chick in the rhythm section, especially one who can actually play.

Needless to say, we came out of there on a high note, which just made the Palais seem even prettier by night:

Joe's Bar and Dining Hall on Urbanspoon

Casa Ciuccio

It has long been my belief that everybody should be granted a holiday on their birthday. (Sadly, this is yet to pass as national law.) Likewise, if you are single on Valentine's Day, you should go out - if you're a girl, with the girls; if you're a boy, on a boy's night. Things are much more fun that way, and you still get to partake in the specials and menus designed by bars and restaurants specifically for the day.

And so it was, that on a glow-inducing, ultra-steamy Valentine's Day in 2013, a possé of nine fabulous Melbourne gals rocked up to Casa Ciuccio (15 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) for cocktails and a sumptuous feast in celebration of our awesomeness.

Casa Ciuccio (meaning 'donkey house') is a sibling of the lovely Bar Lourinhã on Lt Collins Street - one of my first forays into Melbourne's laneway dining scene and also into Mediterranean, tapas-style share food. Ciuccio opened quietly in early 2012 to a positive reception, particularly by northsiders who seem to lap up this kind of unassuming but classy, bitsy-foodie, late-night venue.

Originally booked for a 6pm sitting downstairs, where there were two sittings scheduled (the plan was to eat cheese and delicious things quickly, then wander up the road for further drinking), we were offered a table in the relatively new upstairs section, with no time restrictions. "We'll take it!"

Keen as always for the fun stuff to start, I arrived early and was shown upstairs to a charming wooden deck area out the back. This area was serviced by a small but beautifully appointed bar, apparently called 'Bar Chooch': minimalist and light, accentuated with antique pieces such as this gorgeous light:

In keeping with the theme, I tried the cocktail special, Ciucc'Amore ('donkey love' - an aperol-based (hence, bright orange) spritzer-style beverage, topped up with sparkling, with a glacé cherry lurking in the bottom. It was strong, bitter and icy - the perfect antidote to the oppressive heat.

'Ciucc'Amore' Valentine's Day aperol cocktail

When all had arrived, we relocated to the dining room, quirkily yet prettily decorated in a mish-mash of subtle antique pieces and strong art, often relating to donkeys or the peasant lifestyle.

We said, 'Just feed us', and feed us they sure did. Get ready for the onslaught of deliciousness...

Anchovy toast thingies... delicious

Zucchini flowers

Chickpea & fennel salad

Octopus tentacle

Zucchini & eggplant salad

All that for what worked out to be around $70 a head. Not bad, right?! All the girls enjoyed the food and the artistic surroundings, and the service was impeccable.

Although there is a feeling upstairs that you're somewhat separated from the action, I would definitely recommend the area for private functions, especially if you can make use of the little deck. When I have visited before, I have always eaten at the communal table downstairs, which has a more informal and modern feel. Both upstairs and downstairs are lovely; they just have different vibes.

Of course, it wouldn't have been Valentine's Day without a rose and chocolate hearts:

At the quieter (Nicholson Street) end of Gertrude Street, Casa Ciuccio is set to become one of those classy constants; a quiet achiever of the locale.

German Club Tivoli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

German Club Tivoli

I studied German for quite a while and even participated in a student exchange to Germany during high school. I'm always tickled by a bit of German culture, food, or language. A Sunday lunch outing meant a chance to check out Melbourne's German scene at the German Club Tivoli (291 Dandenong Road, Windsor). (Is it just me, or does the word 'German' look weird when you see it a few times in a row?!)

Growing up with a European-born mother and grandparents meant I was no stranger to the odd hybrid culture of immigrants to Australia. There may be two languages spoken at home; trips overseas or visits from distant family; recipes brought over and reproduced as comfort food; music, attitudes and attributes that only people from the same culture can truly understand. Particularly the older generations seem to seek out the familiar: others who share and celebrate their culture; people who have gone through the same monumental life event of moving to a country on the other side of the world. 

So it was no surprise that the German Club was like a European RSL Club, complete with live folk music, boot-shaped stein glasses on display alongside bridge trophies, and a posse of elderly patrons (we were the youngest there by about 40 years), there for the German society and a hearty Sunday midday meal. You even have to sign in upon entry, like at an RSL, before wandering upstairs past a function room and easy-access toilets to the main dining room. 

The décor is both hilarious and charming: light wood fittings, brown tiled or red carpeted flooring, cushioned dining booths, crested chairs, Presidents' boards, trophy display cabinets, and subtle TV screens. 

On the other side, the bar backs onto another function room which, when we were there, was hosting Angelika's [undisclosed age] birthday party. Grandmas with walking frames, dolled up in their Sunday finest, nod hello to white-moustached chaps in caps and brown chinos. The waitress is a friendly middle-aged woman with no qualms about shouting explanations of the menu to near-deaf patrons, in German or English. It's all very quaint. 

Although on the cheap side, the food and drink prices do not quite match the esteemed prices generally found at an RSL. A schooner of DAB and a glass of wine cost about $15 together. 

The food - in my opinion - is worth it, though: if not for the heartiness, then at least for the novelty. Typical German fare features highly: bratwurst, schnitzel, roast pork, sauerkraut and something called Spätzle, which are best described as fried doughy bits, kind of resembling pasta, served as a side. I first tried them in Germany <cough> 14 years ago <cough> and fell in lurve. You can't easily find them at restaurants in Australia (even German restaurants) - although apparently they are quite easy to make at home. (PROJECT!!!) 

I enjoyed the smoked pork loin (Kassler) with sauerkraut and Spätzle. My dining partner had a Jäger Schnitzel, which, despite the name, sadly does not feature Jägermeister in any form* (at least, not that I'm aware of). It had a mushroom and bacon sauce and was served with fried potato and steamed vegies. Very traditional and molto tasty. The schnitzel, it should be noted, actually featured decent chicken - none of that frozen crap you will so often find in a Melbourne parma. 

Smoked pork loin with sauerkraut and spaetzle

Jaeger Schnitzel with fried potato and steamed vegies

Real chicken!

*Entertainingly, there were several elderly visitors to the bar who ordered and shot Jägermeister several times over.

Sadly, I did not have the opportunity to practise my German besides correctly pronouncing my order (hopefully), and I wasn't game to crash any of the parties of animated geriatric German-speakers nearby. So, too full for strüdel or schnapps, we carried our bellies outta there. I enjoyed the experience and would go again, mainly for the Spätzle and the overall amusement factor. 

German Club Tivoli on Urbanspoon