Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Dining out’ Category

Le garde-manger: last dinner in Auckland

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 19, 2019

Tonight we’d planned to eat in, but the hotel restaurant was closed so we strolled up the Queen Street hill to a lovely little French bistro called Le Garde-manger.

We had delicious aperitifs to go with a delicious chicken liver paté: mine was called Pommeau de Normandie and it was made with apple juice and Calvados, and Tim’s was called Aperifigue, because it was flavoured with figs.

For main course, we had the specials: Tim had salmon and I had a confit of duck leg.  And we both had delicious wines, Tim’s a pinot-gris from Alsace, and mine was a pinot-noir from Bourgogne. Service was prompt and friendly, so it was a perfect last night in Auckland.

Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Auckland, Dining out | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

New Zealand Day 10: Auckland War Memorial Museum

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 16, 2019

First, a little bit of catching up…

In Napier, Tim went to the aquarium while I put my feet up with a book.

So, back to Wednesday in Auckland!

After a scrumptious breakfast in the hotel (the Scenic, on Queen Street) we headed off to the wharf, not far from the Maritime Museum.  It was a beautiful morning, sun shining with a light breeze, so a trip across to Devonport on the ferry seemed like a good idea.  And even though as the day wore on there were intermittent flurries of wind and rain, for the most part the day stayed congenial. We have been very lucky.

Devonport is lovely.  I can understand why people would want to commute across the harbour to work in the CBD!  We had coffee and friands at a really nice café called Twister Tomato, and then strolled around the shops and admired their lovely houses.  Best of all we found a second-hand bookshop called Bookmarks and spent a blissful half hour browsing their extensive collections.  I bought three, and so did Tim, so we are going to have to be careful with further purchases, but backlist books of Catherine Chidgey and Kirsty Gunn are impossible to source in Australia so it would have been daft not to buy them.

Back on the mainland, we went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum.  The architecture is neo-classical with Roman columns inside and out, and entablature on the exterior features scenes of war on the frieze. Inside, it’s what I call a traditional museum, (i.e. the kind I like), with collections focussing on the natural world, NZ’s geological history, and a representative collection of classical artefacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome and China.  There were also a couple of replicas of Greek statuary including the Laocoon and the Dying Gaul, and I think this is a good idea: it’s a very long way to travel for students studying these classical civilisations to see the originals, and just as the V&A in London has replicas for its students, so the Auckland Museum enhances its collection of original artefacts with these life-sized replicas as well.

They have a very good fossil collection.  (I am fascinated by fossils, and have my own small collection at home, including a trilobite).  Here’s the slideshow, including a giant ammonite and a reconstruction of the extinct giant moa.

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They also have a good (if somewhat disconcerting) exhibition about volcanoes.  NZ doesn’t just have to worry about devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions in their cities is a possibility too.  An animation shows how volcanic eruptions from the sea reshaped these islands over millions of years: my photos don’t capture it all that well, but it’s one of the best exhibits I’ve seen on this topic.

Upstairs is dedicated to the War Memorial and associated exhibits, including a real Spitfire on display, and a poignant cabinet of POW’s handwritten stories.  New Zealanders served in many theatres of war, and so there are cards written by people captured everywhere from Germany to Crete and of course in Singapore as well.  As well as the exhibits you’d expect to see about WW1 and WW2, there was also an exhibit about women’s war service, and one about peace-keeping operations as well.

And I had my first Bookish Moment of the trip.  (The visit to Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace, you may recall, didn’t work out because the house was closed for the duration). In a delightfully idiosyncratic collection donated by a gentleman called Mackelvie, there was this: ivory mini-busts of Voltaire and Rousseau.  (The man at the front isn’t anybody, the signage just says he’s a man, so why he’s at the front in the way I do not know!)

For dinner we went to a restaurant that claimed to serve Japanese-influenced European dishes—but they don’t.  They serve Japanese dishes with the inclusion of mismatched European ingredients. such as bits of shredded raw potato, red radish instead of daikon and (a mortal sin, IMO) mustard drowning out the subtle flavour of freshwater caviar.  The dishes were the usual unpalatable raw fish in feeble sauces.  If you like Japanese cuisine, and Tim does, then it was fine, if grotesquely overpriced. If you don’t, and I really don’t, then the only ‘European’ dish in a seven-course degustation that you might like will be dessert.  And this is a shame because Tim chose this particular restaurant because he thought a fusion cuisine might suit us both.  But the irresponsible table service was something else again: the tables are very close together, so all night long anything the waitstaff said to us was drowned out by a boisterous couple next to us, made worse by the way the waitstaff kept replenishing the father’s glass with sake and beer so he became louder and louder and more and more obnoxious. Not a happy experience at all.

Photo credit:

Auckland War Memorial Museum by User:Antilived – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Auckland, Dining out, Museums | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

New Zealand Day 9: Auckland Writers Festival Event

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 14, 2019

Well, we’ve attended our first Auckland Writers Festival Event, a bespoke lunch with celebrity chef Tony Tan!

But we’ve also checked out the venue for the bookish events… and it is going to take all my self-control not to succumb to some very enticing books a *lot* of Air New Zealand excess baggage charges from the festival bookshop, which is already open.

The Aotea Centre is a stone’s throw from our hotel, but I managed to find some interesting buildings en route all the same.  Here’s the slideshow:

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You will have noticed that I slipped in a picture of Melbourne’s Forum Theatre… as soon as I saw the Auckland Civic Theatre, I recognised the style, and it didn’t take much searching to find that the similarity is owed to the designer John Eberson, who was an American promoter of what were called Atmospheric Theatres.  (If you’ve been inside our Forum Theatre, you know exactly what that means.  If not, click here to find out more).

So, back to our first festival event…

Tony Tan is a celebrity chef, Malaysian-born but based in Melbourne, and to celebrate the launch of his new cookbook Hong Kong Food City, he put on a special lunch at Nic Watt’s Masu restaurant here in Auckland.

Masu is actually a Japanese restaurant, and I asked the man who was obviously in charge of it (owner? maitre d’? head chef?) if it was stressful lending his restaurant to another chef, and he laughed and said yes, it was, because his chefs had no experience cooking Chinese food and before the event, there were lots of emails flying backwards and forwards seeking further instructions about how to do things.  Imagine it! The kitchen staff certainly deserved the sustained applause they got from the delighted patrons!

Anyway, here’s the slideshow… the chicken is inside that packet.  I did take a photo, but, well, it just looks like chicken!

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We took a constitutional down to Prince Wharf afterwards, and from there to the Maritime Museum.  I’ll whip up a post about that after dinner…

Photo credits:

Forum Theatre, Melbourne by Donaldytong – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Auckland Civic Theatre by Ingolfson at English Wikipedia(Original text: Uploader.) – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.(Original text: Own picture.), Public Domain,

Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Auckland, Dining out, Museums | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

New Zealand 2019 Day 7: Napier Museum

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 12, 2019

Actually, the Napier Museum is also an art gallery and a library!

There are only three floors, but it’s still a very interesting museum.  Alas, I had a Senior’s Moment and left my camera on the desk in the hotel so we have only a few photos on Tim’s phone…


We started off on the ground floor with a display about the 1931 Earthquake.  We had already read about this, and seen the informative video at the Art Deco Trust, but this museum exhibition rounded out the historical facts with personal stories.  There were stories from people who lived through it, including some poignant ones from people who were small children at the time, and there were some treasured trinkets that had been salvaged.  There was also a digital display on a banner, that had voices of the people superimposed over diagrams that showed the transitions as the land rose up and changed the landscape while below it the Richter Scale was climbing.  It was very vivid.  There were replicas of press reports and telegrams, and also photos of the naval ship HMAS Veronica that was anchored in the bay when the quake struck. The ship was thrown right up out of the water and then back down again, coming to rest in newly exposed mudflats when the ocean retreated.  They had to wait until a high tide before it could be re-floated, but they had radio and they sent an SOS to Auckland by Morse Code.  The next day two naval ships arrived with medical help and supplies, and the city has never forgotten the navy and how it managed the relief effort.

There was a lovely display of local silverware, and not all of it was owned by the rich and privileged.  We were both captivated by trophies awarded to two fire stations competing in fire drills.  Tim liked the rooster, and I liked the one with the water cannon!

There was also a display of Maori carvings and whatnot but we’ve seen a lot of that by now (and I think you need to be a bit of an expert to see the difference between them) and the same was true of the exhibition about a pioneering family called Webb.

However we loved the display of architectural drawings by the architect J A Louis Hay.  He was in his fifties and already a notable architect influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright when the earthquake struck and Napier needed rebuilding.  He joined the Napier Reconstruction Committee and ensured that local architects who had the interests of Napier at heart were those who controlled the massive rebuilding task.

There were framed drawings of his proposed buildings, many of which we’ve seen realised as buildings in the CBD, and there was signage that explained that he was a meticulous man who was intolerant of shoddy workmanship.  But it was from Wikipedia that I discovered that his wife was severely injured in the disaster.  I think these architects are real heroes, who restored a ruined city into a truly beautiful place, and I suspect that the local people who had suffered so much must have been delighted to see their new city arising from the disaster.

We also took the opportunity to admire the Napier Library.  It is a beautiful space, quiet and calm, and nicely organised with a spacious feel and what looks like a good contemporary collection.  They also had a clever initiative to encourage borrowing: you can borrow a ‘pot luck’ bookbag of five books, which are tagged ‘romance’, ‘thriller’, ‘paranormal romance’ (what’s that??) or ‘crime’.  You simply scan the bag, take it home and embark on a voyage of discovery!

We rounded off our two days in Napier with a wonderful meal at Bistronomy.  If you like fine food in a creative contemporary style, this is a restaurant you must not miss.  They make excellent cocktails (I had a Sour Tart, made with gin, elderflowers and feijoas (in season now); and Tim had a Lady Marmalade which was made with charred citrus, aniseed and Cointreau.  What we particularly liked was that the cocktails came before the first course as they should, because the whole point of a cocktail is that it’s a pre-dinner drink, and very rarely is it compatible with an entrée.  In a best-forgotten place we went to in Wellington, the bartender took so long to finish his theatrical performance—prancing around, waggling his pony-tail and thrusting his biceps about, that by the time the cocktails arrived #EpicFail we had almost finished entrée…

No such problem at Bistronomy.  The service was excellent, and the food was served perfectly.  Here’s the slideshow, and I have added the description from the menu so that you can see the complexity of the dishes:

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One thing we didn’t photograph, though it wouldn’t have conveyed much if we had, was the house-made bread which came with whipped butter flavoured with lemon and horopito.  We had never heard of this flavoursome ingredient, and it tasted sublime.  It’s a kind of bush pepper apparently… and I really hope we can source it at home! I’d like to try using it to flavour muffins:)

Tomorrow we are off to Auckland!

Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Dining out, Libraries, Museums, Napier | Tagged: , | 10 Comments »

New Zealand 2019 Day 5: Palmerston North

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 10, 2019

We were up bright and early for the train to Palmerston North.  The Wellington Railway Station is hugely impressive, rather like the one in Rome (which is my favourite of all railway stations in the world).  It is well-organised and easy to navigate inside, (none of this nonsense about checking in your own luggage) and helpful staff everywhere.

The train was very comfortable, other passengers were congenial, and apart from a very brief bumpy bit of track, a smooth ride from start to finish.  I love train travel, and this is a really nice way to see some beautiful scenery in relaxed comfort.  The food is surprisingly good too: we had some sandwiches and coffee and #NotLikeAirlineFood there were other appetising choices too.

On arrival at Palmerston North, we dumped our bags and headed out for a walk to stretch our legs.  Here’s the slideshow:

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Then it was off to the Museum.  Now, everyone you talk to in Wellington and in Palmerston North, will tell you about the Rugby Museum, (and I have developed a friendly patter in response, about The Offspring’s teenage career in representative rugby which conveys the entirely untrue impression that I know something about the game), but it will come as no surprise to my friends that we went to The Other Museum.  It’s called the Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, and it’s wonderful!

We spent a very happy hour there, checking out the Environmental Science exhibits, and I was so pleased to see that they group the taxa together so that children actually learn something from the exhibit. BTW Note the Humble Bee in these images: one of these flew across my face at lunch in the Rose Garden in Wellington, and Tim thought I was exaggerating when I said how big it was.

I don’t have much patience with so-called interactive exhibits because I don’t think children really learn much from them, but we played with this one on the electromagnetic spectrum, and found it very good at explaining the wavelengths.

There were also exhibits of birds arranged by habitat, a skeleton of an extinct moa and a stuffed Kiwi (which was smaller than I’d expected).  Also on display was the massive stump of a Totara tree.

And then there was the history museum, which had all kinds of interesting things, including a Maori meeting house and some other artefacts that we were allowed to photograph.    Here’s the slideshow:

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You know you’re getting old when the phone booth you were using just a few years ago is in a museum, eh?

Lisa’s Sous vide Wild Red Tussock Venison Short Loin

We dined in at Jimmy Cook’s at the Copthorne Hotel, and had the best venison I’ve ever tasted.

Tomorrow we’re off to Napier!

PS I found two bookshops in Palmerston North, and recommend Papers Plus for friendly service and dedicated shelves of NZ fiction.  I couldn’t resist a new book called The Naturalist by Thom Conroy and an intriguing title called Liberation Square by Gareth Rubin – it’s an alternative history of the UK after it’s been defeated by the Nazis…

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New Zealand 2019 Day 4: Wellington, Dockside Restaurant

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 9, 2019

Just a quick post to showcase the delicious meal we had at Dockside Restaurant on the waterfront.

We got a bit wet getting there, but it was worth it.

The most interesting wine of the night was The Hay Paddock Syrah from Waiheke Island.  It was a full-flavoured red wine rather like a Barossa red, which is not what you expect from a cool-climate region like NZ!


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Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Dining out, Wellington | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

New Zealand 2019 Day 3: Jano Bistro Wellington

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 8, 2019

In 2015 Jano Bistro was runner-up for the best new restaurant in New Zealand – and I can’t imagine how good the winner must have been because this restaurant is one of the best I’ve ever eaten in…

(And that includes Shannon Bennett’s Vue de Monde and Lumé in Melbourne; Rules in Covent Garden in London; and Les Hautes de Loire in France).

Jano is a tiny little restaurant so we booked in advance (from Australia).  We strolled up from our hotel through Cuba Street (Wellington’s ‘Bohemia’) and found Jano’s in what looks like a small house at 270 Willis St.  The service was welcoming and friendly, and our waiter took pride in explaining the degustation menu in the kind of detail that we appreciate.

An impressive aspect of this menu is that it’s a gourmet vegetarian menu… designed, that is, to be a splendid, complex feast of vegetarian flavours, to which a protein (fish, seafood, poultry, beef) can be added if desired.  As vegetarians will know, most fine dining restaurants might feature one, or at the most two, vegetarian dishes, but they are usually an afterthought and nothing special.  The menu at Jano’s is the very opposite of that: it celebrates vegetables, fruits and herbs, and the protein is a complement, not the dominant feature of the dish.

Here, without further ado, are our photos from the 8 course menu, but eagle-eyed readers will notice that I forgot to take a photo of the dish that heroed celeriac: Celeriac with fresh ceps, fishless soup and Mirror Dory.  It’s a shame because it was pretty as a picture and it tasted delicious.

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The dish of the day, IMO, was the pear and muesli, with Manuka honey and rosemary. It sounds bizarre for a dessert, but it was divine. Tim’s favourite was the Hangi Potato with oyster mushrooms, onions and sourdough, a superb blending of culinary cultures as our waiter said!

Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Dining out, Wellington | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

New Zealand 2019: Day 3 Wellington Museums

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 8, 2019

The weather continues benign, and I have yet to suffer what is called the Wellington Hairdo:

We took a stroll along the waterfront en route to the Wellington Museum, and admired other examples of Kiwi humour:

We also liked a retaining wall that featured memorials of one sort or another.  I liked the one to the Shaw Savill Line because that’s the line on which I sailed to Australia and although it’s not the classiest ocean liner of my childhood travels, it did get me to the right place to make a wonderful home. Here’s the slideshow:

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So then we got to the museum, said (by someone, Lonely Planet?) to be among the best 50 museums in the world.  It is just the kind of museum I like: with interesting exhibits, lots of good signage, not dependent on pressing digital interactive stuff that is mostly rubbish and not what you wanted to know anyway.   It’s definitely among my best-ever museums too.

On the ground floor there’s a chronological circuit which takes you through the 20th century in Wellington.  It has some surprising exhibits: I’ve never before seen any exhibits about conscientious objectors but this museum features Alexander Baxter, and it acknowledges that it takes courage to stand up for your beliefs when everyone else is against them.

There’s also a banner for Nuclear Free Wellington, which as our tour guide Dean said yesterday was a no-brainer given New Zealand’s propensity for earthquakes. (BTW I have no idea why they’ve put a woman sweeping the floor next to the sign, there wasn’t any signage to explain it.)

It’s always pleasing to see a city’s literary and artistic history being included in a museum’s exhibits.  Here’s the slideshow:

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Having read so recently at home about the battle for women’s suffrage, I was impressed yesterday when our tour guide drew our attention to Kate Sheppard Place which acknowledges her role in the NZ campaign which led to New Zealand women being the first in the world to get the vote.  And with what we now recognise as typical Kiwi humour he pointed out that this little street is between two pubs, which might not have amused Sheppard who was (like many of the suffragists) a temperance campaigner as well.

However in the Wellington museum, all that we could find about her was this enigmatic statue, and her name among other notable Kiwi women on a tapestry.  (You probably won’t be able to read the names, but they include Jean Batten the aviator; Katherine Mansfield (author); Helen Clark (first female PM of NZ); Jacinda Ardern (of course!); Jane Campion (film director); Patricia Grace (author) and other names I don’t know but will look up in due course.

All up it’s a jolly good museum, and highly recommended.

To finish off, here we are having lunch at the Crab Shack!

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Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Dining out, Museums, Wellington | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

New Zealand 2019 Day 1: Wellington

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 6, 2019

Well, here we are in Wellington!

We had an uneventful flight (always the best kind of flight to have IMO) and an even more uneventful drive to our hotel.  From what we’ve seen of ‘peak-hour traffic’, Wellingtonians have nothing to complain about.

Our home away from home is the U Residence on Wakefield Street, a well-appointed self-catering apartment right in the centre of town.  It’s also very close to the harbour, so we took a stroll along the waterfront en route to buy some supplies for breakfast tomorrow.

We’ve also found what appears to be a congenial Italian restaurant and we’ll check it for dinner tonight.

#Little Known Fact: you know the little walking men on pedestrian lights?  Here, the little red man is doing a Maori Haka, and the little green one is a woman swaying in one of those beaded Maori skirts.

Update (later on)

We had a delicious dinner at Fratelli on Blair Street.  For entrée, we had vodka infused salmon bruschetta with  salmon roe, and for mains Tim had veal scallopini and I had risotto with venison, washed down with a Santorini Primitivo.

These are not great photos, which may be the effect of the Martini I had before dinner.


Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Dining out, Wellington | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Chef’s Package at Dunkeld

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 17, 2018

Update 30/4/19: Eagle-eyed readers may notice that this post looks a little different.  That’s because I accidentally deleted it when I was trialling posting using an iPad.  I was able to recover it using the internet archive at Wayback Machine, but I had to tweak things a little to restore it fully. And alas, I could not restore the comments at all.


Last week we made a quick trip to Dunkeld for a Chef’s Package at the Royal Mail Hotel.

It’s a longish but easy drive (about four hours from Melbourne) but true to form we left our departure a bit late, so our only stops en route were for a quick sandwich at a roadhouse (where a quizzical eyebrow was raised when I asked them to remove the cheese because they didn’t have anything without lashings of fatty dairy) – and a very sudden halt for this when we were almost at our destination:

I have no idea what it was – perhaps a silo being transported somewhere? – but we were quite startled when a small truck drove over onto our side of the road waving a hand-held stop sign.  Well, we did stop, of course, and it turned out that this oversize thing was right where we were planning to go and it was using up both sides of the road.  Discretion is the better part of valour as they say, so we made a brief diversion and my new Mazda had its first venture onto a dirt road…  and we returned to civilisation just in time to be held up by the tail end of proceedings.

Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld

Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld (Wikipedia Commons*)

The view from our room

Five minutes later we checked into the Royal Mail Hotel. And that’s when I realised that I’d forgotten my camera which takes much better photos than my phone does.  But it didn’t matter much for the cellar tour because alas, it wasn’t really very interesting.  A tour guide needs to have a good spiel to make racks of wine bottles interesting but it ought not to sound like it’s been learned off by heart and be full of management-marketing jargon.  And the wines on tasting were not in the same class as the wines we have courtesy of the Finest Drop wine club through Hampton Gate Cellars.  Maybe we’ve been spoilt by Steve’s tastings and wine club dinners (though they’re not very expensive), but the Royal Mail’s Chef’s Package is marketed as a gourmet destination so a little less talk about their multi-thousand dollar wines and a bit more attention to their tasting wine choices would be a good idea. (They should also provide a spittoon to pour away unwanted wine since it’s part of responsible wine service).  However, (apart from the bookshop being open only on weekends, which is fair enough) that was the only disappointment of our stay.

We had a restorative tea and coffee and some scrumptious cakes at Cafe 109 on Parker Street, which – we learned from the plaque outside – used to be the State Savings Bank.  (There are small historic plaques which feature in their ‘historic walk’ all over town, which is a good initiative, evidence of the way this town has gone out of its way to reinvent itself as a desirable tourist destination). Cafe 109 is a nice eatery with very good and friendly service and it looks like a place that would be good for an inexpensive dinner too.

We then took a stroll down the main street in perfect Spring weather. The town boasts an information centre, with an impressive range of resources and some very helpful staff who were assisting other tourists who planned to go further afield.  There is also an impressively upgraded Anzac memorial in the park (courtesy of Centenary funding), a museum, and an arboretum which made me wish we could stay a little longer but we couldn’t manage it this time.

There were also some shops, including a general store that has changed dramatically since our last visit to Dunkeld…

2000 Tim with Sapphire at Bona Vista in the Victoria Valley

On that occasion we’d ‘come into town’ from Bona Vista, a turn of the century farmhouse in the Victoria Valley, a wonderful place to stay.  It had no phone, no TV, and none of the upmarket ‘necessities’ you find in so-called farmstays today – but it was very comfortable, blissfully quiet, and perfect for relaxing with a book of course.  We had a week there, celebrating the end of the millenium with champagne provided by our hosts.  Our silly Silky Terrier had an adventure with some inquisitive bees but was rescued by Tim (who unlike me isn’t allergic to bees); we were visited by kangaroos and wombats, and when I wasn’t reading I sketched from the verandah while Tim cooked up a storm in the kitchen.  It was 20 minutes by road from Dunkeld so we drove in to do our shopping – and the only flaw was that the store didn’t stick such exotics as capsicum or garlic!

Well, how things have changed in 18 years!  The Dunkeld General Store has certainly gone upmarket since then although it still has some shelves of everyday groceries too.  Most locals probably do their serious shopping in nearby Hamilton, so it’s mainly the kind of things that people run out of, and the main emphasis is on gourmet treats and platter foods.  Of course we bought some to bring home, and we would have bought lots more to supplement our holiday pantry if we’d been staying in the area for a while.

However, the main purpose of our jaunt was dinner at the Royal Mail.  We had dined there too in 2000, not knowing anything about its growing credentials and *chuckle* were agreeably surprised by the menu at what we thought was just a country pub.    Was it the next year it was awarded a coveted chef’s hat in the Good Food Guide?  I can’t remember…

Anyway, at the hotel’s new purpose-built restaurant called Wickens after its British-born chef, we opted for the five course degustation with matched wines from the cellar.  It was not an easy choice because everything looked highly desirable but in the end the truffle in the first course trumped the turnip crème fraîche, and the wattle smoked duck trumped the pork loin with hispi cabbage.  Here’s the slide show, minus the amusé, the flathead with young broad bean leaves and kohlrabi, and the medlar tart, either because they’re on Tim’s phone or we were too busy eating to remember to take a photo:

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The cellar match wines were not only the least expensive but also a more adventurous choice than the Australian or French matching options.   The wine of the night was the South African syrah, but it was also interesting to try our first ever Armenian wine.  Armenia is said to be the site of the world’s oldest winery at  cave in Vayots Dzor but Georgia also makes the claim to have invented wine in 6000BC. Whatever the truth of it, Armenia makes an interesting wine and we enjoyed drinking it.  We also liked the American pinot noir, from a region we haven’t encountered before.  There was also a 2012 Robert Weil Riesling, but like most German dry whites, it was a bit sweet for our taste.

The next morning, looking out at Mt Sturgeon, we had breakfast in the main hotel restaurant, served by one of waitstaff from the night before. We had been very impressed by the service in the Wickens restaurant because we know from dining in country restaurants that it’s not easy to train and keep wait staff with city standards. But the service at Wickens was flawless: attentive, prompt without being rushed, knowledgeable without prattling to a script, and friendly in that distinctive Aussie way without intruding. It was nice to learn that this young waitress was actually a local who has found her dream job at home in Dunkeld. It really is wonderful to see how the initiative of the Royal Mail owners have impacted on the viability of this small town, creating all kinds of jobs with flow-on effects to other businesses as well.

The chef’s package includes a tour of the kitchen garden, which is apparently the largest in Australia.  This garden is used to source the fruit and vegetables for the menu, because Wickens prides itself on creating dishes using what is in season.  The chefs are up early in the morning choosing and picking their produce which is why the menu changes twice a week.  Our tour was guided by one of the chefs, and his knowledge of the produce was amazing.  Everything is grown organically, with only some ducks, some chickens and companion planting to help the solo gardener with pest control.   Here’s the slide show:

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Henry Bolte, Skipton, Victoria

After that it was time to set off for home. We lunched at a pleasant café in Skipton, and I took a photo of the sculpture of Henry Bolte who went to school there. #LittleKnownFact: it was Henry Bolte who saved my job for me when I was first married, unwittingly in defiance of public service rules banning the employment of married women.  The Ex was earning a paltry salary courtesy of conscription into the ADF and it was my salary at the State Film Centre that paid the rent on our flat.  Not knowing the rules, I mentioned getting married to colleagues at work and there was general dismay because I was rather good at my job and they didn’t want to lose me.  My OIC and 2IC went upstairs to see the Premier and his sidekick Arthur Rylah and after a very long meeting indeed, they came back downstairs ashen-faced with exhaustion and told me I was allowed to keep my job.  I suspect that I was the first exemption, possibly pre-empting changes that were afoot anyway, because the women’s movement was under way by then (and if I hadn’t had my head in the sand I might have noticed a furore about those stupid restrictions on married women).  But whatever the reason – I owed my job to Henry Bolte so I took the opportunity for a photo even though my gratitude never extended to voting for him or any of his successors!

Photo credit: Royal Mail Hotel By Mattinbgn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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