Labour of love: Lunch at Kooka Café and a conversation with co-owner Lauren Chambers

Since a colleague introduced me to Kooka Café earlier this year, I’ve made the place my unofficial hideout, going at least once a week to clear my mind, unwind, and have a thoroughly pleasurable lunch. It isn’t a ‘sexy’ cafe by most definitions: the décor is simple, the menu is small, and the dishes are honest, unassuming even. What it does have is the one intangible ingredient that I think matters the most in any food establishment, the one thing that makes you want to return again and again – love. Continue Reading →

A taste of Margaret River, Australia – Fraser Gallop Estate

Australian wine – almost a market synonym for Shiraz from South Australia. Known for its strong flavour, overwhelming ripeness and full body texture, Shiraz appears to one of be the favourite varietals for most Singaporean drinkers. Grown on a small corner of South Western Australia, with terrain and climate akin to the highly prized and reputable Bordeaux region in France, Margaret River has been setting the stage on fire with its own class of style.

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Oxtail Bo Kho, a Vietnamese beef stew with Coke and Laughing Cow cheese

oxtail bo kho

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that, while attending the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival, S and I had eaten one of the best oxtail stews we’d ever had in our lives. It was prepared by Chef Mark Jensen of the very famous Vietnamese restaurant Red Lantern, which is in Sydney, Australia. Traditionally, Bo Kho is made with cuts like brisket or shank. It’s also one of those traditional dishes that has no really defined and universal recipe. While certain ingredients might appear in most dishes, all mothers (and grandmothers) and chefs who make Bo Kho seem to have slightly different ways of making theirs. And, of course, every Vietnamese friend you have will swear that his mother’s version is simply the best in the world. Continue Reading →

Highlights from our trip to Noosa, Queensland, on Australia’s Sunshine Coast

noosa's beach at sunset

Ever since my wife S and I became parents, we’ve been on the lookout for destinations that would provide the things that we love best about overseas trips (great food, great wine, fun shopping, etc) but would also cater equally well to keeping our little baby boy amused, excited and satisfied. It’s a tough order and we’ve already agreed that some of my own favourite places are a little too chaotic for the lil’one (or too tough for us to manage with him in tow). We also have to be prepared that if he likes a place a lot, we’ll have to return pretty often. Fortunately, we’ve recently come back from one place that we think T will really love and can’t wait to bring him to see and experience for himself. That place is Noosa, on the Australian Sunshine Coast. Continue Reading →

The Burger Bar in Noosa, Queensland, serves up awesome burgers

When S and I were approached by Tourism Australia to check out the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival this past May, we agreed, but also told our hosts that we’d want to check out some of the area’s top local restaurants as well. Because I like to do my own research, I spent an evening trawling through the Web in order to pick out a few places to check out. One place in particular was a no-brainer. The Burger Bar was, at the time, rated the #1 restaurant in Noosa on Tripadvisor. It had also been awarded Queensland’s favourite burger by lifestylefood.com.au in 2010, 2011 and 2012. As a burger lover, I knew that this would be a mandatory stop during our short trip down under. Continue Reading →

The Noosa International Food & Wine Festival (part 2)

For our second night attending the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival, S and I chose to attend a guest chef dinner at Embassy XO, a small but chic local East meets West restaurant. In addition to the one we went to, there were four other guest chef dinners happening in town, plus a massive eight course, eight (celebrity) chef Mediterranean Degustation experience held at Berardo’s restaurant and bar. S and I had chosen the Embassy XO dinner because the guest chef in question was Teage Ezard. Continue Reading →

The Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, the most joyous food festival we’ve ever visited (part 1)

appetizers at hinterland tour lunch, noosa international food and wine festival

My greedy, gorgeous wife S and I have been to many food and wine festivals, in many different places, over the last decade and a half. We’ve attended festivals as speakers, as working journalists and as members of the public. Some festivals are rather high-brow. Others try hard to connect with the everyman. Many others fall in between, offering a mix of small, exclusive (which means expensive) dinners coupled with affordable experiences that can accommodate large crowds. This can be a hard formula to get right, and many festivals are still struggling to find the right balance. A few others, however, seem to have discovered the magic formula for food festival success.

A few weeks ago, S and I found ourselves attending such a festival. Not only has the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival (held in the small holiday/retiree town of Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast) perfected the balance between luxury and accessibility, it’s done so with a laid-back sense of humour that is utterly infectious. Before Noosa, I had never attended a food and wine festival in which everyone–the chefs, producers, participants, even the festival staff–seemed to be having so much fun. And for that alone, I would definitely consider going back again and again.  Continue Reading →

Neil Perry’s Awesome Asian Dipping Sauce

When I was counting down my favourite meals of last year, I wrote that one of them was had at Neil Perry’s very sexy Chinese restaurant, Spice Temple. While I had originally gone in slightly skeptical, I left a believer. And while the food may not have been the most authentic, it certainly had flavour, and a lot of heart.

Since then, and because of that visit, my hot and hungry spouse S and I have been cooking more and more from Perry’s Chinese cookbook, Balance and Harmony: Asian Food. It was a book that we had originally purchased (before our meal at Spice Temple) because it was, well, pretty. As cookbook collectors, we occasionally buy texts not because we want to cook from them but because of the pictures, or the layout and design, or because we have all of the chef’s other books, or for any number of reasons. Neil’s recent books are beautiful. They’re a joy to look at, with clean design and gorgeous photos. And so, while we had poured over Balance and Harmony: Asian Food several times, we had never intended to actually use it as a real reference. When we wanted to cook Chinese, we usually turned to authorities like Barbara Tropp, Fuchsia Dunlop or Grace Young. But after that meal at Spice Temple, we decided to give Perry’s book a try. And we’ve been really happy we did. (Keep reading)

Charsiu quail with Mandarin pancakes and a lime and cucumber salad

When I was in the 5th grade, each student in my science class was given a small quail’s egg and asked to look after it. The eggs were housed in a large incubator. We were to ensure that our assigned egg would develop properly and were asked to study the hatching process. When the teeny tiny baby quails were finally hatched, we were given a few weeks to play with the super cute baby birds (and study them) before the little suckers were brought to “the wild” and set free. Of course, as I think back, I really don’t know if what our teachers told us was the truth. Where in the world in or even around New York City would you take 50 or 60 baby quail to set them free? Were they brought to a pretty little farm in upstate New York? Or let loose in a lovely patch of forest? Or (heaven forbid but potentially more probable) sold to some very happy butcher, who turned our little friends into delectable goodies waiting to be picked up by some greedy gourmand?

Of course, when I was 9 years old, I could never have fathomed eating those cute little critters. Now though, older, cynical, and much more omnivorous, I’m a big fan of eating quail. I really like the slight gameyness of quail as well as the tenderness of the meat when cooked just right. (Keep reading)

Two reasons to head up to Hunter

Now, you might not need any convincing to head up to the Hunter Valley on your next trip to New South Wales, Australia. Knowing it’s the country’s oldest and one of its most exciting wine regions may be all the reason you need. But just in case you needed a little extra motivation, S and I have sussed out two amazing places that alone are reason enough to head up to Hunter.

1. The Rock restaurant and Andrew Clarke’s stunning food

There are good vineyard and wine country restaurants and then there are great ones. The Rock restaurant at Poole’s Rock Wines is definitely one of the latter. It’s been named the Australia’s Best Restaurant in a Winery at the 2008 Restaurant and Catering Association awards. It is the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s highest ranked restaurant in Hunter, and the only restaurant in the region with two hats. Housed in a glass-walled building, overlooking a block of 90-year old shiraz vines, the clean modern room and its views are equally inviting. The Rock is actually two restaurants in one. By day, it is the Firestick Cafe, a cool, contemporary cafe that serves simple but beautifully made cafe food: wood-fired, thin crust pizzas; a luxe wagyu burger with caramelized onions and fries; pork schnitzel and crushed potato, rocket and waldorf salad. The pizzas looked especially gorgeoous. And I love Chef Andrew Clarke’s combination ideas, like the confit pork belly, caramelized fennel and gherkins pizza. (Keep reading)