Posted by erikbigalk on July 18th, 2016

With a long history to its name, The Abbotts Hotel in Waterloo is the epitome of ‘the people’s pub’ due to its eclectic mix of local charm, as much a part of the hotel as the foundations upon which it stands. Inside, the walls are lined with the signed jerseys of NRL greats and you can see that one or two renovations have been and gone, leaving an approachable yet stylish interior that negates none of its inherent charm and history.

Alongside with the renovations, the Abbotts Hotel Waterloo is proud to welcome Masud, former Merivale chef, working in the acclaimed Coogee Pavilion Hotel, who is now taking the reigns on this local gem. With him, Masud has brought a rich history of cooking prowess. His talent and history have taken the pub food standards to a proud new level. Masud has spent years honing his skills, cooking in various restaurants and bars throughout Sydney, his experience and humble nature have now made the Abbott’s Hotel a good food haven in the area.

Classic pub meals, like their succulent steaks get hard to resist when they are up on their daily revolving $10 special (Wednesday is steak day) turning them into a dream feed that makes chowing down feel like a steal. Masoud has poured his culinary talents in taking the vegetarian menu to the next level, among them the caramelised pumpkin and fresh feta dish, which will surely tickle even the ficklest of taste buds.

When we stopped in for a taste of the new menu, we were served up the pot pie with mash, which delighted with its aromatic flavour well beyond what one would expect from a pub meal plus a real mash that surprised in texture and flavour. We also took a good chomp at their burger (definitely worth dropping in for); tasted their crispy battered fish’n chips classic and on our second visit (yes, one was obviously not enough) could not go past their $10 Monday Schnitzel special – delicious, juicy and sizable, making our Abbotts dining experience one that needs to be talked about here. Add the wide variety of brews on tap and you have the right recipe for a good Aussie pub.

Everyone that walks in immediately feels a part  of the Abbotts community, the friendly staff and of course Masoud’s delectables will make this corner pub your home away from home. With the usuals of  ’all sports on screen’, a relaxed dinning area; ample tall ‘hang out tables’ to congregate with your mate over a liquid amber or three at, pokies and its warm atmosphere and central location all make the Abbotts a ‘must stop’ for any hungry or thirsty traveller in the neighbourhood.

Located directly across the road from independant music radio station, FBI radio, one can always find live music – a cornerstone feature of the Abbotts Hotel experience. For the sports fans: the Abbotts Hotel is a Rabbitohs venue through and through. However, regardless of which team you support, punters can enjoy a friendly and exciting atmosphere to indulge in their favourite sport.

Located on 45-47 Botany Road and open seven days a week, the Abbotts Hotel Waterloo is an undiscovered haven for those who miss the unique characteristics that only a ‘real Aussie pub’ can offer. Drop in any time your in the hood or make the effort to head over there…

And, with the Pokemon Go craze not stopping short here, they even run a special Pokemon menu for the total enthusiast. The Abbotts is actually one of only a few Pokemon Stops in the area – as if you really needed another good reason to pay the Abbotts Hotel a visit…

Check it out online at or on facebook.

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Posted by erikbigalk on June 17th, 2016

If you love the game, then you’ve surely dreamed of being on the team, or at least being right there with them as they go head to head with their rival.

Well, now you can! Go into the draw to win the ultimate, ‘Blues Experience of a Lifetime!’

You and a friend could get the chance to be right there at the Blues Captain’s Run, (a closed training session on the day before the big game), meet the Blues players, and then cheer them through the tunnel for the big July 8th game against the Brumbies.

The two winners will witness the Blues versus Brumbies clash at Eden Park in style from the Sponsors Lounge, dressed in their own fitted and signed Blues jerseys.

You will be staying at SkyCity on the night of the game and for those of you that are from out of town, flights within New Zealand and an extra night accommodation at the SkyCity are also included.

There are also dozens of Eden Park tickets for the Blues vs Brumbies clash up for grabs, so enter the draw at And, tell all your friends and rugby enthusiasts to do the same.

You gotta be in it, to win it!

These amazing prizes have been made possible thanks to nib health insurance.

Don’t miss your opportunity to enter the draw. It closes on June 20 so sign up now!

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Posted by erikbigalk on May 20th, 2016

NIB offers twelve mates the chance to win an unforgettable State of Origin experience

The Holden State of Origin is just around the corner and nib is giving fans the chance to become an Origin Legend with their mates by winning 12 Diamond Tickets to Game 1 in Sydney on June 1, worth over $3,000!

nib is a proud sponsor of the NSW Blues and wants fans to experience the excitement of the game live, with some of the best seats in the house.

To enter, fans simply need to click on the ‘Become an Origin Legend’ competition link and tell nib in 25 words or less who their favourite Origin legend is and why for their chance to win!

State of Origin Round 1 kicks off on 1 June 2016 at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. The nib ‘Become an Origin Legend’ competition closes on Wednesday 25 May 2016, so fans need to get in quick.

Click on the following link to enter:‐of‐origin‐giveaway.

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Posted by erikbigalk on September 26th, 2015

Imagine getting away from your everyday for a weekend with everything that the senses can appreciate – leaving the house, your work, the kids, the usual surrounds and the everyday pace – well behind…

Yup, I felt exactly the same, which is why I booked one of the private cottages at Witches Falls Cottages on Mount Tamborine, told my sweetheart to pack just enough for a couple of days and be at the ready, so I could pick her up straight after work – and whisk her off for our surprise getaway.

It was the best decision, in more than one way…
Located about an hour from the bustling Mecca of Surfers Paradise and Queensland’s Gold Coast, Mount Tamborine is a 28 square kilometer forested plateau that reaches 525 meters above sea level, blessed with breath-taking waterfalls, lush rainforest, amazing views as far as the eye can see, ample seductive eateries, a handful of award-winning wineries, and accommodation so tempting it is hard to choose from.

In short, the ideal place to steel yourselves away to for a weekend for just the two of you.

From the moment we arrived at our luxury cottage destination, after a winding up-hill journey to reach its quaint location right across from the Witches Falls National Park (the origin of its name and the oldest National Park in Queensland), everything was inviting us in for an amazing weekend that was to come…
From the quirky garden arch made of twisted branches and the mossy paths that snaked between hidden stone cottages, it felt like we had stepped into a world of its own – one with its name suggesting some kind of magic. And, Witches Falls Cottages definitely delivered on all fronts.
We were greeted by the friendliest hosts, Daniela and David whose love and passion for providing exceptional hospitality was instantly obvious. Meeting our host made us feel more welcome beyond what is common for even the most luxurious resort or 5 Star accommodation and we have been to many of those.

Soon we were being led past creaking bamboo and brushwood fences to our own private little magic witches’ cottage and as soon as we stepped inside our cosy abode, the ambience reassured me that I had made the right choice when selecting our home away from home from the plethora of accommodation available online.

Everything oozed with comfort and extra detail, from its seductive style ranging from the super comfy red leather lounge by the fire place, right through to the double spa bath set under a glass roof so we could watch the stars while in the tub indulging on the fine chocolates and tawny port provided complimentary.

It did not stop there… with the raised floor featuring a huge luxurious bed with colourful linen contrasting the range of tones of the cottage’s interior which reflected the colours of the private gardens outside, it offered a harmonious ambience and a comfortable relaxing sleep we are sure to remember.

Add to that the thick and soft bath robes and towels, a well stocked breakfast hamper delivered in the morning with warm and steamy freshly home-baked bread, juice, fruit, bacon, German sausage, haloumi, eggs, mushrooms and fresh capsicum – more than we could fit onto the BBQ, let alone our stomachs, plus enough fire wood to keep the fire place stoked and us toasty for the weekend – simply everything was thought of and prepared.

On recommendation, we ventured out for a walk to the nearby look-out to gaze far over lakes and rivers below and out to the mountains as the setting sun painted them in hues of purple. A definite not to miss. On this note, its best to arrive early on the mountain as many shops and cafes close early.

The 8 Witches’ cottages are tucked away in total privacy among thoughtfully planted gardens with a charm and eerie feel that added a touch of magic. Witches Cottages is a Couples Only accommodation – no kids allowed – and while we love children, we could really appreciate this restriction.

Accommodation on Mt Tamborine usually underfalls a minimum stay (understandably so), here you can get a mid-week one-nighter – if you really must tease yourself with that. However, with their unbeatable packages including massages, chocolates, wine tasting, and pampering of all the senses – why would you?

Looking through the pages of the Witches Cottages guest book (accompanied with colour pencils and already stamped post cards, as said they thought of everything) it became clear we were not the only ones who had a magical weekend away here…

Come to the culinary delights, many eateries on the mountain require bookings as they can fill up quickly and you may miss out on a table. All the wineries only open during the day, so if tasting yourself through some of the local drops of wine is on your list, then day-time is the time to do it. We recommend the Witches Falls Winery Syrah, a full bodied red with a warmth to it and well worth its weight in gold. We had it accompany our orange and aniseed duck on creamy mash at Clancy’s Irish Pub – just perfect.

A respite in between walks through towering trees and down to Curtis Falls, a charming little gorge reached in just a few minutes; or the giant drop of Knoll Falls (a 2.6km circuit with endless views), was offered by Spice of Life’ Café, a charming eatery and tea house in the heart of the village with some of the best deserts and coffee, a scrumptious menu (including gluten free) and free Wi-Fi as a side.

While we could have easily forgot to return home when we were meant to (we extended our stay), getting lost in the magic of Mt Tamborine with its super friendly locals, other-worldly charm, impressive natural beauty and temptations for all the senses; we did finally manage to leave after three days…. Sure to return for another romantic getaway soon.

Mt Tamborine is easily reached from the Gold Coast airport within less than an hour and is a great place to visit whether in winter or the summer’s heat. It attracts a lot of day visitors too, but take our word for it, you would be doing yourself a dis-favour skipping such unique accommodation and romantic getaway as we had staying at Witches Falls Cottages, so stay on the mountain!

Our Rating
5 Pillows (that beats the star system by more than a few feathers)

P.S. Daniela from Witches Falls Cottages is an amazing artistic photographer. Her work is displayed throughout the cottages and the reception area, just the photographs are worth a visit.

Travel Tips
Join the world’s leading travel club to buy air fares and accommodation at wholesale prices
Travelling midweek and shoulder season usually gets you lower rates
Taking a few short-trips or getaways through the year is proven to reduce stress levels

Happy Travelling!

Erik Bigalk
Travel Writer/photographer & Lebenskuenstler

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Posted by erikbigalk on May 24th, 2015

Tucked into the old Post Alley adjacent to the Myer and H & M complex, Mama’s Buoi makes for a refuge from the buzzing shopping hub of Burke Street Mall and offers the traditional flavours of Vietnam with a modern twist right here in heart of Melbourne.

Upon being greeted by Nam, the founder and co-owner, I settled into my spot in the open, alley-style eatery reminiscent of back street food courts commonly found in Vietnam and Thailand – only with western standards and an Aussie accent. But once it comes to the menu selection, it became quickly apparent that Mama’s Buoi is nothing like your usual Aussie-Asian restaurant or Thai street food vendor – by far.

Not being able to go past the house special, the DIY Duck Pancakes served with refreshing cucumber and pineapple, roasted duck, bean sprouts and cabbage with spicy hoi sin sauce, I was off to a good start. It took only a couple of goes to manage the rolling up of the diverse flavours in the freshly flipped pancakes to sample the traditional dish. I quickly learned, it is much more suited as a shared entre than a solo one, however, while I perhaps over-indulged, I enjoyed every bite.

Next was one of the dishes of the house and a special of Aunty Thim, who as a long time highly respected culinary artists in the family became the very inspiration that led to the opening of Mama’s Buoi in late 2014 – the caramelized pork belly and braised egg hot pot. A dish with much family history as Nam Nguy recalls literally growing up on it here in Australia, so it had not only to feature on the menu but likewise find its place among my dinner selection. Steaming with spices, the subtle sweetness was met with smoky flavours and a distinct edge that let me appreciate the well iced drinks served with the dish.

Imagine, a soupy broth rich in flavours with ample pork that immediately melted on your tongue add a cocktail of ginger, chili, braised egg and coriander to seduce the taste buds. Yummm…

Not that this was insufficient for my first Mama’s Buoi dining experience (definitely not the last either), but it was shear impossible to leave without a taste of their home-made avocado and star aniseed icecream, which mind you sealed the excellent dining experience in this rustic-funky and colourfully decorated alleyway eatery a plenty.

Mama’s Buoi is open 7 days per week for their wide range of salads, meals and lunch specials (it does get busy here during the week-day rush hour) and for a much more relaxed dining experience, such as mine, with the excellent selection of cocktails and wines to accompany their family recipes and modern takes on traditional Vietnamese dishes. With a backdrop of colourful paneling, a welcoming bar and super friendly staff, Mama’s Buoi has quickly earned it’s spot as a true insider dining tip and one you ought to try for yourself next time you feel puckish in the bohemian city.

My vote:
4 out of 5 forks

Mama’s Buoi, Old Post Alley, Melbourne CBD

After the success of the two Sydney locations (Surrey Hills & Crows Nest), the response to the fab little new eatery has been so strong that Mama’s Buoi is set to open doors also in Hawthorn pretty soon!

Erik is a passionate freelance food and travel review writer. He has been widely published in magazines and online – internationally. He is available for reviews, content writing and feature articles for tourism/travel and related genre. Visit his webiste

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Posted by erikbigalk on April 6th, 2015

I don’t know about you, but when I have to be away from home for more than just a few days, I much prefer to rent an apartment or flat than a hotel room. Not that I mind hotel rooms, not at all. I have spend a lot of time ‘on the road’ so to speak, and have enjoyed the hospitality of a broad scope of hotels across Europe, Asia and the Pacific, with much pleasure and comfort. However, when it comes to extended stays, even just for a few days, I’d choose an apartment just because I like to have room to stretch out and feel a little ‘at home’ where ever I am.

So, when I recently had to attend a conference in Melbourne, I wanted more than just a hotel room and was soon recommended two excellent choices that are ideal for the business and leisure traveler alike. And, since I like to maintain a good balance between work and leisure no matter where I am, these were the perfect fit. My favorite of the pair, The Best Western Riverside Apartments on Flinders Street right by the river’s edge in Melbourne’s thriving heart surely did not disappoint.

The other was Fraser Place in Exploration Lane, a neat cross-CBD cab ride away, still just a stroll from just about everything the city centre has to offer. Starting here for a few days, it was the perfect place to land for more than one reason. I did not have a lot of pre-warning for my trip so when I jumped onto the brand new HotelQuickly App (only released in December 2014) I was amazed how easy to navigate it was to find something suitable literally at last minute. I logged in on my way from the airport and sure enough found exactly what I was looking for within a few clicks. Fraser Place is a chain of neatly modern compact apartment buildings that are a nudge more than a hotel room yet still at an affordable price level boasting their own kitchenettes and that extra little bit of space too. The Hotel Quickly App not only lists a broad scope of accommodation from 3 – 5 starts, but offers a cool interface which allows you to see what is on offer and pops up recommendations too. And, since I wanted to be right there in the CBD, it was easy for me to narrow down my selection. Needless to say, by the time I cabbed it half way from the airport, my neat little Fraser apartment was at the ready for me. I Love this App!

This takes me to another cool App you cannot live without if when you have just landed in a new place and just want to get settled and have your dinner of choice brought to you – EatNow.

If you have ever felt like I did on the day of my arrival; you know slightly displaced after a late night of packing (at last minute), an early rise to make the transfer and hours of travel on land and in the air, then you can relate to this well. I simply just wanted to drop my bags, get changed and relax, eat well and do a tad of emails and preparation before the next day’s ‘to do’ list took hold. Searching around for the closest or best eatery that served what I felt like could have turned into a massive undertaking which my travel weary body was not up to, so logging onto or better yet, downloading the easy to use app for free to the palm of my hand, let me search out oodles of eateries that not only were close by, but also delivered to my accommodation. And, bless modern technology, within a few clicks I had my smorgasbord of some of the best Indian food (and Melbourne does have its share of the best) selected, ordered and promptly delivered within the designated time. And, to take high-tech to personal service, since they had run out of one of my choices at the restaurant, the customer service from EatNow called my twice to ensure I had a suitable replacement and that I was happy with my choice. Simply Brilliant!

A couple of days into my stay I then moved to what proved to become my favorite place in Melbourne, the Best Western Riverside Apartments. Not only did it feel like coming ‘home’ as soon as I stepped into the apartment after being greeted in the most welcoming manner at the reception, but having a well laid out and decorated living room, dining area and full kitchen meant I could actually feel like I was living in Melbourne for the coming days – perfect! Once unpacked and settled in, I took a stroll over to the river enjoying all that South Bank offers, tasting diverse culinary treats from the world over that the many food courts offer plus found a few new favorite cafes, restaurants and bars to meet at with clients. Best of all, I could walk everywhere and felt right at home strolling my new little home turf, roughly from Federation Square to the Casino across both sides of the river, and soon felt at right at home here.

The apartment itself was located on the 15th floor, so was graced with amazing city views which lit up at night with a luminescent skyline; add in the intermittent bursts of fire that line the river at night and you know that you are being seduced by Melbourne’s night appeal. Fortunately, my early morning meetings kept me within curfew, despite being within a stone’s throw from bars and nightlife destinations, which sure held temptation. Plus, one night we were blessed with massive fireworks, which made the elevated abode and vantage point even the more appreciated.

Needless to say, the comfort and convenience of the Best Western Apartments ensured a pleasant and to-be-repeated stay in Melbourne’s centre, with the lack of the all too famous ‘four seasons in one day’ the only shortfall of what Melbourne had promised. Blessed with perfect sunny weather and only the odd heavy shower, my stay was both productive as for my reason of travel and pleasant as for I fell in love with Melbourne – the Bohemian city – yet again.

As for my ‘must-do’ finds and recommendations, here it goes…

  • Check out Hotel Quickly App to make your accommodation booking – perfect at last minute and super easy right from your smart phone
  • For compact convenience at affordable prices, Fraser Place is the go (Exploration Lane, Melbourne CBD, find it on HQ (HotelQuickly)
  • Dining in without hassles, try the EatNow App – culinary convenience in the palm of your hand
  • Feel at home at Best Western Riverside Apartments, in Flinders Street, feel right at home -a stroll from everything
  • Melbourne’s tram restaurant – an experience in itself
  • The Sky Deck, if you like city views and don’t mind heights
  • Mama’s Buoi – the insider tip for the best Vietnamese food in town (Post Lane next to Myers) (see my separate review on this blog)
  • Queen Victoria, South Melbourne and Prahran markets
  • For the lowest air fares guaranteed, check out (become a member and save)

My Vote
Mama’s Buoi – 4 out of 5 forks
Fraser Place – 3 out of 5 pillows
Best Western Apartments – 4 out of 5 pillows
EatNow App – 4 out of 5 clicks
Hotel Quickly App – 5 out of 5 clicks

More about Erik Bigalk – travel writer and tourism reviewer, freelance writer/photographer and treue Lebenskuenstler at heart, see

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Posted by erikbigalk on March 19th, 2014

When I first set foot into the stylish hip eatery right opposite Lennox Head Beach in the heart of this quaint little seaside village, I instantly knew I was in for a treat. Greeted by their friendly staff and led to their elaborate bar where the King of Cocktails, F&B manager ‘Schlachter’ seduced us with a decent pre-dinner concoction that let me relax into the tasteful luxurious interior and whetted my appetite for the culinary indulgence that was to follow.

And, we were not to be disappointed. The indulgence commenced with a Keflagraviera with fig, black pepper and fresh lemon, accompanied by a neat sip of the Eden Valley grown Chaffey Brothers Riesling, a perfect pair. It was followed by the Scallops, mango yells, chili jam, mint oil and crispy garlic – absolutely scrumptious and a great blend with the South Australian vino.

We could also not go past a try of the salty spiced fried squid served on a bed of rocket with classic dressing, just to prime us for the mains.

Next was the perfect marriage of sea and land with the caramelized pork belly and King Prawn served with carrot and kafir lime salad with a refreshing coriander flavor penetrating the rich sweet dish, which made this a ‘must-try’ dish and one of the highlights of the evening. Subtly dowsed with a splash of the 2011 Vasse Felix Sav Blanc Semillon from WA’s Margaret River, it was the perfect lubricant.

With personalized service and fluent recommendations of their freshest offering of the day, I perked up. Did you say Paella? I had the best in the world at a wedding in the south of France when my youngest daughter was still less than a year, so trying this one was like trying to rewrite history despite it being a hard act follow. But Australian Good Food Guide ‘Hat’ awarded Andy Wheeler, earned every bit of it, both the hat and the newly awarded (by us) ‘Best Paella’ ever! Back to that wedding Paella, well – this one beat it by a mile. Laden with fresh fruits of the sea, a rich flavor and keeping its oiliness at bay, it impressed everyone on our table, even my review partner being a foodie of Mediterranean decent, and she was impressed to say the least. The Paella was served with a crisp 2011 Corte Giara, Pinot Grigio Veneto from Italy to make the perfect – heavenly.

And, it led us gently onto the sweets department… I couldn’t go past the classic Affogato Frangelico (one of my weaknesses) which was delightful with home-made vanilla ice cream and gorgeous biscotti. We also had to test-drive the prune and dark chocolate brownie with red wine sauce, poached plum and white chocolate mousse. It was simply divine. And, of course we could not resist the coconut & palm sugar cream caramel, an interesting take on the classic with its Lychee, granita and passionfruit side.

With an impressive menu that would send some of Sydney’s best eateries to shame, super friendly staff that knows how to balance the professional with the personal, a wine list perfect for the food on offer and an almost surreal setting of comfortable lounge style seating with direct view of the beach and surf, Ellenix has certainly claimed its place as one of the hottest restaurants on the North Coast. It leaves even the best of Byron Bay in its wake and going by the whispers I have heard, gives ‘Fins’ a run for its fame…   but I let you be the judge of that…

Ellenix, at 90/92 Ballina St. Lennox Head is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

My (un-commonly high) Vote
5 out of 5 forks!

By Erik Bigalk –

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Posted by Travelletto on March 15th, 2014

I gladly accepted an invitation to dine at Aravina Estate in Margaret River, keen to try the food of one of my favourite chefs in his new kitchen. Aravina’s new executive chef Tony Howell made a name for himself winning a legion of fans and numerous awards overs 15 years at Cape Lodge, listed in Condé Nast’s 2012 Gold List and named Best Boutique Hotel in Australia.

From the moment I arrived, I knew I’d be impressed with Aravina Estate. A red Ferrari in the car park, a cute wooden walkway leading to lush lawns lined with eucalyptus, pretty gardens with two dams beyond, vistas of the vineyard, and a magnificent cellar door and restaurant that would not look out of place in the Hamptoms or on the set of hit television show ‘Revenge’. Outside white wooden railings surround a large alfresco terrace dining area that takes advantage of the stunning view. The beautiful grounds have hosted many weddings, including that of winery owner Steve Tobin just a couple of weeks ago.Aravina Estate15

My favourite part, the kitchen garden. Executive Chef Tony Howell was almost frothing at the mouth as he talked about the massive ten-bed garden growing seasonable produce including all manner of herbs, several types of lettuce, zucchini, cucumber, beetroot, chilli, capsicum and much more. More fruit trees have also been planted.

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I put my diet on hold and threw my gluten-free ways out the window when whipped truffle butter accompanied freshly baked bread arrived at the table. We shared a number of dishes so we could try as many things as we could possibly fit in.  Aravina Estate06

The pork terrine, mustard fruits, pickled walnuts and persian feta was fantastic. The terrine on its own was rich, but perfect when mixed with the mustard fruits and the phenomenal pickled walnuts.

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The seared Esperance scallops avocado tian, tomato and chorizo crumb were delicate, and cooked perfectly. Everything married beautifully.

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The special of the day, ricotta stuffed zucchini flower and house smoked salmon – it was divine.

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King fish sashimi, asian omelette and ginger jelly was sensational. The asian flavours were perfectly balanced, it was fresh, light, and I could eat that dish every day and not tire of it. It didn’t look as pretty as some other dishes, that look like art in comparison, but taste-wise, it was perfect in every sense.

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Smoked goats cheese. Who smokes goat cheese? Chef Tony Howell, that’s who. And it was nothing short of amazing. I’m told he uses local off cut jarrah wood chips, not oak ones that are used in the wine marking process, to smoke things in-house. Teamed with beetroot carpaccio, sous vide celery, orange and some crunchy brioche, this dish is visually stunning. The smoked goats cheese was so delicious, this wins dish of the day for originality and presentation.

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The Shark Bay king prawn, compressed pineapple, green papaya, herbs and won ton was crunchy, fresh, and perfect for a hot summer’s day. The Asian flavours were beautifully balanced with the sweetness of the pineapple. It felt healthy to eat.

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Time for a refreshing mouth cleanser. Lemon sorbet with lemon and lime sherbet and citrus peel.Aravina Estate16

Feeling absolutely full after sharing the above, we just had one main dish, steamed duck yellow curry, crispy skin, fried peanuts, pickled chilli and herb salad. It looked beautiful on the plate, and smelled fantastic too. One of my lovely dining companions, Sandra, loved this dish – for her, it was the dish of the day. For me, it was too spicy and hot for my chilli-intolerant palate. I don’t mind a bit of heat, but I’m a weakling in that department.

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How pretty is this dessert? Compressed watermelon, coconut sorbet, herb syrup, lychee foam, seasonal fruit and sesame crisp. Every element was fantastic and it was beautiful and light. The perfect ending to a decedant lunch.


Add Aravina Estate to your Margaret River itinerary. Not only are there award winning wines to taste and buy, but you can shop, kids can play, you can wander amongst the vines, admire the vegetable garden, and best of all, have a meal you won’t forget.

Tony Howell is producing food as good as he ever has. Despite the increase in covers, the food comes from the same quality local suppliers, is treated with the same respect and attention to detail is evident in every dish. Do yourself a favour and book in now.

My score: 9.5/10 (just lost half a mark because the curry was too hot for my palate)

Disclosure: Dianne Bortoletto was a guest of Aravina Estate. All reviews are based on merit.

This post was also published on Dianne Bortoletto’s blog


Aravina Estate
61 Thornton Road, Yallingup WA 6282
Tel: 08 9235 4600

The Cellar Door and Cafe are open everyday 10am-5pm and the restaurant is open for lunch everyday 11.30am-3pm. Bookings recommended.

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Posted by Travelletto on February 27th, 2014

Duck liver parfait
Duck liver parfait

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen, Margaret River’s newest bar and restaurant, is serving up good honest food made with fresh local produce. Dishes are designed to be shared and the menu is categorised into light, plates, pizzas, sides, sweets and cheese. There’s a good choice of dishes and the prices are very reasonable.

The corner location on the main road in Margaret River town is about three hours drive south of Perth, and worth the drive – for those familiar with Margs it’s where Winos used to be. It’s casual but not slack. The service is fantastic and the food and wine gets the thumbs up.

The fit out is original with tables in the back area set under old-school Hills Hoists clotheslines suspended from the ceiling to double as light fittings.  The front bar is a great place to sit and chat, and the veranda that overlooks the street is a very pleasant place to sit under its covering of vines.

Cool interior fit out complete with good ol'Aussie Hills Hoist clothes line light fitting
Cool interior fit out complete with good ol’Aussie Hills Hoist clothes line light fitting

The duck liver parfait ($13) was silky smooth, rich and creamy and came with delicious wood-fired bread and some pickled veg called picadilli. It was hard not to wolf it all down at once.

Owned by Swings & Roundabouts winery that’s nearby on Caves Road, Swings Taphouse & Kitchen offers the same legendary wood-fired pizzas that the winery has become famous for.

I had to try the pizza and opted for the traditional margarita ($20) – my favourite. If the kitchen can get that right, then it’s always a winner. Swings’ version is good, but if I’m being picky (and nearly always am) for my palate it needed a bit of salt and probably could’ve done with another half-minute in the oven to really crisp up the base. That’s my only criticism of the food served at Swings. Everything else was bang on.

Wood-fired margarita pizza
Wood-fired margarita pizza

The King Fish ceviche with chilli, lime, avocado and coconut ($16) was fresh, colourful, light, beautifully seasoned and delicious to eat. Like a mouthful of summertime, if you could eat summer. The Swings Chardonnay ($7 glass) went down a treat with the ceviche.

King fish ceviche
King fish ceviche

The bright and bubbly pint-sized manager Annie really made my visit to Swings memorable. She answered all my questions, suggested dishes to try, and explained their tap wine. Yes, wine on tap. Read about their wine on tap delivered through ’sight glass fonts’ – a world first in my post. If you’re not hungry, just go and try their wines – they are worthy.

There’s also a selection of ‘guest backyards’ wines, cocktails and beers, and the menu is simple and rustic, designed for sharing, and with an emphasis on fresh, local and sustainable produce.


Swings Taphouse & Kitchen
85 Bussell Highway, Margaret River, WA
Tel: 08 9758 7155

Open from 10am daily, Swings Taphouse & Kitchen serves brunch, ‘brinks’, lunch and dinner
Swings Taphouse on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: Dianne Bortoletto was a guest of Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association and Swings Taphouse & Kitchen

This article was also posted on For more articles by Dianne Bortoletto, visit

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Posted by Travelletto on November 10th, 2013

Ace Pizza is in Perth’s inner city suburb, Highgate,. It’s run by the same people that run Cantina 663, a favourite of mine. There has been a lot of hype around Ace Pizza, many touting it as the best pizza in Perth.

Finding the entrance can be tricky – it’s not at the front of the building, but down the alley on the side. Walking in, the huge floor to ceiling wooden framed windows and a neon pizza sign hanging above a dark mural on the wall an make an impact.  The place is buzzing and it’s barely 6.30pm.  Cosy circular booths flank on wall, high tables and with swivel chairs flank the other wall and there are tables running both sides down a middle partition. The high ceiling  is patterned with large decorative domes and the place it lit with stage lights.

The service is snappy with friendly Gen Y’s efficiently taking our drinks order – and even waited patiently while we debated if we’d ever seen Peroni beer in a can before. Apparently, Ace Pizza is the only place in Perth that has Peroni by the can. I ordered an Aperol Spritz, my favourite Italian aperitif. It was fine, topped with too much soda (should really be just a dash – like the way the Italians make it), and I would have preferred more Aperol. Normally the taste of an Aperol Spritz evokes memories of Rome, but this one didn’t.

The menu is small with some traditional pizzas like the Margherita, although Ace Pizza calls their’s “the o.p” ($17) – I’m not sure why. We ordered that, a Pig Town with pepperoni, pancetta, pecorino, onion, mozzarella and san marzano tomato ($24), and the Lincoln Lady with hot salami, anchovies, olives, mozzarella, and san marzano tomato ($20) – ssshh, don’t tell anyone but we ordered it without without the hot salami. Our waitress told us they don’t normally permit topping changes and checked with the kitchen before accepting our order.

Margherita aka "the o.p" at Ace Pizza
Margherita aka “the o.p” at Ace Pizza

My theory is that you judge a good pizza place by their Margherita.  Ace Pizza’s version is quite good, but it could have done with another minute in the wood-fired oven. The thin base wasn’t crisp enough in the centre making each slice flop when held. The topping was good – the tomato sauce was well seasoned, the cheese was used sparingly which I think is best (or the pizza gets too sloppy), and fresh basil leaves added after cooking.

It’s not as good as Neighborhood Pizza’s Margherita, which I maintain to be the best pizza place in Perth. Neighborhood Pizza’s wood fired oven consistently cooks  thin and crisp base and they make a  rich tomato sauce that is packed full of flavour, like it has been cooked down for hours.

Pig Town pizza
Pig Town pizza

The Pig Town pizza wasn’t for me only because the pepperoni was too spicy for my mild palate. The crust was thin, crisp on the outer edge, same well-seasoned tomato base sauce, and thankfully, well cooked red onions.

The Lincoln Lady pizza crust was like the other two, crisp on the edge and a bit droopy in the centre. Anchovies packed a salty punch along with the olives. Overall, the Margherita was the best pizza we ordered.

Tiramisu donut
Tiramisu donut
Tiramisu donut
Tiramisu donut

For dessert, I had to try the tiramisu donut ($5), which sounded like a dream. The reality was nothing like the dream, and nothing like a tiramisu. Really, they should call it something else because a tiramisu paints a picture of soft sponge layers, strong coffee laced with liqueur, and sweet creamy mascarpone. What I got was what looked like jam donut, topped with crunchy shards of sugar, and filled with a chocolatey ice-cream with crushed nuts, which oozed out and was described by one of my dining companions as looking like bird poo.

It was a cold dessert and between three of us, we left half of it to be taken away by the waitress. Perhaps the bird poo comment put us all off. It was not memorable in a good way, not as light and pillowy as other jam donuts I’ve had. I was full from pizza and it wasn’t good enough for me to force myself to eat it.

Two other desserts feature on the menu: nemesis choc cake ($11) and ace soft serve ($7).


The atmosphere at Ace Pizza is great, albeit quite loud so hard to hear each other speak.  The service is good, the prices are very reasonable, and the pizza is okay, pretty good even. Out of ten, I’d give Ace Pizza a score of 7.5.


Ace Pizza
448 Beaufort St, Highgate
Tel 0499 448 000

Open 7 days from 5.30pm til late

For more posts by Dianne Bortoletto, visit her blog

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