Posted by erikbigalk on September 19th, 2016

Australia’s Most Southerly produce Comes to live at Pure South’s 7000 eatery at Melbourne’s South Gate.

The passion for not only the culinary arts, but for bringing the best most southerly Australian produce to appreciating diners in Melbourn, Peter and Philip, the creators of Pure South Dining which has long been a dining hotspot along Melbournes South Bank have (due to renovations) temporarily launched their pop-up eatery 7000 inside the the left wing of the South Gate Building.

For those that have previously enjoyed the Pure South dining concept, it is a definite must visit, for those that have as yet not experienced the all Tasmanian produce based dining concept – it is not negotiable to experience it if you love food.

While the layout of the restaurant found on the second floor is simple (if not zen), a light-flooded open space affair with neat rows of small tables, plus terraces on either side accommodating up to 200 people in total, it was instantly obvious that it’s all about the food which held the main focus against this sleek backdrop blessed with city-scape and Yarra views.

7000 is the epitome of true hospitality, with the super attentive staff, a tightly run ship and a menu that leads you to assuming Tasmania is the modern day Schlaraffenland, an isle overflowing with the best of the best come to foods, be it seafood, meats, produce, cheese or wine, the entire menu features only the best brought especially in from Australia’s most southerly land to delight us in the heart of Melbourne.

With the location ideal for pre-theatre diners and relaxed lunches, just a stroll away from the bustling south bank crowds we were seduced by the impending culinary journey and the warm welcome as soon as we arrived. We knew we were in for a treat.

From the freshly opened oysters, the size I have not seen before, which instantly took us to feeling as if we were sat by the ocean’s edge the moment we tasted them; to the delicate dance of flavours and textures of the wallaby main; the smoked ocean trout taco entree, to the parsnip and white chocolate dessert – the menu was like no other, flavours eloquently married, textures played aginst each other and beautifully presented, the experience 7000 offers is simply second to none

Settling into our seats by the window, a selection of ideal share starters to get us into the mood and likewise recommended as a great way to ease your group into the dining experience that is to come, we were treated to the house’s own 2010 Rumney Cloud ‘Nicole’ Vintage Sparkling that accompanied the freshly shucked oysters well. The smoked trout blend dressed with salmon roe served in a squid ink died mini taco shell and the unique creation of broccoli donuts oozing with a small centre of melting cheese made the ideal way to kick off our 7000 experience.

To say the least, we were impressed, both visually and our taste buds. Often recommended as a great sharing start, these were only some of the all-Tassie delights offered for the early start of your meal. Next, there are a range if choices as entrees or you can jump straight into mains, which again herald the best from our most southerly island, be it from the sea or the farm.

We were delighted with what co-owner/founder Peter selected for us, the wasabi cauliflower with octopus, smoked eel and chorizo topped with fine strips of seaweed, a dish somewhat simple from its ingredients yet delightfully executed to be a festival of flavours delicately complimenting each other.

Its companion, a splash of 2014 The Barracks ‘Madeleine’ Riesling matched perfectly and made this a highlight of the day. Being a hard act to follow, the medium rare wallaby served with roasted red cabbage and a piquant red onion and beetroot relish instantly caught our eyes with its rich red colouring as it literally popped off the white plate. And, what our eyes had read into this plate was surpassed once we tasted it. An interesting combination of textures and flavours this dish put many a classic steak dish into its shadow. Unlike an easy eat of melting meat, this dish demanded more attention, both in taste, chewing texture and in its concoction of flavours, best appreciated slowly, consumed along with a glass of their self-procured Rumney Cloud ‘Daniel’ Reserve Pinot Noir, as an all red but all excellent finish to the savories of our stint at 7000.

We were feeling fully nurtured and filled now, succumb to the diversity of the creations with exec chef David Hall and Sous-Chef Sam a tight team that had migrated from Brooks restaurant only a year early obviously making a perfect team with owners Philip Kennedy and Peter Leary, two men oozing with passion for the culinary art.

Feeling ‘in love’ with what the 7000 team does with its all-Tassie imports, we were presented with a helping of their delicate white chocolate and turnip dessert, which we were not sure of at first, but succumb to easily once tasted. Not too overpowering and sweet, more delicate in flavours and a perfect finish to what has become one of my favorite dining experiences in Melbourne.

7000 is open for lunch Wednesday – Friday (12 -3) and dinner Tuesday – Saturday (5 – late), booking is advised as they do enjoy quite the following, and the word is spreading fast to yet non-believers. Come the later part of 2016, with renovations/expansion to their former home due for completion, we will see Pure South back in its new old home adjacent to the footbridge, yet 7000 may well remain – regardless 7000 is a must visit eatery if fine food is one of your vices. www.puresouthdining.com.au

Our Vote
5 out of 5 Forks
(which is rather rare)

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Posted by erikbigalk on September 13th, 2016

The bustling city hub of Melbourne holds many draw cards for folks of all walks of life and nothing better than to stay right in the midst of the buzz of Melbourne’s CBD. This is true for many and on my most recent visit to the Victorian capital city, it was no different, I wanted to stay right there amongst all the shopping, entertainment, and dining that is to be experienced here.

Having stayed at a Fraser Place property before (they have around 40 locations including Brisbane, Perth, and Sydney as well as here in Melbourne) it was an easy and obvious choice for me – I like staying with a little extra space than a hotel room offers, especially if I am staying for more than just a night.

Having widely traveled, the sense of an apartment verses a bed with some room around it holds definite appeal. I was booked at one of their higher level studio apartments, a light-filled open uncluttered space with everything one could want or need.

From the view of the city scrapers I woke up to every morning right from my pillow to the comfy bed clad in fine linen, and the lavish breakfast buffet served downstairs; from the super friendly and accommodating staff to the rooftop lounge with views of the city skyline; the whole experience at Fraser Place left me free from any extra want…

Located in Exploration Lane, a wee stroll from show venues on Exhibition Street, the famed dining choices of Flinders Lane and the shopping world of Bourke Street Mall and surrounds, all made Fraser Place the absolute perfect choice.

Although there are ample dining choices nearby, and there is a well-equipped kitchen in each apartment, I opted for a home delivered helping of some of the best Thai food in town, thanks to Deliveroo, which had dinner on my table in less tan 30 minutes.

Whether you are in Melbourne on business, to attend shows, get a dose of retail therapy or like me, want to eat your way through the culinary scene of Australia’s food capital – you are in the right spot at Fraser Place.

While it is not your 5-star resort-style living or high-end hotel, it is the perfect measure of convenience, comfort, and affordability, which makes the Fraser Place chain a great home away from home, no matter where in the world you are headed. And, with locations in 23 countries around the globe, there sure is a Fraser Place on the map for your next trip – be it near or far.

I travel a lot, all over and it is not only the luxuries that impress the most but the overall experience and convenience that make you enjoy your stay or not. Well, I am pleased to say that my choice of Fraser Place was just perfect and most enjoyable. I am sure it will be for you too, be it for a solo, couple or family stay. Check out their locations on www.frasershospitality.com.

My Vote
3 out of 5 Pillows

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Posted by erikbigalk on August 31st, 2016

I don’t know about you but Sunday’s are the days I could easily lull away if I was not running around doing things or being off on a weekend away. So, breakfast at brekky time is not my thing on a Sunday, but brunch is a different story, especially when its not a rushed one.

When I was to meet a fellow foodie for brunch in Windsor, SSBB was the obvious choice. Yes, Saigon Sally’s Bottomless Brunch – the simple and more relaxed option is the all inclusive at just $69pp which lets you eat ‘til you pop and wash it all down with bottomless champagne or beer. Needless to say, with my inability to say not to a good food offering, we went for the all-in option.

From the freshly shucked oysters that make part of the offering (try the lime sauce – yum!!!) to the wide selection of Asian fusion plates ranging from Kingfish Ceviche with Pomelo, green papaya, shallots & chilli on Betel leave to seared Scallop set atop a green curry base topped with apple strips and salmon roe (GF) followed by a Wagyu Tartare served with young coconut, Viet mint, Kumquat and puffed rice paper (GF) – all absolutely delightful, both visually and for the taste buds.

Next was the Banh Xeo Taco filled with prawn, pork, coconut, turmeric, bean shoots and spring onion (GF) and Saigon Chilli soft shell crab with tomato, black bean, lime and chilli, a hard act to follow, which the super tender and very moreish sticky Lamb ribs flavoured by the mandarin, oyster sauce with fennel and star anise did more than well – yum!!!

In short, we were utterly seduced…  and deeply nurtured.

Add the cool-hip but relaxed ambience with its massive iconic wall art, a back drop of cool tunes and attentive service and the midmorning soon succumb to the afternoon and the impending sunset as we finally stepped out thoroughly nurtured by the flavours, ever so slightly overfilled.

The cherry on the cake, so to speak, were the nicely seductive well-crafted cocktails that accompanied our sweets (hard to stop at one). We opted for Banh Bo Nut, a sweet but delicious Vietnamese-style doughnut and then our favourite sweet, a sandwich like affair of Tira-mi-sally (OMG!!!), Saigon Sally’s interpretation of the traditional Italian coffee dessert, which we both LOVED!

Saigon Sally is located in Duke St, just off Chapel street and deserves a spot among the coolest eateries that not only cater for the lunchtime onslaught of hungry punters and hosts dinner service 7 days per week but is second to none for a lazy brunch come the last day of the weekend…  Book ahead to not miss out and bring your friends, partner or neighbour as this is a memorable experience – Saigon Sally Bottomless Brunch is available in a food only ($49 pp) liquid-added version ($69pp) with up to 6 plates and uncounted splashes if the Cloudy Bay Pelorus Chardonnay/Pinot Noir from Marlborough, NZ or Bia Hanoi. We went for the bubbles, ‘hicks’!

Hail to the team, both backstage (yum – you rock!) and front of house Dominic and his team (top service) – all was more than excellent! www.saigonsally.com.au

My vote: 5 out of 5 chopsticks! ;)

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Posted by erikbigalk on August 20th, 2016

Whether you are visiting from out of town, live here or are moving to Sydney; have been single for a while, are new to singledom or have just decided to start stepping out to meet new people, you are likely to face the same challenge – where and how to meet someone new. With online being the predominant arena to meet new people and plenty of apps and avenues available, the thing these lack is the simplicity of being able to meet someone face to face in an easy and safe way and feel whether there is a connection. Being in the same dilemma as many other singles, I too wanted to meet new people that were of like mind and in a similar situation without having to scan the web or do the rounds of the known singles venues night after night around town either, so I ventured into a different kind of dating experience and I have to say I am glad I did. Having come across CitySwoon.com.au and registered my profile, I was all set to book in for one of their speed dating events recently held in Sydney. It was a well-run and smoothly organised gathering of singles all looking to meet someone, yet face to face in a conducive and safe setting held at a pleasant venue. Everyone registers their arrival via their phone and as soon as all guests are there, our host Shannon gave us the heads up on the evening ahead. With all attendees being matched up prior and sent their dates for the night one at a time, the evening was planned, yet felt organic too. Then our first match appeared on our phones and we went about matching up the image sent in order to step into our first date. With an open bar to help the nerves and allowing each date the courtesy of offering a beverage, we were given 15 minutes to explore our first date. The difference between meeting someone face to face versus through chat online is that its so real and you can straight away get a sense of the other person. Within the first 5 or so minutes and after the usual ice-breaking lines of introductory small talk you get a much greater insight into who this person is in front of us, and about the resonance that is with them. Add the stylish and comfortable atmosphere of the host venue, in this case the Prankster Bar in Sydney’s Cross, and it was like a real date, but with the added benefit that it was limited to just 15 minutes, enough for more than a first impression, yet not too long that it would drag out if there was no connection.

If matched dates wish to connect after the very night, this can easily be done through the message function of the City Swoon website and so there was no need to grab numbers and do all that and with the next date being called, a message arrived on everyone’s phone with name and image to make finding their next contender in the venue easy. A quick thank you and goodbye, and so we moved to the next date and the next. Interspersed after four matches with a break for open mingling along with a selection of nibbles and canapés. Then, we were given the phone message for the second round of yet another four dates. So, with eight dates to the night and the open invitation to linger and stay at the venue after the scheduled dating completed (in line with the open bar subsiding) it gave a great platform for some more organic dating too. Going by my own experience and the feedback from others on the night, the event was a real hit, a great way to meet a number of people sitting in the same boat, and whether friendships or more were forged on the night, we all got to meet more of each other better than a lengthy chat online would have ever done. And, since meeting face to face outstrips any amount of selfies and profile shots could ever come close to revealing about oneself, here is another reason why you ought to sign up for a CitySwoon Speed Dating event, which are held not only in Sydney, but Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth as well. Well, if you are single in the city and want a different dating experience than the swipe, like, kiss or tingle that the online dating landscape offers, sign up to one of city swoon’s events, held across different age groups – if nothing else, it’s a great night out of making new friends…  or perhaps more! Happy swooning in your city.

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Posted by erikbigalk on August 8th, 2016

I am immediately charmed as I bustle in, late, and the beautiful and gracious Vanessa floats across the floor of Massi to greet me. She takes my coat and introduces me to the charming Manuel who is in the midst of explaining the menu and wines to my friend. This very appealing start sets the tone for a special evening of delicious, sometimes delicate and always presentable food served with superbly matched wines.

The room is perfect in size, seating around 50. The well stocked bar runs along one wall of the restaurant, laden with wine bottles, a selection of meats and salami hanging from shelves giving it an upmarket trattoria feel and we are instantly transported. Interestingly, it has wine on tap: Pinot Gris, Rose and Sangiovese, which Vanessa insists we try, later.

We are happy with our table by the window, and we opt to let Manuel choose our selection and start with an excellent Italian sparkling, Enrico Gatti, made predominantly from Chardonnay and if it was not for its origin of Italy, would easily pass for a champagne. This is perfectly paired to our first dish, Tuna crudo: fresh chunks of tuna, held delicately by an anchovy and stinging nettle sauce accompanied by house made potato crisps, which prompted an interesting conversation about stinging nettle – its origin and myths. The high quality of the tuna was enhanced by the surrounding sauce, making this a must try dish and one of our favorites for the night.

Head chef Sasha Randle, who has long made a name for herself in the culinary world, is clearly more than talented and a quintessential asset to this new establishment.

Our second treat is a feast for the eyes and arrives covered by a glass dome which, when removed, releases a smoky mist revealing an array of colorful baby vegetables and home made ricotta surrounding a dark sea-green lake of tarragon oil. The ricotta and tarragon oil work well together; the crunchy vegetables creating a contradiction in textures which is repeated in different ways in subsequent dishes. The crunchy vegetables and creamy texture of the ricotta make a complementing juxtapose to the distinctive oil making it hard to stop nibbling as we meet our second wine.

The Italian Saracco Chardonnay from Piedmont was superb and well placed for the next dish, the Black Spaghettini with blue swimmer crab, vongole, garlic and chilli, a dish that was colourful and picturesque to look at and then offering surprising texture and flavours making it the perfect companion for the vino.

Trusting Manuel to choose for us, who’s passion for the culinary arts and wine (which he argues naturally go hand in hand) is obvious as he delivers the Cavatelli of slow cooked pork shoulder ragu with white beans – a clear winner in Manuel’s eyes and now ours. Both dishes surprise by featuring chunky breadcrumbs to balance the textures and earn comments form both of us. The richness of the ragu is well met by the fullness of the 2009 Sciasci Capolino Perlingeri Aglianico with its deep red colour and subtle nose, grown in Campagna, Italy, close to Manuel’s home town.

Not currently on the menu, the radicchio salad with gorgonzola is a definite hit and we are pleased that it is to become a permanent fixture. The Gorgonzola was just right, complementing the bitterness of the radicchio; its lighter flavours delicately dancing around the richness of the meat dish.

Our culinary journey at Massi completed with sweet ricotta orange filled cannolo, which was amazing and certainly finished us off. Our new friends at Massi had the foresight to package up a trio of dolce for later, which were exquisite and a nice touch too.

As the latest creation by renowned restaurateur Joseph Vargetto, best know for his Mister Bianco Italian fine dining eatery in Kew (see our review here), 3 months old Massi is named after his son Massimo, yet already stands its own not just in flair and flavor.

All in all, I can only highly recommend Massi – a real Melbourne gem. The milieu is a rare achievement – sophisticated and familial. Congratulations, none the less to Vanessa and Manuel who bring Sasha’s culinary deliverance to life and add that professionalism and personal touch too often lacking in eateries today.

Massi can be found at 455 Little Collins Street, right in the heart of Melbourne and is open from Monday to Friday from 10am to 10pm. Bookings are recommended, especially for lunch when tables get snapped up quicker every day as the good word spreads. www.massi.com.au

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Posted by erikbigalk on August 8th, 2016


Drawn in by the aroma in the air as we stepped off Burke Street it was palatable we were headed for a unique culinary experience. Finding the colourful décor, bright neon sign and the small bar with its eclectic interior and interesting tiles beneath it, some 15 meters into the lane was easy, where Mamas Buoi instantly enveloped us in its charm, equalled only by their friendly and forthcoming staff.

Soon, we were seated and offered beautiful and snug blankets to kerb the winter cold and explained the nature of their unique Pho Festival menu, which to keep things simple is recommended to follow from top to bottom – easy.

Mamas Buoi is an authentic Vietnamese restaurant with rich flavoursome food that appeals to anyone who has a soft spot for Asian and traditional Vietnamese food with a modern twist.  Offering a wide selection of entrees, mains and tempting deserts, plus a hip lunch menu that fills this place during lunch hours on a daily basis, it is easy to see why they have quickly made a name for itself.

While their menu has got be explored with more than just one visit and can also be ordered through Deliveroo and Foodora if you don’t want to step out, on this occasion we came out for the Winter Pho Festival menu specifically, and so should you.

The Pho flavours of coriander root, black cardamom, birdseye chilli, cinnamon, ginger and star aniseed make the basis to the traditional hot broth style meat dish served all over Vietnam which has been loved and heralded as one Asian dish that stands apart from all the others.

More interesting than the original, Nam Nuygen owner and creative mind behind the Mamas Buoi concept took the flavours he grew up with from his aunty’s and mother’s cooking and infused them with a modern touch of the west, and he did not stop at the age-old flavours of Pho either.

Taking the lead from Pham Tien Tiep (Vietnam’s best bartender) who made a name for himself by developing the award-winning Joan Baez Pho Cocktail based on the traditional Pho spices in 2012, Mamas Buoi serves their own variant of the drink. A mojito-like cocktail that surprises with the undertone of the Pho spices brought to live with just the right amount of Gin and Grand Marnier and a squeeze of lemon – simply stunning! Thus, our journey into the Pho flavours had commenced.

When I said to simply go ‘top to bottom’ on the Pho menu, it is not laziness or greed, just that the menu is short and designed to take you on a journey worth taking and is measured to suffice, nurture and delight without being excessive…  so it was not only easy to choose but the perfect measure.

Come to the food, first up was a set of Pho rolls, filled with fresh sprouts, thinly cut tender beef slices, coriander and of course the very flavours that were to thread throughout our entire meal, all rolled into thin sheets of rice pasta served with a Hoisin dipping sauce. Nice! And a great way to start and ease into the next course.

While traditionally Pho is a wet meat dish, Mama’s Buoi took it to the sea and carried on the same Pho flavours (only more enhanced now) were prawns, calamari and slithers of fresh Barramundi, sharing the rich broth with snow peas, vegetables and a generous handful of bean sprouts, all dancing over a bed of rice noodles…  YUM!

With the defined punctuation of fresh coriander and sufficient bite to it that it made cheeks rosy and put a touch of sweat on the nose, it was the perfect concoction of flavours and while quite a light dish, it was rather nurturing than overfilling. Plus, there was more to come yet…

Having been creative with the Pho flavours so far, the next was as unusual a delight as they come – Pho Ice Cream.

After the initial cognitive dissonance melted away, it was the two scoops of house made Pho ice cream that slowly melted over the crisp sweet potato julienne – actually I think we scooped it all up before it could melt, it was incredible. Not too sweet, carrying the same signature flavours we had first encountered with the cocktail at the very start, it had perfect texture and was the suited ‘cherry on the cake’ finish to an enlightening dining experience.

I love Asian food and have experienced ample on my travels abroad and around Oz, but this sure was a festival of Pho flavours thread through diverse flavours and dishes, you simply have to experience for yourself.

Mama’s Buoi is located in the old GPO Lane, between H&M and Myers in Bourke Street Melbourne, open 7 days for lunch and dinner. They are flooded at lunch time so to ensure a spot, it pays to book ahead or if you are close by, be it home, office or hotel, dial it in through Deliveroo or Foodora or secure a table for a tantalising dining experience with a difference. Check out their menu online and find their two Sydney locations at www.mamasbuoi.com.au plus ‘like’ them on FB www.facebook.com/MamasBuoi

Mama’s Buoi Sydney Locations:

116 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, Sydney. Phone: (02) 9281 9993. Currently open for Lunch and Dinner from Monday to Saturday.

77 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest, Sydney. Phone: (02) 9438 5005. Currently open for Lunch and Dinner from Monday to Sunday.

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Posted by erikbigalk on August 2nd, 2016

I don’t know about you, but being in Melbourne it is as much about the culinary scene as anything else and if you love cheese or chocolate, or both, then you MUST visit Monger & Maker and Cioccolato Lombardo at the Prahran Market.

Anthony Femia’s passion for all things cheese has resulted in the thriving Maker & Monger hub in the Harvest Hall (stall 25),  its an open street chariot-like affair with full counter and cheese display front (usually hidden behind long queues of hungry punters), strewn with pallet tables out front, and a thick scent of cheese in the air. In short, you can‘t miss it.

With a handful of staff busily serving the seemingly never-ending string of folks lining up for one their raving treats, it becomes quickly apparent why they have earned such strong following. There is the massive parmesan cheese wheel that flavours their Cacio e Pepe con Tartufo pasta as it is tossed and turned in it, before being served up in a paper cone (rich and tasty), and the thick chunk of Raclette cheese that sits clamped under constant heat to ooze onto the ‘must try’ prosciutto, raisin bread, slithers of pear, covered in melted cheese plated delight.

Not that either of these two tasty cheese lover treats were not enough to valid a visit to the Maker & Monger stall, but with the American style toasty (the most loved of the toasty range) being the arm twister that has cheesy sandwich lovers of all ages line up, there is not really any further argument needed. Add the wide variety of cheeses in the vitrine to choose from and you can make the visit last all the way to your dining table at home.

Now, any of these make a tasty and filling brunch or lunch snack, yet in the pursuit of decadence ought to be followed by a treat or three from the award-winning creator of Cioccolato Lombardo, only a stroll away where Tad Lombardo (the passionate chocolatier behind the famed chocolate store, stall 97) shares his passion for everything chocolate.

He believes that the end product is only as good as the ingredients. For this reason, he uses only the freshest, best quality ingredients and Felchlin Swiss couverture exclusively to produce the myriad of flavour combinations to satisfy even the most discerning gourmet aficionado.

The aroma of chocolate naturally leads you into the small temptation-laden shop that has chocolate lovers of all walks go goo-gah over the selection on offer. From classic hand-made pralines to copper dusted classics like clusters, frogs and more; from cakes and raspberry chocolate dessert cups to their specialty of the New York style baked cheesecake, and specialty chocolates and treats right through to bespoke chocolates and cakes for any occasion. From the humble chocolate and hundreds and thousands covered lolly pops to delicate chocolate bars, it is near impossible to not fall for one or a few treats in here. It’s simply mouth watering.

Everyone has had a childhood dream the likes of visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory or getting lost in colourful sweets stores, with the decadence of the Cioccolato Lombardo store the present day port of call to delve in to make your chocolate dream come true.

Not being able to try everything in store, although we wanted to, we opted for handcrafted cappuccino cups, salted caramel gooey centres hidden behind rich milk chocolate and peanut butter and jelly dressed in dark choc, plus the aerated dark chocolate sphere with its metallic ‘out-of-this-world’ shine – all of which exceeding expectations – YUMMM!!!

With oodles of recognitions for his chocolate artistry to his name (incl. finalist in the World Chocolate Masters Australia competition and Gold Medal and Champion Trophy at the Melbourne Fine Food Awards), Tad Lombardo opened his stall at the Prahran Markets 4 years ago, which has grown in size ever since, and with the love for chocolate a common vice for locals and visitors alike, it is sure to continue to do so…

Thoroughly nurtured and spoiled having indulged in two of the most famous soul foods there are – cheese and chocolate, it was unanimous ‘we will be back for more…’.

Prahran Market can be found at 163 Commercial Road, South Yarra and is open Tuesday 7am-5pm, Thursday 7am-5pm and Friday 7am-6pm, on weekends Saturday 7am-5pm and Sunday 10am-3pm. www.prahranmarket.com.au

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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
www.erikbigalk.com.au

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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
www.mamasbuoi.com.au

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 www.erikbigalk.com.au.

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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 www.EatNow.com.au 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 www.save-on-travel.com (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 www.erikbigalk.com

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