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 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 and feel whether there is a connection.

Being in the same dilemma as many other singles, I 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 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.

With everyone registering their arrival via their phone our host Shannon gave us the heads up on the evening ahead. With all attendees being matched up prior and send their dates for the night one at a time, we stepped into our first meeting. With an open bar to help the nerves and each date the courtesy of offering a beverage, we were given 15 minutes each to explore our meeting.

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 we get a much greater insight in who this person is in front of us, and of what the resonance 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 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 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.

And so, we moved to the next date and the next. Interspersed 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 selfie profile shots could ever come close to revealing about oneself, here goes another reason why 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 (Syd, Mel, Bris or Perth) and want a different dating experience than the swipe, like, kiss or tingle 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 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 www.abbottshotel.com.au 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 www.nib.co.nz/blues-giveaway 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!

www.nib.co.nz/blues-giveaway

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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: https://www.nib.com.au/state‐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
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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