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Melbourne: Australia’s Trendiest Food and Drink Scene

Melbourne: Australia’s Trendiest Food and Drink Scene


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More and more, Melbourne is becoming home to the “it” food scene.

Melbourne has long been considered the Australian city with European charm, and its vibrant food and wine scene is constantly evolving. Restaurants, specialist coffee shops, cafés, bars, and festivals are run and attended by adventurous entrepreneurs, chefs, and artisans who are driven by quality, authenticity, integrity, innovation, tradition, and passion. Melbourne’s food scene is unique not only in the sheer size and diversity, but also in the spaces in which it dwells — in laneways and basements, on rooftops, in historic buildings and iconic settings, and countless quirky spaces in between — creating truly extraordinarily experiences.

One of the most notable hipster-chic restaurants in Melbourne is Attica, set in the unassuming suburbs of Melbourne where head chef Ben Shewry delivers tantalizing combinations of unique and eclectic ingredients, some of which are foraged by Shewry himself in the morning near his home on the Bellarine peninsula. Also check out Gin Palace; it dates back to the late 1800s, down a dark Melbourne alley, where there once was an infamous hospitality venue frequented by all kinds of characters at night that eventually adopted the title Gin Palace. Gin Palace was closed for a period of time then reopened by an entrepreneur in 1997, and is still best known for its outstanding martinis.

The depth of Melbourne’s cultural heritage contributes significantly to the richness and authenticity of food and wine experiences in the city, which include Asian, African, and European culinary precincts and produce as well as fresh food markets and an incredible breadth of culturally diverse, high-end dining experiences. Melbourne is a city obsessed with coffee, and there are many specialty roasters and multi-roaster cafés popping up throughout the city. More and more, Melbourne is becoming home to the “it” food scene; in fact, it was announced that Heston Blumenthal's three-Michelin-starred restaurant, The Fat Duck, will temporarily relocate to Crown Resort in Melbourne for six months in 2015.


Australia's rum renaissance continues the craft spirit revolution

Welcome to the rum renaissance: The Floor is Guava cocktail from Lobo Plantation. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Australia's new rum heroes all tell variations of the same happy tale. It begins, as the best drinking stories do, with someone walking into a bar. "I don't like rum," says the visitor, and the bartender, distiller or whichever spiritual guide the novice has encountered at the dawn of their Damascene conversion, smiles knowingly. "You just haven't met the right one."

It's a scene playing out in high-end cocktail bars, tropical-themed party dens, masterclasses, enthusiasts' clubs and a new generation of rum-dedicated craft distilleries around the country. Whatever you call it – a revolution, renaissance, even a second rebellion – rum is having a golden moment.

The spirit distilled from sugarcane byproducts – molasses, juice or syrup – appears in white, golden, dark and spiced variations and stars in a number of famous cocktails: mojito, daiquiri, mai tai, dark n' stormy. Linked to the sea, the tropics, swashbucklers, smugglers, and once used as currency in Australia, it's always been familiar. But now it's front of mind.

Lobo in Sydney is trying to change the perception of rum. Photo: MyMedia

When the nation's spirits professionals gathered in Sydney for their annual Bar Week last month, they partied at Brix, the new inner city rum-dedicated distillery. Beneath the copper curves of an 1800-litre still, visiting global rum luminaries toasted Australia's new relationship with its oldest spirit, outlined with zeal in the Brix mission statement: "Rum has a dark history, but like Australia, we want to give it a bright future. We believe in redemption."

Brix's first release, Brix White, sums up the new way of Aussie rum. It's light, herbaceous and complex with hints of fig and honeydew – and although it can make a daiquiri sing, it's better sipped neat. So, too, is the clean, delicate Pure Cane, the "paddock to bottle" rum agricole from Husk Distillers' award-winning sugarcane plantation distillery in Tumbulgum, northern NSW. And at Jimmy Rum, a new distillery on the Mornington Peninsula, James McPherson and his 1500-litre pot still, Matilda, are busy perfecting their white Silver, "loaded with butterscotch and a touch of grassiness through it".

These rums afford the same respect as single malt scotch whiskies and fine wines. You'll find them among the rare international sipping rums being nosed, tasted and discussed in rum-dedicated bars manned by sugarcane aficionados passionate about spreading rum knowledge.

Hamish Goonetilleke of Rum Diary makes his own spiced rum. Photo: Supplied

When these rums call, people come. Last weekend, Melbourne's first rum-dedicated festival, I Hart Rum, was a sellout, packing the laneway around container bar Whitehart with 250 eager rum seekers at tastings and masterclasses for rums from Martinique, Mauritius, Venezuela, Bali, Jamaica, Guyana and Mexico – and now, of course, NSW and Victoria, too.

Tom Bulmer, director of The Rum Club Australia, witnesses the same enthusiasm. Sydney's branch, with more than 1000 members, has outgrown the small bars that once housed its meetings. "We get a lot of hospitality people, but also real amateur rum diehards with great knowledge," says Bulmer. "We have private distillers, people making rum at home, even a real old salt-of-the-earth sailor who brings a hip flask of rum he once had on board a ship."


Veraison: a wine magazine with a difference

Moira Tirtha, self-described "Melbourne-based wine gal", is putting together a new kind of wine magazine. In winemaking, veraison is the moment in the annual cycle of the grapes' growth when the berries begin to ripen &ndash swelling, growing sweeter and taking on colour. In Veraison the magazine, meanwhile, Tirtha wants to bring together the parts of her life where she works vintage at wineries and sells wine at Blackhearts & Sparrows, and the parts of her life where she studied sociolinguistics. Who gets to make wine? Who gets to talk about it? And what about the land where it&rsquos made and drunk &ndash is there more to that conversation than the schist and the clay and the shale and the sunshine?

What began as an idea in lockdown is now about to bear fruit in the form of a printed product. Or at least it will once the crowdfunding gets there. Let Tirtha tell you a little bit more about what she has in the works and perhaps you&rsquod like get on board yourself.

What&rsquos Veraison all about, Moira?
It&rsquos all about wine. That being said, wine is about so many things which are beyond what's in the glass it's about people, place, process, space, food, culture, language and so on. It&rsquos all about making wine more accessible and about sharing what we know about wine. It&rsquos a space for discussing things we feel are important about drinking wine in our sociocultural context and doing so in a fun way. It&rsquos also about things which are adjacent to wine: food, art, design, film, parties and so on.

What prompted you to put it together?
I found that people had similar questions about wine and were interested in learning more but found it intimidating. There wasn&rsquot really a publication where people could learn in a super casual way which felt like friends talking about something they were really passionate about. People are having great conversations about and over wine, and doing some great and important things within wine and I wanted to create a space to share those things. We've got a really cool thing going in Melbourne wine and this magazine is a celebration of that.

Who&rsquos the magazine for?
Veraison is for anyone who wants to drink better and get around the Melbourne food and wine scene. It&rsquos for people who want to talk about wine, and shape the way that wine is being thought about in our city. It&rsquos for people who like anything that relates to good wine and good people.

Who is collaborating and what are they doing?
Veraison is made up of people from all different parts of the wine world. We've got wine actual wine writers and wine professionals who hold wine pretty close to their hearts people like Mike Bennie, who&rsquos done a lot of wine judging, is writing about taste and subjectivity, and Claire Adey, who&rsquos doing her masters in food systems, writes about biodynamics and institutions of legitimacy. But also, our collaborators mightn&rsquot explicitly be 'wine people' &ndash they&rsquore artists, cooks, DJs, poets, filmmakers, fashion designers, students, lecturers who are finding ways that wine intersects with the other parts of their lives and want to share it in an aesthetically beautiful way. Liam Alexander-Quinn, for example, is a graphic designer and uses his skills in that to visually conceptualise &lsquoterroir&rsquo. Melbourne artists are making some very fun playlists to go with recipes shared by some really great Melbourne cooks. And! So! Much! More!

What are you happiest with in issue one?
I'm happiest with how Veraison doesn't need to you to be anyone for you to get something out of it. You don't have to know a thing about wine there aren&rsquot silly questions. You probably don&rsquot even have to like wine and you&rsquoll learn something! Before I started the magazine, I didn&rsquot really know most of the collaborators. A lot of this volume involved sliding into people&rsquos Instagram DMs, talking to them about what they found interesting about wine and making that conversation accessible. It&rsquos so broad in approach because people are coming from such diverse backgrounds and it&rsquos made because collaborators want you to get involved.

What&rsquos on the mood board for the issues to come?
We want to delve further into some more nitty-gritty bits of wine. We want to open the conversation about what it means to make wine on stolen land. We want to talk about exploitation in the industry. We want to address the underrepresentation of BIPOC people in leadership positions in wine and share the experiences of BIPOC people in drinking spaces. We want to talk about Eurocentricity in wine language. We want to talk about the nature of objectivity in taste. We want to explore trends in how we drink and think about wine. We want to share stories about how and why wine is important. There are big things happening in the wine world to do with inclusivity and we want to feed into that narrative. We&rsquod love to keep finding people with new perspectives and hot takes to work and collaborate with.

Where can we get it?
You can pre-order a copy of Volume I through our Pozible campaign. We're also on the web, and on Instagram at @veraisonmag.


Australia’s trendiest food and wine experiences

One year on from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Melbourne, Australia’s food and wine scene continues to evolve. With regional restaurants, farmstays, natural wines and food cooked with fire, the latest culinary trends sweeping the nation are all about authenticity.

Top notch regional restaurants

Doot Doot Doot, Jackalope Hotel, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Regional Australia has a new wave of restaurants rivaling their big city siblings. By tapping into the best produce of their region, these countryside eateries are creating a new kind of Australian regional cuisine.

Leading from the front is Victoria’s Brae, named No.44 in the world according to last year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. It’s heavily supported by other outstanding establishments in the state: Oakridge, Provenance, The Royal Mail, The Lake House and Doot Doot Doot.

Around Byron Bay in northern New South Wales comes Harvest, Paper Daisy, Fleet and Three Blue Ducks, while further south, foraging and seasonal change adds enticing options to the menus of Muse, St. Isidore, Margan, Biota Dining and Bistro Officina, and Clementine.

South Australia boasts The Summertown Aristologist, Appellation and Hentley Farm Restaurant which showcase the stunning produce of the region. Meanwhile The Long Apron and Harrisons by Spencer Patrick are hotspots in regional Queensland, while Cullen Wines and Vasse Felix are taking the stage in Western Australia. Canberra’s Pialligo Estate and Tasmania’s The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery are superb examples of the Australian “Agrikitchen” movement, with each establishment now growing their own produce. Head on down and get a taste of authentic Australian regional fare.

Natural wines

Taras Ochota, founder of Ochota Barrels, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

The Adelaide Hills region in South Australia is perhaps now the largest natural wine producer on the planet. Local producers include Ochota Barrels( named in the top 100 wineries on the planet by Wine & Spirits Magazine), Commune of Buttons (whose wine maker Jasper Buttons was named 2016 Best New Act at the Young Gun Wine Awards), Ngeringa (a biodynamic wine producer making a name for its unusual varietals), and Gentle Folk (whose small scale batches generally sell out as soon as they’re available).

Cooking with fire

Ester Restaurant & Bar, Sydney, New South Wales

Australian chefs are returning to our most elemental roots, utilising Australia’s unique ingredients over the most natural heat source on the planet: wood. In the heart of Sydney, chef Lennox Hastie’s Firedoor is arguably the lead champion of the trend, but you’ll find further evidence at several prominent nearby restaurants including Ester, No.1 Bent Street, Stanbuli, Porteno, Fred’s and Three Blue Ducks.

In Victoria, chef Neil Perry AM’s Rockpool Bar & Grill (Melbourne, Sydney and Perth) helped ignite the state’s own firebugs Igni, Atlas Dining and Thai-inspired Long Song. Meanwhile Queensland (Blackbird), Tasmania (Agrarian Kitchen Eatery and Franklin) and South Australia (Africola and Shobosho) are keeping the home fires burning too. This is honest and open cooking with only the elements to rely on.

Farm stays with fabulous feasts

Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria

There are few things more relaxing than leaving the big smoke and absorbing the natural beauty of Australia. In recent years, this experience has been made even more magnificent with the rise of farm stays that deliver a feast to be reckoned with. Australia’s regional landscape is now dotted with exceptional eat-and-stay locations, some also operating as Agrikitchens, where chefs utilise the land to grow the produce they cook in their kitchen.

Fly into Melbourne then hit the road for a short trip to feast at Provenance, The Royal Mail or The Lake House. From Canberra, take a short trip to the east coast of New South Wales and enjoy the wines and vibes of Cupitt in Ulladulla. From Sydney or Canberra, you can enjoy the luscious greenery of the Southern Highlands at Biota Dining. Amongst the vines in the famous Hunter Valley region you’ll find Margan, or Sydney’s north coast holds Jonah’s, Cottage Point Inn or Bells at Killcare. Head to Adelaide’s hills to embrace the glorious harmony of the land and plate at Hentley Farm or The Australasian Circa 1858, or retreat to Foragers Field Kitchen and Cooking School in Western Australia’s truffle region to feast on a communal table. If cooler climates take your fancy, Red Feather Inn showcases Tasmania’s excellent produce in heritage surrounds.

Wine first, food second

La Buvette Drinkery, Adelaide, South Australia

There has been a real coming of age in Australia’s dining sector, where venues with a uniquely Australian vibe have begun to put excellent wine as their first priority, with food menus designed to complement the perfect drop, rather than the other way around. In these venues, tablecloths have been ripped from tabletops, the formalities of finer dining left on the coat rack and patrons encouraged to ‘choose their own adventure’ in surrounds that have all the swagger of a wine bar, but offer food to rival the nation’s finest restaurants, too.

Fancy a tipple and a nibble in Sydney? Head to WYNO, Monopole, Continental Deli Bar and Bistro, Hubert, 10 William Street, Bibo Wine Bar or Johnny Fishbone. Melbourne wine bar wizards Marion, Bar Liberty, Embla, Smalls and Arlechin strike a fine balance between dining and imbibing with all the energy and earnestness of conviviality. South Australians have caught onto the quaffing and grazing craze at laidback venues such as Press Food and Wine, Udaberri, La Buvette, The Summertown Aristologis and Hogget Kitchen. Not to be outdone, Queensland (Enotecca 1889, Gerard’s Bar, and La Lune), Western Australia (Lalla Rookha Bar, New Normal and Petition), and Tasmania (Dier Makr and Fico Bistro & Vino) have their share of “snack and sip” purveyors, too.

Wine + design experiences

The d’Arenberg Cube, Osborn Road, McLaren Vale, South Australia

A series of high-end conceptual art and design experiences is currently sweeping Australia’s vineyards, the most hotly anticipated of which is the avant-garde d’Arenberg Cube at the d’Arenberg winery in South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region. This multi-storey feat of architecture will house public and private tasting rooms, virtual fermenters, bars and a restaurant in a structure resembling a half-solved Rubik’s cube. The cube is crowned with 16 hydraulic umbrellas which open in a playful, choreographed sequence of movement.

The d’Arenberg Cube joins several other “wine + design” experiences around the nation, including the brand new, $50 million sculpture park, cellar door and fine dining restaurant at Point Leo Estate vineyard, on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, which opened October 2017. Featuring over 50 large-scale contemporary works from sculptors such as Tony Cragg, Zadok Ben-David and Inge King set against ocean views, vines, cattle and native gardens, the vineyard also boasts a stunning, barrel-shaped main building housing an oversized cellar door and 110-seat destination restaurant.

Mornington Peninsula is also home to Australia’s hottest new vineyard hotel, the whimsical 46-room Jackalope, which opened in April 2017. Named after a mythical creature, the hotel fuses art, design, food and storytelling in a visually stunning experience that has just been shortlisted at the World Architecture Festival.

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A drink to try at home

Just before Christmas 2015, Adelaide Hills winemakers and distillers Brendan and Laura Carter provided the final missing piece of a puzzle that had been consuming me for years.

Ever since the Australian craft gin renaissance kicked off in the early 2010s – followed by the release of the first modern Australian vermouths a couple of years later – I’d been hankering for someone to create a home-grown alternative to Campari so that I could start drinking an all-Australian version of that popular cocktail the Negroni.

The ingredients in the All-Australian Negroni didn't exist a decade ago. Arsineh Houspian

The Carters’ latest product, Okar, was exactly what I’d been waiting for: a bittersweet, dark-magenta amaro made using a bunch of native coastal rainforest botanicals including riberries, Davidson plum and strawberry gum.

It felt like some kind of milestone: being able to make a drink as famous as the Negroni without having to rely on ingredients produced overseas by multinational drinks companies was a vote of confidence in the rapidly expanding and fast-maturing Australian winemaking, brewing and distilling community.

Brendan and Laura Carter, makers of Okar. David Solm

It’s a pretty full-on cocktail. Something Wild Green Ant Gin imparts citrus flavour explosions of gulguk (green ants) and the richness of boobiala (native juniper). The Maidenii Sweet Vermouth is blended by a French-born winemaker in central Victoria using herbal, savoury, earthy botanicals such as sea parsley, river mint and wattleseed. And the Okar is all punchy, bitter, eucalypt-laced rainforest fruits.

The drink is intense – with layer upon layer of uniquely Australian flavours and tastes, from round and sweet to edgily astringent, menthol-pungent to citrus-sour, like a deep purple psychedelic dream of flying through country, your senses heightened and alert to all the scents around you.

The first time I tried it, it struck me that this cocktail could not have been made even as recently as a decade ago: none of the three components existed then. I thought about how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.

And then I remembered a conversation I’d had with influential veteran Yalumba winemaker Peter Wall, and realised that this drink was, of course, just the latest development in a much, much longer Australian tradition.

I was talking with Peter about Yalumba’s history of developing products like Niblik back in the ’30s. I told him that one of the reasons I was writing this book was the growing interest among modern Australian drinkers in a much broader range of drinks than their parents drank, from cocktails to craft beer, from novel spirits to natural wines.

“And I think that’s great,” he said. “We’re getting back to where we were in many ways. I’m not sure what happened in the meantime.”

NEED TO KNOW
The All-Australian Negroni features in Intoxicating: Ten Drinks that Shaped Australia by Max Allen, published this month by Thames & Hudson. $32.99.


Looking for something to eat?

The 50 best restaurants in Melbourne

Unless you have the metabolism of a nine-year-old, and the finances of a Kardashian, you never stand a chance against Melbourne's ferocious dining machine. The openings just don't stop and ain't nobody got time to keep on top of what's what. Except us, that is. So behold, our eat-and-destroy list &ndash a guide to Melbourne's 50 best restaurants.


Anchovy

Fusion food can be a dirty word but not in the hands of owner-chef Thi Le who’s serving up modern Asian Australian food at this Bridge Road restaurant. Le has a storied pedigree having worked at Cumulus and The Town Mouse and she’s hit the ground running at her first solo venture. Le’s food is fun and adventurous. Her Vietnamese-style blood pudding has already achieved the status of a cult dish with critics raving about the dense meaty treat which comes wrapped in cosberg lettuce and laced with pickled ginger and fresh herbs.


Wandering Mixologist: Chris Hopkins on a Cocktail Crawl in Melbourne

C hris Hopkins, the mixologist at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas recently spent 17 days in Australia consulting the new gastro pub the Merrywell, at the newly revamped Crown Perth. Hopkins, a Perth native, managed to find time to hop over to Melbourne and check out the city’s dynamic bar scene. “The last time I was there I wasn’t really involved in the cocktail world,” he says. “So it was cool to go back and see how Melbourne has really grown up and found its own food and drink identity.” Hopkins lucked out and had the community manager for Yelp Melbourne tour him around the city. “Six bars really stood out for different things and different reasons,” he says. “It was a long night of drinking.” The one downside: the strong Aussie dollar. “Cocktails started at around $19 and went as high as $24,” he says. Here, Hopkins shares the perfect cocktail crawl through Melbourne.

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Eau Devie
Eau Devie’s original Sydney operation was named world’s best cocktail bar years ago and now they have new location in Melbourne. The space is really cool and speakeasy-ish. There’s a private library room with lots of little alcoves and a wall moves and leads to a private member’s room with lockers. The bar has its own liquid nitrogen-dispensing tap that was custom built like a beer tap. The guys behind Eau Devie worked at NYC’s Milk and Honey so they trained with the best. Their Sydney operation is very big and high volume, but the new spot is smaller and more intimate. 1 Malthouse Lane, 61/(3) 412-825-441, eaudevie.com.au

1806
“The library collection of spirits at this bar is huge and largely composed of bottles from the owner’s own private collection. 1806 is a classic cocktail bar that’s very traditional. The bartenders here do very classic recipes and don’t venture too far out of the box. They have an enormous bar, the biggest I saw in Melbourne, but there are only four or five stools around the bar and those seats let you watch the action. Each bartender rotates through a different section of the bar, almost the way a restaurant’s kitchen line is a run. So you’ll see a bartender cooking food in the kitchen or on the floor taking orders or behind the bar and then one person is the head bartender calling out the orders just like the head chef. They do crazy high volume drinks here and pump them out really, really fast. I was there on a Wednesday night and it was packed upstairs and down. I had this take on a Tom and Jerry that was almost like a twist on an eggnog made with a cappuccino frother and served with grated nutmeg. I told them I was going to steal the idea and have played around with it for my own menu. 67 Green St., 61/(3) 9529-7899, backbar.com.au, 1806.com.au

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Section 8
This is the weirdest, coolest dive bar I’ve ever been to. It’s down a back alley in the middle of nowhere and the bar is in a little tin shell mobile home that’s been put on blocks because there are no wheels. A canopy of military camouflage shades the outdoor tables and seats where people drink fresh made cocktails. The drinks are nothing fancy. It’s definitely not a cocktail destination, but the drinks are good and there’s no pretention. People grill on the open-pit barbecues, and there’s a good beer list, and live bands play music. It’s also one of the few places in the city you can still sit and have a cigarette. 27-29 Tattersalls Lane, 61/(3) 430-291-588, section8.com.au

The Croft Institute
Just around the corner from Section 8 we came upon the freakiest looking bar I’ve ever been. The Croft Institute has a restaurant/bar upstairs and the downstairs looks like a high school science lab from the 1960s or 70s. It’s located down a dead end alley, the kind of alley that makes you feel like you’re going to get mugged. But then you walk into this place and the walls are decorated with mosaic-style white tiles and cocktail tools hang from the walls. High tables that look like science bench tables line the back wall and there is a chalkboard menu of cocktails. It’s completely unexpected and very hipster. 21 Croft Alley, 61/(3) 9671-4399, thecroftinstitute.com

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Kodiak Club
Kodiak Club is located in Fitzroy, an inner city suburb that used to be a run down neighborhood 15 years ago but is now completely hipster and trendy. Kodiak Club is a cool spot that serves good pub food like burgers and waffles and good beer. The night I went they were having an Iron Chef-style cocktail competition. They do this once a month and you never know which liquor brand is the sponsor and bartenders from around the city show up to compete. It moves venues just like an underground cocktail competition. 272 Brunswick St., 61/(3) 9417-3733, kodiakclub.com.au

Black Pearl
The best all around bar I went to in Melbourne was the Black Pearl. I’d equate it to Employee’s Only in New York City. The bartenders were all tatted up and it felt like they were part of some brotherhood. The cocktail list changes every few weeks. When I told the bartender I drink everything he told me he could shock me and poured me a shot of angostura bitters. The owner’s name is Massimo and he’s this crazy Italian guy and he has a little place reservations-only place upstairs called the Attic that’s only open Thursday through Saturday. The Attic has great vintage liquors like 1970s Fernet and other geeky, weird stuff that cocktail geeks go wild for. 304 Brunswick St., 61/(3) 9417-0455


Eight of the Best Gourmet Food Festivals for Epicureans

The best gourmet food festivals bring chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants, the world’s best mixologists and award-winning sommeliers.

By Kristen Shirley | July 23 2020

Gone are the days of waiting in line for uninspired bites the best gourmet food festivals bring chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants, the world’s best mixologists, award-winning sommeliers and fans together to celebrate their love of food and wine during extravagant dinners, outrageous parties, intimate cooking classes and grand tastings.

Chef Fest

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii

It’s always a good time to visit Hawaii, but savvy travelers plan their trips around Chef Fest at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai each November. The relaxed and intimate event takes place in the beautiful resort and features a roster of interesting chefs, like James Beard Award winners Mashama Bailey, Claude Le Tohic and Charles Phan, alongside Hualalai’s executive chef Thomas Bellec. The weekend kicks off with bocce and bubbles with the chefs, offering guests an opportunity to ask questions and get to know them. The cooking classes are interactive, unlike many other festivals, so guests pair up to cook the dish at the same time as the chef rather than just watch the chef cook. Last year, chef Bailey of The Grey in Savannah taught guests how to humanely kill and cook lobsters to make her famed lobster and grits.

There are various cultural activities, like lei making, and the schedule is quite relaxed, so there’s plenty of time to explore the Big Island and to relax at the resort’s beautiful beaches and pools. There is an important wine and spirits component as well: Top mixologists host daily beachside cocktail demos and small workshops. One of the most sought-after tickets of the weekend is the rare wine tasting, which has featured vertical tastings from some of the biggest names in Napa Valley, including Colgin Cellars and Harlan Estate. At night, there is a mix of casual evenings where chefs set up stations with signature dishes and more formal seated dinners. The festival concludes with a gala at ‘Ulu Ocean Grill, where guests sip fabulous champagne (last year they served Louis Roederer Cristal) and mingle with the chefs before a multi-course extravaganza under the stars.

The Epicure

The Dolder Grand, Zürich, Switzerland

From Botero to Miró, including Warhol, Man Ray, Judd and more, the art collection at Zürich’s The Dolder Grand rates the hotel as a destination in itself. Ensconced in the woods, it overlooks the city’s gleaming lake, just walking distance from downtown. But it also reigns as a food mecca, with a culinary program helmed by Heiko Nieder of two-Michelin-starred The Restaurant. Best-known for elegant presentation and light fare, his artful cuisine mirrors Zürich’s contemporary, urbane buzz. To share his talents and collaborate with other like-minded gastronomes, The Dolder Grand and Nieder launched The Epicure — Days of Culinary Masterpieces, an indulgent, six-day gourmet jamboree, in 2014. Each September, a group of chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants around the world (last year’s lineup included Alain Passard, Nick Bril and Jan Hartwig, among others) join Nieder at The Dolder Grand to converse, exchange ideas, teach and prepare toothsome dishes for the attendees. Guests can dine on guest-chef-prepared, multi-course dinners at The Restaurant, attend master classes on a slew of subjects from cigars to caviar, and taste plenty of dishes in the exquisite, two-story Steinhalle Gallery. “The best part of the event is watching my colleagues applaud and support one another,” says Nieder. The next event is scheduled for June 29-July 4, 2021. Words by Becca Hensley

Aspen Food & Wine Classic

Aspen, Colorado, USA

In the off-season, Aspen can still feel like an unassuming mountain town — until you walk by Prada or notice Gwyneth Paltrow traipsing down the street. But the upscale vibe intensifies one weekend each summer in June when the gourmet crowd descends upon the ski hamlet in a throng 5,000 epicureans strong. This seriously food-centric festival welcomes the world’s premier experts on grub and libations. Expect celebrity chefs (think: Rick Bayless, Geoffrey Zakarian and Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs) and kitchen-savvy authorities of every stripe. Martha Stewart (who shared her Aperol spritz recipe last year to a full-house audience) will return to a gargantuan program, which features more than 80 cooking classes and wine seminars, plus panel discussions and foodie soirées. Sponsored by a clique of luxury brands and sometimes even countries, the Classic’s veritable living room is the see-and-be-seen Grand Tasting Pavilion, an immense tent that mimics the surrounding peaks. Book the Paepcke Suite, Aspen’s top suite, at the slope-side Little Nell, which is big enough to throw your own food lover’s shebang. New to the program: a non-alcoholic beverage seminar in honor of the mocktail trend. The 2020 festival was canceled due to safety concerns, but it will return June 18-20, 2021. Words by Becca Hensley

St Moritz Gourmet Festival

St Mortiz, Switzerland

A penchant for healing waters first drew tourists to St Moritz in the late 19th century. Today, the swanky alpine village in Switzerland’s Upper Engadine Valley prevails as a peerless ski destination, as famous for its social scene as its nearly 250 miles of ski trails and slopes. Two-time host of the Winter Olympics and home to some of the world’s most acclaimed hotels and restaurants, the glamorous ski town hosts an annual winter festival called White Turf — multiple days of horse races executed across a frozen lake. In between events, spectators ski, snowboard, frolic — and eat. Most skiers vie for hard-to-procure mountainside reservations, knowing that where they lunch (and après ski) is as important as which mountain they’ve conquered. In that mode, St Moritz Gourmet Festival joined the winter milieu more than a quarter-century ago, bringing choice culinary stars from around the globe for nine days of cooking demonstrations, mountaintop dinners, fêtes, collaborations and competitions. Sponsored by St Moritz’s top hotels, restaurants and other luxury brands like Porsche, the culinary party involves the entire town. Visiting chefs are matched with local chefs for both cooking and skiing activities. Last year’s festival showcased an all-female lineup of 10 chefs, including London’s Asma Khan, Copenhagen’s Kamilla Seidler and Bangkok’s Bee Satongun. To channel St Moritz’s original snowbirds, book the moody Hitchcock Suite (Alfred’s favorite room) at historic Badrutt’s Palace. Words by Becca Hensley

Cayman Cookout

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

Every January, chefs of Michelin-starred eateries and foodies flock to the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman for an extremely indulgent weekend hosted by world-renowned chef Eric Ripert. The Cookout is full of famous chefs, like José Andrés, Daniel Boulud, Dominique Crenn and Clare Smyth, who all say they come to the Cookout to support their close friend chef Ripert (the sunshine can’t hurt either). Chef Crenn, of three-Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, says, “the most attractive thing for me is to be able to support my friend Eric. We’re coming here because we are supporting each other.” Only guests attending the Cookout can stay at the hotel, so everyone is there to celebrate the same thing: fabulous food and drinks.

Grand Cayman’s famed Seven Mile Beach is the scene for the cooking and mixology demonstrations. Chef Andrés kicks off the Cookout with an elaborate arrival (past years have seen him arrive by submarine, by horseback and by jumping out of a helicopter). He then heads straight to one of the most popular cooking demos. In his exuberant style, he shows how to cook classic Spanish dishes like paella, and will also have a Spain vs France competition with chef Ripert. The rest of the events are scattered throughout Grand Cayman in beautiful spots like Stingray City, the Botanical Gardens, Rum Point and Royal Palm Beach Club. One of the most exclusive events whisks a small group by private jet to GoldenEye hotel in Jamaica for a decadent lunch in Ian Fleming’s villa, hosted by Craggy Range winery owner Terry Peabody and a different chef each time. Every night, there is a sensational dinner event, whether it’s barefoot dancing on the beach alongside the chefs and watching fireworks, popping bottles of champagne on a glass dance floor over the Ritz-Carlton’s pool, or the exquisite gala dinner at Blue by Eric Ripert.

Gather

JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, Italy

Set on Isola delle Rose, an island a short boat ride away from the tourists in St Mark’s Square, JW Marriott is a private oasis with space to decompress and truly relax, especially while enjoying its celebrated spa and extensive wellness offerings. It is fitting that its signature event, Gather, is described as an epicurean and mindful experience, as it’s not just about the food and wine — although it is excellent, as this is Italy, after all. A host of chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants, including Fabio Trabocchi, Ciccio Sultano, Angela Hartnett and Martina Caruso James Beard Award winner Jonathan Waxman and celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis attend the weekend and participate in cooking demonstrations and fabulous dinners. Each night, the chefs host individual dinners around the island before the final evening’s gala dinner, where each prepares a course. To recover from the indulgence, head to JW Mindfulness House or enjoy wellness programming with experts offering yoga classes, guided meditations, a crystal bar and tuneBed, which uses sound, biofrequencies and vibration to calm your mind and body. It’s the perfect antidote to overindulgence and savoring la dolce vita.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

Melbourne, Australia

Ravenous? Wouldn’t you love a seat at the world’s longest lunch? In Melbourne, that constitutes a coveted reservation for 1,600 during the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, held each March. A keystone event of the fête since 1993, Bank of Melbourne World’s Longest Lunch takes place outdoors in verdant Treasury Gardens, with Melbourne-based culinary masters at the helm. Enthralling roads are packed with unique shops, bars, cafes and galleries — inventive, idiosyncratic, sophisticated Melbourne does everything with style. It has set high standards in the food industry, with local chefs showcasing their diverse heritage in style and preparation. There is a focus on local produce, and the festival has a strong farm-to-table ethos, but it goes further than that by including ingredients used by indigenous Australians or dishes that tell a local story with poetic elan. Each year, the festival brings together some of the world’s top names in the epicurean universe for 10 days of events, demonstrations, seminars and workshops. Base yourself at The Langham, Melbourne, the city’s grande dame, five-star hotel, which lords over the Yarra River along the buzzy Southbank Promenade. Relax at the impressive Chuan Spa between bites. The next edition will be held in spring 2021. Words by Becca Hensley

Newport Beach Wine & Food

Newport Beach, California, USA

Newport Beach epitomizes laid-back California glamour. It has pristine beaches, incredible restaurants and friendly residents who are happy to share their idyllic town with visitors. This hospitality moves to the next level during Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, when some of the town’s most glamorous estates open their doors during the signature estate tour and progressive lunch hosted by celebrity chef Richard Blais, where guests enjoy a dish at each estate in a moveable feast. The weekend mixes premier events — including the opening gala dinner, Cristal champagne and Petrossian caviar pairings, Opus One vertical library tastings and a VIP golf tournament at Pelican Hill — with casual grand tasting events and a waterfront barbecue at Newport Harbor. This year’s edition takes place October 8-11 and features local restaurants alongside celebrated chefs like Nobu Matsuhisa, whose cooking demonstration and lunch is one of the weekend’s hottest tickets, and master sommeliers who guide you through the intimate wine panels and tastings. Be sure to buy a ticket that includes access to the Diamond Club Lounge, which hosts private meet and greets with the sommeliers and chefs, has exclusive wine tastings and the chance to join the mailing lists at some of Napa’s most prestigious vineyards.

Images: Andrew Richard Hara, Galdones Photography/FOOD & WINE, Attila Czinke, David Biedert, Rebecca Davidson Photography, PPR Media Relations AG


Struggling Melbourne nightclub successfully converted into bar

Sri Lankan best friends Sam Silva and Indy Weerakoon have converted a struggling nightclub into successful Collingwood bar and restaurant Sixty Smith, despite enduring three lockdowns in its opening months.

In September 2019, the best friends decided to transform Sam’s struggling nightclub (formally Blue Velvet Bar & Nightclub) into a bar, with the sole purpose of delivering top service to its visitors without it costing patrons “an arm and a leg”.

The Sixty Smith co-owners combine Sam’s 25 years of experience in hospitality and Indy’s love for food and drinks to launch the bar in November last year. However, the three lockdowns Victoria has experienced in that time have prevented the bar from gaining popularity in the community.

Bars and Clubs recently spoke with Sam and Indy to chat about how they nearly closed the bar but thankfully chose to endure.

Indy said: “Everything we wanted is exactly what we have here and every week it’s pleasing to see our growing customer base. Which is the best feeling, we take a lot of pride with our repeat customers.

“The most difficult thing is getting people to come in. The front of the venue is deceiving from what’s inside. We have incredible drinks, a restaurant that makes really amazing food with four different rooms.”

Sam added: “Getting the name out there is difficult, for people to know who you are and what you’re doing. This place has changed hands a few times so I think there’s a bit of distrust and unfamiliarity from the customer.

“In February and March this year we were questioning ourselves, it was difficult with little foot traffic coming through the door. By mid-march however, we thankfully started getting more in.”

Sixty Smith upstairs bar.

Securing its longevity

Indy and Sam believe the key to its long-term success and cementing itself as a popular bar in the area, lies with creating an environment where customers are interacting with people, not with a business.

They said: “We also follow what you see in Japanese restaurants where staff greet and farewell patrons three times. So we want to create something like that. The server, bartender and our manager all need to say goodbye to each customer as they leave.

“We want the customer to feel special and welcome at any time and to know we appreciate their business.

“That’s why people go out, because they want that attention. If you’re kind enough and polite enough to say ‘thank you so much, come again’, it sticks with people and they come back.”

A winning combination

Sam and Indy also co-own the Fitzroy Beer Garden, which offers a popular nightclub scene one block from Sixty Smith. They said creating differing experience offerings has been well received by the community.

“We didn’t want to be doing the same kind of thing this close to each other. So we thought about how to differentiate ourselves. The food we do here is different to any place around here,” Indy explained.

“You don’t have the pompousness [like at restaurants in Spain], you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to have good quality nice and aesthetic food. And I said why don’t we have a place like that?

“At the end of the day we’re in business, everyone wants to make money, but we’re not here to rip anyone off. We hate complex, over catering, over engineering, we’re very simple guys.”

Sam added Sixty Smith’s customer service ideals are simple, and they have had feedback that reflects that, stating: “We operate under the four pillars of a venue, which is the food and drinks, your service, the ambience and the pricing. And we like to think we do all of these well.

“If you do right by the customer then they come back. From our Google reviews we don’t have anyone that’s disappointed. The only customer feedback that was slightly negative was that the food came out too quick. So if our problem is how efficient we are, then we’re doing okay.”

Sixty Smith beer garden.

A back seat approach to creativity

While the owners’ influence can be found in many areas of the business’ ideals and functionality. It isn’t however, found in the menu or behind the bar.

Instead, they have left the originality to head chef Three Phadungkarn and bar supervisor Johnny Kinnaird who have worked together to create a menu where the food and beverages complement each other.

“In terms of the creativity behind the bar and kitchen we give full rein to our team. They’re very creative guys, it’s unfair for them to get told what they can and cannot make, especially from me since I’m in finance,” Indy said.

“We sit down with Johnny our bar manager who’s Irish and he pitches his visions, so we’re currently doing our Irish cocktail appreciation theme and Irish drinking night.”

Johnny also told Bars and Clubs that his idea of the best cocktails is to take the classics and add another layer of creativity to them, as well as creating his own stand-alone inventions.

“I’ve always been big on the classics but doing a spin on them, making them taste the same as the classics but with a bit of craft with the ingredients.

“Our cocktail menu is divided into six twisted classics and six of our own. Which gives us the creative freedom while not changing our classic twist options.

“It’s amazing to see like how fast the people are liking what we do so far.”

Three added while there are challenges between front and back of house, ultimately their goal remains the same: “It’s different from where I used to work where I will have a budget but now I have a lot more freedom. We’re always challenging each other but we always find middle ground and respect each other and we have one goal at the end of the day and we both want to achieve that.”

Trending towards to top shelf

Indy and Sam have seen a shift in consumer spending since venues have started opening in Melbourne. They said for Sixty Smith, people are extending their stays and are willing to spend extra to have the best quality available.

They said: “People are happy with our prices, they’re happy to get outside. I think people have realised that freedom is a precious thing.

“So when they’re out, they’re staying out longer, they’re happy to pay that extra two or three dollars for the top shelf. And people’s expectations are higher with service.

“They could go anywhere, everyone needs the business. But there has to be a point of difference. So we said we need to look after everyone who comes in here.”

Sixty Smith’s bar is located at 60 Smith Street and is open Tuesdays to Thursday and Sunday from 4pm to 11pm, Friday and Saturday from midday to 1am.



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