Archive | Melbourne RSS feed for this section

St. Kilda’s beach

4 Feb

I spent my last day in Melbourne at St. Kilda’s beach.  I took the number 96 tram from the City centre (Queen Street) to the beach.  I passed the Melbourne Museum and a lot of other sights.  Museums are not really my thing but this is grand and quite stylish from the outside.

Melbourne Museum

Melbourne Museum

After almost half an hour, I got to the end of the line but there was not a beach in sight.  I do not know how the woman I asked kept a straight face but keep it she did, while letting me know that I had travelled to the wrong end of the tram line.  An hour long tram trip later, I finally got to St. Kilda’s, where it was surprisingly windy and chilly – bear in mind that the mercury hit 40C last Thursday during the tennis.  I walked up and down the beach / boardwalk.

The boardwalk at St. Kilda's

The boardwalk at St. Kilda’s beach

The water at St. Kilda’s was quite calm and there were people paddle boarding and wave boarding.  The wave boarders all wore wetsuits.

Wave boarding at St. Kilda's

Wave boarding at St. Kilda’s

This could have been summer in Cornwall!

Yarra Valley and the MCG

3 Feb

Yarra Valley

On Monday following the tennis, we took the opportunity of being in Melbourne to go down to the vineyards in the Yarra valley.

The first vineyard we went to was Coldstream Hills, where the set up managed to be both cosy and professional.

Coldstream Hills vineyard

Coldstream Hills vineyard

We started with a sparkling wine made using the “methode champenoise”. In this process, second fermentation takes place in the bottle, after the addition of a little sugar syrup (liquer de tirage). Regular turning (remuage) ensures that sediment settles in the neck and can be easily removed, often by freezing the liquid, (a process called degorgement) at the end of the process. Their sparkling wine was well made, light and quite delicious – lighter than champagne yet tastier than most proseccos and with none of that yeastiness than can be present in some champagnes. Next we tried three chardonnays.

Greg and Simone taste the wine

Greg and Simone taste the wine

This filled my heart with dread as my impression of Australian chardonnay was formed in the late 90’s, when a fair amount of oak chipping occured.  The first of these was good (a crowd pleaser our guide called it – for those who are not necessarily fans of chardonnay – i.e. me), as was the reserve. The second bottle was pretty ordinary.

Range of chardonnays tried

Range of chardonnays tried

We also tried a few pinot noirs, the nicest of which was made using Tasmanian grapes and blended by James Halliday himself. The Coldstream Pinot Noirs are rated as distinguished by Langton’s wine guide. Note that the Langton’s wine guide rates different Australian fine wines based on prices obtained at auction. The categories are exceptional, outstanding, excellent and distinguished. There is no shame in a distinguished rating as just making it into the guide puts the wine at a particular level. Some smaller vintages are not sold at auction and therefore won’t make it into Langton’s but can be of quite exceptional quality.
We next moved on to the Yarra Yerring vineyards. They were not as professional as at Coldstream, nor as attentive. They had ten wines set out, including the white, which were all warm. There was one white in particular, which was over ten years old and urine yellow. It was cooked and quite frankly, nasty. Why put that in a tasting line? There was a very drinkable non-challenging red from 2001 that was ready now but would not last. Greg bought a bottle. Their Dry Red number 1 is rated as excellent in Langton’s wine guide, based on auction results. It didn’t taste impressive to me but that could have been caused by its handling.

Yep, warm Yarre Yerring wine does not taste good

Yep, warm Yarre Yering wine does not taste good

The next stop was Chandon, a vineyard set up by Moet and Chandon. They were almost too professional and we were turned off by the coach loads.

We left and went on to a little Italian vineyard, de Bortoli’s. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a table for lunch but we tried some of their wines. Greg bought a bottle of their Noble One dessert wine – this would be a good match for a tart dessert (I thought of lemon tart, Simone thought meringue and summer berries) but definitely not chocolate. This dessert wine is listed as outstanding by Langton’s.

I bought a couple bottles of their EZ (Edelzwicker), which was a full, fairly fruity Gewurtztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris blend. I thought it would go very well with hot spicy Thai curries or Caribbean food, so we will drink it in Sydney when I do some cooking.
Having pushed ourselves to the limit of driving capabilities, we headed back in to Melbourne.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

That evening, I went to the MCG to watch the cricket.

The MCG

The MCG

The MCG is a massive ground – it is apparently the tenth largest sporting stadium in the world, with a capacity of just over 100,000 standing and seating.  Despite being so large, the sidings are very steep and visibility is very good.  The crowd was even rowdier (drunker?) than at the tennis – I witnessed one fight and ejection.

Despite the rain delay, the match (T20 international between Sri Lanka and Australia) was very entertaining and I got to watch a good fifty by Mahela Jayawardene.

Jayawardena on strike

Jayawardena on strike

Malinga bowls

Malinga bowls

Cutler & Co, Men’s final

1 Feb

After the excitement of the ladies final, my friends Simone, Greg and I got up late (well I did anyway) and made our way down (or is it up?) to North Melbourne and lunch at Cutler and Co.
Cutler and Co is what Melbourne does well, trendy with that grungy look but still managing to be clean. Their Sunday lunch menu is pretty simple – no choice on the starters but a choice of three mains plus one special and three desserts.

The starters were:
Round 1: Oysters; Seaweed crackers with Smoked aubergine and Manzanilla olives

Manzanilla Olives, Smoked Aubergine Puree and Oysters

Manzanilla Olives, Smoked Aubergine Puree and Oysters

Round 2: Heirloom Carrots with mint and pomegranate, kingfish sashimi with furikake and ginger; Halloumi with heirloom tomatoes and sumac and beetroot with ras-el-hanout, goat’s cheese and lardons.

Heirloom carrot salad, Kingfish sashimi

Heirloom carrot salad, Kingfish sashimi

Halloumi and Beet root salad

Halloumi and Beet root salad

The smoked aubergine was simple and tasty, with a big, smoky flavour. They could honestly have been served with any crispy cracker, poppadom or something else, but this worked well. The kingfish was fresh, with a really delicious dressing as you’d expect with sashimi.  (Furikake, should you wish to know, is described by Wikipedia as “a dry Japanese condiment meant to be sprinkled on top of rice. It typically consists of a mixture of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar, salt, and monosodium glutamate. Other flavourful ingredients such as katsuobushi (sometimes indicated on the package as bonito), or okaka (bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce and dried again), freeze-dried salmon particles, shiso, egg, powdered miso, vegetables, including kimchi, etc., are often added to the mix.”
The mains that we had were the roasted lamb shoulder and Snapper, smoked mussels, fennel and caperberries.  The lamb was what it was – well cooked and soft but a little plain. The snapper on the other hand was great. The fish was perfectly cooked and delicious, with lots of fun and different flavours. The caperberries in particular worked well (as usual) with the fish.

Snapper

Snapper

The star of the desserts was the star anise pineapple, yoghurt sorbet and spiced granita. The pineapple was sweet and fresh, the yoghurt sorbet creamy yet light and this was all nicely finished by the peppery, icy ginger granita.  Unfortunately, I was too busy eating to take a picture of that dessert, so I took this of Simone’s.

Berries, poached merengue and watermelon granita

Berries, poached merengue and watermelon granita

We had two bottles of wine, the Mount Mary Cabernet and the Meerea Park Terracotta Semillon – the Mount Mary wines are quite well known, with the Quintet Cabernet blend earning Langton’s highest rating. This Cabernet is from a lower yield year, in which the no quintet was made and so is available at a much more reasonable price. The Semillon is made by a boutique producer in the Hunter Valley and was also quite a gem and a good match to the fish and earlier courses that we had.

Federation Square
After lunch, I passed through the Transport bar at Federation square, on the way to the tennis. I met Sarah the head of pastry when I worked at Rocket caterers. Sarah moved to Melbourne about 5 years ago and is now executive pastry chef, running the pastry section at “The Big Group”, one of Melbourne’s top catering companies.

Sarah and her husband Joel

Sarah and her husband Joel

Tennis
Well the men’s final started off looking like it would be a really great match but it was a step too far for Andy Murray, who went into meltdown from the third set… (sadly not bullet-proof, nothing to lose…)

Murray and Djokovic at the  ball toss

Murray and Djokovic after the toss

The crowd was rowdy and boisterous and probably quite a bit drunk. Still, the tennis long-weekend managed to be pretty enjoyable all round, despite the never ending playing of Titanium (by David Guetta, featuring Australia’s very own Sia).

Australia day – 26 January

27 Jan

Yesterday was Australia Day and the women’s singles final.

Pei

To avoid having to eat the dreadful food at the Rod Laver Arena – imagine oil being heated at above 180C for 5-6 hours and burned potato wedges cooking for that long and producing a variety of carcinogens, the bad wine  – Jacob’s Creek is one of the big sponsors, we went to Pei, a Mark Best restuarant, at Collin’s place on the way down to the tennis.

Now, some of you may not have heard about the virtues of Australian food. Let me correct the impression of it all being bad rum (Bundaberg), cheap wine (the aforementioned Jacob’s Creek) and pies.  These all exist.  However, due to the influx of many nationalities (Thai, Chinese, Greek, Italian etc, etc), and the high quality fresh produce available, there is a wide range of good food available that can rival London’s.  Additionally, there is also a significant amount of good quality wine available, most of which never makes it way to London or further.  If it does, it retails at over £30 a bottle – for example, Charles Melton’s extremely excellent Nine Popes Shiraz.

At Pei, we gallumphed our way through a couple starters: pork chunks and prawns with crispy pork salt and roasted garlic puree:

Crispy pork chunks

Crispy pork chunks

Grilled prawn and pork salt

Grilled prawn and pork salt

We then trawled our way through the mains.  By this time, the wine was having an effect on me, so all I remember was lamb, steak king fish and a pretty great bottle of red.

Lamb with minted peas and braised lettuce

Lamb with minted peas and braised lettuce

KIngfish and courgettes

KIngfish and courgettes

Steak with polenta dumplings and spinach puree

Steak with polenta dumplings and spinach puree

 

Fully fed and watered, we walked down to the Rod Laver Arena and the women’s final.

Singles final, Australian Open 2013

Well what can I say? Azarenka won. She played some reasonable tennis as did Li Na and they were pretty evenly matched. Li Na’s improvement (post Carlos Rodriguez) is pretty interesting to note, although it was unfortunate that she made so many errors on her serve, which she did not against Sharapova.

Li Na arrives for the ladies' final

Li Na arrives for the ladies’ final

Azarenka arrives

Azarenka arrives

Neither one of them is really a match for an on-song Serena and it was very frustrating to watch their fastest serves as 161 kph – Serena’s is over 200 and even Sloane Stephens was often close to the 180 kph mark.

Li Na returns serve in the second set

Li Na returns serve in the second set

Still, the match was entertaining, notwithstanding Azarenka’s squealing arias.
There is something irritating about Azarenka, from the self-consciously “too cool for school” hoody, incongruously matched with the pedal pushers and grandma’s swimsuit top; yhe “rapper” Redfoo (Berry Gordy’s grandson, with the unkempt hair) in her cheering section;

Redfoo(l) still hasn't combed his hair

Redfoo(l) still hasn’t combed his hair

to her nickname VKA (or Vic-ahhhh) and the crocodile tears on her victory. (I won’t mention the noises again – I’ve said enough already).
Come back Serena – your presence is needed!!!

Up next, the men’s final….

Arriving in Melbourne and Ladies day

26 Jan

Well after a day’s travelling, I got to Melbourne on Wednesday 23rd, just in time to hear that Serena had been knocked out in the quarter-finals by American Sloane Stephens. Now I have been quite interested to see Stephens play…. But not interested for it to be at the cost of Serena. Anyway, you can only watch who is playing, so Stephens it is.

I have been staying on Queen Street in the commercial centre of Melbourne, at a hotel that charges you for internet connectivity. What a shock – I didn’t think those still existed. Well, at least the tennis (and the MCG, incidentally) are only a short walk away, along the picturesque Yarra river. I got up on Thursday morning to excitedly make my way down to the tennis, for Ladies day.

Walking along the Yarra River

Walking along the Yarra River

The final Thursday at the Australian open is called ladies day as both women’s semi-finals are played that day during the first session.   This was also a special day as it marked the 40th anniversary of the WTA.  The good and the great were there to celebrate.

40th Anniversary of the WTA

40th Anniversary of the WTA

The matches that are on are the Bryan brothers in the men’s doubles semi-finals, Li Na versus Maria Sharapova and then Victoria Azarenka versus Sloane Stephens. The nightmare outcome to my mind would be the shrieks of Sharapova versus the annoying whinnying of Azarenka. I am backing Li Na and Sloane Stephens.
Li Na played some surprisingly good tennis, relentlessly hitting the tramlines and making Sharapova work. Sharapova was not on good form and made a lot of unforced errors. Li Na duly won.

Li Na versus Maria Sharapova

Li Na versus Maria Sharapova

DSC_0054

Li Na Serves

Next up, Sloane Stephens versus Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka in a hoody?

Azarenka in a hoody?

 

At the toss

At the toss

Well, you will undoubtedly have read a lot about this already. First of all, it was a very bad match of pretty low quality – I am very surprised that Sloane Stephens beat Serena, even on one leg. Azarenka for her part also did not play well but was definitely a lot better than Stephens.

Stephens returns

Stephens returns

 

The second set was comical with each of them breaking the other routinely. Sometime in the second set, funnily enough after a Stephens winner, Azarenka started limping and clutching her ankle. The crowd was not sympathetic. Anything Serena can do…..

Then after Stephens broke her serve yet again, she called for the trainer, who spent a lot of time examining and rotating her shoulder. After about 5 minutes of this, she went off for another ten minutes. Imagine my surprise when she claimed her knee and her back were giving trouble. Maybe in Belarus, the word for ankle is knee and the word for shoulder is back…. Anyway, she duly came back and broke Stephens’ serve. Now, Azarenka was already not popular with the crowd and was regularly mocked for the stupid noises that she makes but, even by her high standards, this was idiotic. Did anyone think that her games playing changed the outcome of the match? No. It may have taken a bit more effort and possibly even another set. But that is what made it even worse. The number one player versus the number twenty-nine, in a massively winning position has to resort to this? Shocker. Let’s hope Li Na gets her second grand slam. On the basis of their playing alone, at the semi-final, Li Na deserves it. On the basis of their behaviour, there is only one deserving winner.  Let’s see what happens tonight.

Where's my comb???

I came without combing my hair to see this???