Thursday, April 28, 2011

Quarter Twenty One - A Mid-Autumn Night's Dream

The move by Sydney's two-hatted Becasse restaurant to the the Westfield Shopping Centre in Pitt St has set tongues-a-wagging.
Becasse's new digs on Level 5 are part of  a new eatery foodhall complex created by chef/owners Justin and Georgia North.
The Norths and their architects have gone to a lot of trouble to camouflage the fact that you're in the middle of a large shopping centre.
The entrance to the new Becasse takes some of its cues from a theatrical production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Vines dotted with fairy lights twist over the walls and ceiling of the long entrance hall turning from shades of green to red representing the changing seasons. I can almost imagine Puck scampering along here.

and at the end of the hall a dramatic forest

The new dining space is small and initimate compared to Becasse's old Clarence Street location. Just 24 seats.

It's warm, romantic and very feminine

Justin is very proud of this 'tastebud' art piece...

...which has little peep windows into the kitchen.

As well as being stocked with the latest gadgetry the kitchen is a work of art in itself.

and it can all be enjoyed at the 8-seater chef's table

As part of the North's food precinct, there's a commercial bakery, a full-time butcher..

... a providore and a cooking school.

and another restaurant Quarter Twenty One....

..which will seat 70 and serve modern European fare.

Last night at the official opening we got to sample a few of the menu delights. Fried prawns...

marinated yellow-fin tuna

and bite-sized duck pies

Justin and Georgia have taken a 4 million dollar gamble that just may pay off.
This is the classiest shopping centre foodhall I've ever seen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Recipe: Wild honeyed ANZAC biscuits

Yes, it's that time of the year again - ANZAC bikkie time. Like chocolate eggs and hot cross buns, it just doesn't seem right to eat these biscuits at any other time of the year.

I've been baking ANZAC biscuits since Mrs Thorpe's home economics class when I was just 12 years old.

This recipe is based on the ANZAC biscuit recipe from that wise tome "Cookery The Australian Way".
I've substituted the golden syrup in this recipe for wild honey - mainly because I picked up a small jar of roadside honey on the way back from the Wolgan Valley last week and wanted to try it out. It makes a delicious alternative to golden syrup. I also threw in  two tablespoons of shredded coconut at the oats, sugar and flour stage for added crunch.

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon wild honey (or plain honey or golden syrup)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup butter, melted

Set the oven to 160 degrees celsius. Mix oats, sugar and flour. Ina  separate bowl mix honey, soda and boiling water. While frothing add the melted butter and pour over dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Drop spoonfuls onto a floured tray allowing room for the mixture to spread. Bake at 160 C for 18-20 minutes.
Cool on a cake cooler.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa - 24 hours in bush paradise

It's a dark and stormy Saturday morning. Thick grey clouds have rolled in over Sydney and the rain is bucketing down. With the rest of the city still sensibly tucked up in bed we set off on a 3 hour drive north-west over the Blue Mountains, past Lithgow to the mystical Wolgan Valley.

It's here - in a little-known grazing plain surrounded by towering red-faced sandstone cliffs  - that Emirates has built its first Australian eco-resort - the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa.

The Wolgan Valley? As in the fictional setting for the television series A Country Practice? No, that's Wandin Valley.

The Wolgan Valley has been a well-guarded secret known only to the local Wurundjeri people, a few graziers and some serious bush-walkers.

As you drive past the power station at Wallerawang and the local colliery, and make your way down the steep cutting fringed with ancient ferns, this extraordinary valley is the last thing you expect to see.

It's simply breathtaking. A seemingly geologically impossible creation. 300 metre high fire-red cliffs rising from the lush valley floor.

The scouts from Emirates apparently stumbled across this location during a helicopter recce. How else would they have known this ancient jewel was here?

But there's still a hairy challenge ahead for us ...

After the heavy rain, the 14km pot-holed dirt road leading to the resort gives our stationwagon quite a work-out...

We slip and slide as the red mud flies in all directions. The signs say drive with care. No choice but to.

We leave our car at the main gates and are picked up with our luggage and taken to the main homestead for check-in and a quick orientation.

With a location as jaw-dropping as the Wolgan Valley, the resort doesn't try to compete. In fact the selection of architecture and building materials were all designed to have minimum impact on the local environment and to blend in to the natural colours and bushscapes.

A quick lunch of  beef burger and mushroom pie in the country kitchen dining room .....

and then it's off to explore our stix for the weekend.

The 40 individual lodges combine the elements of an Australian bush homestead with the luxurious fittings of the most upmarket 5-star hotel apartment.  This is the sort of  ''roughing it' I could get used to.

Conservation is an important ethos of the resort and many sustainable principles have been incorporated into its design.

Rainwater is collected from each lodge and solar panels heat all the hot water systems. Building materials have been sourced from natural and recycled materials where possible. The work of local tradespeople and artisans feature throughout the resort from the sculptural metal door handles to table lamps.

Each heritage lodge room has its own heated swimming pool,

gas fireplace and four poster bed

double sink vanities


spacious shower with a glass sky roof

satellite TV and a surround sound DVD/CD and iPod system
no mobile reception but every building has free WiFi

The selection of  linens and fabrics, rugs and furniture take their influences from African safaris, New Zealand ski lodges and exclusive London clubs.

Nightly rates start from $1,560.00 (meals and alcohol included) so Wolgan is a celebration destination for most of us. We want to stay indoors to revel in this luxury but the landscape beckons.

The first stop is the property's original homestead which has been diligently retained and restored and features in a guided tour.

The valley was a sacred Aboriginal meeting place and hunting ground and then used by pastoralists for cattle grazing.

An original hut.

A hole for a rifle to help keep intruders at bay

The famous naturalist Charles Darwin even visited here in 1836.

The kitchen gardens are used to augment the resort's menu with fresh seasonal produce.

Kitchen herb garden


Lemon grass

Very life-like scarecrow

Strawberry patch


And lovely flowers to atttract pollinators

Several rivers including the Carne Creek have kept the Wolgan Valley well-watered for centuries. Tests have shown the Carne Creek still has some of the purest drinking water in the state.

It's what keeps the Valley so rich with wildlife.
A four wheel drive tour at dusk gives us a glimpse of the inquisitive locals..



Sadly no sightings today of the famous three white albino walleroos who live in the valley.

Then it's on to dinner served in the cathedral-style dining hall in the main homestead.

Dwane Goodman's menu changes daily ensuring that the best local wines and produce get to feature

Tonight in the five-course menu there's a duck, quail and chicken terrine with a fennel remoulade.
A Pedro Ximenez sorbet palate cleanser

a beetroot tart

And a chocolate molten pudding for dessert.

and fruit and cheese plate if you can find the room

This is very serious food - well worth a trip in its own right.
All courses are accompanied by an inclusive selection of local wines. My highlight -  a delicious sauvignon blanc from Printhie wines in Orange.

We stagger back to our lodge well-sated. The night is inky black.The air is fresh and crisp.  We've only been in the valley for a few hours but it already feels like days. This must be what relaxing feels like.

The next morning the clouds have gone and the cliffs are shimmering in the bright light.

Breakfast is generous, and filling.

We are leaving after lunch. Just enough time to squeeze in some treatments at the Timeless Spa Centre.

A Barbour facial for me and a Swedish massage for Mark.

The barbour facial uses products from the German babour skin care range and a cool crystal stick which my therapist uses to gently press down on my face's pressure points. Wonderful sensation and deeply invigorating.

Mark emerges from his massage in a floating cloud of deep bliss.

We check out at reception where our driver is waiting to take us back to our car parked at the main entrance 

Magical and memorable

Those ancient cliffs are calling me back......

Saucy Onion stayed as a guest of the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa
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