Tasty Bites Restaurant and food stories, gossip & recipes

Marilyn Domenech

As a restaurateur, whenever my husband Francis and I returned from travelling, customers would ask for recommendations on where we stayed.... what restaurants we liked, and what were the highlights.

So I started putting out a newsletter which talked about all sorts of things that interested me.... food, travel notes, art, Slow Food and even what home espresso machine I liked. Then technology took over, snail mail/printing became too expensive and I discovered blogging.

This blog doesn’t fall comfortably into Food Blog territory and has ended up being a lot about travel.  Particularly travel to France.  The easiest way to access these stories is to enter ‘Paris” or ‘France’ into the search engine in the right hand column.  I’ve also written about Shanghai, Istanbul, Spain, Tasmania, Margaret River, New Zealand and New Guinea..  So, good eating ... and travelling!

DISAPPOINTING HOLIDAY HOUSE AT POTTSVILLE, NSW

January 19th, 2015

a glorious stretch of white sand

Pottsville Beach

As a treat for my family this Christmas  I booked an expensive holiday house at Pottsville Beach.  Pottsville is a delightfully untrendy, family-orientated town on the north coast of NSW.  Many people have happy memories of childhood beach holidays at Pottsville and when I mentioned to friends we were going … they said ‘Tell us all about it, we must return’.

I am pleased to report that Pottsville hasn’t changed and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Unfortunately I cannot recommend the house we rented.  The real estate agent handling the rental (Raine & Horne at Pottsville Beach) constantly bombarded me with emails and texting to inform, then remind me of their rules and regulations, penalties for not returning the key at 9am on the day of exit ($55) etc.  I was then informed that extra cleaning charges would apply and was given a nitpicking list of things like Frig Not Wiped Out.  I consider this part of their exit clean and as the house cost $4150 for the week plus linen, it is only reasonable to expect that they will do a clean after you leave. Their rules state however that the house must be left in the condition it was when you arrived.  So … they expect that you will pack, breakfast and then spring clean the house (including cleaning the oven), and be out before 9am!  Totally unreasonable and not physically possible.

The house, called Beach and Pool at Elanora Ave , was at least 25 years old and showing its age.  It was very well positioned with direct access to the beach, but dated with worn furnishings and no air-conditioning.  The stove malfunctioned and the pool was not cleaned.  All disappointing but when I gave my feedback I was treated with distain.  So I cannot recommend this house and certainly not Raine & Horne at Pottsville Beach, who run a draconian regime apparently believing that their clients are expendable and  unimportant.  There are other agents who I’m sure have a better attitude, to whom you can give your money.  In all the years of renting holiday accommodation I have never struck this sort of thing.

The Kimberley for a Wonderful Holiday

September 2nd, 2013

OrionFrancis and I have just returned from a 2 week holiday in north west Oz.  10 days aboard the Orion, a luxury expedition ship carrying 100 passengers (with 75 crew!).  We added a couple of days in Broome and a day in Darwin to round it off.We have travelled on the Orion previously — to PNG — and loved it then.  And the superb service, restaurant quality food and comfort has not changed; many of the same staff were still there 5 years on. They run a number of Kimberley trips during the season, and my pick would be to go in June, when the inland falls are still in full rush, but little chance of rain to spoil the expeditions.  We chose mid August so the landscape was very dry (it’s the end of their Dry Season) and although we didn’t get them, apparently July/August can be windy.  Temperatures were in the mid 30s but nothing that would throw a Queenslander.  At sea we had cooling breezes and of course the ship was air conditioned.  Cabins are quite large on the Orion.

This is adventure tripping at the very soft end of the scale.  The expedition team includes naturalists, a geologist and in our case also some aboriginal art experts (from NSW and WA Art Galleries).  So we were well versed in what we were seeing, and it made things all the more interesting.  Every day there were a variety of expeditions to see aboriginal art centres, the Bungle Bungles, King George Falls, Montgomery Reef and Vansittart Bay.  Wild country with lots of history and extraordinary beauty.

Kimberley rock art The expeditions are often aboard the Orion’s fleet of Zodiacs (rubber duckies) which whisk you up rivers, through amazing canyons and onto pristine (though often crocodile infested) beaches.  Or aboard buses, planes and helicopters.  Great stuff and a photographer’s dream.  High recommended!

Of course there are other boats that ply these waters — from quite small ones taking a dozen passengers, up to the Orion with 100.  True North gets great wraps from friends and it takes 32 passengers.  None are cheap though and the most economical way to see the Kimberley is probably via bus or your own transport.

Our 2 days in Broome were also interesting.  A pretty town with distinctive corrugated architecture and a very interesting pearling history.  I have always wanted to stay at Lord Alistair McAlpine’s ex-home (an old pearler’s cottage he extended) and now a B&B with 8 rooms.  The accommodation is a bit eccentric  and not everyone’s cup of tea — many might prefer to stay in resort style at Cable Beach — but I loved it.  Do, however, make sure you get one of the larger rooms, preferably the McAlpine Suite.  McAlpine sank $500 million into Broome, buying up and restoring historic buildings (including the open air cinema) and the Cable Beach Resort.  He put Broome on the tourist map.  Quite a character, he now lives in Italy.

McAlpine House, Broome

McAlpine House, Broome

Paying to BYO in Restaurants

April 22nd, 2013

Firstly I should tell you that if you turned up at a European restaurant clutching your own wine, they would be astonished — after all restaurants make their living from selling wine and food.  However, it has been customary in Australia to do so for many years.  And Baguette allows BYO wine Monday to Thursday, with a corkage charge of $6.80 per person.  Now this might seem like a hefty charge to some, but if you bring a good bottle of wine to Baguette and we charge you (and your dining companion) $13.60 to serve it —  you will save money on what we would have had to charge you, if it was on our List.  If you bring a ‘bin bargain’ that cost you $5, it’s probably not the same value for money.

A note here:  Restaurants are charged much more (wholesale) for the wines they buy, than hotel liquor shops.  We simply don’t have the buying power, so at times wines cost less for us  to buy them retail through a liquor shop, than it costs us through the wholesaler.

Master of Wine, Peter Scudamore-Smith calculated some years ago that it costs better restaurants $8.50 per person  when we serve a customer their own wine.  How you say?  Well, he included things like labour (currently running at over 40% of our sales), wine buckets, ice (an ice machine costs $5000), good glassware (plus breakages).  It also has to be considered that licensed restaurants have already outlayed say $60,000 on wine purchases plus rent on their wine cellar space.

Why Should I Pay Extra for Bread in a Restaurant?

April 22nd, 2013

Restaurant critics like John Lethlean are affronted (and protest loudly) when Australian restaurants charge extra for bread.  Certainly in Europe it is almost always included.  The reality is that all restaurants charge for bread (and butter or oil) — with very small profit margins we simply cannot  give it away.  The difference is whether we include it in the price of the entree/main courses or price it as an extra.  At Baguette we buy French artisan bread from Chouquette at New Farm and serve it with good quality butter.  We decided that, as many people don’t eat bread these days because of the carb thing, we would not force them to pay for others by increasing the cost of all our main courses.  Sorry John …

Are Kids Welcome in Restaurants?

April 22nd, 2013

A friend told me this story:  Some years ago in Brisbane she wanted to take her daughter to a Cleveland restaurant for her birthday, but was told that they didn’t allow children under 12 years.  Despite protestations that the 10 year old girl was very well behaved and had been to many restaurants, they were unmoved.

When Francis and I came to Brisbane you certainly got the feeling that children were often unwelcome in restaurants (something you would never find in France).  So we decided that we would actively encourage parents to dine with their children at Baguette.  For 25 years we only charged $1 per year for a main course, dessert and soft drink — it is now $1.50 per year.  Many of our regulars will attest to fond memories of special family time at our restaurant — where it is NOT a 10 minutes dining experience eating with your fingers,  elbows on the table!  We have been delighted to see, over the years, that many of these children grew up and now bring their own kids to Baguette … at one point 4 generations of the Hall family dined with us.

Pop Up Restaurant in Brisbane

October 6th, 2012

Jessica Pugh (David Pugh’s daughter – Restaurant Two) has given me the ‘heads up’ about a secret pop up restaurant that two of their bright young chefs are doing.  (I blogged about this worldwide phenomena a couple of years ago, so it’s good to hear that finally there’s some activity in Brisbane.)   Shane Rogan and Tom Newman are young, very ambitious chefs who have already worked at Michelin starred restaurants and plan to have their own one day.  Shane says:  ‘The Gourmet Project is an idea to give an opportunity for inspired chefs to create a menu of their desire. To push the boundaries of food, to be able to create a menu which would not normally be served in a restaurant.’

5 courses for a small group of diners in a secret location and a secret menu.   The tickets for the first event are not being offered publicly and are by Invitation Only.  So if you have $130 and are interested email:  jessica@restaurant2.com.au

 

Foie gras doughnut … only in America

July 2nd, 2012

It costs $US8 and Umamicatessen (that says it all doesn’t it?) injects jam into one side of the doughnut and foie gras mousse in the other, then rolls it in peanuts after frying.  The mind boggles …

California banned foie gras sales last week and there has been a frenzy of final foie gras feasts, fairy floss, cheesecakes, waffles and toffee.  A celebrated Los Angeles restaurant, Providence, will leave a gap on the menu in memory of the “dearly departed”. Chefs are lobbying the government to rescind the ban.  One chef is checking with his lawyers to see if he can give away — rather than sell — a serving of foie gras, with a $US20 salad.  Others may turn to setting up “duckeasies” where diner can order foie gras using certain code words.

Francis and I have visited a foie gras farm in the Dordogne in France and photographed this goose being force fed.  It wasn’t pleasant (and the smell in the shed cannot be described!) but we are told that the ducks and geese spend 16 weeks living the life of Riley, in free range conditions, and only 8 days at the end of it all in the shed being force fed.  Plus ducks and geese do not have our gag reflex, they swallow fish in one gulp, for example.

Compare that to the awfulness  battery chickens must endure all their short lives.

At Baguette we have no intention of removing the occasional dish containing foie gras.  It is not produced in Australia of course, and the French will never ban it … it simply tastes too good, and is part of their culinary tradition.

Surry Hills, Sydney

November 12th, 2011

'Far North Queensland -- Port Douglas 1992' by Brett Whiteley

On a recent trip to Sydney, I spent some time in gentrified Surry Hills, a previously rundown suburb on the southern edge of the city.  It now boasts some of the grooviest new restaurants, cafes, furnishing & homewares and edgy shops in Sydney.  Art Galleries also seem to be multiplying (7 are listed in the very useful Surry Hills Walkabout guides found in every shop www.urbanwalkabout.com).

I can particularly recommend the Brett Whiteley Studio.  This is where one of Australia’s most celebrated artists lived and worked from 1988 to 1992 — and it’s one of Sydney’s best kept secrets.  The Studio exhibits a changing selection of Whiteley’s work.  Go upstairs and you get glimpses into his private world, with his sketchbooks, photographs, music and personal memorabilia.  It’s free and open on Saturdays & Sundays 10am-4pm at  2 Raper Street, Surry Hills.  (Don’t be put off if the heavy wooden door is closed with a note saying: “Warning, don’t enter if nudity offends”.  Often life drawing classes are in progress.

 

Bistrot Bruno Loubet a hit in London

August 5th, 2011

Our previous Executive Chef Bruno Loubet,  returned to London in 2009.  His arrival heralded keen interest as he had made his reputation in London in the 1980s and 1990s, gaining his own Michelin star at the age of 29 years.  His restaurant, in the hip boutique hotel called the Zetter, has been a success from the start.  And he has won significant awards already.

Recently we stayed with Bruno and his wife Catherine at their house in Fulham, and it was lovely catching up with them.  We had a wonderful meal at Bistrot Bruno Loubet and here are a couple of the dishes sampled:  Suckling Pig and English strawberries, lemon marshmallow and green peppercorn ice cream.

Their life in London seems very glamorous compared to Brisbane, but they still love Australia and intend to retire here.

If you are visiting London, drop in and say hello to Bruno (his kitchen is totally open to the restaurant).  But make a booking because it is hard to get in.  For menus go to:  www.bistrotbrunoloubet.com

Au Revoir to the Canal du Midi Trees

July 29th, 2011

Angelique Chrisafis of The Gardian reports:

The doomed plane trees of the Canal du Midi

An unstoppable fungal disease has left France no choice but to reach for the chain saw, bringing down the ceiling of leaves covering the nation’s most romantic waterway.  The felling of these trees is seen as a national tragedy and its Unesco heritage status is at risk.

The 42,000 plane trees provide a beautiful dappled canape over the Canal du Midi, which winds from Toulouse to the Mediterranean.  They date back to the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV.  The disease has spread steadily along the canal since being identified in 2006.  It arrived in France in wooden ammunition boxes of American GIs in World War II.

Replanting will start soon but it will take 30-40 years to replant the famous leafy lane that runs for 200 kms through the historic heart of southrern France.  2000 trees will be felled by the end of this year, and 4000 next year until they are all gone.  So, if you ever planned to travel on this wonderful waterway, DON’T delay — see details of our recent trip in a post below.

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