New year means new resolutions. Not so much for me, but somehow the family has decided to embark on a healthier path, after a roller coaster last year. There are 4 of us, each having different reasons to alter our diet and lifestyle: Anne, 14, who has decided to kick her addiction to sugar and carbs; Marc, 20, who attends the gym regularly and is obsessed with protein intake; Mr T who endured a health scare a few months ago and has sworn off salt and sugar; then yours truly, who could lose a couple of kilos and love handles…

None of us like dieting, so we’ve always tried to eat relatively healthy, without restricting ourselves too much. My motto has always been “ everything in moderation “. And it worked for a while, but I must admit that over the last year or so we’ve been eating everything in excess and it is finally showing.

After our trip to Tasmania, I thought it would be a simple matter of reducing portion size and cut down on the cheese and cakes! It was Anne who asked if I could help her switch to a Paleo diet, as she wanted to go cold turkey and quit not only sugar and carbs, but also dairy. If ever there was a culinary challenge, this was it. Though, to be honest, as we are increasingly surrounded by family and friends turning either vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten free eaters, nut avoiders…I had gotten used to adapt recipes to suit.

So we have settled on a Paleo-style diet, with Anne adhering strictly to a sugar added-free, dairy-free, carb-free diet. Mr T and I occasionally will sneak a sourdough sandwich or a piece of cheese in when the craving hits, while Marc will happily accept whatever is cooking and have burgers and burritos out with his friends.
So far so good, it’s only been a month but we’re all noticing how we don’t feel so bloated any longer and even fitting better in our clothes. I am sure results would be more visible if we took up exercising as well, but that’s another story…best left for a fitness blog.

Needless to say that there’s been a big shift in the kitchen: no more cakes, the only baking is limited to paleo bread and crackers ( a work in progress ). Our beloved morning fruit juices include quite a few vegetables while I am still acquiring a taste for smoothies. It is lucky we like fritters, salads, stir fries and grilled meats, since we cook a lot of them!

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Like these sweet potato fish cakes with a Japanese style coleslaw. It’s inspired by a recipe I first saw in the latest Delicious magazine, and I liked the fact that it uses ingredients I always have on hand ( while we cut out white potatoes, sweet potatoes are ok once in a while ). I changed some of the salad veggies and added avocado cream for extra yumminess, also cooked an extra batch of fish cakes to have for lunch!

Sweet Potato Fish Cakes with Japanese style Slaw

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This recipe reminds me of how I used to cook on the boat, when the boys wouId catch a fish on these ocean passages and I used to think of different ways to eat fish!
The fish cakes can be made in advance and stored frozen between sheets of baking paper. The dressing will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks in an airtight container, though it rarely lasts that long in our house as I love to use it in salads, steamed veggies or even cold chicken!

Serves 4 as a main

Ingredients

700g whole sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1 kg skinless fish fillets ( I used snapper ), boned and roughly cut
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
Olive oil, to shallow fry
1/4 white cabbage, shredded
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
A handful of baby spinach
1 avocado, cut into wedges
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 nori sheets, thinly sliced
Mint leaves, coriander leaves and pickled ginger to serve
2 tbsp tamari( gluten free soy ) sauce
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp pickled ginger juice
2 tsp sesame oil
1 lime, cut into wedges

  1. To make the fish cakes: preheat oven to 180C, roast sweet potatoes whole for 30mn or until tender. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the flesh in a large bowl, mash with a fork or a potato masher and place the bowl on a bed of ice until completely cool ( you can also spread the mix onto a tray and freeze for 20 mm, but I had no space in my freezer )
  2. Place the fish and 1 tsp of salt in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the cooled sweet potatoes and the spring onion, pulse to combine. Shape the mixture into rounds the size of your palm, transfer to a tray and chill until you need them.
  3. To make the salad: toss the shredded cabbage, sliced red onion, baby spinach, sesame and pumpkin seeds, sliced nori sheets, herbs and pickled ginger in a large bowl. You can also add the avocado wedges then, I don’t because we have an avocado hater at our table so I serve it on the side.
  4. To make the dressing: whisk tamari, water, ginger juice and sesame oil in a small bowl until combined.
  5. When ready: heat 2 cm oil in a frypan over medium-high heat. Cook the fish cakes in batches, 3mn on each side until cooked through. Remove with a spatula and drain on paper towel.
  6. Serve with salad, dressing, lime wedge and avocado cream alongside.

We step out of the Jetstar aeroplane down onto the tarmac, and the contrast could not be greater: hills all around, quiet save for the sound of the engines still idling, the smell of gum trees and freshly cut grass, and most importantly the crispness of the air…such a welcome change to the humid heat we left behind in Sydney in the early hours of the morning.

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We’ve just landed in Launceston, Tasmania.
The trip was a last minute decision, trying to fit a short holiday between boat charters and medical appointments. One condition was to choose a destination we had not been to before, and that did not require all day to get there. After ruling out most of Australian mainland, it left us with Tasmania, the Apple Island at the bottom of Australia, a place we always dreamed of visiting on the boat. Except we have no boat no more, and we’re going on a road trip instead. 7 days, 7 places!

Getting out of bed at 4am to catch an early flight was the trade-off to make sure we’d have plenty of time to discover Launceston and its surroundings.
All I know about the region is that it is the home of the Tamar River, running northwards from Launceston to Bass Strait and the fertile Tamar Valley, famous for its cool climate wineries, orchards, dairy farmers and truffle growers.
It is 9am when we arrive though, too early to check into our hotel and/or embark on a food trail so we think it wise to start the day’s exploring with a hike to the Cataract Gorge. Ready for a longish drive, I am surprised to discover access to the Gorge is merely minutes from the city centre, and find not only well set up walking and hiking trails, but a large swimming pool, a restaurant, a cafe, a suspension bridge, manicured gardens and tame wildlife including the brightest peacock I have ever seen!

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The hiking trails are mostly easy, the Cataract walk along the river is flat and leads to one of the main bridges, but as we have to return to the car ( and to Anne who declined to hike, preferring to take pictures of wallabys and ducks instead ) we opt for the Zig Zag track on the other side of the river which is proving challenging for Mr T whose post-surgery condition is leaving him breathless. We run into a lady, who doesn’t look particularly fit but tells us “that’s not as bad at the Great Wall”. “Which wall?” I ask. She looks at me wide eyed “ Of China!” I am not sure what to make of that comment…these days, everyone seems to talk about walls!!

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By the time we finish the hike and return to the carpark, it is past 11am and the place is filling up quickly with tourists and families here to enjoy a picnic or a ride on the chairlft. That’s our cue to head out of town and drive along the Tamar River towards Georgetown, one of the first Australian settlements with a rich maritime history. We stop at the Mount George lookout, an historic semaphore site which overlooks the whole valley ( great photos!!) and since the town looks pretty quiet from here we drive on to Low Head which is the most northern part of Tasmania. There you will find the oldest operated Pilot Station, a maritime Museum, Low Head Lighthouse and Fog Horn. But my favourite, is stumbling into a local ranger who was kind enough to show me baby penguins in their nests, hidden in the bushes ( they wait for their parents who waddle from the sea each night to feed them )

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Lunch is a quick snack of smoked salmon pate and iced coffee at Low Head’s Coxswain Cafe, and we’re off again, this time heading east on the Tamar Wine route.

The area is dotted with over 30 wineries and it reads like the who’s who of Tasmania’s sparkling wines: Bay of Fires, Jansz, Clover Hill, and Pipers Brook cellar doors all are located within 5-10 kilometers of each others and I so wish we could visit them all. But we only have time for one, so we stop at Jansz, one of my favourite sparklers and because I want to take a photo to send back home! Reception is friendly and cold, as in the lady behind the counter greets us with a smile and shows us to a fridge full of chilled bottles. Tasting is free for 3 “standard” cuvees then $5 for the more exclusive vintages. Some like the Vintage 2011 Single Vineyard Chardonnay are only available at the cellar door, and should you wish to purchase any, shipping is free. Thus will start my shopping spree around Tasmania, upgrading the cellar as we go…

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The drive back to Launceston is as scenic as ever, driving past paddocks, fields and more wineries which is becoming a bit boring for Anne who is keen to arrive at the hotel.

Tonight’s accomodation is at Peppers Seaport, right on the river and overlooking the marina. We are staying in a one bedroom River View Suite, which accommodates the 3 of us, courtesy of a king size bed and a pullout sofa bed in the lounge room. It is like an apartment, there is a full size kitchen and laundry ( which we don’t use ), a large walk-in robe and a bathroom supplied with fancy toiletries. Complimentary wifi, bottled mineral water and chocolate truffles ensure that Anne feels right at home!

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However, there i just enough time to unpack and get changed as we have a an early dinner reservation at Stillwater restaurant, a short walk away along the river. While I am usually happy to go along with Mr T’s tendency to “wing it” when on holidays, if I hear of a restaurant or a place of interest I try to make sure we visit it. I had read about Stillwater in one of Not Quite Nigella’s blog posts, and knew it to be one of the best restaurants in Launceston. A fact that every one we met in town confirmed, so I dragged my crew along to this converted mill building by the bridge where we had hiked to earlier today ( that’s how compact a town Launceston is ).

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The menu is like a long list of local produce prepared in intriguing ways and it takes us a while to read thru and choose. Our waitress is very obliging, going to great length to explain each dish, bringing us glasses of Clover Hill sparkling wines and a basket of sourdough with churned butter until we decide. We are tempted to go for the Chef’s 5 course menu, a combination of dishes from the menu and specials of the day for $125 per person, but it applies to the whole table only and we all want to try different courses, so we order a la carte instead.

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For snacks, Terry orders oysters from St Helens on the east coast, a la natural. They come nestled on a bed of rocks, very cute, small but plump and juicy.

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I choose the Cape Grim Beef tartare, with lemon and mustard emulsion, horseradish cream and sorrel. The meat is oh so tender and I could easily have eaten a larger portion.

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Anne’s choice is Shaved calamari and potato noodles, garnished with togarashi ( chili pepper condiment ), lemon and katsuobushi ( similar to bonito flakes ). I think it’s quite unusual for her, but she loves Japanese flavours and this is her chance to taste something more elaborate than sushi.

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These are followed by small plates ( about the size of an appetiser ). Mr T chose the Whiskey cured Huon Salmon, served with dill and honey vinaigrette, salmon pearls and puffed wild rice. This is such a pretty dish and super tasty, with only a hint of whiskey.

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Anne loves her Mt Gnomon Pork Belly , seasoned with szechuan and black vinegar, pickled radishes and burnt cucumber. She reluctantly offers to share.

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I went the adventurous route and decided to try the Tasmanian black lip abalone, which I never ordered before for fear of it being too chewy. I figured this was now or never, hoping chef Craig Will would work some magic ! Well, I am sure he cooked it to perfection, but unfortunately the shellfish was still too bitey ( tough would be another word, maybe too harsh?) for me. On the other hand, the black vinegar noodles and mixed Japanese mushrooms, floating in the roasted squid broth are a revelation! The flavours are magical and I could have drank that broth off the plate. Instead, the thoughtful me offers to give Anne and Mr T a taste and they proceed to mop the broth with what is left of the sourdough. Our waitress doesn’t miss a beat and seeing how much we love the bread, offers to bring another basket. I wish she’d bring another bowl of that broth too!

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Then, come the large plates ( aka main courses ). Anne plays it safe and orders her favourite: roast duck breast with buffalo curd, carrot relish and pumpkin seed dukka. I can tell she loves it, by the way she only lets us have one mouthful. Indeed it is very nice, cooked just right and quite a generous serve too.

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Tonight’s fish of the day is boarfish, a firm white flesh fish, crumbed with macadamia nuts and served with avocado, avruga caviar and lemon butter sauce. They had me at caviar and avocado! It is quite a luscious dish and I mop every bit of the sauce …

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Mr T could not pass the Cape Grim eye fillet, as he loves his steak. It is served spread with yuzu and green olive tapenade, beetroot, potato and leek ash. He enjoyed the meat, but was not keen on the tapenade, saying it was overpowering the flavour of the meat. Personally I loved the unique combination of the tender meat with the sharp salty olive spread, and we swap plates so he can taste the fish ( and what sauce I have left ! )

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By then we’re pretty full, but we make an effort to dig into the sides we thought we needed/wanted. The salt roasted potatoes with whipped miso butter and furikake come piping hot and bursting out of their skins.

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The Roasted broccoli head splashed with lemon chilli oil is covered under a blanket of grated parmesan. Both sides are very tasty and we all wish we could eat more.

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Actually, we are saving the very little room we have left for dessert. It is a choux pastry filled with hazelnut cream, and served with tiny dollops of lavender and berry cream. This is part of the 5 course menu, but we asked if the chef would let us have a plate for us to share. And he obliged !

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What can I say? The 3 of us take one bit of the crispy shell and we nearly fight over the last scrape of custard.

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And this, my friends, is a a fitting end to a wonderful dinner and most enjoyable day in Launceston. If this is day 1, I can’t wait to see what happens for the rest of the week!

Imagine our place a few days ago: it’s summer school holidays, the house is full of teenage girls hanging out by the pool or the trampoline, the dog is running around like crazy relishing the extra attention, I am pottering around keeping a loose eye on the group. Earlier that afternoon, Anne came and asked if the friends could stay for dinner. Mr T smiled and nodded “ Sure, we’ll order pizzas for everyone !” Anne replied “ Actually, my friends have been following Mum’s instagram posts and been envious of my school lunches, so they would love to try some of your cooking. Can you make dinner then? Please. “ How could I say no to that? In these days of people commenting on teenagers eating habits, reportedly binging on processed food or not eating at all…this was music to my ears. To have kids who like eating home cooked food!

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So, after checking for allergies and intolerance ( none! ), special diets ( none either, phew! ) and dislikes ( they were too polite to mention, god bless them! ) I settled on a menu inspired by the traditional French celebration of the Epiphany.
For these of you unfamiliar with this, Epiphany Day is a Christian custom that marks the time between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi – the day when the 3 Wise Men, led by the Star of Bethlehem visited baby Jesus bearing gifts exactly 12 days later. Remember the song “ The 12days of Christmas ”? In France it is also known as La fete des Rois ( King’s Day ) and is typically celebrated with a feast eating the “galette des rois” ( the cake of the kings).
Though it traditionally falls on January 6, because it is not a public holiday, the feast day occurs on the first Sunday of January, when families gather around the table. It is the opportunity to play the game of “tirer les rois” ( pick the kings ) with much protocol, where a figurine called “feve” is hidden in the cake and the person who gets it becomes the King or Queen of the day. He or she will wear a paper crown and chose his/her queen/king. French children love it! Because it is a fun tradition and the cake is so delicious, most people want to repeat the feast more than once so it is not unusual to “tirer les rois” several times over the course of 2 or 3 weeks!
A traditional galette is a puff pastry cake filled with frangipane ( a creamy mix of almonds, butter, eggs and sugar ) and served with either cider or champagne. While it is widely available in bakeries and patisseries in France thoughout the month of January, unfortunately it is harder to find anywhere else ( including Australia ) so I always make my own version whenever I we celebrate ( not every year as it turned out…) In my early cooking days in Australia, I used a dry bean for the feve, then over time, gathered a collection of porcelain figurines, most sent over by my mother who always include them along with paper crowns in her Christmas parcel. This is much to Mr T and the kids’ concern, who always worry about cracking a tooth biting into the feve!

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Anyway, back to dinner for the teenage girls. With dessert sorted, I decided to keep the meal simple with a slow roast lamb and a colourful salad. The lamb was simply smothered in herbs and olive oil, and left in the oven for a couple of hours.
The salad is one of my favourite “throw in whatever is in the fridge” kind of meal, the only rules being that it has to be bright and there must be something greens, something filling, something creamy, something crunchy, and a little spicy. So in went the mesclun mix for greens, roast sweet potatoes for filling, capsicum for colour, fresh ricotta for creaminess, roasted pumpkin seeds fro crunch and chopped shallots for a bit of heat. A generous splash of EVO on the lot, added the right amount of unctuosity and a side serve of tomato and red onion salsa substituted as a dressing. I did provide some slices of french baguette to mop up any juices, but hardly anyone touched them as they were saving themselves for the cake.

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Dinner was a success, judging by the girl’s comments ( “this salad is really good! “ “love that cake!” ) and the only one slice of cake left. For the record, Marc was crowned King and picked his sister as his Queen. Yes, it is awkward, but no more than having to choose one of the other girls. At least he didn’t hide the feve and pretend to not have it in order to avoid to choose a queen, as i have seen some people do…

 

Galette des Rois

This recipe is from 365 good reasons to sit down and eat, by Stephane Reynaud.

It is very easy, provided you let the almond cream filling cool down enough so it is a thick spread that will keep within the pastry round. I made the mistake of pouring it while still warm and runny, and it went everywhere! As I didn’t have enough ingredients to start again, I went ahead covering the pastry and chilling it in the freezer for 20 minutes to solidify the almond cream a little. Unfortunately the pastry was unable to seal properly and the frangipane overflowed while cooking. While presentation is not that great and the galette is much flatter than planned, the taste was still great!

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Serves 6

Ingredients:
100g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
100 butter, softened ( the original recipe says melted, but I found that made the paste too runny)
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
bitter almond extract
2 sheets store-bought butter puff pastry, each cut into a round
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 feve ( porcelain charm to hide in the cake. Use a dry bean, if porcelain is unavailable or if you worry about chipping a tooth!)

  1. Combine the ground almonds with the sugar, butter and 2 eggs until it forms a smoothish paste. Add a few drops of bitter almond extract. If the mixture is too runny, place in the fridge to cool down and thicken a bit.
  2. Spread the almond cream in the middle of one pastry round. Place the feve inside the cream, hiding it well so it doesn’t poke out thru the pastry. Moisten the edges with the beaten egg yolk using a pastry brush. Cover with the second pastry round. Press the edge so that the 2 pieces seal together well.
  3. Make a rosette patterned ( or any kind you like! ) using a sharp knife, and brush with the remaining egg yolk. Chill for 30 minutes, so that the pastry solidifies a little and the pastry flaky layers rise well.
  4. In the meantime,  pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes until pastry is golden and risen. Take out of the oven and sprinkle with icing sugar. Bake for a further 5 minutes.

 

Roasted Sweet potato and ricotta salad

This is a template more than a recipe.The ingredients really depend on what is available at the time and variations are endless: substitute baby spinach leaves for mixed greens, ordinary potatoes for sweet potatoes, carrots for capsicums, sour cream for ricotta, walnuts for seeds, chili for shallots…you get the idea. And the quantities are pretty loose too, they will vary to individual taste.

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For the green base: 1 bag (50g?) mixed salad leaves
For the filling: 750g sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed and roasted
For the colour: 1 red caspicum, trimmed and roughly diced
For the creaminess: 1 cup of fresh ricotta
For the crunchiness: 1 cup of toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds
For the spiciness: 2 shallots trimmed and sliced
For the moisture: 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar.

  1. Arrange all the ingredients ion a large platter or shallow bowl, in the above order starting with the greens. Do not toss!
    I know it sounds pedantic, but this is for presentation’s sake: once you toss the salad, the loose bits ( seeds, capscicum, etc…) end up at the bottom and guests end up with too many green leaves on their plates, having to fish the other pieces from the bowl.
  2. Serve the ( untossed ) salad with roast lamb and a tomato salsa.

21 years ago, Mr T and I said “I do” on December 21st. And every year, we find a way to celebrate on what is either the longest or shortest day of the year, depending on which hemisphere we find ourselves living at the time.
This year, being in Sydney and working over the festive season, we brought the celebration forward and decided on a staycation at the Shangri-La hotel in the city. For these of you not in the know ( and that was me until a few weeks ago ), a staycation is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “A holiday spent in one’s home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions “. I believe in the old days, we would have called it a “weekend city getaway” or something like that but I am trying to keep up with the trend…

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The Shangri-La is located on the edge of Sydney harbour, in the historic Rocks district. It is one of Sydney five star hotels, and staying here is definitely a treat with fantastic views across the harbour and a first class restaurant Altitude. We actually dined at Altitude earlier this year, during Sydney’s Vivid festival: it was my way of convincing agorophobic Mr T to enjoy the lights display, from the comfort of a dining room high up on the 36th floor! We had a terrific night, a romantic dinner followed by a long cab ride home…during which we agreed that it would be nice to stay over next time so that we could stagger only a few floors to bed and wake up to that spectacular view!

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While deciding on the hotel accomodation was easy, choosing a restaurant for dinner proved a challenge. There are literally dozens of fantastic establishments in the city, but Mr T’s criteria can be pretty strict at times: we need to have a great view or a killer menu, preferably both. And take reservations, or at the very least offer a bar where to sit and drink while you wait for a table. Oh, and noise levels have to allow for comfortable conversations. Then the kids (who I believed to be busy either working or partying that weekend) declared themselves free and keen to accompany us! Seeing how this getaway was taking quite an unexpected turn, we decided to go with the flow and make it a bit of a shopping trip and family lunch with Anne and Marc, sending them home afterwards while Mr T and I would stay back at the hotel for the night.

Not without giving them a peek preview of the room first! We were lucky enough to be granted early check-in, so that we could drop our overnight and shopping bags on our way to lunch. One look at the near-panoramic view of Sydney Harbour, and all the kids could say was “ Wow!”, followed by “ why can’t we stay with you?” by Anne who loves hotel stays. “ Because we have plans “ was my answer, “part of which is to take you on a walk across the bridge for lunch. You can see it from here!”

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We booked a table at Ripples in Milson’s Point, across the bridge, where I had previously lunched at with my parents and friends. It seemed to tick all the boxes: views, nice food, relaxed outdoor setting next door to Luna Park amusement park…the sort of place where I like to take visitors. Only, it was a very busy Sunday, a month before Christmas and it seems that all of the North Shore had decided to come down as well. The restaurant was packed, our table reservation was for 2.30pm and as we arrived 15 minutes early, we ( along with several other diners ) were asked to wait until the designated times. That was Ok with Mr T, until he realised that the waiting “ area“ was outside and there was no bar where to sit and drink, just the concrete bollards by the wharf. I nearly lost him at the adjoining Aqua restaurant, a much more upmarket version of Ripples…”with a bar!”

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Once seated, service was prompt and friendly with our waitress very efficiently keeping Mr T’s drinks flowing. The menu leans towards mediterranean fare with a lot of Italian influence. For starters we ordered 2 plates to share: Beef Bresaola Carpaccio and Buffalo Mozzarella.

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The first, came with pine nuts, cornichons, shaved parmesan and lemon dressing. The other is served as a big ball of mozzarella cheese split in half with onion marmalade, cherry tomato salad and toasted brioche. We all loved the flavours and finished these in no time ( the kids were hungry after their walk across the bridge!)

The choice of mains was fairly simple: no one was in the mood for red meat or roast chicken, so the boys played it safe and ordered fish and chips

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, Anne surprised me by selecting rigate pasta which is full of mixed seafood and botarga in a napolitana sauce ( that’s quite a departure from the usual steak and fries!) and I went down the “gourmet” road by picking the pork belly served with caramelised peach, buckwheat and creme fraiche. The pork was fork tender and the skin text-book crispy.

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When the dessert time comes, we were suitably full and all we could manage was affogato, the dessert you have when you don’t have room for dessert! The boys and I had fun selecting different liqueur to accompany the ice cream and coffee: Frangelico for Marc, Kahlua for Mr T and Amaretto for me.

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Unable to find anything she liked on the menu, Anne asked for a plain bowl of vanilla ice cream, her favourite in any circumstances. She’s easy to please!

As no one was willing to walk back across the bridge after lunch, we hopped on the ferry instead which is a mere 10 mn ride across the harbour, sailing under the bridge and along the opera house before landing in Circular Quay.

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This is where we bid goodbye to the kids and headed back up the hill to the Shangri-La.

I reckon these rooms are made to stay in: I could sit on the lounge and sip a drink watching traffic go by on Sydney harbour for hours. As a matter of fact, I decided to do just that, as I got a new camera for early xmas present so I set up my gear and film cars, boats, and planes crossing the bridge, plying the waters or flying over the city. Seen from the comfort of a 13th floor hotel room, commuting traffic looks quite fascinating…and these city lights!!

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I would have been quite content to order room service and watch the night sky but Mr T was feeling peckish and wanted to try the hotel all-day restaurant. Cafe Mix was very quiet on this Sunday night, and the atmosphere was fairly laid back, with what appeared to be hotel guests returning from a big day of sightseeing and all after a comforting meal. The majority of the clientele appears asian, and the menu has a fairly large selection of asian dishes as well as western ones. Interestingly both menus are titled “ Comfort menus “ and feature our favourite version of Asian comfort food: Nasi Goreng for Mr T and Black pepper beef Short ribs for me. It is a far cry from the sophisticated food of Altitude’s fine dining menu, but just what we felt like before retiring under the bed’s big soft doonas and enjoying a blissful night’s sleep.

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Cafe Mix is also where the buffet breakfast is served, and what difference a weekday make! The place was busy with a mix of corporates and tourists, our table was squeezed between a guy in a dark suit, sipping his coffee while pouring over the Financial Review and an older couple, meticulously dressed for a day on the golf course ( or a cruise ship, I am not sure) The lady glanced over at the yoghurt parfaits I just picked up and asked in a drawling american accent “ these looks delicious, where did ya find them?”

 

I sent a photo of the pastry section to Anne who was no doubt fixing herself something quick at home before catching the school bus and her reply was “ I want some!”

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We all love a good buffet breakfast and the Shangri-La’s is pretty good: beside the usual selection of fruits and cereals, there are salads, cold meats, smoked seafood, baked goods to die for…and that’s just for the continental option. Should you wish to order the fully cooked option, you will be offered items like bacon, sausages, eggs, as well as eastern dishes like congee, miso soups,…Maybe next time.

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I am glad we were granted a late check-out, so we could not only enjoy breakfast at a leisurely pace but also make good use of the hotel’s facilities. I initially planned on a spa session, but was told it was really busy and first available booking was for the next day! Lucky the swimming pool was not busy ( a rarity I was told ) so I indulged in a few laps instead, trying to wear off all the food from the weekend.

And just like that, it was time to head home, staycation over…thankfully recharged for the busy month ahead.

Since I started to write this post a couple of weeks ago, the festive season kicked in full swing and as always, this is the opportunity to reflect on the year nearly gone and thank you all for following me and reading my ramblings about everything and anything food and travel related. It always warms my heart to know that someone somewhere is finding it worthwhile and (hopefully) enjoyable to share my little corner of the globe. So again, thank you.

From our family to yours, Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Joyful and Safe Festive Season.

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Singapore isn’t all about street food, though a lot of it is.

Out of the 12 days we spent there, we wanted to at least try a couple of fancy restaurants, if only to escape the stifling heat and humidity and have the opportunity to dress up. The Lion City abounds with high end establishments: from the outposts of famous establishments like Sydney’s Tetsuya’s or California’s Osteria Mozza, to local prodigies like Andre and revered classics such as Raffle grill…you could spend a lifetime eating your way around, not mentionning depleting the kids inheritance!
Talking about them, we thought we’d have 2 nights out: one with them, one without.

 

Teenagers and fine dining are not really compatible in our family: not that they misbehave ( they don’t ), but they eat a lot and always feel uncomfortable staring at a menu where mains cost over $50. Invariably they end up ordering the burger or the pasta of the day, and finish with ice cream, too financially self-conscious to expand their culinary repertoire. I know I should be happy they have this mind set rather than expensive taste in food, and believe me I am. So what works with them is All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, and we found this great Seafood Buffet at Melt Cafe at the Mandarin Oriental. The main reason we chose to dine there on a Saturday night, was that we had been looking for a venue from where to watch the National Day Celebrations rehearsal and particularly the fireworks finale. This was in July, and preparations were in full swing to celebrate Singapore’s Independance Day in August. Our tour guide gave us the tip, telling us where the best viewing spots were. The problem was, Singaporeans are either very patriotic or hungry for entertainment, so it felt like half the country was lining the streets and the shores of Marina Bay in anticipation. Mixing with the crowd was out of the question for Mr T who tends to suffer from agorophobia at times, and since every bar with a view ( rooftop or not ) were charging a hefty cover charge that night it didn’t make much sense to bring along a 14 year old who can’t drink.
Enter Nisha, from Melt, who hearing what we were trying to achieve ( i.e have our cake and eat it too!) assured me the problem could easily be solved: we could come in anytime and start eating; just before the start of the fireworks she would come and fetch us so we could watch the finale from the rooftop, while she would keep our table available, and we could resume our dinner afterward. I could have hugged her! The drinks waiter became Mr T’s best friend when he mentionned the S$20 free flow of wine and beer ( though I wish we’d known about this before we spent S$80 at the bar for beers and cocktails beforehand! ) On to the food: we were taken thru the buffet selections, which were quite varied: seafood, western style, bbq, indian curries, asian stir fries, sushis, cheeses and desserts…there was definitely enough to please everyone and we certainly ate our S$85 worth of it. Terry found the indian selections and would not eat anything else ( he is a curry fanatics and always laments that he is missing the “real” thing only found in Asia!),

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Anne dabbed into the savouries ( mostly sushis and caesar salad ) but really saved herself for sweets and I swear she must have sampled every morsel on offer!

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Marc bypassed the seafood and went straight for the BBQ, carvery and spicy food, followed by numerous plates of desserts.

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All within 30 minutes. Luckily for him, Nisha came in to announce the fireworks were about to start. By then, I was so engrossed in my 2nd ( or was it my 3rd? ) plate of seafood that I could not be swayed away from the table, so I handed the camera to the kids and sent them off to walk off dinner and take shots of the firework display for me. The food was just too good: tiger prawns, oysters, Maine lobster claws, spanner crabs, …seafood is my weakness, along with cheese, so that is pretty much all I ate that night.

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As we sat at the table, full and happy, I looked around at the other diners: a mix of single travellers, some young families, Nisha introduced us to a British family who was staying at the hotel on a stopover and they raved so much about the food and the service saying they chose to eat in most of the time. Anne replied that “Had we been staying here, I would have done the same! “ That was the lure of the chocolate sensation bar talking, I think.

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When the time came to choose a restaurant for our anniversary dinner, the decision was made simple by Mr T who wanted local Singapore foods. As he had missed out on a lot of our hawkers expeditions ( either studying or keeping Anne company ), he figured he would kill 2 birds with one stone: romantic dinner with wife AND hawker food. I agreed on the condition that the restaurant had to be fancy enough for me to dress up, have a view and a rooftop bar.

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The Fullerton Bay Hotel fitted the bill perfectly. From the moment we stepped into the lobby and checked our reservation with the Clifford Pier restaurant, the evening ran effortlessly smooth. This is a plush and stylish number, deco-inspired and full of so many exquisite details, my eyes kept darting from one beautiful flower arrangement to a jaw stopping chandelier or the reflection of the curved beams onto the marble floor!

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The view greeting you coming out of the lift at the rooftop Lantern Bar is priceless! The drinks on the other hand are quite pricey ( cocktails S$25 and local beer S$17 ) but that’s standard practice in Singapore and the price to pay for such a great atmosphere, surrounded by shimmering lanterns and overlooking the bay. As a matter of fact, I could drink that killer view over Marina Bay!

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The Clifford Pier is famous for its “heritage menu “, offering typical Singapore delicacies in the sophisticated setting of a restored British colonial building . Mr T had a craving for prawn laksa, a comforting bowl of prawns, rice vermicelli, quail eggs, puffed bean curd and bean sprouts in a spicy coconut gravy. He loved it so much he nearly drank the sauce out of the bowl.

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I chose the roasted duck pancake which bizarrely looked and tasted more like a duck quesadilla rather than the chinese pancake i was expecting.

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I had more luck with my main, Wagyu Beef Rendang, beautifully presented along traditional achard pickles and rice. The meat was the right amount of spicy and melt in your mouth tender.

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Mr T went for his favourite dish, Nasi Goreng, an indonesian style fried rice with crispy chicken and a fried egg. This was quite a generous serving, and after polishing off his bowl of laksa beforehand, I have no idea how he could fit a plate of fried food!

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But he managed to finish his main course, then decided to order a key lime pie for dessert! I joined in, though I was pretty full by then, and chose the classic tiramasu. This came as a mousse in a clip-on jar, with double espresso and lady finger biscuits, It was not bad, but was not great either, I’d say it needed more coffee.

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Same issue with the key lime pie, a layering of ginger biscuit crust, key lime filling and meringue. While it was refreshing and tangy, it missed “ a bit of oomph!”, as Terry put it. Maybe western dessert tasted bland, because the courses we had during the meal were redolent in so much spices and flavours, our tastebuds expected more of the same for dessert.

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Still, we really enjoyed our dinner, the surroundings were magnificent, service was faultless and judging by the numbers of families dining there that night, heritage cooking isn’t going anywhere!

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And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I must mention the stunning surroundings, both inside and out: I don’t think I could ever tire of Singapore city lights and I fell so in love with the architecture and myriads of bespoke artefacts that without even seeing the guestrooms, should money not be an object ( which sadly it is!) this hotel would be our pick to stay at next time.

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