There are times when an idea comes to fruition … perfectly.
The plan to have a weekend getaway at Balgownie Estate in the Yarra Valley was one of those times when there was nothing – zilch, zero, bugger all – that didn’t work.
It started with lunch at the pub in Yarra Glen, a not unpleasant experience (just one glass of wine given that I was driving), although it did get very crowded and noisy very quickly, probably a testament to the place’s popularity.
The drive to Balgownie should have been easy, but thanks to the frightful GPS (although I do love the woman’s New Zealand accent), we did a tour of far too many unmade back roads. OK, the scenery was good, so it really was a positive rather than a bad thing … and it did mean that we arrived at Balgownie spot on at check-in time.
Thoughts of checking in and then heading off for a winery tour were soon put to rest.
The accommodation was everything the brochures had promised. A great suite (a balcony with a fantastic view across the valley), a spa with valley views, plenty of rose petals (in the shape of a heart on the bed and scattered elsewhere) and candles, a bottle of bubbles (an ice bucket would have been nice … it needed time in the fridge to chill), chocolate-dipped strawberries …
Why would you want to leave? Well you wouldn’t. We didn’t.
The tasting room beckoned and what a good decision it was. The staff was fabulous … our man John (he’s a great bloke who really knows, and gladly shares, his vast knowledge of all things grape) took us through the Balgownie range (all were excellent, ending with the 2000 vintage Balgownie shiraz … an absolute cracker of a wine. It’s $85 a bottle from the cellar door and would be worth every cent. That’s not to say the others left much to be desired (apart from wanting more). The 2010 sparkling shiraz (one of my favourite wines … apart from the next one) just did it. It’s a big (14.5 per cent alcohol), fruity wine … there’s a bottle of the 2008 in the fridge waiting for a special occasion to enjoy it.
We tasted our way through NV Premium Cuvee Rose (loved it), Premium Cuvee Brut, 2008 Cabernet Merlot, 2009 Shiraz, 2009 Yarra Valley Chardonnay, 2010 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, 2011 Pinot Gris (again, loved it), 2011 Sauvignon Blanc … a perfect prelude to sitting on the balcony, having a chat and a chardonnay, and watching twin rainbows (and yep, the sky was clear blue). Could it get any better?
Not really, although dinner at Rae’s restaurant gave it a very good run.
Our starters were confit of barramundi, with Congo potatoes on guacamole of smoked banana, avocado and mango and served with candied cherry tomato, caramelised hazelnuts and aged balsamic; and katafi wrapped Yarra Valley Persian feta, pistachio, fig glaze, beetroot pesto and vincotto. Both mains were
grain-fed eye fillet rubbed with Texas spice and served with potato gratin, sweet corn puree, compote of granny smith and Calvados sauce bordelaise.
Oh, and a bottle of the most excellent Balgownie chardonnay.
Breakfast is not for the faint-hearted (it’s something to do with the lure of the buffet when your eyes are bigger than your stomach) with everything breakfast that you could imagine … yep, even bubbles or bloody mary, not that either were an option for us. Tea was the order of the day.
Balgownie? Would we go back? You betcha, but only if there is an ice bucket next time. OK, we’ll take one of our own just to be sure.
HAIL (BLOODY) MARY
Speaking of a bloody mary or two, it was a bloody big effort to best describe my son Liam’s recent effort.
He lives in Vanuatu and, a bit like the old man, doesn’t mind the odd sample of singing syrup. It’s probably easier over there because it’s always warm and a thirst is never far away.
He and a mate went out for a big breakfast in a bid to ease the feeling of a shell or three of kava at the local nukamal (kava hut) and later a grog-fuelled night. The nukamal nearest his house is on the road to Honeymoon Beach. It’s a cracker of a place … good kava too. And for the record, Honeymoon Beach is one of the most beautiful places on earth. But I digress.
His breakfast included all the usual suspects … eggs, bacon, sausages, whatever … and a jug of bloody mary, which apparently hit the spot (doesn’t it always?). So much so that it became the drink of the day, quite literally.
After breakfast they continued on a search for the best bloody mary in Port Vila, a task that lasted all day, resort by resort. I’m not sure how the taste buds were at the end of the day (or even if there was an end to the day), but the two desperados, courtesy of sometimes up to 90 bucks a jug price tags, managed to crack the $1000 mark by the end of the day.
Extravagant? Some may say yeah, but when you’re young, well-paid and thirsty, what the hell.
A TOAST TO THE GROOM(ING)
One of the more pleasant tasks for the week is to test some men’s beauty products … it’s by Man Age and called the Men’s Basics Set (I qualify because I’m basic).
It contains after-shave balm, a new shampoo and a new anti-perspirant.
Just have to write a short, sharp appraisal for The Weekly Review.
NOT QUITE DANCIN’ IN THE STREETS
I was having lunch at a local café the other day with a mate from out of town, an experience made all the better thanks to a couple of local kids.
One played a cello, the other a violin and, Jesus, could they play. They were fantastic.
People were actually stopping in groups to watch and listen and then offering big ovations … and I do mean ovations.
These youngsters just nailed it. No sheet music, just a full-on concert broken only by the constant sounds of coins being dropped into the cello case. They got $5 of my hard-earned. When the packed up, they had managed a bag full of dough.
It was so good to see go-getter kids strutting their stuff. I just hope they make the trip again soon.
MAZE FOR DINNER
Last weekend we opted for dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze at Crown Metropol. As Richie would say, “pretty good decision, that”.
Although according to today’s Age, “Gordon Ramsay has something new to curse about, yesterday cutting loose his Melbourne restaurant, Maze.
“The restaurants Maze and Maze Grill, at Crown Metropol, have been put into liquidation barely one year after they opened to huge fanfare.”
Well, we did our bit to help out.
I’m not sure about the physical appeal of the surroundings … there was just something that didn’t quite gel. Maybe it was the size of the table for two, which was, well, too bloody big. A harsh call maybe, but it was big enough to necessitate a louder than we would like conversation.
We opted for the seven-course chef’s menu … and we figured that there was no single dish that had a wow factor … the tuna was, well, tuna, for example, although the foie gras was close to a “wow” … but the food was excellent, a kind of “wow” factor overall.
In order, the courses we opted for were:
Marinated beetroot with goat’s curd, cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette, toasted pine nuts;
Seared yellow fin tuna, white radish, yuzu, enoki mushrooms, black garlic
Foie gras and chicken liver parfait, Madeira, mulberries, toasted sourdough
Marlborough king salmon, Jerusalem artichoke, mustard, horseradish cream
Crispy roast pork belly, calvalo nero, soybeans, dashi
Cape Grim short rib, potato, shimeji mushrooms, shallot gastric
Exotic fruit vacherin, passion fruit and banana sorbet
Coffee ganache, salted caramel, hazelnut ice cream
We also decided to have matching wines, which was a masterstroke. The sommelier really knew her stuff. Cop an optic on this lot:
Fleurz Champagne Rose NV (France) … yeasty, beautiful
Keller Silvaner 2008 (Germany) … quite dry, but delicious
Marc Tempe Zellenberg Pinot Blanc (Alsace, France) … a weird nose at first, but what a taste … floral, complex … one of the best things I’ve tasted in a long time
Chateau Mont-Rodon 2009 (Chateauneuf du Pape, France) … a red blend
Even Keel Pinot Noir 2010 (Mornington Peninsula) … peninsula pinot, say no more
Hans Herzog Pinot Noir 2008 (Marlborough, New Zealand) … not a lot bad comes out of Marlborough
Torbek 2010 Shiraz (Barossa Valley) … great with the beef
Merchant Prince Muscat (Rutherglen) … a fine finisher, voted excellent on the other side of the table
The verdict? One hell of a food and wine package, but so it should given the prices. Would we go back? Maybe but not in a hurry.
And what to do after such a feast? Have a nightcap or two and head home?
Well, yeah for the nightcap, but we went dancing … eventually. We had trouble finding the bar and after asking one of the staff for direction, we nearly made it, instead stopping to listen to a couple of blokes playing middle-of-the-road, but very good music.
We bumped into the direction-giving staff guy a bit later and he chided us for not getting to the bar … and made sure we did. It was worth the wait.
ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.