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Where in OZ are you headed? If your plans take you to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, check out Red Ochre Grill or if in Adelaide (probably your base city in South Australia if you plan on visiting wineries), the original Red Ochre Restaurant. The restaurants specialize in "Modern Australian" cuisine - serving meats such as kangaroo (I had this served rare and it was delicious - just like a very nice venison), crocodile, emu, and wombat. As much as possible, they try to use only produce, herbs and spices available in the bush or elsewhere on the continent. It may not compare to the best DC has to offer, but the kitchens produce good quality food. And besides, you'll never get to experience the flavors of this restaurant here in the States.

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As I mentioned in the topic about Boise, National Geographic Explorer features New Zealand on the cover of the March issue (on newsstands now). The article isn't exactly food-centric, but it does mention a few dining and nightlive venues.

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Michael: We travelled to Australia in April/May 2004 -- to Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, and back to Sydney -- and lots of places in between. And universally, we were very impressed with the food and service (had not expected much, and were wowed -- and just went wherever, not lots of research). I'm can never say any food place is a "must," but here are some places we really enjoyed.

In Sydney. On our way in, we stayed on the Woolloomooloo wharf, and there is a great selection of restaurants (along with lots of fancy boats to look at). Places I recall are a great bakery-- which was really enjoyable when we arrived at 7am after flying for 20+ hours (and there was another one in melbourne--so a chain, but-- we had great sandwiches). Restaurant Otto. A place that had Pizza, that I cannot recall the name.

You also can take ferries to close by points. And while I think the food was good, the thing I remember most is the view -- having lunch at Watson's Bay. 29003772.100_0707.jpg

My husband also loved the "tiger pies" that are available in many places.

In Melbourne, I remember really liking a place called Langston.

And there were lots of other places not on your itinerary -- including in Gipsy Point, Apollo Bay, and Adelaide Wine Country (Barossa and Mclaren Vale).

Have a wonderful trip; I can't wait to go back.

Dianne

P.S. We were doing weight watchers on our trip so stopped at subway on our travels now and then -- where they put Beets on the sandwiches.

PPS. Wine Country is amazing, as are the wines.

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I've only been to Sydney about 1 1/2 years ago, but here a few ideas:

Lord Nelson Pub - oldest pub in Sydney- has the Quayle ale- named after our esteemed VP, good fish and chips, good pork pies with chutney and mustard

bill's in Darlinghurst neighborhood- great breakfast, very attractive waitstaff

Pier at Rose Bay- amazing view of Rose Bay at this more fine dining restaurant- i had some amazing seafood dishes here- kingfish carpaccio, scallop with pork belly, beet root salad, apricot souffle (pics)

I would also recommend dim sum in chinatown in sydney and getting thai food as well.

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Thanks for the tips. I've put tiger pies, bills, and the Lord Nelson Pub on my agenda. The photos of the food at Pier look amazing, though I think I'm saving my all-out dinner for Vue du Monde in Melbourne. I'm also aiming to hit Billy Kwong in Sydney, as Johnny Apple was rarely wrong about eats.

Thanks,

Michael

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The tiger pies reminded me of my first visit to Sydney and a quick bite to eat at 1:00 a.m. at Harry's Cafe de Wheels (purportedly, the originator of the first pie N pea franchise).

I also loved 'Mint' in Surrey Hills.

In Melbourne, I stayed in St. Kilda with friends and enjoyed 'Tusk' on Chapel and 'Pause' in Balaclava. Tons of good eateries along the back alleys off Swanston in town.

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I hope it's not too late...was in Sydney last year and bills was as good then as when I went in 2000. Definitely go for breakfast, and be prepared for a wait whether it's a weekend or a weekday. Also, if you want really great Thai, Prasit's is an excellent local place. (I know you can get great Thai here in DC, too, but if you're just looking for a good cheap meal, it's a good choice.) Seating is extremely limited.

At Rockpool, the food was good, but there was a foulup in my reservation time and though we did get to eat, I can't say that their staff treated me particularly well (even though I had had an email exchange with the manager well in advance of the reservation). Nor did they acknowledge a problem when I emailed them the next day.

I wish I had had time to go to Billy Kwong! Please let us know how it was, if you do go.

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I just saw this -- and I'm guessing I'm probably too late. But just in case.

I'm from Australia, but it's a loooong time since I've lived there. I'm from Perth (west coast), but I've spent a fair amount of time in Melbourne. I was a completely impoverished student while I lived there, so my recommendations aren't going to be anything fancy.

In Melbourne, go visit the Queen Victoria Market. The deli hall is a great place, and it's worth grabbing a kebab in the food hall. There used to be a decent pub across the street with a great jukebox. A wander up (or tram ride) Sydney Road is also a very cool culinary experience -- you can trace waves of immigration as you go outward from the city, starting with the Italian & Greek neighbourhoods, moving into middle eastern & Lebanese and ending up with southeast Asia -- Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesia. (There's great Greek food in Melbourne -- there's a huge Greek community there.)

The area around Lygon Street is also home to a nightlife/restaurant district.

Things worth trying in Australia that you won't find elswhere. Australian wine (well, you can get that elsewhere, I suppose. But if you spot a Margaret River chardonnay, have a glass for me). A burger with pickled beets & a fried egg on it. Tim tams (which are chocolate cookies). Potato wedges -- they come with sour cream & sweet Thai chilli sauce for dipping (those, I miss).

A sausage roll -- beats out a pie any day, for my money. (I once made my husband sit in a car for four hours so I could go to a particular bakery that does a deliciously irresistable flaky pastry sausage roll.)

On the more gourmet end of things, if you see any of our weird native crustaceans, they are worth a try; Moreton Bay bugs (saltwater), yabbies or marron (both freshwater). Emu is tasty, although not commonly available. Kangaroo is becoming more and more widely eaten.

Also, people will try to get you to eat vegemite. If you must, you can try it, but really, I wouldn't bother.

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Thanks to all for the replies. I just got back a few days ago and have much to report. We hit Sydney, Melbourne, and Tasmania. Although the quality of ingredients was unquestionably at its finest in Tasmania, we had our very best meal in Melbourne at Vue de Monde, which certainly belongs in the same class as the French Laundry or Lumiere. Australia also has an extensive juice

Sydney

Although we didn't eat at either Tetsuya's or Rockpool in Sydney, we enjoyed some excellent, though not earth-shattering, meals. I also liked Sydney because the various bars often serve an excellent selection of Australian wines by the glass. Because it was one of the late Johnny Apple's top 10 restaurants, we first tried Billy Kwong, which was opened in the Surry Hills district as a collaboration between Bill Granger of the Sydney upscale breakfast house bills and Chinese chef Kylie Kwong. Upscale Chinese food was on the menu, but the place was anything but a typical Chinese restaurant in America or Australia. The room was neighborhood-minimalist, and the wait-staff was dressed in casual-black. Wines are the beverage of choice on the menu. We had the fried dumplings, spring rolls, the crispy duck, and the Kurobuta pork belly fried rice. We enjoyed the fried rice the most, with the duck coming in a close second. It ain't particularly cheap, though; the meal came in at around US$80 for 2. I don't know that it was worth the cost. (If you still plan to go, the nearby Dolphin Hotel is a great place for a pre-dinner drink.)

For my money, a better bet for upscale Asian is Phamish in the Darlinghurst-Paddington section. True, it's Vietnamese and not Chinese, but the two shared some dishes in common -- and the quality of those dishes far exceeded Billy Kwong's. The spring rolls, for example, were tight like cigars and spilled fresh cilantro, shrimp, and pork. I could eat the fried-shallot-topped rice every night. We also had the kaffir lime/sweet chili prawns and a fantastic ginger chicken, whose sauce alone made the trip worth it. The place does a brisk takeaway business, so you can get your meal to go if you're not willing to put up with the bustle. We brought a Clare Valley riesling to enjoy with the oustanding food.

Not too far away on Darlinghurst Road is Fish Face. The restaurant, which is an upscale-casual neighborhood place, is actually shaped like a fish. Very high quality fish dishes. We tried the kingfish and the fish and chips, which were made with flathead tails. Real winner here is the fish and chips. Costly at AU$27 (about US$22), but what they're known for. They use a light beer batter, and they fry without leaving even a trace of oil. One of the things I liked most about Fish Face was that the chef knows how to season and salt his food.

We also had a great meal at Zinc in the posh Potts Point neighborhood. Zinc is a tad cheaper than the rest of the spots in that area, and we had our top service in Sydney there. I had the $25 winter prix fixe -- an amazing value for the food and the location. It included a celery-leek soup, a veal preparation, and peach cobbler. Potts Point also features a small, but outstanding farmer's market on Saturday mornings.

Of course, we ate at the aforementioned bills. The place pissed me off because it's so stereotypically L.A. -- beautiful people who receive special treatment on account of their beauty. We waited 40 minutes for a table for two, while pairs of Surry Hills hipsters scored their tables upon arrival (it doesn't take reservations). What's more, the service is slow for the number of people working front and back of the house. In any event, we did enjoy our breakfast. We had the creamy and fluffy scrambled eggs with bacon and the sweet corn frittatas, which looked like a high-end version of a breakfast sandwich -- frittatas working as bread and bacon and a roasted tomato on the inside.

Another highlight -- something anyone who's interested in food should do -- was an early-morning tour of the Sydney Fish Market. We saw all sorts of native fish go up for auction and wandered the auction floor with our knowledgeable guide. You can even eat scrumptious Tasmanian oysters for breakfast -- which we did.

The bar front. If you like impeccably made cocktails, you should run to the Kirketon Hotel bar in Darlinghurst. They make proper drinks, often with their own ingredients. If beer is your thing, try the Australian Hotel in the Rocks district. They had more Australian beers on their list than I saw anywhere else (except at Transit in Melbourne), and you can even eat kangaroo pizza there.

A definite lowlight was the fish and chips at Doyle's in Watsons Bay. Clearly cooked from frozen and certainly overpriced, but the view from the outdoor deck is unmatched.

Melbourne

We didn't find Melbourne to be as much up our alley as Sydney, but we did have our best meal of the trip here at Vue de Monde. Vue de Monde is the love child of El Bulli and the French Laundry. It's tucked away on Little Collins Street in the central business district. Recently, it's been ranked among the best restaurants in the world, but always behind Tetsuya's and Rockpool. That's a shame because it's the most oustanding fine dining experience I've had in some time (indeed better than Manresa in my new town), and on par with the French Laundry and Lumiere. No joke. The restaurant has no written menu. Instead, you may opt for the chef's signature menu (about 10 dishes for AU$250, exclusive of wine pairings), or you may choose the number of courses you'd like to eat and, after a discussion with your server about your likes and dislikes, have her select the courses for you. Out of sheer curiosity, we went down this latter route.. We told her that we wanted to try foods that we couldn't easily get in the States, but that we were game to try anything else. And we asked for eight courses (which we boosted to nine after our final savory course). It makes little sense to give a blow-by-blow of our stunning meal, as you can find countless such recaps on various blogs and as the menu changes regularly. But our favorites were the Queensland softshell stuffed with Western Australia blue swimmer crab, Australian truffle risotto (which reportedly is a specialty of the house), King George whiting with potato scales (a play on the ubiquitous fish and chips), a frozen blood orange-Campari lollipop, and Roquefort ravioli. The wine pairings were perfect and thoughtful (oloroso sherry with the risotto, for instance). And even though the food was highly sophisticated, the service wasn't at all stuffy. It was young, fun and conversational. Everyone was excited about the food. The feel is leagues away from a place like Citronelle. A nice final touch was their e-mailing me -- unrequested -- a copy of the menu and wine pairings we had. This place should be getting the ink that Tetsuya's and Rockpool gets.

Other highlights included the Church Street Enoteca in the Richmond neighborhood; the antipasto, which reminded me of the small plates you might get at the start of the meal at Komi, wowed me, as did the Moreton Bay bug risotto (essentially, lobster risotto). Also great was the Pacific BBQ Seafood House in South Yarra. We learned when we arrived that Anthony Bourdain loves the place; it's real-deal, down-and-dirty (in a good way) Chinese. The top dishes were the fresh scallops in garlic sauce and the fried softshell swimmer crab -- a behemoth in chili and garlic for a mere AU$6.80 (about US$5). And if you want abalone prepared expertly, this is the place to get it.

A fun bar is the Transit in Federation Square -- excellent beer selection and a cheap pub menu.

Tasmania

Tasmania impressed us the most of anywhere we visited, largely because the ingredients -- the cheeses, the wines, the seafood -- were so fresh and amazing. What's a bit disappointing is that there are relatively few places that know how best to handle the ingredients -- witness the countless iterations of fish and chips. But the ones that do it right are making some of the best food on the planet.

In the Launceston area and the far northeast, we drank wine more than we ate, visiting about five wineries in the Tamar Valley region. The area is cool, and its wineries are turning out some excellent small-production sparkling and pinot noir. We wished that we could have brought more back to the states, but airline rules, laws, and shipping have made things so difficult that it makes sense to drink what you buy while you're in Australia. Top wineries were Dalrymple (which, we learned, has been sold to a major mainland Australia outfit) and Delamere (if it tells you anything, one of the two wines I managed to get back to the States was a pinot noir from Delamere). While tasting, eat at the Krelinger Estate, which produces Ninth Island pinot noir -- some of the little Tasmanian wine that comes to America. I had a lovely Tasmanian ocean trout salad.

If you drive around the coast, the best fish and chips (er, scallops and chips) in the northeast are at Captain's Catch in St. Helens. They've got a delectable beer batter, and you can eat on the water (though you do have to pay an extra AU$0.40 for sweet chili sauce).

Heading further south, the only restaurant worth eating in in Swansea on the east coast is the Ugly Duck Out. As zaf at dcfud has already asked, the real question is "how the hell did this chef end up in Swansea (pop 529)." We happened upon the place upon finding everything else closed. It used to be a fish-and-chipery, but the chef -- whose been there for a couple of years -- kept the name but transformed the menu when she and her husband bought the place. You can still find fish and chips, burgers, and such, but you can also find some of the best beach cooking anywhere. The chef has traveled extensively (she told me that s spent time cooking in Colorado) and has incorporated international flavors into her menu. We had a delectable roast chicken dish, Tasmanian scallops (with the roe on) and Queensland shrimp with brown rice, and a dozen oysters from 10 minutes away in the aptly named Great Oyster Bay. This place may been too far ahead of its time in Swansea, so stop in if you're ever passing through this far-off neck of the woods. While you can.

Hobart, of course, is Tasmania's capital and its gastronomic center. We wandered through the Salamanca Market (I bought some Tasmanian leatherwood honey) and had some great food. Our two favorites were Jackman & McRoss and amulet. Jackman & McRoss is a Food & Wine photoshoot-ready cafe in Battery Point (apparently, there are two other locations, but our apartment was steps away from this original outpost). We had our best pies of the trip here (meaty Huon Valley mushrooms with red capsicum -- a/k/a red peppers and local goat cheese, among others) and fine tea. Their breads are also to die for.

amulet is an upscale neighborhood restaurant in North Hobart -- about a 20-minute walk from the CBD. One of our favorite restaurants of the trip. They do wonders with locally sourced meat and produce. With only six other diners in there the night of our visit, I have no idea how they stay in business, though the fact that it was the dead of winter might explain the quiet. We started with South Bruny Island oysters -- thankfully "natural" and served merely with lime and seared Spring Bay scallops. The mains were Cygnet bacon-wrapped kingfish and, the best fish dish I've ever eaten, the hot smoked and maple glazed Tasmanian ocean trout with blueberry wild rice and tarragon butter. For dessert, we did a cheese course, a glass of local late harvest chenin blanc, and a chocolate souffle. This is where to go in Hobart.

Other highlights were the braised wallaby shanks at Zum in Salamanca Square and the sushi at Orizuru Sushi Bar on the docks.

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Anyone been on a wine tasting & food trip in Australia? I just got back this summer spent 2 weeks there! Australian Cuisine today is a blend of cuisine from all parts of the world combined with true indigenous cuisine. The local seafood, lamb roast, kangaroo meat, wichety grubs and other staple Aboriginal foods, Irish stew, meat and four vegs, bangers and mash of the early migrants have now been complemented with lasagna, kebabs, mousaka, sweet and sour pork, dim sums, hot curries, bouillabaisse, venison, Creole carri poule, ghoulash, lahksa, frankfurter dishes and many more. Tasmanian Oysters in addition are amazing, the advent of tourism has created a whole new range of modern day foods skillfully prepared with the abundant supply of local and imported ingredients. Australia produces many of the best traditional wines such as Cabernets and Chardonnays and they also have a flair for being experimental. There are varieties such as the Pinot Chardonnay which are becoming more popular and an ever increasing number of un-wooded wines that are fermented in steel vats. I just recently came back. I went to Mclaren Vale.Barossa Valley: The Barossa Valley is north east of Adelaide, South Australia, and has a hot climate. Penfolds is one of the more famous wineries in this region. Barossa is renowned for its Rieslings which is indicative of the Valley's German heritage, and for the reds such as Shiraz and Cabernets.Hunter Valley: The Hunter Valley is another hot area and is located north of Sydney, New South Wales. This area is within easy reach of Sydney for a day trip or I stayed overnight at one of the many bed and breakfasts. A variety of wines are grown in the Hunter Valley, including Shiraz and Semillon. As well as visiting the larger vineyards, you will most likely want to check out some of the smaller boutique wines and family wineries. Clare Valley: The Clare Valley is a cooler growing area located in South Australia, north of Adelaide. This is an area of four interconnecting valleys, the Clare, Polish River, Watervale and Skillogallee. The main wines from the Clare Valley are the whites such as Riesling, Chardonnay and Semillon. Coonawarra: Coonawarra lies to the south east of Adelaide and is more noted for it's reds such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. The area has a cooler climate and is also noted for is reddish coloured terra rossa soil. Penfolds grows some its grapes here for some of its Cabernet. Yarra Valley: The Yarra Valley is located in Victoria, north east of Melbourne. It has a temperate climate and is noted for making the cooler climate varietals. The Pinot Noir is popular here and one of the better wines that I have tried from this area is Coldsteam Hills. McLaren Vale and Padthaway in South Australia It was a brilliant trip! The Street Eating is Soul Food, nothing fancy and The Aussies are fun people, friendly, hospitable, genuine and very nice.

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I didn't eat much Aboriginal food while I was there, so I can't help you with that.

But I spent two months camping up and down the center. So I say this: Australia is the size of the continental United States. However, it also has a tenth of the population, which makes the wild spaces extraordinary. You can spend one week there, or two, or three. You won't see all of it no matter what you do. But due to jet lag and the general uncomfortableness of plane travel, I think that two weeks is a good starting point. And from there you decide what you need to do and see and arrange around that. Domestic travel is cheap and easy (I was told to get to the airport 15 minutes before my super-inexpensive Virgin flight from Canberra to Adelaide), and I highly recommend doing a lot of it in a 4x4 on unpaved roads and camping. I did that most of the time I was there and was delighted with my meals cooked over the campfire--including, for instance, locally raised lamb stew, eaten with my hands because we were just too hungry to find the forks.

Perhaps the best line I've ever heard in my life was after a particularly grueling day of travel over one unpaved road after another, after another, after another. When we finally made camp, our guide said, "The closest people are 20 kilometers that way. And there are two of them."

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Anyone been to New Zealand in the last two years? We'll there for three weeks in November, one week in North Island and two weeks in South Island. We'll try to get to the French Cafe in Auckland and Sezn in Christchurch (if it's open in November), and we'll definitely go to a Hangi. Anything else that we shouldn't miss?

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Just back from NZ. Tried French Café’s 10 course. Did not go to a hangi or Sezn. Overall, I was impressed with the food. There’s a lot of mediocre food out there, but definitely some gems worth seeking out.

The Good

Salut (Whangarei) – The alleged best place in town (A Deca) was closed for the night, but Salut Bar & Brasserie was a great choice for us. We had a game heavy meal. Everything was good but I was particularly impressed by the ostrich appetizer.

French Café (Auckland) Quite possibly the best meal ever for me. The food is contemporary/localvore food similar to CityZen/Deveraux’s, but every dish was so well conceived and exquisitely executed that everything was stunning, including dishes that we didn’t think we’d like. If you’re anywhere near Auckland, save an evening (you need at least 3 hours to finish the 10 courses) and make a reservation ASAP.

Fleur’s Place (Moeraki) – Specialize in cream sauce fish and roast dishes that you would expect to find in a quaint Irish fishing village. The restaurant has a nice atmosphere and very friendly service. The food was fresh and full of comfort and quite substantial. I tried the muttonbird (fledgling sooty shearwater) – tasted like a combo of anchovies and duck.

Bayside Restaurant (Westport) – Another really good restaurant. Fresh ingredients, very good preparation and a fabulous view from the deck. We had breakfast there, it was so good that we ordered more off of their lunch menu.

Boat Shed Café (Nelson) – See above. The view was not quite as nice as Bayside, but they served me a wonderful grilled crayfish (lobster) tail. They're know for their trust the chef menus, but it's actually a bit cheaper to order a la carte and get exactly what you want.

Fish and Chip takeouts – It’s often cheaper than groceries and consistently yummy.

The not so good

Solero Vino (Queenstown) – Highly recommended by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Tiny portions and poorly seasoned and prepared. All the dishes tasted like my cooking mistakes. I don't understand how any kitchen could put out such unappetizing dishes.

Slip Inn (Havelock) – Pretty good place overall, but let down by their mussels 7 way. Havelock claims to be the mussel capital of New Zealand, so you figured that the best restaurant in town would have nice plump mussels. What we had were rather puny and quite expensive (works out to be $2 per mussel). Their beer battered blue cod was much better.

Ninn’s Bin (Kaikoura) – Their crayfish was pre-overcooked and not cooked to order. The result is mushy and cold lobster meat. Not anywhere near the level of a good East Coast lobster shack experience, and at twice the price.

Anyone been to New Zealand in the last two years? We'll there for three weeks in November, one week in North Island and two weeks in South Island. We'll try to get to the French Cafe in Auckland and Sezn in Christchurch (if it's open in November), and we'll definitely go to a Hangi. Anything else that we shouldn't miss?

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Just back from a two week stay in Fremantle, the port town west of Perth in Western Australia.

Fremantle was historically a working class port town that got a facelift in the late eighties when it hosted the America's Cup yacht race, and is today a charming blend of the old Italian and Greek communities who moved there after the second world war, the hippies and artists who have lived there since ever I can remember, and the retirees and well-heeled younger folks who have moved into apartments converted from warehouses. Running down the main drag on on south terrace between the Fremantle Markets and Market Street is the cappuccino strip, which is the heart and soul of the town. Any one of the dozen or so coffee houses here is an ideal place to stop for a couple of hours and nurse an espresso and a slice of cake, sit outside at one of the pavement tables, and watch the world go by. Gino's Cafe has been there since 1983--before the America's Cup--which makes it fairly long-standing in Freo at least.

There's lots of good food in Fremantle, but it's not a fine-dining location, and some of what makes the food great is the location as much as what is on the plate. At Little Creatures brewpub, you can sit out under the stars next to the boardwalk and nosh on a variety of tapas-style dishes; highlights on our two visits included the harrisa and lamb pizza and the panzanella salad, as well as the french fries.

Clancy's Fish Pub produced a beautifully done plate of fried calamari and chips (fries)--think an upscale fish fry with calamari and a side of fresh slaw. The backyard of the pub spills over directly into a public park which made it a great early dining spot to take the kids and let them blow off steam while we caught up with old friends.

Located just back from the water's edge behind the sand dunes, the South Beach cafe serves up unpretentious breakfast and lunch plates to beachgoers in an outdoor gazebo setting. Because it's Fremantle, they do a decent espresso, and because it's Australia, you can pair it with an Aussie meat pie. Another outdoor favorite is the Carriage Coffee Shop, at the Esplanade park (just over the railway line from the Bon Scott statue). They serve up an unexpectedly juicy tasty burger as well as various sandwiches and other lunch foods on a small shaded deck inside the park proper.

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Anyone have any recommendations for a meal in Cairns? I've been in Australia for a bit over a week now and have actually had some surprising luck with the meals we've had so far, but I may try for something a little more "fine dining" tomorrow night since I will be alone for the night. Red Ochre is still in business and offers the taste of Australia plate for around $60, but my friend who I am travelling with has eaten there and wasn't impressed (and he will admit that his standards are not particularly high). Was wondering about the restaurants on the pier in particular just for the view, but it can be anywhere in town.

It's funny, I decided my money this trip would be spent on activities rather than food for a change, but it's expensive here no matter where you eat. Still, I've been pleasantly surprised by the "non-fine dining" options we've chosen on a whim (and that still cost us easily $50 a person). B)

Anyway, will also be in Lorne for one night, and Halls Gap another if anyone has any recs in either place.

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10 hours ago, ol_ironstomach said:

Any updated reccs, particularly on New Zealand?

Dave, are you looking for wines to buy, meals in Wellington (or environs), wineries to visit, or what? I have no direct knowledge, but I suspect I'll be in New Zealand myself sometime in the next two years, so I have a selfish interest in your question being addressed. 

Can you give some specifics (including where you'll be, where you're willing to go, and when you'll be going), and I'll put some feelers out to my wine buddies who know?

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We were there in 2010, so our food recs are probably out of date.  I did really like Fleur's Place in Moeraki, Bay House in Westport, French Cafe in Auckland ( though the service was stuffy), and Boatshed in Nelson.   Just checked and all still open and getting pretty good ratings.

 I love whites from Marlborough, so that was a delightful day trip for me.

Coromandel peninsula has really wonderful oysters.

If you're looking for something a bit challenging physically, 7 Hour Lost World is on the top of my list for most fun activity ever.  We did both the Tongariro Crossing and Routeburn Trek (coordinated with a pick up and overnight sail in Milford Sound) and can highly recommend both.  Also, go swim with the dolphins in Kaikoura!

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We're back, after a five week adventure ranging over both of New Zealand's main islands.  But the #$@! Invision post editor demolished my first post about NZ cookbooks when I was about 90% done with nicely formatting it with links and pictures, and then barfed on undoing whatever it thought I had asked it to, so it'll be a while before I have anything to say again.  Buggy POS.

Short version: lucky month to catch recently-released cookbooks.  The _New Zealand Restaurant Cookbook_, edited by Delaney Mes, is a mid-sized coffee book title that visits with 50 of NZ's best-loved restaurants.  Softbound, with interviews and recipes.  Released in October; not available in the US.

https://www.penguin.co.nz/books/new-zealand-restaurant-cookbook-9780143770756

Al Brown's _Eat Up New Zealand_ is a wonderful collection of recipes featuring the chef's take on both traditional and modern NZ dishes, interspersed with short essays.  Hardbound.  Released in September; will be available in the US in May.

https://www.amazon.com/Eat-Up-New-Zealand-Recipes/dp/1877505773

9781877505775.jpg

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On 11/18/2017 at 8:27 PM, ol_ironstomach said:

We're back, after a five week adventure ranging over both of New Zealand's main islands.  But the #$@! Invision post editor demolished my first post about NZ cookbooks when I was about 90% done with nicely formatting it with links and pictures, and then barfed on undoing whatever it thought I had asked it to, so it'll be a while before I have anything to say again.  Buggy POS.

[Just a reminder: Invision has an auto-save feature for New Posts (but it doesn't work for editing Existing Posts). If, for example, you get kicked out while working on a new post, just go back into the thread, and click on "Add New Post" again, and what you were working on will be there. I appreciate your having spent so much time on a post (I'm well-aware of how long they can take), and I'm sorry that happened to you. :(]

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On 11/19/2017 at 10:19 AM, DonRocks said:

[Just a reminder: Invision has an auto-save feature for New Posts (but it doesn't work for editing Existing Posts). If, for example, you get kicked out while working on a new post, just go back into the thread, and click on "Add New Post" again, and what you were working on will be there.]

Yeah, unfortunately, it wasn't a matter of freezing or getting kicked out or anything like that...the editor just plain truncated everything past the first paragraph.  That was also the same amount that draft recovery was able to restore.  Anyhow...

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A selection of food impressions from our trip, not necessarily in chronological order.  During our stay, NZ$1 ~= US$0.70.  And my apologies in advance to any New Zealanders for the gross generalizations I'm about to make.

  • The fact that their monetary unit is also called the dollar leads many Americans to experience a misleading amount of price shell-shock.  Remember that you have to apply an exchange rate, and that all taxes are included, and generally so is service (i.e. your server makes a living wage).  Most of the card payment terminals don't even offer you a tipping option.  My general observation was that prices at the market for in-season produce and meats were very reasonable if not downright inexpensive; prepared and packaged foods and beverages were quite expensive, especially individual bottles of soda; ordinary meals were slightly expensive (on par with major metro area prices in the US); fine dining was often a bargain.
  • At most places, portions are generally quite large...what much of the world might consider American-sized.
  • A lot more food is cooked to order than I would have expected.  Be prepared to wait a while.
  • Entrées are such in the French sense, and meant to be followed by your mains.  But don't be surprised if you don't have much room left.
  • Bacon.  As you might expect, the default is a rasher of bacon, British-style.  Streaky bacon is also available.  But bacon is generally just barely cooked, and limp...rashers are little more than warmed through, like a slice of ham.  You'll probably want to ask for your bacon "crispy" at a minimum.  If you actually want crispy bacon, consider asking it to be extra crispy.
  • Many other foods hail from other corners of the former British Empire but have gone off on their own evolutionary path.  Fish and chips are everywhere, but the batter is tempura-influenced, and of course the fish are southern hemisphere substitutes.  Popular ones include several soft-skinned shark species.  Sausage rolls use a finely minced meat with what seems like quite a bit of filler, and little sage.  On the other hand, small meat or fish pies are ubiquitous, and usually good (and held in extremely hot warming displays).  There is a lot more biltong than jerky around.
  • Condiments tend to be sweet, especially ketchup.
  • Restaurant websites are often unusable.  Although most places have one, nobody seems to know what to do with the Web.  Consequently, online menus are often not updated, and hours of operation are completely unreliable.  YMMV.
  • Oysters.  Ummm...more about this later.

North Island (north to south)

Mangonui

Everyone said to stop at the Mangonui Fish Shop (adjacent to the town pier) for fish and chips.  They were right.  One of the two best fish and chips shops of our trip.  Lemonfish was less than NZ$7 per piece; add NZ$3.50 for a scoop of chips.

Ahipara

North Drift Cafe, owned by an expat Texan, turns out a great breakfast in this small beach town, including some outstanding Eggs Benedicts (though on toast, not on muffins), and good homemade granola.

Kerikeri

Citrus-growing country.  Worth a stop at nearly any stand, but look for the signboards by estate driveways for citrus grown on the property.  The funny thing is that most of the Asian citrus varieties all look like oranges: grapefruit the size of oranges, lemons as round as small oranges, limes nearly as pale as the lemons.  But the intensity of flavor will spoil you for nearly anything grown in Florida or California; even the navel varieties are richly orangey.  They don't seem to have giant processing plants all over the place like in Florida, so the double-edged sword is that it's only available in-season, but then supply so far outstrips demand that it's absurdly inexpensive.  In October (early spring in NZ), we paid NZ$7 for a large bag of excellent tangelos; everywhere people were giving away grapefruit.  Also picked up some ridiculously good Hass-type avocadoes at one of the orchard markets whose staff seemed to be entirely Thai.

The generically named Food At Wharepuke turns out good Thai fusion dishes in a gorgeous wooded setting.  Service is rather leisurely, though.

Paihia

Decent but not stellar seafood at Alfresco's Restaurant and Bar.

Auckland

The city is home to a series of night markets which combine a food court scene with the usual flea market vendors.  We went to Thursday night market in Henderson (West Auckland) which is conducted in the parking structure beneath K-Mart.  Lots of different ethnic foods to choose from, but I headed straight to one of the two vendors of Pasifika cuisine for some Tongan/Samoan specialties and my first taste of NZ lamb in its own country.  Lu Sipi ($10) combined lamb, coconut cream, and shredded taro leaves, all braised together in a whole taro leaf purse wrapped in aluminum.  Ulu (breadfruit steamed with coconut cream) completed this rich calorie bomb.

Also in West Auckland, Criollo Chocolates makes excellent sweets and baked goods.  Both pastry chefs have been successful in international pastry team competitions; a link to their bios is here.

Paeroa

We didn't actually eat here, but it was on our route so we posed for a selfie with the giant Lemon And Paeroa bottle in town.  L&P is NZ's de facto national soft drink, and sort of occupies the niche that Irn-Bru does for Scotland.  We are new fans.

Hamilton

Mavis Made To Order is the café branch of a farmer's market-driven local restaurant group.  After overindulging on meat pies for several days, it was just what the doctor ordered.  Plenty of fresh green things, made well, conveniently located in Hamilton's central business district.  My only quibble might be that their risotto balls would be even better if they undercooked the rice a smidge before frying.

If you wander across downtown to the Riff Raff Statue, you can get a passable NYC-style slice at Sal's Authentic New York Pizza (locations across NZ).  The kids staffing the counter might not know much about pizza and the red pepper flakes might be way too weak, but it passes the fold test and the flavor is right.  They import all of the pizza ingredients from the US, except for the water...go figure.

Rotorua

Just north, in the town of Ngongotaha, we probably set a personal record for least $ per pound of food on this trip at Ngongotaha Ocean Seafoods, a local fry-basket joint whose sandwich board proclaimed "fresh fat oysters!"  And so they were, but the NZ$15 fisherman's basket came with a veritable mountain of chips, not to mention a generous quantity of residual grease.  It hit the spot, though.

In Rotorua proper, there's a night market held on Thursdays, which spans not quite two blocks of downtown.  We chose the burger stand for a pretty good venison burger (FWIW, the recently introduced venison burger at Arby's owes its existence to the growing red deer ranching industry of NZ's South Island), in part because the line for the all-kinds-of-steamed-dumplings stand was long.

Noteworthy although we didn't stay for any: the local Māori also use geothermal features to cook in, so there are a number of hangi available in the area which are prepared in natural ovens instead of in fire pits.

Napier

In the Art Deco Capital of the Southern Hemisphere, we found Bistronomy to be so good that we ended up eating there three times: for lunch, then for afternoon happy hour and dinner the next day.  The food is modern, inventive, and often surprising, including a brilliant expression of vanilla roasted kumara (the traditional Polynesian sweet potato) with sweet and sour tamarillo, walnuts, and goat cheese.  I couldn't make sense of whatever concept they might have been reaching for with some of the more precious presentations (the long cantilevered stainless utensil jutting out of driftwood, holding my black pudding ball comes to mind) but the six-course prix fixe (NZ$75, +NZ$45 for matched wines) was an absolute bargain.  There was also a nine course option (NZ$100).  Relaxed dress.

We also took in a superb meal at Pacifica which, despite its self-description as "relaxed fine dining", felt very much like a place worth dressing up for.  The 5-course degustation menus are available with a choice of 'seafood' or 'mixed', at the ridiculous bargain price of NZ$50 (NZ$100 with wine pairings).  These are several-perfect-bite portions, so the total experience left us just sated.  I thought the preliminary fry bread was a bit of a misstep since it was a heavy way to commence the meal and guaranteed to leave you with messy fingers, but that quickly gave way to course after course of really good work.  The menu is constantly changing, but my particular standout courses would have to include the "fresh pasta, chicken puree, parmesan foam", and "truffle sweetbreads, pork brawn, cauliflower & chicken liver pate".  But really, we loved it all.  Reservations required.

Wellington

NZ's capital and second most populous city has a bustling restaurant scene, particularly in the central Te Aro neighborhood.  The food at Ortega Fish Shack was excellent, with intense flavors and rather formal place settings in an otherwise pub atmosphere, but even more impressive was their wine list, which was very accessibly laid out and apparently very sensibly chosen.  We had tasted a number of mediocre yet crowd pleasing white wines elsewhere in NZ by this point, but the somm brought out a surprisingly good match for gubeen's shellfish in a 2016 Neudorf "Rosie's Block" Chardonnay (Nelson, South Island; number 58 under the "voluptuous whites" section of their current list), a more minerally Chablis-esque expression despite the wine list description of its toasty citrus notes.  The 2015 Quartz Reef GV was a similarly successful pairing with her main of Blue Moki with white bean puree, asparagus, ricotta, rosemary & orange dressing.

We booked two seats for the chef's bar (kitchen table) tasting menu (5 courses, NZ$85, NZ$135 with wine pairings) at Field & Green, which describes itself as "European soul food".  On a Wednesday night, it was a treat to have chef/co-owner Laura Greenfield (formerly of London, and the long time head chef at Sotheby's Cafe) and her sous largely to ourselves in the kitchen while the rest of the patrons took dinner in the dining room.  Another very good meal; my standout was the salad of pork belly, pickled rhubarb & fennel, green peppercorn vinaigrette.  But absolutely, absolutely remember to save room for the ice cream and sorbet list, which had 13 housemade flavors while we were there.  Our tasting menu included four scoops each, so we managed to cover a pretty good range.

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Sydney - Had a very good dim sum lunch at Mr. Wong's in the CBD in Sydney today.  Working on my bikini-bod, so stuck with wine and two orders of dumplings, but both were very good. The first was a roasted pork and chive dumpling, sauceless, which had that characteristic duck sweetness with just a bit of kick of spice.  The second was a fried Szechuan style lamb dumpling.  Great flavor and surprisingly not much curry or too much spice to it - I was expecting something more heat packed never having had this before.  Decent wine list and the whole thing was fairly reasonable at about $50 USD in all (I did go for the large glass of wine).  I'd definitely go back.

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The wife and I happened to be in New Zealand on vacation in March when everything went to shit, and we decided to try and stay.  Did our level 4 lockdown in Christchurch (Gatherings for wine and fish, C4 for coffee, Vino Fino and Decant for retail wine, Inati for fine dining once that was allowed again).  I concur with @ol_ironstomachthat Sal's is a very passable NY-style slice, a comfort food I didn't know I had until I unwittingly moved halfway around the world.  Anyway, we moved up to Auckland in July, rented a house and are waiting on visa approvals.  Auckland highlights so far:

Coffee: Atomic, Espresso Workshop

Wine: Cave a Vin (he makes killer sourdough and cultured butter too), Bar Celeste

Mezcal: La Fuente and Ghost Donkey

Cocktails: Deadshot, Caretaker

Food: Eden Noodles Cafe, Pasture, Culprit, Mr Hao, Cassia, Cocoro, Sidart, Xi'an Food Bar

There's a _ton_ of mediocre food here.  Lots of stealth sugar in dishes that shouldn't have sugar in them.  But we're finding some gems.  Odd blind spot: the Japanese food here is _terrrrrible_.  Thankfully the Chinese food is excellent and there's some good regional representation.  We haven't found _great_ produce yet so we've started doing some gardening to grow our own tomatoes/peppers/herbs.

I don't imagine the border restrictions will be relaxed anytime soon, but if they are, give us a shout if you're going to come visit!

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