Foodvixen does The Fat Duck, Bray

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When I booked our lunch at The Fat Duck back in March I was sitting at my computer in my lounge room waiting for the clock to roll over to 12 noon UK time. After I missed out on the ballot for The Fat Duck when they came to Melbourne I figured I had to at least try and get into the original one in the UK. As the clock rolled over and I watched spaces fill up before my eyes I managed to snavel a 1pm lunch time booking. I thought lunch time would be the best option because it was going to be a 3 hour return trip from where we were staying in Stoke Newington to Bray, plus you’re told to allow 4 hours for your dining ‘experience’ so taking all that into account I didn’t want to be getting back home after midnight.

To make the booking I had to pay the cost of the degustation in advance via credit card (just over AUD$990 for two people) whereas the drinks and a 12.5% service charge (as if the cost of the meal wasn’t enough) would be tacked onto the bill post meal. Yes I know it’s not a cheap meal and many people will most likely scoff at the cost but food and food blogging is my life and I don’t really have any other vices that I spend my money on. I don’t drink (except maybe a couple of glasses of wine when out at dinner), I don’t gamble (other than an Oz Lotto ticket once a week) and I don’t have a shoe addiction (although I do like my Nike’s). Our meal at The Fat Duck is by far the most expensive meal we have ever had, only comparable to a degustation at Shannon Bennett’s restaurant Vue De Monde in Melbourne back in 2013.

Alright, now the housekeeping is out of the way I’ll move onto our afternoon at The Fat Duck. We caught the train from Paddington to Maidenhead Station, which is the closest train station to Bray. We arrived far too early but I’ll be damned if I was late for this important lunch. In the meantime we had coffee at Britain’s answer to Coffee Club, Costa Coffee and used their free wifi. When the time came we caught the cab a short distance (maybe 10 minutes) to the small town of Bray. The cab driver dropped us off at the given address and despite seeing signage for the Fat Duck deliveries and parking we couldn’t see a sign for the actual restaurant. That was until I spied a smartly dressed woman with a clip board standing out the front of a two story white house with heavy blinds covering the windows.

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She showed us in and we stood in a small dark room with a hologram while we waited to be shown to our table by our French server Julien. Behind the door is not quite what I was expecting… A small relaxed room with timber posts and low ceilings, about 20 or so round tables decked out in white tablecloths.

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There must have been about 20 servers that we counted in total, most of which delivered one thing or another to our table over the duration of our meal. Firstly we were greeted by the lovely female Sommelier who gave us a small tour through of the wine menu. There was wine by the glass, wine by the bottle and of course wine tasting menus. I had a look at the tasting menus – one for 155 pounds per person, one for 250 pounds and one for 595 pounds per person. We decided to stick with wine by the glass and chose a glass of Santorini Pure (white wine) to start for about 25 pounds a glass (and that was one of the cheapest).  Lovely wine and if I happen to find it somewhere I would definitely like to buy a bottle or two.

Now onto the 15 course degustation. I did miss photographing a couple of them, mostly because the server bought it out and told us we were to eat it straight away.   And also because I didn’t want to be a massive wanker and ask to take a pic first – though I’m sure many people do. But firstly a word of warning, if do you plan on going to The Fat Duck yourself stop reading now so you don’t ruin the surprise for yourself.  Part of the fun is not knowing what dish is about to make it’s merry little way to your table.

  1. Aerated Beetroot Macaron. – Just one tiny mouthful but so much flavour. This was one ‘dish’ we both thoroughly enjoyed. I just wish we could have eaten a few more. Perfect way to start the meal.20160830_131016

2. Paloma, Campari Soda, Pina Colada, Vodka Lime Sour – The next dish, or should I say beverage I wasn’t able to get a photo of, again because I didn’t want to interrupt the server to ask for a pic. No doubt they do get a bit sick of people pulling out their phones and for me manners comes before all else. This nitro poached cocktail had six flavours to choose from. I chose the one with Campari whilst MS chose the tequila based one. The waiter pulled out a spoon and then squeezed a creamy concoction onto it.  He then put it in a bowl of liquid nitrogen where it hardened to a meringue type texture, put it on a plate and handed it to each of us to be eaten in one mouthful. Delicious!

3. Smoked Cumin Royale with Celery Sorbet. Yeah I really have no idea what that means but that’s what the menu says. Our server said that this dish was meant to represent a Gin and Tonic, hence the reason it arrived with a small glass of gin. I am myself a gin drinker but this one was pretty smooth and what do you know I even ate the celery sorbet.

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4. Hot and Cold Tea – Funnily enough this dish was exactly as the server suggested. Somehow it was hot in some parts (or luke warm) and strangely cold in others however it didn’t really taste anything like tea.

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5. Truffled Egg Mousse, Jellied Tomato Consommé, Bacon and Toasted Bread Cream and Cereals – For our ‘breakfast’ we were brought a selection of miniature packaged cereals. The server told us to choose one each and open it to reveal a wooden puzzle with the first to assemble it winning a prize.

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I had already been observing the people next to us working on their own puzzles so I guess I had a head start and finished mine in lightning fast time to which the server presented me with a coin to hold onto for later. The server then bought us out a small bowl containing ‘milk’ to which our cereal was to be poured into. What looked like milk in a bowl was actually Truffled Egg Mousse with Jellied Tomato Consomme, Bacon and Toasted Cream while the cereal which we gently mixed in was made of tomato cornflakes, sausage pillows and mushroom crisps. This dish was one of my absolute favourites although strangely MS didn’t really like it. He must have rocks in his head. So many flavours in that tiny little bowl, I just loved it!

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6. Sound of the Sea – Next up two large shells arrived (yes real ones) each with a small iPod shuffle inside and earphones.

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We were instructed to put the earphones in and not to remove them until after we had finished the dish when the server would return and tell us what we had just eaten. With sounds of the ocean and seagulls flying overhead we were presented with a glass box filled with sand, on top sat malty tapioca ‘sand’, raw kingfish, bonito with abalone, seaweeds and tidal succulents plus sea ‘foam’. The fish was unbelievably fresh. Outstanding!

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7.Waldorf salad rocket with walnut, celery and apple ice (left). Urgh more celery?! Salmon/Avocado/Horseradish twister (right). I wasn’t particularly fussed by this dish but kudos for the super cool presentation. I did ask the server if we could eat the rocks to which she replied ‘I wouldn’t recommend it’.

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8.  Mr Whippy Crab and Passionfruit – Basically a crab flavoured soft serve with chocolate at the bottom like a Drumstick. I wasn’t a fan of this one either. I love crab but this was a weird crab flavour.

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9.  Cornish Crab, Smoked Caviar and Golden Trout Roe, Veloute of White Chocolate and Sea Vegetables – Prior to me taking the photo of this dish the server came out and poured the veloute over what appeared to be a crab on my plate. The crab then disappeared (dissolved) to reveal the smoked caviar and golden trout roe. This dish was so bloody good that even the non-seafood lover next to me loved it. White chocolate in a savoury dish you ask?  Why the hell not?!  Just divine.

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10.  Mushroom, Beet and Blackberry, Scented with Fig Leaf, Meadowsweet, Melilot, Oak Moss and Black Truffle – This dish so aptly titled ‘If You Go Down to the Woods Today’ was one of the highlights for me. It tasted nothing like what I thought it was going to taste like, mind you, it does look like a plate of moss and worms so I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. Oh and the mealworms weren’t real!

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11.  Toast Sandwich – What is a toast sandwich you say? Well it’s a chicken and truffle sandwich on fresh bread with a layer of toast in the middle layer. It was a revelation.

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12.  Mock Turtle Soup – Two servers arrived in unison at our table, one holding a glass box. Using tongs the other server gently removed a gold ‘watch’ and placed it in each of our glass tea pots. The golden watch is actually a stock that has been set into jelly which literally disappears before your eyes leaving flecks of gold in your tea pot.  I didn’t get a photo of this one so here’s a photo of our delicious house made bread and house churned butter.  Seconds please!

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13.  Three Course Dinner – As part of our ‘journey’ a three course dinner with digestif awaits…. Starter: Scallop Anna – what’s not to love about slices of scallop and truffle? I cringe to think about how much this dish would cost to order on it’s own.

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Appertizer: Sweetbreads.  I actually thought that Sweetbreads were kidney when they arrived at our table (it’s pancreas) and not one to turn anything down I popped it straight in my gob.  I have to say it was the most horrible thing I have ever put in my mouth.  The fatty, bulbous texture of it still makes me feel sick.  I get that it’s a delicacy but you can keep it.

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Main: Lamb Shoulder with Onion Puree, Garlic and Coffee – Easily the most tender and delicious roast I’ve had in my life.

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Dessert: Botrylis Cinerea.  I had to Google this one just to find out exactly what the hell it was.  According to an article by The Daily Mail Botrylis Cinerea has 80 ingredients, 23 elements and 55 stages.  Also it’s claimed to be the hardest dessert ever attempted on Masterchef Australia.  The flavour basically comes from rotting grapes with other elements of the dish including compressed red grade dipped in nitrogen, citrus sorbet, aerated saffron, a chocolate sphere filled with pear caramel, a sugar ball filled with citrus infused yogurt and a churro stalk.  Wow who would have thought all those things were in this one dish?  It was something else that’s for sure!

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Digestif : Whiskey Gums – A glass box with whiskey gums from around the world including one from our own whiskey distillery in Hobart, Lark Distillery, which was perhaps my favourite one of all.  The people next to us didn’t like theirs so we happily helped them.

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14.  By this time we had in fact somehow managed to take the lead on the degustation from the people sitting next to us so it was us that ruined the surprise for them when our floating pillow arrived with two small meringue like sweets placed ever so gently on top. The pillow literally floats off the table and MS found it so intriguing that he decided to put his hand underneath to see how it worked (magnets) causing the entire thing to fall on the floor, sweets and all. Judging by the reactions of the servers nearby he wasn’t the first to do it and no doubt won’t be the last. Feeling a little red faced we luckily received two new sweets to replace the now soiled ones.  (Note: I only took a video of this and WordPress won’t let me upload it unless I pay for a premium account.  If you want to check it out it’s on my instagram: food_vixen)

15.  Second last sweet for the afternoon was the Malt, orange blossom, tonka, milk meringue, crystallised white chocolate and pistachio.

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Our take home treat arrived in the form of a mechanical ‘sweetshop’.  I placed the coin that I had earned in my puzzle challenge in the slot and out popped a whole bunch of sweet treats that Julien put into a little takeaway bag for us.

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Other sweets included Oxchoc – layers of nougat and caramel infused in a Wagyu Beef Consomme (different but delicious), Caramel in Edible Wrapper, Queen of Harts Jam Tart and a Mandarin Scented Aerated Chocolate.

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So that’s that!  I realise this has been an epic review and if you have managed to hang on until the very end then I commend you!  So here’s my conclusion… I had read a few reviews about The Fat Duck prior to going and although I didn’t read too much, in case I spoiled the day for myself, I did read that being seated next to diners that were ‘ahead’ of you in their degustation did spoil the experience slightly because you were able to see what was coming next. The Tasmanian couple seated directly next to us were literally one course ahead of us and despite the best of intentions not to look I couldn’t really help myself especially since they were less than a metre from our table. So here’s a little tip:  If you do end up going to The Fat Duck try and make your booking at the very start of the lunch or dinner service so it’s your meals that are the ones spoiling it for everyone else.

Look, I have to admit I wasn’t completely blown away by the whole experience.  Possibly due to social media, the internet, I don’t know, but I guess I already had a fair idea of what to expect and how it was all going to pan out.  As I have said previously I’m not too big on fancy pants restaurants and would must prefer to sit on a street corner in South East Asia with a 20c mystery meat skewer in my hand and soak up the atmosphere. Despite the fact that I wasn’t overwhelmed lunch at The Fat Duck was a truly memorable experience and something I would certainly recommend to anyone should they have the opportunity.   Another thing that I think is pretty important to mention is that the staff weren’t at all pretentious like they can be at some ‘fancy’ restaurants but they were down to earth and friendly (although I did have a few smile and nod moments attempting to understand our waiters thick French accent). Would I go again?  No probably not but the service, food, atmosphere and overall experience were truly fantastic and something we will both remember for years to come!

PS:  I know some of you are curious as to what the bill ended up being after all that and if you made it this far then I’m happy to divulge. It came in at just under AU$1300.

Odyssey Kitchen, Cairns

I’ve had a few friends visiting Greece recently and the pictures they have been posting on Facebook have literally made me want to lick my computer screen.  If I wasn’t already reeling from the costs of a recently European holiday AND home reno’s then I would be on the first flight to Santorini (wouldn’t we all!)  In the meantime the new Greek charcoal barbeque restaurant, Odyssey Kitchen, is undoubtedly the next best thing!

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MS and I headed down to check it out on Tuesday night since the only plans we had were watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead and we were pleasantly surprised with what we found!  We were greeted by the lovely owner Pepi and her husband who have recently moved over here from Greece.  After the recent troubles in Greece they decided that they would have a fresh start in Cairns opening Odyssey Kitchen only six weeks ago.

Pepi showed us to our table and I asked her for some recommendations from the menu since it all looked fantastic, we had trouble choosing.  The menu is very reasonably priced with nothing over $27.  First off Pepi recommended some Mythos Greek beer for MS a glass of Rose for myself.  We chose a selection of entree’s and main’s from the menu and waited for our meals to arrive.

For entrée we ordered the Baked Fetta with slices of tomato, onion and capsicum with Greek spices ($11.50) and the Grilled Octopus Tentacle Garnished with Salad ($14).  Both MS and I literally swooned over the Baked Feta.  It was insanely good and we later found out that Odyssey Kitchen imports their own fetta from Greece.  That would explain why the feta that I buy at Coles doesn’t even come close to this stuff!

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Oven Baked Feta with Slices of Tomato, Onion and Capsicum ($11.50)

The Octopus was unbelievably tender and even MS who is notorious for not liking seafood (especially something like Octopus) couldn’t get enough of it.

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Grilled Octopus Garnished with Salad ($14)

Our third entrée was the Greek Country Salad with Tomatoes, Onions, Feta, Olives, Capsicum and Capers served with a Greek Version of Croutons ($12).  Again the Feta made this dish absolutely sing.  Not often does a salad get completely demolished when we go out to dinner together but I can safely say there wasn’t a skerrick left in the bowl when we finished.

 

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Greek Country Salad – Tomatoes, Onions, Feta, Olives, Capsicum and Capers served with a Greek version of croutons

It seems that we may have bitten off more than we could chew with our entrees as they were bigger and more filling than we had expected but nevertheless we still had a bit of room for our mains.  As we couldn’t make a decision we opted to share the Pastitsio ($18) and the Chicken and Bacon Charcoal Spit ($27).  The Pastitsio is described on the menu as Risoni Pasta Mixed with Feta and Parmesan, Covered with Mince, Topped with Béchamel Sauce and Cooked in a Clay Pot.  This dish was rich and creamy with flavours of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Basically carb heaven in a clay pot.

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Pastitsio – Risoni Pasta Mixed with Feta and Parmesan, Covered with Mince and Topped with Béchamel Sauce. Cooked in a Clay Pot ($18)

The Chicken and Bacon Charcoal Spit (chosen because, well, all men love bacon don’t they?) was served with salad, chips, pita bread and dip.  We had earlier watched the chef cooking the large skewers of meat over the charcoal grill not far from our al fresco table.  I let MS consume the majority of the meaty skewer because I was pretty much up to Pussy’s Bow as my dad would say.  Could have totally eaten more of that feta though.

 

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Chicken and Bacon Charcoal Spit – 1 Mega Skewer of Chicken Fillet Pieces Wrapped in Bacon Slowly Cooked over the Charcoal. Served with Salad, Chips, Pita Bread and Dip ($27)

 

And finally there was dessert (I know I just said I was full but no one told me there was dessert)…  We tried three off the menu including the Baklava (my favourite), Halva – a semolina sweet filled with dried fruit and nuts dipped in syrup and the Yogurt and Homestyle Sweet – yogurt and traditional syrupy sweet made of fruit and sugar.  It was a tough contest but the Yogurt and Homestyle Sweet was my favourite.  It reminded me of a delicious sweet that my mum used to give me when I was a kid.

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After all that food Pepi nearly had to roll us out of the restaurant and back to our car.  Now I know why they call it a Greek feast!  The hospitality and generosity we received from Pepi and her wait staff was some of the best we’ve received in a very long time.  From the beer to the baklava at Odyssey Kitchen they are serving up delicious home style Greek cooking at very affordable prices.

Odyssey Kitchen – 41 Shields St, Cairns QLD 4870

Ph: (07) 4041 2112

Opening Times: Lunch 11.30am – 3pm, Dinner 17.30 till late (closed Sundays)

http://www.odysseykitchen.com.au/

Foodvixen Does Europe (Day 5) – Polignano A Mare

Our last day in Rome we decided that we hadn’t quite had enough of the Burrata and Pesto pizza at Antico Forno Roscioli so we met our friends there that were also staying nearby and yeah, well, let’s just say we had pizza for breakfast. Afterwards we all made our way to the airport to catch an afternoon flight. Not sure if I have mentioned it already but we are all actually in Europe for a good friends wedding. Many of us have flown over from Australia to attend the wedding which is in London next weekend, so obviously we decided to make a bit of a holiday out of it.

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More pizza porn

We were meeting more friends in Polignano A Mare, a small seaside town in the city of Bari in Puglia for a bit of pre-wedding drinking, eating and relaxing. Puglia is well known for a few things, most importantly Taralli – a savoury biscuit shaped a bit like mini donut that I nicknamed the Italian Jatz because of their addictive nature. Secondly, Puglia is known for its Burrata. Some of the best Burrata in the world comes from Puglia and in both Rome and Florence I found menus with Burrata from Puglia on it. And thirdly the small little round pasta known as Orecchiette is also famously from Puglia.

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Some Orecchiette I had during my time in Polignano that strangely tasted like Spaghetti Oops (or that may have been the 1 Aperol Spritz and 3 Negroni’s I drank beforehand)

 

When we arrived at Bari airport the five of us collected our  two rental cars with MS and I upgrading from our Toyota Yaris to a Renault Clio. It was cheap to upgrade and the Clio had built in Navman. Funnily enough our friends upgraded from their Alfa Romeo Giuletta to a Ford Mondeo wagon which proved to be an extremely bad idea when we arrived in Polignano to find the narrowest streets in existence. Thankfully both cars got away from the trip unscathed but only because of some absolute standout driving from both MS and the Ford Mondeo driver, PS.

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This photo does not do the narrow streets of Polignano justice!

The town of Polignano A Mare is one of the prettiest little places that I have ever had the opportunity to visit. It is a quaint little town with a labyrinth of laneways filled with restaurants, cafes, shops and breathtaking lookouts over the Adriatic Sea. Unbeknown to us before we arrived Polignano was also gearing up for their second ever hosting of the Red Bull Cliff Jumping competition. Had we known that we probably would have stayed a couple more days but we had flights booked to leave the day before the competition began. I don’t want to ramble on too much about Polignano because to be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur of drinking and repetitive pasta and pizza eating so I am going to try and condense it into one (or two posts).

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What Polignano A Mare is famous for!

On the first night in Polignano we checked into our Airbnb (La Casetta Nel Vico) and reunited with our friends at their Airbnb which wasn’t far from ours. We made our way to a popular little cocktail bar called La Casa Del Mojito down one of the laneways. There wasn’t much to it… a few metal stools to outside to sit on and some nearby steps but man did they do good, cheap cocktails! 7 Euros for a huge selection of cocktails that were certainly not stingy on the pours. I started on the Aperol Spritz and moved onto the Negroni’s which wasn’t the smartest move since I hadn’t eaten since my breakfast pizza. Over the next four days we visited a couple more times. La Casa Del Mojito was a definite highlight of our time in Polignano.

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La Casa Del Mojito

During our stay in Polignano we dined at so many places that it really is just a blur for me now but I do have a few highlights. Fresh seafood is the name of the game in Puglia and there is a tonne of seafood places to eat. Il Pescato was on my radar after it was recommended to me by our Airbnb host Francesco however since much of the group (there was 9 of us) weren’t the biggest seafood eaters so 5 of us made a booking for lunch while the rest fended for themselves. The Grilled Swordfish on the menu was only 9 Euros (an absolute steal) so most of the table ordered that as a starter. It was freshly caught, perfectly grilled and with a squeeze of lemon over the top… Bliss!

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Grilled Swordfish

I had the Tagniollini with Clams, Red Prawns, Squid and Fava Bean Puree. Fava bean puree with pasta is a first for me but hopefully not the last!

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Tagniollini with Clams, Red Prawns, Squid and Fava Bean Puree

I sampled my fair share of pastas over the week with plenty of memorable ones and some not so memorable ones however the best one for me was at a restaurant called La Locanda Porta Picc. The Spaghetti with Seafood or as they say in Italy ‘Spaghettoni ai Frutti di Mare’, which sounds far better than the English version was a standout for me and the others at the table that ordered it. You can’t beat the simple flavours of top quality olive oil and garlic with freshly made pasta and seafood caught that very day!

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Spaghettoni ai Frutti di mare – The best seafood pasta I had in Italy

I did really want to go to the Grotto Palazzese (a restaurant built inside a cave) but after reading some reviews about it and looking at the price of the menu I decided that it wasn’t really worth it at all. It seem you’re really just paying for the view and no doubt it’s amazing but I don’t need to spend 40 Euro per dish just to look at a view like that. I mean I work on a ship so that kind of thing isn’t all that foreign to me. Plus according to many a review the food wasn’t spectacular and the service was woeful so yeah, nah.

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This is as close as I got to the Grotto Palazzese

Polignano is a popular spot for Italian’s that want a seaside holiday where they can lie on the beach in the sun and work on their golden tans. The actual beach at Polignano absolutely tiny. There are so many people crammed into one little spot, it’s quite a contrast to what we are used to in Australia. Not to mention that but the beach is also mostly rock. The ones in the know have special plastic slip on shoes that they wear to walk on the beach and swim in the water – kind of like a cross between a Croc and a reef walking boot. We missed the memo on that one so ended up painstakingly making our way in and out of the water. I also found the beach to be quite dirty. The Italians love a good cigarette and there is no shortage of cigarette butts littering the tiny beach. We even found a sanitary napkin right where we decided to lay our towels which just grossed me out and made me wonder what else was hiding amongst the rocks.

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Polignano A Mare

Earlier that day we took the car north to find a sandier type beach about 7km away at the town of Monopoli. What we found didn’t really qualify as my idea of a beach and the large red graffiti on the seawall that said ‘Die Bitch’ was also slightly disconcerting so we had lunch and headed back to Polignano. Other friends had also been scouting for a good swimming spot and found somewhere just north of the main beach in Polignano where we spent a bit more time. I think we are pretty spoilt in Australia in terms of beaches and space as it sure is a premium over here.

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The beach in Monopoli wasn’t so great

We had a fabulous 4 days in Polignano A Mare.  In fact it makes me kind of sad that it’s all now just a memory – a much treasured one at that. Afternoons on the terrace with Aperol Spritz’s, cheese and white anchovies and good friends is certainly something I could get used to but sadly all good things must come to an end. Next up Florence….

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A cute Nonna I took a photo of doing tapestry right near our Airbnb

Foodvixen Does Europe (Rome) – Day 4

We didn’t have anything in particular planned for our fourth day in Rome which just so happened to be a Sunday.  Apparently quite a few restaurants and cafes were closed on Sunday’s.  At least all the ones I wanted to go to were anyway.  But after reading a few reviews and one in particular by Katie Parla (a New Jersey born, Rome based blogger) I had my sights firmly set on De Cesare Al Casaletto, just outside of the main part of Rome.  According to her blog Cesare is the place that she takes journalists that want to write about pasta and also where she takes Roman friends.  Sounds pretty near perfect to me and they were open on a Sunday so I asked reception at our hotel to book a table for four for that very evening.

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Some random graffiti near our hotel that I thought was worthy of a photo

 

Earlier in the day we explored more of the city and I took us on a wild detour to find a gelato shop that had been recommended to me (again thanks Johanna).  Il Come Latte seemed a little off the beaten track as it was out of the main tourist areas and we found ourselves to be the only ones around which made me wonder if we had taken a wrong turn.  Turns out we did find it and my navigating was on point as usual.  Il Come Latte Gelateria was the cutest little gelato shop I think I have ever seen.  Very Pleasantville if you have ever seen that movie with Reece Witherspoon.  The menu was in Italian so we really didn’t know what all the flavours were but I was able to make out a couple of words including Pistachio and Ricotta so that’s what I ordered.  The inside of the handmade waffle cone was also drizzled with white chocolate (you could get milk chocolate if you prefer) with a chocolate dipped wafter chip on top.  Perfecto!  The server was lovely, even gave MS a warm cloth to wipe chocolate sauce off his shorts.

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After our gelato we found ourselves back at the Colosseum eatery that we had eaten at on our first full day in Rome – Angelino Ai Fori – for a late lunch.  I had the Caprese Salad with some Bruschetta and MS had the Grilled Provola Cheese with Smoked Ham that we’d previously had.

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My Bruschetta – would you look at those tomatoes?!

 

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My mediocre Caprese Salad

 

We both thought the Grilled Cheese was pretty epic but my Caprese Salad was only ok.  For such a big and busy restaurant the waiter remembered us and was super friendly in his own brash Italian way.

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Grilled Provola with Smoked Ham

 

Back to our hotel for a costume change and then off on the no.8 tram to head to De Cesare Al Casetto.  Upon arrival I had a look at the wine menu which seemed ridiculously expensive me.  Even my Google Translate app didn’t offer up any help so I asked the waitress if the prices were for a glass of wine.  She assured me that all the prices were for bottles of wine.  Phew.  15 Euro for a bottle of white Italian wine?  Winning!

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One of the dishes Cesare is known for is the Fried Gnocchi with Pecorino and Black Pepper Sauce so that’s exactly what we ordered for our starter.  When it came out it was far bigger than I expected and it turns out the four of us probably could have just shared the one dish.  I could see why it’s a popular dish.  Mmmm it was delicioso!

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Fried Gnocchi with Pecorino and Black Pepper

 

For my main (or as they call it First Course) I had the Tonnarelli All’Amatricana (9 or 10 Euros).  Two of my dining buddies ordered the same and the other ordered the Carbonara.  There was a slight mix up with the type of pasta that we received but that can only be attributed to the small language barrier.

Oh My Goodness… The Cured Pork Cheek was just to die for! This pasta was something special and to date the best pasta I have eaten on my journey so far, in fact the four of us all agree that our pasta dishes are the best we have eaten.

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Tonnarelli All’Amatricana

 

This was also our last night in Rome so dinner at Cesare was a fitting end to what was a fantastic four days in Rome.  I honestly didn’t think I would like Rome, visiting mostly because it has quite a few ‘must see’ places that one needs to visit in their lifetime (i.e. Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Sistine Chapel) however I really enjoyed my time there, despite much of the city smelling like p*ss, and would love to go back again one day.

Foodvixen Does Europe (Rome) – Day 3

Today we woke up early because we had an earlyish tour of the Vatican City, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.

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St Peter’s Basicila – the sheer size of the place is unbelievable

When we arrived at the gates to the Vatican Museum to meet our tour group I was so glad that I had booked the Skip the Line tickets because the line just to get in was absolutely enormous.  Not just that but inside was mayhem.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many crammed into such small spaces before.  Anyhow I am glad that we made the time to do the tour – it was three hours but our guide was incredibly knowledgeable even if she did talk for the entire three hours without taking a breath.  Sadly I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the Sistine Chapel.  The place is under strict copyright from a Japanese Film Company that apparently paid to have the place cleaned some 20 years ago.  That didn’t stop plenty of idiots sneakily taking photos and having the guards yell at them.  It annoys me that people are too wrapped up in their phones that they can’t stop to appreciate something anymore.

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

 

After the tour we had time to go up to the dome of the Vatican and see the view but we decided three hours of statues and marble was enough and it was clearly time for lunch.  We made our way back to Trastevere near our hotel and to a bakery that I had been dying to get to that was literally about 30 metres from the restaurant we had dined at the night before.

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They come thick and fast for the pizza at Antico Forno Roscioli

 

Upon arriving we were greeted with slabs of the most beautiful fresh pizzas I have ever laid my eyes on.  The brash lady behind the counter pointed to the most popular which was the Burrata and Pesto Pizza.  Without a doubt we were getting that one plus a few slices of the Burrata with Tomato and of course something with meat on it for the meat eater that I live with.

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Decisions, decisions…

 

It was beautiful.  In fact I have to say it was the best pizza I have even eaten.  Beautiful thick, crunchy bread, unbelievable fresh toppings and generous serves for the price.  After finishing the first lot we decided we could definitely fit in another couple of slices of the Burrata and Pesto.  I mean we had been walking all morning so technically we deserved it right?

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Burrata and Pesto Pizza from Antico Forno Roscioli could in fact well be the best pizza I’ve ever eaten

 

After a short siesta we met some friends that were also in Rome for some afternoon drinks on the rooftop terrace of our hotel.  15 Euros for an Aperol Spritz (that’s AUD$22) almost made me choke on my complimentary chips but it was such a nice spot to sit we figured we would have one.  To put it in perspective in the SE of Italy where I am now they are only 5 Euro.

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Our AUD$22 Aperol Spritz’s

 

For dinner we took our friends to the pizzeria that we visited on the first night, Dar Poeta.  Since it was still technically early in terms of Roman time for eating (7pm) we walked straight in and got a table for four.  I probably didn’t need the two pieces of Gorgonzola and Honey Bruschetta before eating a whole pizza but hey I’m not going to feel bad about it anymore.

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Olive, Salami and Gorgonzola Bruschetta

 

Dinner for me was the Super Bufala with tomato sauce, artichokes, buffalo mozzarella, olives and pecorino cheese.  The olives were a bit of a let down but the rest of the pizza was tip top.  We overstayed our welcome a little bit catching up with our friends that we hadn’t seen in 6 months until I finally understood what the waitress was glaring at me about and we cleared out.  Turns out there was a tonne of people outside waiting for a table.

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My Super Bufala Pizza

 

We wandered down to a touristy area with marquees set up alongside the Tiber River and realised it was way too touristy for us.  Heineken signs and stuffed toys was the name of the game in this area so we didn’t stay very long.  As we were leaving we saw what MS swore was a cat swimming in the Tiber.  Upon further Googling it turns out it was a Nutria (a type of rodent but a bloody huge one)… Stay tuned for my next post!

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Tiber River

Foodvixen Does Europe (Rome) – Day 2

We woke bright and early on our first full day in Rome, partly because my pillow was like sleeping on a bag of cement and partly because I can’t go to bed without an alarm set regardless if I’m on holiday.  We had a light breakfast in the hotel, well I did.  Espresso coffee and some fruit was plenty for me whereas old Fatty McFat Fat aka my other half stuffed himself with danishes, croissants filled with cream cheese, ham, fruit and more cheese.

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Brekkie view in the garden at our hotel – Hotel Ponte Sisto

 

We had a Skip the Line Tour booked at the Colosseum booked for later that afternoon but figured we would go and see a few of the other sights before then.  Campo Dei Fiori where there was so many delicious things I wanted to buy but figured I am going to be in Florence later next week, then the Pantheon which we literally stumbled upon.  It’s a pretty awe inspiring place especially when you just stumble around the corner not expecting to see it.  Next up the Trevi Fountain.  We threw a couple of Euro over our shoulder – apparently there is more than 3000 Euro thrown into it a day.  God knows where it all goes but a good friend of mine said that last time she was there she saw a homeless lady fishing some of it out with a pole with a magnet on the end.  I must say I’m impressed with her ingenuity and DGAF attitude.

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By this time it was about lunchtime so after a toilet stop – and by toilet stop I mean having a coffee at a café with the ingenious disguise of wanting to use their restroom we found ourselves near the Colosseum at Angelino ai Fori – a restaurant within close proximity to the start of our tour.  It did look like a bit of a tourist trap and considering how close it was to the Colosseum it most likely was but it was the best looking restaurant in the area so we gave it a go anyway.  Are expectations were extremely low but we actually really enjoyed it and even went back a second time a couple of days later.  Go figure.

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Antipasti and Aperol Spritz for lunch at Angelino ai Fori

Three and a bit hours later we finished our epic Colosseum tour and headed back towards our hotel with a short stop at a restaurant that I well and truly had my sights set on, hoping to get a seat.  The waitress told us that the place was completely booked for the evening much to my despair but said we could come back in 45 minutes and try our luck.  45 minutes later and boy was I lucky.  Straight in and straight to an upstairs table at the highly regarded Roscioli.

My sister gave me a book called “Where Chef’s Eat” a couple of years ago (there’s a new edition every year) and I finally decided that I would have a look through it before this holiday.  I earmarked a heap of restaurants, cafes and patisseries in the places we were visiting and Roscioli was one them.  After doing some Googling there isn’t a blogger that comes to Rome that doesn’t go to Roscioli so as they say, when in Rome.

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Love this cooking philosophy from the opening page of the menu at Roscioli

The menu is literally mouthwatering!  There were so many things on the menu that I wanted to eat and still now I am kicking myself for not getting the burrata (some of the best in Rome) but our entrée of Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Roman Oxtail Stew and Peppered with White Cheese Fondue washed down with a glass of Italian Pinot Noir was a decadent and tear inducing hot start to our dinner.

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Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Roman Oxtail Stew and Peppered with White Cheese Fondue

 

Main for me was the Big Spaghetti with Albacore Tuna Marrow, Wild Fennel, Minced Tomatoes and Olives (19 Euro).

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MS had La Carbonara with Crispy Cheek Pork, Malaisian Black Pepper, Paolo Parisi Eggs and Roman Pecorino Cheese Dop.

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In the menu it states that all pasta dishes are cooked ‘al dente’ which is a little hard for my liking but again ‘when in Rome’.  Plus I don’t believe in changing dishes at restaurants.  You eat them how they are meant to be cooked and served.  So far this is our one and only pasta meal in Rome so we really have nothing to compare it to however my tastebuds know a good meal when they taste it and they were beyond content.

I am glad that I did some research of places that I wanted to dine at before we visited Rome because to me it seems like there are more tourist traps that great places to dine.  It does take a little bit of time to research but it’s so much more rewarding finding the hidden gems.  Plus it saves aimlessly walking in circles trying to decide which place to go to.  As for Roscioli, some reviews have said that the restaurant is too squishy inside but I actually really enjoyed the atmosphere and layout of the place plus being that close to the table next to us admittedly allowed me to eavesdrop on the miserable American couple next to us that clearly weren’t having a great holiday together.  The pasta was excellent, the service I found to be exemplary.  Whether this trip or another Roscioli is somewhere that I without a doubt want to go back to!

Foodvixen Does Europe (Rome) – Day 1

I have been meaning to get my webpage up and running again and what better time to do it than when I am on holidays?  Europe has never really been high on my list of places to visit.  Just ask my best friend SS who has been trying to get me over for close 7 years I reckon.  Now she’s getting hitched in London in a few weeks time and I find myself at Brisbane International Airport at 5am boarding a plane to Rome.  It’s not that I never wanted to visit Europe, I guess I just had a few places that I wanted to visit beforehand but now we’re making a holiday of it!

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Breakfast in the Emirates Lounge at Brisbane International Airport

Fast forward about 24 hours – 14 ish hours spent on the plane from Brisbane to Dubai where neither MS nor I slept a wink and then another 5.5 hours from Dubai to Rome.  To say it was a long trip would be an understatement and whomever said that flying with Emirates is amazing must have rocks in their head because I have had better service on Jetstar (not even kidding).

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Mini Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Bagels also from the Emirates Lounge at Brisbane International Airport

We waited a ridiculously long time at Immigration, grabbed our suitcases and made for the train station.  Catching trains in a foreign country I find is always a bit of a risk.  You never really know if you’re on the right train until you actually pull up at the station and breath a small sigh of relief knowing that – yes you got on the right train and yes it was going in the right direction.  Another short taxi ride and we were at our hotel in Travestere, Hotel Ponte Sisto.  If you’re coming to Rome anytime soon I definitely recommend it.  It seems to be very well positioned to see all the sights in Rome plus most importantly very close to some of the restaurants and cafe’s that I wanted to visit.

Dinner was next on the agenda so we found ourselves at popular pizzeria Dar Poeta, only a 10 minute walk from our hotel.  As I said it’s a popular choice amongst the locals and tourists so we put our name on the list at the door and within 10 minutes we had a seat inside away from the wafts of cigarette smoke from the outdoor diners.  Pizza was the name of the game at Dar Poeta and after reading through the extensive menu we ordered a pizza each, some still water and half a carafe of white house wine.  The place was buzzing with people and it was packed to the rafters but our pizza arrived within about 15 minutes.

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Despite eating plane food all day and stuffing ourselves in the Emirates Business Class Lounge in Dubai we were still quite hungry.  I ordered the Bufala – Tomato Sauce, Cherry Tomatoes, Mozzarella Cheese and Basil for the bargain price of only 9 euros while MS chose the Rustica – Mozzarella Cheese, Speck, Potatoes and Soft Cheese (also 9 euros).  I don’t like to describe the food too much because I think the picture kind of speaks for itself.  Yes it was as good as it looks.

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Bufala – Tomato Sauce, Cherry Tomatoes, Mozzarella Cheese and Basil (9 Euros)

We loved Dar Poeta so much – awesome prices, delicious food and a buzzing atmosphere – that we are seriously considering going back again.  I’ve heard so many people complain about the simplicity of food in Italy but I think simplicity is often the key to good food because it ensures fresh, quality ingredients and that really rung true to me after our first meal in Italy at Dar Poeta.

Pullman International High Tea Instameet

I was lucky enough to have snagged an invite to the Pullman International’s High Tea Instameet held yesterday afternoon.  What’s an Instameet you say?  It’s pretty much a bunch of Instagrammer’s meeting up to take photos of a shared interest – in this case it was food.  I have been following a few of the ridiculously talented pastry chefs from the Pullman International for quite some time on Instagram and after many promises that I would come and visit for a High Tea I finally got there!  Would you believe that this was my first ever High Tea experience? And wow it didn’t disappoint.

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The Pullman International with it’s beautiful high ceilings, grand piano and old world charm set the scene for our afternoon of delights.  Upon arrival we were met with a long table of gorgeous tiered sweet and savoury treats.  A barrage of photos ensued and we took our seats with offers of Mocktails, Iced Tea and Sparkling Rose.

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My fellow Instagrammers and I were joined at the table by Executive Chef Matt Lonne and Head Pastry Chef Mel Day whom we chatted with about our favourite restaurants (and not so favourite restaurants), favourite ingredients to cook with and of course the hot topic in Cairns at the moment, the heat.

The High Tea consisted of five savoury dishes and five sweet dishes lovingly created behind the scenes by the unbelievably creative pastry team.

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Out of the savoury menu I absolutely loved the Petite Deconstructed Beef Wellington with Red Wine Reduction.

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Petite Deconstructed Beef Wellington with Red Wine Reduction

The Watermelon Mousse with Sour Gel was a huge hit at the table but my personal favourite had to be the Peanut Butter and Jelly Macarons.

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Watermelon Mousse with Sour Gel

 

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Peanut Butter and Jelly Macarons (at the back)

 

After an hour and a half of sweet and savoury treats and just ‘one more’ macaron about four times over I had certainly had more than my fill and was ready for an afternoon nap.  I had a fabulous time yesterday and cannot recommend the High Tea at the Pullman International enough!  It’s a popular spot birthdays, hen’s do’s and of course baby showers, in fact my +1 enjoyed herself so much yesterday she is considering having a High Tea 30th birthday ‘do’ there in a couple of months time.  Of course you don’t have to have an event to do the High Tea as it’s available 7 days a week from 10.30am to 4pm.

Perotta’s At The Gallery, Cairns

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I’ve been to Perotta’s At The Gallery a million and one times for breakfast and lunch but I’ve only been there once for dinner way back in about 2004.  After a long day in transit on my way home from the NT capital, MS picked me up at the airport and after deciding that neither of us wanted to cook – who am I kidding MS doesn’t cook! – we headed to Perotta’s for dinner.  With my Entertainment Book Gold Card offering me ‘buy one get one free’ main meals I figured now was a good a time as any to try out the dinner menu.

The place was about ½ full when we arrived so we chose a seat near the entrance closest to the lagoon. We ordered wine to celebrate the first time seeing each other in 4 weeks and had a squiz at the menus. The menu at Perotta’s has something to suit most people with plenty of variety and not just your standard run of the mill boring dishes. My go to dish when I go there for lunch is the Chilli Salt Squid Salad and although that is featured on the dinner menu I figured it might be time to branch out.

An previously posted pic of the Chilli Salt Squid Salad with Roast Pumpkin, Spiced Popcorn, Pomegranate and Rocket ($21)

A previously posted pic of the Chilli Salt Squid Salad with Roast Pumpkin, Spiced Popcorn, Pomegranate and Rocket ($21)

To start with we ordered the Garlic Bruschetta with Fresh Ricotta, Mint and Calabrian Chilli (AU$9) and the Burrata Caprese with Heirloom Tomato, Watermelon, Rocket Pesto and Raspberry Vinegar (AU$21). MS asked me what Burrata was and thinking I was all sophisticated and smart I told him that it was a type of Cured Italian Meat. Boy did we get a surprise when it the Burrata arrived at our table a short while later – a good surprise though! Turns out Bresaola is the Italian Cured Meat that I’d gotten confused with and Burrata is actually an Italian Cheese. Pfft I totally knew that.

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The Burrata Caprese with Heirloom Tomato, Watermelon, Rocket Pesto and Raspberry Vinegar (AU$21) and the Garlic Bruschetta with Fresh Ricotta, Mint and Calabrian Chilli (AU$9)

In all honesty the Garlic Bruschetta wasn’t really anything to write home about but it was actually perfect for mopping up the last bits of Burrata and Rocket Pesto. I’m normally hesitant to eat watermelon since I was a little kid and my dad told me a watermelon vine was going to grow in my stomach after I swallowed a seed.  Thanks dad, way to scar me for life and now I absolutely refuse to eat any type of grape (unless in wine) or watermelon (even the ‘seedless’ variety). The Burrata with juicy Heirloom Tomatoes was a beautiful and tasty dish that we both enjoyed.  It was a great start to the night – I highly recommend this one.

Mmm that Burrata

Mmm that Burrata

Next up for our mains MS had ordered the Pork Spare Ribs with Fennel, Apple Cider Vinegar and Pickled Pineapple (AU$37) which came with a big bowl of chips and I had the 8 Hour Lamb Shoulder, 3 Wheat Salad, Almond, Mint, Pomegranate and Spicy Cumin Yogurt (AU$36).

MS’ Pork Spare Ribs were literally falling off the bone – the way ribs should be IMO – and were covered in a delicious tangy glaze. The Pickled Pineapple was nice but needed to be pickled just that little bit longer. We both thought the serving size was a little bit small for $37 but MS was pretty full by the time he polished them off.

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Pork Spare Ribs with Fennel, Apple Cider Vinegar and Pickled Pineapple (AU$37)

My 8 Hour Lamb Shoulder was super tasty albeit a little on the small side for the price ($36). The added crunchy strips of bacon/pancetta/prosciutto whatever the hell it was really added to the dish. Despite the size of the dish I actually struggled to finish it. I find rich cuts of meat like Lamb Shoulder, Lamb Shanks and Beef Cheeks fill me up really quick and I can’t eat a whole lot although I want to. Give me Garlic Bread however and I can eat that carby goodness till the cows come home!  We wanted to stick around for dessert especially after I spotted the Eton Mess on the Dessert Menu (the only one I know of in town) but we just couldn’t fit it in.

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8 Hour Lamb Shoulder, 3 Wheat Salad, Almond, Mint, Pomegranate and Spicy Cumin Yogurt (AU$36)

It’s got to be the number one place in Cairns for people watching – with wine of course! The wait staff are very friendly and professional, in fact it’s consistently one of the better places in Cairns in terms of service (something Cairns is usually lacking in). I do find that the food, particularly the mains, are a little expensive for what you get and this is something that seems to be reiterated in other online reviews I’ve read. Nearly 20 years of good food and service is certainly a mean feat in this small town. According to their website Perotta’s (as the locals like to call it) has been around since 1997 would you believe? Yes I was a little surprised by that too so I guess you could also call this place a bit of a Cairns institution – seems I’m using that word a lot these days.

Perotta’s At The Gallery

38 Abbott St, Cairns QLD 4870.  Ph: (07) 40315899

Opening Hours: 7 days a week 6.30am – 10pm

Martinelli Pizza Bar, Trinity Beach

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Last week with my partner in crime and ‘Chief Pizza Eater’ in tow I headed out to Martinelli Pizza Bar at Trinity Beach.  Clearly the two of us don’t get out there often enough as we tend to hang out mostly in the city (Swamp Donkey’s was what my old Chief Engineer used to call us) but I am attempting to branch out a little more.

Martinelli’s has only been open for a few months and we were both keen to test out the only Roman style slab pizzas (that I know of) in town.  We arrived just behind a couple of bare-footed bogans whom I overheard asking the chef and owner Peter if they also sold ’round’ pizzas.  Some people really do astound me.  As ignorant as they were, not to mention stupid, surely they realise that pizzas tend to taste the same no matter what shape they are.  Nevertheless Peter convinced them to try one of his popular Roman style pizzas and they took a seat.

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Initially MS and I were only going to get takeaway because I wanted to watch The Bachelorette (don’t judge me) but after a bit of careful consideration we decided to stay.  First up we ordered the Garlic and Herb Focaccia with Garlic Oil, Herb Butter and Rosemary Salt and I tell you what we were in for a treat.  Does anyone remember the old Donnini’s when it was on the first floor at the Pier – back in around say 1990?  Still to this day they had the best focaccia that I have ever eaten and a hell of a lot better than the focaccia they have on offer at the new Donnini’s (now Ciao Italia at the Hilton), which is actually really crap.  I have to say that this focaccia at Martinelli’s is on par with that amazing focaccia from the old Donnini’s. Crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the side… It’s bloody superb and must try when you go there!

Garlic and Herb Focaccia with Garlic Oil, Herb Butter and Rosemary Salt ($4.50 2 pcs or $9 a tray)

Garlic and Herb Focaccia with Garlic Oil, Herb Butter and Rosemary Salt ($4.50 2 pcs or $9 a tray) with the Chef’s Selection of Pickled Vegetables


Martinelli’s are currently running with a Spanish theme this month and I couldn’t go past the Smoked Reef Fish Escabeche, South Australian Mussels, Chorizo, Olive Tapenade, Romesco Sauce and Basil, served with Charred Lemon.  Pretty much what dreams are made of.

Despite me trying my best to convince MS to order the Melaleuca Smoked Beef Brisket, Housemade BBQ Sauce, Slaw and Mozzarella pizza – he went for the Potato and Sausage with White Reduction, Shaved Potato, Italian Sausage, Mozzarella and Provolone Dolce.  We ordered and waited at our table with baited breath for our pizza to arrive.

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Next to us, the bogans that had originally asked for round pizza were pretty much making love to their brisket pizza.  They were certainly enjoying themselves and it was pretty much like that scene in Where Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm, except they weren’t faking.  It was clear to both MS and I that these two were now converted and they would never look at a round pizza the same again.  After they finished they thanked the chef profusely, vowed to return again and happily left just as our pizza’s arrived.  Not since the NRL Grand Final have I seen such a turnaround – not that I watch football.

A lovely older man with a thick Italian accent whom I can only assume was the chef’s father showed me how to squeeze the lemon over the top of my Spanish style pizza for full flavour effect.  We dug in.  The Romesco Sauce and the fresh Basil leaves on top of my pizza gave it the perfect sweet kick.  It was just divine and I don’t know what the hell the chef does to those pizza bases but wow.  MS loved his Potato and Sausage pizza but we both agreed that mine was the pick of the litter.

Smoked Reef Fish Escabeche, South Australian Mussels, Chorizo, Olive Tapenade, Romesco Sauce and Basil, served with Charred Lemon

Smoked Reef Fish Escabeche, South Australian Mussels, Chorizo, Olive Tapenade, Romesco Sauce and Basil, served with Charred Lemon


Potato and Sausage with White Reduction, Shaved Potato, Italian Sausage, Mozzarella and Provolone Dolce

Potato and Sausage with White Reduction, Shaved Potato, Italian Sausage, Mozzarella and Provolone Dolce

To top it all off we had a couple of pieces of freshly made Chocolate Cannoli to satisfy our sweet tooth before we pretty much rolled out of the store.  We were full as a goog.  The cannoli’s were not too little but not too big and the perfect was to top of our meal.

Chocolate Cannoli

Chocolate Cannoli

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the delicate flavours, textures of the meal because that’s just not how I roll I can highly recommend Martinelli Pizza Bar.  It’s seriously some of best pizza I have ever eaten and that Focaccia bread, well you will just have to see for yourself (just don’t forget that the Spanish theme runs until the end of October).  The pizza’s here take a little longer to cook and aren’t entirely cheap but if you want a round Domino’s pizza thrown together on a production line with absolutely no love then knock yourself out.  Martinelli Pizza Bar is where it’s at.

Martinelli Pizza Bar – Shop 2 11-13 Rabaul St, Trinity Beach QLD 4879 Ph: (07) 40575895.  Open Wed – Sun 12pm – 10pm.