Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lately on Instagram IV: Europe

This is a bit of a belated post, but I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I was having a stressful month and decided to jet off for a couple of weeks to Europe at the end of September. I was moving around and traveling light, so although I didn't have my chunky DSLR on me, there was always Instagram. It was my first solo trip away from home (disregarding that time in high school I ran away from home for a week), and I was headed 10,000 miles over multiple seas, to live with a series of strangers (and one Sydney friend) in Europe.

My couchsurfing luck was optimal and I stayed with a some amazing people, lovely hosts who showed me around the areas and took me to their favourite places to eat. Here's a snapshot of the various food things I had in Berlin and Amsterdam. Not pictured: amazing traditional German cuisine in Prenzlauer Berg for dinner at Oderquelle, late night post-coffee house stoner eats at random snackbars in Amsterdam, countless black coffees and cigarettes, and my swift but ludicrously chronic addiction to Chocomel, a canned Dutch chocolate milk drink.

  • Mandatory Germany Eat #1 - currywurst, from Curry 36 in Kreuzberg, Berlin; Frühstück für zwei (breakfast for two) of fruit, cold meats and cheeses with fresh bread at Salon Schmück, Kreuzberg; the hangover craving cure bacon & eggs brunch I walked around for an hour to find, at Frida Kahlo in Prenzlauer Berg
  • A felafel kebab and ayran (a Turkish goat's milk drink with mint) at a döner joint in Kreuzberg, an improvised breakfast of dark rye bread toast and feta cheese, shao mai at Yum Cha Heroes in Mitte
  • MGE #2 - apple strudel with cream, at Restauration 1840 in Mitte; MGE #3 - schitnzel, from a pretty legit local German pub, Clarchens Ballhaus in Gesundbrunnen; Van Dobben bitterbal met Dijonmosterd, a miniature sandwich of Dutch croquettes and mustard, at Bar Boca's in Centrum, Amsterdam

Follow me on instagram! My username is lolalost. There are also some more photos I took in Europe on film at my personal photography blog Here, not lost.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bimbadgen, Hunter Valley

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I wound up in wine country and I fell in love. Send help.

Having grown up in the largest city in the world (Shanghai) before moving to Sydney, I've always been a city girl at heart. Any attempts by family to drag me to visit family in rural China as a child was met with tantrums and countryside vacations in Australia and New Zealand were only endured with much teen angst and desperate searching for an internet connection.

I'm sure you all have missed me very much and are pleased to hear that I am still alive. The reason I haven't been blogging is because I've recently taken a two week break to Europe after a manically hectic September. Before I jetted out to Berlin however, I was very graciously invited to the Bimbadgen estate in the Hunter Valley by Agent99 PR for a much needed two-day escape from the hustle of Sydney. With the promise of (lots and lots of) wine, cheese and award-winning food, I grabbed my friend/designated driver Jack to hit the road and test the reaches of my mobile reception coverage.

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Master bedroom upstairs

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The ensuite with a glorious spa bath

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Prime chilling location

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We stayed at the Bimbadgen Homestead, the largest of the self-contained guest accommodation options on the estate with three double bedrooms. Big windows filled with panoramic views, two fireplaces, a billards table and a swimming pool; it was so much luxury and elegance that I could barely take it, and promptly spent first few minutes of my arrival running through all the rooms yelling "OH MY GOD OH MY GOD" while blasting hip hop on the sound system. Thankfully there was nobody for miles, and the only people we disturbed were the rabbits in the garden.

With acres of vineyards for a backyard, we spent our afternoon exploring the captivating landscape - bimbadgen is Aboriginal for 'place of good view' and it was indeed. We chased kangaroos through rows of budding grape vines and watched the sun set over the picturesque rolling hills, before returning to a delectable dinner delivered to our doorstep. Two complimentary bottles of Bimbadgen Estate wines went down way too easily and we spent the rest of our evening lounging by my poor attempt at starting a log fire and staring at the magnificently bright field of stars in the clear night sky outside. Country living at its finest.

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The kangaroos were a little camera-shy

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A sneaky shot of Jack looking like a Country Road ad

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The next morning, Jack woke up early and went for a run (freak) in the clean country air while I slept in. We met Sarah Crowe, Bimbadgen's senior winemaker for a pre-lunch tour of the winery and tasting session. Jack, being the designated driver, watched forlornly from the sidelines. Sorry Jack. 

Sarah was so lovely and charming, with me being a complete wine rookie, took me through each wine with consideration and patience. I can honestly say I learnt so much from this tasting, understanding what each is about and beginning to be able to detect various flavours on the palate and scents on the nose. I'm not going to bust out the abstract descriptions of each drop here, I think that's more for you to go out and discover yourself. But I will say my two favourites were the 2011 Semillion and the NV Fortified Verdelho. Yum.

A little tipsy after my pre-noon drinking (spit? no way), we headed upstairs to the Esca Bimbadgen Restaurant for a highly anticipated lunch. It was a beautiful day, and we sat outdoors on the balcony to take full advantage of the luscious view. Helicopters occasionally landed right outside on the green to drop off and pick-up passengers, and we were informed that certain diners fly out from Newcastle or thereabouts to here just for a meal (rich!).

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Wine tasting at Bimbadgen cellar door

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Esca Bimbadgen Restaurant

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Amuse Bouche

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White Tasting Plate with matched wines $38

I started off with a white tasting plate for an entree, compromised of downsized portions of three dishes with a tasting of their suggested wine match. There was seared tuna, mushroom salad with daikon dressing (Bimbadgen Regions 2011 Sauvignon Blanc); twice baked cheese souffle, cauliflower and black truffle emulsion, beetroot powder (Bimbadgen Regions 2011 Pinot Gris); and prawn bisque, shaved fennel, basil foam (Bimbadgen Estate 2011 Verdelho). All three were fabulous in their own right  the tuna fresh with the salad and topped with salty bursts of salmon roe; my favourite, the cheese souffle, so lightly delicate; and I finished with the intensely flavoursome punch of the prawn bisque, all matched expertly with a wine which complemented each dish.

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Risotto of celeriac, chive mascarpone, toasted walnuts, Bimbadgen pinot syrup $21

Jack being the crappy "vegetarian" he is, went with the Risotto of celeriac, chive mascarpone, toasted walnuts, Bimbadgen pinot syrup. The rice was perfectly cooked, flavoured lightly with celeriac and creamy chive mascarpone and punctuated with the crunch of toasted walnuts.

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Confit of duck Maryland, roasted quince, golden baby beetroots, red wine jus $36

I can never go past duck on a menu, it is my favourite meat after all. And what a great decision it was, perfectly cooked in a fantastic red wine jus with mellow-sweet roasted quince and golden baby beetroots on the side. There's no dispute over the star of the dish though, the confit of duck Maryland was just one of those ohmygod moments. When I put a piece of crisp, fatty duck skin onto my tongue I felt my eyes involuntarily roll to the back of my head. 

"Uh, you okay?" Jack asks, looking concerned.
"Mhgmmffrff," was all I could mumble in reply, drooling.

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Roasted fillet of barramundi, Avruga caviar butter, peas, baby chervil $36

Jack's roasted fillet of barramundi was good, probably beyond good, but I was too busy preoccupied with my duck. However the Avruga caviar butter is to die for, salty and rich I stole a smidge and slathered it on some of the complimentary olive bread. God. If I love mentaiko (Japanese spicy cod roe butter), I love this stuff even more.

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Pomegranate and white chocolate semifreddo, vanilla jelly, orange compote $15

Onto dessert, and I went with the pomegranate and white chocolate semifreddo, vanilla jelly, orange compote. A light and refreshing dessert, it was interesting combination of textures - the grittiness of pomegranate seeds in the semi-frozen custard (?) with the layer of smooth, chewy vanilla jelly. The oranges were sweet and a great addition to the dessert.

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"Tiramisu" – chocolate sauce, coffee panna cotta, vanilla mascarpone, hazelnut ice-cream $17

When I saw Jack's tiramisu, I wanted to stab him with my fork in jealousy. Fortunately for him, I stabbed his coffee panna cotta instead. It was amazing. Smooth, aromatic, and went so so well with the creamy, vanilla bean-speckled mascarpone and hazelnut ice-cream. The chocolate sauce was so deliriously good, studded with nutty hazelut crumbs, I almost licked the plate. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Frangelico? My fondness for the hazelnut liqueur knows no bounds and since my dear friend was driving, I took his shot for him. I also ate most of his dessert. Sorry Jack.

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Take me back

790 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin 2320
(02) 4998 4600

Esca Bimbadgen Restaurant
(02) 4998 4666

Esca Bimbadgen on Urbanspoon

Figs & Brie stayed and dined as a guest of Bimbadgen.