October 2022 and I’m back in Shetland, this time to pursue food and history. In 2019 it was all about stunning coastal walks and brilliant wildlife. And Shetland made an impression. My musings on this visit are recorded here.
So with my long suffering but enthusiastic travelling companion in tow, I certainly got to grips in a determined way with the culture and the stories of Shetland food.
A highlight was A Taste of Shetland Food and Drink Festival – blogged recently here. What an amazing experience. A really good way to encounter local produce and producers. I tasted samples of tablet, sponge cake, sourdough, bannocks, oatcake and some gin to wash it all down. Have I left anything out?
Some wonderful restaurants too, in Lerwick where we were based, doing innovative food with local, seasonal food. I think I had seafood wherever I went – Shetland seafood is gorgeous.
Some highlights were beautiful scallops and mussels at No 88 Kitchen and Bar, exquisitely presented dishes at Da Steak Hoose and the best crème brûlée ever at C’est La Vie!
But I need to do a big shout out to the Cake Fridges of Shetland – what a fantastic, quirky idea!
These are fridges literally set up on the roadside where the owner bakes cakes and treats which you buy by putting money in an honesty box. And that’s it! Shetland is such a community minded place that people are honest.
I visited The Cake Fridge in Aith – the original cake fridge, and bought hot coffee and tiffin – a kind of chocolate slice. Very Shetland and quite delicious.
On the island of Unst, seemingly in the middle of nowhere we were delighted to find a cake fridge, this time more accurately a cake dolls’ house! And on a cold and windy day we bought shortbread, more tiffin and tablet to keep us fuelled for exploring this most northerly island.
History and archeology were also on the agenda. And we struck gold when we met the eloquent and knowledgeable Chris Dyer from Garths Croft on the island of Bressay. Chris is an archeologist, historian and farmer, who is a passionate enthusiast for native and heritage breeds and sustainable farming.
An afternoon spent at Garths Croft was an immersive experience in the workings of a small croft. Readers of this blog may be aware of my love of sheep – and I was fascinated by the sheep that Chris breeds for colour. And I was particularly taken by Dinky, a sheep that had been hand reared from birth by Chris. I admit to being a bit sentimental where sheep are concerned…
Chris also is highly informed on local food and the importance of food miles in agriculture and food production in Shetland. We ate some outstanding local dishes on Chris’ recommendations.
One of those recommendations was the wonderful Speldiburn Cafe which we visited when we were on Bressay. Now here was great Shetland food – soups, bannocks. cakes and tiffin, all home made and all served with a welcoming smile!
We were able to tap into Chris’ other great passion, archeology, when we drove up to Unst, the most northerly point of the UK, driving across two islands via two ferries to reach this historic place. This bleak and windswept island is evocative, thought to be the first point of contact in the North Atlantic of the Vikings, and a treasure trove of archeological sites pertaining to Viking history.
At Haroldswick, a replica Viking Long House, where we had lunch, and a Viking ship the Skidbladner, give visitors some idea of Viking life. The replica ship actually made the voyage from Sweden to Shetland. Apparently bound for the United States in 2000, the ship stopped off in Unst where it remains today. Getting inside the ship gave me a real appreciation of how hard those Viking sea journeys must have been.
I had visited Unst in 2019, staying at Saxa Vord, at the service quarters of an old RAF base. Some of the base facilities are now being developed as part of the planned SaxaVord Spaceport, creating a successful, internationally recognised “new space business”. Today however Saxa Vord is abandoned, and we wandered around the deserted site. Another reminder of the historical strategic importance of the northerly isle – to the Viking invaders and latterly to those seeking to defend the UK on its northerly tip.
I think of all the sites we visited the ruins of Framgord Chapel and graveyard left the greatest impression on me.
Chris brought us to this special place above the beach at Sandwick. The chapel probably dates to the 12th Century. The graveyard was what fascinated me. With sweeping views of the beach, the graveyard is a testament to history and spirituality. Remarkably it’s still in use today, and contemporary headstones lie side by side with early Viking Christian graves.
On a more poignant note there is the burial place and memorial to crew members of a Norwegian ship torpedoed in 1940 during World War 2. The lifeboat was wrecked at Muness in Unst. The wild seas are still the graveyard of latter day northern seafarers.
We saw much more on Unst, and this would only have been the tip of the iceberg. The archeological treasures of Unst are numerous and bear more research.
I would add here that any trip to Shetland to discover its history is enhanced by visiting Shetland Museum in Lerwick – a really interesting and informative collection.
Of course I did and saw a lot more! I just wanted to give a snapshot, the highlights, of a memorable visit to wonderful Shetland. Highly recommended.
It’s not a surprise to readers of this blog that I love Shetland. I fell in love when I first visited in 2019.
These northerly islands with stunning scenery, rugged coastlines, windswept beaches and marvellous unique wildlife capture the imagination.
I love the islands’ Viking heritage, too, evident in archaeology, language and place names.
But it’s the food and food culture that really draw me to the islands. An abundance of local produce, a cultural shared food heritage from the many influences of sea locked islands and a generosity of spirit to share and connect with food make for some wonderful food experiences.
So it was with great delight that I learned that the Taste of Shetland Food Festival was back again as a live event in 2022.
The pandemic has put on hold so many festivals and celebrations, and when a food festival returns from a place I hold dear, there was only one thing to do – book my ticket and fly from Australia!
So a week in Shetland – some walks, tours and good restaurants – culminating in a fabulous foodie weekend. I crammed a lot into one Saturday in the Clickimin Leisure Complex in Lerwick as I already had my Sunday organised going to Unst, with Chris Dyer of Garths Croft, which was another unique cultural experience in Shetland not to be missed.
So here’s a snapshot of my day and some photos which I hope capture the spirit of the Festival. First up, after the official opening, Nick Nairn, Celebrity Chef Cooking Demonstration:
A highly entertaining and informative session where Nick cooked lamb tikka skewers, sassermaet meatballs and miso salmon. All highlighting local Shetland ingredients. Nick knows his stuff and I’ve never laughed so much in a cooking show!
Next, a wander round the stalls. So many fabulous food and drink providers showing off their products! I could have eaten half of Shetland in a walk around. And I possibly did eat quite a lot of the lovely samples…
Too many providers to mention them all here, the photos will give you the idea. And lunch was a delicious beef pie from Scalloway Meat Co and a chance to sit down!
The afternoon was spent in two fabulous masterclasses, learning more about sourdough and bannocks.
Sourdough by Gus Dow taught this sourdough baker a whole lot more about the science of sourdough. Gus started with a Halloween pumpkin loaf fresh from the oven and then baked a couple of batard loaves, as well as showing how to make a sourdough starter. Great stuff!
Shetland Bannocks by Kevin Smith was the definitive workshop on bannocks for me, giving me insiders’ tips to shaping and cooking these notoriously tricky flour items. And I learnt some new Shetland vocab too. Can’t wait to try these new skills!
I also got to meet Marian Armitage, Festival Chair, “Proud Shetlander, home cook and award winning food writer”. Wow! My Festival experience was complete.
For more info on the Festival and A Taste of Shetland, click here for the website.
A great day all round, meeting, talking and eating – so congratulations to the organisers and to all involved for a successful 2022 Festival.
Travel broadens the mind, as people say. New vistas, new cultures and new ideas enrich and even change our perspectives.
What this Antipodean writer did not expect when I travelled to Shetland was to be so captivated by the beauty of the wild islands, as well as its history so well preserved, and its fascinating culture, in particular the food and the cooking of the islands. I was under a spell, utterly smitten.
Shetland is a group of islands, north of mainland UK, and surprisingly close to Norway. Described aptly by the official Shetland website, “where Scotland meets Scandinavia and the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.” I can attest to the latter, as I actually crossed from sea to ocean, walking the distance of a whole 80 metres!
In life, I am very much influenced by place, the physical environment, the light, the sky and even the weather. I instantly feel a connection, or not, as the case may be, to a place. I feel the place too, in the mood, the atmosphere, a sense of what has happened in a place, its emotional gauge.
So what I experienced in Shetland is coloured by these kinds of reactions to places that made some very strong impressions on me. I am writing here a little about those places I saw and experiences I had there, to give the reader an idea of the power of Shetland to capture one’s spirit and imagination.
I was gobsmacked by the views. The coastline is stunning, beautiful and largely free of the impact of humans, unending vistas where sheep rule. Wild, but not rugged. The absence of trees on the landscape, the verdant slopes, close cropped green pastures, soften the view. The vast expanse of sky and the sheer cliffs, all buffeted by bracing winds, make the landscape wild but not forbidding.
I was able to have the experience of walking this beautiful coastline. The Kettla Ness headland, in West Burra, on the island of Mainland, provided spectacular high views of an extensive and gentle coastline, and gave me the sense of the vastness of sky and ocean.
I loved the island of Mousa. The visit to the island was a memorable day, everything about it was special, from the ferry trip to the walk to encountering my first Iron Age broch.
I was able to walk around a part of this island, where the principal inhabitants are birds, and the Broch of Mousa is a testament to its Iron Age history. Indeed, this Broch is the most well preserved and significant Iron Age broch in Britain. Walkers are delivered by ferry to Mousa, the only humans on the island. Eating an egg sandwich for lunch at the base of the historic Broch was a curious and rather comforting experience. A very human activity, creating a connection across two thousand years with those people who had ate, slept and lived in that very place.
To the north west in Mainland is Eshaness, rugged and wildly beautiful cliff tops. Sea and wind have carved and shaped the cliffs into fantastic shapes. A circular walk from the lighthouse really made me aware that the sheep of Shetland dominate landscape and agriculture. I loved the walk, where you cross many fences and stone walls with stiles, the startling coastline to the west, untouched by human hand, and undulating pastures to the east, evidence of human occupation.
Unst is the most northerly island in Shetland. I’m not sure how close to Norway the top of Unst is. Walking on Skaw Beach, and on top of Saxa Vord Hill, on a wild and windy morning, I definitely felt that Norway was only kilometres away – quite a few, I grant you – but the Norse connection to Shetland seemed palpable. The top of Unst is another place that is desolate and beautiful, exposed and raw, a powerful place.
It’s hard not to look at the landscapes and seascapes of Shetland without connecting them to Shetland’s history, as they are so intertwined.
The history of Shetland fascinated and engaged me. The Neolithic, Iron Age and comparatively recent Norse occupations have shaped the culture of the islands. The Viking invasions from around 800AD, created the northern outreach, the Shetland islands, of a great Norse earldom that had its base in Orkney, and it’s this that has influenced language, laws and culture in Shetland.
With time Norway, from where the Norse invaders had come, was increasingly under Danish control, and in 1471 Shetland was annexed to Scotland as a result of a marriage treaty between James III of Scotland and Margaret, a Danish princess. The Danish repeatedly tried to have the islands returned to them, but Scotland never agreed. That Shetland has had such a significant Norse influence and occupation in relatively recent history speaks much about the ethos, the outlook of the islands.
I am keen to research more of the Viking story in Shetland and Orkney. I have a connection with Orkney and its Norse past. My given name, Inga, is an inheritance from that past. The wider narrative, told in the Orkneyinga Saga, is a source of both fictional and historical detail and an interesting resource.
You find evidence of an amazing past everywhere in Shetland. Wherever you go, you stumble across places and relics of archeological significance. From deserted Iron Age remains on walking trails, to the Mousa Broch already mentioned, and the magnificent Jarlshof in Sumburgh, Mainland, one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Britain.
Jarlshof is an incredibly well preserved site of human occupation, with remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD. There is evidence from Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Norse settlements. Luckily for me this amazing site was next door to the hotel where I was staying in Sumburgh, affording me a close inspection of the site. Standing at the top of the tower and surveying the region on a clear day was another of those experiences of connection with lives of the past.
Muness Castle, on the island of Unst, is a remarkably preserved example of a fortified castle. It was interesting to examine a ruin that was comparatively “modern”, built in 1598 for Laurence Bruce. It is the most northerly castle in the British Isles. Laurence Bruce, a lowlander, was Sheriff of Scotland and an oppressor of its Scandinavian inhabitants. The castle, although ruined, felt oppressive, even menacing, evoking its dark past. Walking in the ruins, into rooms largely intact, where people had lived their lives, seemed to dissolve the five hundred years that had elapsed from the building of the castle to 2019.
The land and seascapes of Shetland are stunning, but part of their beauty is the abundant and at times unique wildlife. Shetland attracts walkers and wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world. There are countless opportunities to observe colonies of seabirds, as well as rare bird species.
Walking to the top of Sumburgh Head, to the lighthouse, there was an abundance of bird life to see. This was my first introduction to puffins, that iconic symbol of Shetland wildlife, as well as fulmars and gannets. On the island of Mousa, there are Arctic and great skuas, Arctic terns, gulls and storm petrels, those much sought after residents of this small island.
In islands where the sea is king, sea mammals proliferate. Otter tracking, and seal and whale spotting are popular. I was lucky enough to encounter the first two of these sea mammals.
An otter tracking morning on the island of Yell provided an opportunity to see an otter in action, if only from a distance. Otters were probably introduced to Shetland. As there were no large rivers they had to adapt to living by the sea. Their holts or dens are next to fresh water so they can wash the salt off their fur when they come ashore. Our otter was spotted near the low lying shore, and did indeed make a bolt for his holt!
Seals are plentiful and easy to see. We saw quite a few seals, sporting in the shallows or sun baking on the beach or rocks on days that were not really that sunny…
The land, the sea, the wildlife are special, but it’s the people and the stories of the past that I wanted to find out about. For me the social history of the islands was important and I particularly wanted to investigate food and culture in Shetland.
There is so much wonderful produce in Shetland – in particular, seafood is amazing – fish, scallops and mussels. It’s obvious that sheep are an important food source. While lamb is delicious, I did try reestit, a leg of mutton that has been dried and cured. I think this might be an acquired taste!
A really interesting look at social history was at the Croft House Museum in Dunrossness, Mainland. The Croft House Museum is a mid-nineteenth century Shetland croft, beautifully preserved to show the day to day life of the crofter and his family. I loved the cooking arrangements over the hearth, complete with legs of reestit mutton hanging up to dry.
The roadside provided a wealth of views and insights into Shetland life. The wedding displays with bride and groom on Unst (I don’t know what these are called), the “furnished” bus shelter also on Unst and the cake fridges, where all manner of cakes can be picked up from the fridge by the roadside – paid for of course with an honesty system.
The craft scene is big in Shetland, with much of it based around wool. Fair Isle knitwear is everywhere, as well as more contemporary designs in knitted items. I was happy to sport the Fair Isle look with a jumper or two and a really warm beanie.
I am really interested in the baking in Shetland. I had lots of scones, cakes and crumbles wherever I went. Alas I didn’t get to eat bannocks, those floured scone like creations traditionally cooked on a girdle hung over the fire, and still cooked today, on girdles or on stove tops and also oven baked. I’ve made bannocks here in Oz, and I wanted to know how mine compared.
Sunday Teas are legendary in Shetland! They are an institution, where local communities provide sandwiches, baked goods and all sorts of treats, and of course tea, for a modest price, as a fundraising activity.
The timing just didn’t work out for Sunday Teas. But I did get to go to the Walls Show, on 10 August 2019. The Tea Tent provided the same kind of fare, with a lovely array of delicious cakes, traybakes and scones.
It was so much fun to go to the Show, and I was reminded that country shows all over have a lot in common, with lots of animals, exhibits, prizes for “best in show” and of course things to eat. The Walls Show was a great day out. I loved the sheep, the Shetland ponies, the jumpers and the afore mentioned Tea Tent! The Vikings even made an appearance!
Just about everything I had to eat in Shetland was delicious. I have to mention the tea, scones and cakes at Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms in Haroldswick, Unst, “The Most Northerly Tea Rooms in Britain”. Victoria sponge to die for, Jammy Dodger cupcakes, tiffin and those scones with clotted cream. Yummy.
My experience of Shetland was memorable. I need to mention here the wonderful peopleatShetland Nature, so knowledgeable and willing to provide that Shetland experience, and in particular Rob Fray, whose expert guidance from the south to the most northerly tip of Shetland not only showed me the physical land but also the heart and spirit of the place and its people.
A chilly winter night in July in Sydney did not dampen the spirits of this avid theatre goer as I made my way to the Sydney Opera House for a performance of Opera Australia’s Whitely, the new opera by Elena Kats-Chernin and Justin Fleming, in its opening week.
I love visiting our icon of the “Harbour City”. A performance in January, the height of summer is pure magic. A balmy night – the lights of Luna Park, the ferries, a cruise ship, those dark depths of the harbour, and the Bridge. And glistening like pearls in the moonlight, those imposing, beautiful, awe inspiring shells of the Sydney Opera House. But even in winter the experience is magical; the air is clear and crisp and the cityscape more sharply defined.
I am aware of having been part of something quite special when attending the performance this week. Brett Whitely is one of this country’s greatest artists. How to encapsulate his life and his art and his legacy into a work that, because of the vagaries of live theatre, will never remain constant, will always be evolving?
But that is the metaphor. Whitely’s child like insouciance and his will-o’-the-wisp life spark can be conveyed best by performers and musicians, and indeed theatre technicians, producing a highly complex performance night after night, each performance with different nuances, and the audience each night adding its own unique reaction to the work.
I loved the experience. The story unfolds simultaneously through sung narrative, music and visual imagery. All seamlessly flow, propelling the audience through the journey of a life, flamboyant, brilliant, and by no means virtuous. David Freeman as director has created something that will have a life outside of, and long after, this Sydney Opera House season.
While I am not a musician, Kats-Chernin’s score is arresting. This is not an opera to “hum along to”, this is a poignant, beautiful soundtrack to a life. As Kats-Chernin says, in order to capture an unconventional life in music, she had to find something unexpected. “It’s a bit like cooking – you can pair unpredictable things. Salty and sweet together.”
The narrative constructed by playwright Justin Fleming is crystal clear and charts the major periods of Whitely’s life, as well as the relationship with Wendy Whitely, the addiction and the art.
While the majority of the narrative feels very real, in an almost documentary style, the denouement of the opera is less satisfying. Whiteley’s death happens so quickly, before you can take in its significance. The ending, where Wendy creates the Secret Garden at Lavender Bay, is “nice”. But for me and for my opera companion, it seemed somehow to lack the fire and the passion that characterised Whitely’s life and work.
Visual imagery is lush and gob smacking in its ability to be the partner to the other performance elements. Huge digital screens not only provide the set, they become part of the narrative, the screens moving in and around the space, as images constantly move, grow and dissolve as projections. The towering Whitely works are digitally enlarged on the screens and lose nothing by that enhancement. The exterior and interior location vistas are painterly, and remind us that this is a work about visual art.
But this is a performance, and it is the performers who really bring this opera to life. The ensemble cast is superb, with so many characters moving in and out of the narrative for a few brief moments each. Julie Lea Goodwin is lithe and athletic, elegant and sexual, reproducing the artistic and eccentric Wendy Whitely, and with accomplished singing.
It was Leigh Melrose’s Whitely that mesmerised me. His highly active performance left me wondering how he could sing from so many tricky physical positions! I could understand every word he sang, and at times I was moved by the sweetness and the poignancy of his voice. He absolutely encapsulated for me the life force that was Brett Whitely.
Whitely at the Opera House on Sydney Harbour. Essential and iconic Sydney.
Whitely : Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Thursday 18 July 2019
The Dismissal in 1975 is one of the seminal events in Australian politics, at least for me, forging my political beliefs and engendering an interest in the mechanics of government in this country.
People often ask the question – where were you when a significant event happened? The assassination of JFK, the first man on the moon in the last century, 9/11 in this current century.
Two historical events have affected me deeply, and I can pinpoint my location for both. In 1975, the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party was dismissed from office by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, and the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal Party, was commissioned as caretaker Prime Minister.
Another tragic event five years later in 1980 affected me as deeply – the assassination of John Lennon in the archway of the Dakota building in New York City. Both these events sent me into a period of mourning for lost freedoms and values on one hand and the senseless loss of a hugely influential figure in music and culture on the other.
So it was with some trepidation that I regarded attending the Squabbalogic performance at the Seymour Centre of The Dismissal last Friday night. I certainly didn’t want that particular event trivialised and sent up. It was just too significant in the history of this country and in my own personal history to treat so lightly.
Squabbalogic has a reputation for theatre that’s innovative, clever, and not afraid of a challenge. This production is all of the above. Wow! What a night! We were led to believe this was a kind of workshop performance, trialling the musical for another more fully developed run. All I can say is that audiences at the seven performances in this short season agree that The Dismissal is a brilliantly written, sophisticated satire that also showcases some pretty fine acting, singing and dancing!
What has been achieved is a really funny musical. And surprisingly, the explanation of the facts of the dismissal are clearly set out. My rather rusty knowledge of some of the events was brought into sharp definition by the entertaining narrative. The “Loans Affair” with the shadowy figure of Khemlani at its centre was a good example.REPORT THIS AD
But it was the startling characterisation of the main protagonists that was so effective. Gough Whitlam (Justin Smith) and Malcom Fraser (Andrew Cutcliffe) were believably portrayed: humorous, yes, but not belittled by caricature. Sir John Kerr, played ably by (female) Marney McQueen, was part character, part caricature. However the villain of the piece was the outrageous vulture like Sir Garfield Barwick (Blake Appleqvist), an unforgettable caricature straight out of a Victorian melodrama.
While the musical accurately reflected the accord that existed in the latter years of Whitlam and Fraser, it had a few kind words for Kerr too. Not so for Barwick.
The show was hosted by Norman Gunston, aka Gary McDonald, who is remembered for being on the steps of Parliament House on that memorable day in 1975 when Whitlam spoke to the nation. Norman Gunston, played by Matthew Whittet almost stole the show! I say almost, because everyone is so good in this production. He WAS Norman Gunston. The look, the voice, the physical mannerisms, and the ability to ad lib – we were back in the seventies watching the man himself.
Undoubtedly accolades must go to the creative team who gave birth to the musical – the book written by Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody, and the music and lyrics by Laura Murphy. And a big shout out for the outstanding direction by Jay James-Moody too.
The show had a standing ovation the night we went, and I believe that happened at other performances as well. The future of original musical theatre is in great hands if this Squabbalogic production is anything to go by. I loved this funny and yet respectful satire on such an important political event.
I’m always interested in restaurants that stand the test of time. Sydney has a few, but I think the place that has consistently delivered quality food, retaining iconic dishes over the years, while introducing contemporary menu additions, is the famous bills in Darlinghurst.
For me, Bills IS Sydney, as much for the friendly and laid back vibe as for the food that showcases lovely produce and simple, good cooking techniques.
Bill Granger, the man behind the name, is an Australian who has restaurants worldwide, but the original bills, located in Darlinghurst, is my regular, and the one I am reviewing today.
As Bill says: ‘This is where it all began, in 1992. bills Darlinghurst is where I did my growing up. The miniscule kitchen and tiny dining room in one of Darlo’s old backstreet pub buildings set the tone for what we still do today. Local by-laws allowed us only a few seats – hence the now much-copied communal table where everyone ate together, reading the newspaper or striking up a conversation with the person enjoying scrambled eggs next to them. Today, it’s still a simple Sydney corner café, serving a menu of bills classics.’
Bills Darlo reflects his ethos for food and dining. When you walk into bills, the vibe is friendly, warm and generous. The communal table in the centre of the sunny space, allows everyone to share in each others’ dining experiences, while reading the paper, or people watching. This table of plenty has flowers, fruit and plates of cakes and other sweet delicacies. It’s a little bit like being at a family celebration in one’s childhood, with the anticipation of being able to tuck into the goodies so invitingly laid out.
There are some dishes that bills is famous for – creamy scrambled eggs, fluffy ricotta pancakes with banana and honeycomb butter and sweet corn fritters with roast tomato, spinach and bacon. These two latter dishes are available breakfast through to lunch. Everyone who has gone to bills has eaten these at least once! Bills burgers are pretty good too, the current beef version is a burger with comté, dill pickles, smoked chilli and onion aioli and maple bacon crumb. There’s a really spicy, sweet chicken burger too, with chilli, sesame and peanuts.
Desserts are simple, the offerings on the menu on my visit were cookies, salted caramel peanut brittle, daily baked cakes and white chocolate and pistachio pavlova with rhubarb and yoghurt cream.
This is my favourite! Who doesn’t love an Aussie pavlova, and the Darlo bills version, a little individual pav with its crunch of pistachio, slight tartness of rhubarb and hint of rosewater, is a delight to eat.
The bills concept is now worldwide, with restaurants in the UK, US, Japan and Korea. I’m looking forward to visiting Granger & Co in London for a comparison. And I know that famous pav is on the English menu. Yum – I can’t wait!
If you haven’t been, visit bills in Sydney or in other parts of the world. Consistently good food in a relaxed and friendly space. Highly recommended.
Breakfast. The best meal of the day as far as I’m concerned. Whether eating out or making it at home, breakfast is a joyous occasion, each and every day. So I do tend to go out for breakfast…a lot.
I have some advice: if you want to remain anonymous, don’t post your latest drool worthy restaurant dishes on Facebook or Instagram, as you are giving your friends – and stalkers – a GPS map of your daily movements! Certainly my nearest and dearest are able to track me down via my breakfast posts. Kind of doing away for the need for any personal contact… it’s a weird world we live in.
So I visit Melbourne fairly frequently, mostly to see theatre, as reviews soon to be published on this blog will attest, but I also go there to eat. Fitzroy, Carlton, Brunswick, all great destinations for the curious diner.
Back to breakfast. As a regular visitor to Melbourne I do admit to being unfaithful to my home city of Sydney on the important matter of breakfast.
Melbourne cafes just do it better than Sydney. That is my belief. With one notable exception – a charming and hipster-esque cafe, located on a quiet suburban street in Marrickville, doing the very best breakfasts in Sydney.
You could be in Fitzroy. The urban terrain is similar. The quaintly named TwoChaps has all the right credentials to be a breakfast icon – officially vegetarian but caters for vegans, uses sustainable and ethically sourced produce, artistically designed and Insta worthy dishes, and saving the very best to last – they make everything in house! Slow proved sourdough loaves, rustic and full of deep flavour, flaky croissants with artful toppings (think torched meringue) and oh so sinful donuts! Yummy, really chocolatey house made notella – not to be confused with that commercial choc hazelnut spread – plus jams, preserves, honey and pickles. All artfully displayed as you enter the space, and then there are those donuts!
Timing is a consideration to visiting Two Chaps. Saturdays and Sundays are buzzing, and a 20 minute wait is the norm, but worth it, and also rather fun, standing or sitting on the pavement where the vibe is cheerful and coffee can be ordered while you wait. But weekdays there’s usually no wait, though the cafe is always lively. So it’s up to you whether you want the to join the #Marrickville-on-Sunday-morning #justoutofbed #Ineedmycoffeefix crowd, or enjoy a leisurely weekday breakfast sans millennials but with a few yummy mummys and maybe a mamil or two. Up to you, I like either vibe!
As a baker of all things yeasty I often go for the crumpets, always on the menu. I am in awe of their sourdough crumpets, which are light as a feather, and fabulous in either their savoury or sweet incarnations. I have eaten them lots in both forms.
Here are “Sourdough crumpets, spicy green tahini, deep fried cauliflower, harissa oil, pistachio and pink peppercorn dukkah + poached egg”, and a sweet offering “Chocolate sourdough crumpets with buttermilk ricotta, rhubarb jam, beetroot poached pear and candied pecans”:
Even with my sweet tooth I don’t always have to have a sweet fix, and to prove it, here is a tasty savoury concoction: “Hash browns, sautéed medley of beans and rainbow chard, poached eggs and green goddess sauce”.
I’m saving the (current) best to last! Just last week – Friday 12 April – I was in breakfast heaven, had reached Nirvana, and whatever other purple prose I can get away with to describe the experience…
Visiting on a whim with one of my breakfast partners in crime – Quirky Sister the Elder – we both ordered something that rightly should have been dessert, but hey, I can do all kinds of sweetness and claim it as a nutritious experience!
We had “Passionfruit curd brioche, Kristen Allen’s labneh, torched Italian meringue, banana, house made notella, hazelnuts”. Here it is, smashed into, already half eaten. Completely and utterly delicious.
I love cooking and I love eating – one of the reasons I write this blog. But I thought it was about time I wrote more foodie reviews. And I wanted to write about some of my other passions, theatre and music, as well as some quirky bits and bobs.
So The Quirk and the Review is the new blog, sister to The Quirk and the Cool. Click on the link above to see what we’re reviewing.
Wow! Back home the Oils were at their energetic and acerbic best in the Hunter Valley in October, delivering raw powerful rock with a not so subltle message, exhorting us to save our planet and save our species (morally at least) from further destructive acts.
We’re at Hope Estate. It’s Saturday 21 October and we were about to witness the much anticipated – and much hyped – return of Midnight Oil to the stage. I write this post on the day of the culminating Oz event for the Oils, the concert in the Domain in Sydney, Saturday 11 November. Which will be mega, as they play to their home town crowd.
We were back in the Hunter too. The Doctors and the Rock Chick, who has been my partner in crime in lots of adventures. We’ve been to many gigs over the years – who could forget Led Zeppelin in 1972? We were young, single and fancy free, but now at least we’re single once more and still very much fancy free!
After a world tour that took them to venues in both hemispheres, Midnight Oil were back home and back in form!
The weather behaved – a classic Hunter Valley spring night – cloudless, inky black and starry.
Hope Estate was packed, with a capacity crowd usually only seen for uber celebrity rock acts like the Stones or the Boss. The crowd spanned the ages, mums and dads, little kids, grandads and grandmums, and loads of Gen Xs who grew up on the music. The Gen Ys seemed a little mystified with the rock star reverence that their parents were showing as iconic song followed iconic song.
The band played for a non-stop 2 hours. So much energy on stage! Rob Hirst’s drum solo was exhilarating, so much Power in his drumming with so much undoubted Passion!
But it’s front man Peter Garrett who is the riveting performer onstage. His voice, punching out the lyrics, his literally huge presence, and his Joe Cocker like disjointed strutting across the stage, are what Midnight Oil are all about.
And we are left in no doubt about the message. The Oils may not directly directly influence politics, but it’s clear that their huge following may just be the ones to start off that process of social change.
Peter, your music speaks so much louder than your politics…
It was sad news today hearing that Walter Becker had died, one half of that amazing musical collaboration that has created the various incarnations of Steely Dan.
I’m a long time fan and a Steely Dan tragic. I wrote a post a few years back on a wonderful outdoor performance in the Hunter Valley where Steely Dan featured, so I thought I would reproduce that review today in memory of Walter Becker and his quirky genius.
One of the nicest ways to enjoy live music – particularly rock acts – is an outdoor concert at one of the wineries in the Hunter Valley NSW. Part concert, part festival, part picnic, a Day on the Green is seriously cool, and very retro.
I have been to quite a few over the last few years, and it’s now the only way I want to enjoy rock music. I’m tired of large internal arena spaces where you’re seated so far away that binoculars are the best way to enjoy the act you’ve paid mega dollars to see.
On the Green the buzz of several thousand people, with a variety of ages from those not yet born when the bands were in their heyday, to the seriously geriatric, all gathered to listen, watch, drink, eat and mingle, is exhilarating.
The night is always clear, moonlit and starlit. I don’t know how the promoters manage it. A good upstairs connection I suppose! There’s something about being in the country, with that vast expanse of land and sky that is awe-inspiring, and makes you realise just how constrained our city lives are…
Santana, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Carole King were all memorable winery concerts. But as a Steely Dan tragic, the two concerts I’ve been to in the Hunter are my standouts. However I can’t tell you much about the 2007 gig. It was Steely Dan’s first time in Australia. I was so overcome with actually seeing them in the flesh that I sat completely transfixed, unable to do anything except feast my ears and eyes on the band that I was finally seeing live. I couldn’t even bring myself to take photos.
In 2011, I am relieved to say I was less awe struck and up to viewing them a little more critically and actually documenting my memories with photos.
I should mention the other act of the night was Steve Winwood. If you’re a fan of the man or of Traffic, you would have had a blast. He looked and sounded great! No apparent aging unlike some other rock legends who look exhumed or exsanguinated rather than animated…
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys from the album of the same name was a standout.
As this is not really a concert review I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and the Steely Dan 2011 tour line-up were fabulous.
The Miles High Big Band
featuring The Embassy Brats
Jim Beard Keyboards
Keith Carlock Drums
Jon Herington Guitar
Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery Vocals
Michael Leonhart Trumpet, Keys
Cindy Mizelle Vocals
Jim Pugh Trombone
Roger Rosenberg Baritone Saxophone
Catherine Russell Vocals
Freddie Washington Bass
Walt Weiskopf Saxophone
Just listening to the opening riff of Josie gave me goose bumps. The reference to Muswellbrook in Black Friday from the 1975 album Katy Lied, at a concert in the heart of the Hunter was funny and sweet and somewhat disconcerting from our American friends. Every number was consummately performed, at least in the somewhat biased view of this writer.