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StarChefs
For Chocolate Lovers only
 
 


Special Edition: Australia

Planning a trip to Australia? If not, may I invite you to rethink that decision? It is mid-October as I write this, and I’ve just returned from about 6 weeks in that area of the world. Incredibly friendly and helpful people, a great range of things to see and do, and some outstanding food. A few hints if you’re going to go:

1) Do your research! Think about the kinds of activities you like and the types of places in which you prefer to stay, and book in advance if possible, especially if you’ll go during high season. Both countries have a number of helpful websites to assist you, and these days there are multiple guidebooks for both nations.

2) Shop around for a good airfare and a decent airline. I had great luck in coming across The Travel Team (www.travelteam.com), who got me an excellent deal on a Los Angeles to Auckland flight. As far as I’m concerned, domestic (within the US) flights are vastly unpleasant experiences these days, and I wanted a non-US carrier to take me on such a long haul. I can now unhesitatingly recommend Air New Zealand as both an international and a domestic (within New Zealand) carrier; Virgin Blue does well on at least short flights within Australia.

3) Go for a decent length of time. You needn’t travel there for 6 weeks, but given the distance and length of flights, it usually doesn’t make sense to go for just a week or ten days.

4) Expect to have a little trouble with the language. Yes, English is spoken—at least a form of it. But there are definite accents (at least to the American ear), and “Kiwis” (New Zealanders) are especially noted for speaking very quickly. Pronounciations can differ widely from those in the US, and naturally both countries have a slang all their own.

5) If you don’t have a mobile phone that will work there or aren’t going to rent one, get a phonecard and make sure you write down the country-specific toll-free access number before leaving home.

6) Expect to be “out of it” for at least a few days—more like a week—after you return. Your system will have to make vast time adjustments, and that doesn’t happen overnight.

Special thanks to Ann Creber and David Morrow, David Innes, Suzie Wharton, Lizzie Radcliffe, and of course my long-suffering parents.

Quick Links: SYDNEY | YARRA VALLEY |
HOBART and MORE, TASMANIA | MELBOURNE


AUSTRALIA: When calling from the US, the country code is 61.
General Food Trends: If there’s any place to succumb to your cravings for fresh fish/seafood and/or lamb, it would have to be Australia (and New Zealand). Many, many dishes featuring both. Breads, preserves, and cereals are generally less sweet than those you’ll find in the US, which is great. Unhappily for my tastebuds, however, Australiand and Kiwis (New Zealanders) stand on chocolate where Americans did some 15 or so years ago. As we grew up on Hershey and Nestle’s, they have grown up on Cadbury, so bittersweet/unsweetened chocolates are not very well known in either country (you cannot even buy unsweetened baking chocolate in the markets there; it doesn’t exist). This is very slowly starting to change, and I’ve noted those chocolatiers I ran across who make less-sweet products. Both Australia and New Zealand produce excellent olive oils, and the wine scene in both countries is amazing. Additionally, dairy products in both nations are outstanding; I found this particularly true of yogurts. Pies in both Australia and New Zealand are almost invariably savory, filled with meat, poultry, vegetables, or a combination thereof. They are usually sized for an individual and are often sold as takeaway food. And pumpkin is used everywhere as a vegetable—in soups, as a side dish, even in savory muffins and scones.

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SYDNEY:
Where I stayed:
—The York, 5 York Street, City, 02 9210 5000, www.theyorkapartments.com.au. Despite being in the heart of the city, this apartment hotel was less noisy than some others I’ve encountered. I had a studio apartment with washer and dryer, kitchen, and small balcony. Well-placed for walking to Darling Harbour, Circular Quay/The Rocks, the Wynyard train station, and David Jones’ incredible new Food Hall. This place isn’t cheap, but neither is Sydney, and if you’re looking for an apartment for your stay I’d definitely think about The York. The front desk crew are very helpful and well used to tourists and business travelers alike. Look for deals on the Cheap Tickets website.

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What I saw and did:
—Sydney Aquarium, www.sydneyaquarium.com.au. Not as large as I’d expected, but so amazing I can’t imagine anyone not going. Most people make a big deal out of the “walk through” shark tank. While it’s impressive, I preferred the Great Barrier Reef exhibit. Absolutely brilliant! I must have watched the fish in the smaller of the two tanks here for 45 minutes; I couldn’t tear myself away. Well worth your time and money.

—Powerhouse Museum, www.phm.gov.au. This place rocks! Lots of interactive exhibits, but better still is that the collection spans a huge range of items and interests, from steam engines to musical instruments to space travel. I loved the exhibit on energy conservation and recycled materials; I’ve never seen anything so detailed on the subject anywhere else.

—Art Gallery of NSW, www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au. Devoted to modern art. The gallery has a gorgeous exterior, and the traveling exhibit at the time (beautiful Japanese art reflecting springtime) was well worth seeing.

—Sydney Opera House, www.sydneyoperahouse.com. Quite as spectacular-looking as everyone claims it is. Most people confine themselves to taking photos of the exterior, but there are tours of the House; you can also buy tickets for a performance online, which I did. The interior of the House is small compared to those I’m used to, but I found the acoustics excellent.

—Taronga Zoo, www.zoo.nsw.gov.au. Go up to Circular Quay, and buy yourself a Zoo Pass, which will get you a ferry ride to the zoo, a cable car ride to the top, and zoo admission, all for one price. Oddly enough for an Australian zoological park, the only enclosure here not particularly well-executed is the one for kangaroos and wallabies. Still, there’s so much else to see you won’t be bored. You must make time for the fabulous reptile house, and the aviaries, especially the walk-through, kept me occupied for so long that the zoo was closing as I left. Go!

—Harbour Cruising. There are a number of companies who offer harbour cruises. I chose Captain Cook (www.captaincook.com.au) and took their Harbour Highlights Cruise. It’s shorter than some others, but I wasn’t looking for anything too lengthy, and if you’re not particularly “seaworthy” as a rule I think it’s a good option. One suggestion: go early in the day to beat the crowds. Most cruising companies (including Captain Cook) offer many cruise options, including Coffee Cruises, Lunch or Dinner Cruises, and night cruises. Fun to do.

—The Tin Soldier, 46 York Street, City, 02 9279 2668, www.tinsoldier.com. Large array of wargaming figures and soldiers, both painted and unpainted.

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Food:
Mea culpa. I hit a culinary wall in Sydney when I realized I was going to be eating out for 3 straight weeks after I was here and had done so for two weeks before getting here. As a result, I really didn’t try any of the great restaurants I know are in this city. However, I did find a few good food places, and I had the great luck to attend the Sydney Fine Food Show, so I can pass along some recommendations.

—David Jones, www.davidjones.com.au. David Jones’ revamped Food Hall had opened about two weeks before I got to Sydney. Go to the mens’ store (Market and Castlereagh), head downstairs, and prepare to be impressed. Different bakery sections for breads, cookies, and cakes/pastries. A section for fish and one for meat. A smoothie/juice/yogurt/gelato bar. Happy-looking produce. Condiments and preserves and teas by the dozen. Wines. Cheeses. An espresso bar. Prepared foods, with a fresh pasta counter. I think there’s a sushi/oyster bar, too. Pricey, but the “oh, wow!” factor is almost off the scale. I got takeaway from “DJ’s”, as it’s called, for several night of my Sydney stay. Important note: you’ll see only a few chocolates, and they’ll be at the Espresso Bar. For a much larger selection, turn right out of the Food Hall by the espresso bar. Go past the fruit stand on your right and head into the David Jones entryway; you’ll find an entire chocolate area on your right.

—Gourmet Safaris Pty. Ltd., 02 9960 5675, www.gourmetsafaris.com.au. Disclaimer: I was not allowed to pay for my tour here. Maeve O’Meara and her team organize and conduct a range of local, national, and international food tours that last from a few hours to over a week. I took a walking tour of Sydney’s “Little Italy” in the suburb of Haberfield. There were people who had lived in Sydney for years on this tour, and none of them had known that this enclave of all things Italian even existed, so obviously Ms. O’Meara knows what she’s about! The tour I went on would be best for novice or aspiring foodies, but nonetheless it’s fun to get “behind the scenes” in a couple of the shops.

—Kimberley Chocolates, 209 Lilyfield Road, Leichhardt, 02 9555 7900. It’s Saturday morning at about 10:10. You’re the proprietor of a small chocolate shop in a Sydney suburb, and the only employee there at the time. A wild-looking woman stumbles in, muttering something about needing to make a phone call and get a cab so she can connect up with a food tour in the next suburb. What do you do? If you’re Joseph Atallah, chocolatier, you offer to close up shop and drive the woman to her destination. That woman was myself, and I offer this story as some proof of the kindness of many Australians to strangers, even those who must appear half-mad. Quite aside from his kindness, Mr. Atallah makes some interesting and beautiful chocolates. Choices include kakadu plum (an indigenous fruit) and a coffee truffle, but the best one I had was a slightly boozy orange white chocolate truffle, with an exterior of sliced almonds. Certainly worth a try.

—La Renaissance patisserie francaise, 47 Argyle Street, The Rocks, City, 02 9241 4878. Gorgeous-looking pastries, a few savory. The Mousse Picasso is shaped like a small box; inside are layers of dark chocolate sponge and dark and white chocolate mousses, and the whole pastry is encased in milk chocolate. The dark chocolate truffle has a lovely light-texture interior. Not much here for fans of bittersweet, alas, but many people won’t have a problem with that.

—Vix on York, 37 York Street, City, 02 9299 5508. A café featuring sandwiches, salads, seasonal soups, and hot food. Nice for lunch or a snack. Closed evenings and weekends.

—Café Revive, 83 Clarence Street, City, 02 9299 5050. Another lunch-and-snack spot. Beautiful-looking salads (generous portions, too). Sandwiches and desserts, as well.

—Sejuiced, 252 George Street, City, 02 9240 3008. A juice / coffee / sandwich / soup bar, open daytime only. This is part of the restaurant called establishment, to which I did not get. Nice muesli with yogurt.

—Wellbeing, Shop 5, 345 George Street under the large yellow “MARKET” sign, City. Smoothies, sandwiches, soup. Funky atmosphere.

—Serendipity Ice Cream, Marrickville, 02 9557 8986. Ice creams (including a very good Super Fudge Brownie and a Japanese Green Tea)), sorbets (such as Mango), frozen cocktails, ice cream cakes, dessert syrups, and more. I enjoyed their ice cream, but they sell their products only to independent retailers, such as restaurants, cafes, high-end delis, and bottle shops, so they’re not that easy to find.

—Simon Johnson, 181 Harris Street, City, 02 9552 2522, www.simonjohnson.com. Very upmarket shop for chocolates, gourmet items, etc.

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—The Sydney Fine Food Show. The following are a few of the companies I found there:

  • Cippango, 02 4872 4355, www.cippango.com.au. You must try their Vanilla-Caramel Syrup, far and away the best product of its type I’ve ever tasted. This isn’t made with caramel flavor or coloring; it’s actual browned sugar, and the difference in flavor is indescribable. I don’t know if this product is available in the US as of this writing, but it should be! They also offer a very good Cinnamon-Vanilla Syrup, several other syrups I didn’t try, truffled figs, panforte, and more. See the website for more information.

  • Berrysweet Australia, 03 5822 0007, www.berrysweet.com.au. If I had to choose only one of their products, it would be the gorgeous, sweet blueberry juice, truly the taste of summer in a glass. Other offerings include a tart raspberry juice, a blueberry/raspberry juice, and both blueberry and raspberry purees.

  • Bellata Gold, 07 4697 8000, www.bellatagold.com. So devoted to their pasta line is this company that they grow their own wheat! They make a very fine pasta in a number of flavors, including lemon myrtle. The pasta emerges from its cooking water with a tender (yet not mushy) texture, and it’s a perfect foil for whatever sauce you choose to put atop it.

  • blue M food company, 02 4782 2650. A terrific lime butter, also other fruit butters I didn’t try (lemon, lemon and mango, and passionfruit). I’m not sure where their products are available, but I’d have no hesitation in calling to find out.

  • Willabrand Figs, 08 8380 5657. Fresh figs and fig products.

  • Newcastle’s Pudding Lady, 02 4956 6400, www.puddinglady.com.au. Handmade “Christmas” puddings, boiled in a cloth in the traditional manner. Also a version called “Double Chocolate Bomb”, in which you can actually smell and taste the chocolate.

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YARRA VALLEY:
Where I stayed:
Private residence. I am much indebted to Ann Creber, David Morrow, and Dame Patty for their hospitality during my stay at their place.

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What I saw and did:
For the most part, I went around to food producers or sellers or restaurants here. But I did get to Healesville Sanctuary (www.zoo.org.au). My timing was bad; severe windstorms had closed the park for a couple of days prior to my visit (and some exhibits were still closed off for repairs) and I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked. Even with that, Healesville is a laid-back place with some good wildlife displays. And they have a tawny frogmouth, one of my favorite birds.

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Food:
—Whispers from Provence, Innisfree Herbs, 03 9728 4475. Massive disclaimer: This is Ann Creber’s product range. I stayed at her place for almost a week, was treated like visiting royalty, and was given several jars of her products. Now, having said that, I can tell you that you need to try some of these products. Why? Because these marmalades and chutneys and relishes are like Ann’s babies. They are made from first-quality ingredients and have care and time lavished upon them; for example, Ann cracks every one of her cracked olives by hand (I know, because I saw her do it and cracked some myself). What to try? Well, I’m partial to the outstanding, truly all-purpose red capsicum relish (for the Americans in the crowd, capsicums are not-hot bell peppers) and the Silvan raspberry jam with framboise. Not what you’re after? OK, how about an organic grapefruit marmalade, a pear chutney with Moroccan spices, an organic golden crabapple jelly, or a raspberry rhubarb relish with star anise? This business is not so much a scientific enterprise as a labor of love. Ann is a great believer, too, in using seasonal produce, so it will be at its best. Where to find her wares? She and David sell them the third Sunday of every month at the Yarra Valley Regional Farmers’ Market, held at The Old Barn at the Yering Station Winery (see below). You can also find these products at Trafs Deli on Lygon Court in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton; The Sebel Country Club Gourmet Boutique, Chernside Park, Lilydale; Domaine Chandon Gourmet Boutique, Maroondah Highway, Yering; Lavandula Lavender Farm, Shepherds Flat via Hepburn Springs; Chernside Park Country Club (Kingswood Road, Chernside Park Estate), Lilydale; Ripe (see below), and Herbicious Delicious (see below). If you can’t get to any of those, you can also call Whispers from Provence.

—Herbicious Delicious, Shop 3, Parsons Walk, 10 Parsons Lane, Olinda, 03 9751 0026. Disclaimer: Patricia Jonescu, the charming proprietess here, is a friend of Ann Creber’s and carries some of her products. If I had a gourmet shop, I’d like it to be similar to this one. Lots of light and a very “open” feel, with utensils, a nice line of preserves, toppings, flavored vinegars, etc. Thoughtfully set up, too. A great, low-key place to browse for something gourmet.

—Ripe, 376-378 Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras, 03 9755 2100. A casual little neighborhood place for breakfast, lunch, and tea. What makes it stand out among others of this ilk is that the food is very good indeed. Deservedly popular. The day Ann and I went to lunch, the area was in the grip of a blackout, but the proprietors merely threw another log on the fire and carried on with cooking on their gas rangetop. They also carry jams, ice creams, cheeses, etc.

—Tea Leaves, 380 Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras, 03 9755 2222. A vast selection of teas, tea accessories, mugs, teapots, and the like. If you’re looking for a gift for a tea drinker, this is the place!

—Yarra Valley Pasta, 325 Maroondah Highway, Healesville, 03 5962 1888. A small shop with some lovely pastas to take home. Very good gorgonzola, pancetta, and fig ravioli.

—Regional Fare, 32 Bell Street, Yarra Glen, 03 9730 1007. Local shop with wine, oils, honey, pasta, etc.

—Yarra Glen Café and Store, 36 Bell Street, Yarra Glen, 03 9730 1122. Ian Balmain, self-proclaimed cheese freak, presides over the café and small shop of cheeses and preserves. They sell an excellent raspberry jam.

—Yarra Glen Fruit Supply, in same complex as Regional Fare and Yarra Glen Café and Store, 03 9730 1764, Yarra Glen. Flowers, nuts, local honey, free range eggs, and organic produce.

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—Yarra Valley Regional Farmers’ Market, The Old Barn, Yering Station Winery, Yarra Glen, 03 9513 0677. Held the third Sunday of every month, supposedly from 10 am to 3 pm (there are almost always early birds, I’m told). This is fun! Regional producers and growers of everything from walnuts to honey to buffalo sausage offer their products to a knowledgeable (or just hungry) public. Please make an attempt to get here if you’re in the area; you won’t be sorry. Some of the booths you’ll find here are:

  • Yarra Valley Ice Cream Pty. Ltd., 0403 004 023 (mobile phone). Fourteen varieties, including an outstanding raspberry and a very good Kennedy & Wilson Chocolate Mousse (see below for more on Kennedy & Wilson). Also available at other food boutiques.

  • Kennedy & Wilson Chocolates, Gruyere (that’s the name of a town), 03 5964 9549. Some of the best chocolates I had on my trip; their chocolatier Didier appreciates and uses bittersweet chocolate in addition to semisweet and milk! An excellent pear truffle. Sold at upmarket stores in the Melbourne area as well.

  • Fruition, Healesville, 03 5962 3175. This bakery is run by an enchanting young couple. Iain and Lyndall are passionate about what they do, and Iain bakes superlative organic sourdough breads in batches whose small size would cause most commercial bakeries to laugh outright—until they actually tasted the breads he bakes. Fougasses, olive foccacia, great fruit bread, a sesame-topped loaf, and more. Go early! They always sell out, and once you try these breads you’ll know why. Their bread is also available at the Healesville Hotel, and perhaps in other places by now.

  • Montrose Meat Supply, 922 Mt. Dandenong Road, Montrose, 03 9728 2016. Rob Montrose is a third-generation butcher with some wonderful-looking meat products.

  • Waterwood Farm, 1600 Don Road, Launching Place, 03 5967 3707. Look near the Whispers from Provence booth for this small stand. A couple of different varieties of very fresh walnuts are available here; I sent some to the US as a gift and the recipients pronounced them “really good”.

  • Wild About Fruit, 03 5964 4226, www.wildaboutfruit.com.au. Excellent apple juice. Also sold elsewhere.

  • Yarra Coffee and Company, Shop 4, 182 Main Street, Lilydale, 03 9739 5486. Organics in coffee. Did not try.

  • Forgotten Fruits, Healesville, 03 5962 5264. Cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and chardonnay jellies and syrups. The cabernet sauvignon jelly was very good, and tasted more like the grape than the wine.

  • Bee Ezee, 248 Johnston Road, Abbotsford, 03 9417 0700. Varietal honey. I wasn’t able to try anything here.

  • Yarra Valley Salmon, 399 Rubicon Road, Thornton, 03 5773 2466, www.yarravalleysalmon.com. Very nice smoked salmon. Also sells salmon caviar.

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—Ladyhawke, 1356 Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road, Mt. Dandenong, 03 9751 1104, www.ladyhawke.com.au (website may not be online yet). A bed-and-breakfast and café. I didn’t try the B&B, but the café, while small, is as delightful as are the young proprietors, Fleur and Troy. Good coffee (or so I’m told), a delightful-sounding breakfast menu, and a working fireplace for rainy or chilly days. Be sure to check out Troy’s mosaics! Ladyhawke gives special-event dinners periodically, and they’re always booked out well in advance.

—Yarra Valley Dairy, 03 9739 1222, www.yarravalleydairy.com.au. The café here serves 2 courses with wine for a set price—or do what we did and order the Dairy Platter, which consists of seven cows’ and goats’ milk cheeses with other antipasti and bread. Fresh cheeses a specialty here, but they do some semi-matured, too. Views that will make you think you’re in the French countryside.

A note on the Yarra Valley restaurants listed: I was in a small group in all of these places, but the convivial atmosphere resulted in my writing down almost nothing about what I ate, so remembering it is proving very tough. All were enjoyable dining experiences, however, at least as far as the food went, and I’d return to any for another meal.

—Woods Sherbrooke, 21 Sherbrooke Road, Sherbrooke, 03 9755 2131. Small and cozy, with a menu that should be pleasing to most people, though it’s not that extensive.

—Healesville Hotel, 03 5962 4002, www.healesvillehotel.com.au. Everything from first dates to old mates; everyone seems to eat here. More of an upmarket pub than anything else—but this pub serves some innovative and good food.

—Mitchell’s View Restaurant, Melba Avenue, Lilydale, 03 9215 7047. The student training restaurant for those enrolled at Swinburne University of Technology’s Hospitality and Tourism Branch. Some interesting foods and wines, but the service here needs a bit of polish. Occasional lunches, but mostly dinners.

—Sacrebleu! Restaurant Francais, Shop 5, 1526 Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road, Olinda, 03 9751 2520. Do try the onion soup here, which is slightly thick and a touch peppery; it’s very, very good. A nice semisweet chocolate mousse in a white chocolate cup, as well; in fact, pretty good food all around.

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HOBART and MORE, TASMANIA:
Where I stayed:
Battery Point Manor (www.batterypointmanor.com.au, 03 6224 0888). This is a bed and breakfast, but they also have one or two garden studio apartments with spa baths and a two-bedroom cottage available. In a very quiet location. My apartment had fabulous views of the harbour, and I was awakened every morning by sunlight and birdsong. A nice breakfast room with a good spread, though I’d much rather see local preserves used instead of Kraft jellies. Variable housekeeping on any given day, ranging from thorough to a bit careless. Wonderful electric mattress pads for Hobart’s chilly nights! Within a few minutes’ walk of a good local bakery/café (see Jackman & McRoss, below) and a post office; it’s a slightly longer walk (about 8 to 10 minutes) to Salamanca Place. Very nice staff. Certainly worth consideration if you’ll be in the area.

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What I saw and did:
—Food/State Tour. I saw more of “Tassie” than I did of any other state. This is partly because Tasmania is smaller than other Australian states and partly because I was lucky enough to have people driving me around. Much has been written of the natural beauty in Tasmania, but everything I’ve read sells the island short. I took a huge number of pictures here, and almost all could be turned into postcards or prints. Considering my minimal photography skills, this says a great deal about Tasmania’s breathtaking scenery! Hobart is a nice small city with some picturesque views of her own, but get out into the countryside here if at all possible. Some suggestions: Tasman’s Arch, The Devil’s Kitchen, and Tessellated Pavement State Reserve. Close to Hobart, you’ll find Mt. Wellington, and you can actually take the narrow, winding road up to the top—but be prepared for cold/snow/ice/winds/sudden weather changes, and remember your camera.

  • The Tasmanian Honey Company, 25a Main Road, Perth (Perth, Tasmania, not the large city of Perth in WA), 03 6398 2666. Blackberry, chocolate, meadow, leatherwood, orange, apricot…the list of available honies here goes on and on. You can try most before buying them. The honey is available in jars as well as in beautiful tins.

  • The Mill Providore & Gallery, Ritchies Mill, 2 Bridge Road, Launceston, 03 6331 0777, www.themill.net.au. This is a shop attached to the Stillwater Restaurant (03 6331 4153), said to be one of Tasmania’s best eateries. I didn’t get to eat at Stillwater, alas, but the shop offers cheeses, chocolates, spices, utensils, and more. Look for First Principles Fine Food (www.firstprinciples.com.au) here; they make a terrific peach vanilla and brandy jam. Stillwater bills itself as “day café—night chic”, and indeed the dinner menu is more sophisticated than either the breakfast or lunch menus.

  • The Swiss Chocolatier, 82 George Street, Launceston, 03 6334 3411. Disclaimer: Paul Hafliger, one of the proprietors, refused to let me pay for any chocolates; Tourism Tasmania had contacted him and told him I write about that subject in the US. Now, having told you that, I must add that he makes the best chocolates I had in Tasmania, and some of the best I had on my entire journey. Gorgeous caramelized, then truffle-covered, macadamias and almonds. Champagne truffles. Brandy truffles. Praline-filled hedgehogs in dark or milk chocolate. A “one more, please” coffee-kirsch filled dark chocolate. And an astonishing kirsch-filled dark chocolate heart (pay attention when Paul tells you to put the whole thing in your mouth at once; if you bite into it, kirsch spurts out). The chocolate is perfectly smooth, of excellent quality, and, best of all, less sweet than many others I found. Worth a special trip.

  • Huon Valley Mushrooms, 850 Main Road, Glen Huon, 03 6266 6333. This is a mushroom farm in a picture-postcard setting. I had never seen mushrooms growing commercially before, and it was interesting to see the steps along the way prior to harvesting. They grow everything from button mushrooms to portabellas (called “honey browns” in this part of the world) to shiitakes to woodears. Farm gate sales Monday to Friday except public holidays; tours by appointment at least 24 hours in advance.

  • The Red Velvet Lounge, 24 Mary Street, Cygnet, 03 6295 0466. A combination café and health food store. Organic produce and dairy products. Popular locally, especially on the weekends, when it functions as something of a hippie hangout. Excellent Sicilian apple cake.

  • Ashgrove Cheese, 6173 Bass Highway, Elizabeth Town, 03 6368 1105. A nice range of cheeses including a lovely Double Gloucester and a good Vintage Cheddar. There are also fetas (including marinated fetas) and an “exotic” line of cheeses flavored with wasabi, lavender, cumin, etc. Lots of samples to try before you buy. Ashgrove also carries Thorpe Farm Traditional Farmhouse Chevre (Thorpe Farm, Bothwell, 03 6259 5678).

  • Black Forest Smallgoods, 55 Invermay Road, Invermay, 03 6334 4300. Bacons, sausages, fresh meats, mustards, imported cocoa. Nice-looking products.

  • House of Anvers, Bass Highway, Latrobe, 03 6426 2958. A chocolate factory with a café. You can watch the staff making chocolates through a glass window or buy some to take away with you. The café serves savories as well as some gorgeous-looking pastries and certain special chocolates not available for takeout. Easy to find from the highway. Good chocolate truffle logs.

  • The Peppermint Bay Cheeserie, P.O. Box 50, Woodbridge, 03 6267 4749. Opening in December of this year, the cheeserie will feature the products of Grandvewe Cheeses, which include a soft cheese (with or without basil—but try it with), a pecorino, a Roquefort-style bleu, and truly remarkable yogurt, available in both natural and a stellar honey-vanilla flavor. As you guessed from the pun, these cheeses are all made from sheeps’ milk, but other types of cheeses will also be available here. Wines will be offered, too, and to the credit of those in charge, the emphasis here is smaller-scale, organic production of a limited range of foods and beverages of superior quality. Worth going just for the views—but as long as you’re there, do try some of the Grandvewe!

  • TAS-SAFF, Glaziers Bay, 03 6295 1921, www.ozemail.com.au/~tassiesaffron. Disclaimer: Terry and Nicky Noonan welcomed me into their beautiful house, talked to me about saffron and saffron quality, showed me color and aroma differences between saffrons, and then gave me some to play with at home. Their saffron is of a passionate deep red-orange color, and I’d never realized that those dessicated, almost powdery threads I’d been buying for years could be improved upon. All you need is one look at TAS-SAFF, which hasn’t been dyed or treated with chemicals, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Sold in some retail locations in Tasmania; contact the Noonans for more information.

  • Tasmanian Gourmet Sauce Company, 174 Leighlands Road, P.O. Box 109, Evandale, 03 6391 8437, www.gourmetsauce.com.au. Savory sauces (such as thai chilli), jams and conserves (including a port wine/crushed strawberry conserve) and sweet sauces compete for your attention in this small but pleasing shop. I found the chocolate sauce quite sweet, but I was quickly won over by the fabulous, deeply-flavored blackberry sauce, and the boysenberry was almost as good. Small and larger jars and a few gift assortments, too, and yes, you can taste before you buy! When I bought two small jars here and forgot to take them with me; the proprietors tracked me down and arranged for the sauces to be dropped off at my hotel.

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—Salamanca Market. Every Saturday morning, Hobart’s Salamanca Place becomes a pedestrian-only zone, with vendors selling everything from gorgeous vegetables and local honey to handcrafted wheatbag bandicoots (no, I’m not making that up). It’s rather like a giant, mobile, chilled-out party, and locals shop here as much as tourists do. I’d suggest going early, as the Market becomes extremely crowded, but you’ll have a good time no matter when you go. Within the Market, look for:

  • The Art of Tea, 03 6253 5696. A large variety of teas (some organic) and tea supplies.

  • Country Larder Preserves and Fine Foods, 03 6227 1790. A good raspberry jam with kirsch; I wasn’t able to try anything else.

  • Ashbolt Olive Oil/Annie’s Elderflower, 03 6261 2203. I didn’t try the olive oil but have heard it recommended. The elderflower is available as a sparkling beverage, a concentrate, or a low-sugar concentrate, and has a definite, though intriguingly delicate, flavor.

  • Gennaro’s Handmade Italian Delicacies, 0417 584 854 (mobile phone). I wasn’t able to try the white nectarine jam, but you must taste the stuffed figs, with whole roasted hazelnut, orange rind in mandarin liqueur, marsala, and a sprinkle of aniseed. Delicious!

  • Tongola Goat Products, 03 6295 1404. I took a great fancy to the soft, tangy goat cheese made by Hans Stutz. As a business, Tongola is in its infancy; right now it’s available only at the Heidi Farm stall here, but by December of this year Mr. Stutz hopes to be selling it elsewhere, too. Tongola also offers a semihard washed rind cheese, and a spreadable, quark-like variety.

  • Elgaar Farm, 03 6368 1206. Organic and biodynamic cream, yogurt, and cheeses. Available at the Heidi Farm stall here, and perhaps elsewhere. Did not try.

  • Richard Clements, www.richardclements.com. Mr. Clements does not produce food; he is a glassblower, and he makes the most remarkable scent (perfume) bottles I’ve seen anywhere. His daughter has followed in his footsteps, and also sells her blown glass at the same table; you’ll have to decide for yourself which of the two very different styles you prefer.

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—Maritime Museum of Tasmania, www.maritimetas.org. This is a small but utterly fascinating museum. As you might expect from an island state, Tasmania has a considerable maritime history, and it’s all laid out for you here. Early history, ships’ instruments and fittings, tragedies and triumphs at sea. The model ships are spectacular in their detail. Very impressive.

—Port Arthur Historic Site, www.portarthur.org.au. The site is beautiful…a garden, well-preserved ruins of buildings, and a lovely harbour. Other than that, Port Arthur is appalling, because it’s a huge, pricey tourist trap and management have done everything but turn it into a theme park. Particularly for a time and events of which you are not now proud, remembering one’s history ought to be done soberly and with some taste. The site brochure lists Port Arthur as “Australia’s Premier Convict Site” (Excuse me? Are there potential usurpers to this dubious title?). An on-site fine-dining restaurant called, if you can believe it, “Felons”, has, as a slogan, “prison food never tasted so good”, and signs tell you it would be “a crime” not to eat there. Even the website suggests an “Escape to Port Arthur”, accompanied by a pair of empty handcuffs. Port Arthur was notorious for exceptionally harsh treatment of its inmates, and many died here. Surely there must be a more respectful, less tacky way to revisit this era in Australia’s past. If you want to find out more about Port Arthur, it’d be better to read a book.

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Other Food:
—The Honey Farm, 39 Sorell Street, Chudleigh, 03 6363 6160, www.thehoneyfarm.com.au. I wasn’t able to visit this place (although you can), but they offer a very nice stringy bark honey.

—Wursthaus Kitchen, 1 Montpelier Retreat, Hobart, 03 6224 0644. Sausages, pates, cheeses, olive oils, condiments, prepared foods, and more. A dangerous place for foodies! Excellent roesti (potato) cakes and Middle Eastern fruit salad. Takeaway only. Wursthaus Kitchen also sells Biscoletti (845 Huon Road, Fern Tree, 03 6239 1661), who make a Traditional Tasmanian Shortbread, a very mild Orange & Cardamom Shortbread, powerful Gingernuts, and Horny Little Devils—small, dark chocolate shortbreads.

—Jackman & McRoss, 57-59 Hampden Road, Battery Point, 03 6223 3186; another location in Newtown. Breads, cakes, and pastries, both savory and sweet. Extremely popular locally; the Battery Point location offers eat-in or takeaway options. Recommendations: baked chocolate mousse cake (very rich, very chocolate, and not too sweet), avocado “tart” (an open-face sandwich of avocado, bacon, greens, and mayonnaise).

—Norman and Dann, 6/33 Salamanca Place, Hobart, 03 6223 4777. Products from 5 different chocolatiers, condiments, preserves, and more. A nice little shop, heady with the aroma of chocolate.

—Zum Café, 27 Salamanca Place, Hobart, 03 6223 2323. My friend and I dropped in here one mid-afternoon absolutely famished, and we both ate so much that dinner that night was out of the question. I had one of their bruschetta options, which was very good, and David chose something with poached eggs and smoked salmon, which he loved. Relaxed atmosphere and an obvious local hangout.

—Blue Skies, Ground Floor Murray Street Pier, Hobart, 03 6224 3747. A wide-ranging menu, from the trio of homemade dips with oilve and pitta bread (the beetroot-cream cheese is great!) to quail-lemon myrtle sausages on mashed potato to lamb dijonnais. Desserts include a Tasmanian cheese platter and a baked quince and pear tart with hazelnut crust. Vegetarian options. Our waitress was very nice, though service was a bit slow, and the booths here are a tight squeeze. Incidentally, the lamb dijonnais (chargrilled, then baked in a mustard and basil crust and served with roasted vegetables and a light jus), was the best lamb dish I had anywhere in Australia or New Zealand. Nice setting.

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MELBOURNE:
Where I stayed:
—The Chifley Off Little Bourke. I deliberately omit contact information for this, the worst-run hotel in which I’ve ever stayed. I was originally put into a noisy room in which the blinds were thick with dust. I was outright lied to by a couple of employees regarding information on equipment in my room; I was misinformed by employees on at least 4 other occasions, including being given incorrect information on which tram to take to the Queen Victoria Market, a popular tourist destination. My keycard stopped working 4 times in seven days. It took a day and a half and four requests to the front desk to get a burned-out lightbulb changed; over 24 hours and three requests were required to get a suddenly-noisy refrigerator checked out. The printed instructions for operating the clothes dryer in the room are incorrect (I didn’t figure this out; the assistant manager told me), and there’s no setting on your machine for anything other than a hot water wash. The exercise room is an accident waiting to happen, as a pool is within about 6 or 7 feet of exercise equipment, including an electric treadmill. (When I first saw this room, the floor was wet, as were all the pieces of exercise equipment; the treadmill cord was lying in a puddle of water.) The front desk staff are unfailingly nice, but they simply have too much to do at any given time. Management attempted to make up for the problems I encountered here, but nothing makes up for so much that’s wrong. Go elsewhere.

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What I saw and did:
Spoil Yourself—A Chocoholic Guide to Melbourne, by Suzie Wharton, 03 9815 1228, www.chocoholictours.com.au. Disclaimer: The author gave me a copy of her book and drove me around Melbourne for part of a day to meet chocolatiers. Suzie Wharton runs several different chocolate tours of Melbourne. I wasn’t able to take any, but pick up a copy of this book and you can take a self-conducted tour (preferably over the course of a few days) to shops, pastisseries, and restaurants, all of which have at least one noteworthy chocolate offering. A lighthearted look at chocolates available in the area, and a genuinely fun read.

—Take a walk! This might be the best way to get to know Melbourne. Read up on the different ethnic quarters of the city before you go, then take a tram to one and start walking! Lygon Street, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy Street, Acland Street, St. Kilda, Little Bourke Street—it’s hard to go wrong no matter which you choose. And, should you find yourself tired or hungry or thirsty, a café or restaurant is never far.

Melbourne Zoo, www.zoo.org.au. A tram or a train will take you here. Don’t miss the spectacular butterfly house, with hundreds of butterflies flitting about and landing on everything in sight, including people. Cute otters, too. Nice, natural-looking enclosures for many animals, and the big walk-through aviary is a winner. Try to avoid going on a weekend—but if you must, go early.

—Federation Square, Flinders Street, opposite Flinders Street Station, City. Very controversial when it was built, this ultra-modern open-air ampitheater serves as a site for all manner of events. The Ian Potter Centre, the new home of the National Gallery of Victoria, occupies most of one building; look for the giant sneaker at the entrance. Cafes, shops, and restaurants, too, including a Charmaine’s Ice Cream and Bokchoy Tang (see below).

—Il Papiro, Shop 5, Degraves Street, City, 03 9654 0955. Handsome writing papers, inks, and accessories.

—Essenza Pura, 213-217 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, 03 9699 3095. “Aromatherapy for connoisseurs”. Lovely little shop with oils, candles, etc. Call first; may be relocating. They ship internationally.

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Food:
—The Chocolate Lover, www.thechocolatelover.com.au, website not up as of this writing. Disclaimer: Pierre Stinzy, the chocolatier, gave me a box of his chocolates and a jar of his Authentic Chocolate Ginger Sauce. I love the look of these chocolates, because I cannot produce something like that in my own kitchen, but at the same time they don’t look mass-produced. The use of color is judicious, too. So far, my favorites are the seriously coffee-tasting Arabica, which isn’t too sweet, and the Plum-Kirsch, which has a striking purple finish on the exterior; the Chocolate Ginger Sauce is a sweet chocolate flavor with a definite (yet not overpowering) ginger presence. Pierre also produces special holiday chocolates, in equally special shapes and packaging. He even makes clever “Christmas Crackers”, with panforte inside and colored white chocolate enrobing it. Find his products at Myer, Leo Fine Food and Wine in the suburb of Kew, Minimax (www.minimax.com.au), Jasper’s Caffeine Dealers on Brunswick Street (Fitzroy), and, in Queensland, Tognini’s BistroCafeDeli (www.togninis.com), Spoon, and the Palazzo Versace Resort.

—Wild About You, 133 Gardenvale Road, Gardenvale, 03 9530 6844, www.wildaboutyou.com.au. Disclaimer: Joel Whittaker and Adele Parker, the charming business partners who run this enterprise, had me try all seven of their handmade varieties and then gave me a box of chocolates to take with me. International products (such as chocolates, mustard, and nutcake) with an Australian slant are the order of the day here. Try the Wattle Seed chocolate, with its dark, mocha-y, almost spicy taste, the Macadamia Nut piece (a dark chocolate exterior over crushed macadamias in white chocolate), and especially the great white chocolate Wild Lime Truffle. There’s a sense of humor in this business, too, in the chocolate platypus and chocolate witchetty grub offerings (no, the chocolates don’t contain any platypi or grubs; you just get the shape of the animal in chocolate). Available at Sydney Airport Fine Foods, Melbourne Airport, and Canberra tourist attractions and museums; by the time you read this, the Gardenvale shop should be open, too. Yes, they’ll ship internationally!

—Cacao, 52 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda, 03 8598 9555. How can you not like a place so overrun by the idea of chocolate? A warm-looking interior, with cakes available in individual portions and two larger sizes, plus a range of chocolates and some classy packaging if you want to give them as a gift (although if the chocolate I tried, a hazelnut praline with paillete feuilletine, is any indication, you won’t be giving many away). A very new venture, but plans are in the works for a second store entirely devoted to chocolates. Easy to get to by tram from the city.

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—Country Cuisine, www.countrycuisine.com.au (I don’t care what Google tells you; this is a valid URL!). This isn’t a destination so much as a food item; their Wild Blackberry Jam is among the best I’ve ever tasted. See the website for stores that carry their products (they seem to have a fairly good distribution in/around Melbourne).

—The Organic Food + Wine Deli, 28 Degraves Street, City, 0413 125 514 (mobile phone). A tiny shop crammed with all manner of interesting products. They carry Booja-Booja Hazelnut Crunch Rochers, good chocolates with hazelnuts (www.boojabooja.com).

—Foodgatherers (David Mackintosh), 03 9523 1661, www.foodgatherers.com.au. Foodgatherers is all about food, of course—except it’s about seasonal, sustainable foods and food production, which should be of increasing concern to us all. At the moment, Foodgatherers offers only a shortbread, which is buttery, not too sweet, and of a near-perfect texture. However, plans are afoot for multiple flavors of shortbread and many other foods, including dairy products and beef. Find Foodgatherers shortbread at Passion Foods (see below) and in other places.

—Passion Foods, 219 Ferrars Street, South Melbourne, 03 9690 9339. Wonderful wonderful wonderful. Everything from beer and wine to takeaway meals to preserves and condiments, much of it organic and/or biodynamic. Look for the Wild Gourmet Quandong Jam and the Grampians Pure Sheep Milk Yoghurt, available in a fantastic coconut flavor.

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—Queen Victoria Market, www.qvm.com.au. Shed I is devoted entirely to foods. The butchers, poulterers, and fishmongers have one section, produce is located in another, and a third is given over to cheesemongers, pasta makers, bakeries, and some very specialized food interests (tribal trek, for African products, and Swords, wine sellers, are two examples). A popular tourist destination, and it’s easy to see why. It’s better to go early in the day, particularly on a weekend. Among the stands I found interesting were:

  • The Bread Box, 03 9326 5425. Peter and Michelle make a lovely fruit bread and offer many others. Go early.

  • Curds and Whey, 03 9326 9009. Lovely cheese stall, with all manner of inviting products.

  • Invita Living Food, 76 Therry Street, 03 9329 1267. A café and takeaway place with a good breakfast menu.

  • Organic Indulgence, Produce section, Back of Shed I, www.organic-indulgence.com.au. Produce, cosmetics, groceries, dairy products, and more. Look for the Meredith Dairy Sheeps Milk Yoghurt and McDougall & Maclean Blackberry Jam.

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—Prahran Market, www.prahranmarket.com.au. A 72 (Camberwell) tram will take you here from the city. Lots of small food stands, including a specialty potato seller and one who’s similarly into mushrooms. Fresh pasta, supplies for making curry, even a food court. Among the shops I saw there:

  • The Olive Grove Shop, 0412 656 496 (mobile phone). They claim to stock “Melbourne’s largest range of premium Australian olive oils”. I wasn’t able to try anything from here.

  • Wattle Valley Chunky Dips. 14 kinds of pesto, including a very good chunky basil. Available locally in Safeway and Coles Markets.

  • Hagens Organic Biodynamic Meats, 03 9827 1899. Also at the Queen Victoria Market.

  • The Essential Ingredient, 03 9827 9047. Foods, cookware, cookbooks, even a cooking school. Rather like an Australian Williams-Sonoma.

—Redpath’s Beekeeping Supplies, 193 Como Parade East, Parkdale, 03 9587 5950. To be honest, this small shop is probably too far to travel if you’re not a beekeeper or hardcore bee fan. Apiary supplies; honey is sold as a sideline. If you do get there, try the Messmate (Eucalyptus obliqua) honey.

—David Jones, www.davidjones.com.au, 310 Bourke Street, City, and Myer, www.myer.com.au, 295 Lonsdale Street, City. Check out both Food Halls to see which you like best. I’d give Myer a slight edge, but it’s better to make up your own mind.

—Baker D. Chirico, Shop 3/4, 149 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda., 03 9534 3777. I was told this shop sold the best bread in Melbourne. Unhappily, I wasn’t able to get there until afternoon on a weekend, when they were all but sold out. However, I did have a portion of semisweet Chocolate Mud Cake, which seemed light-textured but melted delightfully in my mouth.

—BaySwiss, 64 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda, 03 8598 9711. One of a chain. This store, which is much larger inside than you’d guess, sells everything from takeaway food to a few home furnishings. I was unable to try anything here.

—St. Kilda Cellars International, approximately 45 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda, 03 9534 5926. Nice-looking wine bar.

—Il Fornaio Panetteria and Pasticeria, 2 Acland Street, St. Kilda, 03 9534 2922. I stopped by on a Sunday at about noon, and this joint was jumpin’! Pastries, sandwiches, breads sweet and savory. Tables indoors and out. My Chocolate Baguette (a white flour baguette with chunks of semisweet chocolate) was good.

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—7 Apples Gelato, 75 Acland Street, St. Kilda, 03 9537 3633. Gelato and sobetto. The coconut gelato here is good.

—Acland Street Cake and Pastry Shops, including Europa at #81, Le Bon at #93, and Monarch (street number not known). I don’t know how they all stay in business, and I didn’t get to try any, but Sunday late mornings and afternoons they all seem to be mobbed. The window displays, particularly at Europa and Le Bon, will break a diet more quickly than anything else I can imagine.

—Babka Bakery Café, 358 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 9416 0091. Very good prune apricot crumble cake, also breads and other sweet and savory pastries. They don’t slice breads here. Go early for a good selection.

—Charmaine’s Ice Cream, Federation Square, City, 03 9415 1872. Also two other locations. Very good raspberry sorbet.

—Tea House at China Town, Ground Floor, 11-17 Cohen Place, City, 03 9639 2526. I was dining by myself here, and the waiter, sensing my indecision, suggested that the kitchen could make up smallish portions of a number of different dishes. Great idea! Perfectly-cooked steamed barramundi in soy sauce; a fine claypot chicken with shallots, mushrooms, and sauce; and battered, deep-fried, nary-a-bone quail filets with a few onions and red and green diced capsicums were the three stars of the meal. The only down note was the bland steamed mixed vegetables, which had no seasoning at all. Vegetarian dishes aplenty. The menu begins with a list of Chef’s Suggestions, and there’s a special 8 course dinner. Some unusual dishes, such as a curried chicken. Attentive, polite, and leisurely service. A very nice choice for lunch or dinner. Reservations advisable, especially on weekends.

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—Grossi Florentino, 80 Bourke Street, City, 03 9662 1811, www.grossiflorentino.com. A restaurant in two parts: a posh, chandeliered, wood-paneled upstairs, and a more relaxed, less-pricey grill downstairs. I chose the former, as the food seemed more interesting. My duck-and-wild mushroom-filled agnolotti were good, but the accompanying caramelized pear shreds were very sweet and crunchy, and overwhelmed the pasta. The high, light, chocolate-brandy souffle was perfectly cooked (still saucy inside) but not deeply chocolatey, but the “affogato” malted Vanilla Bean ice cream (a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it) was so good I almost didn’t care. Good service—friendly but professional. I’d try this place again, but I’d eat downstairs.

—Aix Café Creperie Salon, 24 Centre Place, City, 03 9662 2667. Tiny café serving crepes and sandwiches. My blood orange and burnt sugar crepe was good but not entirely successful, as the last-second addition of blood orange juice (in addition to the slices inside the crepe) chilled the dish down too much, I thought. Lots of choices for crepe fillings.

—Nudel Bar, 76 Bourke Street, City, 03 9662 9100. This small bar-restaurant packs ‘em in on weekend nights, when it’s better to have reservations. The menu includes cold noodles, wokked noodles, noodles in broth, pasta, and wet noodles. I chose Roast Duck Noodles from the last category; it was a mix of fine egg noodles with Chinese roast duck, sweet pork, Chinese broccoli, and (on the side) pickled green chillis in broth. Hearty, filling, and tasty, albeit a bit greasy. Reasonably priced.

—Bokchoy Tang, Federation Square, Corner Flinders and Swanston Streets, City, 03 9650 8666, www.bokchoytang.com.au. Disclaimer: Lizzie Radcliffe, another friend of Ann Creber’s, gave me a tour and then refused to let me pay for lunch here. I’ve seldom seen so much thought put into a restaurant. Everything here has a reason or a purpose, from the feng shui principles to the beautiful imported wooden screens. The result is a classy, elegant-but-not-stuffy establishment with an open kitchen (fun to watch). More importantly, the food receives as much attention as the décor. This is Northern Chinese cuisine with a slight Australian twist. No peanut oil is used here, only olive oil; the chef recognizes that an increasing number of people have peanut allergies, and he believes Australian olive oil is of such good quality it’s a shame not to use it. A lunch menu, an express lunch banquet, and a couple of evening banquet options round out the regular menu. What to order? The Beijing Spring Onion Bread is a must, lightly fried and very fresh-tasting. The same holds true for the Fried Black Rice with Prawns, with its great color contrasts, blend of tastes, and distinctive, earthy, almost al dente black rice. The Bokchoy Oyster Mushroom Soup is light but flavorful; traditional Jiao Zi (dumplings) are poached or panfried, prawn-and-pork or vegetable-filled, and equally delicate. The food emphasis is on delicacy, in fact, and the wine list matches that aspect. Reservations advisable. Do try to get here if you’re in Melbourne; you won’t be disappointed.


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