Blue Pools New Zealand

A drive through the lakes, vineyards and lakes to Mount Aspiring National Park, two hours from Queenstown is definitely for the trip itinerary. The destination is the Blue Pools walk which is 20 minutes each way though ferns, mosses and beautiful forests. There are two swing bridges and a stone beach along the way where other visitors have set up little stone towers that look like a Miha Brinovec masterpiece.

The light is scattered in such a way so that the water colour is a bright emerald green when it is overcast and bright blue in the sunshine. Unfortunately when it is raining that all turns to mud.

 

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Blue Pools Location

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Aimsfield Bistro Queenstown

The charming schist stone cottage lined with copper and recycled timber is closer to town than expected, which is handy. The mountains separating the Cromwell wineries and Queenstown are tricky to navigate. The view is spectacular with Coronet peak and Lake Hayes right out front. The place is still buzzing after Kate and William stopped by on their last visit.

The food is the star of the show and the man behind it all is Chef Vaughan Mabee. The produce is grown nearby or foraged right outside the mountains. Unique native ingredients are what makes Aimsfield so special and such a memorable experience. Perhaps taking cue from his time at Noma. Native NZ fish or butterfish are combined with rose, vinegar cream and horseradish snow are some of the prized dishes.

There is nothing to do but sit back, relax and enjoy the cracking fire place, mountains and the odd game of Pétanque after lunch.

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Trumpet fish with coconut sorbet

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Root vegetables in broth

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Smokey whipped butter

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Butter fish in an mussel sauce

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Lamb with spinach and caramelised yoghurt

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Soufflé with beer sorbet

 

Address 10 Lake Hayes Road, Queenstown, New Zealand +64 3 442 0556 , amisfield.co.nz

Open Lunch 12-3pm; dinner 5-8pm 7 days.

Best Butter Fish

Worst Its all amazing but the food is better than the wine

 

Bloodwood Newtown

Something a little different, outside the circle and thats Bloodwood. Fits in perfectly on Newtown’s King Street. While the menu items are a little hit and miss – it is still possible to order right. Although that requires thinking and being more on the inside than outside. Bloodwood experience perhaps. The hits we found were the roasted prawns, miso butter, hiramasa kingfish, coriander, chill and roasted swordfish, mulligatawny.  The wine list is nice on the glass side of things.

We couldn’t pass up the Bloodwood trifle – and on that day it was an early grey port jelly, quince and the required sponge. It was tasty and there were other desserts that would possibly be real stunners too.

Word on the street is that the chefs behind bloodwood came from the fine dining world. Threw in the towel for something fun, relaxed and personality. But that was ten years ago and they are still going strong. Although you can’t book a table, which is sort of a Melbourne thing. You can just rock up in your jeans wait around for a while in the front bar drinking cocktails and wine, while you wait. If the strategy is to ply you with alcohol before dinner, its working. It is a local favourite and has lifted the Newtown food scene.

 

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Sticky fried brisket and heirloom carrots

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Bloodwood Trifle

 

Address 416 king st. newtown, 9557 7699, bloodwoodnewtown.com

Open Lunch Sat-Sun 12pm; dinner 7 days 5pm.

Best Roasted prawns, miso butter

Worst Chickpea pancake, zucchini, dukkah, kale, persian feta

 

 

Blanca in Bondi

A fresh twist has arrived to Bondi. Normally a strip of beach cafe’s and over priced restaurants with those who strive to be seen. Nestled back in the Adina apartments building in a cosy restaurant with monochrome interiors you know you are in for something quite special.

The back story is that an ex Longrain chef , Tomi Bjork, found great success in Helsinki and Stockholm – five huge restaurant and a tv gig to be more specific. Now he’s back home and has left us a treat to enjoy.

Start with squid ink steamed bao with soft shell crab, XO mayo, cabbage and vinegar to get into the Asian Fusion mood, with subtle spanish influences. There is a whole section of the menu devoted to vegetables and we very much appreciate, as they are so healthy and delicious.

The wine list is great serving one of my go to favourites – reisingfreak. Also the gin and tonic menu is also worthwhile and fits the food well.

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LEEKS & FENNEL burnt vanilla butter, black garlic, grilled leeks, hazelnuts

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AGED BLACK ANGUS BEEF & XO (180g) grilled green leaves, XO mayo & sauce, pepper-miso butter

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Address Shop UG 4, The Hub, 75-79 Hall Street, Bondi Beach, NSW 2026 (look for the adina apartments and just being Tyvola) blanca.com.au

Open Tuesday – Thursday / 5:30pm til late, Friday – Sunday / noon til late

Best Angus beef

Osteria di Russo & Russo

On the surface Enmore looks like a old rundown street filled with take out stops. One fun fact is that behind some of these facades are a few restaurant gems, Osteria di Russo & Russo for one. The strange curtains and excessive plants hide the fine dining restaurant.

Food isn’t cheap but the service and atmosphere make up for it in spades. It is no wonder that it is a favourite amount foodies. A much covered secret and a place where people go to regularly because it is delicious and easy to frequent.

It does seem a bit of a stretch for an Italian restaurant, where the pizza or pasta section are noticeably missing. Not that you mind that much when the food is exquisite. The food is designed to share and you can pick your self or let the chef decide for you.

The native ingredients like crystal ice plants, riberries and native myrtle are unique. The balance of textures with crunchy toppings go perfectly with the puree. The creative team don’t lack any inspiration for updating the menu at a whim. The Italian wine was perfect and the sommelier and waitress advised us and got it right – nothing worse than a bad bootle of red.

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Local Burrata, Pumpkin, Candied Black Olive, Native Thyme, Crystal Ice Plant

 

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Char Grilled Market Fish, Cannellini Bean Puree, Roman Beans, Riberries, Coastal Greens, Native Lemon Myrtle

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Fresh Pasta, Prawn & Chervil Mousse, Fresh Peas, Prawn Reduction, Mustard Fruits, Prawn Head Pangritata

 

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Char Grilled Rangers Valley Rump Cap, Anchovy and Bread Sauce, Braised Tomato, Agrodolce Eshallots & Capers

 

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Zokoko 68% Chocolate Granita, Malt, Passion Berry, Honeycomb & Cocoa Nib

 

 

Address OSTERIA DI RUSSO & RUSSO 158 ENMORE ROAD, ENMORE they never answer the phone russoandrusso.net.au (book online in advance)

Open Tuesday – Sunday Dinner

Best Local Burrata

Mudgee Wine Country

A visit to wine country is like stepping into the promised land. Instead of milk and honey there is definitely riesling, cabernet franc and chardonnay grapes in abundance. It is strangely refreshing to be standing in a vineyard where your favourite drop is growing right in front of you.

Now most Sydney siders head to the Hunter Valley with the allure of the added convenience. However Mudgee has far more to offer in the way of wine, food, escapements and colonial charm of the town.

Everything is quite central in Mudgee, the town and vineyards are all neatly packed together, perfect if you remember to bring your bike along or drink a little too much at wine tastings.

While there are so many vineyards our favourite was Robert Stein vineyard and also has a converted restaurant overlooking a pond called PipeClay. You will want to lock in your dinner reservations well in advance, otherwise you will miss out and have to eat at Eltons in town – although its also fantastic.  If you run out of time, Roths had a good selection of local wine to try and also had more of a local buzz about the place.

Lowe wines are also worth visiting, especially the restaurant Zin House which has a farm to table mantra. Visitors are welcome to roam around the vineyard sipping wine and picnicking on the lawn. The good wines are not that easy to find but there are a few hidden gems.

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Lowe Wines

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Lowe Wines

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Lowe Wines

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Robert Stein Vineyard

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Our airbnb, Lewis Road Cottage

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Eltons

It is easiest to find a place in the centre of town so you can get coffee in the morning from the good cafes, or supplies if you plan to have a night in and put your developing chef skills to the test. There are local farmers markets on the odd Saturday with gorgeous organic produce like pomegranates, grapes, fennel, zucchini and of course – cheese. It is best to go early as everything runs out quickly.

There are a few great Airbnb’s out there where you can rent your own cottage for the weekend. If you are after a more rural experience then Turon Gates offers an eco lodge and other clamping options if you want to catch your dinner too. Trout is rumoured to be in the river along with the volcanic soil that brings out the flavours in the wine, amongst other things.

Niseko Ski Playground, Japan

What was once a remote, quiet and sleepy town in the north of Japan is now booming with Australians, Europeans and locals. Niseko is known for its abundance of dry, fluffy snow that pours over the region from December to March each year. Many Europeans are coming to Japan now as their ski seasons haven’t been great with hardy any snow falling.

The Après–ski atmosphere that Europeans are accustomed hasn’t quite reached Niesko but the largest town, Grand Hirafu has plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy, although out of your ski gear. Fridge Bar has great cocktails and great views of the snow and forrest that makes you appreciate the fresh alpine air even more. Wild Bills is great for a big night and has plenty of lively atmosphere to go around.

The main road has heated foot paths and roads but the side streets can be very slippery, so bring your mates to roam the streets arm in arm or wear the appropriate shoes. There are also free shuttles that pick you up at various bus stops every 20 minutes if you are set on waiting. It’s a huge God send when you are carrying your skis, poles and can’t really walk in your boots up to the gondola in the morning.

The fresh seafood for your sashimi or crab legs, ramen noodles, teppanyaki meats, Japanese gyoza dumplings and miso soup make Niseko a food paradise. The style of restaurants are still very traditional with wooden interiors and stoneware plates and the flavours true to the farmlands that were once here. Also the magnums of sake are impressive and far too easy to drink in tiny cups. The plum wine is also unique to the area and served over ice is very refreshing.

There is a huge variety of choice of skiing in Niseko and four main areas, Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Annapuri and Niskeo Village. There is a really reliable shuttle to Hanazono where the rest are a little testing to visit unless you can handle the black run from the top.

Annapuri has some gentle runs and great restaurant (for the ski slopes!) and food trucks. Still having the original gondola from the 70s it is a great spot also to go off piste.

Many spend a few days outside of Niseko in Sapporo or Mount Moiwa also offers some unique resorts, although best to hire a guide and get your fix of fresh powder.

After a day on slopes the mineral rich onsen offer the perfect way to unwind are recharge your battered legs or use the snow to ice your sprains. The Hilton as a great onsen that is open to guest not staying there and there is a shuttle from the main street (outside Rhythm sports) that goes almost every hour. In Japan you shower first before slipping into the natural hot water and that is completely au natural. You can’t wear any clothes besides a towel on your head. It is split between men and women just to keep things black and white.

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Mt. Yotei from the beginner slopes

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Snow falling on piste

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Nature on the mountain

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Covered Ski lift

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Night skiing

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Coffee fix

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Fridge Bar

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Fuku Fukutetei restaurant near the welcome centre

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Outdoor fire pitt off main street

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Shop on the main street

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Handful of snow

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Niseko Chalet

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Chateau Billopp view

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Chateau Billopp room

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Natural Fridge

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Top of Mt. Niseko-Annupuri

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Mt. Yotei

GETTING THERE

Best is to fly into Tokyo and get a connecting flight to Sapporo. There are two domestic airports in Haneda, Tokyo but there is a free shuttle bus outside that is easy to find. It can be tricky to find your airline as they are spilt across the two airports. You only need two hours for the connection to be safe and make sure you have something to eat before going though to customs as there isn’t much choice there. There are plenty of phone charging stations but the wifi was not easy to connect to. Excess baggage on Skymark airlines was only $10 for anther 4kg and checking in your skis was very easy.

Once you are in Sapporo then you need to book a coach transfer that takes a max of 3 hours with a 10 minute bathroom stop. The goodsports whiteliner is the cheapest and really good. Only an hour is needed to pick up your bags go to the counter on the right hand side of the terminal to mark your name off, pick up a few snacks for the trip at Lawson and then go to the cream waiting seats at the opposite side so you can get on the coach 15 minutes before it leaves. There are staff to help you get your bags on the coach but can be a bit tricky before that if you need to pick up a few things.

The coach stops at the welcome centre in Grand Hirafu and then your accomodation will be able to send someone to pick you up and take you to where you will be staying.

Also if you do any shopping in Japan and are needing a tax refund this needs to be done on the day and in the store rather than at the airport.

STAY

Best is to stay in Grand Hirafu as you are close to the main gondola to get up the mountain and all the night life. Accomodation does book up fast and you need to get this locked away before November.

Samurai Snow offers a range of choices

EAT

Best is to book your restaurants in advance as they book up and it is very difficult to get tables.

Abacha 1 & 2

Bang Bang 1 & 2

The Barn 

Fuku Fukutetei 

Back to nature with Rata Dining

Queenstown is undeniably a beautiful setting. Wall to wall mountains, ice blue lakes, gorgeous fishing town and lets not forget the snow in winter.

One of New Zealand’s top chefs Josh Emett has created a destination to sample some of the best produce on this side of the Tasman. Flour Caulton also has involvement and has the best restaurant at the Aimsfield winery, although a little out of the way..

With a forrest lining the walls and moss and other stones strategically placed, you can’t help thinking that you are in the middle of New Zealand and in some way you are – although just off the busy Queenstown streets.

Simplicity and delicacy of the dishes really stand out with well balanced flavours featuring asian influences with soy sauce and wasabi. Its a feast for the senses with Josh’t experience to plate us such beautiful creations time after time.

The impeccable wine list and knowledgeable staff complement the food well and also have some of the best wines in the region, Otago and the country.

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Line caught tuna crudo, avocado, ugli fruit, soy & mirin, coriander

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Cloudy Bay clams, vanilla braised fennel, radish, wild asparagus

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Dulce namelaka, apricot jelly, rose sorbet

Address Rātā Te Nuku, 43 Ballarat St Queenstown, New Zealand +64 3-442 9393 Ratadining.co.nz
Open Monday – Sunday: 12pm to 11pm Lunch/Dinner

Best Rose sorbet

Lets get social, Kensington St Social

Down a brand spanking new street in Chippendale is a line up of restaurants that are hard to beat – Automata and Kensington Street Social.

So its a Jason Atherton, bit of a London heavy weight from his Gordon Ramsay affiliation but he has left his mark with easy dishes that are well worth the visit.

The fit out is industrial chic and you don’t need to dress up, your sandals will do. It’s relaxed and easy going. There is a good mix of dining options. Bar food for the super casual, tables around the kitchen to gawk at the 5 chefs whipping up their magic and tables – low and high.

The food speaks for itself and everything is good. Although skip the entrees and head straight for the main. That is where the dishes really pack the punch. The snapper with seaweed mash and muscles have a warm creamy twist and the wagyu with artichoke and beef dashi is simple but just works. The desserts are also out of this world wish basil sorbet pavlova that is awesome to tuck into.

The wine list is great, making it the complete experience. Easy to breeze in and out with top notch food and wine, no wonder it is so popular.

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Kingfish

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Wagyu

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Snapper

 

Address 3 Kensington Street, Chippendale (02) 8277 8533 kensingtonstreetsocial.com

Open Lunch 12pm-2pm, Friday — Sunday, Dinner 5:30pm-10pm

Best Wagyu or any main

Bennelong Dining in the Opera House

 

The iconic opera house is home to art, music, theatre, entertainment and fine dining. What better place to unwind than under the shelled dome looking out on the water and all the buzz below. Also very contently located to turn a theatre trip into something special with a dinner before or just a causal drink at the bar. Bennelong delivers local roasted snapper, lemon puree, samphire, aigrette and umami butter or suckling pig with confit carrots and black and white garlic. The pavlova is created to look just like the opera house, just incase you missed it.It’s Peter Gilmore’s celebration of Australian producers with the best local produce carefully into dishes that you will remember. It is hugely popular and the food flows out of the kitchen as quickly as diners enjoy eating.

There are many partnerships with farmers, fisherman, breeders and providers to keep up with demand. The menu is seasonal which keeps up guessing and always is a reason to return.

Peter Gilmore's fresh take on the good old lamington.
                                                                  Lamington

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John Dory

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Pavlova

Address Sydney Opera House Bennelong Point Sydney, NSW 2000 (61 2) 9240 8000 bennelong.com.au 

Open Lunch 12pm-2pm, Friday — Sunday, Dinner 5:30pm-10pm

Best Pavlova