Martin Boetz and Sam Christie started Mongrain in Surry Hills, Sydney 15 years ago and branched out in Melbourne a few years later. Two years ago, Martin left Mongrain to concentrate his fledgling Cooks' Co-op produce business centred around a rural property he lives on near Sackville, on the Hawkesbury River - not far from our friends at Willowbrae Cheese - and supplying a raft of other successful restaurants in and around Sydney. It is a great space and I was lucky to be invited to this trade only event, thanks to my good friends at Prince Wine Store, Philip Rich and Jon Osbeiston. It was fitting as a good 70% of the wines were French. And I had a chance to finally meet Andrew Guard who specialises in organic and biodynamic wines and Jean-Paul Prunetti of France Soir restaurant fame in Melbourne where I have dined a few times.
Champagne, Riesling and Alsace, Sancerre, Chablis, Bourgogne, Cotes-du-Rhone were all very well represented, but Bordeaux was more or less absent. The Italians were there in force and I even tried some Argentinian Malbec, a wine I really like. And then there was a 2010 Corton Grand Cru from Lucien Le Moine, an appropriate name for a sacred wine! I think this was the best white wine I have ever tasted...I was really tempted to drink a full glass, but reason prevailed...(see last photo)
There are very few independent wine shops in Sydney, and The Oak Barrel at 152 Elisabeth Street in Sydney is one of them.
They specialise in craft local and imported beers, whiskies and "boutique" wines from France, Italy, Spain and the New World.
A very knowledgeable team led by Paul, the owner, and Simon, his son-in-law, will guide you through this Ali Baba Cavern of Bacchus related goodies. My son Grégoire found the place for me, as he is getting quite versed in the beer department, and starting to develop a taste for wine as well: as they say, the apple never falls too far from the tree.
I have spotted a few interesting potential buys for my next purchase, in photos below. Enjoy and go and pay them a visit ASAP!
I have not posted on wine much, so here is an article on my "everyday drinking" red... see our Wine page
Bumped into a lovely young lady yesterday at Harris Farm, who happens to be a distant cousin (she is partly French Canadian...) and she loves talking about food!
She is launching a new magazine called Gourmet Rabbit on Monday night at a still secret location...
And she is online and on Twitter too. Check her site at http://www.gourmetrabbit.com
You will find there inside information on our recently visited destinations.
Hopefully, you will find useful tips and insights into our own adventures in these fabulous places
Provence, and Paris are just the appetisers!
Maitre Karl and wife Paivi have just returned from a freezing tour of Europe including Helsinki, Nuremberg, Strasbourg and Paris..
It's great to have them back in Willoughby, on the Lower North Shore of Sydney Harbour, to entertain us with their stories 0ver a well brewed cup of coffee or, even better, one of their French inspired lunches.
As they correctly promise on their website, they deliver "a petite piece of Europe" in a nice and confortable decor.
The food is classical French Bistro with an Alsacian twist. The "Tarte Flambee" is the Alsacian version of an Italian pizza on a thin crust, and my favourite main course is the "Steak Frites", traditionally served with French fries and a side salad. It reminds me of a little place I used to stop for lunch in Paris near La Bastille, down to the red wine, Cotes du Rhone served by the glass. (Maybe, Maitre Karl should introduce the Australian diner to the concept of the Carafe, a 50cl measure ideal for two....).
There is plenty choice from Australia, France, Germany and New Zealand.
Prices are very reasonable and Maitre Karl is graced with a number of ladies who lunch any day of the week and it is always a good place to come with your clients for a quick business or thank you lunch.
In the evening, families and couples are the main clients who enjoy the casual chic atmosphere. There ia always a buzz, and yet you can still have an intimate conversation.
And by the way, Maitre Karl is having a very good deal for Valentine Day! Check it out and enjoy with no moderation!
Let me finish with this quote from Jeff Collerson in the Daily Telegraph in November 2005:
"There is no hurry to go though. I reckon Maitre Karl will be around for a long time. Even in fickle Sydney!
Could not be more right, Jeff!
In February 2009, I had the great opportunity to be invited to La Feniere, the restaurant and hotel that Reine Sammut owns in Lourmarin in the South of France.
It was a sweet and sour affair as it was a family reunion with my sister and my parents, one of them terminally ill and it was potentially our last celebration together. As I live in Australia, I had not seen them for five years and I was really looking forward to this treat.
Needless to say, the decor was lovely, understated, rich but not ostentatious, with a view of Provence in winter (and it was very cold outside, as snow was still on the ground less than 100kms north) through the windows.
The food was exquisite, the wine list to match (Dad treated us to a Meursault 1998...), the service diligent with none of the traditional French arrogance that you might expect in such a Michelin-starred establishment.
We had a ball!
Unexpectedly, I found out last week that Reine Sammut was in Sydney as part of Cuisine Now organised by Tony Bilson, the ‘Godfather of Australian Cuisine’, at the Radisson.
Expectedly, it was our 23rd anniversary on the 21st of January, and I had planned to treat my wife to a home cooked dinner of scallops with an Eastern treatment from a recipe by Eric Briffart accompanied by a Chateau Carbonieux 2005. (more on that story in another post later...)
I quickly changed my mind and called the Bilson's to book at table making sure Reine would be cooking that night.
I managed to keep that as a surprise until we were actually sitting at the restaurant's table and my wife asked me what was so special about the menu ( obviously, she was already impressed by being at Bilson's by then...)
So, I asked her to read the menu more attentively and she would find the surprise!
What I forgot to mention is that, although we have spent a lot of time in Provence together, we actually never made it to Lourmarin (Cucuron, Gordes and Oppedes-Le-Vieux had taken our fancy so much that we circled around Lourmarin without actually getting there...)
So, she was thrilled to find out that she would have a chance to sample Reine's famous food on the other side of the Planet!
The whole experience was very fitting, the Chablis Grand Cru Fourchaume 2006 a wild counterpoint to the Degustation Menu. Highlights were "Escabeche de Moules aux Epices", "Risotto aux Herbes et Citron vert, St Pierre Roti" and "Calisson au Roquefort" certainly the most out of the square of all 8 courses!
The cherry on the cake, so to speak, was meeting Reine Sammut who came in the restaurant around the sixth course.
Neither of us had met her before in person, but my parents had, as they have been dining at la Feniere half a dozen times, and my wife had written an article on her restaurant in a French trade magazine in Sydney.
Reine was very touched that we had all these conections and was thrilled that I could produce a photo of my parents for her to recognise.
We had a great chat and were very impressed by her simplicity and calm and she definetely enjoyed a bit of conversation in French in the middle of Sydney.
So, if you are in Provence, or in Sydney for the Festival next year, make sure you visit La Feniere, or watch out for Reine Sammut poping up at some local eatery and share the simple, yet sophisticated wonders she can create out of fresh and locally sourced produce.
If you want to read Reine's account of her trip to Sydney, click here
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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