In the bustling seaside town of Port Macquarielies one of its’ best kept secrets; an historic site that has been in the business of winemaking for 150 years.I say “secret” because although many pass by it daily, and they have a sign out front, they are situated beside a public school nestled into the scenery in near anonymity.That’s just the first surprise as you enter the grounds and park adjacent to an enormously tall copse of bamboo trees that frame the entrance to the old homestead building that welcomes you.Once inside, you can wander through on a self-guided tour, see some interesting antiques and learn the history of the pioneering Francis family who established this heritage site and launched the vineyard.
The Douglas Vale Conservation Group was formed in 1995 to save the site from demolition after the last family member died in 1993 which was fortunate since it is the oldest winery in Port Macquarie and was once also the largest.Today you can sample and purchase their wines which include a fortified Port style as well as whites and reds and even a rosé. The wine is no longer produced on the site but the grapes are still grown in the vineyard. Volunteers look after tours and tastings and welcome visitors so the hours of operation are short (from 10 am to 3 pm).Donations are also accepted (and greatly appreciated), and there are additional products available to purchase in the tasting shop as well—the prunes in Portobello wine are an ideal compliment to a fine piece of sharp cheddar cheese.
I found the Portobello and the whites more to my liking, and if you like dry reds, you will likely choose one of the reds.For my tastes, they are more in keeping with the earthy overtones that I’ve found more common to European wines.I’m not a wine expert but I do know what I like, and since I’m partial to reds that are bold and fruity I’d choose a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon before a Merlot or a Chianti.Regardless, I would gladly share a glass of any of the Douglas Vale red wines at dinner with good friends and a juicy rib steak.
Review of Ricardoes Café Red Restaurant Port Macquarie NSW AU.
Located ten minutes north of Port Macquarie on the Mid North Coast of NSW sits a fun café called Ricardoes that serves up some tasty meals featuring locally grown products in a relaxed atmosphere where you can also shop for fresh strawberries, tomatoes, jams, hot sauces, and much more. They are known for their tomatoes but that’s definitely not the only reason to stop by, as you can see in the following photos.
After doing some sightseeing in the area, we stopped in for lunch and to snoop in their shop as well.I ordered the Chicken Caesar wrap and while it was a little large for me, I ate most of it all the same LOL.I also ordered a coffee (referred to a “flat white” here in Australia), that was nicely presented and that I thoroughly enjoyed—it’s essentially a regular coffee with heated milk, but tastes much more like a Cappuccino. They served the chicken wrap with some carrot on the side but I think I would have preferred that added to the wrap as well as it complimented the flavours really well.Ben’s long time delightful friend Cheryl, (our wonderful host and guide during our stay), ordered the Beer Battered Flathead fish and it was very tasty and well prepared.Ben opted for the Trio of Dips with toasted oil brushed Turkish bread and shared a bit of our plates in place of a full meal—they included an olive tapenade that was too salty for my tastes but the Chutney style and spiced dips were fine and paired well with the Turkish bread.
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My wife Vicki ordered the Battered salt & pepper squid with the Greek salad but asked them to serve it without the feta and balsamic dressing which was to be replaced with a simple oil and vinegar dressing.However it was served with a far too spicy sweet chilli style dressing instead that spoiled it for her even though the squid was tender and well prepared with a very crunchy coating.
Here’s the main menu to check out:
Despite the small “faux pas” on the salad dressing, the food was otherwise quite good and I’d recommend it for a quick lunch and would not hesitate to eat there again.
So I usually do reviews about restaurants or places where you can buy food like markets, but trains, like planes, serve food and it can be hit or miss, so I will touch upon it today, as well as let you know a little about what it’s like to travel by rail in Australia.
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Many of you have likely ridden the rails in Canada the USA, Europe and elsewhere and will have interesting tales to tell me too—don’t be shy, you can steer me to your blog, or send me an e-mail, as I’d love to hear about your experiences too.
First off, I can say that we all know that nothing is perfect and we’ve experienced a few less than desirable things happen while travelling with my brother Ben who is currently wheelchair bound and unless you’ve found yourself in the same situation, you wouldn’t have any idea how unpleasant it can be at times. For example while travelling from Katoombato Sydney’s Central station he often has to sit in the vestibule between cars that is not a controlled environment where you are inhaling unhealthy stinky diesel fumes, and, where you have to deal with passengers embarking and disembarking at each stop along the journey; which takes about 2 hours. In addition, he often finds that there is no toilet access for him but he can also be stuck in a vestibule that has one with a steady stream of passengers coming and going—not enjoyable by any means.
However, for today’s journey, we were fortunate enough to have been able to ride to Strathfield aboard a car that had a proper spot for wheelchairs and then transferred to a First Class car on the next train to continue our trip to Taree.One thing I can say is that the crew working on these trains have been extremely helpful in the majority of cases and they are usually ready with the ramps that must be temporarily placed and removed each time Ben has to get on, or off, and most of them are very pleasant and happy to assist us.
Now, as far as comfort on our leg of the journey from Strathfield to Taree, I can say the seating and tray tables are better than most airlines nowadays as you do have more leg room and the windows are large and appear to be in better condition than on the commuter trains we rode from the Blue Mountains into Sydney.That may not seem like much but when you are passing by some beautiful landscapes if is detrimental and discouraging to take pictures or shoot some video clips.Our train car was pleasantly decorated with blue themed carpeting, seat covers and curtains.
Now, let’s talk about food.They have an onboard menu that will satisfy most hungry travellers featuring “all-day” breakfast items, as well as both hot and cold fare such as sandwiches, the daily special, sweets, hot and cold beverages as well as beer and wine. However, don’t expect anything that surpasses a frozen TV style dinner and note that portion sizes are not humongous so if you are a big eater you’ll have to order more items. One diner described their Stir-Fried Beef lunch: “Well, I can’t really say if it’s beef or not, the rice is not cooked properly and they only good thing is the beans”. Passengers are also permitted to bring their own meal onboard with the exception of alcohol which must be purchased onboard.
Seat-side service on this trip was excellent and considering that we travelled “First Class” I was surprised that we had to pay for food and beverages—that differs from what we’d expected.But, on our return trip 5 days later, seat service was non-existent and the call button did not work for my brother Ben in his wheelchair so I had to go to the Buffet car and place the order at the counter.That train also broke down and we had to transfer to a commuter train that was “packed to the hilt with passengers” that left us standing for more than an hour with our luggage—an unexpected and sorry development resulting in us missing our connecting train back to the Blue Mountains. We then boarded another computer train on route to Katoomba and were fortunate to obtain seats on that one as it was full by the time we departed.
Here’s some shots of their menu card:
In this leg of our journey I am pleased to say that the weather was warmer than what we’ve been experiencing in the Blue Mountains which reminded me of the Spring weather we had in Bowmanville back in April with numerous cloudy days, some rain, and/or drizzle, and overnight lows that had me in need of a hot water bottle! Fair Dinkum (No kidding) as they say here LOL!Of course, we are heading north partly for that reason, and also to see a different part of the country—it’s far too large a continent to be able to see more than a fraction of the country’s many diversities when it comes to climates, landscapes and animals that are so different than what we have in Canada.This is what attracts so many tourists to Australia in the first place, and gives it its’ great appeal.I consider us to be very lucky to be able to have taken this trip off of our bucket list, yet we will still fall short of being able to see everything we’d like to see since 5 weeks is definitely not enough time.If you plan to make Australia one of your destinations I’d strongly suggest you plan on coming more than once, or finding a way to spend a few months here because you really do need the time.That’s true of other countries as well.I recall how my relatives used to travel to Canada from Europe and never grasped the enormity of the continent. They thought they’d be able to hop in the car in Montreal and be in Niagara Falls within an hour’s time LOL!
Also, if you are coming to Australia, do make use of the rail system as driving here is different and while I’ve done it successfully, it’s easier to relax and let others do the driving for you—as long as they are running properly and on time.
Review of Ocean Beach Hotel Bistro Umina Beach, NSW AU.
In the lovely town of Umina Beach there are a number of places one might venture in to grab a bite to eat, and on this fine warm evening on the suggestion of Ben’s long-time good friend Viv, we elected to dine at this pub style restaurant.Sadly as it turned out, Monday was not the best night to be there.Why? Well apparently they were short of supplies in the kitchen and unable to fulfil orders from their menu. Given that even a simple spaghetti Bolognese was a no-go, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the hamburger I ordered appeared on a “blue” bun (yes, see the photo) because they had run out of regular buns and there was no beet root in it either (which incidentally was the reason I had ordered the burger in the first place since my brother Ben had told that this was a standard in Australia and that I should try it).
On the positive side, the burger itself tasted fine, but the ‘blue” bun was either not fresh or just crumbly in nature as it reminded me more of cake than bread. You may be wondering why a blue bun?Well I didn’t bother to ask but I suppose that “once in a blue moon” you might get a “blue bun” LOL!It came with chips (french fries as we call them in North America), and they were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, (i.e. properly fried), but I believe originally frozen as is so common in today’s eateries.
My brother Ben ordered the Caesar Salad with anchovies and he was quite satisfied with it while Sue, one of our dining companions found the dressing on her salad was overly sweet. We also ordered some duck spring rolls and they were nice and crispy but skimpy on the duck meat and the dipping sauce was far too sweet to enjoy. Viv elected to only havecoffee, which thinking back on it now, perhaps I should have done too LOL!
We received a couple of cups of complimentary coffee and dessert which although not mentioned on the menu accompanies items ordered off of the “Senior Menu”.The coffee fell short in the flavour department and the dessert turned out to be a flaky crusted tart square that I think had a peach filling and reminded me of ready-made store-bought turnovers that you’d find in most supermarkets.
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In fairness to the young man working alone in the kitchen, it seemed the odds were stacked against him as it’s extremely difficult to produce one’s best when the pantry is bare!I did ask what might be the best day of the week to dine at this venue, and he said Wednesday.We won’t be able to try it again as we depart on that day but I do hope that he receives his deliveries soon or there may well be more unhappy patrons departing (I overheard a group leaving and it appears they decided to find another place to eat since their orders could not be filled due to a lack of seafood).
Atmosphere: The decor is pretty spartan and bare and the ceiling with exposed steel structure was too high to feel cozy but it did have a general pub feel to it. However it was very draughty and a few occasions I smelled the unpleasant aroma of cigarette smoke (I’m not sure if this was coming from the outdoor terrace as the doors were left open to it, or from passersby out front but nowadays that should not happen).
Ocean Beach Bistro: Would I eat there again?I’d give it a second chance, but not on a Monday night!
Review ofRuby’s Café and Books, Umina Beach NSW AU.
We drove into Umina Beach just before noon with a plan to meet up with one of my brother Ben’s close friends; Viv.It’s a splendid charming seaside town; the type of place where you can enjoy a stroll to window shop and to find a cozy spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch. Upon Viv’s recommendation we soon found ourselves seated at Ruby’s Cafe and Books, where they welcomed us warmly and promptly provided wheelchair access by bringing a ramp to the front door and later to a small step up into the area we seated at.
We were given menus but orders are only taken at the front counter and later delivered to your table. A bit of an unusual practice for us but in many ways practical since you place your order and pay in advance so no need to wait for the bill once you’re done dining.I should mention that “tipping” is not a common practice in Australia, and any all taxes are always added to prices of goods or services so they are generally rounded out to the dollar—a practice I’d love to see adopted in North America (NA). Also minimum wages are higher here as well, which from our perspective makes restaurant prices appear higher than we are accustomed to, but in reality they likely compare favourably once we add taxes and tips to NA prices.
I ordered a tomato-ham-cheese melt with a salad and an ice coffee as it was quite warm and they do not sell beer or wine at the café. The coffee was loaded with ice cubes and served with a simple flavoured syrup to sweeten it to your taste which is a nice touch, but the cubes did melt fast and diluted my coffee a bit more than I would’ve liked—I should have spooned out some of the ice but did not think of it right off.The cheese melt was very tasty using a generous amount of cheddar and my salad was nice and crisped refreshing with just the right amount of house dressing added on top. My wife Vicki ordered the fish and chips and they were very good considering that this was not a dedicated fish and chips shop—a welcomed outcome as it can be chancy to order fish in venues that don’t specialize in preparing it.I sampled the fries and they were excellent—golden brown crispy exterior, soft and moist inside—the way a good French fry should be, and I’m certain these were hand cut and not previously frozen. The fish & chips also came with a fresh salad and a proper tartare sauce.Viv ordered the ham & cheese melt with fries, and Ben had the curried beef meat pie with salad, and there they were both fully satisfied with their choices.
Menu: My apologies for not including one here, and please note that prices are comparable with similar eateries of this type, so don’t let that discourage you from giving it a try.
Atmosphere: Excellent, and on a nice day you can also sit outdoors and watch the locals and tourists strolling by or read your paper while the ocean breeze cools you off.
So find the time to drop in and read a book while you are there, or log on to their wi-fi and see what’s happening in the world as you sip your coffee and/or your meal.It’s the type of place where friends meet to chat and enjoy each others company and share a laugh or two!
In the Blue Mountains there’s a gem of a place to stop for coffee with an all day breakfast menu that you must try to visit called Synonymous. I’ve not been drinking much coffee due to it creating a touch of stomach acid in my system but their coffee was worth any possible discomfort I might experience and my “Flat White” (coffee with milk) was expertly prepared and a super delicious way to kickstart my breakfast! The coffee they serve is Campos brand (considered by many to be the best coffee in Australia), and it’s a rich blend of true coffee flavour to fuel you up.
Synonymous has an excellent breakfast menu, (including Gluten-Free options), that won’t leave you wanting for anything. My fried eggs with sour dough toast and roasted tomatoes seasoned with thyme, salt and pepper were the prefect balance and I could not resist trying some of my wife’s order of buttermilk pancakes with crème fresh that had been marvellously sweetened with syrup and served with syrup sweetened pecan nuts on the side and fresh fruit.Their menu is seasonal and will vary throughout the year but I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed no matter when you decide to go.
My brother Ben had eggs as well but opted for the poached version and they were perfected cooked as well and perhaps the most notable thing was that everyone had a completely empty plate sitting in front of us when we were done—actions speak louder than words and this was one of those rare occasions when the sheer idea of leaving something on the plate was simply “out of the question” LOL!
The ambiance of the cafe is also perfect, smartly decorated with a flair for modern rustic with the wood tables, floors, stools and paneling, right down to the touches of stainless steel, white ceramic tiles, hanging warehouse style light fixtures, and quality artwork.The only thing missing on the chilly morning that we were there was a blazing wood fireplace! 😀
We were recently treated to lunch by my nephew Kyle’s lovely girlfriend Mel at this very popular seafood eatery that has won awards and serves up some splendid fresh fare that will delight anyone who enjoys shrimp, oysters, calamari, and delicious fish and chips, etc.The shop itself is small and bustling with a steady flow of patrons coming in and out as they carry their seafood platters outside to feast on.We were fortunate to arrive before it got too busy and since seating is only available on an outdoor covered terrace, you certainly don’t want to be without a table on a hot sunny day—especially since their seafood platters are huge, and not created to be the standard takeaway that you’d want to eat in your car LOL!So be sure to get there early enough to grab a good table, (on hot days they have fans with a spray mist to keep you cool—a nice touch!).
Our first platter comprised a pile of large boiled shrimp (or I should say prawns as they are called here), raw oysters, with a tasty dipping sauce, salad and lemon wedges.We thoroughly enjoyed these with some crusty buttered garlic bread, and if that was not enough, we had another platter featuring battered calamari rings, prawns, fish & chips, squid and Oysters Kilpatrick which is a wide-spread Australian method of preparing oysters with bacon and Worcestershire based upon the British Oysters Kirkpatrick. It was salty and savoury making me wish that I had brought some cold beer along (they don’t serve alcohol but you can bring your own beer or wine; and there are no corkage fees).
The fish & chips was made with super fresh New Zealand Blue Grenadier commonly known as Hoki and it was superb with a light crispy delicate batter that had a slight sweetness to it—it was more reminiscent of Japanese Tempura batter which Vicki and I prefer over a thick coating that is often common to this classic.I generally don’t eat fried calamari as I’ve had many disappointments with this specialty (but these were excellent and far better than the batch that I had at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco where so many people rave about them, yet I was sorely disappointed with after great anticipation).They were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, (not chewy or rubbery), and not fishy-tasting either, which can be a real turn off.
See photo below for their menu board:
The atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable and they provide cloth towels at the tables which you will need to wipe your hands after peeling the fresh prawns—they sure beat paper napkins that never seem to do the job as well as we like.
In a nutshell, do yourself a favour if you are visiting the historic town of Windsor (where you will find the oldest pub in Australia Macquarie Arms Hotel), and drop in for lunch or dinner—I have to say that this was some of the best seafood that I’ve enjoyed in a long time and definitely among the freshest and best tasting.Windsor may be a small town, but they are big on fantastic seafood at Windsor Seafood!
Review of Hulu Restaurant, King Street Wharf at Sydney’s Darling Harbour by Bill Wilkat
Wondering about Oriental food in Australia was just one of the reasons we, (myself, my wife Vicki and my brother Ben), opted to stop for a bite to eat while strolling along the Sydney harbour/marina.We enjoy good Chinese food and although Sidney’s Chinatown was a short walk away, it was 37 C and we needed to take the load off–and a cold beer was calling me from nearby LOL!
Well we need not wonder any more as it seems there’s plenty of good choices where you can enjoy a variety of different Asian meals from Cantonese to Taiwanese etc. as well as fusion takes on these popular cuisines.The Sydney harbour has many choices and we found a Chinese restaurant called Hulu and decided to give it a try. We were not disappointed. While the portion sizes were modest, the flavours were all there, which compensated for the lack in value.
We chose a few dishes to share which included; Chicken in lettuce wraps, fried pork dumplings, pork in rice flour noodle rolls, steamed prawn dumplings, & crispy chicken & vegetable spring rolls; and they were all brought to our table in a timely manner so we never had anything served us cold. Everything was very tasty and satisfying and I enjoyed it all with my Tsingtao beer, despite the fact that it would have been nice had each dish had just a couple more servings of each item.I’m not a big eater, but big eaters will have to order more than what we did to satisfy their appetites.
But, I’m going to focus on flavours and preparation and in that respect, there were no failures with crispy dumplings and spring rolls and perfectly cooked prawn dumplings, (I found these to be similar to Shumai steamed dumplings that we would find in most Chinese restaurants in Montreal or Toronto served as a Cantonese dish for Dim Sum). There are many different spellings that I’ve come across (i.e. Sui Mai) as well as many different variations of this specialty in other countries including Japan and Malaysia to name a couple. The pork noodle rolls were on the smallish side compared to what we’ve often had at other restaurants during Dim Sum but again made up for it with spot-on flavour and served nice and hot.
Ambiance: Pleasant cool outdoor covered terrace with a ground floor level view of the marina
I can certainly recommend Hulu Restaurant but if you’re on a really tight budget, there are other eateries a short walk away like Oiden Bowl on George Street where you can grab a fast Asian lunch for 3, (excluding beverages), for about $19.00 and the food is actually very good, with good-sized portions—an excellent bang for your buck!
Having a party? Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner? Greet your guests with a glass of light, crisp, refreshing glass of rosé. This lovely dry wine pairs with a wide variety of foods, and is a lovely palate cleanser between rich courses. Going to a party? Bring a bottle for your host or hostess!
We were there to lunch with some dear friends of my brother whom he’d not see for a while and we only had to wait for about 3 minutes before they called our party of 6 to be seated—so not a long wait despite the queue of dinners the was quickly forming. Overall we found the service to be speedy and efficient and there were no mistakes in our orders. The atmosphere and decor inside the dining area was pleasant and bright and the view overlooked a valley which was more appealing than viewing painted walls and artwork that are more commonly found in cafés of this style, although they too were easy on the eyes.
Prices were a tad on the high side for the type of fare which I would equate with casual pub style dinning although there is no liquor service (but you can bring your own wine subject to a $2.00 corkage fee).I ordered the French Steak sandwich which is basically two thin slices of steak presented on top of a crusty submarine roll and served with Dijon mustard, caramelised onions and a garden salad. It was tasty enough, although I had hoped for something a little more special given the $19.90 price. The salad was nice and fresh and I had enough dressing to balance the flavours.I did get a surprise when I received the ice coffee I ordered as it came topped with fresh whipped cream, and ice cream floating below that!While I had not expected that, it certainly was delicious and refreshing LOL!
My wife ordered the Gourmet Chicken Potato and Leek pie which also included a garden salad. She said it was okay but felt the portion should have been larger considering the pie crust was only a topping of puff pasty over the filling (larger than the pie itself).She also said it seemed to be lacking the leeks, unless they we cut so small as to be more or less invisible.
My brother Ben ordered the Lamb’s Fry which is actually lamb liver and while it was tasty, the liver was sliced quite thin so it became dry in texture, and Ben felt the sauce should have been less like a thickened gravy but more like an “au jus” based on the menu’s description of the dish. It did not include a salad but came with mashed potatoes and over-cooked bacon which was difficult to cut.
I did not want to bother our lunch companions by taking photos of their meals and interviewing them, but they were generally satisfied with their meals and had no negative comments—which was very positive.
From the comparisons that I can draw with similar eateries, Leura Gourmet Café & Deli is no worse, nor any better, and I would certainly consider eating there again.The deli aspect of the storefront is another reason I would consider returning since we did not have a chance to sample any of the many products being offered behind the counter nor on the shelves.In a nutshell, an acceptable restaurant with a comfy feel, good service, and a menu selection that will satisfy most diners.
Deli & Specialty Selections at the front of the restaurant.
Too bad that today is not National Muffin Day because these muffins really hit the spot any day of the year! So moist and tasty and of course even better with a dollop of fresh creamery butter. We have yet to make some of these using gluten-free flour so I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out when the time comes; but luckily Vicki and I don’t have any issues with gluten so we can enjoy these at breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Some might argue that eating muffins is not the healthiest choice but as I’ve said many times, it’s not wise to deny yourself everything you enjoy or you’ll get severe cravings and overdo it when you choose to indulge.
A balanced healthy diet is a matter of making many choices, and changing how you eat for life, not worrying about the occasional consumption of a muffin or feeling guilty about it. These muffins do contain healthy ingredients, (apples, carrots, zucchini, flaxseed, etc.), and having a couple together with some yogurt and more fresh fruit is a great way to start off your day and give you energy for when you go out and do some Black Friday shopping. These would even make a great treat during the Thanksgiving Holidays–think positive for positive results and enjoy!
30 ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
125 ml (½ cup) milk
167 g (⅔ cup) packed brown sugar
4 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
415 g (1¾ cup) whole wheat flour
63 g (¼ cup) ground flaxseed
8 g (2 tsp) baking powder
2 g (½ tsp) salt
4 g (1 tsp) cinnamon
1 g (¼ tsp) nutmeg
250 g (1 cup) peeled, diced apple
125 g (½ cup) grated carrot
125 g (½ cup) grated zucchini
In a mixing bowl, lightly beat egg, add the oil, milk, brown sugar, vanilla and mix well.
In a separate mixing bowl, mix together the flour, flaxseed, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Add these dry ingredients to the egg mixture, stirring until just combined.
Stir in the apples, carrots and zucchini.
Spoon mixture into a silicon muffin tray, or using a metal muffin tray, into greased or paper lined medium muffin cups, filling each one almost to the top.
Bake in pre-heated 205 C (400°F) oven for 18 to 20 minutes until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.