"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Back to Christchurch.

Leaving Queenstown without much of a heavy heart, I set off for Christchurch and my chum, Lizzie's place and was there in 4 hours flat. With one stopover in a small town called Ashburton for tea and to tap a

Ashburton is extraordinary. It is like being on the set of a Midsommer Murders. It looks like it was
transplanted direct from England c1955 , teashops and all. Really very strange indeed.

I deposited my bags back at my chum's house and then the car at the Hertz site in Christchurch. By now it
was a little after 1pm and I had arranged to meet Lizzie after work at 6pm which gave me a good amount
of time to explore Christchurch.

The city itself has a population of about 300,000 and I have to say that I found myself rather liking it. I
spent a good couple of hours walking around the botanical gardens which are the pride of the city and
surround the River Avon where boys from the local private school can be found giving punt rides up and
down the stream.

I had a pleasant lunch at a local cafe called The Honey Pot where a spiced lamb burger hit the spot and
the young female waitstaff, while blitheringly incompetent, provided a restful place to let ones gaze

By the time 6pm came around, I had "done" Christchurch and after a quick drink with Lizzie at the original of
the Dux Delux chain, we hopped on the shuttle bus back over the hill to Lyttleton where we had supper at,
what is a local institution, The Volcano. Lizzie had had blah meals before, but we were both too busy to
cook, so gave it another try. I have to say, that while in general the food in NZ was not of a high
standard, this was one of the best meals I had on the trip. We shared a plate of huge green lipped mussels
along with a beer and while Lizzie had a passable steak, I had a wonderful rack of local lamb, perfectly
cooked and served simply with a fresh salad. It hit the spot and in such very agreeable surroundings, I
was very content indeed.

I had, in a moment of madness and drunkenness on my first night in NZ, promised to cook Indian food for
Lizzie and her friends, so the Tuesday saw me up at the crack of dawn and headed into town to buy
ingredients. I was able to find most things and returned to her house a couple of hours later to spend
a blissful day playing with her adorable cat, Pickle and making huge quantities of

Tandoori Chicken
Braised lamb shanks
Chicken Korma
Prawn Do Piaza
Cauliflower and pumpkin curry
Tomato and onion salad with a tarka of cumin and bulb

By 7pm when her friends arrived, I was quite exhausted, but soon revived by an offer of some Pelorus Rose.

The evening passed in a bit of a blur of conviviality and I crashed out about midnight ready to dream dreams
of Natalie Portman and lots of jello.

My last day in New Zealand and I felt miserable all day until I headed for the airport for my flight to

It is fair to say that I truly loved my time in NZ more than just about anywhere I had ever visited. The
people, the landscape, the atmosphere combines to make this a truly magical place. True, the food really
sucked for the most part and it was often as exciting as a wet weekend in Cleethorpes on a Tuesday in February, but there is something about it that will stay with me forever. I was horribly sad to leave and am 100% certain I will return.

When Tony, the cab driver who had become my unofficial driver while in town, arrived to take me to the
airport, I was already, though to head to Sydney and the next chapter of the journey.

The flight to Sydney from Christchurch is about 3 hours and, despite having to circle above the city for
some time while thunderstorms cleared below, I arrived on time and was through immigration ( with a brief stop for them to wash my walking shoes ) and at my hotel at Darling Harbour within an hour of landing

I had predicated my time in Sydney almost entirely on Eating at some of its much lauded restaurants and, on
this first night, headed to the most well known of all, Rockpool situated in The Rocks

For some reason, I found the restaurant quite different from what I had imagined and was slightly
disappointed to find that, in looks at least, it was a very standard identikit style upmarket room.

Still, I was greeted warmly and the table I was led to was well placed for checking out the other diners. I
ordered a pre dinner martini which was disgusting and set about perusing the menu. Very enticing it was too
and there were easily six things in each course that I could have chosen.

In the end I plumped to begin with a salad of mud crab with pork belly and green paw paw and, for my main
course, John Dory, Indian style in a pastry case.

A small amuse arrived of goats cheese tortellini with tea soaked raisins and pine nuts. Harmless, but

My Entree ( unlike the US, the NZ's and Australians seem to know what the word means ) was stunning.
Achingly fresh crab with crispy shards of pork and the sharpness of the paw paw made this one of my highlights of the trip as did the block of salt and pepper tofu atop it. Silky and smooth with a crackling casing. Wonderful. Unfortunately, the glass of
Rockpool Riesling I ordered with it turned out to be insipid and an uninspired choice.

Then the whole evening just crashed and burned. Twenty minutes passed, then forty, then nearly an
hour. A couple of raised eyebrows and the waiter did not seem to get me any further and I was about to just
ask for the bill when Rick Stein walked into the restaurant with his girlfriend and was soon surrounded
by waitstaff. At this point I had had enough and walked up to the Maitre'D and said " do you mind if I ask Mr Stein if he will mind waiting over an hour for his main course like I am having too?" Profuse apologies followed and my dish soon appeared, but I
guess the sour taste I had in my mouth tainted the food as it was a disaster of a dish. Overcooked by a
point, John Dory sandwiched to all intents and purposes between two papadums and smothered in a badly made raita. Grim, as was the Delatite Gewurtz I ordered with it.

Service was harmlessly efficient if charmless and they flopped the napkin test

I got the bill. A not inconsequential AUS$135 and left as soon as I could and walked the 30 mins back to
Darling Harbour hoping that the other restaurants would live up to my expectations more than this one.

Rockpool - 4/10

A day of work was planned for the Thursday as I met with our distributors in Australia and New Zealand and
then with the Australian Book Club

Before that, I got up and had a very pleasant run around Darling Harbour and a long swim in the lap pool
on the top floor of my hotel. I then headed out to do the tourist thing and walked through Hyde Park and up
to the Harbour to briefly gaze on the Opera House ( yawn! ) and The SH Bridge ( double yawn!)

That out of the way, I headed to the office and passed a few hours with my chums there who are doing a
wonderful job for us.

Lunch was a quick affair at Cafe Bubla in the CBD. Fine and a nice place to chat.

By the time the meetings had finished it was late afternoon and I returned to my hotel and changed into
my "civvies" and headed out to see the seedy side of Sydney.

The King's Cross area is as notorious as its London counterpart for sleaze and undesirables. I felt right at home and dipped in an out of a few bars before heading back on foot to Chinatown.

En route, I stopped off at The East Sydney Hotel, a very down at heel pub in , er, East Sydney. There I plonked myself at the bar and drank 4 schooners of assorted beer while reading, inappropriately enough Men's Health Magazine (cover headline "how to make sure your Sheila does the dirty" ) and watched the assorted local derelicts drink them self closer to the angels. Very fun.

My hotel was on the edges of Chinatown, so after checking my mails at an internet cafe, I stopped of at one of the many places on offer and had a perfectly passable plate of roast pork and duck before heading up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.

Beautiful weather greeted me as I went for my morning run. I ran farther than before ( about 8 miles ) and felt like I had burned off most of the excess of the last few nights.

After availing myself of something squeezed and fresh at one of the excellent juice bars that seem to litter Sydney's streets, I visited The Powerhouse Museum for a very enjoyable few hours. What a great place! My main reason for visiting was that it was playing host to a Lord of The Rings exhibition ( well worth seeing ) but the rest of the museum was filled with displays of innovation and technology. This is museums as they should be. Hands on, lots of signs saying "please touch the displays" engaging staff. Fantastic

By the time I came out into the sunlight, I was starving and was blessed by angels as the first thing I saw was a stall proclaiming "HANNAH'S HOT PIES" How could I be so churlish as to refuse? I couldn't so bought an enormous minced beef pie topped artistically with mound of mushy peas. Washed down with a diet coke while I was seated on a park bench, this was
perfection. The meat pie was stuffed with choice beef and the juice dribbled down my chin as I tore at it with my braced teeth. I kept on expecting someone to tell me to get a room.

After this orgasmic moment, I decided to have some down time and headed back for a nap. The afternoon nap is one of the great holiday indulgences and I had not had much opportunity to do that while on this trip, so this was a real luxury. Availing myself of the bubbly products in my hotel bathroom, I soaked for an hour, shaved my bonce and then slept for two good hours while dreaming about the legalities of marrying
a minced beef pie.

By the time I awoke, it was nearly 4pm and I rushed out of the door to catch my commuter train to Bondi Junction. The central station was very close and the trains run every few minutes for the short journey. Bondi Junction itself is very swish. The Oxford St Mall is perhaps the swishest I have ever seen. On four floors it was packed with the most upscale shops, food courts and eateries I have seen. Oh, and it offered valet parking.

After another juice and a beer in The Eastern Bar, I headed off on the not unsubstantial walk to Bondi
Beach. The sun was beating down and I was beginning to regret my decision not to get a cab when I began to
notice that more and more of the people I was passingwere in their beach clothes and I was obviously
getting closer. It took about forty minutes in all and I was pleased when the beach finally came into
view. Very impressive it was too as were the bodies on show. All sorts, all sizes, all shapes.

I plonked myself down on a seafront bench overlooking the beach and spent a very happy few hours reading my book ( by now having given up on Baldaci and trying to improve myself with Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now ) and trying not to be too obvious peering at the little chickadees in their skimpy costumes

My next major meal in Sydney was at Sean's Panorama on Campbell Parade overlooking the beach. After a couple
of beers in a nasty little bar near by, I arrived bang on time for my 7pm table to be greeted amiably by adelightful waiter. "you must be Simon?" he said pointing me to a great table with a wonderful view.

Where Rockpool was po faced, this was warm and welcoming ( and packed to the rafters) where Rockpool was measured and considered, this was funky and rumbustuous. I loved it.

So fabulous bread was put in front of me with a bowl of Nolan's Hunter Valley Olive oil and I drank a glassof Penfolds Reserve 98 Riesling while I checked out the menu ( on boards around the restaurant.)

For my starter, I chose a Yabby cocktail. Not having clue number one what a Yabby was, my waiter was kind
enough to bring out a live one and plonk it on my table while he went to serve someone else. It had eyes and a face so I wanted to eat it. The cocktail was spot on. A big place of thick langoustine like yabbys topped off with a creamy mayo and a tomato chutney surrounded by a number of the claws which offered up sweet meat with the gentlest of tugs. Sensational and worked well with the penfold too.

for my main course, I had one of my rare meat dishes of the trip and ordered Black pork ( from Bangalow )
with roast pumpkin and pear with braised lettuce. As so often, the meat dish was weaker than the fish dish.Not bad at all, but not ground breaking. Perfectlypassable. I broke my rule about only drinking wine from the country I am in and ordered a glass of the Josmeyer 2002 Pinot Gris. Fine, no more.

I was too stuffed for pudding and paid the bill ( a reasonable AUS$100 ) and headed back ( by cab thistime ) to Bondi Junction and the train to my hotel

Sean's Panorama - 8/10

My last day in Sydney saw my up with the larks again with a run and another swim under my belt and ready
for my next meal.

Greg Doyle runs The Pier in Rose Bay. It is meant to be one of the best seafood restaurants in the world
and I was looking forward to testing it out as I headed off on the ferry from Circular Quay to Rose Bay. There are quicker ways of getting there, but few more spectacular and I could appreciate why people like Sydney, though I do not think I will ever really muster up any great affection for it.

I will however rustle up some love for The Pier. In a truly gorgeous setting, the restaurant is an example in restraint, light and airy and offering staggering views across the bay, this was one of the best meals I have had in five years easily.

I arrived a little early and was, bar one couple, the only one if the place. The service was lovely and I was soon at a great table with a staggering view enjoying a Cooper's Pale Ale.

Again there is so much on the menu that I could have easily ordered all of it. I was tempted by the tasting menu, but plumped instead to try their legendary raw plate to begin with.

I nibbled on some OK bread while I waited for the first course to arrive and sipped on an amuse of corn cappuccino. it was good, but just whetted my appetite or the arrival of the entree

When it did, it was a work of art. Four beautifully structured raw dishes

Ocean trout Tartare with horseraddish craime fresh
Kingfish in a vietnamese dressing
Carpaccio of rock scallops in local oil and lemons
Tuna sashimi wrapped in pickled local cumcumber

each was a revelation in clarity and taste. A must have dish

I drank with it a 2003 Mount Horrocks riesling ( the list of wines by the glass was pitifully small ) which
worked well. A nice hint of petrol complimented the raw fish

For my main course, I had ordered confit ocean trout. What arrived was again beautiful to look at and even
better to eat. A fillet of moist salmon like sea trout, confit in local oil until medium and served ontortellini of bug meat ( a local crayfish ) with broadbeans and dill in a light seafood consomme. Exemplary. This is up there with the very best dishes
I have ever eaten.

With this I had an unoaked 2003 Chardonnay from Punt Cove. Lots of fruit and not quite right for the dish,but ok given the limited choice

I was on a roll by now and fancied a rare treat of pudding so ordered the tasting plate of mango
desserts. Each came topped with candied mangoes and each was sublime

I drank an icewine from Wellington with my dessert. This was a misfire. Cloying and slightly sour.

It took a little time to organise my taxi back to the city, so I sat and drank in the view and chatted tothe lovely waitstaff while I paid my bill ( a London level of AUS$177 )

Make no mistake, The Pier is a very special restaurant indeed. Lots of restaurants around the world have great views. Many have great food. But, few combine them with such dexterity. A trip to Sydney without a trip to The Pier is no trip at all.


That evening, I had planned to go to Sydney's other heavily recommended restaurant, Tetsuya's. However, the meal at The Pier was so perfect, so sublime it provided the perfect high end finale to my trip. So, I cancelled my evening plans, snacked on a small bowl
of noodle soup from Chinatown later that evening and retired for an early night to watch CSI Miami on TV.

As Ice Cube says. " I have to admit, it was a good

An early start to the airport saw me checked in and on my 8am flight to Singapore.

Uneventful and I once again found myself back at The Stamford Hotel. Amusingly, as I was checking in, so
was Sir Bobby Robson. Premiership football is HUGE in Singapore and he was there to do some commentary for
Star TV.

It was a quiet day. I was jet lagged to hell and back and had an early supper of roast pork at the nearest food court and went to bed.

Another early start had me at Changi airport in time to have some nicely made scrambled eggs in the lounge
and to be on the plane, pop and pill and sleep most of the way home.

The Heathrow Express had me back in civilisation in no time flat and by 4pm on the same day I had left
Singapore ( bless those time changes ) I was at home, showered, washing in the machine and with a nice cup
of builder's tea in my hand.

So, that was it. Officially, the holiday of a lifetime. Made possible by the generosity of mycolleagues who managed alarmingly well without me. My father, whose Christmas gift contributed to make travelling in comfort possible and my friends aroun the world who had urged me to take this time off when I thought such things were foolish.

I learned a great deal on this trip

1) I like travelling alone. You can make your own
schedule. But, it is always nice to spend some time
on these trips with agreeable people and I was
fortunate enough to meet some very agreeable people

2) Wines by the glass invariably suck. The downside
of travelling solo is that not even I can drink a
bottle with every meal

3) Food in New Zealand really blows, but they have so
much more to offer.

4) Radio presenters in the southern hemisphere are
nearly always called Stu or Johnno

5) The Sydney Opera House is really not terribly

6) I look cute in knee length shorts, but like a
simpleton in a floppy brimmed hat

7) Kiwi women scare the living bejesus out of me

8) Wheatgrass shots mixed with fresh apple juice and
ginger get rid of a hangover

but most of all, I learned that even someone like me deserves to have a nice time every now and again. And I certainly did.

SM - 9th February 2005
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's OK Simon, Kiwi women scare the bejesus out of me too, you're not alone! That was a roight rollicking read mate! What larks as me old ma would never say...
P.S. The food is better in New Zealand now, I swear!

Thursday, February 23, 2006 8:25:00 pm  
Blogger chuckee said...

Come on - the food in NZ is the best! Only the tourist trap food places are crap. Go and ask a local where they recommend. Food in Australia is worse and much more expensive (I've lived in both countries).

Saturday, January 17, 2009 2:38:00 am  

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