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Life

Be still my Indian heart

It was love at first sight, smell and taste. My sensory affair with India began when I visited just over a year ago and I’ve been besotted ever since.

I was lucky enough to travel to India for the first time with Melbourne’s Epicurious Travel, experiencing a customised version of their ‘Indian Odyssey’ adventure.  When I headed back six months later, I added a side order of Kolkata and opened my heart even further to the joys of this incredible country.

One of the greatest sources of my adoration for India is her food, which is prepared with care and tradition after daily trips to the market. At our first stop, Delhi, breakfast is a revelation. There is the delicious simplicity of the masala omelette, featuring a creamy eggyness that plays with the acidic tang of tomato and the subtle heat of chilli.

Then there’s the savoury melange of the breakfast masala dosai, a rice and lentil batter fermented overnight then fried and served as a long, crisp pancake roll stuffed with a spicy potato curry. Black mustard seeds, fenugreek and fresh curry leaves deliver a gentle punch in the potato, while the dosai is served with a colourful array of sambars and chutney that are like nothing I have ever tasted. The crunchy coconut sambar and spicy tomato chutney are unbelievably fresh with a lingering depth of spicy, exotic and addictive flavours.

Chandni Chowk bazaar in Old Delhi is a crazy, mysterious labyrinth of narrow laneways that all seem to lead inwards, while its main drag is a frantic explosion of cars, trucks, taxis and trolleys, where vendors sell their wares with vocal abandon and a sea of people crush the pavements.

In the depths of the market streets, fruit and vegetable sellers perch on their haunches, or lie resting, their fresh, bright produce by their sides. Young men push flat-bedded trolleys of melons, gourds and greens, looking for the next buyer. Fresh watermelon juice is pressed and loaded with ice, giving some relief from the stifling heat. Pots of oil splatter as they cook delicious jalebi – a saffron-tinted disk of pastry with hints of cardamom and rosewater that play with the lingering sweetness. Vegetable samosas are the ultimate savoury street food. Potato and peas mixed with an array of aromatic spices: cumin, garlic, ginger, chilli and turmeric, their crisp pastry delicious and satisfying.

We eat chicken kebabs fresh from the tandoor, strung onto metal skewers with onion and green capsicum, covered in a spice mix of cumin, turmeric and garlic, and served with a pot of bubbling dal. India has a love affair with dal, its shades and flavours unique to each region. In northern India, dal makhani features an array of dark beans and lentils flavoured with chillis, garlic, ginger, onions and unique spice mixes.

When ours arrive, a knob of garlic butter has been placed in the bottom of the copper serving pot. The steamy dal is placed on top, its heat melting the butter and creating a lava-like explosion of flavour as its garlicky goodness infuses the beans. Rich, textural and highly complex, its lasting flavours linger in my memory.

The bustle to the iconic

From Delhi, we travel by bus to Agra, enjoying the countryside, where villagers barter at their local market, tend their land and mend things. Indians can fix anything it seems – including our broken down bus – with garages and workshops in every town, faces and hands stained from the grimy work, the air heavy as the scent of automotive oil mingles with village life.

The ultimate monument to love, the Taj Mahal, is a sight to behold. Its majesty at sunrise breathtaking in its beauty, its painstaking construction a work of symmetry and wealth, the ultimate jewel in Agra’s – and India’s - crown.

THE COLOUR OF LOVE

Next stop, Jaipur – the ‘pink city’, famous for its palaces and forts that circle and protect the city from their rocky, hillside outposts. We arrive in the middle of wedding season, the festival of love in full swing. Processions of newlyweds resplendent in their colourful and adorned outfits are followed by their ecstatic entourages as they make their way to the celebrations. Loud whistles, the banging of drums, the clanging of cymbals; the cacophony of bliss is everywhere.

Watching the sunset over Jaipur from the top of the Nahargarh Fort, tasty morsels of chilli chicken and an icy Kingfisher beer in hand, the atmosphere is electric. As the sun disappears, the noise from the city below makes its way up the hill before the fireworks begin, heralding celebrations for the happy couples.

Next day, a visit to Jaipur’s famous Lassiwala where the delicious lassi, made from milk, sugar, mawa (milk cheese) and baraf (ice) is served in earthen cups called kulhads. Established in 1944 and located on the M1 road, this place is an institution – for good reason. The memory of savouring its creamy, unctuous goodness on a boiling hot day remains. Sweet yet tangy, rich yet refreshing. The growing pile of discarded terracotta pots on the sidewalk a testament to its place in the daily life of the locals.

UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCES

For all the smart hotels and recommended restaurants I visit, it is an invitation to dinner in a private home that remains one of my most treasured food memories. I’ve been invited by Ateeq, who I met on my first trip to India when I visited Ranthambhore where he is a guide in the national park. Under Ateeq’s expert guidance, we saw eight endangered Bengal tigers over three safaris, including a new mother and her two cubs.

Ateeq is eager for me to meet his wife Nilu and see his new house. He and Nilu designed and built the house and their pride is obvious. On my arrival I’m met by a sea of faces peering at me. The whole family has come to welcome – and stare at - me as a great sign of respect. Divine. As I step into their home, the whole family watches my every move, saying nothing. My Hindi is non-existent, as is their English so Ateeq acts as our interpreter.

Nilu has been to market to buy the meat for our istu – a curry made from male baby goat, a dish common in the villages around their town of Sawai Madhopur. Onion is fried until aromatic then mixed with a heady mix of garam masala. Black pepper and dried red chilli lend some fire, with yoghurt curd added and the goat simmered until soft. Chopped green chilli is added 15 minutes before serving, giving lift and freshness. The room swirls with the smell of baking bread as spongy, white naan is lifted steaming from the oven.

A plastic mat is laid on the floor as Nilu presents the curry, rice and naan. The three of us sit and break bread as we enjoy this special meal together. We eat with our fingers as the family looks on, laughing as I struggle to balance the bread, rice and sauce of the curry. It is warm and welcoming and delicious. I will never forget it.

THE CULINARY ADVENTURE CONTINUES 

From the tastiest kebabs at Chacha’s in Khan Market, Delhi to the incredible vegetarian street food at Soma in Mumbai, my food affair with India continues. The spicy yet sweet chilli crab at Trishna Restaurant near Mumbai’s seaside makes me yearn for more. The surprising saltiness of a green mango drink at Kewpie’s in Kolkata and the fresh sugar cane drink with lime juice, hand milled by a young man just near the Jain temple, are memories close to the surface. The sound of drums banging, signifying the sacrifice of a baby goat at the city’s Kali Temple a further reminder of the constant colour and movement that is India.

Another great revelation is the frequency of Indian wine on menus, telling me this is a country in love with the culinary experience and all that goes with it. While India’s wine industry is still young, it is enthusiastic, has embraced international advice and encourages flying winemakers.

A LASTING IMPRESSION

Sitting on the wide hotel verandah in my last destination, the sweeping lawns and manicured gardens are fresh in the morning air as punkah fans squeak as they move from side to side. I reflect on the past days of India’s rich, colonial tapestry and think about its future as I prepared to return to mine.

What I know is that I am in love and I was from the moment I glimpsed her vivid colours, heard the cacophony of her daily life, felt her calm, visceral energy and became part of the constant, seething movement of humanity. Not to mention my first taste of dosai – that was love right there.

Kathy Lane travelled to India with Epicurious Travel, a Melbourne-based travel company that specialises in culinary travel experiences.

For more information on India and touring India visit incredibleindia.org

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Life
Calmer Waters at Likuliku Lagoon Resort Fiji
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 20 Apr 2017
Well on the road to recovery from cyclone winston, Likuliku Lagoon Resort Fiji is keen to welcome visitors to bliss out in its unique brand of tranquility.  At the end of the day, according to Fijian legend, even the sun needs to sleep and it does so behind one of Fiji’s islands. Malolo, part of the Mamanuca group of islands to the west of the mainland, was believed to have been created by the gods as the sun’s bedroom, hence the local saying, “Na siga e dromu I Malolo”, meaning, “Malolo, the island where the sun comes to rest.”  While Malolo is a usually a picture of serenity, back in February 2016 it, along with the rest of Fiji, endured Cyclone Winston, the strongest tropical cyclone to ever make landfall in the region. At its most intense, it saw winds of 230km/h. Amid the devastating damage that saw 40,000 homes destroyed, 44 people lost their lives and around 350,000 were seriously impacted.  But in the aftermath, Fijians were keen to let holidaymakers, particularly loyal Australian tourists, know that they were still open for business. While some resorts were flattened, others sustained only minor damage and could reopen fairly quickly. Tourism is a key driver of the local economy and Fiji could not afford to have people staying away when it needed them most.  Thankfully, although visitor numbers initially dropped, by October they were healthy again and Fiji is looking forward to returning to its position as an R&R mecca for work-weary Australians. Malolo was one of the islands that was able to welcome tourists back reasonably quickly and today, its adults-only haven,  Likuliku Lagoon Resort , whose name means “calm waters” is a soothing sanctuary for holidaymakers looking to relax in incredible luxury. A Pristine Welcome
Whether you choose a  chopper or boat to get to Likuliku , it’s the sight of the lagoon’s beautifully deep blue waters that provides the first welcome to your Fijian holiday.  This sheltered haven once provided refuge for war canoes, but today its pristine waters have been declared a marine reserve, known locally as “Na tabu”, so they’re teaming with sea life that darts in and out of the crevices of the coral reef.  The next greeting comes from a serenading group of resort staff whose melodious greeting is followed by a unified cry of “Bula!”, one of many to come. This one-word, all-purpose salutation is heard hundreds of times a day throughout Likuliku, making you feel your presence is greatly appreciated at all times.  Aside from its idyllic location, Likuliku is rendered unique by its overwater bures (rooms). Usually associated with the resorts of the Maldives, these wonders of engineering are a first for Fiji. In a line of 10 sitting out from the shoreline, these suspended sanctuaries provide an uninterrupted view between the deck and the great blue blanket of sea.  But you don’t even have to leave the living room for an aquatic experience, with glass-bottomed floor panels giving a great glimpse of the plethora of fish and their saltwater friends.  Coral Concerns
A week in an  overwater bure  comes at a premium price, but as the Group General Manager, Steve Anstey explains, “They are complex. They cannot just be built anywhere and their construction and maintenance is difficult and costly.” Part of the complexity lies in the fact that they have to be built on a flat seabed surrounded by coral reefs, with the latter providing essential stability.  But if that’s ringing environmental alarm bells, never fear, as Steve describes, “We were all acutely aware and concerned for our precious reef during construction and together with the Mamanuca Environmental Society, we took elaborate steps to protect them at all times.”  As well as the tides, the overwater bures have to withstand extreme  weather events like Cyclone Winston and thankfully they stood up to its incredible ferocity.  Lizard Lodgers Although the sea life is certainly the star of a visit to Likuliku, there’s another wild inhabitant that’s stealing a spot in the limelight. You have to look very carefully, but in a vegetation-filled enclosure near the resort’s main building are some unique lizards lounging around.  The Malolo Iguana was though to be extinct until a chance find in 2010 saw an injured one rescued from behind of the Likuliku bures. Unfortunately, this little guy didn’t survive, but much to the delight of iguana aficionados the world over, several more have since been found, seven of which call the resort home as part of an observation and breeding process. Five Star Sustenance
Diet is obviously crucial to maintaining the health of the iguanas and behind the resort, several native plants are grown in the kitchen garden. This little patch of carefully tended vegetables, herbs and local fruits also provides sustenance for Likuliku’s two-legged guests and executive chef Shane Watson can be found there throughout the day, picking produce for his  ever-changing menu .  Shane was part of the resort’s opening team in 2007 and stayed for two years before spending very successful stints in Sydney, Thailand and finally, Perth, where he took the Print Hall restaurant to two Chef Hat-status in just two years. Having returned to Likuliku in 2015 with his wife and daughter, Shane clearly relishes the relaxed vibe of Fiji living. At the same time, though, the cogs of his culinary mind are in constant motion, rising to the challenge of island cooking.  While he grows a variety of fresh produce in the garden, a lot of his ingredients arrive by barge and if something goes awry with the delivery, a good imagination in the kitchen is critical. Thankfully, Shane has good relationships with local suppliers, especially for fish, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing with sourcing regular supplies. An early challenge came when Shane met a doctor who’d started a prawn farm. So he took the half-hour drive on sealed roads followed by a further two hours up through the hills only to discover the ‘farm’ was a tank in which he found about 20 prawns!  Another challenge came early on when Shane happened upon a local who kept ducks and ordered 20 in one go. But it turned out this was the whole flock, so when he returned for more, there were none left. Thankfully, this farmer has since mastered his trade and now provides a steady supply.  One of the constants throughout Shane’s tenures has been mud crab, which he handpicks from the trees. Yes, you read that correctly. Wrapped in reeds, these live crawlers are hung up by farmers in the roadside foliage ready to sell to passers by. Shane is a regular customer as it’s a feature of one of his signature breakfast dishes, the very popular mud crab omelette. While the omelette features consistently, the rest of the menu changes daily and with the seasons. Shane will also design a personal menu to cater for dietary needs. Blissed Out
As the sun settles into its ‘bedroom’, Likuliku winds down too, leaving its well-nourished guests to retreat to their bures, the sound of the calm waters lapping against the sand the perfect closing soundtrack to a day in paradise.
Life
Dusted with Love at Spicers Sangoma
Words by Libbi Gorr on 7 Nov 2016
Many years ago as a couple, we had visited an old Buddhist Monk, Genzhan. It was early in our relationship. The key to harmony was simple, he explained, as he cooked for us in his home a simple yet enriching feast. “Don’t stir the sediment”, he intoned. It would be 20 years later with plenty of sediment that randomly swirled that we found ourselves driving to the Bowen Mountains retreat of Spicers Sangoma . ‘Sangoma’ is a Zulu term used for traditional healing practices of the heart and spirit. This is a retreat aimed at getting its guests to reconnect. Not just with nature, but more importantly, with each other. We have an abiding and deep love for each other. Let’s say that up front. It’s just that life often gets in the way. Sangoma is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, just off the Bells Line of Road before Bilpin. The retreat is secluded within the tinkling of bellbird bushland. There’s nothing else within easy walking distance. We were directed on arrival in the nicest possible way by Rhiannon, our host, to a high ceilinged , chandelier-adorned tent perched above the bushland. Here, we would submit to a tandem couples massage. Time was of the essence – our stay was 48 hours at the most – so we gave up fast. We were ultimately scraped off the massage tables, and efficiently poured into fluffy bathrobes for despatch to our bushland apartment to rest before dinner. It was a given that we would make our way through the bush clad merely in bathrobes and shoes. There are no airs and graces. Just sense, elegant simplicity and comfort. That’s a good way to describe the accommodation as well. Think Besser brick, corrugated iron, rich timber. Imagine high vaulted ceilings and wall-to-floor windows looking out over bush . Visualise an ever-so-wide wooden deck overlooking the valley complete with day beds that invite no good. Picture a glass-walled bathroom with a showerhead attached straight to the ceiling, as if you were bathing in a waterfall. In fact, the shower was just a vast wet area, in chattings length from the freestanding bath. Bathing within walls of glass initially made me feel a little vulnerable, but then I realised there was no chance of neighbours looking in. There were no neighbours. Rhiannon brought us a delicious cheese platter to enjoy with  local wines and craft beers in the fridge, organic potato chips and a peppering of handmade couture chocolates. I asked what other ‘wellness’ activities there were for us to indulge in whilst we were here – a yoga class perhaps? An organised bushwalk? A pedicure? Hot mud bath? Naught , Rhiannon replied. Nothing to distract you from yourselves. Or from nature. There was a TV in the room, but it was tuned to a jazz radio station. Our phones had just enough reception to monitor the outside world, but not easily engage. Wasn’t that fortuitous, exclaimed the beautiful Rhiannon, with a gentle reminder that our job was to ‘reconnect’. Disconnect to reconnect? What a confronting concept. We’d only just relaxed. We decided to nap instead. That big, inviting, clean white-sheeted bed strewn with all those delicious plump pillows just looked so spacious and crisp and welcoming. Thank goodness we woke in time for dinner. A Delicious Dusting The Danish cherish a concept called hygge – the art of creating a ‘cosiness of the soul’ and the dining room at Spicers Sangoma exudes hygge . And it’s that cosiness of the soul which is first on the menu of ‘reconnection’. That first night, our five-course degustation (the style I’d describe as gourmet sustainable) featured exciting combinations, surprising ingredients and matched wines for each course. Apart from being delicious, it was how it was served that made our evening such a spoil. It was a dinner made by people who wanted us to feel good. There was no passive aggressive feeding of us with calorie-laden concoctions that would make us oh and ah and groan with dismay all at the same time. Care was taken to nourish us imaginatively. And the service that came with it too was not too posh, not too familiar, but polished and warm. We were there to connect with our food and the people who had made it. To be nurtured in every way. To enjoy what Sam the Chef had cooked that night – he even brought the plates out himself. We could taste the idiosyncratic bursts of his personality in his offerings. And whilst everything presented was sublime, the nurturing, connective experience was the cleverness of the enterprise. The human condiments season the experience with wit, care and kindness. Artifice bit the dust. Everything bit the dust actually. Sam and his kitchen crew had being playing around with the dehydrating machine and creating ‘dusts’ to sprinkle on an array of offerings – mushroom dust, fennel dust, beetroot dust. The dust, once in the mouth, becomes rehydrated to deliver a burst of vibrant flavour. Cute idea, huh? Metaphoric, perhaps? Connection at last The retreat can welcome 12 people at a time, and it’s run by a handful of staff, who genuinely seem to have as part of their duties true care of the guests as well as functioning of the site. The nightly rate includes three beautiful meals and all beverages (including alcohol), but extras like massages and rose petal filled scented baths amidst a candle lit bedroom must be pre-arranged. The leisurely breakfast both mornings was a standout. There’s a lap pool and sauna, and we also ventured out to do three laps of the property, which took us about 40 minutes, wandering slowly. We felt no urge to go anywhere else. We were loved and dusted. And the reconnection? After breakfast on day two, the inner voices were both civil and calm, to both ourselves and to each other. We had taken time to just bask in the sun. And within those boundaries, these kind people had tenderly dusted our relationship to discover the vintage gleam we know is there. There was no need to go wading in deep to stir the sediment. Just rehydrate the dust to create a burst of colour and flavour once again to surprise and delight us and make appropriate use of the day bed. For those who can submit to tenderness and care, Sangoma is a true spoil. Words by Libbi Gorr.  To find out more about Spicers Sagoma visit   https://spicersretreats.com/spicers-sangoma-retreat/
Life
The way to travel in 2016
When cruise ships parade into the harbours of the world and get fanfare normally reserved for royalty, you know that cruising is more than back in fashion – it is the way to travel, today’s ‘jet set’ are now called the ‘cruise crew’. Three of the key factors for cruising’s amazing resurgence are: the incredible facilities on board today’s modern ships; the wondrously varied on-shore excursions; and phenomenal range of never-before-visited destinations. And things are only going to get better in 2016. The modern cruise ship is light years from the behemoths that sailed the waterways of years gone by. These days, there are more boutique-style ships catering from 680 - 1,250 guests – consequently, there is a heightened sense of intimacy and a personalised holiday experience. Staff and crew attend to your every whim and remember your individual preferences, there are no lines, going ashore and returning on board takes minutes rather than hours, and life just seems to proceed at a more relaxed pace. Facilities and entertainment have been described as a floating five-star hotel crossed with the best of a theatre district. Everything from bespoke spa services to English-style libraries, a live pianist, classical string quartet, dynamic vocalists and spectacular headliners. You may also wish to try your luck in an elegant Monte Carlo-style casino. Some cruises even have guest lecturers who might be historians, naturalists or former ambassadors, eager to share insider knowledge. Guests’ suites are a personal sanctuary with state-of-the-art custom-made furnishings such as plush ‘Tranquility Beds’ with1,000-thread-count linen, lavish marble-infused grand baths (with a private half-bath for guests), showers, luxurious sitting rooms and private teak verandas. Guests are even given their own range of fine Bvlgari bath amenities^. On-board dining has really stepped up. Celebrity chefs such as Jacques Pépin are providing signature dishes at a range of dining options from French bistro, gourmet Italian, contemporary Asian, French country cuisine, American steakhouses and more and matched with wine lists to rival any Michelin-starred restaurants.
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