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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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Moon Festival
Words by Mark Hughes on 22 Sep 2015
Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Moon Festival is the one of the grandest festivals in Asia. Also known as the mid-Autumn Festival, the 15th is when the moon is at its roundest and brightest, and it is a time of special significance. Slightly differing from the customs of Moon Festival in China, Korea celebrates the mid-Autumn event by preparing a banquet to pay respects to ancestors for a successful harvest. During the festivities, Korean people travel back to their hometown to spend time with their families and to enjoy food predominately made from rice, which is harvested during this period.   “The Moon Festival is called Chuseok in Korea,” says Eun Hee An, chef and co-owner with her husband Ben Sears, and wine agent Ned Brooks of Korean restaurant Paper Bird  in the Sydney suburb of Potts Point. “Traditionally, Chuseok is a day to pray to your ancestors in order to assure a good harvest that year. I am from Ulsan, but we have family members in Seoul, Chungju and Busan, so it’s one of the few times a year (along with Seolnal, which is Chinese New Year) that the entire family comes together. We come together, commemorate family members who have passed (Charye) and do Seongmyo, where we make offerings at their graves.” Family feast Of course, with the family gathered, food is important to the festivities and Eun recalls her favourite memory from the Moon Festival when she was a child. “One of the offerings we make is songpyeon: a sweet rice cake, like a mochi, stuffed with honey, sesame or red bean, shaped into a half-moon crescent. Young girls are told that whoever makes the best looking songpyeon will get the best looking husband, so I was always very focused with my mochi decorations!” Unique to the Songpyeon in Korea is the use of pine leaves. During the cooking process, the Songpyeon is steamed together with pine leaves, which adds a delightfully aromatic twist to the traditional dessert. Along with the Songpyeon, Eun’s favourite dish during the Moon Festival was a pan-fried fritter known as jeon, as well as a special recipe perfected by her grandmother. “Besides songpyeon we eat assorted jeon, which is a Korean pan fried fritter. My favourites are zucchini and also my granny’s gochujeon, which is a chilli stuffed with minced beef and then battered and fried. Chuseok in Australia Ben and Eun manned the pans at Sydney’s iconic Claude’s restaurant before it shut down in 2013, which prompted the pair to start up their own venture. From humble beginnings, Moon Park has emerged as one of Sydney’s best Korean restaurants with the menu featuring a fresh focus on traditional Korean. Dishes such as Sooyuk – cold smoked pork belly braised with artichoke and chestnut in mushroom dashi, sit alongside fusion dishes like barbecued octopus with potato cream, kelp oil, garlic chive kimchi, and crispy fried chicken with   pickled radish, soy and syrup. These days with Eun making a life for herself in Sydney with Ben, she celebrates the Moon Festival in her own way. “In a way, Chuseok for me is bittersweet because I am the only member of my family who no longer lives in Korea,” says Eun. “Of course, I still want to celebrate, so I call my parents and talk to everyone about what they are doing and the food they are enjoying. But it is a time of year I realise how far away I am.” Eun says they will also celebrate the Moon Festival with their patrons in the restaurant with some traditional Chuseok dishes added to the menu during Autumn, but she doubts the festival will ever get as big over here as it is back home in Korea. “It would be great, but I don’t think it could ever be,” she says. “Chuseok is a very old tradition in a country where, historically, for many people the quality of the year was defined by the agricultural harvest. Even now, as more people move to cities, it is still so ingrained as a big part of our cultural upbringing.” NOTE: We ran this article in the Spring issue of Selector followed by recipes for chicken skewers and stir-fry beef, and it could be assumed that these recipes were from Moon Park. However, Ben and Eun were not the authors of these recipes and they are in no way affiliated with the products featured in the recipes. Sorry for the confusion, and to Ben and Eun. If you have a hankering for traditional Korean with a fresh focus, then check out P aper Bird , I think you’ll be rewarded.
Life
California Dreaming
Words by Paul Diamond on 27 Jun 2017
No longer just the domain of superstars of the screen, Los Angeles is adding some new leading lights to its food and wine scene. As the second most populated city in America, Los Angeles is often the entry point for Australians wanting to explore the home of the brave. For food and wine lovers, the City of Angels is often a pit stop on the way to the urbane dining rooms of San Francisco with the perception being that fine  food and wine play second fiddle to the lure of Hollywood. But things have recently changed, and LA’s food and drink scene now dazzles as much as any movie star. So it’s well worth spending a few days exploring the refreshed food culture; from the high end down, there’s plenty to taste. But first some advice. If you want to check out the celebrity haunts or local favourites like Venice at sunset, you’ll need to hire a car. Because while getting your head around driving on the right after 15+ hours on a plane can be daunting, the public transport is even more so. But once you’ve secured some wheels, avoid the 405 anywhere near the morning and afternoon peaks, otherwise you’ll find yourself in the granddaddy of all traffic jams and LA drivers take no prisoners. For those really wanting to experience the LA bubble, look no further than Beverly Hills. Originally built as a farming ranch, the Hills became its own city at the beginning of the first World War. When compared to the rest of Los Angeles, it’s like Beverly Hills has its own atmosphere and it’s easy to see why the rich and famous choose 90210 as their postcode. Low Key Luxury
For accommodation, it’s hard to beat the  Montage Beverly Hills  . Situated in the middle of the ‘golden triangle’ – the city blocks wedged between the borders of North Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard and North Rexford Drive – the Montage is classically elegant, but refreshingly understated, and while it promotes low key luxury, everyone gets treated like a millionaire. If you want to shake off the jet-lag and unwind, the Montage has draped cabanas by the rooftop pool overlooking the city – a great way to get some peaceful perspective. Inside, the lavishly tiled Grecian atrium features a mineral ‘wellness’ pool and a swathe of spa choices. As for food, the Montage’s main restaurant,  Georgie  , really helps sets this hotel apart. One of a chain of national restaurants, Georgie was built by New York chef, cookbook author, TV personality and American Iron Chef winner,  Geoffrey Zakarian . The restaurant is Geoffrey’s ode to his son, and while the food reflects his classical French training, it also acknowledges America’s many cultural influences. Geoffrey blends and melds Italian, South American, French, German Asian and Middle Eastern touches with quality local ingredients and the result is a refreshing and balanced range of choices, executed with a light touch. Wine-lovers have plenty to choose from too with over 800 drops from all around the world on offer, and at more affordable prices than we could access in Australia. Their ‘by the glass’ Coravin menu is a great place to start with Coravin being a gadget that allows wine to be extracted from the bottle without opening it. This means air can’t get in and spoil the remainder, giving restaurants an economic means to offer wines by the glass that are normally only available by the bottle. Wine and Cheese If you are thirsty for more wine, head north a couple of blocks up North Canon Drive to  Wally’s Beverly Hills Vinoteca  . Wally’s is part wine library, part wine bar, part bottle shop, offering an astounding range of wine from all over the world. It’s a wine lover’s paradise where you can browse thousands of wines, buy a bottle and take it home, or have someone open your choice to enjoy with the great range of food, cheese or charcuterie. Speaking of cheese, a quick stroll will get you to  The Cheese Store on North Beverly Drive  . Norbert Wabnig has been behind the counter since the late 70s and his passion for cheese is displayed in every nook and cranny of this gourmet haven. Shop Till You're Broke
If $10k handbags and Ferraris appeal, then a walk along Rodeo Drive will have you wide eyed. Considered one of the most exclusive shopping strips in the world, Rodeo Drive is where all the stars go. Giorgio, Valentino and Tiffany keep Versace company alongside a well-heeled Jimmy Choo. But when you’re all shopped out and in need of more wine, a day trip to Santa Barbara is a must. Head north up the 101 past Oxnard and Ventura and you will soon find yourself in the downtown area of this relaxed Spanish-style town nestled underneath the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains. Regarded as the American Riviera, Santa Barbera has a Mediterranean climate that makes the production of a wide range of wine varieties possible. Most of the vineyards, wineries and cellar doors are located up in the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys to the north, however, there’s a cluster of great cellar doors in the heart of Santa Barbara. The  Urban Wine Train  boasts 29 cellar doors where you can taste an impressive range of varieties and styles. From classic Euro-style Shiraz and Cabernet to new world Chardonnay and Pinot, rustic Tempranillos and Italian varietals of every shape and style. Santa Barbara’s wine offering is expansive and when you experience its warmth and hospitality, you’ll wish you had more time. Aussies Doing Us Proud
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The Epicurean Maturation of Porto
Words by Emily McAuliffe on 19 Oct 2017
Porto may be the lesser known of Portugal’s cities, but it’s becoming a star on the food and wine scene. Porto, which takes its name from northern Portugal’s economy-driving seaport, was traditionally regarded as little more than an industrial workhorse. As Lisbon’s blue-collar cousin, it lacked the cultural clout of the capital, and this was only intensified by a king hit during the global financial crisis that left streets bare and spirits low. But Porto isn’t a city to easily falter and its historical tenacity earned it the nickname Invicta, or ‘undefeated’. Whereas it once resisted monarchists, it is now resisting cultural demise, and has bounced back to attain this year’s title of Best European Destination (an honour it has held twice before). In tandem with this surge of social energy is a lifting of the city’s gastronomic scene. In 2017, Porto and its cross-river city Vila Nova de Gaia were awarded three new Michelin stars, bringing the tally up to five. Despite this epicurean maturation, however, one of the most appealing things about Porto is that residents – including the city’s top chefs – still maintain strong food traditions.  “I think we should fight to keep our traditions,” says Pedro Lemos , who in 2015 became Porto’s first chef to reach Michelin status, and now retains his star for a third year. “When you travel, you want to visit the monuments and experience the history, including through the gastronomy, so I’m not afraid to show our roots,” he says of his exclusively Portuguese menu. Therefore, while the culinary diversity of other Western European cities might fool you into thinking you were in any number of countries, Porto has a way of always reminding you you’re in Portugal. And that strong sense of place provides precious insight into the city and country’s identity. Simple fare
The people of Porto are known to eat every part of the pig bar the squeal and are hence dubbed tripeiros or ‘tripe eaters’. Although a reference to ‘poor man’s food’, the locals wear the label with pride and the dish Tripas à Moda do Porto is still widely available on menus across the city in line with a 600-year-old recipe. In the culinary archives, it sits alongside dishes such as the Francesinha, a greasy multi-decker meat sandwich blanketed in cheese, and dried codfish Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, which are prime examples of Porto’s penchant for simple soul food. “The food in Portugal has history, it’s an important part of our story and culture; it’s our grandmother’s food,” says Rui Paula, who attained his first Michelin star at Casa de Chá da Boa Nova this year. Hence, he and other high-level chefs still frequent local-run tascas, where the prato do dia (plate of the day) is commonly seen scribbled on paper in restaurant windows. In these establishments, dining out remains a boisterous affair where family recipes are served and devoured with contentment and pride, and it’s an endearing example of the Portuguese saying, ‘there is always room at the table for one more’. Raising the bar
Porto’s old-style comfort food is still evident at every turn, but a sign of gastronomical progression came in 2011 when The Yeatman Hotel ’s restaurant, located in Porto’s neighbouring city of Vila Nova de Gaia, was awarded a Michelin star under the leadership of Ricardo Costa, who proved his salt with a second star in 2017. In addition to this formidable two star feat, Porto’s smaller players are offering stiff competition in the culinary stakes, with the quaint destination restaurants of Lemos, Paula and Vítor Matos of Antiqvvm part of the star spangled club. “We used to say ‘we’re lost in Foz’,” says Lemos of his restaurant’s obscure location down a cobbled backstreet in Porto’s fringe suburb of Foz. But a steady stream of locals, followed by travellers, started sniffing out his food creations. “At first people said I was crazy,” says Lemos. “But I wanted my restaurant to grow from its value, and now, the fact it’s a street restaurant makes me even more proud. People don’t stop at the restaurant because they pass it on the street, they come here specifically for us.” Paula, one of the three judges of MasterChef Portugal, is equally chuffed. “It can be difficult to get a Michelin star outside a hotel, so I’m very proud to have achieved it here,” he says from his 30-seat restaurant hidden amongst the sea rocks in Porto’s coastal outskirts. “More and more tourists are coming to Porto and it’s pushing for better dining options,” he continues, referencing the city’s growing number of refined restaurants. Regional influence
Some of Portugal’s best produce is found in the north, so Porto’s restaurateurs can easily tap into quality supplies. Renowned Portuguese food and wine critic José Silva, whose accolades include television presenter, guidebook writer and columnist, cites the smoked meats of Trás-os-Montes as the best in the country, for instance, and Paula, Lemos and Silva all credit the cold vegetation-rich waters of the North Atlantic for producing second-to-none seafood. Though top-notch produce is readily available, local chefs aren’t wedded to northern produce, preferring to draw on regional strengths. “I’ll use local where I can, but I’m not fundamentalist,” say Lemos. “Besides, Portugal is a small country, so really, everything is local.” Costa agrees, saying he prioritises regional products where possible, but also scours the country to find Portugal’s best, such as seaweed from the Algarve region and cheese from the Alentejo.  A fine drop While port has long been a household name, Portugal’s table wines are starting to break international barriers as people discover the 14 principal wine regions, including Porto’s nearby Douro Valley. “In the next few years I think places like the Douro will be one of the 3–4 most important regions in the world for both port and still wines,” says Silva. Francisca Lobão from Porto’s beautiful chapel-turned-wine bar Capela Incomum agrees. “People already have worldwide references of Italian and French wines, for example, and Portugal is on that path,” she says.  Confidence in Portugal’s table wines also led husband and wife team Filipa Garcia Fernandes and Moisés Cardoso Campos to keep the focus away from port wine at their riverside bar, Wine Quay . The gamble paid off, as they have since expanded to include the Quay Market next door for patrons wishing to purchase wines offered at the bar. “People are starting to take Porto more seriously when it comes to food and wine,” says Fernandes. “We have good food, good wine and nice people, and I’m not just saying that because I’m Portuguese,” she laughs. “Oh, and of course, Porto is a beautiful city,” she gushes with true tripeira pride. And, really, what more could you want?
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