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Life

California Dreaming

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

Back south in LA, try to get a booking at Maude and see how Curtis Stone is getting on after winning LA Weekly’s Best Restaurant in LA in 2015 . With an intimate 24 seats, Maude offers a ten-course 
chef’s tasting menu that features a different seasonal ingredient every month. From limes in January to truffles in December, it’s an innovative approach that’s seen the culinary team create over 1000 dishes so far. Read our recent interview with Curtis Stone.

Another Australian flying high is Louis Tikaram, the former chef at Sydney’s Longrain who’s doing great things with Thai flavours at EP Asian Eating House in West Hollywood.

With talent like this on offer, Los Angeles is now pumping with vibrant energy and flavour. The over stacked plates of classic Americana and tired European staples of the past have been replaced with exciting and accessible food styles and flavours that reflect the diversity of modern Los Angeles. So while the movie stars of Hollywood might be carefully watching their waists, a trip to modern LA will have you expanding yours.

 

 

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Words by Alessandro Ragazzo on 20 Aug 2015
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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
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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.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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