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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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Switzerland: expand your wine horizons
When you think of travelling through Switzerland, images of breath-taking natural scenery and exciting cities full of art and culture no doubt come to mind. But do you also picture stopping at cellar doors to taste world-class wines? If not, you need to expand your Swiss horizons, because this diverse country is home to over 200 types of vines, at least 40 of which are indigenous and have histories dating back to ancient times. What’s more, with only extremely limited quantities made, you’ll only find 1-2% of Swiss wines outside their homeland. There are seven wine regions throughout German-speaking, French-speaking and Italian-speaking Switzerland: Eastern Switzerland ; Geneva ; Lake Geneva Region ; Three Lake Country ; Ticino ; Valais ; and Graubünden . Heritage haven For winelovers who like a dose of history with their tastings, the Lake Geneva region is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Lavaux Vineyard . Dating back to the 11th century when Benedictine and Cistercian monks called the area home, this fascinating site features 14 kilometres of terraced vineyards stretching above Lake Geneva. These incredible vines are still producing wine, with Chasselas, a full, dry and fruity white, the most common. For keen walkers, two routes wend through the region, both taking around two hours and starting at Grandvaux station with one finishing at Cully and the other at Lutry . For a more sedate tour, there are also two miniature train excursions on either the Lavaux Panoramic or the Lavaux Express. In the glass As well as Chasselas, a visit to the Lake Geneva Region will see you sampling unique expressions of Gamay and Pinot Noir. Further south-west in Geneva itself, you’ll also find Chardonnay, Riesling-Sylvaner (Müller-Thurgau), Pinot Blanc, Aligoté via Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris through to Gewürztraminer and Viognier Gamaret, and in the reds, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. For another lakeside wine experience, the Three Lake Country will see you again savouring Chasselas, as well as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Home to the highest vineyard in Europe at 1,150 metres above sea level, Valais is another region that sees Chasselas at the top of its whites list, while Pinot Noir is the most common red. However, you’ll also find varieties here that few outside the area have heard of, including Petite Arvine, Amigne, Humagne Blanc, Humagne Rouge and Cornalin. Heading further east and south of the Alps is the Italian-speaking Ticino region, where 90 per cent of the wine produced is Merlot. They even make a white called Merlot Bianco. Less common red varieties include Bondola, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and in the whites, Chardonnay, Chasselas, Sauvignon and Semillon. “Great things come in small packages” is the motto of German-speaking Switzerland where Pinot Noir and Riesling-Silvaner are the most common varieties. Local specialties include Räuschling and Completer, along with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.
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
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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