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Life

For the love of Newcastle

Most Selector readers would know that the magazine is produced in Newcastle and as editor I am often asked what is Newcastle like? Where do you go to eat and drink?

I like to think of Newcastle as Australia’s best kept secret. Known as a steel city, it has long had a reputation as an industrial town with the smokestacks dominating the landscape. But over the last few decades Newcastle has undergone an amazing transformation.

Once the biggest employer in the region, the BHP is gone and the blue collar mentality is changing to white or even t-shirt. The University of Newcastle is now the biggest employer, so in that respect Newcastle is a real college town. With that, there is plenty of creativity, a cheaper standard of living and a growing bohemian café and restaurant scene.

It may surprise many that Newcastle is a city of natural beauty, bordered by spectacular (clean) beaches and a glorious working harbour. It is of course the gateway to the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest and most visited wine region.

Just to the south is Lake Macquarie, Australia’s largest salt-water lake offering a plethora of water-based activities from boating to fishing with cafes, restaurants and museums dotting its shores.

To the north is glorious Port Stephens, world-renowned for its marine wildlife with whale watching a regular activity in its pristine waters.

A time of change

The inner city of Newcastle is also going through a real transformation. The main arteries, Hunter Street and Scott Street were once bustling ‘High Street’ style thoroughfares, with hoards of shoppers and business people crowding the sidewalks. But an earthquake in 1987 had an impact that lasted far more than its initial rumblings.

Measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale, the tremors tragically claimed the lives of 13 Novocastrians and also caused wide-spread damage. Some buildings needed to be demolished, while a vast majority in the heart of the city were deemed unsafe for business.

With an extensive wait for insurance and repair, a plethora of inner city businesses were forced to relocate. Many remerged in quickly growing suburban shopping malls and, as a result, the city of Newcastle became a virtual ghost town overnight.

The city’s recovery was initially hindered by Sydney hosting the 2000 Olympics. Money potentially earmarked to revive Newcastle was funnelled into hastily preparing the state’s capital for the world biggest sporting event.

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Be still my Indian heart
Words by Kathy Lane on 14 Jan 2016
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.
Life
My City Brisbane
Words by Ben O'Donoghue on 14 Aug 2017
A lot has changed in brisbane over the last decade with the food and wine scene taking off to make it one of Australia's most vibrant destinations The first time I came to Brisbane was in 1994 on a wild road trip from Sydney in a mate’s Bedford van to indulge in the Livid festival at Davies Park (now home to one of the best farmers markets in South East Queensland). My next foray to Brisvegas was in 2000 when I journeyed here with my good friend Jamie Oliver, promoting The Naked Chef 2 and the accompanying cookbook, both of which featured yours truly...an unremarkable experience I recall! So, on returning in 2008 from London, Brisbane seemed an unlikely place to move. But I’d been told good things by some close friends and a recent move north by my mother-in-law was enough to tip the scales in Brisbane’s favour. Brisbane was a city hungry for new things and in the subsequent nine years has matured into a uniquely independent city with some amazing food, beverage and lifestyle opportunities. On the south side
If you’re after some serious liquor and cocktail therapy, head to The Gresham , an old bank building at the bottom end of Queens Street. These guys know their spirits, reflected in the fact they’ve won Best Bar in Australia. Once the hunger sets in after a few stiff well mixed old fashioneds stumble next door to Red Hook, a well-executed New York-style burger joint. They knock out a classic cheeseburger and do some damn fine things with ground meat in general. Now, if you find yourself in South Brisbane's West End I would be remiss not to direct you to my new wine bar, Billykart Bar & Provisions adjacent to my newest restaurant, Billykart West End . The wine focus is on Australian and NZ producers, spirits from boutique Australian and imported distilleries, and Australian craft beers, both on tap and bottled. The food focus is tapas-style dishes with a global influence. It’s a great place to relax and for intimate gatherings and functions. But if you’re after something more substantial, pop next store to Billykart West End. Still on the south side, venture out to Annerley. There loads of new places popping up around here. This is where you’ll find the original Billykart kitchen. A renovated 1930s Queensland corner store turned café restaurant, it’s open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and Friday evening for a monthly changing menu with a specific cuisine focus Still in Annerley, on Dudley Street, is the Dudley Street Café , serving some of the best coffee on the south side and yummy toasted sambos. Northern Necessity You might be starting to realise I live south side and in Brisbane there is a bit of north-south rivalry. But when it comes to bread and pastries, you’ve got to head to the Brisbane MarketPlace at Rocklea and visit Lutz and Rebecca from Sprout Artisan bakery. They produce some of the best bread in Australia and the quality of Lutz’s croissants is legendary – we’re talking layers and layers of buttery goodness! Eat, move, repeat
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Life
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?
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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