Monday, 16 January 2017

New culinary direction for luxury getaway Bells at Killcare

It was a long-lived and hugely successful collaboration that lasted nine years; an eternity in the hospitality industry. 

But now the owners of Bells at Killcare Boutique Hotel, Restaurant and Spa, Brian and Karina Barry, and restaurateurs Stefano Manfredi and Julie Manfredi-Hughes, have mutually agreed to part ways. 

The Manfredis' restaurant at Bells of Killcare was one of the best in regional Australia but now the partners feel it is time to move on and pursue new challenges.
Executive chef Dean Jones, who has worked alongside Manfredi for several years, will continue with the core Manfredi values of simplicity, elegance and sustainability in the Bells kitchen, but has vowed to elevate the Italian dining experience. 

Jones gained Michelin experience at London's River CafĂ© and aims to introduce a fresh perspective to the menu. 

"Passion and commitment took River Cafe to great heights, and I know it can here, too," he says.
While assuming the mantle of executive chef, Jones will also share the title of head chef with Jose Saulog (ex-Glass Brasserie and Tetsuya's). 

"River Cafe had five head chefs," says Jones, "and the extra respect and responsibility in the kitchen pays real dividends."

Re-energising the restaurant is the first of a number of upgrades and expansions planned by owners Karina and Brian Barry who bought Bells at Killcare from John Singleton's Coast and Country Properties in June, 2016. 

The Barry's have operated and hosted at the upmarket retreat since 2007. 

They, too, have an enormous affection for River Cafe which made founders Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray legends of the British culinary scene and which produced a host of talent including Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Jones (below) says the ethos of River Cafe should translate well to Bells at Killcare Restaurant & Bar with its coastal setting and extensive on-site produce gardens and orchards.

He says the menu will reflect the flavour and the spirit of the setting. Expect a comprehensive 'tidal pool' of seafood and a dish of sea urchin, butter, spaghetti and bottarga is already creating excitement among guests. 

Brian Barry says there will be no mistaking the Italian focus. Ssommelier Alessio Rubini and his team is doing a cellar stocktake of Italian wines.

Bells at Killcare, 107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights, NSW. (02) 4349 7000. 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

New Australian wine brand honours a great name

Coonawarra kingpins the Brand family, who sold the Brands Laira label in 1995, are back in the wine industry with their own label for the first time in over two decades.

The Brand family have maintained their position as key vignerons in Coonawarra and are among the largest private landholders in the region. While various family members have worked as consultants in the area and have produced wines under a variety of labels, it is not until now that they have released a wine under their own name.

The new Jim Brand Wines releases honour the late Jim Brand (below), who passed away in 2005, at the age of 52, after a long battle with cancer.

A third-generation vigneron, he was born into a winemaking dynasty and proudly continued the family tradition.

Sam Brand (below), director of the Brand Group, says the range is a fitting tribute to a man who was dedicated to growing and producing exceptional wines from the famous Coonawarra region.

Dad was absolutely committed to his role at Brands Laira and was highly regarded within the industry not only for his success on the show circuit but for his generous and friendly nature,” he says.

He was very proud of his family and our heritage and it means a lot to be able to fulfil his dream and pay tribute to his legacy by releasing these wines under his name. They are small batches of premium wines from the heart of Coonawarra, the way he intended.”

The five wines include a chardonnay, two shirazes, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc blend, and range from $26-$70 in price. Report soon. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

A dream sailing vacation in Cuba

If I win Lotto, no, make that when I win Lotto, I'm going to get together with a group of friends and go sailing, very gently, around the coast of Cuba.

I only made that decision this week when a press release dropped into my email inbox.

I visited Cuba a few years ago and loved it, but my sailing skills are non-existent and I get seasick on the Manly ferry.

With Cuba on the verge of an American invasion and being named on many lists as one of the hottest destinations for 2017, I'd like to get there sooner rather than later for my second, and possibly final, visit.

The Moorings offers charters of luxury yachts with a crew: a gourmet chef, captain and a dedicated local tour guide.

Apparently, you can explore undiscovered bays or stop off at Hemingway’s two favourite Havana watering hotels, La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio.

The Cuba all-inclusive holiday aboard a Moorings 5800 yacht is said to pair the best of Cuban sailing with a focus on the people and culture that make the destination so captivating.

Most days, you'll disembark the yacht to soak up the local entertainment and attractions with your personal guide, but you'll also enjoy some smooth day and sunset sailing in Cuba's warm climate and pristine cruising grounds.

Music, food, dance, exploring. The lot.

An all-inclusive Cuba Crewed Yacht vacation includes all onshore activities and meals, as well as spacious accommodations aboard a premium air-conditioned 58-foot sail catamaran, professional captain and chef, gourmet meals, drinks and a full selection of water toys. Prices start at from $40,110 for up to 10 people for seven nights (that's around $4000 per person).

The press release sold me. Now all I need is 40 grand and nine volunteers.

For more information visit or contact 1800 553 720 or

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Watch New Zealand and South Africa behave like idiots


New Zealand and South Africa are countries with close sporting and cultural links; but their Governments are behaving like spoilt brats and making it very hard for citizens of one country to visit the other. 

The Travel Agents Association says New Zealand started the debacle by slapping visa requirements on South African travellers in November following what it said was a rise in the number of people trying to get into New Zealand on fraudulent passports.

The South Africans retaliated by forcing Kiwis wanting to visit South Africa to travel in person to Wellington or Canberra to get a visa from the South African embassy starting from Monday.

The moves pile on cost and inconvenience at both ends. You have to wonder whether the New Zealand diplomats involved have any idea what a big country South Africa is; or if the South Africans realise how long it can take to get from say, Invercargill to Wellington.

There will also be those extra costs involved and Immigration NZ r
ecommends that South African applicants apply for a visitor visa about six weeks in advance of their intended travel dates. Hardly convenient or efficient. 

The tit-for-tat moves will almost certainly reduce tourism numbers to both countries and are plainly idiotic.

If someone tries to enter either country on a suspected false passport, detain them until it can be checked (surely less than 24 hours) and send them straight home if it is false. The message would soon get home. 
Problem solved. Consultancy fee awaited.

On the other hand, not too many Kiwis would be trying to enter South Africa on a false passport. The South African reaction is churlish and stupid.

Time for airlines to crack down on unruly passengers

There seem to be more and more instances of airline passengers behaving obnoxiously.

Overnight a "family" was kicked off a Jetstar flight for reportedly refusing to take their allocated seats - and occupying those of other passengers.

Two of the fathers were reportedly angry because they had not been allocated seats with the rest of the group. This happens. Not everyone can get the seat they want every time they fly.

If it is important they can try to book the seats they want in advance (perhaps paying a premium), or plead their case at check-in. If the crew say it can't be done, tough luck. Couples are often separated, even on long-haul flights - and it is more likely to happen on low-cost carriers.

Jetstar stated the family had taken other passengers' seats in an attempt to stay together and refused to move when confronted. If that is so, they did absolutely the right thing in removing them from the flight.

It is lucky that one of the passengers whose seat was being occupied by these miscreants did not elect to take the law into their own hands.

And if the airlines to do not crack down hard, as Jetstar did, then we will see more and more of these entitled fools inconveniencing other passengers, delaying flights or causing anguished fellow flyers to lash out at them.

Any time someone doesn't like the seat they are allocated and sits, instead, in the seat of a fellow passenger, they should be removed from the seat, thrown off the plane and told to buy another ticket. No ifs, no buts. There should also be a register of repeat offenders. 

There was also a recent mid-air incident, also on Jetstar, where punches were allegedly thrown and fellow passengers were forced to intervene. The people involved should have been charged when the flight landed. You cannot behave differently in the sky to the way that you would on the ground.  

If a passenger is being drunk and obnoxious then they should be thrown off the flight if it is still on the ground, or restrained if in the air. Why should other passengers have their enjoyment destroyed, or feel threatened?

The recent case of a young woman who had a drunk making obscene suggestions and groping her was a case in point. And if the crew are not capable of restraining an unruly passenger, how would they be capable of dealing with a terrorist? And we are told that they are.

So well done Jetstar and let's see more prompt action as a deterrent to airborne bogans who think they are above the law.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Is there any way to ensure your luggage is fast-tracked?

There was an interesting short piece by Michael Gebicki on the other day, canvassing what flyers can do to help ensure their baggage comes off the carousel first.

His suggestion was that travelling in a class or with status credits that entitle you to a priority baggage tag might help.

In my experience, that only works a very small percentage of times. On a recent Hobart-Sydney flight with Virgin Australia, my clearly marked "Priority" bag was one of the last three off the plane.

And as baggage coming off international flights in Sydney and Melbourne generally takes at least half an hour to reach the conveyer belt, the advantage of being priority tagged is limited at best.

My tip is to go with hand luggage only whenever possible. Get off the plane, clear customers and immigration (if appropriate) and you are free and clear well before those passengers who checked their luggage.

I do this now on all trips of 3-4 days, although obviously it is not practical if you are returning from a fortnight in Nicaragua. When you check in, early or late, makes no difference.

Gebicki's piece pointed out that "exactly when your bag will come off the carousel is a roll of the dice. On a wide-bodied aircraft, checked baggage is loaded into cargo containers or "cans", big metal boxes that are transported as a single unit.
"Since weight distribution is a crucial factor in aircraft performance, the loadmaster will take account of the weight of each can and determine where it is placed within the aircraft's cargo bays."

No say. Random chance.

Gebicki says: "Some flyers suggest that identifying your bag as "fragile" at the check-in desk means it's more likely to be placed on top of other non-fragile items, and therefore ahead of the pack at the carousel."

That, however, is a little dishonest and having seen the way the Jetstar baggage crew dealt with all bags on a recent flight, also far from foolproof. Sometimes you'd almost think crew were targeting bags marked "fragile".

Cellar door experience helps boost sales for small wineries

Small winemaking businesses generated $1 billion in wine sales revenue in 2015-16, an average increase of 12%, Wine Australia figures show.

While retailers and wholesalers generated 47% of income, cellar doors have become increasingly important sales channels, accounting for 27% of revenue.

With food and wine tourism on the rise, many small wineries are now also attracting consumers to their region via on-site restaurants, cafes, tours and boutique accommodation, in addition to the traditional cellar door.

Garry Sweeney, owner of Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills (pictured), said his business has benefited from a strong cellar door focus.

"I’ve definitely seen a rise and increased diversity in visitors from interstate and overseas in the past year," he said.

"I believe it’s important to offer visitors more than just pouring wine, so you give them a ‘sense of place’ to associate with the wine," he said.

The survey also showed that on average, production was up 7%, with the highest average growth in wineries that produce 8000–20,000 cases (up 11%). 

Wineries that produce approximately 4000–8000 cases saw the highest average revenue growth (up 16%).

Australia’s small winemakers rely heavily on the domestic market, with 88% of wine sold locally. For wineries producing more than 20,000–40,000 cases, exports accounted for 27% of sales.