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FINE DINING

Oz on a platter

KISHORE IYENGAR

Great wines and innovative cuisine. Culinary tastes Down Under have a sparkle of their own.



Dinner cruise: The Sydney Showboats' Paddlewheeler. Photo: Kishore Iyengar

I GOT my first taste of flavours Down Under at 37,000 feet above the earth. Aboard the Mumbai-Sydney non-stop Qantas flight business class, a three-course meal accompanied by select Australian vintage wines whetted my taste buds. My Melbourne Trout and lemon mousse Terrine paired perfectly with a Grampians 2004 Shiraz, followed by the breezy 2003 Curly Flat Pinot Noir. Later, on Ozzie ground, I was to savour some real innovative Aussie dining creations at signature outlets, quite like none other.

Melbourne in Victoria ("You'll love every piece of Victoria", goes the punch line!) is a non-stop, effervescing hub of celebration of high-end lifestyle. In the "Transport" shard of Federation Square is the Taxi Bar and Dining Room on two levels. Linear, cutting-edge interior design, expansive covers and unparalleled views lend it a cheerful, yet distinguished sheen. Taxi is reputed for eclectic fine dining, offering Australian dishes strongly influenced by Japanese and Asian cuisine with specialities like Red Miso and Kingfish Broth, Enoki Mushrooms, Tofu and Sour Plum Shinjo. Hosts Peter Janssen and Margaret Ryding introduced me to the finest of Yarra Valley wines. For the avid foodie and wine lover, Taxi beckons with dynamic verve.

Just an hour away from Melbourne, at Coldstream in Yarra Valley's most celebrated estates of Domaine Chandon, fine sparkling wine, like their Chandon Vintage Brut 2002, Chandon Vintage Brut Rose 1999, Chandon Cuvee Riche and the immensely enjoyable Chandon Sparkling Pinot Shiraz Brut (easily the best of Australian bubblies), rev up your appetite for some exciting winery lunch. In the neighbourhood are the grand vineyards of De Bortoli Wines, official sponsors of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, where a classically designed fine dining Italian restaurant awaits me.

Make a statement

Here, at the De Bortoli Restaurant, fine dining is an exalted statement. For the Antipasto, the Carpaccio of King Fish, Fennel, Lemon in Olive oil was served with a fine De Bortoli Gulf Station Chardonnay 2003. Followed smartly by the Primi (first course) that had Cured Yarra Valley Salmon in De Bortoli Riesling, dill and Tarragon with lemon paired with a 2003 Gulf Station Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Secondi (second course) that had a full bodied De Bortoli Yarra Valley Reserve Syrah 2004 going with Braised Oxtail in Red Wine with potato and Cerealac puree, Savoy Cabbage. The Dolci (dessert) was Slow-poached Quince in star anise, honey walnut with Torta and Vanilla Bean Ice cream.

At the sprawling Melbourne Aquarium, the Sea Jellies Room, ideal for high-end corporate conferencing, banqueting and cocktails dos, is a fabulous venue for custom-created wine and champagne dinners in the stimulating company of real aquatic creatures. The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, an award-winning moving dining concept, has a restored, 1927 period tramcar with elegantly refurbished Pullman-style dιcor and cosy dining covers inside, charming service and eclectic cuisine and great Australian wines. As the delightful three-hour tramcar ride takes you through Melbourne's dazzling streets, a four-course menu stirs up nostalgia. Cream and cognac Pate (starters), Kangaroo loin marinated in lemon and Myrtle (Entrees), Prime Eye fillet of Beef, Chocolate mousse with mango centre (dessert) and a fine platter of Australian cheeses do the rounds. It's a dining journey you just can't forget!

Breathtaking view

Catch a breath of harbour breeze and outstanding neon views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House as Sudhir Warrier's Sydney Showboats' paddlewheeler cruiser lays out grand Indian, Continental and Aussie dinner spreads and their celebrated Can Can and Cabaret performances. Packed most times of the year, this cruising evening out is a must-have on your Australian experience. Commanding fantastic views of the Opera House on Circular Quay is Aria, the wide open-glass fronted fine dining restaurant, known for signature offerings like Twice baked bungalow sweet pork, Yellow fin Tuna, Pumpkin Ravioli with Scampi, Lamb with potato Roesti and artichoke puree and one of the widest selection of world wines.

And now for my pick of exotic dining. A fishing boat barbecue of sprightly greens and Blue-eyed Cod, Shrimps and wines, anchored in a quiet moonlight cove on Nelson's Bay at Port Stephens, is the ultimate Australian dining experience.

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