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Aløft

There's nothing new about Nordic interiors - blond timbers, concrete surfaces, warm, mid-century charm without the twee - and thank heavens for that. It's a style that augments the beauty of everything around it, in this case, gorgeous Hobart harbour, which makes up one whole wall. What is new here, however, is the food - by veterans of Garagistes, which once dazzled diners down the road, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Gordon Ramsay worldwide. There's a strong Asian bent, but with Tasmanian ingredients. In fact, the kitchen's love of the local verges on obsessive - coconut milk in an aromatic fish curry is replaced with Tasmanian-grown fig leaf simmered in cream to mimic the flavour. Other standouts include a gutsy red-braised lamb with gai lan and chewy cassia spaetzle, pigs' ears zingy with Sichuan pepper and a fresh, springy berry dessert. While the food is sourced locally, the generous wine list spans the planet. 

Secret Tuscany

A far cry from Tuscany’s familiar gently rolling hills, Monte Argentario’s appealing mix of mountain, ocean, island and lagoon makes it one of Italy’s hidden treasures, writes Emiko Davies.

Farro recipes

Farro can be used in almost any dish, from a robust salad to accompany hearty beer-glazed beef short ribs to a new take on risotto with mushrooms, leek and parmesan. Here are 14 ways with this versatile grain.

Moon Park to open Paper Bird in Potts Point

No, it’s not a pop-up. The team behind Sydney’s Moon Park is back with an all-day east-Asian eatery.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

Grilled apricot salad with jamon and Manchego

Here we've scorched apricots on the grill and served them with torn jamon, shaved Manchego and peppery rocket leaves. Think of it as a twist on the good old melon-prosciutto routine. The mixture would also be great served on charred sourdough.

Discovering Macedonia

Like its oft-disputed name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia defies simple definition but its rich diversity extends from the dinner table to the welcoming locals, writes Richard Cooke.

Brae

Prepare to enter a picture of the countryside framed by note-perfect Australiana but painted in bold, elegant and unsentimental strokes. Over 10 or more courses, Dan Hunter celebrates his region with dishes that are formally daring (Crunchy prawn heads! Creamy oyster soft-serve! Sea urchin and chicory bread pudding!), yet rich in flavour and substance. The menu could benefit from an edit, but the plates are tightly composed - and what could you cut? Certainly not the limpid broth bathing fronds of abalone and calamari, nor the clever arrangement of lobster played off against charred waxy fingerlings under a swatch of milk skin. The adventure is significantly the richer for the cool gloss of the dining room, some of the most engaging service in the nation and wine pairings that roam with an easy-going confidence. Maturing and relaxing without surrendering a drop of its ambition, Brae is more compelling than ever.

Inner city vegie patch

Living in a flat in inner Melbourne with a small concrete and brick balcony, I figured my attempts at vegie growing were unlikely to get much further than the existing pots containing a depressed looking bay tree and a plucky-despite-the-odds rosemary bush. But that was before I’d read Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember’s excellent gardening book The Little Veggie Patch Co: How to Grow Food in Small Spaces. In the interests of full disclosure, I must tell you that after I’d flipped through its humorous, easy-to-follow pages, I got the authors around to do a number on my outdoor space, and now the rosemary bush and the bay tree – re-potted, fed and looking much better for it – share the balcony with thyme, oregano, marjoram, lemon balm, sorrel, chives, cos and mignonette lettuce, chicory, tatsoi, and lime and peppermint geraniums, and will soon be joined by a couple of varieties of bush tomatoes that fruit without the need for staking.

The best thing about all this greenery (aside from the improvement to my cooking – sorrel omelettes have become a weekend mainstay) is the way the plants actually make the balcony feel bigger than it did before.

One of the principles of the gardening philosophy of Pember and Capomolla is that gardens, no matter how small, should always look good, because, as they write in their book, “an uninviting patch… will help you become an even better procrastinator.” They’re also keen to stress that your vegie patch shouldn’t rule your life, so when it came time to design mine, the boys asked me how I used my balcony and what vegies and herbs I was likely to use: “You need to find a balance between your overwhelming enthusiasm, your needs, and the means at your disposal.”

On my now-lush balcony I have plants in a number of different containers, my favourite being the bespoke vegie patch/barbecue stand made from recycled packing crates. My small barbecue sits to one side of a 40cm-deep planter box, and there is enough room underneath for the gas bottle, a watering can, and space to hang barbecue implements and gardening tools.

To take advantage of a brick wall that gets a lot of morning sun and so will be ideal for tomatoes, an old, metal ammunitions box (painted a nicely weathered blue) has been planted with seedlings, given holes for drainage and attached high enough to catch all the sun.

Another ammo box sitting on the ground contains two rosemary bushes (both heavily in purple flower at the moment), and a series of brightly coloured glazed pots sport the bay tree, the marjoram and the thyme. On the balcony ledge are three long, narrow concrete pots ideal for quick-growing leafy greens.

There’s more to The Little Veggie Patch Co gardening book than just step-by-step set-up instructions. There are tips on everything from watering to scarecrows (something my daughter has expressed the most interest in) and an extensive list of food plants best suited to spaces like my balcony.

I understand that self-sufficiency with a space like mine is a ludicrous notion, but the huge leap in production on my balcony is enormously satisfying. I’m already eyeing off the other planters available and trying to work out what new plants I can fit. I’m thinking garlic, perhaps some broad beans and radishes, maybe an espaliered dwarf pear tree…

The Little Veggie Patch Co by Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember is published by Plum/Pan Macmillan Australia ($45, pbk).

PHOTOGRAPHY JOHN LAURIE

This article is from the November 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

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