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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.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

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.

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.

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.

The cook's ultimate kitchen

There’s some irony, surely, in the fact that I write a column called Brigitte’s Kitchen when my current home kitchen is a tiny 1970s shambles. There’s hardly any bench space other than two odd corners to work in, which makes prep a nightmare. The sink is small and shallow – barely big enough to fit even a medium-sized pot under the tap. The cupboards are cheap and poky. The exhaust is almost non-existent, so when I use my wok the whole house smells like Bangkok.

When I have a dinner party the kitchen stacks up with plates, bowls and pots till there isn’t an inch of free space left, and it always looks like a bombsite. Nothing seems to stand up to my industrial-strength requirements. It’s not what I had in mind when I married an architect, that’s for sure.

Fortunately, for most of the week I get to cook in the beautiful kitchen upstairs at the Gertrude Street Enoteca. It has lots of natural light and a view of Fitzroy rooftops, but most of all I love it because it’s really well designed. The benches are spaced so they have just enough room to move around in comfortably but are tight enough that you don’t have to move too much – everything is within reach. We opted for open shelving partly to save money, but also because I love how open shelves celebrate a kitchen’s machinery and tools. I think too many modern kitchens lack warmth. They’re clean and cold and the hearth of the house has become tucked away instead of celebrated.

So what makes a good kitchen? Space is the easiest answer, even if it’s the toughest to control. You really do need a good length of uninterrupted bench space so that you can lay out your produce and chopping board and knives for a harmonious workflow. You want openness without clutter. It doesn’t have to be huge, but everything that’s there should be there for a reason.

Thus one of the best features of my work kitchen is the three-metre-long end-grain timber bench. It’s made from walnut, so it’s incredibly hard – and beautiful. One end is just for desserts and fruit, the other for onions, meat and fish. Because it’s natural wood, it cleans easily and doesn’t ever hold a smell.

At home I entertain a lot, and I need to be able to cook for many people with ease. This means big pots – and a six-burner stove that can fit many things at once. You also need at least one sink deep enough for big pots, or to rinse a whole salmon, or to fill with ice to cool down an anglaise quickly. (The gorgeous ceramic butler sink in my Enoteca kitchen is perfect – it’s large enough to bathe a toddler, should the need arise.)

The combi oven in my work kitchen – that is, a combination convection and steam oven – has been a revelation. Water is a better and more efficient conductor of heat than dry air, so things cook more quickly, more evenly and, depending on how much steam I use, with more moistness. My cakes have never been better, nor has my roast pork. It also steam-cleans so that the oven looks brand-new all the time. In fact, I’m not sure why more people don’t fit them at home – they aren’t terribly expensive.

We recently installed a commercial dishwasher at home because it has a three-minute cycle – and therefore I don’t have a huge build up of dishes whenever I cook.

I can just throw them in and they’re done.

But it’s not just about the right equipment, it’s also a matter of knowing how to get the most out of your equipment. For instance, if you have a 90cm-wide oven then you should buy 90cm-long oven dishes to maximise the space. That way you can cook something like coq au vin for 15 people in one tray, covered with foil as a lid. Two trays would mean catering for 30 people easily. A big oven isn’t being used to good effect if you only have regular-sized casserole pots to put in it.

Thankfully, our home renovations are on their way. And while it’s true that with enough grit and creativity you can cook anywhere, the thought of having a great kitchen at home fills me with joy and expands the horizons tenfold, so I feel anything is possible. Can we please hurry up now, Mr Architect?

ILLUSTRATION ANTONIA PESENTI

This article was published in the October 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

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