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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.

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.

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.

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.

The parent trap

Fergus Henderson finds that when catering for the kids, it's best to resist the temptation to reach for the bottle.

I hark back to the age when birthday girls wore patent shoes and white socks and boys wore a new pair of slip-ons with animal-track soles.

It was all different then, the mums in jolly-coloured tank tops, the girls sporting pigtails and the boys suffering pudding-bowl haircuts. These reflections rather age me, but at least it doesn't put me in the cynical group of folk who like to pretend their birthday doesn't exist. Miserable souls, denying us the possibility of celebrating them.

I have a rose-tinted view of these occasions, my mum being the kind of proper mum who made me birthday cakes that looked like the yellow submarine, a football pitch or a castle. There were cupcakes, sandwiches with the crusts cut off, pirate outfits for the boys and fairy outfits for the girls. I recall a very well-wrapped pass-the-parcel containing all manner of useful things, such as a glue-stick and a tin of sardines. My overriding memory of these parties is, by the end of them, I would always do an impression of a human Chernobyl, my central core going into a sugar-overdose meltdown, causing me to chase the girls, as any respectable young pirate would do.

When I asked Margot, my wife, about her memories of childhood parties in New Zealand, her recollections were of much more healthy festivities. Her mother, god bless her, is a wholesome soul, but still tried to celebrate in a youthful way, making fish and chips with bran batter, washed down with a cider vinegar and honey drink. I'm afraid I go with the unhealthy, hyperactivity-inducing fare.

(I'm intrigued by the stuff in the supermarkets; what do they put in crisps that has kids climbing up the walls? Maybe it's the potatoes.)

My greatest culinary birthday triumph for my own children was a castle built out of fish fingers, more in the school of a Scottish fortified tower and not dissimilar to a fish-finger Jenga. It's the parents you have to police at this moment. As the fish fingers are brought to the festive table, they begin to swarm like seagulls behind a fishing trawler. Following the theme of an architectural upward momentum was the croquembouche made with doughnuts, another parent trap. The doughnuts speak for themselves - who can resist fried dough? Sugar all over your face, the filling dribbling down your chin.

A word of advice at this juncture. You have seen the parents turn into seagulls; now watch them turn into fish when you offer them a glass of wine. It was going like clockwork; you thought you would have them out by 6.30 or certainly by seven, but you know once the wine is out you're in for the long haul. A parent you may have nodded at in the playground is drinking your wine and suddenly you're best friends. So, however thirsty you are or however much it seems a good idea, hold back on the uncorking until the coast is clear.

The good thing is children grow up. Langoustine are a birthday request not so popular with the parents who are all looking for their fish-finger hit, but not much else has changed so keep your corks in. Which brings me neatly back to the evil drink, which all of a sudden becomes the focus of the party and marks the loss of innocence. Once I was restrained and escorted out of our flat by a friend as my son's friends tried to smuggle two huge suitcases of alcopops into a party. I'm not sure whether it was the presence of booze or the nature of the booze itself that made me feel I had failed somehow.

Let's end this birthday celebration with a quote from my daughter's speech on her 16th birthday: "I can now have sex and officially collect scrap metal." Ah, youth.

Related link: cake recipes.

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