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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.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

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.

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.

2017 Australian Hotel Awards: The Finalists

This year's finalists across 11 different categories include established and new hotels, all with particular areas of excellence. Stay tuned to find out which hotels will take the top spots when they're announced at a ceremony at QT Melbourne on Wednesday 24 May, and published in our 2017 Australian Hotel Guide, on sale Thursday 25 May.

Kiss the cook

People in a thoughtful mood write lists of their ex-lovers. I've written a kind of love story set in the kitchens I have known. These strange places of organised chaos and stainless steel are manned by crews of the most disparate nature. There's the chef who records Sunday church services for the local elderly, while right next to him is an up-and-coming professional boxer. All are brought together in their whites in the kitchen, getting ready for service. Then there is the head chef, whose word is law. They have the loyalty of the kitchen behind them, but must avoid becoming too chummy.

How did I find myself in the kitchen completely untrained? The fickle finger of fate. While I was studying art, I helped decorate a restaurant that was about to open, and I asked the head chef if I could work as a commis. The chef was a complete thug, and terrified commis didn't know what to do and were too scared to ask. A good night out for these gentlemen was getting shitfaced, doing a moonie and collapsing in their vomit.

This experience, not surprisingly, sent me running into architecture for seven years. But the finger started to wiggle again, and we set up a club for a month. I was to be the chef in my very own kitchen. We were rough at the edges, but people would smile and wait. This was a caper and I loved it. My fate was sealed. When I finished architecture school, the restaurant I had worked in offered me a job and asked me to change their menu. This was not a relaxed experience - the chefs didn't want to be told what to do by an architect. It didn't last long.

So I moved on to a dodgy nightclub with an ancient oven and a bouncer who would let all the crack-heads and bad people in and keep all the nice people out.

It was at The Globe that I found my one and only mentor, Charles Campbell, who sat in the corner of the kitchen smoking and drinking warm vodka and telling me stories of Elizabeth David as I cooked. The only time he left his stool was to dance to a CD of Sioux Indian music; some days we danced to encourage customers, other days we danced to make sure we cooked well. After service we would sit down and plan the next day's menu, joined, bizarrely enough, by Lucian Freud, who was taking a break from painting.

And here begins the love story: Margot fell into the club very late, I cooked her some kidneys and lentils, and then we sat and drank much Lagavulin. We discussed business, and within 10 minutes we were lovers. Here is where the French House Dining Room, our first restaurant, was conceived. A heady mix: love and the kitchen. I can't have cross words with my chefs and then hug and kiss them. This was a giddy time. The only inconvenience was that we had to shut the kitchen when we went on our honeymoon. I had worked in a few salubrious establishments, but Margot was a chef. She knocked me into shape and then complained that I had ruined her with my approach to cooking. For any of you who know Margot, she is no broken reed.

Then my head was turned, and my business partner Trevor Gulliver showed me 26 St John Street, now St John Bar & Restaurant. The site, a former smokehouse, had lived many lives and was layered with pork fat, smoke, rubble and psychedelic paintings. It was love at first sight. This has been my daytime home for almost 20 years, and I still get a thrill when I walk through the door every morning. This is my current lover, so to speak, as are St John Bread & Wine and St John Hotel.

Where I do most cooking now, though, is in my kitchen at home. My flat belonged to my parents, but they moved to the country. In the years we've lived here, we've given it a lived-in look: shelves groan under the weight of pans and strange stainless steel things hang from hooks ("Ah, you're a chef. I know what we can get you: an unknown kitchen object!"). It's a very thirsty house: wine and spirits evaporate, and no bottle racks are needed, as we drink straight from the case. Our kitchen table is an extraordinary thing: it remains bright white after being awash with red wine more times than I wish to remember. It's important to get rid of one feast before commencing the next one. As I sit here writing this, I hope Charles is gulping on a bottle of Cossack Sword, looking down from a sturdy cloud.

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