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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. 

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.

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.

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.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

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.

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.

Pea and ham soup

P&O's new look

P&O Cruises Australia president, Sture Myrmell, in Pacific Eden's Waterfront restaurant.

P&O Cruises Australia president, Sture Myrmell, in Pacific Eden's Waterfront restaurant.

With a bowerbird’s eye on boutique hotels and inner-city bars, P&O Cruises’ Sture Myrmell is transforming the cruise line.

An oversized pair of eyes gaze seductively over a bar, lampshades sit atop golden duck's feet, and lifts transport travellers momentarily to Tuscany or Polynesia as they move between decks. The carpeted steps are numbered according to a cryptic code. There's no sign of a buffet.

The launch of two new ships late last year, Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, revealed a dash of humour and a genie's bottle of design features drawn from boutique hotels, small bars and laneway cafés around the world. In reimagining a "modern Australian style" for the Australian-based cruise line, the president of P&O Cruises Australia, Sture Myrmell, has signalled the latest phase in the transformation of the 84-year-old company. He has also shown that a mid-market, 1500-passenger cruise ship doesn't need to look like a homogenous floating resort.

P&O's new look has been overseen by Myrmell, a Norwegian-born cruise veteran, and a Swedish studio, Tillberg Design. "It's possible we see things in a slightly different light," says Myrmell, born in Bergen and a resident of Sydney for eight years. "Besides, Australians have a phenomenal ability to take the best from around the world and make it their own. We're drawing on that capacity."

The brief for the two new additions to the now five-ship P&O fleet was to create "affordable luxury" in a style that was intimate and residential rather than institutional; contemporary and comfortable rather than generic or formal.

Extensive changes to the ships' public areas (cabins remain largely untouched) have delivered eye-catching features in 15 eateries and 10 bars. Open books sit on tables alongside curios and quirky artworks. Clever design in the main restaurant, the 350-seat Waterfront, creates an illusion of small spaces, and round tables - a long-time cruise staple - have been replaced by banquettes, rectangular tables and communal benches.

Myrmell says the evolution of P&O's design and identity has been "good fun", and describes travelling to Miami and New York, Amsterdam and London, staying in small hotels, people-watching in cafes, picking up ideas, taking notes and exchanging photos with the Tillberg principals.

Another cruise staple, the buffet, has been replaced by a "marketplace" of food stations in which staff make noodles and tacos on demand, flip burgers, toss salads and carve roasts.

The pool, more than any other on-board feature, defines perceptions of luxury, says Myrmell, and so the pool deck and a separate adults-only pool retreat have curtained cabanas, daybeds and lounges.

This raft of changes runs deeper than design. To meet demand for cruise holidays from Australian ports, the line has expanded its itineraries with regular visits to regional centres, among them Eden, Mooloolaba, Portland, Mornington Peninsula, Port Lincoln, Esperance, Cairns, Busselton and Burnie.

This expansion recognises that P&O's competitors are short-break destinations - the Gold Coast, Bali and Fiji among them. "We don't see this foremost as a cruise experience," says Myrmell. "We can deliver a resort experience that's better tailored, better value and easier to access."

When Myrmell, 48, joined P&O Cruises eight years ago, he was already an industry veteran. He worked weekends in hotel kitchens as a teenager and studied law for a few years "but realised that wasn't going to allow me to travel in the way I wanted to". Instead he went to hotel school in London and what was meant to be a short-term job on Cunard's QE2 turned into eight years at sea. He has 22 years' service with a range of lines in Carnival Corporation, the parent of P&O Cruises Australia.

Myrmell says the world's fastest-growing cruise market shows abundant potential, and P&O has big plans. A larger 2000-passenger ship, Pacific Explorer, joins the fleet next year, and an even bigger, 4200-passenger ship will be built specifically to appeal to Australians. To be launched in 2019, it will have double the capacity of the biggest ship currently based full-time in Australia.

pocruises.com.au

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