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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.

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.

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.

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.

Ship to shore

True North

True North

A spirit of adventure and the desire to go where big ships can't is driving the popularity of expedition cruising, writes Kendall Hill.

The arrival of P&O's 1900-passenger ship Pacific Dawn in Papua New Guinea in November signalled a significant new chapter in cruising. Once only doughty expeditioners dared explore this most exotic and untamed region; now it's possible to visit such remote ports as the Trobriand Islands on a Renzo Piano-designed vessel, with live entertainment and a Luke Mangan restaurant. What is the world coming to?

Adventure, that's what. It seems everyone is aching for a little excitement in their holiday lives and this desire is driving the popularity of expedition cruising, a mini-boom within the behemoth cruise industry. While Pacific Dawn's foray into the wilderness does not strictly qualify, it's a telling example of the way intrepid ocean touring is seeping into the mainstream.

True expedition ships require an expert crew, a passion for exploration and a working knowledge of Zodiacs - not the star signs but the rigid inflatable dinghies used to transport passengers into otherwise inaccessible corners of the planet. Expedition cruising is all about Zodiacs. And élite cruising is, increasingly, all about expeditioning.

Luxe Italian cruise line Silversea is leading the new-wave adventure armada. Its fleet of eight includes three expedition vessels. The 132-passenger polar ship Silver Explorer débuted in 2008 (as Prince Albert II). It sparked such a flurry of interest among well-heeled adventurers that the company last year bought the 100-passenger Galapagos Explorer II and, after an extensive refurb to suitably Silversea standards - marble bathrooms, custom-made mattresses, WiFi, - the vessel débuted in September as Silver Galapagos. It will be based in the region, offering year-round island cruising on week-long itineraries.

In March, Silversea will launch Silver Discoverer, a 128-passenger vessel with swimming pool, gym, beauty salon, two restaurants, 12 Zodiacs and a glass-bottomed boat. Accommodation will range from 17-square-metre cabins with viewing windows to the 40-square-metre Medallion Suite with private verandah. Regardless of room category, Silversea provides Champagne on request for the all-inclusive price.

Silver Discoverer will capitalise on the booming Australasian cruise market - it will be based in the Asia-Pacific region year-round with three months in Australian waters. Regional itinerary highlights include an 11-day Kimberley cruise and a 17-day voyage to lesser-visited Indonesian islands including Komodo and Flores.

Upmarket operator Seabourn has also entered the expedition market with its 450-passenger, two-year-old Seabourn Quest, which set sail on its début voyage to Antarctica on 20 November, equipped with the largest luxe spa at sea (and four new penthouse spa suites), dégustation dining and casino. It also carries a fleet of 10 Zodiacs for Antarctic landings. Seabourn will offer six Antarctic options in 2014, from 21-day Antarctica and Patagonia voyages between Valparaiso and Buenos Aires, and an epic 41-day South America and Antarctica Exploration departing Manaus in Brazil.

Boutique Amazon line Aqua Expeditions is scheduled to launch on the Mekong in September with the new, 20-suite Aqua Mekong. Three-, four- and seven-night cruises on this sleek riverboat will begin with sundowners on the deck (overlooking Ho Chi Minh City or Phnom Penh) before sailing to Siem Reap via isolated fishing villages, Buddhist temples and flooded forests.

Given the new competition from Silversea on home turf, WA-based operator North Star Cruises will upgrade its offerings this year with a new itinerary on its 36-passenger, helicopter-equipped vessel True North. The 10-night Wet Season Adventure will sail the Kimberley coastline just after the wet season to view the waterfalls at their most impressive.

Meanwhile, homegrown success Orion has been bought by US-owned Lindblad Expeditions, which cruises in partnership with the National Geographic Society. The 102-passenger ship, which introduced Australians to high-end expedition cruising in 2004, will set sail from March as National Geographic Orion.

While its popular Kimberley and Antarctic cruises remain the backbone of annual itineraries, the ship will chart new waters with inaugural visits to Fiji, Tahiti and Easter Island. It joins a Lindblad fleet of 10 expedition ships visiting seven continents on more than 40 itineraries. The Orion is currently in dry dock in Singapore for renovations, including the addition of serious new expedition kit, including scuba gear for 24 passengers, underwater camera and new kayaking equipment. Anchors aweigh.

Read more: cruising news, trends and features.

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