You know you want it

Sometimes a slice of cake is just too hard to resist. Take a look at this hazelnut, mocha, meringue and sponge stack from Togninis - yes it tastes as good as it looks. Actually it tastes even better as it looks very rich but is delightfully light with a good sprinkling of crunch from some toasted walnuts. Do yourself a favour and try it, but don't even look in the cake cabinet if you are on a diet - it's too hard to resist. I tried it at Togninis Spring Hill but you'll probably find it at Milton and the State Library as well. Enjoy!


Palazzo Versace

Ever wondered what it's like inside Palazzo Versace? I've stayed at a few of the Gold Coast's great hotels but not this one, so I was pleased to be allowed a little wander around. It's certainly grand, very lavish, and very Versace. Interestingly, the guests still looked like normal folk!

Palazzo Versace opened in 2000 as the first Versace hotel. Apart from it's over the top decor, the hotel also gained fame from the untimely death of Dubai's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum in 2006.

The images show a Superior room ($480 per night) , and the lounge and bedroom area from the Imperial Suite ($3500 per night).

The main restaurant, Vanitas is very highly regarded by some of Brisbane's best palates. According to the locals, Le Jardin, which takes a prime spot in the hotel's foyer, is a great spot for drinks and snacks. There's live music to enjoy in the evenings and Sunday afternoons.

On the deck at Vie Bar and Restaurant is another place favoured by locals.

Palazzo Versace, Sea World Drive, Main Beach, Gold Coast. +61 6 5509 8000.


Songbirds in the Forest

Some places are special.

You can tell from the moment you walk in the door that there's a mix happening that doesn't occur everyday. Songbirds at Mount Tamborine is one of those places.

It's got a swag of awards, including Restaurant and Caterers Association Restaurant of the Year 2006, the first time in the 60 year history of the awards that a restaurant from the informal category won this prestigious award.

Hidden amongst the rainforest on Mount Tamborine, the location is definitely out of the way making a visit a special occasion but the menu makes it more than worth it. There are also some delightful cottages in a tropical rainforest setting where you can stay should an overnight stay be required.

I took a stroll around the gardens with the owner, the delightful Bonnie Rodwell, and inspected the luscious organic vegetable garden. Later we dined on vegetables from the garden - ah, the maple and spice roasted pumpkin!

The food was masterful. San choi bou of pork belly with bamboo shoots, water chestnuts on betal leaves with plum sauce; seared scallops with carrot and ginger puree and sesame wakame nero sauce and three tastes of the sea, all entrees.

Mains included seared kangaroo fillet with sweet potato and sage gnocchi highlighted with the zing of a juniper sauce, and poached salmon and shellfish in a lime and coconut broth. The Terra Rossa beef fillet was so tender you could cut it with a fork.

Find Songbirds about a hour from Brisbane or the Gold Coast at Lot 10, Tamborine Mountain Road, North Tamborine. +61 7 5545 2563,

Songbirds on Urbanspoon


Italian wine

If you'd like to experience some of the Gabbiano range of Tuscan wines that I blogged, try the dinner at Biagio, Red Hill which will match Gabbiano and T'Gallant wines from Victoria to a five course menu on September 25.
Biagno, 191 Musgrave Rad, Red Hill p 3369 7417.


Laying low

Sorry there have been no posts this week. I've been struck by a bad flu and not doing much except coughing. Hope to return to normal soon...


Gusto da Gianni

A week after opening and there are still a few 'bugs' on the floor to sort out but the food lives up to Gianni's well deserved reputation for high quality cuisine.

Located in the position previously occupied by Aquilina at Portside, Gusto takes a large corner swipe of the complex with several different eating areas. Outside at the front there are larger square tables with an indoor/outdoor ambience. Inside the tables are mixed, ranging between small round marble discs that barely fit the plates, to a huge round table with an eccentric chandelier made from multiple desk lamps, surrounded by smart perspex chairs.

The d├ęcor is rustic and provincial with a smattering of city chic. There's a cosy couch area, a tapas bar and more to the seemingly endless choices. The large open spaces and concrete floors make for a noisy dining experience, especially when your neighbours are a group of rowdy children enjoying a birthday party.

The menu proclaims Gusto has a menu spiced with dishes from the origins of Italy and Spain's best and it certainly reads well. The ordering system is a little like Macca's where you line up at the counter, order and pay for your meal. It works well except for one flaw. Your table number is embedded into the table and we came back to our table after ordering to find ours had completely disappeared! After a moment's confusion, we were able to redirect our meals to a new table number without a hitch.

Our meal choices were crisp zucchini flowers stuffed with delicious goats cheese with a hint of lemon and pork skewers which were too dry and chewy. The skewers came on a interesting mix called mojo potatoes which seemed to include green capsicum with a touch of chili – a great flavour combination.

From the pizza menu we chose a thin base Napolatana, which included a nice mix of anchovies, capers and black olives. It was the real thing and totally delicious.

Gusto is well placed to service many dining needs, from pre or post movie dining to special occasions at the large table. The bar area will no doubt attract a large crowd who will enjoy the tapas selection and pizza range. I'll have to wait until another day, and another dinner, to report on other mains dining options.

Gusto de Gianni's, Portside, Hamilton


Best birthday cake!

It's been a busy week with number one daughter turning 18 - look out Brisbane! She had some of her besties around to celebrate and mum and big bro were her cook and barman for the night, with assistance from our favourite American. I'd like to say I was the genius who made the birthday cake but I have to nominate Judy of Cakes By JudyC. Not only did it look spectacular but each piece was eaten and pronounced delicious by the discerning crowd. You'll find Judy at Shop 1, 227 Waterworks Road, Ashgrove. p 3366 9111.


Italian wine

Lunch at Ecco to sample Italian wine - not an invitation I was able to resist. Both more than lived up to my expectations but the added delight was meeting Ivano Reali, Castello di Gabbiano's Managing Director. He lives just a stone's throw from the a grand castle that sits atop of the Gabbiano estate and has been a part of Tuscan history for over 900 years.

There are three core wines in the Gabbiano range, a rose, pinot grigio and a chianti, all priced around $18. There's also Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, plus two new blends Alleanza and Bellenzza. The new blends include varieties not usually legally allowed to comprise an Italian red wine.

I was particularly taken with the crisp, dry rose which is made from Sangiovese grapes and has hints of cherries and berries.

If you can't visit Tuscany and dine at the Il Cavaliere Restaurant at the Castello, you can at least get your taste of Tuscany from a bottle. Find it at Freestyle Tout in the Valley, Caxton Hotel, Drinx At Sandgate, the Full Moon At Shorncliffe, Biagio Restaurant, Il Secondo and Spagalinis in Brisbane, Chill On Tedder and the Balcony Bar & Restaurant at the Gold Coast and Voodoos Mooloolaba,The Deck Restaurant, Mapleton Tavern and Castros Bar Restaurant on the Sunshine Coast.


Brisbane's biggest lamington?

I've found what must be Brisbane's biggest lamington. It started with a search to find something similar to the delicious lamingtons that used to be available in the Shingle Inn in Edward Street - a sorely missed Brisbane icon.

Instead I've turned up a lamington that's a refugee from Land of the Giants (you'll have to be a Boomer to remember that television show!)

Coated with chocolate ganache and coconut outside and with a layer of ganache inside, one lamington would be a feast for two adults or four hungry children. The size is roughly 12x9x9 cm and the price $7.50. Although not made on the premises, they are available at Tognini's Milton, Spring Hill and at the State Library. Narelle Tognini says the pink lamingtons are especially popular with 'ballet girls' after class.

Shop fresh

I was invited to tour Zone Fresh at Portside last week and got a first hand look at the produce. There were some truly delicious strawberries from the Sunshine Coast which had that just picked smell and flavour and some new season Kensington Pride mangoes from the Northern Territory.

Zone Fresh is a great place to get those not-so-easy to find things, like palm sugar, when you just have to make that new Thai recipe. They have a good range of fresh produce including carambolas, sweet golden kwiwi fruit and fresh berries. There's also fresh asparagus that doesn't come from Peru like the stuff on the shelves at Woolies. And there's a good range of gourmet mushrooms - essential for some of Kylie Kwong's recipes.

Best of all for those with little spare time, is the butcher which specialises in pre-prepared meals. Biggest seller at Portside is the steaks but at The Gap and Windsor they like the roasts - go figure!

Basically, if you're stuck for an ingredient. Zone Fresh is a good place to look. It's also good for a wide range of deli items and everyday staples. Really a one-stop shop that's a lot nicer than a supermarket. Make my day Zone Fresh and open in the new Petrie Terrace Police Barracks development - pleeese!

Update: Zone Fresh is now just at Windsor and Aspley


Love that lamb

If you like your lamb tender you'll be pleased to know that Brisbane now has MSA graded lamb that comes with a guarantee of consistent flavour, juiciness and tenderness. Edeowie Farm MSA lamb comes from Tamworth. The lambs are lean and naturally raised on local pastures, then finished on grain for 30 days and are treated humanely throughout their life.

Alchemy turned some prime cuts of Edeowie lamb into lunch and created some winning combinations. I particularly liked the entree - gnocchi with very tender braised lamb shoulder and hints of marjoram.

Look for Edeowie Farm lamb on the Polo Club menu in Brisbane and at Chill on Tedder, Versace and Michael's on the Gold Coast.


Chefs do lunch

It's the last weekend of Tastes of Gold Coast coming up and there's a great opportunity to learn from some of the coast's top chefs. Damien Davidson-Kelly of Moo Moo, Brian Meade of the Gold Coast Arts Centre and Daran Glasgow at Chill on Tedder will show how to cook up a storm with local produce and lots of fun. Guests get to eat their work at lunch on Saturday, September 6. Find out more at


Best pubs

It seems that more than a few people agree with me about some of my favourite places. The Full Mooon Hotel at Sandgate won Overall General Hotel at the Year at the 2008 Australian Hotels Association National Hotel Awards in Sydney last week and also took the Best Casual Family Dining category. I've enjoyed several meals on the deck overlooking the ocean there and rate it as a great Sunday arvo experience. See my blog - Full Moon Hotel.

The Sofitel Gold Coast at Broadbeach won Best Redeveloped Accommodation Hotel and I couldn't agree more. Check my blog - Two nights is not enough if you want more.

I haven't blogged my experiences at the Story Bridge Hotel, probably because the hangovers have been too bad - and that's purely my own fault. It's a great pub with a lot of history run by a family with a lot to be proud of - congratulations to the Deerys.