‘My own experience with sommeliers is that they invariably offer the highest price wine.’ So wrote Peter Robotti, restaurateur, in 1972. (Key to Gracious Living. Prentice Hall.)
I believe Mr Robotti’s quote holds pretty much true 37 years on. Sommeliers are meant to advise diners about wine selections and food and wine matching but in Australia they often end up as wine marketers for restaurant owners. And if it’s not always the highest priced wine they suggest, sommeliers and wine waiters do have a certain knack of upselling… Never has any sommelier ever suggested to me selections from the inexpensive wines on a wine list.
Friend and cheesemaker Christian Nobel, writes about his family’s recent trip from Australia to visit relatives in Switzerland.
The mountain path
We start at the valley bottom very early in the morning. The weather forecast is great and although there is no indication yet of the rising sun, the mountains are starting to appear as the darkness disappears. After a strenuous passage through a dense pine forest, we continue up a rocky path that has never seen a car or truck before.
These alpine trails are only for hikers or one or two wild alpine farmers riding motor bikes, which have been specifically adjusted for crazy and steep paths. Up in these high alpine areas, one either walks, or if available, transports goods by aerial ropeway or even by helicopter.
Kuta Beach Club Hotel, Bali, 1975
Kuta has an obvious village atmosphere. Bare-chested old men in sarongs sit on platforms and groom their fighting cocks. In and around the thatched buildings, scabrous dogs, chickens and swayback pigs root around, wistful-eyed cows graze in nearby coconut groves.
Traditionally dressed women place little woven trays of flowers, rice, and incense, as offerings to the gods at shrines and strategic sites. Soldiers with guns walk around the market stalls. Hippies and Bali Boys ride motor bikes along the beach waterline.
War-games with oyster entrée
In March 1965, a bunch of us Regular Army electronics technicians were posted to provide backup for CMF* war games in the bush near Tea Gardens, New South Wales.
On the penultimate day of pretending-to-shoot-each-other manoeuvres, a CMF officer (i.e. a sweating red-faced jumped up bank teller from Sydney) ordered us to work as kitchen staff in the officers’ mess tent for their farewell dinner the next night. ‘Nah,’ we said, ‘we didn’t come here to wait on weekend warriors.’ Or words to that effect.
He went away muttering about undisciplined rabble and later came back. ‘What if we pay you?’ ‘Okay… Sir.’ (Cue limp salute here.)
by Martin Field
Maybe it was 20 years ago. ‘How about I take you to lunch at the Melbourne Club?’ My eye specialist, a generous, learned gentleman of the old school and also the father of a friend, wanted to repay me for fine-tuning his office PC.
Never having been there – they have an invisible brass plaque by the front door saying ‘No women, no lefties, certain religions are a bit suss, and definitely no riff-raff!’ – I accepted. ‘You’ll have to wear a suit you know,’ he smiled, gazing at my public service uniform: Miller shirt, Lee jeans and Blundstones.
When I arrived at the club, I certainly didn’t look like a member – longish hair, beard, baggy tan suit, a ridiculously narrow dusty pink leather tie and tan R.M. Williams Cuban-heeled boots (to match the suit, you understand). However, after the business with the rubber gloves, some pointed interrogation and upon showing my passport and letters of accreditation, they let me in.
Boiled bacon and cabbage in Callan
In the summer of 1968, I travelled from London to Callan (County Kilkenny, Eire) to see my ageing grandmother, Annie. She was happy to welcome me, having last done so in the late 1940s, before my family came to Australia in 1950.
‘You’ll be wantin’ something for lunch then, Martin?’ she asked, semi rhetorically, in her soft Irish drawl. I had told her I’d had no breakfast and had just hitchhiked from Clonmel.
A short while later she served up a whopping great plate of boiled bacon and cabbage, accompanied by a small mountain of creamy mashed spuds adorned with a generous lump of pale farmhouse butter. On the side were thick slices from a just-baked loaf of wholemeal soda bread. Oh, and a bottle of Guinness.
Every evening my uncle Joe drove me into Kilkenny, where we pub crawled in style, revelling in the music of the ‘ballad’ (folk) singers and fiddlers – and drinking numerous pints of Guinness. Less fun was the twilit drive home in Uncle Joe’s old Morris. I swear you could see the road through the rusting floor and only the Leprechauns knew what his blood alcohol content was.
by Martin Field
Perhaps the most simple and enjoyable food and wine match is that of wine (red especially) and cheese. French winemakers have it right when they say, ‘Sell with cheese, buy with apples.’
Like many wine and cheese lovers, I’d experienced aspects of the winemaking process but I’d never seen cheese production. Until, that is, friend and cheesemaker, Christian Nobel of Fromart Cheese, invited me to his cheese factory. Or, as we would say in Noosa, his fromagerie.
Before entering said fromagerie, I donned a dinky little white hat, a long white apron, and big white gum boots. I’d also had to walk through an antiseptic pool and had scrubbed my hands and arms to near surgical standards – the first of many scrubbings during the day.
Fifteen hundred litres of fresh creamy milk, from Jersey cows fed on lush verdant Mary Valley pastures, gushed into a stainless steel vat as I arrived. [Ed: enough with the pastoral imagery already.]
by Martin Field
Da Nang is sited on the Han River and the riverside is lined with flashy modern buildings. Behind the esplanade you’ll find bustling markets and narrow shopfronts. On sale at the Han Market are dried fish, prawns, and squid in abundance, which produce a smell so eye-wateringly pungent that I imagine it could cure chronic asthma. One exotic delicacy on the shelves is a local firewater – each bottle containing a small cobra with a scorpion in its mouth. Don’t ask.
If you like an adventurous treat visit the vegetarian Thanh Tam restaurant in Ngô Gia Tự Street. We went in despite its rather seedy aspect and lack of menu. Nobody spoke English but sign language worked and they served up two plates heaped with spring rolls, tasty mixed vegetables, and rice. On the side were two bowls of a clear broth tasting unusually of herbs and citrus. The meal was washed down with two bottles of Coke (this was poured on to ice and I broke my own rules by drinking it – no after-effects though). The total bill for the two of us was $1.50.
by Martin Field
Piquant Szechuan brekkie
In 1994 we were cruising down the Yangtze River through Szechuan Province. Breakfast was fried (hot) green chilis, two kinds of sautéed green beans, fried cashew nuts, ancient (preserved) eggs, whiffy fermented bean curd, steamed bread rolls filled with sweet red bean paste, wok-fried cabbage seasoned with flecks of fresh red chili, a huge bowl of congee (a bland rice porridge) and Chinese tea.
by Martin Field
Lunch was at Bilson’s in Sydney. Foster’s Group winemakers were hosting a roadshow for winewriters from all over.
I’d asked for the vegetarian option at lunch and was dreading a glutinous risotto or an over-oreganoed, limp-wristed pasta. Should have trusted Bilson’s reputation, the chef presented as a main, one of their entrée items: Fricassee of Wild Mushrooms with Truffle and Poached Egg.
Picture: a beautiful platescape of a perfectly poached egg surrounded by sautéed Shimeji mushrooms, King Brown mushrooms, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, fresh black truffles. Anointing the egg is a ‘salt’ of marinated chanterelles, thinly sliced King Brown, black truffle slices and cepes. The accompanying sauce contains cepes, chanterelles and King Browns. Crowning the dish is a tiara of latte-hued foam made with madeira and mushroom cream.
Not as complicated as it sounds but as delicious a course as ever I’ve been served. Went down very well with a goblet of Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2006.