Category Archives: On Tour

Champagne

Champagne.

Les Trois Maisons.

The region that holds the monopoly on the production of celebratory beverages the world over is richer in history than it is in romance. The country side is beautiful, without being breath-taking. The towns of Reims and Epernay fall short of Champagne’s (the drink’s) reputation of sophistication and luxury. Yet there is something pure and noble about a region dedicated to producing that singular product that encapsulates all things quality more so than anything else in the world, and the region fiercely protects, and upholds their reputation. Principally through two methods.

Firstly, administrative fervor. Not only can Champagne not be produced anywhere else, but the requirements around the type of champagne, the Cru, the age of the vintage, all adhere to such rigid processes and requirements. The best champagnes in the world, and the lesser champagne’s in the world are all held to the same high standards, and as such, the end result is such that the best is amazingly, supernaturally good, and the lesser variants, still manage a consistently fine product of which most wine makers would be proud.

Secondly, and more importantly, every bottle of champagne is imbued with a three hundred year old tradition, maintained by the champenois. Be it the hand turning the bottles (1/4 inch this way, then an 1/8 inch that way every two weeks), to the centuries old chalk caves in which the thousands of dusty bottles ferment, then ferment again, and then rest, absorbing a rich history evident in every bottle, or so we like to believe.

If you are fortunate enough to visit Champagne, you must visit the Champagne houses, and do not limit yourself for each one is different, and equally special. Here are three very different, but equally beautiful options.

Ruinart Tasting

Ruinart Tasting

Ruinart. The oldest of all the houses, and the joint (although lesser known) partner in the invention of the fizzy elixir. Dom Ruinart and Dom Perignon go way back and were equally responsible for the existence of bubbles in your New Year’s Eve glass of tipple. Upon entering the immaculate grounds, somewhat inconspicuously disguised as a reclusive millionaire’s mansion (the boom gate and lack of welcome sign doesn’t exactly encourage walk-ins). Once inside however, you get the feeling that you are somewhere truly special, almost sacred. Ruinart’s chalk caves are the oldest in the region, dating back to Roman times. 20, 30, 70 metres below the surface, it was a serendipitous discovery of these caves that so perfectly suited the cellaring requirement of the hundreds and thousands of bottles of champagne. If those walls could talk they would speak of three centuries of tumultuous times, of slavery and wars, but fortunately they have settled somewhere more befitting their tranquility, that as a nursery for baby bottle of champagne. Babies they are indeed, treated gently with tender care.  Ruinart typifies everything about Champagne. History, prestige, tradition, luxury.

Ruinart Crayeres

Ruinart Crayeres

Billecarte Salmon speaks more to an evolving pursuit of perfection. Run more like a business, it is less opulent than Ruinart, although the output is arguable better. Billecarte Salmon has managed to balance tradition with more modern, and precise methods, creating a perfectly sublime catalogue of champagnes. Billecarte forwent hand-turning their bottles some time ago, favouring a more exact method by robotic bottle turner, but they have maintained important traditional methods such as organic fertilizing Le Clos Saint-Hilaire by the fortunate sheep who’s job is to solely wander about the vines keeping the grass to a minimum and ensure the soil is well fertilized.

le clos Saint-Hilaire

le clos Saint-Hilaire

The cellars hold less mystery and history, and also space, occupying about a third that of Ruinart’s, but their output is a no less exceptional.

Billecarte Salmon Casks

Billecarte Salmon Casks

Veuve Clicquot, the mother of Champagne and the creator of the freezing process by which the sediment is removed from the bottles, unfortunately retains very little romance about the place. The house is a perfect symbol of the tradition turned commercial, and the magnitude of the champagne business as it stands today can be witnessed by the large tours of international guests being ushered around the trademark yellow-lit caves with efficiency and detachment in equal measures. The visitors centre at the conclusion of the tour is plentiful in all things yellow, but when the product at the core of their business is so wondrous, one can be forgiven for trying to make a dime on the side. They are owned my mega-institution Moet-Hennessy after all.

Veuve Clicquot Stairway of Vintages

Veuve Clicquot Stairway of Vintages

Champagne, so oft-used as a metaphor for all things perfect, would also be well used in place for precision, tradition, stoicism. The residents of Champagne are well aware of their monopoly on that singular celebatory beverage, and their protection of that monopoly, and it’s reputation is to be admired.

Paris. Je t’aime.

A Tall Tour part 1

Paris. Je t’aime.

Paris is bistro dining. Simple, uncomplicated fare, the way it should be. Haute cuisine has its place, sure, but when in Paris, do as the Parisians do, and go the bistro, every time.

These are my two favourite bistros in Paris, which sum up this philosophy perfectly.

Le Pantruche, located in the 9th arrondisement, not being well known as a tourist hot spot, it is one of the best reasons to visit the area. Here, chef Franck Baranger progresses further development of Paris’ revitalized bistro scene, serving up authentic and relatively inexpensive dishes to warm the soul. It takes you back to a simpler time, when there was one of these on every Parisian corner. Or so I would like to believe, because in my eyes, Le Pantruche sums up all I want Paris to be, or ever be.

Pot au Feu

Pot au Feu

Le Pantruche

Le Pantruche

Le Pantruche

Le Pantruche

All the bistro classics are here served beautifully in assortments of rich broths and sauces and delicate foams, tempting you to run your finger around the plate and lick it clean. The Pot au Feu, a rich cold meat dish with ribbons of carrot and beetroot sang for a cooking style of era’s long gone.

Lamb loin, roasted ever so slightly was pink and juicy, and the roast chicken, both served with sauces that appeared to be centuries in the making. This is truly bistro cooking as it was always intended.

Taking up a further notch is the always amazing, nearly impossible to get in to, Le Comptoir du Relais. Chef Yves Camdeborde, recognized by some as being responsible for Paris’ modern bistronomy scene turns on a masterclass. The Monday to Friday 5 course tasting menu, comes as a no frills, all kills experience. Each dish picture perfect, each mouthful an explosion.

Raviole de Colvert

Raviole de Colvert

Maigre de Ligne

Maigre de Ligne

Plateau de Fromage

Plateau de Fromage

Le Comptoir

Le Comptoir

The price pushes it above your standard bistro fare, but when one of the courses includes an all you can eat, help yourself cheese plate, it’s difficult to complain. If you are fortunate enough to land a table at Le Comptoir, and staying at the adjacent hotel next door is your foot in the door, you have just treated yourself to the best bistro Paris has to offer.

Le Pantruche

3 Rue Victor Masse, 75009 Paris, France
+33 1 48 78 55 60
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Le Comptoir du Relais

l’Odéon França, 5 Carrefour de l’Odéon, Paris, France
+33 1 44 27 07 97
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Qualia

Qualia.

A bearable lightness of being.

Qualia (pronounced kwah-lee-ah) in Latin means “a collection of deeper sensory experiences”.

Deep may be overstating a stay at Qualia, but they sure like their champagne.

Even as soon as one enters the lobby and is faced with that flawless Whitsundays view, before even the phones come out for that first of many, many Instagram shots, a glass of Charles Heidsieck magically appears before you.

It won’t be your last during your stay. Hell, its wont be your last today.

After settling into our room with a complimentary bottle of Charles Heidsieck, feet up on the sun lounges taking in tropical beauty of the island, we have a quick bite and then off to the spa to take the edge of 3 hour flight from Melbourne. Two hours of relaxing massages followed by an aromatic bath, hand made truffles, and yes, a glass of Charles Heidsieck. Three hours in and already you are so relaxed you are in danger of melting away.

Qualia is Bob Oatley’s luxury pet project (we all have one of those right?). A veritable oasis, on a tropical island, in the midst of the Great Barrier Reef. No expense has been spared. From the free flowing champagne, to the beautifully manicured gardens, Qualia is in all ways, money well spent. Which is fortunate, because money you will spend. The cheapest rooms come in at $800 a night. The bistro restaurant on the pebble beach, the cheaper of the two dining options within the grounds, was $300 for two, including wine. The fine dining restaurant, more in line with capital city standards, came in at $500 for an 8 course degustation. But I repeat, money spent very, very well.

The fine dining restaurant provides a possibly the best hotel dining in Australia. Each dish a delicately created piece of fine art on a plate, even a touch of theatre as a melt-in-your-mouth tender piece of wagyu is bbq on Japanese volcanic rock at your table.

The sun slowly sets

The sun slowly sets

The best thing about Qualia is the lengths they go to ensure your stay is memorable. The responsibility lies with them, not you, and they deliver above and beyond. It could be the nightly invitations to join other guests and witness the setting sun with oysters and more champagne. Or the various taste and talk sessions (the sake and sashimi session a personal highlight). Or the attention to detail taken for your personal beach drop off, as you are whisked off to your own deserted island for the day, complete with picnic lunch and yes, champagne if that’s your desire. Or maybe it’s the endless supply of beach toys freely at hand. Paddle boards, kayaks, or mini catamarans. Help yourself. Qualia’s appeal lies not only in its perfect island bliss, but it is the ease of which everything is achieved. The staff, although young and almost always 3 months into their tenure, perform every task with a casual expediency that only encourages you to ask for more.

Private beach for two

Private beach for two

There’s no hiding the fact Qualia will cost you, but as sure as that sun sets on those crystal clear blue seas every luxury filled day, it will be the best money you spend.

Qualia life

Qualia life

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