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For sale: Australian pub in the middle of nowhere

For sale: Australian pub in the middle of nowhere

One of Australia’s most well-known pubs, located in the country’s remote outback thousands of miles from major cities, is on the market for the first time in decades and attracting local and international interest.

The 134-year-old Birdsville Hotel is the sole watering hole for the town of Birdsville – population: 140 – and having a drink there has become a must-do for the tourists who make the trek to the town for its centuries-old annual horse races and thriving music festival.

Owner David Brook – whose family has lived in Birdsville since the late 1880s – said the property agents told him there had been “interest from afar” by people wanting to invest in or manage the pub, which is more than 600km from the nearest big town.

For Brook, who bought the pub in 1979, and whose grandmother owned the hotel between 1920 and 1946, the pub’s isolation is its chief selling point.

Birdsville Hotel

David Brook, the owner of the 134-year-old Birdsville Hotel.

“When you explain to them that you can have a (race) meeting and get 6,000 and have a music festival… and get 9,000 for the weekend in a town where there’s only one pub, you can work out that it’s not a bad business,” he said.

The pub, with its sandstone walls, dusty cowboy hats hanging from the ceiling and country music blasting from speakers, is being marketed as “a true Aussie icon” where “everyone wants to say they’ve had a beer”.

Birdsville Hotel

Comedy duo the Crackup Sisters, S.T. Ruth (right) and Twiggs, outside the hotel.

The tavern has 27 guest rooms, and includes an aviation fuel supply business with small planes and helicopters carrying tourists taking off and landing just across the road.

While other pubs around Australia have modernised and added gambling machines to boost income, Brook has kept the decor simple and focused on offering good service and food.

Birdsville Hotel

What a view!

More recently, Birdsville has been boosted by the Big Red Bash, a three-day music festival in the Simpson Desert held annually since 2013 and known as the “most remote concert on the planet”.

“I hope that it can be kept as just a modest, good business,” Brook said. “An investor who is prepared to spend money and make sure that it provides good service, sometimes at the expense – a little bit – of profit.

“You can have a big, shiny (pub) in the city that makes a lot of money, or you can have something special out here that you’re proud to own.” – AFP Relaxnews

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Australia’s Great Ocean Road has great food

Australia’s Great Ocean Road has great food

In many ways, Steve Earl is the ultimate face of the farm-to-table concept. When he opened his restaurant La Bimba 11 years ago in Apollo Bay, located midway along the breathtaking Great Ocean Road stretch in the Australian state of Victoria, local produce wasn’t as accessible as it is now.

So Earl decided to take matters into his own hands and started Otway Farm, a working farm which produced Welsh Black cattle, vegetables and black truffles (at one point, he was the largest producer in Victoria).

“I grew up on a farm, my father was a farmer and my grandparents were farmers so it felt pretty natural,” he says, on a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur to highlight Great Ocean Road’s epicurean delights.

A few years ago, Earl decided to give up the farm as the exhaustion of running both a farm and a restaurant proved too much. Since then, he has built a working relationship with local farmers and fishermen, and sources his produce directly from them.

“There’s not too many places in the world where you get a text message from your fisherman saying, ‘I’ve got a snapper and some octopus, do you want it?’ And I can be like ‘Yeah’. And by the afternoon, it’s in the restaurant and that night, it’s on a plate,” he says.

chef Steve Earl

Earl works hard to showcase the natural beauty of the ingredients at La Bimba, evidenced in this lobster paella which highlights the natural flavours of the crustacean. – AirAsia

Since the fresh ingredients are the show-stoppers at La Bimba, Earl does little in the way of enhancement, preferring instead for the produce to shine. So you’ll find that dishes like his lobster paella pay great focus to the delicate flavours of the crustacean with the rice acting as an amiable supporting act, while his fish ceviche highlights the glorious freshness of the fish.

“We let the produce speak for itself and use fresh, zesty flavours almost like a condiment to go with it, rather than playing around with it too much,” agrees Earl.

duck, chef Steve Earl

Wood-roasted duck with onion juice, pickled muntries and marigold. – AirAsia Travel 360

Earl’s restaurant is just one of the gastronomic pit stops for travellers headed to Melbourne this year-end via AirAsia X. From Dec 5 onwards, the low-cost carrier will transition its twice daily Melbourne services from the Tullamarine Airport to the Avalon Airport. This makes the Great Ocean Road – one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives – far more accessible to Malaysians and visitors as it is now less than a two-hour drive from the Avalon Airport.

So what sort of fresh produce can you look forward to eating in the Great Ocean Road area? According to Earl, the options are limitless.

“We have beautiful clean waters, there are crayfish and abalone – they’re the two hero species. There are a lot of other seafood species, like flathead and snapper. It’s quite diverse, there’s Otway Coast Regenerative Farmers which is a little farming cooperative and they have a little market every weekend in Apollo Bay, so there’s lamb and beef, and the practices they’re using are focused on trying to improve the soil and improve the environment rather than deplete it, so that’s a great movement that’s going on there,” he says.

Another local producer that Earl strongly champions is Great Ocean Ducks, which produces paddock reared, free-range ducks and is run by husband-and-wife team Greg and Jodi Clarke. Earl only uses their ducks in his restaurant and swears by the quality.

“Everything they grow, they sell, and they’ve got a waiting list. So if they wanted to, they could get bigger, but they choose not to because they care about quality. I think when you’re in the Great Ocean Road, you have to try the Great Ocean duck. If you see that on a menu, you gotta try it,” he says.

Cooking the Books: International eats from Italy and Japan and a little something for the kids

Cooking the Books: International eats from Italy and Japan and a little something for the kids

Pick up your copy of The Sunday Star paper today (July 8) for a 25% discount on these cookbooks. Look for the coupon in Star2.

Basics To Brilliance – Kids

Author: Donna Hay
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Price: RM112.90

In Australia, Donna Hay is a household name whose cookbooks line bookshelves across the country. Hay’s mastery lies in the fine art of creating simple, effective recipes that are also beautifully photographed. She also has the added allure of being on television and having her own exceedingly popular homeware range, selling everything from aprons to spatulas.

With her latest cookbook, Hay has set her sights on a much younger demographic: kids! Released in tandem with a cooking show, the book is a magical, happy foray into cooking, designed to incite joy in both children and adults alike. Hay (who is a mum herself) says that one of the key things she discovered about getting kids to be involved in the kitchen is to create fun events out of every meal, building dishes out of slumber parties, movie nights and the like.

International foodAs a result, you’ll discover a wonderful array of peppy, child-friendly recipes such as fluffy pancakes, maple butter popcorn, spinach and pumpkin risotto, cheat’s pizza, and chocolate pudding cups. Although the recipes are designed for children to recreate, adults will find themselves salivating over the dishes too.

What’s even more impressive is Hay’s safety tips for kids, including advocating the use of oven gloves and getting parents to help out with certain appliances, certainly useful information for tiny tots with little kitchen experience.

The font is also satisfyingly huge, which makes it easy for children to read and digest.

Ultimately, there’s plenty to love in this wonderful cookbook, which will help get kids interested in exploring their inner kitchen gods/goddesses and will no doubt make them lifelong fans of Hay in the process. – Abirami Durai

Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art Of Nourishing Mind, Body And Spirit

Author: Candice Kumai
Publisher: Harper Wave
Price: RM119.90

international foodAt first I couldn’t remember where I’d come across Candice Kumai before. And then recognition took root and I realised that she was one of my favourite contestants from the very first season of Top Chef, where her bubbly personality shone. Kumai has since gone on to greater heights, publishing multiple bestselling cookbooks and becoming a regular judge on Food Network’s Iron Chef America.

With Kintsugi Wellness, Kumai returns to her Japanese roots, espousing the virtues of kintsugi or repairing broken vessels by sealing them back in place so that they are stronger and better than before. Kumai see this practice as a metaphor for self-healing.

Much of the book is autobiographical, and Kumai writes with so much honesty, it’s as though the book served as a cathartic exercise. And it is these narratives – her trips to Japan, and her formative years with her family – that buoy the book and engender both likability and an endearing quality.

The flip side of this is that because so much of the book is taken up with stories, there aren’t quite as many recipes as you might like – although you will find delicious-looking recipes for yakisoba noodles, Japanese rice porridge and miso chocolate chip cookies.

But perhaps the biggest downside of the book (for me, at least) is the sheer number of pages Kumai dedicates to tips on cultivating sincerity, practising gratitude for the past, meditation, being one with nature, and other nuggets of wisdom that would seem far more suited to a self-help book. Although it is fair to assume that Kumai intended the book to take a holistic approach to kintsugi, incorporating both food and a guide to better living, the latter element offers little appeal to those after a pure cookbook without all the floofy bits and bobs. – AD

Pasta, Pane, Vino

Author: Matt Goulding
Publisher: Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain
Price: RM136.90

international foodBefore he wrote this book, food and nutrition writer Matt Goulding asked the late Anthony Bourdain, “Does the world need another book about Italian food?”

Bourdain said no, but their correspondence led to the publication of Goulding’s third book under the award-winning food and travel portal he cofounded, Roads & Kingdoms.

Their correspondence introduces this book, and is a tribute to Bourdain’s contribution to food journalism.

Published by Bourdain, Pasta, Pane, Vino is a food travelogue, an exploration of Italy’s cuisine that celebrates the ordinary people who cook with their hearts using skills honed over many generations.

It’s soulful food writing from someone deeply curious about food and eating, how people make food, and how it’s linked to people’s lives and passions.

Goulding takes his readers along to the different provinces in Italy and delves into the local cuisine, culture and influences.

He features people he met, such as the three brothers who became the mozzarella kings of Puglia, the Barolo Boys who turned the hilly Piedmont into one of the world’s great wine regions, and Nonna Anna who has travelled twice to Japan to teach the Japanese how to make ragu.

Be mesmerised as Goulding describes his food adventures, from sitting down to a delicious seafood dinner in a local restaurant in Sardinia to learning how to make pizza in Naples and, of course, pasta. He also gives in-depth information about the history and evolution of Italian cuisine, which add to the fascinating book.

This is not a cookbook but it whets your appetite for authentic Italian food – and it’s definitely the best guide to pore over before your next trip to Italy (you’ll want to book your tickets after you’ve read the book). – Ivy Soon

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