It’s difficult to decide whether to write about DiverXO as doing so feels like I am betraying a closely guarded secret. Much like The Fat Duck, its not just about the food, it’s a theatrical experience in itself and one that is incredibly difficult to put into words. Dinner at DiverXO is a lot like falling into a tank of electric eels- there is an initial shock followed by apprehension as you wait, senses heightened to see what will happen next. It’s fine dining, but not as you know it.
So, go and look up DiverXO and if you decide you might go then step away now as there are spoilers to come….
Whilst Jordan has been to Singapore, this was my first visit which meant that getting around and knowing where to go was easier than normal.
We started our day with breakfast at the hotel (after missing it everywhere else we had been) It was ok- no comparison to ones we have had in Thailand though. I do question my choice at breakfast time though..
We decided to head to the Botanical Gardens as they are known to be very good and Jordan was impressed with the orchid garden in the past. The weather was excellent so we soaked up the sun whilst wandering around. I am not sure how we ended up visiting 3 different Botanical Gardens on this trip as we aren’t really ‘plant people’ . However, it was certainly worth the trip and paying for entry for the Orchid Garden was a good choice.
The gardens are incredible, a good atmosphere, plenty to see and lots of information available for people who just want to look at something pretty but might not know what it actually is. Jordan mentioned that he had seen a turtle on his previous visit so when we spotted one in the lake I was ecstatic. As we walked along it quickly became apparent that there were loads of them. Families of turtles sunning themselves or swimming around was a sight to behold and I couldn’t believe how easy they were to spot. We also saw several Water Monitors digging for food and scuttling across the grass (N.B.- They may have been turtles and water monitors, we weren’t 100% sure and this was the best guess we could make after a bit of googling)
We did a lot of walking around the gardens and took an obscene number of photos which on reflection, are only interesting to us! Following a recommendation from a friend in Melbourne, we sought out the Adam Road Hawker Market. There are quite a few dishes that are considered to be ‘must try’ but we tended to go with whatever we fancied at the time
Most of the food I went for was quite simple really, this was a roast pork, prawn and noodle soup. Not too spicy but packed with flavour and very filling. It was off course accompanied with a fresh juice. Jordan had a chicken set meal similar to Hainanese Chicken Rice but with vegetables on the side. I quite enjoy this style of eating, just finding a stall that looks appealing and watching it be cooked quickly before sitting at a plastic table surrounded by other hungry people. It’s not something we do well in the UK (The food court in Birmingham was always terrible) which is a real shame. At least we have Digbeth Dining Club now which has ever expanding opening times.
Not wanting to miss out on the highlights of Singapore, we headed to Raffles for a signature drink. When I told people we were stopping in Singapore as part of our holiday, it was one of the first things people asked if we were doing but to be honest- I didn’t really know what the fuss was about and hadn’t given it much thought.
As it turned out, Raffles was closed for extensive renovation but they clearly know how much of a draw they have for the influx of tourists as a pop up bar is in place just around the corner. We stopped in for one (very good) drink and to snack on some monkey nuts. I’m not much of a cocktail drinker but a gin base is always nice and we were interested to learn that Sipsmith developed a special gin just for Raffles. More impressive to me, were the posters lining the construction area and I wish we had picked up copies to bring home.
Not content with what had already been a jam packed day, we had booked ahead for dinner at Labryinth, a 1 Michelin Star restaurant located in a shopping centre of all places. I didn’t know much about Singapore or it’s native cuisine so when we were researching our dinner options before we went away, this menu was one that caught my attention. Dinner was excellent and gave us the opportunity to try new things without fear. We had an incredible Chilli Crab Ice Cream which was the highlight for me (along with a single dumpling based on Hainanese Chicken) It was exciting, modern food and after we had eaten the chef came out to chat with us which really did top off our experience.
Research paid off again as we finished our night at Atlas Bar A huge venue, dripping in Art Deco features and with over 1000 gins on the menu (now you know why we ended up there…) The options available were mindblowing, and many items were limited to a single pour per person. We had been really looking forward to Atlas, especially after the excellent bars we had found in Melbourne but we found it lacking in depth. Whilst the menu was excellent, the staff were not as informed as we had expected and therefore if we asked for recommendations they didn’t seem to know too much about what was on offer or in stock. Whilst we did try some good gin, the experience wasn’t as memorable as it could have been because of this (and maybe because I was once again feeling sleepy) The gin didn’t come served as we expected, no specific botanicals and one of the Tonic waters we had was truly vile (we were not warned that it was an ‘unusual’ one until it was too late) I had expected that we would end up staying there for the rest of the evening but we headed home early.
Given much of our time was spent in Australia on this trip we were keen to try some different gins that we wouldn’t be able to find at home and also pick up a few bottles to take back with us. It may be a booming industry but in general, a lot of newer gins are a bit hit and miss at the moment. We did very well in our sampling so here is a run down of some of the best bars and bottles we came across.
Uber hipster feel (it is connected to an actual barbershop) but a great collection that has expanded beyond its capacity behind the bar so that now there are cabinets dotted around the room stuffed with bottles.
We liked: The printed menu sorted by location, the knowledgeable staff, the amazing soundtrack including the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks and Blondie.
An amazing find, this is like walking into your great nan’s living room or stepping back in time to post war Britain but with a bit more luxury.
We liked: home made tonic water and pickles, going behind the bar to investigate all of the bottles. The owner has a lot of knowledge and his suggestions led to us finding the best gin of the whole trip.
Not a gin bar but it might as well be, they sell spirits and jaffles (toasted sandwiches) in a no fuss environment. We each did a tasting paddle of 5 gins with tonic and garnish for $30AU and got to pick which gins we tried.of particular note was the conversation we had with our server who told us about the origin of our selected drinks and the time he has spent with local distilleries helping make products. He also gave us a pointer on where to go to buy bottles that turned out to be very fortuitous.
We liked: One to one service, good pricing, informed reccomendations.
Probably my least favourite of the bars we visited although probably due to uber tiredness rather than the venue itself. This is a table service style venue but we ended up going to the bar as it was a bit slow. Venue has low lighting and comfy seats and would be good for a date.
We liked: extensive menu sorted by location, good for lounging on sofas and slow drinking.
By far the best gin we tried in my opinion, it has a strong, cocoa finish that is only slightly sweet. It does have a lingering finish but that’s what I like about it. IF you have ever tried Polugar gin, this is very similar
An unusual find, we tried this at Bad Frankies and originally thought it could be a bit of a gimmick but traditionally, these ants were eaten by Indigenous peoples and carry a strong, citrus flavour similar to lime. The ants are used in the distilling process and a few are also found in the bottle, they remain hand harvested by the Motlop family of the Larrakia people. This is a citrus based gin with coriander and pepper berry notes
There are a couple of different varieties of this gin, we tried, Meadow and Mountain but Ocean was probably the one I most enjoyed. All 3 use the same base botanicals of native pepperberry, lavender and wakame and then variants added to reflect the landscape. The salty, seaweed richness and soft hint of jasmine made this a really easy drinking spirit- it was quite hard to find so sadly we couldn’t bring a bottle home.
As our stay in Melbourne was the longest of our stops, and as it involved spending time catching up with friends I’m just going to cover the highlights for visitors rather than my favourite moments (the relevance of Fake Moby and Emu farts are hard to explain)
To start with, some of the places we visited:
Street art in the city –
Ever since visiting Berlin and doing a street art tour it’s been something I always look out for now. Melbourne is full of amazing art works and with the recent vote for equal marriage it also means there are a lot of rainbows to be seen (yay!) We spotted a lot of cool stuff but these are some of the ones on Hosier Lane that I really liked.
Temple Brewery and Brasserie Situated next to a gym (the door was open and I really wanted to go and push sleds) we spent a few hours here sitting in the sun trying the beers. I found a good cider that wasn’t overly sweet or strong which was perfect for afternoon drinking
Thunder Road Brewery
With an airstream food truck parked outside this was bound to be a winner. Not much choice in the way of cider but the heat led me to chilled water anyway. I had a ploughman’s style lunch of cured meats, cheese, fried olives, bread and pickles. As the sun went down I added in dinner of spicy chicken wings and a steak sandwich – if you can’t indulge on holiday then when can you?
By chance we ended up in an Irish bar on St. Patrick’s day. Magners, Guinness and drinking games with silly hats on was almost inevitable… It was pretty busy but the closest to a ‘proper pub’ that we found.
With the help of some knowledgeable friends we drove through the countryside and visited a few wineries. The scenery was excellent although I didn’t try much because of the heat.
Four Pillars Distillery
Four Pillars is one of the most prominent gins of the area and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a tasting. The venue itself is bright and airy and they had 2 tasting options available, either a sample of all of their gins straight or a paddle of 3 served with tonic and garnish. We chose the latter as straight gin doesn’t appeal. The original and Negroni varieties were my favourites although unusually I didn’t mind the navy strength either. We also sampled the ‘Modern Australian’ with tonic but weren’t keen on its bitterness. The Chardonnay and Sherry versions are served neat, I did try them and was probably a little impolite in saying that one of them tasted like nail polish remover but I found both to be quite unpleasant. We picked up a bottle of the Original Dry to bring home (and a nice T-shirt for Jordan too)
The Public Brewery
We had a lazy lunch here and some of the best pork belly I’ve ever eaten. I really like the brewery meets pub model that is very common here and the abundance of squishy sofas and beer gardens. They had a bottle shop at the front so I got a couple of ciders to take away and we eyed up a few more local gins to try at another time
We stayed in an awesome guest house for out visit to Brae, it’s in a tiny town where the post office is one of the highlights on trip advisor. Whilst there is almost nothing to do there (apart from go to Brae for an amazing dinner), it’s a nice rural drive with an opportunity for some koala spotting , I fell in love with the olde world feel of our accommodation which was once a hospital.
I’m not massively into plants but I do like visiting places like this whilst travelling. This was much quieter than Sydney and I was pleased that there were different things to look at too. I did however make the mistake of wearing ‘dining’ shoes which even though they were flat left me hobbling around in pain by the end of the day (and several days later) – some lessons I just never learn.
On the advice of friends we took a walk around the area which is full of quirky shops, cafes and bars. It’s definitely the kind of place I would navigate towards if I lived there and certainly would like to go back and explore further. We had a small (but cheap and excellent) lunch at Naked for Satan and then stumbled upon an incredible bar that did gin tastings. We ended up in there for some time and tried out a range of local tipples.
Healesville Animal Sanctuary:
I couldn’t go all the way to Australia and not see the local wildlife, Healesville is part of the Zoos Victoria group and houses mainly indigenous creatures. I hadthe best time here, and was probably more excited than my (nearly) two year old companion. The weather was excellent and I got to see a whole bunch of things I would never get to see at home. I do like to see animals wherever possible and have a lot of respect for places who work so hard on conservation, education and awareness. Whilst a traditional zoo is full of the ‘headline’ animals (everyone loves a tiger) as a tourist, this was the better option for me as I got to learn about the indigenous Australian inhabitants and what is being done to protect them in more detail. Whilst I was excited to see Koalas and Kangaroos it was the platypus that stole the show for me.
In the grand scheme of things, we only scraped the surface of Melbourne but given that we will no doubt go back there it meant we could do things at a comfortable pace and have more time to relax and actually have a ‘holiday’ rather than running around like we so often do.
Apparently Melbourne is the most livable city in the world, I don’t think I’ve seen enough of it to be sure yet (everything seems SO far away) but I can certainly see how easy it could be to settle there.
After a few days in Bangkok we hopped aboard yet another plane for an overnight flight and headed south.
Arriving at the airport we easily found our way by train to the Air Bnb we had boomed in the Redfern district, which is on the City Central train line so good for access to the hub of things. The Opal card (like Oyster) makes it easy to get around and the prices are comparable.
After dropping off our bags we went for a wander around to get a feel for the location, Redfern is a quiet,sleepy kind of place but good for commuting and with plenty of bars and coffee shops. We stopped at a bar for a drink in the beer garden only for me to accidentally order a bottle of cider that cost about £8…. it wasn’t even imported! As we had flown overnight but without sleep we grabbed some bread,cheese and cold meat from the local shop for a quick lunch before an afternoon nap- I felt pretty rough by this point and am unlikely to ever eat prawns for breakfast on an airplane again!-I needed the sleep.
In the evening we met up with a couple of Jordan’s friends down by the water at Birrunga. The restaurant is fairly new and shaped like a giant UFO, it’s an area undergoing a bit of a transformation and as such, there are now a huge round of waterfront eateries cashing in on the revival and sunny climes. It reminded me a bit of Portsmouth. Dinner was good and the menu varied and interesting, I played it safe in terms of my choices after feeling ill for most of the day but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try butter made with powdered crickets-giving it a slightly smoky flavour. We also had asparagus spears served with crispy hunter ants! They were delicious with a citrus kick and I would love to try them again.
After dinner we went in search of some drinks and ended up in The Barbershop (I think there actually is a Barbershop at the front of the building) This was a gin bar and hipster dream come true. The back bar featured a rolling ladder that reminded me of a Victorian sweet shop and vintage cabinets around the room held the excess bottles from the bulging shelves. Their range of spirits was impressive and the staff certainly knew their craft. We had already decided that we wanted to try Australia or NZ gins as they are harder to get at home and we were not disappointed. Well served and with an excellent soundtrack that included Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks I was in my element. Staff were well dressed in waistcoat and dickie bows (and well groomed too with some amazing moustaches on display) and had plenty of useful suggestions for us on what we may like to try. 1 drink quickly rolled into many but with reasonable pricing and a big selection it was perfect.