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….
Day 3 started with a hearty breakfast at The White Rabbit, a cool venue with an excellent brunch menu, fresh juices and very good coffee. Despite the array of weird and wonderful options, I couldn’t resist the lure of sourdough toast, poached eggs, avocado (swapped out instead of a mushroom), spinach halloumi topped with kale pesto= uber hipster but it was excellent. Jordan went for a duck sausage lasagne which seemed an unusual offering but was equally satisfying. After a lot of food the night before the fresh juices and strong coffee were much needed.
We spent the day walking around the botanical garden in glorious sunshine (a refreshing change from the day before) I was amazed to see an Ibis walking down the street and quickly discovered how common they really are. (I also thought I was very funny and sent a picture of one back home with a comment about Australia getting their pigeons wrong but nobody seemed that impressed)
The gardens are certainly worth a visit, it’s an easy walk with a lot of variety. We gawked at cacti and snapped photos of scary looking spiders whilst soaking up the sun. There are some incredibly viewpoints and we got some great photos of the Opera house and Harbour Bridge against clear blue skies. Sitting waterside for a cider it was a relief too see bottles of sunscreen lined up on the bar for much needed top ups.
We stopped off in a food court for a quick lunch and I went a bit crazy with my dim sum order before we headed back to the water and to the Barangaroo reserve. This was much more peaceful than the park swarming with sweaty runners and I enjoyed reading about it’s heritage and walking along the rocks trying to photograph some of the wading birds without scaring them off (not my most successful attempt on this occassion)
According to my phone we walked over 20k that day so we stopped off at a bar in Redfern for a drink on our way home. Craft beer has been popular in Australia (and let’s face It, everywhere else) for some time now so there are loads of places to choose from but cider remains in short supply. We hadn’t made dinner plans so after a chat with the staff we picked up a recommendation for a place near by that did ‘meats and bbq but not the American kind’ but more importantly a gin bar that was right on our doorstep!
Trusting the local intel we walked down back alleys and side streets until we found L.J’s Meats. It reminded me a lot of Buffalo & Rye in Birmingham but with a twist. The menu seemed pretty simple and service casual. We ordered what we thought would be a small starter to share of Blood Sausage served with pickled onions. It was served warm, packed with flavour and dotted with chunks of walnut throughout. Its pretty rich so the onions made a welcome addition. As we waited for our table to be cleared, and then realised that plates and cutlery are reused between courses we were presented with a platter of Loretta stuffed with fennel, smoked chorizo, potato gratin and a mountain of shaved fennel salad with peas and mint. Once again we regretted ordering a starter (although it was delicious) and set about tackling the mountain of food before us.
This is not the kind of place for the meat averse, whilst the menu does offer some veggie friendly options, the kitchen is open plan and this includes the preparation of all meats, midway through dinner a carcass was brought to the counter and broken down into it’s appropriate cuts. To me, of you are going to eat meat you should certainly be comfortable with this but it can make some squeamish. I’ve become a bit tired of meat heavy menus lately but this was a refreshing change, everything was lighter and didn’t have the over sauced, heavily spiced kind of flavour that is so popular. The gratin was pleasant enough but I favoured the fresh salad and loaded up on minty peas. For a suggestion from a stranger, it certainly turned out to be a good one.
Although slightly out of the city Redfern was the ideal place for us to stay, the commute was easy with excellent public transport but it was nice to come back to somewhere a little quieter so when we found out about the gin bar we couldn’t have been more pleased. Entering through plush curtains, the bar is full of mismatch vintage furniture, old pianos and dark corners. It has a speakeasy kind of feel and an impressive bottle collection. We took a table at the bar and chatted to the owner as he stood chopping cauliflower for home made pickle. He told us how to make our own tonic and walked us so through some of the more unusual drinks on offer. We have been to a lot of gin bars but this one stands out in both product and environment. This is also where, after discussing my current preferences, I discovered my favourite gin of the trip- Dry Wattleseed by IronBark distillery. A good run through the menu and we headed home for an early flight to Melbourne.
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.
Set in wine country we had a very languid lunch here and I had possibly the biggest mussels I’ve ever eaten. Menu has a mix of dishes from barramundi to pork belly alongside a good range of home made pizzas. Very good quality and affordable with stunning views and quaint shop next door (good dairy shop just around the corner too)
Naked for Satan-Fitzroy
This unusually named venue is known for in pintxos. We were especially lucky as the birthday celebration meant they were 50c each! Needless to say we had a variety including wagyu breasola, smoked salmon, chorizo and an arancini ball. No doubt this was the cheapest meal we had in Australia and the drinks selection was pretty good too.
The Public Brewery
We only stopped here for a brief lunch and couple of drinks but the pork belly will forever be lodged in my mind. The sauce wasn’t overly sweet but very sticky and the pork just incredible.
We couldn’t go to Australia and not end up having a BBQ. There is a bit emphasis on quality meat and it was great to see the number of independent shops in small suburbs. Finding a good butcher at home is often hard but there were plenty of options available to us with the traditional ‘butcher,baker,greengrocer’ combo not that uncommon. On our final night we had steaks, lamb cutlets (cut to order) kabanos, marinated lamb backstrap and kebabs not to mention fresh corn and salad. It was a great way to finish off our time in Australia and I saw a possum 😁
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.