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Top culinary destinations Down Under

With an abundance of fresh, quality produce, Australia has emerged as a notable destination to satisfy one’s palate

GASTRONOMICAL AFFAIR: Lake House Daylesford cuisine

Lake House Daylesford Argyle library

Lake House Daylesford butchery masterclass

1832 Wolgan gin cocktail

Saffire suite exterior

Cape Lodge Margaret River cuisine

Cape Lodge Margaret River's scenery

Oyster shucking at Saffire

AUSTRALIA has emerged as a great place for the well-heeled gourmand. With an abundance of fresh, quality produce, its chefs have cleverly combined the best of East and West cuisines to create culinary feasts.

Philippe Zuber, president and chief operating officer of One&Only Resorts, says: "France has been leading the gastronomic world for centuries, but now suddenly you have countries like Australia, China and Singapore emerging in the culinary world."

These countries have come up with "fusion ideas of deconstruction and reconstruction" to create new flavours.

The result is a culinary explosion. In the case of Australia, he says, it started with the coffee culture in cities such as Melbourne.

"We went there for the coffee, and then realised, hey, they know how to cook."

The Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley resort in the Blue Mountains is about a 2½-hour drive from Sydney. The ultraluxurious resort has 40 free-standing villas, ranging from 83 to 410 sq m. Each villa has its own private pool and veranda, with rates starting from about A$2,000 (S$1,877) per night. Guests can choose from an extensive array of culinary experiences.

Chef Nancy Kinchela selects the local produce, searching out local purveyors, and bakes her own breads, says Mr Zuber.

He adds that guests get to choose from three curated honeys at breakfast, one from the property itself and another two from the area. The hotel has also created its own gin, the 1832 Wolgan Gin, in collaboration with gin specialist, Mikey Enright, and Ian Glen from Stone Pine Distillery.

Among the culinary experiences organised is a masterclass by celebrity butcher Anthony Puharich. "He comes on the weekend, and presents his meats and how to prepare them. Then he does that national sport of Australia, which is barbeque," says a smiling Mr Zuber.

Another notable Australian culinary destination is Lake House, helmed by Alla Wolf-Tasker, a familiar face for Masterchef Australia fans.

Lake House brand manager Larissa Wolf- Tasker says of her mother, Alla: "She remains at the helm of a team of creative and dedicated young chefs ... The Signature Tasting Menu is a must for all visitors, especially paired with Sommelier-selected beverages. A la carte menus also offer guests options when dining for multiple nights."

LAKE House, which sits on the shores of Lake Daylesford, is an 80-minute drive from Melbourne. However, if you plan to get there by helicopter, the resort will be able to direct you to the nearest landing site. The hotel offers a range of accommodation from studios to villas. Rates start from about A$760 per night.

Given Lake House's strong culinary credentials, the restaurant is popular with hotel guests and external patrons. However, hotel guests receive priority reservations at the two chef-hat restaurant. Chef hats from the Australian Good Food Guide are the Australian version of Michelin stars.

On average, the Lake House guest stays about two to three nights.

"But inevitably people wish they had stayed longer. That may be why our average return guest percentage hovers around 29 per cent. Our guests travel from all around the world, but we're also on Melbourne's doorstep and so are the 'best kept secret' for weekends away to indulge and revitalise. The one thing our guests all have in common is a love and appreciation of good food and great service," says Larissa.

SHE adds that her team takes a tailormade approach to hospitality. "We have catered gourmet picnics in the middle of the Wombat State Forest, assisted with many a romantic proposal on the lake shore, set a decadent tasting menu for 130 by candlelight, created a 'Culinary Olympics' style event for a corporate team-building day."

Guests also have the option of learning from Lake House chefs at its cooking school. Classes of 10 people are scheduled most weekends throughout the year, where guests get to prepare a three-course seasonal menu "with plenty of time for questions and individual practise", says Larissa.

Seasonal masterclasses are also organised, providing guests with the opportunity to learn from some of the best chefs in Australia in a demonstration format. When in season, the resort holds truffle hunts for its guests.

Truffle hunts and visits to truffle farms are also popular among guests at Cape Lodge in Margaret River, Western Australian. The hotel, which presents itself as a culinary retreat, holds culinary events throughout the year including cooking demonstrations and long table lunches, full-day culinary boot camps with its chef, Tony Howell, and special event dinners with winemakers and visiting chefs.

"We like to celebrate seasonal produce, our own homegrown produce and the wonderful seafood we have at our lucky fingertips all prepared by our talented kitchen brigade," says a spokesman.

Food is also the focus at Tasmania's Saffire Freycinet, which is part of the Federal Group. Hugh Whitehouse, Federal's executive food and beverage manager, says: "The focus is on real food, that's always special and bespoke. Guests can ask for whatever they want, and every effort will be made to accommodate requests."

AMONG the requests the hotel has received was one from a royal couple on their honeymoon. One of them wanted to create a surprise Alice-in- Wonderland-themed evening for his partner who had a childhood love for the storybook. "The team at Saffire spent weeks preparing a unique set-up in a farmhouse barn, to which the couple was privately chauffeured on the day. Awaiting them was an extravagant themed set-up, with a high tea, brightly coloured cakes, sweet treats, jugglers, magicians, actors and musicians. The sets were flown from Sydney, and everything else was tailor made."

Saffire has also organised an entire pop-up cocktail party on a remote beach for a business function. Marriage proposals are often organised for the Marine Farm tour, where a guest will propose as he or she shucks an oyster and the team would have planted the ring inside.

Requests do not have to be lavish and extravagant, adds Mr Whitehouse.

"(Singer) Ed Sheeran requested a simple ham, cheese and tomato sandwich during his stay, and he loved it so much that he had many more during his stay! That's an example of Saffire catering to whatever guests desire at any time." W