Friday, March 30, 2012

Seduced by Seaduction Restaurant - Surfers Paradise

Our Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Bannister heads to the Gold Coast, and dishes on her idea of culinary perfection after a meal at the fabulous new Seaduction Restaurant. Here's what she had to say about a night out at the Gold Coast's latest dining sensation:
Trained in some of the finest Michelin Star restaurants of Europe and having spent the last ten years as Executive Chef for Palazzo Versace, the totally charming and multi-talented chef extraordinaire, Steve Szabo, along with his (very) good looking kitchen brigade, is dishing up some amazing taste sensations at the equally amazing Seaduction, the signature restaurant at the luxe Sea Temple Resort

This stunning resort is a part of the new Soul building which rises like a gleaming beacon of modernity on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and - as a long time Gold Coast fan - I have to say it's a pleasure to find such a brilliant new resort helping to revitalise the heart of Surfers Paradise. I'm sure that this elegant new restaurant will do the same for the coast's rather jaded reputation for fine dining – with Steve's mastery of menu design and cuisine creativity and the fabulous interiors designed and furnished by Robertsons Interior Design, it really can't fail. 

The hardest test for any chef is the food and wine matching of a degustation menu but when they get it right, it's culinary heaven – which perfectly sums up our evening at Seaduction. 

We started our six courses with a tuna and avocado roll studded with sand crab and served with an unusual olive oil powder – something to get the taste buds going and definitely not your usual sushi roll. This was accompanied by a glass of my favourite Champagne, Ruinart. Next came a handmade tortellini of goat's cheese with baby beetroot gel, the creaminess of the cheese made zesty with the addition of mandarin and burnt butter – the Domaines Schlumberger Reisling a perfect companion.

The seared scallops served with braised pork cheek and sweet corn custard and mushroom foam was a taste sensation while the Atlantic salmon confit, slow cooked at 50 degrees, served with cucumber caviar, apple aoili and truffle salsa was a mind-blower. Could it get any better? You bet it did!

Have you ever tried crispy pig's ear served with twice cooked pork, a bean puree, white asparagus and Guinness bubbles? ... either had I and I'll admit the ear threw me off just a little, but it was delicious and made even tastier by the characteristic fruity flavours of a glass of  Spanish Tempranillo. 

By now I'm starting to feel like the goose being fattened up for Pâté de foie gras but there's a desert of Chocolate Pave served with sheep milk yoghurt spheres and a glass of Mr Riggs "Sticky End" Viognier with my name on it so, throwing all caution to the wind, I managed to get to the end of one of the finest degustation meals I have enjoyed, while being kept amused and educated about the food and wine by our charming waiter.

If you're not in the mood for so much excellent food in one sitting, the lunch and dinner menu  features courses from the degustation menu in entree and main sizes plus other deliciously tempting plates. 

Seaduction will become a Gold Coast dining institution with a loyal, local following and if you're coming to the Gold Coast as a holiday visitor, make sure you put this restaurant on your list of must-do's for a night out - you won't be disappointed. 

Words: Rhonda Bannister

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Get your short break city fix: arts, food, fashion and fun, Brisbane style!

Looking for an ideal short break in the city? Head to the Sunshine State to discover the hidden treasures of Brisbane, and you may just find yourself begin a love affair with this exciting and progressive city! 

Brisbane has really come of age in the last five years, and it delivers on all fronts: the very best in food, arts, entertainment, sporting, cultural and live music events. And all to be enjoyed amongst a sub-tropical climate in a stylish urban city scape and sprawling parklands that has Brisbane ranked as one of the most liveable cities in Australia. 

The creative pulse in Brisbane is going strong - design and the arts have become one of the city's greatest draw cards, and you can get your fix at galleries like Queensland Art Gallery and the evolving works on show at stunning GoMA. Shopping is a buzz, with a plethora of emerging and established designers having set up shops and studios in the trendy neighbourhoods of New Farm, Paddington, West End, and the pounding heart of the city, The Valley (where you'll also find some very cool clubs and bars!).

And the dining is absolutely world-class - vibrant, modern and forward thinking cafes, restaurants and classy bars have taken up residence across the city, so finding the ultimate romantic night out is literally just a case of a short walk from many hotels. 

Brisbane is a place without pretension, and that's why the locals and visitors alike love it so much. And all within easy reach of the beaches and mountains of the Gold Coast to the south, and the Sunshine Coast to the north. Brisbane has it all, just waiting to be discovered.

Check out some of the amazing special offers that Blue Holidays, the holiday program of Virgin Australia, have going at the moment - they've found some of the best hotels and made some really attractive packages for you to choose from that makes a short break to Brisbane even more tempting! We're talking 2 night packages including return flights from as little as $333 per person!

Visit to see some other fantastic short break escape packages to other Australian cities ... your next romantic weekend escape is just a click away! (images courtesy Tourism Queensland)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The romance of Hangzhou - China

There are few places more romantic in China than Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. Throughout Chinese history, the mystical West Lake has been recounted in numerous poems, stories, and paintings, and today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight attracting families and couples seeking out a relaxing weekend getaway. 

Spend your days boating, biking and exploring the many gardens, pagodas, temples, and bridges dotting the shoreline and many small islands of the lake. And as the sun sets, the West Lake comes alive with the Impression West Lake show to give you a truly magical experience in the most beautiful of settings. Staged entirely on the lake, Impression West Lake is a magnificent light, song, and dance spectacle directed by the famous Zhang Yimou. 

The China Guide offers customized tours of Hangzhou and the rest of China in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. For more information about tours, you might like to check out The China Guide's website. One day I'm going to get myself to China. And find myself in this kind of place, where you can be sure to discover a special kind of mystique.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

48 Hours in Sydney? Hit the streets for shopping, art, food + culture

Park8 Hotel

A fashionista's dream at Westfield, Sydney

Stairway to heaven - Westfield, Sydney

I've just come back from a short break in Sydney. I'm learning to really love this city, too. Each time I go there I aim for a different kind of fix and, having done all the tourist sites many times over, I had two things in mind this time around (two things I love): shopping, and art!

Accommodation availabilities proved scarce on the dates we were in town, so we had decided to split our time among two favourite little boutique hotels, both from the 8Hotels chain. Our first day was spent right in the CBD at Park8 Hotel, an intimate 36 room boutique hotel located on the doorstep of Sydney's iconic Hyde Park. And dangerously close to the shopping precinct! 

Our loft apartment was really cute and spacious, with 2 bedrooms and a pull out couch - too much space for our needs but I've noted this as THE place to come for the girl's weekend away I've been planning with some friends. It's an affordable, stylish, and central base for a weekend of city fun! We had our own kitchenette, which proved handy at the end of the day when we wanted to kick back with some nibbles and a few glasses of wine before heading out again. The staff here are awesome too. It's a small hotel, so service is very personalised and you can pick up some great tips on where to go and what to do as you sip on a latte at the hole-in-the-wall coffee bar attached to the lobby.

We inevitably hit the shops. And we hit them hard! It was my first time seeing the crazy big Westfield shopping centre here, and needless to say, I was in total awe. This is a fashionista's heaven!! Prada to my right and Mui Mui to my left. Oh. My. God! ... and inside it just got better, and better. Versace. Chanel. Christian Louboutin. Diane von Furstenberg. Salvatore Ferragamo. Mulberry. And Gucci, Gucci, Gucci!! Need I say more, ladies? Of course I can't afford any of this. But, suffice to say, some serious window shopping went down!

With a more realistic budget in mind, we trawled the racks of the local designer duds at Zimmerman, One Teaspoon and Tigerlily, scaled the many levels of David Jones and Myer, then went up and down Pitt Street Mall (hello Zara, you beautiful thing!!) and in and out of the historic Strand Arcade and right along the arcades of the Queen Victoria Building. The shopping in Sydney is insanely good! And when we were finally weighed down by too many shopping bags and with tired feet, we made our way back to the top level of Westfield to grab a table at Spiedo, one of the many restaurants on site, and enjoyed a great Italian meal right in the heart of the CBD ... in a shopping centre no less? Convenient AND fabulous! Well satiated and with happy bellies, it was time to head back to our apartment just a few blocks away to plan the night.

As night fell, it was decided there was only one thing for it. Dinner at a favourite of mine - The Winery at Surry Hills. I absolutely adore the decor of The Winery! It has that whole urban/vintage quirkiness that so appeals to me ... kind of a bowerbird nest of styles from across the generations, all mixed up with a twist, and it's all definitely tongue-in-cheek. It's just too cool, really. 

Cool meets quirky at The Winery - Surry Hills
 White Wine Sangria, anyone? - The Winery
"Hello, Stud" - The Winery
The Winery has an enchanting courtyard that is really something quite magical by night, when the fairy lights add a romantic ambience. There are many levels of restaurant space both al fresco and indoors, complete with outrageous furnishings like a stuffed peacock and a room devoted to Elvis. The bar is very popular and serves up awesome cocktails and the finest of wines from around the world (not to mention, it has some of the best indie and electro music playlists to get your groove on!). This place is Über popular with the hip crowd, and it was packed tonight! You can't really make reservations if you're a table under six people, so we just rocked up and added our name to the waiting list, and took a seat at the bar to watch the stylishly outfitted bartenders whip up fancy drinks (the white wine sangria looked amazing!) and took turns doing complimentary tastings of the wines from the hi-tech pouring stations, sipping our way around the world and eventually settling on a beautiful Spanish red. 

We ordered up far too many dishes once we were seated at our table outside on the deck and, keeping in flavour with our bottle of Spanish wine, we went with a tapas style: Crusty bread with roasted cherry tomatoes, olive tapenade and creamy goat's cheese; a mixed medley of Italian olives in rosemary and chilli oil; fresh grilled asparagus with truffled hen's egg and hollandaise; roasted field mushrooms stuffed with ricotta, pine nuts and pesto ... all just so delicious. We happily lost hours of the night at The Winery. This place kind of has that effect!

The Kirketon - Darlinghurst
St John's Cathedral, Darlinghurst
Day two and we woke up bright and early, as we planned to pay a visit to Paddington Markets after first dropping our bags at our next destination - the stylish Kirketon Hotel located in the heart of Sydney's restaurant, bar and nightclub district in Darlinghurst. After talking to some locals we already had the heads up on where to spend our evening, without ever having to actually leave our hotel! Just head past the lobby and through the discreet doorway that takes you to one of the best cocktail bars in Sydney - Eau-de-Vie. This small modern speakeasy offers a really unique drinking and dining experience, complete with a bar that boasts over 500 different spirits, boutique beers and craft wines. The music is jazzed up and funky, and the ambience is dark and moody and the perfect level of chic.

We kept the taxi going to Paddington and filled up on coffee and croissants in the garden courtyard of Sloanes Cafe on Oxford Street, before crossing the road and entering the famous Saturday markets to browse the art and crafts, collectables, and the really great emerging designers selling their wares here. 

Paddington Markets

Boutique shopping down William Street - Paddington
.... and more shopping on Oxford Street - Paddington
A walk down William Street (off Oxford) uncovered some more great little boutiques, including Belinda, Jack + Jac, Dearwood, Leona Edmiston, Lucette and so many more. Seriously lust worthy! Time to get ourselves away from temptation, so out with the trusty old google maps on our iphone and we hit the pavement and started walking, one of the best ways to get around town and really become immersed in the local life. We walked up Oxford Street and made our way back up to Surry Hills, about a 15 minute pleasant walk through scenic alleyways and quiet streets lined with terraces, artists studios, boutiques and sidewalk cafes. 

First stop was Brett Whiteley Studio on Raper Street. As one of my absolute favourite Australian artists, I was super excited, and blown away to finally pay a visit to what was once his working studio, now a free-to-public museum. The mad genius of his work is on display on the lower level, so you can get up close and personal. And the studio upstairs has been left much as it was when the the eccentric Whiteley was alive. Paint marks can still be seen on the staircase, quirky collectables scatter across the shelves, piles of old vinyl records and art tomes line the walls, which are covered with favourite quotes and irreverent musings scribbled in the artist's own hand. His favorite Bob Dylan played softly in the background, just as it would have back when the the cream of the Australian arts scene would congregate here for his infamous parties.

Brett Whiteley Studio - Surry Hills
It was another 5 minute walk up into the heart of Crown Street in fashionable inner-city Surry Hills. We had a mission: hunt down some treasures at the many vintage fashion shops this suburb is famous for! If you're a lover of vintage like I am, you can easily loose yourself amongst the racks of shops like Zoo Emporium on Campbell Street. And, being our arts day, a stop at the insanely awesome Outré Gallery was in order ... I love, love, love the quirkiness and rock'n'roll stylings of the art that is on show (and for sale) here. Next trip I plan to come back and get myself some new acquisitions, for sure.

Surry Hills has some really great off-beat designers shacked up in studios here, and there are also some fantastic design and homewares stores like Via Alley, davidmetnicole, and cloth to name just a few of my personal favourites.

Short on time, we bypassed the many great cafes, instead stopping for an easy and quick bite at Madam Char Char, where I took note of the guy in line next to us who ordered up big, filling bags and bags with huge tubs of salads and hot foods to take off down to the harbourside for a picnic with friends. Great idea! And definitely down on our to-do list for our next trip to Sydney.

Vintage treasures at Zoo Emporium - Surry Hills

Outre Gallery - Surry Hills

We hopped another taxi to our next destination: White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale. This has to be my favourite private gallery in all of Sydney! It was founded by Kerr and Judith Neilson and houses one of the world's largest and most significant collections of contemporary Chinese art, focusing on works produced after 2000 by both established and emerging artists. The new 'Down the Rabbit Hole' collection had been eagerly awaited, and we spent a little over an hour completely immersed in the whole experience, devouring every installation, painting, sculpture and crazy display. Always well worth a visit!

Be sure to spend some time in the Tea House on the ground level of White Rabbit - the traditional teas served up here are like works of art in themselves. Uyghur tea expert Yusuf serves a wide range of the finest Chinese-grown teas, with leaves that are curled or pressed into small balls which blossom in the pot. If you’re not sure which tea will suit your taste or mood, Yusuf and his assistants will advise you. We ordered the Princess Flower tea - White Tea wrapped in Jasmine with Amaranth - and watched the tea slowly brew and blossom into a flower right before our eyes. Almost too beautiful to drink, it was like our own personal tea ceremony. 

The Tea House at White Rabbit Gallery - Chippendale

Princess Flower tea at White Rabbit
Sydney really grabbed a hold of my heart this time. And the rest, as they say, is history. Now I'm back at home and writing this post, I'm already thinking to start planning a return trip in May to uncover even more city delights. Next time we might book in a stay at the beautifully restored Art-Deco style heritage-listed Grace Hotel, located in the heart of the CBD again. And just minutes away from those insanely wicked shops again (oh dear!!).

Stay tuned for more ... !

Monday, March 19, 2012

Broome & The Kimberley - a truly unique Australian holiday

Exploring the dramatic Kimberley landscape is a truly unique Australian holiday that demands time to explore. But if time is precious, Broome & The Kimberley Holidays have selected the 'must do' experiences traversing the region from Kununurra in the east to Broome in the west, promising a week of breathtaking highlights.

We are really liking the sound of this trip! Explore the beautiful El Questro Wilderness Park, covering nearly a million acres in the stunning East Kimberley - from rugged sandstone ranges and broad tidal flats, to rainforest pockets, gorges and picturesque waterfalls - and enjoy a three night stay in superior safari-style tented cabins at Emma Gorge Resort, nestled between palms and Pandanus. Included are two must do tours: a Full Day El Questro Tour and Saddleback Ridge Sunset Tour.

And prepare to be blown away once you get to the Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park, as you step on board for a 2 hour scenic flight from Kununurra that takes in Purnululu National Park, as well as the expanse of Lake Argyle and Argyle Diamond Mine.

Guests will also have a stay at the incredible Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa, situated on the endless white sands of world-renowned Cable Beach offering deluxe accommodation and superior facilities including Chahoya Day Spa, mini golf, tennis courts, adults-only pool and three distinctly different restaurants. Spend blissful mornings walking and swimming at Cable Beach and learn the masterful techniques of growing cultured pearls on a Willie Creek Pearl Farm Tour, and indulge in an exclusive Dine Around Dinner Experience at the Sunset Bar that overlooks Cable Beach. 

This exclusive package is 7 nights/ 8 days from $3199 per person, valid for travel from 16 April to 30 September 2012 and includes:
•     Return flights to the Kimberley from Melbourne or Sydney
•     1 night's accommodation at Pinctada Kimberley Grande in Kununurra

•     Lake Argyle & Bungle Bungles Scenic Flight
•     Return 4WD transfers Kununurra to El Questro Wilderness Park
•     3 nights in a Deluxe Tented Cabin at Emma Gorge Resort, El Questro
•     Full Day tour of El Questro
•     Saddleback Ridge Sunset Tour

•     Flight from Kununurra to Broome

•     3 nights at Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa in Broome, including breakfast daily
•     Dinner at the Sunset Bar & Grill overlooking Cable Beach

•     Willie Creek Pearl Farm Tour

To book your Kimberley adventure, visit your local travel agent or call Broome & The Kimberley Holidays on 1300 245 565. More information is at their website.

Vivid 2012 set to light up Sydney in spectacular style!

And still in Sydney, have you had a chance yet to check out the line up for this year's Vivid festival? We have, and we're booking the flights as we speak ... this is one not to be missed! The fourth annual Vivid Sydney program will once again transform the city into a canvas of light, music and ideas from 25 May - 11 June, as international artists and creatives come together to party and play. 

Vivid Sydney 2012 includes 50 interactive and immersive light art sculptures, illuminated skyscrapers and large scale 3D mapping projections around the iconic Sydney Harbour foreshore. From huge 3D projections to giant glowing dandelions, fibre optic sea grass and animatronic dancing lamps, Vivid features light art works from Germany, France, Poland, Hong Kong, Scotland, USA, Brazil, Singapore and New Zealand to display with Australian works.

Vivid LIVE at Sydney Opera House features an astounding line-up of local and international artists including opening night act - the critically acclaimed English artist Florence + The Machine who will perform with the Ceremonial Orchestra, taking over the Concert Hall. Are you kidding me? I can't wait!

The full Vivid Sydney program is available at the website. Check it out and plan your trip early, the biggest and best shows will sell out fast!

An interactive cocktail experience at Zeta Bar, Hilton Sydney

A few of us from the Holidays for Couples team are headed to Sydney this week, so I've been on the look out for some things to see and do in the evenings. At least one night out is going to start here I think: The Zeta Bar at Hilton Sydney. Check out the eclectic selection of innovative new cocktails on its menu ... a round of drinks at Zeta is more like a science experiment! 

Reinforcing its reputation as one of the most cutting edge cocktail bars in the Southern Hemisphere, Zeta Bar's Mixologist and international bar consultant Grant Collins continues to pioneer the most prominent global bar trends. Collins’ latest quirky and interactive cocktails are inspired by market fresh ingredients, quality spirits and progressive interpretations on timeless classics. His creations for summer/autumn 2012 include; Gunpowder Plot, Champagne & Strawberry Martini, DIY Old Fashioned, Apple Absinth Nitro Punch and Very British G&T.

Access to Zeta is via glass elevator at the Hilton Sydney entrance on George Street, and you will find us sipping on a cocktail (or a few!) on the outdoor terrace overlooking the iconic Queen Victoria Building. Or maybe if we're lucky, in the VIP lounge ... Zeta sounds like one of the CBD cocktail bars to be seen in!