Monday, 23 January 2012

A Trip To The Country (Stanthorpe, Wineries, Food... aah, the luxury)


The wonder of what’s in our backyards….
Holidays, holidays, day-trips – where to go. You’ve probably noticed before that I have a tendency to get stuck in a rut, so we usually go to the same places:
  • The Gold Coast (to eat delicious gourmet raw meals, vegan yum cha/dim sum and amazingly satisfying, fresh organic pizza/swim & get attacked by jellyfish/visit friends)
  • The Sunshine Coast (to eat tasty, globally-inspired food at a delicious semi-raw, semi-vegan cafe/visit The Academic's Grandmother/buy delicious produce from the side of the road/admire the scenery)
  • Toowoomba (Umm...eat at Sizzler/visit my Grandmother/then flee the town and return back to Brisbane as soon as possible)

Well, last weekend, after a vague discussion with my Dad - The Academic & I ended up arranging to join my parents for a day in taking a road trip to Stanthorpe (a town out west, in Queensland’s Granite Belt) – somewhere I would never have thought to go!

And for someone who left home at 15, the thought of being in a confined space with my parents for so long made me very nervous... Oh, dear! Would we all survive? Would the alcohol help?! Would my set-in-my-ways Dad even stop for bathroom breaks? With him at the helm as the teetotaller designated driver, we set off, and only time would tell...

Just in case you're not sure where it is, on the map below the red rectangle is Brisbane, the yellow is Stanthorpe and the green is Ballandean. It's about a 2:45-3 hour drive from Brisbane, and you pass through some beautiful country on the way.

After making some enquiries, I’d been told that, in this beautiful region known for its bountiful fresh food and artisanal, award-winning wineries, vegan food was almost non-existent, as were vegan wines. This was the country, not the domain of we latte-sipping inner-city-living vegans! Luckily, those nay-sayers were wrong. We had a fantastic time: we ate, drank and were merry, and one day was just not enough to see the sights and try to appreciate everything on offer. I can’t wait to go back again (and next time, I won’t be crammed into the back middle seat).

My advice:
  • Take a designated driver. Even if you don’t drink too much, you’re going to need a nap after all of the glorious food! Don't risk drinking and driving, at any time, for any period.
  • Graze, rather than eat big meals. There's so much on offer, it would be a shame to sit down to something huge and fill up - enjoy little tastes of many things - you'll appreciate everything a lot more.

Our must-visit recommendations:

Our vegan antipasto platter
Barrel Room CaféThe lovely owners/chefs, Matt and Bobbi, decided to have a tree-change and move to Stanthorpe. The region is so lucky to have them. They expertly create and assemble Italian dishes, making many things in house, even their foccacia, biscotti, and pasta etc (unfortunately, these items aren’t vegan).

Though there are only a couple of vegan items on the menu, we let them know ahead of time (in fact, they found us!) and, with some notice, they created a mouth-watering (and much envied!) platter and near-perfect pasta dish for us (as pictured above and below). As such, if you're vegan, call ahead and let them know you’re coming – they will put something absolutely stunning together for you.
And our puttanesca!

Ballandean Estate Winery – This winery is ever-so-conveniently the home of the Barrel Room Café (mentioned above). We didn’t get a chance to try all of their wines – which was a shame, but they’re well worth a visit. The Viogner and Shiraz we tried were just so appealing and fresh, and wonderfully balanced. It’s a lovely, historical winery that has been in the family at least 5 generations, and awards adorn their walls. They’re also home to the famous “Opera In The Vineyard” (tickets on sale now!). A large number of their wines were vegan, and the very friendly staff were very knowledgable, and aware of the reasons for and against fining with animal products. In most of their products, the flavour, texture etc is so good that they left them as is!

Castle Glena vineyard, brewery, and makers of incredible liqueurs in almost every flavour and combination you can imagine, located in a castle. This is a must visit. Castle Glen is just incredible, you really have to see it to believe it. Run by Cedric and wife who have been in the area for a long time (and were one of the first vineyards there), it is like the Willie Wonka factory of alcohol. Cedric and his family planted the grapes, built the castle (!) and make every single product. Aside from a couple of products including honey, and the liqueur fudge range, everything is vegan (including their crème liqueurs! yes, you read that right). Everything is all-natural, and no preservatives or chemicals are used. Make sure to meet their gorgeous Labrador, called "James".

I most enjoyed the liqueurs, which come in every flavour imaginable – my top picks are:
  • “Queensland Delight” –  coffee, rum and chocolate flavoured (oh, yes! something to have every day!)
  • "Royal Mint" a deliciously alcoholic mint liqueur (created to take the place of the discontinued Vandermint)
  • "Black Cherry" liqueur – like alcoholic, drinkable, high quality jam… aaah
  • "Maiden's Dream Creme" Creme and caramel. Comparable to the best caramel flan you've ever had, in liquid form.

Vincenzo's Big Apple Deli
I have to admit, I didn't expect much of a deli in the middle of a rural area. Boy, was I wrong. These guys had alcohol galore (including a wonderfully rich and smooth chocolate port that we couldn't resist), amazing fresh olives, marinated onions, antipasto, fresh bread, olive oils, vinegars, spices (including a great harissa paste) and almost endless morsels of deliciousness. They have managed to pack a lot into a medium-sized store, and it's an Aladdin's cave of delights. Definitely worth a visit.

As you can probably tell, I lived to write this post, Dad was so kind as to diverge from his usual non-allowance of bathroom breaks, and we all survived the trip without calamity. We didn't even get close to seeing everything (or seeing that much at all!), but even those three places made the drive more than worth it - even without the glimpes of amazing landscape along the way. I'm already trying to rope someone else into being our designated driver for a return trip!

What a stunning area, filled with such welcoming, hospitable people. Thank you to all of you we met on our travels! What a fantastic place to spend some time relaxing.
The Barrelroom Cafe at Ballandean Estate Winery on Urbanspoon

5 comments:

  1. Sounds great, so glad those areas could cater so well for vegans.

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  2. Vegan crème liqueurs! Stanthorpe surprises me. Looks like a really fun trip.

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  3. What a stellar trip. Don't you just love it when a place exceeds your expectation so perfectly? Many years ago we spent half a year in Australia (Geelong, Victoria) and developed quite an appreciation for Australian wines, and there was never a shortage of vegan options at restaurants. Never got to Queensland.

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  4. I knew of Stanthorpe and the area, but Cockroach that I am, didn't realise it was a wine/foodie region. What amazing things you got to sample there! I'm definitely bookmarking this post for future reference.

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  5. We are so lucky guys.. I guess it pays to keep believing, and hoping. I'm not gonna lie, I'm still the guy that checks the pack of donuts at the supermarket bakery EVERY VISIT ... JUST in case they've removed the milk solids!

    I'm reporting back now that we've made a good dent on the liqueur stash, and it's still just as good as it was at the tasting!

    When you guys all come to Queensland(HA!), next time - I'll show you around! M

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