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Massimo’s Ice Cream, Noosa

Massimo’s is something of a Noosa institution. It occupies an unhealthy proportion of my food daydreams (everyone else has these, don’t they??) whilst in Shanghai. Real ice-cream is kinda hard to come by in China. One of these days I’m going to write about all the wacky flavours that pass for ice-cream there – green tea, pea, corn…..something black, something icky and purple. 

Massimo’s makes real ice-cream. From fresh seasonal fruit and real milk, guaranteed free of melamine. You never know on any given day whether there will be any ruby grapefruit and campari gelato, depending on the seasonal supply of ruby grapefruit, but that just adds to the excitement and anticipation. Mango, of course, is summer months only, as is lychee. Perennial flavours like white chocolate, coconut, caramel and hazelnut are luckily available all year round.

Get yourself a waffle cone, any two flavours for $5.50, and head down to the beach. Let’s make ice-cream the official street food of Australia.

Aromas, Hastings Street

Noosa‘s most popular cafe is without a doubt Aromas, right across from the beach on Hastings Street. It doesn’t have a view of the ocean, but the view from one of their French style wicker chairs is even better – an endless parade of Australia’s wealthiest and most well-dressed beach-goers. Grab a flat white (that’s Australian for coffee) and a piece of this incredibly unattractive but extremely tasty chocolate/hazelnut/fig torte, and settle in for an hour or so of unparalleled people watching.

Noosa Surfers, Sunset

From the bush to the beach….I’m spending a couple of days in one of my favourite, favourite places – Noosa beach. Noosa is a tiny turquoise jewel of a beach, surrounded on both sides by natural wilderness, between which lies a pocket of real-estate filled with some of Australia’s best restaurants and cafes. If you look out to the sea you will see nothing but water and sky, but turn around to face the other direction and there’s a choice of seven fresh dining options without even leaving the sand.
The evening I arrived saw the tail end of a storm being blown out to sea. The beach was bathed in the pink light of the setting sun and the surfers had all arrived to take advantage of the waves created by the storm. It was a magical scene.

Tobin Wines, Ballandean

This is Adrian Tobin, proprietor of Tobin Wines, Ballandean. I’m not at all biased (he did name two of his wines after my children) but his wines are the best you’ll find in Queensland. He really believes in the concept of terroir, the micro-climate that produces wines of great quality that reflect the granite soil, the rainfall, the hours of sunshine and the cold winter frosts particular to this part of the world. 
His cabernet is particularly wonderful with aromas of violets and rose petals, with blackberry, cherry plum and dark chocolate on the palate. He’s also become well known for his tempranillo and verdelho, both of which have won awards and are highly regarded by Australian wine writers.  Adrian always impresses me with his passion and knowledge and the vineyard is so enjoyable to walk through – a testament to his hard work and dedication to producing the best possible fruit in order to make highly individual wines. 
The intense blue winter sky looks over gnarled eighty year old shiraz vines, and neat rows of semillon and chardonnay grapes, all surrounded by a dry-stone wall pieced together stone by stone from the local pink granite. Inside the cellar door the pot belly stove is burning away, adding a faint aroma of woodsmoke to the warm smell of wine and oak inside. It’s a nice way to while away a cold afternoon, sipping, tasting, learning, enjoying. I realise how much I’ve really missed good Australain wines in Shanghai, from small wineries like this one, that just taste of the coutryside they came from.

You can find further information about Tobin Wines here.

Please Do Not Sit on Our Dinosaur

Welcome to Ballandean, in the heart of the Granite Belt – country that is both beautiful and rugged, but perfect for growing apples and grapes. Fresh from visiting the Big Apple at Applethorpe, fifteen minutes down the highway I found a bright green triceratops, as you do.

According to the website of the Granite Belt Tourism Association, the Fruitisforus first made an appearance as a float for the 1989 Apple and Grape Festival ‘when the local shopkeeper’s daughter was a queen entrant. After the festival the community didn’t know what to do with it so they put it by the roadside in front of the Ballandean railway station to stop passing traffic in a bid to sell fruit as a fundraiser for the local football club. 

It soon became a major attraction but as it was not originally to withstand harsh Granite Belt winters and children clambering all over it, repairs became necessary. In 2009 Fruitisforus went to the neighbouring dinosaur hospital to be covered in fibreglass, reinforced and painted. It was lovingly returned to the original railway precinct and attracts thousands of passers by from all over the world.’ 

Wow. This raises so many more questions than it answers. Did she win Apple & Grape Queen by riding on the back of a triceratops? Did the local football club raise enough money? Why have I bothered slaving in an Emergency Department all these years when I could have been doing good work at the Dinosaur Hospital??? 

No time to answer these though. I have to get going to the see the Wine Barrel Totem Pole at Quart Pot Creek.

The Big Apple, Applethorpe

Clearly this giant apple is not in Shanghai. It’s not even in China – it’s in Australia, home of everything Big and Fruity. Home for a visit! Hooray! I get to escape Shanghai’s hottest summer to come and enjoy the mild sunny weather Australia calls winter.
Australians are a bit obsessed with large sized fruit as tourist attractions. As a kid I went many times to Nambour’s Big Pineapple and rode the macadamia nut train, stopped by the Big Banana at Coff’s Harbour and the Big Orange in Orange. It doesn’t stop at fruit either – highlights of past holidays around the country included the Big Prawn (Ballina), the Big Sheep and the Big Lawn Mower (Beerwah). On reflection, some of the things I’ve seen in China may not have been that strange after all.
Now I’m having a fabulous road trip through apple and grape country – Queensland’s only wine producing area, about three hours south-west of Brisbane, so I felt compelled to stop at the Big Apple at Applethorpe. It’s great to be behind the wheel and out on the open road after  so long in a city where I can’t legally drive. I wish I was in that turquoise vintage car instead of a crumby mazda though……..
The Big Apple, now a red Royal Gala, started life in 1978 as a green Granny Smith at the local Applethorpe service station. Now it lives at Vincenzo’s Produce and Cafe, and proudly pulls visitors in to buy Royal Galas, Fuji apples, Red Delicious and more, or sample the local wines and olives. I can’t wait to get tasting some of that wine.

The Blue Army

All over Shanghai are thousands of blue foot soldiers, whose job is to wage war on litter. You may find it surprising that Shanghai is one of the cleanest cities in the world, thanks to these guys and their dedication to their strip of street. It’s cleaner even than New York or London, and certainly Naples. (I should qualify that really, by saying that’s it’s one of the cleanest cities only if you don’t count restaurant kitchens, wet markets, and don’t include spitting as a form of dirt. Shanghai probably wins the prize for the most spat upon city in the world, hands down).
Every day, from 4am, the blue street army gets to work on leaves, trash, and dirt, sweeping it all into piles with their bamboo leaf brooms, and sorting out anything that can be recycled. (A Chinese friend looked dumbfounded when I criticized his habit of throwing empty plastic drink bottles onto the street. ‘But how will the street sweepers earn money from recycling it if I take it home?’ he asked. Fair enough.) The rubbish all goes into a tin trolley with a lid which can be wheeled from place to place.
The sweeping is very methodical and thorough. You start at one end of your patch, footpath first, then road, and work your way to the other, and repeat for 12 hours. Time off sweeping between 3pm and 4pm is permitted, during which you make the next day’s broom from bamboo cuttings delivered for the purpose. You don’t want to get in the way of the end of that long-handled broom either. These guys get into a repetitive sweeping trance and they’ll take your eye out before they’ll break rhythm.
I remember trying to get some early ‘morning-after-the-night-before’ photos last Chinese New Year’s Day, only to find that the entire city had been swept clean of the detritus of five million firecrackers by 6am. There was no evidence Chinese New Year had ever occurred except for the smell of sulphur and phosphorus still hanging in the air, and the occasional scorched patch in the middle of a road. Amazing.
Of course, progress leaves nothing in its wake, not even Shanghai street sweepers with hand-made bamboo brooms and tin carts. Ever since Expo began, motorised white and blue scooter bins have been appearing on the streets. The street sweepers lucky enough to get one of these babies spend a lot of time lounging around the scooter or sleeping on it whilst parked. They hang out together in little scooter-street sweeper gangs at lunchtime, looking like a way less cool Chinese version of the T birds from Grease, wearing blue pyjamas.

Hongqiao International Pearl City

It’s a long way from downtown but there are treasures plenty out west at Hongqiao International Pearl City, known by locals as ‘the Pearl Market’. Don’t be fooled into thinking that pearls are all you’ll find here, because this is three floors of so much more than that.

The first floor and third floor are full of shops selling $10 Converse sneakers, North Face jackets, and Ed Hardy t-shirts. I wonder sometimes how all of these seemingly unrelated items of clothing came to be faked en masse in Shanghai, and who decides what’s next for copyright infringement. Last month it was Goyard bags (Paris price $2000, Shanghai price $14), but in hideous and lurid colours that would make the tasteful French assistants at Goyard wince. This month it’s Cath Kidston knock-offs, and Paul Smith’s new line of sneakers. You need to bargain hard, and leave your intellectual property morals at the door.

The second floor is where the jewellery is. My jaw literally dropped open when I saw this place for the first time – row after row after row of stalls selling pearls, jade, coral, aquamarine, lapis, and turquoise. More stalls selling ready made costume jewellery at prices that will make you regret ever buying the same thing for twenty times the price in your own country. Beads, bracelets, keychains, anklets, drop earrings, chandelier earrings,  fun earrings, serious earrings. 

If pearls are your thing, they are cheaper here than practically anywhere else in the world, and they come in every variety possible – freshwater, South Sea, seed pearls, big fat black pearls. You’ll go nuts.

If you don’t like what you see on display, you can also have something made up for you on the spot, and the only cost will be the price of the raw materials. Choose the beads or pearls you like, choose a pendant to go with it, and wait for five minutes while you have it all put together. Earrings start at 10 kuai (about $1.50) and necklaces at 30 kuai ($4.50).

I can highly recommend seeing Charles and Jennifer at CJ Pearls for fair and reliable prices and great workmanship. I love to take them some piece of old treasure I’ve dug up at the Ghost Market or Dongtai Lu Antiques Market, and seeing what they can transform it into. Last week it was a pair of jade fish (I thought it was a pair of hammerhead sharks when I bought it – but fish are much luckier). Charles drilled a little hole, Jennifer made the necklace to hang it on, and hey presto, a heavy duty jade lucky fish-shark necklace.

Hongqiao International Pearl City, 3721 Hongmei Lu near Yan’an Lu 


Every culture copes differently with extremes of climate, and the Shanghainese are no different. They have developed some ingenious new ways to beat the heat when they’re out and about, and they still use all the old methods that work.
Umbrellas have replaced hats for the most part – Shanghai women are very conscious of their hairstyles and hate what a hat does to your hair on a sweaty day. The unexpected thunderstorms that seem to drop out of the sky from nowhere are another good reason to carry an umbrella, although it will be precious little protection from the horizontal downpour that follows.
Fans are very popular amongst the elderly, but young people think they’re not sartorially cool. Instead, they wave those ridiculous battery-operated rotary fans in front of their faces, or worse, wear a visor with one attached to the brim.
This method is for men only. When the temperature rises, roll up your shirt to just below your nipples and walk around with your belly on full display. The bigger your belly, the better. For some reason this is totally acceptable, even in restaurants and museums, or while riding a bike.
Women tend not to do the shirt rolling thing, it’s just not appropriate or modest, and instead they concentrate on tan prevention, because you don’t want to look like you work in the fields when you really have a counter job at Zara. You have to protect your lily-white skin by whatever means necessary. The most popular is a combination of a visor (minimal hair damage), a pair of white cotton gloves and a long-sleeved white cape. The capes usually have frilled or scalloped edges with small flowers embroidered around the front, and look like they were cut straight out of a tablecloth. Big sunglasses compulsory.
This week, with san fu at its peak, all bets are off and nearly everyone, men and women, have begun to travel with a wet towel on their heads. Hairstyles be damned.

The Purple Onion

Five days ago, I was one of only five Aussies in a room full of Kiwis watching New Zealand slaughter the Australian rugby team. Where were all the patriotic Wallabies? Now I know. They were all at the new venture opened by Australian chef and entrepreneur extraordinaire David Laris. Every table was full, and Australian accents were twanging all over the room. At least we’re patriotic when it comes to what matters most – food.

The Purple Onion is at the end of a lovely French Concession residential lane off Huashan Lu, inside the ground floor of an old lane house with a beautiful and private enclosed courtyard. A large and leafy tree shades the courtyard in the daytime and will make it a great place for a long lunch, once the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Inside, in the cool, the interior is very sophisticated with shades of black and dark plum. The menu is good Australian bistro style – fresh, fresh, fresh ingredients, light flavours, cooked to perfection.  I was in raptures over a starter of sardines on toast – two big plump sardines, salt-grilled, and served on a bed of sweet thick tomato sauce spread on a piece of crisp Turkish bread. Beats anything you can get from a tin with a roll-top lid.

For the main course I chose the plump rib eye steak. It was served sliced, in all is medium rare glory, on a heavy square wooden platter, and with a crisp rocket, cress and herb side salad and three separate sauces – the afore-mentioned tomato, the house-special purple onion marmalade, and cafe de paris butter. After months of eating nothing but pork, I would have been happy with cracked pepper on my steak, but the sauces were all delicious.  The only quibble was this – if you’re planning on charging 228 yuan for a steak ($36), it shouldn’t come with untrimmed gristle around the edges. When everything else is so well presented, it is a shame to send the wooden platter back to the kitchen with a small mound of chewed gristle on the side. 

The steak was followed by a holy trinity of house sorbets – chocolate, vanilla and pistachio. Smooth, creamy, lovely. They made up for the gristle. All in all a fine night, and for five minutes I thought I was in Sydney. That’s quite an achievement.