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A road trip. On a happy stomach

The first part of a Grand Pacific road trip – a fabulous foodie adventure …

Thanks, Willie.

On the road again is our first choice song when we finally leave the edges of our city. Not that we are immediately the sole occupants of a winding blacktop threading an unspoiled countryside with healthy native fauna nodding obligingly as we pass. We are on still a multi-laned road with all its hard surfaces and signs and dangerous traffic, but we are ON OUR WAY. On a highway heading our way.

We’d allowed ten days heading north and back, some 2000 km.

Chasing the sun, having a swim, visiting friends was all we had in mind. We won’t tell you how that went, we’ll concentrate on one aspect.

Because it turned into a fabulous food adventure. We had some fine brekkies (thanks, Treo at Sawtell), coffees, snacks and lunches in beachside cafes and surf clubs and hinterland art galleries, but we were also introduced to four really good dining experiences.

As Michelin would say: worth a detour.

First stop. The Confident Italians of Coffs Harbour

We stayed a couple of nights with a friend and on the first evening, she fed us mightily on lobster tails from the fish co-op down on the bay. A splendid start homestyle. The second night she steered us out to a place she knew we would like. In our city, we are spoiled with excellent examples of almost every cuisine on earth. But we keep returning to good French and good Italian … the first countries we visited in Europe way before Asia became such an important part of our fabric.

A Pacific road tripThis Magnificent Life
Alessandro, our guide to flavours and flourishes of Italy faithfully translated to Coffs Harbour.

Down towards The Jetty at Coffs is a very modern building on a roundabout. White painted concrete and glass. Not a cobblestone, leaning wall, vine canopy or fading ochre surface to be seen.

Bar Fiasco says the sign.

We sit in the small bar area awaiting our table. Apparently, a bit of fiddling has to be done to squeeze us in on a busy night.

We meet the man holding the award-winning wine list, Alessandro. With this country now awash with so-so proseccos he points us towards a seriously good one, citrussy and dry. There is a fine lambrusco, again of some quality, surprisingly uncloying, to be sampled, and skipping ahead I count some interesting Italian wines by the glass only some of which I know. I am determined to try all of them. Only seven. Been done before.

road trip This Magnificent LifeBut we have big things planned tomorrow and I am sensibly urged restraint by our hostess.

I should mention they have a mighty beer list too. Imported and local, brands you know and crafts you don’t.

Time to dine.

We are squeezed into a table between the open kitchen and the pizza oven where sipping on wine #1, a white (2015 Pala “Il Fiore” Vermentino from Sardinia) we observe the aromatic pyrotechnics.

We order small, simple and sharing, to test the chef not the limitations of our stomachs.

A plate of local broccoli, bold green smart and fresh with garlic and chilli. Heads and tongues nodding already.

Cavolfiore. Oven roasted cauliflower with a napolitane sauce and thyme butter crumbs, Parmigiano Reggiano. Great combination. Up the scale. Go chef go!

Polipo. Wood-grilled chunks of octopus. Dorrigo potato mash, chilli crumbs, local finger limes.

Pacific Road Trip
Hearty generous Italian. Thick chunks of squid

Calamari Fritti. So simply fried, so firm and fresh. Tickled up with housemade rosemary mayo.

Moving onto my red wine challenge I start with the 2015 Bertani Villa Novari Valpolicella Classico 80% Corvina 20% Rondinella.

Violet red, intense floral including cherries and plums. A lovely mouthful balancing cheeky fruits and acid.

Pacific Road Trip This Magnificent Life
Pizza. Pizza. Pizza

I head to the pizza oven for a look. I am now on glass #3: 2015 Paterna Chianti from Tuscany. Insistently grapey with that brush of tannins that makes these wines so good with food. We choose just one pizza. The Quattro Formaggi. Tomato, mozzarella, blue, Parmigiano, bocconcini, radicchio, rocket pesto.

Fiasco Ristorante This Magnificent Life

I chat with the pizza master. His hand–punched dough rises naturally over 48 hours. I watch him spread our toppings. So satisfying watching people at work.

As it comes to the table I am poured #4 2014 Collefriso Montepulciano.

This one is ruby bright with a lovely swish of soft fruit. Not so serious.

These wines are only $11-13 by the generous glass. Good luck with that in a city restaurant.

By the thoughtful way, I slice, count and dispense this most delicious of pizzas I am judged responsible enough to take on #5.

2015 Varvaglione Negroamaro del Salento from Puglia. As expected much more rustic with a warm darkness; softly approachable and a good satisfying wind up to a brilliant evening.

Well worth a stopover

We haven’t even tried those flame-roasted meats or the hand-made pasta this joint is rightly famous for.

Pacific Road Trip
Chef Filippo Ambrosini

There are thousands of Italian restaurants in this country; costly, classy and corner store, and a million fans who all know what they are talking about but I would say this is, without doubt, one of the best, genuinely satisfying and uplifting, you can find in a long drive.

Second Course. A Greek odyssey in Kingscliff

Still summering on. Another Med favourite, this one on the beach in far northern NSW. We stop at a small white and blue painted timber beach house simply labelled Taverna … more summery and beachy you could not want.

Grand Pacific Road Trip This Magnificent Life
The modest beachside cottage packed with the pleasures of Greece

Food and drink? Yes, please. We have a table by the window. Waves in earshot appropriately background. There is outdoor seating too. Bit warm today.

Wines first. We kick off with a local legend’s homage to the delightful grape of Santorini … Assyrtiko. Like so many visitors Jim Barry from the Clare Valley enjoyed a glass or two on its home island, but unlike the others, he committed to bring it home. A few years of fussing with quarantine and allowing the grapes to prosper has seen him the first of perhaps many to offer the wine Downunder, most appropriate in this kind of setting with this cuisine. Like the weather, crisp clear and sunny smile-inducing. Can’t quite place the flavours … have you seen them before? Like a white wine, you’d dream up in contented sleep.

Grand Pacific Raod Trip This Magnificent Life
They had us at the bread …

Sharing everything as is our custom, we start with charred octopus with fava bean whip and sweet pickled vegies. Alongside a brussel sprout slaw with salted goat cheese, lemon and sea salt.

Grand Pacific Road Trip This Magnificent Life
Charred octopus with sweet pickles. Yum.

We have moved on to a glass of white Alpha Estate Malagouzia. Pale gold but leaps out of the glass with vibrant peachy fruit nose. Soft on the palate but rewardingly full with a gentle finish.

Then Bangalow pork belly with carrot and saffron puree, pickled grape and rosemary caramel! Didn’t see that coming but glad we did.

Grand Pacific Road Trip This Magnificent Life
Pork belly with carrot and saffron puree. Brussell sprout slaw with salted goat cheese

This called out for a Boutari agiorgitiko red. This grape is one of Greece’s most prolific, used for everything from rose to deep dark barrel ferments. This one is somewhere in the middle. Not too tough but softly welcoming ripe berry flavours and matching wonderfully with the pork.

The lazy lunch didn’t seem to need a dessert but we saw some delights carried past and a good cheese with all the trimmings too.

A long way from the Med, but for a couple of hours, we may as well have been there. Another place well worth a detour.

Part two of our foodie adventure coming soon



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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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