Everyone take note – the greatest gift anyone can give the parents of a four-month-old child is time to themselves. My dad and stepmum gave us the gift of three hours to ourselves on our trip to Hong Kong in April 2018, when K and I took time to go and have a fancy lunch at Bo Innovation to mark his birthday.
It had been some time since we had had a meal at a fancy restaurant like this (probably not since Nora), so it was a real treat! It was also probably the longest I’d spent away from Matilda since she was born, so there was significant separation anxiety on my part. “Is she okay? Do you think she’s hungry? Is she missing me? What if she doesn’t nap?” Not quite the same kid-free conversations we would have over fancy meals in the past!
So, my top three highlights from Bo Innovation:
The table set-up, with slide-out cutlery drawers, just like in traditional Hong Kong-style diners (cha chaan teng)
The appetiser starter – a classic eggette, but extra crisp and fresh with fragrant spring onion
Xiao Long Bao, molecular gastronomy style.
The whole meal really, was such an homage to classic Hong Kong flavours, dishes and culinary traditions that it really made me feel quite nostalgic. This is the food of my childhood, but up-scale and turned into an experience, rather than just everyday home-style comfort food. I would definitely recommend that anyone visiting Hong Kong with an interest in re-imagined Cantonese cuisine visit Bo Innovation.
It’s not somewhere I would take my 80-year-old uncle who refused to let me take him to high tea because “a cup of tea and an egg tart for $15HKD at the local diner will do me fine”, but for those 1.5 generation kids like myself yearning to celebrate a tenacious link to their cultural background? Bo Innovation is perfection.
It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to say that in our previous pre-baby life, many of our getaways were planned around meals. Where we went for lunch or dinner, would often dictate our activities for the day. That was certainly true of our long weekend getaway in the Macedon Ranges this time last year. While we stayed in the picturesque town of Woodend, the one ‘fancy meal’ we booked was in Kyneton – and therefore, there was where we spent our Saturday.
Source Dining came highly recommended by the Good Food Guide and Gourmet Traveller, regularly earning one hat for their dedication to using excellent local produce, with changing menus to reflect seasonal produce availability. Importantly for me at that point, the menu was also pregnancy-friendly with classic dishes that didn’t feature too much raw food!
Located on iconic Piper Street in Kyneton, you can easily spend the morning browsing the gorgeous boutiques, antique and local makers stores before gradually making your way down to Source Dining for lunch. If you’ve got a later lunch booking, you can even duck into boutique Animus Distillery for a cheeky gin tasting before going for lunch (note – we didn’t do this, but K did try some Animus gin at lunch!)!
We keep relatively early lunch hours – I think I would perish from hunger if I had to wait past 12.30pm for lunch! As such, we were some of the first diners into Source, but were rewarded with an excellent table by the window for people-watching as a result.
Being seven months pregnant meant a mocktail for me – a housemade Elderflower, Cucumber and Lime Mocktail. Light, spritzy and utterly refreshing for a surprisingly warm September day (or maybe I just remember it was warm because I was running about five degrees warmer than everyone else in the latter stages of pregnancy!). K enjoyed a Gin and Tonic with local gin from Animus Distillery.
I love house-baked bread and house-made butter – especially when it’s as soft and spreadable as this. I’m pretty sure I ate not just my own bread, but K’s too, with both slices absolutely slathered with butter. In my defense, I was pregnant and hungry. Let’s go with that!
A little complimentary appetiser to get us started – a few mouthfuls of an incredibly fragrant Thai soup topped with crispy crunchy fried shallots.
My entree – Pan seared scallops with cauliflower two ways. Lovely tender scallops that were beautifully caramelised in the pan, best eaten with the slight crunch of the cauliflower pickle. Scallops are a tricky ingredient to cook right – it’s underwhelming when undercooked, and chewy when overcooked. Finding that balance is difficult, but Source did it beautifully.
I tried some of K’s Ricotta gnocchi with roast pumpkin before he cracked open the crumbed hens egg (uncooked yolks not recommended in pregnancy!) and found the gnocchi just beautifully light and fluffy. Pumpkin, gnocchi and browned butter is an unbeatable combination!
Onto mains, and I stuck with seafood – the day’s market fish special of Salmon with crab dumplings. I loved the crispy salmon skin, the crunchy dumplings, and fresh salad, but the real highlight was the intense and richly flavoured bisque. It was simply to die for. I ended up asking our waiter for more bread so that I could soak it up and not waste any at all!
K opted to order the Smoked kangaroo for his main, a rare treat as we never cook kangaroo at home. I know we should – it’s lean, healthy, and a better choice of red meat when you consider the environment impact. But I do doubt our ability to cook it so it’s as tender and juicy as this kangaroo at Source Dining….
We finished with a shared dessert as we were already well-full by the time we finished our entrees and mains – even though I was eating for two! This White chocolate mousse was superb, with a real medley of textures and flavours to explore. My pick was the refreshing sorbet, a perfect palate cleanser after my rich seafood dishes.
Source Dining is a fantastic destination restaurant if you’re looking for a special meal while in the Macedon Ranges. Kyneton is a lovely little town for a daytrip and we certainly enjoyed our time exploring the region. Other highlights of our weekend included:
Three varieties of award-winning vanilla slice from the famous Bourkie’s Bakery in Woodend – my pick is the classic vanilla!
Hiking to the top of Hanging Rock, seven months pregnant belly and all. I’m no Serena Williams winning the Australian Open or Kerri Jennings winning volleyball gold at the Olympics, but I did feel rather victorious by the end of it!
Stopping by the Gisborne Olde Time Markets on our way back to Melbourne on the Sunday – one of the largest and most comprehensive markets I’ve encountered!
Unfortunately, our next weekend getaway in November will be planned less around excellent meals like Source Dining, and more around practical decisions like “do they offer a high chair and will a whinging baby disturb the other diners?” Any suggestions for child-friendly restaurants that still offer excellent food in the Daylesford area?
Late last year, I received an email from Sarin Rojanametin and Jean Thamthanakorn of the fine dining restaurant Nora in Carlton. Shockingly and disappointingly, they were announcing the closure of Nora.
“It is with great excitement that we announce the closure of our restaurant Nora. 3 years ago we had a 1 year plan to create a space to explore creativity through hospitality. What a ride.
We’ve evolved over that time, understanding more, making decisions to reduce sittings and guests but expanding the menu and the journey; less is more. More room to create, more opportunity to dig deeper into our roots, cuisine and ideas.
We’ve loved every bit, but we’ve also realised that to fully reach our potential, we need to get back to our land, our home, our roots. To be surrounded by limitless inspirations that will challenge us to uncover new possibilities.”
Broadsheet Melbourne covered this news, and I think they were as disappointed as myself. In saying “But for all our multiculturalism, some things remain challenging for the majority”, Broadsheet were able to explain the reason for Nora’s closure. The food was simply too foreign, too challenging for many palates when the usual Australian exposure to Thai food barely extends past the $10 Pad Thai at the local takeaway.
Let me tell you now – if you didn’t get a chance to experience Nora in the past three years, you missed out. K and I were lucky enough to dine at Nora in April 2017 on the occasion of his birthday, and walked away raving about our experience and rating it on par with some of the best meals that we’ve had – and we’ve had a few!
The titles of many of the dishes were mysterious and only very barely gave a hint of what we were to expect – what after all, is Tom Yum Prawn, add extra egg for $2? With quirky titles that hark back to traditional Thai street food, the dishes that show up on your table are uniquely elegant, playing with textures, temperatures and tastes in a way that would challenge any palate.
Some of my highlights include the Daft Punk Is Playing In My Mouth dish of pickled fish, served with chilli ice and black sesame paste. The concept of chilli ice is as mind-blowing as it seems, offering both heat and chill in the one mouthful.
Another highlight, one which we’ve vowed to try to replicate at home, is that of a drink from the matching non-alcoholic drinks menu. Lychee and brie mocktail…yes, brie, as in brie cheese. The strong creamy ripeness of the brie was brilliantly offset by the sweet fresh fragrance of the lychee juice. I think if we were to attempt this at home, we would have to use fresh lychees – no canned lychee could possibly provide that freshness.
With the closure of Nora, Melbourne has lost a young and innovative dining experience. It wasn’t just a restaurant. It was one of the most extraordinary culinary experiences around, embracing the intricacies of a cuisine that most people under-rate and under-value. Give me Nora’s modern exploration of Thai over traditional stuffy French or Italian fare any day.