Category Archives: Experiences

Giraffe by Simon Gault


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As a family, we eat out a couple times a week for dinners and a few lunches here and there.

We visit Asian restaurants a lot, mainly for dumplings and noodles, as it appeals to all in the family (and the in-laws). My Instagram page is a testament to that.

Proper western restaurants (think formal setting and white table cloth) not frequented as much in the years since J was born, and out of habit, never regained its previous standing in our favourite choices.

I guess you can say our needs have changed. When J was little, going out for a three-course dinner was stressful with bath, story time and bed time to be done by 7.30pm (and no, the two of us have never, in the 9.5 years since J’s birth, left her with a nanny/parent/relative and go out for dinner.) It’s not that we follow the routine to military precision. It’s just that when you change the routine, there’s no telling whether J would settle to sleep as usual. As a young family, we recognised the importance of consistency.

When we do, we reserve such long, multi-course meals for special occasions. We have spent quite a number of birthday’s at Masu, (J loved it so much when I celebrated my birthday there that she proclaimed hers that is five months later would be at the same Japanese restaurant. We were more than happy to oblige. Read my experience here.) Seeing that we’ve had consecutive birthday celebrations at the same place for two years, we decided to try a new place.

I noticed Giraffe by Simon Gault is newly listed on First Table’s website, which offers patrons 50% off food when you book through their site, for a $10 booking fee. The menu was on the small side, but with plenty of variety to please anyone. Not the least pretentious, (how could it be when the menu suggests diners to shout the kitchen staff drinks?) it offered things that others don’t.

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Our booking was at 5.30pm, and I had the distinct feeling of walking into someone’s residential hallway and greeted by the host who hadn’t quite finished their meal but happy to see us, none the less.

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We were seated by the ‘patio’ facing the Viaduct, and it was a cool night. Lucky we had jackets as the warmth from the indoor heaters couldn’t quite reach us.

Our waitperson patiently guided us through the menu, and we settled on something we looked over on first glance – the pig tails. (Tip: always ask how an unfamiliar dish is cooked, to get an idea what it would taste like. If you salivate, it’s a go!) Although not the typical Asian style, it’s sous vide cooked with Asian spices. They were then grilled to render some of the fat off. Don’t be shocked when it arrives at your table, with the tails sitting unceremoniously on a sizzling hot plate. The staff took it apart for us, removing the vertebrae and hard tips. We were advised to mix the fatty bits with the meat and eat with the accompanied lettuce cups and dips. There were two dips: a nuoc cham-like, bright sauce with red chillies, palm sugar, garlic, salt and vinegar. The other was a spicy green dip made with green tomatoes, garlic, coriander and jalapenos. Both sensational and I will try my hand at replicating them at home.

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Highlight of the night, announced the adults. Finger-licking delicious, literally. I did take a momentary pause just as I was lifting the lettuce parcel with my hands: am I really allowed to use my hands to eat at Giraffe? I didn’t care anymore after that first bite. I was already mentally planning on when to come back just for this, one day for lunch, as it’s so close to my work.

The second dish was the Cured Salmon Salad with Fennel and mandarin. This was J’s choice as she loves salmon. We planned on sharing this, but she ended up having two-thirds of it. (She could have easily finished it but I had to try it 😝.) It was cooked perfectly with the smears and blobs matching harmoniously to the salmon. I particularly liked the pickled vegetable and tiny vinaigrette jelly cube. I had to restrain myself from licking the plate clean!

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I hadn’t planned on getting steak and chips for my birthday dinner, after all, steak is something we cook a lot of, and also served as a shared dish at home, so why order it when we are out?

The menu had painted a picture of sophistication and I certainly had high expectations when we ordered the scotch fillet for two. It’s served with mushrooms, hazelnut, buffalo salsa verde butter. The meat was cooked perfectly (medium, for J or else I would have gone for medium rare). Unfortunately the dish overall was a slight let down from the rest. Maybe our expectations were set high from the start? It deviated from the clean cooking (and plating) that were the other dishes, and as J puts it, the flavours were a bit jumbled and lost. I felt it needed something to balance out the heaviness (like the spicy dip to the fatty pig tails). Still very delicious, but more a 7 out of 10 when the others were 9s and 10s.

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For carbs, we ordered the Triple-Cooked potatoes. These duck fat-fried thick batons were wrapped individually with a thin strip of crispy pancetta around its middle, and served with clumps of truffle ricotta. These were glorious, the best example of duck fat cooked potatoes that I have come across. I dreamily wondered whether Heston Blumenthal’s version at The Fat Duck were like these or not.

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My verdict of Giraffe: relaxed and welcoming, serious about good food, adventurous. Casually smart. Super family friendly. You can however still expect techniques usually associated with fine dining here. We will be back. (Chef, can I have the Kids TV dinner please?😉)

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It was Easter weekend and they also had banana smoothies served in chocolate bunnies for the kids!

This post is not sponsored by the restaurant nor First Table, I had the good fortune of winning a dining voucher from an Instagram competition by First Table and paid for the difference myself. All opinion expressed are my own.

Earth Day – Reduce. Reuse. Recycle solutions


Earth day solutions

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

I think we have the third R done really well in NZ. With the large recycling bins available to households, clear labeling of what can be recycled and ease of sorting, it has been really easy to form the mindset and habit of recycling everything we can.

With reuse, there are plenty of clean glass jars drying on my kitchen windowsill as proof that we do practice it. Jars from condiments and coffee are reused for homemade sauces and pastes, and also for the dry ingredients in the pantry.

Admittedly, we can do better at reducing rubbish. We have been using sturdy bags for groceries, but can’t do anything about the prepackaged meat products.
I have long detested the plastic bags used to wrap cold cuts at the deli meat counter. I didn’t do anything about it, kind of shrugged my shoulders and thought ‘oh well, there’s no other option.’ Well there is ALWAYS another option. I can choose not to buy the product (there might be mini protests at home though). I can also choose not to accept the plastic bags. Okay, now that’s an idea. It’s not a new idea and I am pretty sure I have done that in the past but for what reason I stopped doing so escapes me. Perhaps it was the look of annoyance from the lady serving behind the counter (I still remember the frown like it was yesterday) or the look of doubt at the checkout.

Earth day solutions

Be curious people and think about why I would want to do what everybody wants to! We should have more conversations about things that matter and be innovative. Right. I brought a few boxes to the supermarket today and asked for the meat to be placed in the boxes instead. Result? No hassle at all. True it took a few more seconds for them to work out how to tare the box weight, but it’s no different to how they tare the salad boxes.

Earth day solutions

Below are some of the ways we try to reduce plastic/rubbish. I would love to know what you do in your part of the world.

    • Always have reusable bags on hand for groceries. There are so many on the market. Large ones with good sturdy bottoms, but also ones that can be folded up and tucked into your handbag.

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      • Foldable ones for handbag (so no excuse). Can I make a plea here please for supermarkets to think about purchasing/merchandising thin, sturdy and foldable bags? Jute bags and cloth bags are cool but they take up so much space! These are ones I have collected over the years. The best ones have a thin but hard board on the bottom for keeping the bag shape. Still maintains a slim profile when folded or zipped up.

    Earth day solutions

Earth day solutions

    • ‎Shop at markets – my favourite one is the Lacigale French Markets. There is less packaging to start with as farmers and producers sell their goods to you direct in a crate.
    • Buy bulk – We have Good For, a plastic-free shop allowing customers to buy the amount they need and have it packaged in paper bags or jars. You can even refill your Ecostore shampoo or multi-purpose cleaner here.
    • ‎Left overs at restaurants – bring a box. This avoids the unnecessary plastic boxes which sometimes can’t be recycled. It’s would be an even better outcome (?!?) if the restaurant uses styrofoam containers, as I would be able to avoid that completely.
    • ‎Straws – no more plastic straws! These CaliWoods stainless steel ones are easy to carry, with styles such as soda, smoothie and even one for bubble tea.
    • Water bottle – I always have one with me. Cold drinks for summer, warm drinks for winter. Done, no need to buy drinks or water!
    • Cups for picnics – these Ecococcon cups are great for cold drinks at the park. Perfect with no waste. They do bottles too.

Earth day solutions

  • Cutlery – I often have cutley in my car so that I won’t have to use plastic throwaway ones when I *have* to buy takeaways (and I have containers in the car for those too).
  • Coffee – bring your own cup. I decided not to buy any takeaway coffee if I don’t have my cup with me. You know what? That’s stopped me from buying coffee without actually deciding ahead that I want a coffee.
  • For kids – Start influencing their habit from young. Role model the use of reusable products and give them cute ones  like these to use. Waterproof and strong, they will fit everything they need for play dates and library books.Earth day solutions
  • Packaged snack food – Individually wrapped small pieces of food are such a waste generator. Now that I have a Thermomix, I’d be making a lot more healthy snacks as it cuts my prep time down by half. Thinking bliss balls, cereal bars, mini muffins…shout out if you have any suggestions!What do you do in the fight against waste?

Do share what #zerowaste ideas you have with me.

Earth day solutions

ps. Different sized chill bags are useful for the odd shaped items.

Kohu Road – creamiest dairy-free coconut ice cream  


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If I am going to indulge in a treat, my motto is to go for the best that I can afford. I reckon if I am going to use up my calorie quota on ice cream, it should be an indulgent experience in itself. One of my favourite is Kohu Road, artisan ice cream made locally, in West Auckland.

Kohu Road uses natural ingredients to make their award winning products. You might have come across their Peanut Butter ice cream that was launched earlier in 2017. My favourite is still Dark Chocolate, made with 72% cocoa dark chocolate making it the most decadent ice cream you can buy. I gave up making my own chocolate ice cream when they first launched in 2007.

For the past three years, they have been secretly developing a new range. Finally, launched in July 2017, is their new Dairy Free coconut ice cream.

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“We’ve cut out the dairy to leave our customers feeling lighter, healthier and wanting more.” Charlotte Stein, Marketing Executive of Kohu Road gushed as she passed me the new 500ml packs.

Made with coconut cream, the ice creams are creamy and smooth. Look at that shine! Far superior than any other dairy-free desserts I have ever tried. After tasting these, I would in fact choose these over the normal range. Ice cream identical in both taste and texture, yet with less calories, sugar and fat. Why wouldn’t you?

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This is one of the only products in the world to use monk fruit as a sweetener. Monk fruit is 200 times sweeter than sugar, meaning a lot less is required to sweeten the ice cream.

The ice creams are also 100% pure, containing no additives, preservatives or stabilisers – only natural ingredients.

So what did we think after tasting them?
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Vanilla

These are so light and smooth – they picked up a gold medal at the New Zealand Ice Cream Awards: ‘Dairy-Free’ category with judges commenting “clean and refreshing, with a good texture”. Very coconuty and made with vanilla extract and seeds, this is a very nice palette-cleansing ice cream.

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Chocolate

At first taste, the deep cocoa aroma fills your senses. Next the creamy coconut glides smoothly around your tongue. All the same smooth sensation of the Dark Chocolate dairy ice cream, but without the heaviness. Earlier in the year they hosted a sensory experiment with food bloggers and journalists and the majority were unable to tell that this flavour was dairy-free.

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Strawberry

The burst of freshness and lightness surprised me – this flavour is our family’s firm favourite. Judges at the New Zealand Ice Cream Awards commented “creamy texture and well-balanced strawberry and coconut flavours”. This was a gold award winner and ‘Best in Category’ in the ‘Dairy-free’ category. With 22% strawberries in each tub, it reminded me of the strawberry ice creams at berry farms. Super fresh tasting and I would not have believed it to be a dairy-free dessert.

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Green tea

The distinctive flavour of Japanese matcha green tea sings out, just like their dairy range. I love matcha and am very happy that I now have more ways to consume matcha.

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Where to find:
Exclusive in Farro Fresh for the month of August and will be in select Countdown and New World from October 2017.

I dare say Kohu Road makes one of the best ice creams in the world. Now I have even more choices for the ‘light’ dessert days!

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Dr Feelgood: Humble beginnings


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Have you ever wondered how the ice pop brand “Dr Feelgood” came to be?  We certainly have. Imagine our excitement when we were invited to tour their workplace and see the operations of the humble ice pop brand that launched into the food scene two and a half years ago.
Lomo. Tree lined path. Treehouse.

As we drove down the leafy path of their long driveway, passing sheep and horses roaming leisurely around, we wondered how in the middle of the rural countryside, could there be a magical ice pop factory?

We were greeted by some Arapawa sheep with twin, 3-day-old baby lambs (now go by the name of Thelma and Louise) and a nudge from Louie, the friendly dog of none other than Dr FeelGood himself, or Jacks.

Meeting Fred.

With much excitement and curiosity, we geared up for the tour. Not even the downpour could dampen our visit as Jacks spiritedly told their story.

It all started with an attempt to make probiotic drinks, mid 2014. They couldn’t keep the drinks stable enough and it was all looking like a destined fail. They were ready to move on, until Mel, his partner, made pops from the drinks for the kids and their new product was born.

During early testing, the pops were made in Zoku moulds. Today, they are made on a much larger scale. Master pop maker Jane, who has been with the company from the beginning, showed us how the Chocolate Jelly Tip was made. Jane is meticulous about quality control – sticks were checked for smoothness, and ensured they were lined upright to avoid wastage.

Dr Feelgood factory tour. Ice pop making.Dr Feelgood factory tour. Ice pop making.

We were given the task of inserting wooden sticks to the holders before they were fastened to the ice pop moulds. This was then placed in a large industrial freezer at -30C.

“The faster they freeze, the smaller the ice-crystals. That’s what makes it creamy and delicious.” Jacks told us.

Dr Feelgood factory tour. Ice pop making.Once done, the pops are released from the mould carefully. The sound of that was music to my ears!

Dr Feelgood factory tour. Ice pop making.

There were other flavours when the brand started, slowly replaced by the current flavours, always trying for the perfect pop.

After careful market research and advice from key influencers like Lewis Road Creamery’s Peter Cullinane who can always find just the right Winston Churchill quote, in this case “When going through hell… keep going.”

“It’s been a steep learning curve and at times a bumpy journey but a lot of fun, getting the good Dr to the world.”

The first thing that catches your eyes is their colourful design and witty tag lines.  I think it’s pure creative genius at work. Both Mel and Jacks have 25 years each in advertising working on brands for others. It was time to try something on their own. Jacks credits the award winning design to his partner Mel Bridge, who has a day job as an award winning commercial director. Together they are building a brand that is gaining popularity with each passing week.

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When you pick up the pop, there is a certain nostalgic feeling evoked from their brown paper boxes. Something about it brings me back to happy memories of the olden days and some degree of familiarity.

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The boxes are made in a local factory, just 3.5km from Dr Feelgood’s factory, with eco-sourced materials that are tracked through the PEFC system (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, the international non-government organization dedicated to promoting Sustainable Forest Management), making it sustainable and trackable. They are also compostable.

These artisan, handmade frozen treats of delight came at a time when people were becoming more aware of food ingredients and eschewing foods with refined sugar.

“We value eating good honest food and feeding our kids things that haven’t got weird stuff in it, and like it to be fun.”

New Zealand ingredients are used as much as possible.

Organic milk from Lewis Road Creamery, the premium dairy company that has grown a cult following is used for all dairy pops. The creaminess is just beyond exceptional.

You will not find refined sugar, artificial flavourings or colourings in the frozen pops. Instead, natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar and brown rice syrup are used. Beetroot powder is used for colour. Everything is kept as close to nature as possible. Just like the natural, rural setting we found ourselves in.

Dr Feelgood frozen pops
This premium product is stocked far and wide: Farro Fresh, Moore Wilsons, an ever growing number of New World and Countdowns, select stores in the South Island and some Four Squares. They are also in places like the Waitakere Arataki Visitor Center and Shot Over Jet, Queenstown.

Jacks’ passion and creativity is infectious. It is obvious to us on our short visit that he loves his product and is proud to have created a sweet treat that doesn’t invoke guilt.

In fact, I am no longer surprised by the rural nature of their creative space; it is precisely that which is the source of inspiration for the all natural, “no weird stuff” pops.

“Dr Feelgood isn’t just a name, it should also be the outcome of everything we do.” – Dr Feelgood

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Now the only thing to do is to choose which flavour to lick first.

The Auckland Food Show 2017 experience


Every year from the beginning of July, I countdown to THE foodie event of the year in Auckland: the Food Show. It’s a time to see my favourite brands, check out new products and ogle at the increasingly high standards of design and artwork on products. This year was no different, if not better. I went on the first day of the four-day event, which is the preview day with less crowds. I use this as my ‘discovery’ day, where I spend much more time talking to stall holders who are often the farmers and producers behind the actual products. Some of the stories are touching with rich histories; everyone I met were super passionate with the product they have.

Here are some of the highlights of my day.

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Barilla Australia hands-on cooking class began with chef Andrea Tranchero, Executive Chef at Barilla Australia telling us the history behind Barilla. I now have a fond visualization of Casa Barilla thanks to his Italian accent and warm introduction.

Chef first demonstrated the perfect way of cooking pasta before we dived in with the cooking ourselves.

He shared three top tips with us:

  1. Never add oil to the water.
  2. Don’t rinse pasta after cooking.
  3. Take pasta out 3 mins before cooking finish and place in sauce to finish cooking for perfect al dente bite.

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The Barilla team tasted it and I now have a measure of what the true ‘al dente’ stage is for Italians – kiwis generally cook it for far too long. However, if you want it softer, by all means!

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Jersey Girl Organics – they recently won in the Outstanding Producer Dairy Primary category in the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards. Their milk is full of Omega 3 and A2 Protein, is fully certified organic that comes direct from their farm in Matamata. When tasting, the milk is full-bodied and creamy. Pure deliciousness. Liz, a director of the fourth-generation family business, was brimming with excitement when she told me her family’s story, producing first class milk. Check out the video on their website of their cool milk vending machine!

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Aunt Jean – all the way from beautiful Nelson, Hannah and Tom Raine brought their farms’ milk to the Auckland folk. I love the bottles! Their milk is creamy and fresh tasting. No permeates and not homogenised. I’m in love with these beautiful milk. Perfect in hot chocolate and baking. Can’t wait for Miss 8 to try.

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Eddy’s french dressing is phenomenal – fell in love with it straight away after trying – it will go with my shredded poached chicken, crunchy cucumber and noodles dish. Yum! $20 for 2 bottles. 

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Wild Fennel Co’s range of gourmet seasonings for meat and fish, are different to the traditional seasonings. In a good, “what’s this spice I can taste in here? It works!!” Totally eyebrow-raising at first, when I tasted the dish as I cook, but in the end my family loved the steak/venison/lamb/chicken/duck/fish/pork so I’m winning.  Dan, the creator behind the seasonings, was formerly a fine dining chef and naturally is inspired by traditional flavour pairings from different cuisines around the world. Jo, his wife, is the illustrator and designer for the brand and gave the products a beautiful classic look. Together, they’ve created a product that is easy to use and dishes taste amazing. Tip: don’t let the type of seasoning stop you from mixing it up. I tried the venison seasoning on the beef and it was next level.

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No Shortcuts – Gourmet Chutney – I discovered their Sambal Ulek and have thrown away my malaysia-made jars of sambal. These NZ made ones are so good and addictive. There are no preservatives nor additives, and tastes great with dumplings, noodles, roasts and chicken. At the show this year they launched a new product, the sweet pickles ($7). They will be perfect in a vietnamese pho I think! I tried the Feijoa and Ginger Jam and am itching to make a cake out of it. The chutneys are 3 for $25 or 1 for $10.

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The Vegery – Discovered a very interesting healthy snack – dried carrots with cumin! These will be perfect with hummus and dips (such as the No Shortcuts Chutney) , and there are 65g of carrots per wrap. Tasty too!

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Fresh As – They are renouned for their freeze dried fruit powers, used by bakers and executive chefs worldwide. Launched at the Food Show is their Panna Cotta powder – they’ve done the work for you! Just add milk and follow the recipe. Each packet makes 2-4 servings. There are two flavours – Doris Plum and Raspberry. Personally I think both tasted delicious and will sell out before Sunday. $10 for 4 packs.

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Fix and Fog – At $10 for 2 jars, I said to them “you better have enough stock. This lot might only last you till Saturday”. Don’t worry, they have more stock being sent up so everyone can stop panicking.

Their peanut butters are handmade from start to finish in a factory in Wellington. There are five flavours in the range, with the latest being the honey peanut butter, a collaboration with J.Friend&Co. All of their existing range of peanut butters have been either awarded medals or were finalists in various industry awards.

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Home St – I tried their sprouted good seed pizza bases and was blown away by how yum it was. Pizza has never tasted better than this. Sprouted refers to the seeds and grains that have been soaked and sprouted, therefore activated. Enzymes and minerals in the seed are unlocked for the body. Doesn’t that sound good?

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The Pie Piper desserts bring pure happiness. The mother-daughter team makes pies from scratch, with a weekly changing menu. You can find them at their K Road shop.

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Meadow mushrooms – the team made delicious mushroom and chicken dumpings at the show and they are yummy! Pick up a recipe and the 3 for $5 deal when you are there.

Dad’s pies – our favourite pies! Their range includes beef, lamb, chicken, bacon, veges and comes in individual servings and family sizes. Miss 8’s favourite is the Prime Beef Steak and Cracked Pepper. It is an easy dinner option – prepare some veges while the pie’s heating in the oven and dinner is in 30 minutes. The pies are full to the top of delicious filling, plenty of tender meat and flavoursome sauce. Not too salty either. It really does feel like you are eating a homemade pie where lots of tender love and care went in. Miss 8 is super excited with the prize pack we won from them!

With over 270 stalls at the show, I cannot possibly list them all here. However the following are my last minute dash stalls that I will have to remember to pick up goodies from on Sunday, when I return with Miss 8:

  • Simon Gault – for the stock and seasonings. I am stocking up on the fish and Beef stock, Morrocan and Indian spice seasonings. 5 for $25. Simon’s new tomato sauce ($7) that is sweetened with only veges launched at the foodshow. However as of Friday afternoon they have sold out! Don’t fret, you will still be able to sample, and they will be stocked in shops and Sous Chef from next week. They are also running a special with Turks chicken, $20 for 2 whole chickens with a seasoning or $20 for 4 bags of 450g skinless boneless chicken. They come with a chill bag too.
  • Lewis Road Creamery – if you have had trouble finding their chocolate liqueur, you can buy at the show for $40.
  • Chia drink – $12 for 4 bottles. I’m going for blackcurrant and passionfruit.
  • Green Meadows Beef – their show special $60 beef box is a bargain – sausages, sirloin, patties, mince all direct from their farm.
  • Perfect Pork – 3 for $25 – their range of grain-fed New Zealand pork includes sirloin and pork belly.
  • House of Dumplings – we love the Nepalese Spiced Lamb and Korean Sesame Beef dumplings. 
  • Dish magazine – I love their stories and food styling! Their subscription deal is pretty amazing with a gigantic goody bag.

Top tips:

  • Register your ticket if you haven’t already done so, and have it within easy reach like in your pocket. Scan them at the stalls you visit and gain an entry in the respective comps.
  • Get there early if you can. 11am to 2pm is the busiest at the show.
  • Keep hydrated and wear light layers as it’s warm in the showgrounds
  • Keep track of time if you have a particular cooking theatre session you want to see. It can be a bit chaotic when you realise you are in hall 3 when the cooking session in Hall 1 is about to start in 5 minutes.
  • Mazda chauffeured shuttles will pick up and drop off at destinated stops around the showgrounds, making it easier to buy more.

Here are some more photos from the show:

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    Countdown – crunchy lebanese cucumber

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    Farmland boys

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    Beer belly jellies

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    Prosciutto di Parma

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    Part of my foodshow haul