Gourmet Touring Around Australia »
Exploring regional Australia with six foodies by your side
By Robyn Lewis
When travelling, do you want to get off the beaten track and enjoy what’s local, especially food? And of course regional wine, beer, music, markets and more?
With the huge increase in interest in food, choices abound wherever you go, from cafés and restaurants to vineyards and pop-ups. Not to mention festivals. Local food is everywhere – so how to find what’s best for you?
Back in the day, you just went there and checked it out – now, time is too precious, plus you don’t want to miss the hot new foodie destination, do you?
Google, TripAdvisor and sites like VisitVineyards.com are often the first point of call. In this internet and mobile era, it’s easy to have information at your fingertips, plus maps to navigate you there, and hey, maybe the odd discount or welcome when you arrive. It’s a virtual world, and social media interaction is taking off too.
So why a guidebook? You may as well ask the same question of recipes books: why on earth – with millions of recipes and food blogs online – do we need another recipe book? But still they come, each more seemingly glorious, and often niche, than the last. And many of them sell, especially when there’s a chef of TV fame on the cover. Pick the trending niche, whether it’s cupcakes, donuts, Spanish or empanadas, and the cookbook publisher is on a winner.
Wine travel is huge now, of course. When I started VisitVineyards.com, it was more an activity for the wine obsessed (ok, I admit it, I’m one!); now, it’s as Australian as going to the beach. From weddings or hen’s weekends in wine country, to tasting trails, cycling or music concerts – throwing in the odd microbrewery or cidery now, of course – two million Australians and over a million international visitors head out into our wine regions every year, some many times.
Food is as much a part of the journey as the wine, even more so with celebrity chefs setting up restaurants in the country (think Dan Hunter at Brae in regional Victoria, Alain Fabrègues in Mundaring, WA), which are becoming destinations in their own right.
As with recipe books, what people are looking for is inspiration, plus a bit of armchair dreamtime.
So, does Gourmet Touring Around Australia deliver?
This is the second edition of a book first published by Explore Australia guidebooks (part of Hardie Grant, who are well known for cookbooks). There are other books in the series, all following a format, the best known of which is simply titled Explore Australia, published annually. They have others on camping, caravanning, state guides, fishing, 4W driving…. I’m guessing that grey nomads are a big target, and also that this edition is an update from about 10 years ago.
A lot has changed in that time in the way we access and consume information, and I’m not sure the book has kept up – but perhaps for their target market, that doesn't matter?
The authors are all relatively well-known food writers, especially in their home states: Sally Hammond covers NSW; Tom Neal Tacker, Victoria; Charles Rawlings-Way does South Australia; Max Veenhuyzen the west, Kerry Heaney the sunshine state, and Sue Medlock Tasmania.
The book comprises 368 pages of sections on regions within each State: 13 in NSW, 12 in Vic, through to 3 in Tas. Each has an introduction, some local history, a list of major festivals (giving month, not dates – use the internet for them), a few picks of where to stay, and paragraphs on the routes between different towns, and what you’ll find along the way in the way of foodie destinations. And lots of words. This book is not concise.
The media release says Gourmet Touring Around Australia “is written for both weekenders out for an excursion from a capital city, and long haul travellers intent on discovering regional Australia’s gustatory bounty”. If that resonates with you, then go for it.
The photos are interesting, if small – this is a guide, not a coffee-table book, after all – although I find the maps a bit of a letdown, with no scales, and even in one occasion a map on one page contradicting one of the same region on almost the next page (central NSW). Don’t use it for navigation.
Then there are feature sections of one or two bigger or better known producers, whether a vineyard like Charles Melton in the Barossa and Warranmang in Victoria, or Noosa Markets in Qld, or Kangaroo Island Spirits in SA. How were they selected? (ie did they pay to be featured?) It doesn’t say, although unlike some other guidebooks out now, where almost all the content is sponsored, I suspect in this case it isn’t, so that’s a plus. But, who knows? (perhaps in the next edition this could be explained).
The follows what I think are the best parts of this book: the lists of eateries, stores, markets, cooking schools and gourmet produce, by region, simply with addresses, phone numbers and website URLs. There are not too many print resources for all this information, unless you want to get individual publications on the regions you intend to visit.
Again however I just can't help but think that this is information better presented online, and/or in an ebook for when travellers are out of internet range. Because it goes out of date so quickly – restaurants and bakeries close, chefs move, what was hot one day is gone the next…. And even though this book is only fairly recent, some have suffered this fate already.
Some classics will endure of course, and browsing through the sections will soon give you an idea of the style of food the region you have in mind might specialise in. Again, like a recipe book, it’s great for browsing, and dreaming.
The lists of wineries and vineyards for each section are very small, and again I wonder how they were selected. With nearly 5000 vineyards and wineries making wines under their own labels in Australia, it would be impossible to list them all here. So, you get the usual suspects. Breweries are perhaps better represented, being somewhat lesser known.
There are plenty of good finds in Gourmet Touring Round Australia though, especially in the food area. If you are heading interstate, it’s a handy way to find out what lies beyond the cities of the coast, although inland coverage in Queensland and WA is a bit scant, and the Northern Territory misses out altogether.
NSW and Victoria have the most comprehensive coverage.
For the next edition, as well as better maps I’d like to see some infograms – good visual ways of presenting some of this information in a way that’s more concise and easier to absorb. And who knows? An app might be just around the corner.
But if printed guides are your thing, and for food especially, it's a handy one to have.
Gourmet Touring Around Australia is published by Explore Australia (Hardie Grant, Richmond, Vic. 2 ed, 2014; sc 368 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$36.95.
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