THE BRIGHTON-LE-SANDS SOUVLAKI PICNIC

If you’ve ever shot-gunned the window seat on a flight into or out of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, chances are you will have seen Brighton-Le-Sands. If not, on your next flight to or from Sydney, look out the window on take off or landing.

I have always been curious about the name of this suburb. Anything with two hyphens and sounding a little French and fancy must have an interesting story, right?

Well, not really. As it turns out, the area was originally named after the famous seaside resort Brighton in England. In the late 1880s, it was the hot spot for entertainment and vacations – there was a tramway from Rockdale to Lady Robinson Beach, a ferry, public swimming baths, a substantial picnic area, a race course and the Brighton Hotel (which was on the current Novotel site). Because it was a huge success and so popular, the name was changed to Brighton-Le-Sands to avoid confusion with the English Brighton.

Brighton-Le-Sands is well known for its large Greek population and home to what Mark had promised me was the best souvlaki around.

Here is our itinerary:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food:     Souvlaki Bar

Picnic:   Brighton Beach

Coffee & Something Sweet:   Mezes

All we needed to pack was our blanket, a tea-towel (in place of napkins, which I forgot) and a plate for serving (not essential, simply for nicer photos) and we were good to go.

FOOD:

SOUVLAKI BAR

78 The Grand Parade, Brighton-Le-Sands

Apart from being very popular at 4am on the way home from a night on the town, souvlaki (or souva) is one of those deliciously simple meals that has been around since ancient times. Seriously – excavations in Greece have unearthed firedogs, which are stone barbecues with receptions for skewers, that date back to the 17th century BC!

So with centuries to hone the souvlaki craft, you’d think it’d be perfected by now?

Correct – and one place that has done so is Souvlaki Bar, a no-frills but popular takeaway joint located on the busy, main strip of Brighton-Le-Sands.

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There are sizzling spindles of meat rotating for the yeeros which may tempt you, but what you’re after is the deliciously warm, and custom-made souvlaki, which are cooked on a flat grill in front of you. There is a choice of chicken or lamb, and they toast the pita bread over the souvlaki, so that it infuses with the delicious smoky flavour from the cooked meat.

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You can choose lettuce, tomato, onion and tabouli as well as a range of accompaniments including hummus and tzatziki. They also finish off each pita with a fresh squeeze of lemon, so that there is a tangy element to cut through the seasoning.

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All your choices are laid out on your pita bread before being rolled up securely in greaseproof paper. Then out comes the skewer so that it is ready for eating.

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The souvlaki rolls are smaller than kebab rolls so we got three between the two of us – one with chicken and tzatziki, one with chicken and hummus and one with lamb and hot chilli sauce.

There is limited seating inside Souvlaki Bar and although it has some Greece-style artworks for “ambiance”, we suggest you do takeaway and head across the road, as it is conveniently located directly across from Brighton Beach. Hurry, so that you can enjoy while its hot!

PICNIC:

BRIGHTON-LE-SANDS BEACH

The Grand Parade (opposite Souvlaki Bar)

Here is how we set up our picnic on the grass overlooking Brighton-Le-Sands Beach (or Brighton Beach – I need to confirm this with a local):

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I recommend keeping the souvlaki roll in the bag to keep mess under control! Just tear off the paper as you go and tuck in.

Brighton Beach is not a traditional Sydney beach. It’s a little more industrialised as it looks out over Botany Bay and the Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport. But contrary to those with opinions on Sydney beaches, I don’t think this really makes it any less pretty or fun. In fact, I think it makes it more interesting.

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There’s also something quite charming about the Brighton-Le-Sands area. It could be to do with the surrounding 1960s / 1970s apartment complexes which somehow, give me a bit of deja vu and an impression of a simpler time (albeit, a time before I was born, but one I can relate to).

And even though its located on a main and busy strip, the beach area manages to be quiet and peaceful with perfect spots for a picnic amongst the surrounding pine trees.

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We sat and watched the planes come and go which was quite meditative. We imagined what all the people would be doing inside and where they were going and coming from. Apparently plane spotting is a thing, so if you’re a plane spotter, tee it up with a souvlaki picnic here.

After whiling away the afternoon, I got the idea that being a Greek area, there would probably be some good baklava around. Baklava, if I haven’t mentioned, is one of my favourite desserts. I know I talk a lot about favourites, but so you understand the scale, I would say I like baklava better than ice-cream. Which is a huge call. So without knowing where we were going, we ended up finding baklava and something better!

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Facilities

→  BBQ facilities: Nil

→  Shelter: √

→  Toilets

→  Dogs:  – we had some friendly beagles come up for a pat (they smelled souvlaki).

→  Parking:  – we parked in a side street – the actual road is busy so you may have to do some driving around the back streets. You may be able to get parking in Bayside Plaza.

→  Walking:  – there is a board walk and we spotted lots of walkers and runners – may have to come back for a run!

COFFEE AND A LITTLE SOMETHING SWEET:

MEZES

Shop 36, Bayside Plaza, Corner Grand Parade & Bay Street, Brighton Le Sands

If you studied Greek mythology in high school, you may have come across the story of Tantalus, son of Zeus who was a bit of a glutton. It’s said that Tantalus was invited for dinner with Zeus on Mount Olympus and enjoyed the god’s ambrosia and nectar so much that he stole some to take back and share with his friends, the mere mortals. This enraged Zeus who punished Tantalus by making him stand forever in a still pool of water up to his neck and over his head hung a branch laden with fruit that the wind wafted away whenever he tried to grasp them. And this is where the word “tantalise” comes from.

So there’s a slight possibility that I may be facing some risk of punishment with the Greek secret I am about to disclose (and if you’re Greek, I can’t see this being a secret, so forgive my ignorance).

After searching for baklava and almost giving up, we discovered something else – loukoumades.

Loukoumades (pronounced “loo-koo-MAH-thess”) is a pastry made of deep fried dough soaked in a sugar / honey syrup and sprinkled with nuts and which tastes like love and happiness.

I’m sure these delicious donut-y puffs are old news to some lucky people who grew up with a yia-yia who made these, but it was my first experience and needless to say, I was blown away.

Here they are, along with baklava which we purchased from Mezes, a waterfront Greek restaurant which happily provided extra large serves to go, along with takeaway Lavazza coffee.

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And here’s a close up if you’re not yet salivating:

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Loukoumades also have quite an interesting history. In the ancient Olympic Games, one of the prizes awarded to victorious athletes was “honey tokens” – fried balls of dough covered in honey – and this is considered to be the earliest mention of any kind of pastry in European literature. They are best eaten hot and while still crispy and we enjoyed ours together with the baklava and our coffee. You can thank us later ;)

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Check out the Mezes website for more details.

Final Note

Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t, but we’re a little behind schedule on this blog post.

It’s because WE GOT ENGAGED!

Mark surprised me with a proposal on a beautiful Sunday morning during our “ritual” at the place that kicked off The Picnic Press and that will now forever be “our” place – Paddington Reservoir. It’s been such a wonderful wave of excitement and happiness and, to top it off, we are now down to a single-digit countdown for our holiday!

We intend to keep reporting back via The Picnic Press from picnic locations in Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Croatia, Prague, Vienna and Berlin and anywhere else in between. Although we have the best intentions to keep The Picnic Press regularly updated, it will be silly of us to guarantee any real consistency as there is a strong likelihood that we may get carried away exploring and having fun. But we do promise to keep our Facebook page and Instagram account (@thepicnicpress) regularly updated with photos so you can check out where we’ve been!

Arrivederci friends! We look forward to seeing you in Europe!

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L&M

P.S If you love Mark’s photos, check out his other work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.

THE CARRAMAR PORK BELLY & GELATO PICNIC

If you read the title with an eyebrow raised, I’m sure you have gathered that this picnic is not one for the faint hearted.

There’s no denying it: This is pure, unashamed indulgence.

So do some exercise, prepare a salad, pack your picnic blanket and meet us in Carramar.

Carramar is quiet little suburb nestled between Fairfield, Cabramatta, Villawood and Lansdowne in Sydney’s South West. It’s name comes from an Aboriginal word meaning “shade of trees”. How picnic appropriate, right?

Apart from being home to one of the last Sizzler restaurants in Sydney, Carramar is our number one location for getting the best takeaway pork belly. Yes that’s right – if you want deliciously tender, lovingly roasted pork belly topped with ‘too good to be true’ crispy crackling, then this is your place.

Our day was threatening rain but ever determined, we bundled up my cousin, Anita, her husband, David, and their gorgeous girl, miss Sophia (Pia) and when the sky cleared, we made our way to nearby Lake Gillawarna to enjoy a picnic.

So, what of the ice-cream? Well, I had heard about a great gelateria which had won a heap of awards and was conveniently also in Carramar so despite the cold weather and beanie attire, it made perfect sense to head there for a post-picnic dessert.

Here’s our itinerary:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food:     Pronto Smallgoods & Butchery, Carramar

Picnic:   Lake Gillawarna, Georges Hall

Gelato:   Art of Gelato Michelangelo, Carramar

FOOD:


PRONTO SMALLGOODS & BUTCHERY

7 Quest Avenue, Carramar 

Pronto Smallgoods & Butchery is one of those unsuspecting places in an unsuspecting suburban street in Carramar, that just so happens to make the best takeaway roasted pork belly in Sydney. Pinkie promise.

Whenever we have a family party or occasion, my mum will order a tray of pork belly from Pronto and it’s always a hit. So if you’re planning a feast, this is one thing you should put on the menu.

To me, “the best pork belly” must meet three key tests:

1) it must have crispy pork skin – ideally, so crackly that you can hear it!

2) the meat must be tender and juicy and not too fatty or dry; and

3) it must have the perfect salt balance – not too little, not too much.

Although these sound like fairly simple requirements, it’s not often that you score the trifecta.

That’s unless you go to Pronto. They are the masters of roast pork belly.

When you walk in to Pronto, you immediately catch the comforting scent of the traditionally smoked and hanging smallgoods – a smell which takes me back to my Djedo’s (grandfather’s) old backyard smokehouse. It’s no-frills and homely.

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There’s a good range of continental groceries…

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Tip: pick up some Ajvar to go with your pork – it is a delicious Balkan relish made from roasted capsicum and garlic.

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… and then your eye travels to the succulent rows of expertly roasted pork belly.

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The pork belly is roasted whole and then taken out the back where it is neatly sliced up for you to take with you. As a guide, I was told one kilo will generously feed about 4 people. We’re all pretty good eaters, but we had some to spare which was great the next day heated in the oven until crisp and served for lunch.

Here is how it looks on our picnic:

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And, more importantly, how did it taste?

Like satisfaction.

Warning: The pork belly at Pronto will normally sell out on weekends so get there early. It’s also best to order in advance if you have a party or occasion. For more details, see the Pronto website here. Thanks to Pronto Smallgoods & Butchery for suppling us with pork belly for our picnic. 

PICNIC:

LAKE GILLAWARNA

Off Henry Lawson Drive, Georges Hall

Lake Gillawarna is part of the Mirambeena Regional Park within the suburb of Georges Hall and a stones throw from Carramar. As the name suggests, there is a lake in the centre, which you can follow around the surrounding walking tracks.

There’s plenty of ducks and even some swans, so it’s a hit with the little ones.

Here is my darling miss Sophia saying hello to the wildlife while we set up:

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And, look how excited she is to join our picnic!

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We set up our picnic with our packed salads and tucked into our still-warm and delicious pork belly.

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Picnic Tip – Mason jars are incredibly practical for a picnic salad. You don’t need to bring all the salad serving-ware and the jars  screw tight when you’re done so that all the leftovers and dressing are neatly contained for you to clean up later. Add your dressing just before serving, close the lid and shake and you’re good to go. If you really don’t want to deal with messy plates, just eat from the jar and have napkins on standby for your pork belly. Too simple!

The flavours of our Asian-inspired Crunchy Cabbage Salad went especially well with the pork as did the apple sauce we so cleverly thought to pack prior. Click here for our salad recipe.

So even though it was a bit chilly and the sky a bit grey, it actually went perfectly with our warm and hearty meal and made it that much more satisfying.

There are some other advantages to a winter picnic too:

1) Daddy Daughter beanies are super cute:

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2) Tickle torture is completely necessary to stay warm:

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3) As is flying a tiny human plane:

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4) And best of all, huddling and cuddling becomes completely mandatory:

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Plus, you’ll burn more energy keeping warm which means pork belly and ice-cream are totally justified!

So don’t let winter keep you away from your picnic or cooped up indoors. Australia has such a temperate climate so unless its snowing, raining or there are gale force winds, you can still get out there and enjoy the fresh air and natural beauty of the great outdoors.

Facilities

→  BBQ facilities: √

→  Shelter: √

→  Toilets

→  Dogs:  – dogs were spotted on a lead

→  Parking:  – parking is easy and there are allocated spots at the entrance.

→  Walking:  – there is a great walking track around the lake.

GELATO:

ART OF GELATO MICHELANGELO

30 The Horsely Drive, Carramar

Anita and I were lucky enough to share a Djedo (grandfather) with a huge fondness for ice-cream. This meant our grandparents always had one of those chocolate-strawberry-vanilla Neopolitan ice-creams in their freezer for Djedo’s cravings. Not terribly sophisticated, but we loved it all the same.

Ice-cream / gelato has come a long way since we were kids and there are now so many amazing gelaterias out there selling delicious gourmet flavours.

I wish Djedo was still around so that we could take him to Art of Gelato Michelangelo. He would have loved it.

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At Art of Gelato Michelangelo you will find traditionally made gelato, gelato cakes, Italian sweets and Lavazza coffee.

The owner, Martino Piccolo has been in the game for over 25 years and recently beat the Europeans at their own game at the Gelato World Cup in Italy, where he won one of the top honours based on a “mystery box” challenge. The winning creation is now sold in store and is made from Loacker biscuits, which are a crunchy Italian chocolate hazelnut treat.

All flavours at Art of Gelato Michelangelo are created from scratch in-house and there is a full wall adorned with awards that have been won.

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Here you will find some creative and unusual artisan blends including a new “flavour of the week”, every week, where they get inventive. When we visited, the flavour was ‘Mango & Green Tea’ – which was delicious – and more recently, they have concocted ‘The Socceroos’ – a green pandan sponge cake mixed into a lemon cream and custard gelato and ‘Candy Mountain’ – creaming soda sorbet with vanilla gelato, speckled with candy and served with pop-rocks.

If you can’t decide on just one flavour, you can get a Coppa Venezia decorated cup which has 15 flavours (!) for $30. If you’re ambitious but not that ambitious, there’s also an eat in cup for 2 with 5 flavours for $12.

Sophia was first to choose and happily went for the Nutella flavoured gelato:

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I took a bit longer and tried as many flavours as was polite before it became a tie between the ‘Australian Jewels’ – a blend of vanilla creme, macadamia nuts and toffee and the ‘Salted Caramel & Peanut Brittle’ which was a-ma-zing and, dare I say it, better than the Messina Salted Caramel.

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As usual, Mark ordered the Hazelnut knowing full well that I will steal some from him. He is such a good sharer.

And here is a close-up if you’re not already drooling with excitement:

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If you feel like ice-cream alfresco and on your picnic blanket, you can purchase a takeaway tub to go from the huge range at the same time you pick up your pork belly from Pronto – they can wrap up the tub in layers of paper to keep it frozen and I was told it will take about 45 minutes until it starts to melt – perfect timing to eat pork belly and then have dessert.

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 Your only difficulty will be selecting the flavour – Good luck!

Check out the Art of Gelato Michelangelo website for more details and the Art of Gelato Michelangelo Facebook page to find out the flavour of the week!

Final Note

Although picnics are generally seen as a ‘summer’ activity there is no need to abandon picnics in the winter months. In Australia, we really have no excuse – it rarely snows and our winter days are generally sunny and fresh, rather than freezing.

Getting outdoors and enjoying a picnic in winter is a breeze.

All you need is an adventurous spirit, some extra layers, a comforting dish and your favourite people to warm your heart like no other way.

Thanks to Anita, David and Pia for joining The Picnic Press!

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Next week on The Picnic Press: We finally head South of the CBD for Souvlaki and my latest dessert love – Loukoumades!

L&M

P.S If you love Mark’s photos, check out his other work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.

Crunchy Cabbage Salad

I rarely profess to being exceptional in the kitchen but I will brag about making really good salads. Sorry, but it’s true.

With other meals, I tend to rely on recipes and research but with salads, I love to get creative and ‘wing it’. This is because there is nothing that disappoints me more than a boring salad that you have to force yourself to eat. I’m looking at you lettuce and tomato salad!

So, I love to add a variety of ingredients, textures and colours to make my salads as exciting as possible – it’s important that all the senses are satisfied. I particularly love adding crunch to the mix, so here is the recipe for my Crunchy Cabbage Salad:

Ingredients

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Salad

♦   1/2 wombok (baby Chinese cabbage)

♦   1/4 purple cabbage

♦   Handful of fresh snowpeas

♦   2 – 3 shallots

♦   1 small bunch coriander

♦   1/4 cup sunflower seeds

♦   100g slivered almonds

♦   1 packet Changs Oriental Fried Noodles

♦   1-2 small red hot chilli to taste

Dressing

♦   1/4 cup white wine vinegar

♦   3 tbl Rice Bran Syrup (or you can use 1/4 cup castor sugar)

♦   1 tbl soy sauce

♦   2 tbl sesame oil

♦   1 tsp char siu bbq sauce

♦   1/2 cup olive oil

Method

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1)   Chop the wombok, cabbage, snow peas, shallot, coriander and chilli and set aside. I like to slice thinly / shred all these ingredients. You do not need to cook the snow peas – in fact, they are sweet and deliciously crunchy as is and therefore work really well as a fresh ingredient in the salad.

2)  Combine the dressing ingredients in a saucepan over a low heat. You will need to stir until the ingredients are dissolved. When it’s done, remove from the stove and cool.

3)  Place a frying pan on the stove and add the sunflower seeds and almonds to toast. You do not need to add any oil as this will cause the mix to lose its crunch. Keep a watch over it as Murphy’s Law has it that the moment you turn your back these start to burn and go black. Once they are golden, remove from the stove and the pan (as they will continue to cook) and allow to cool.

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4)  One of the key rules of salad making, especially for picnics or any time when you are not eating the salad straight away, is to add the dressing JUST BEFORE you are about to serve it. If you don’t, the salad mix goes slimy and soggy and gross. So, the rule is DO NOT ADD THE DRESSING NOW. Pour the dressing into a leak-proof container so that you can take it with you to your picnic.

5)  As per 4) above, you should also keep the almonds and seeds separate from the rest of the mix and add in just before serving. We mixed ours in with the salad ingredients and they had lost some of their crunch by the time we had our picnic.  Lesson learnt. Pack your toasted almonds and sunflower seeds in a jar to take with you together with your Chang’s Oriental Fried Noodles.

FUN PICNIC TIP: One really fun and practical way of packaging this salad for your picnic is to use individual mason jars. This is also really helpful if someone has a food intolerance to one of the ingredients. For example, I have an intolerance to garlic, onion and shallot, so these are out for me (boo!). If we had mixed this salad in a large bowl I would have spent most of lunch picking out shallots from my serve. So, I simply created a shallot-free salad jar for me and added shallot to the other jars. Pretty genius. The other benefit of individual jars is that you don’t have a big, dirty salad bowl and utensils to lug home. Simply screw the jar when you’re done and all the mess is contained inside until you’re ready to clean up.

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We enjoyed the Crunchy Cabbage Salad with crispy pork belly at our Carramar Pork Belly & Gelato Picnic. The flavour and delicate hint of char siu in the dressing went beautifully with the pork.

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So, dear reader, I’d love to know – what do you put in your salads to make them exciting?

L&M

GET ME TO BERRY

On my first date with Mark, he said the most fantastic thing.

We had been getting to know each other and the topic of conversation had turned to South Coast road trips as I filled him in on my childhood weekend ritual of driving down on Friday nights to Callala Bay where my family had a holiday house.

Mark was telling me how he’d only been to the South Coast a couple of times but he had remembered driving through this gorgeous little town and being really disappointed when his friends didn’t want to stop to check it out. I asked him where it was and he said the magical words:

“I think it was called Berry. I really want to go back”.

And it was in that moment that I knew he was a keeper.

Berry is now a special place for us and one of our favourite refuges when we need to get out of the city. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Sydney so perfect for a day trip. The drive is also pretty spectacular, especially when you pass through spots like this:

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Berry has all the country charm of historic buildings and leafy surrounds but as an added bonus, comes complete with gourmet food spots and beautiful little stores which sell unique, one-off pieces. It’s our favourite weekend escape. This time, we took our mums with us as we knew they would love exploring Berry and enjoying a picnic with us. Plus, generally speaking, mums are just the best and every now and then you need to remind them of that.

Here’s our itinerary:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food & Coffee:     Milkwood Bakery

Picnic:                     Apex Park

Afternoon Tea:    The Berry Tea Shop

FOOD:

MILKWOOD BAKERY

109 Queen Street, Berry

You’ll be able to find Milkwood Bakery fairly easily – just follow the wafty scent of freshly baked bread to the line of people out the door.

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Milkwood Bakery was established in 2012 and is the more casual offshoot of the Berry Sourdough Cafe (which you can find in a rustic, lovingly restored heritage-listed barn house just around the corner at 23 Prince Alfred Street).

It has a gorgeous range of artisan organic sourdough breads baked fresh in wood fire ovens – from the classic Berry sourdough to the pane pugliese, thyme and olive flat bread, the levain blanc (a classic french style loaf) and the fig & walnut loaf.

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The display is also beautifully set up with a delicious range of flaky croissants, savoury muffins, cakes, pastries, scrolls, mini-pizzas and tarts.

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We ordered the lamb and pine nut sausage roll (incredible) and a range of the meat pies – the Beef Bourguignon, the Steak & Caramelised Onion and the Chicken, Leek, Bacon & Mushroom (all impossibly good) – plus a mushroom and gruyere cheese tart with golden pastry (I could have eaten 7!). Oh, and the sweet pastries? Yeah, we got a few of those too: a raspberry danish, a nut tart and a Portuguese tart.

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You can pick up a very good coffee to go made from a retro inspired duck-egg blue espresso machine. There’s also a range of house-made muesli, jams, and dips to bring home for your loved ones – which is handy, because I doubt the lamingtons will survive the car ride home.

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Check out the website for more details. 

PICNIC:

APEX PARK

Cnr Queen St (Princes Highway) & Prince Alfred  Street, Berry

As soon as you glimpse the the little footbridge and gorgeous rotunda set amongst trees in beautiful Apex Park, you know this is a special place and the perfect spot for a Berry picnic.

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Gah… looking at pastry makes me hungry all over again! Thanks Milkwood!

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It was so lovely to have a full day out with our busy mums. It’s the special yet simple things that are a bit ‘out of the ordinary’ – like a road trip and picnic in Berry – that will be remembered and talked about in years to come.

Facilities

→  ToiletsPublic toilets are adjacent to Apex Park.

→  Parking: There is street parking nearby or you can find parking down a side street. The main road has parking limits of 1 hour, but this is enough time for a Milkwood picnic. You may need to move the car however if you plan on shopping or enjoying afternoon tea later.

→  Bicycles: You can’t really cycle in the park, sorry – it ain’t big enough for that. But definitely take the bike around the gorgeous country lane ways in Berry and the surrounds.

→  Dogs: I didn’t see any signs, so I assume dogs are permitted on a lead. Maybe just check this when you are there.

→  Weddings: And yes, you can book Apex Park for weddings! Click here for details. How dreamy!

 AFTERNOON TEA:

THE BERRY TEA SHOP

1/66 Albert Street, Berry

Many moons ago, I had to do a uni assessment which involved inventing a business to learn how to set up a company step-by-step. It was a law subject so naturally, a lot of people were setting up their own pretend law firms. Me? Well, I figured if it was all pretend and we could pick absolutely anything we wanted, I would go with my all-time favourite fantasy business…

A tea shop.

I spent a lot of time imagining how beautiful my tea shop would look, what it would be called (“Tranquilitea”, for the record) and the huge range of tea I would have. Much more time than necessary given I wasn’t actually getting graded on how awesome my invented shop was.

So, for someone who has imagined the perfect tea shop, I was blown away when I first visited The Berry Tea Shop. The shop doesn’t only just sell amazing tea but they have all kinds of beautiful tea accessories, like tea pots, cups, strainers, canisters, cake stands, teaspoons, paper goods, decorations, tea cosies and books. And, what’s more, you can sit inside and take it all in while drinking delicious tea and eating a freshly baked scone with Cuttaway Creek raspberry conserve and double cream. Yeah, amazing right?

It’s like all my tea shop fantasies brought to life and my equivalent of a ‘kid in a candy store’ experience.

Check it out:

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In my mind, tea drinking is all about the experience and the ritual. It’s about fine china and teapots with cosies and, most importantly, taking time to enjoy and savour the moment. I’m therefore a firm believer that tea shouldn’t ever be in a takeaway cup or rushed or drunk on the run. Hence, I have a ‘no tea on picnics’ rule… unless it comes in Royal Albert, Royal Doulton or Wedgwood, then I might make an exception. Anything less would be disrespectful, really.

Luckily for us, at The Berry Tea Store, we got to enjoy a warming cup of tea with a slice of the gluten-free orange and almond syrup cake (a favourite of mine) and the hummingbird cake as a final treat to round out our picnic / Berry adventure.

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I challenge anyone who goes to The Berry Tea Shop not to fantasise about giving it all up and moving to an adorable country town to open up an adorable little tea shop. If you need some inspiration, this is what husband and wife owners Cliff and Paulina did with a life-swap from stressful Sydney to country calm – and to great success.

I’m sure it’s not always tea and biscuits but if you get the chance to meet the bubbly Paulina, you get the idea that this probably comes close to “living the dream”. I was able to draw the simple conclusion that beautiful tea shops make people happy. The proof’s in the sign:

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Tea really is like a hug in a cup. And if you take two mums out for tea, you get a bonus round of double hugs. I highly recommend it.

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Check out the website for more details and to shop online – but make sure you go to the store as well!

Final note

There’s plenty to see and do in Berry that we didn’t get to showcase in this post, so take your time when you’re down there to explore. Some of our other suggestions are as follows:

♦   There’s Il Locale Gelato on Queen Street which sells delicious locally made ice-cream and has the cutest wall mural ever:

 

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♦   If you fancy donuts, you cannot go past The Famous Berry Donut Van. Yes, famous for being awesome. Mmm… donuts.

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♦   For gourmet food supplies, check out The Emporium Food Co at 127B Queen Street. You can also pick up a great picnic lunch here too as they have a wonderful range of deli products.

♦   For gifts, my pick is Huckleberry Home which has French and Hamptons inspired homewares and furniture. Find them at Shop 2, 94 – 96 Queen Street.

♦   For more gifts, homewares and some textiles as well, go to Juniper Hearth in a beautiful old building on the corner of Alexandra and Princess Street.

♦   And if that wasn’t enough and you want even more gifts, homewares etc, head to Moss Nest at 69 Queen Street.

♦   For art and design, check out Flying Pig Precinct at 12 – 14 Alexander Street, for a range of ceramics and handcrafted pieces.

♦   For the fashion I’d buy if I wasn’t on a budget, go to Roots & Wings Design at 83 Queen Street.

♦   For gorgeous hand cremes and toiletries, stop in at Scullys & Co at 108 Queen Street.

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Next week on The Picnic Press: We make good on our promise to show you where to find the best pork belly in Sydney and a bonus ice-cream stop.

L&M

P.S If you love Mark’s photos, check out his other work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.

 

THE HYDE PARK LUNCH BREAK PICNIC

Do you stop for lunch?

I have to admit, I am someone who frequently takes my lunch break at my desk in front of my computer. I multitask eating with responding to emails, paying bills or doing other personal admin tasks (and, if I’m honest, that turns into watching YouTube delights like tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos!!). It’s all under the guise of trying to be “productive” and get s#*t done, but how productive is it really?

Research conducted by ING Direct last year found that I am not alone. Working Aussies are increasingly eating lunch at their desks.

This is contrary to advice from professionals that have found it’s absolutely beneficial to take a lunch break. In fact, it’s a proven way to increase productivity and help sustain energy levels and focus into the afternoon. It’s also adds balance to the day to counter stress. If you’re one of those people who says, “I’m too busy to stop for lunch”, google “benefits of a lunch break” for some science behind why you need to step away from the desk.

With that in mind, we decided to swap stale air-conditioning for fresh air and fluorescent light for sunshine on our next lunch break and enjoy some time out in the park instead.

There are some added benefits to this lunch break picnic strategy: Sunshine tops up vitamin D levels, necessary for maintaining bone health and wards against disease, and also, it generally makes you feel happy. In addition, exposure to green environments, like parks, has been proven to improve health, increase wellbeing, and reduce stress. (You can read about it here).

Ergo, the Hyde Park Lunch Break Picnic. A wellbeing all-rounder.

Here’s our itinerary:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food:     David Jones Foodhall, Market Street

Coffee:   Metro St James, Elizabeth Street

Picnic:   Hyde Park, Elizabeth Street

FOOD:

DAVID JONES FOODHALL

65-77 Market Street, Sydney

David Jones Foodhall is a gourmet emporium located under the DJ’s mens section on Market Street.

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The Foodhall showcases fresh produce and finest food from Australia and around the world. It has a wine bar, oyster bar, panini bar, cheese and antipasto bar, noodle bar, grill bar, sushi bar, espresso bar and juice bar. It’s un-bar-lievable! :)

If you’re looking for a healthy and delicious lunch, there is an abundant range of gorgeous and enticing salads on offer:

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Plus, you can pick up some fresh fruit for an afternoon snack:

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For our Hyde Park Lunch Break Picnic, we couldn’t go past the fresh Vietnamese satay chicken & young coconut rice paper rolls and Peking duck pancakes from the cutely decorated MissChu mini-tuckshop, famous for its Vietnamese takeaway.

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As you can see from the bag below, MissChu is described as “Queen of Rice Paper Rolls”, and I’d have to agree. The rolls are fresh and tasty and came with a lovely spicy dipping sauce to complement the satay flavour. Oh, and the Peking duck pancakes? Yes, my only complaint was that we should have ordered more!

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Because we’re all for raising our endorphins today, we also got a small treat to go with the coffee we planned to order.

In my first full time job as a sprightly 21 year old, I worked in a building close to DJs. I learnt a lot in that job, including that David Jones Foodhall makes the best chocolate covered fruit. Ever.

There’s a huge range of all kinds of delicious fruit lavishly dipped in milk, dark or white chocolate including strawberries, figs, bananas and dates.

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I know we are trying to be a bit healthier on our lunch break, but it’s still fruit, right? We deliberated a while before deciding on dipped strawberries in milk chocolate with crushed pistachio nuts, dipped strawberries in dark chocolate and slivered almonds and a chocolate covered fig.

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You will see the huge range of chocolate covered stuff as soon as you enter from the stairs on Market Street. I dare you to resist these on your way out.

The other great thing about the Foodhall is that you can also pick up items for dinner, should you need to, so it saves you time running around after work. There is a range of take home items, like fresh pasta, and prepared meals, as well as fresh veggies, meat and fish. It’s multitasking at its finest!

For more details, see the David Jones Foodhall website here.

COFFEE:

METRO ST JAMES

110 Elizabeth Street Sydney (just behind St James station)
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Metro St James has been described as a “Parisian bistro meets New York cafe”, due to its French influence and location just behind St James train station. It’s situated in an elegant sandstone building which has maximised its pretty outlook over the leafy Hyde Park and St Mary’s Cathedral.

I first heard of this cafe when they ran a promotion last year where you could pay for your coffee with a kiss. The kiss had to be real, staff weren’t involved and it was all designed to promote love. How very French! The promotion is no longer running, but the coffee will warm your heart nonetheless. Merci, Metro St James xx.

PICNIC:

HYDE PARK

Elizabeth Street (near Market Street), Sydney

Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest park and a tranquil setting in the middle of Sydney’s CBD. It’s a popular escape for office workers who want some fresh air or a quick siesta under the huge, leafy trees.

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Park Street splits Hyde Park in half and the two sections are officially referred to as Hyde Park North and Hyde Park South. We picnicked in Hyde Park North this time, as it’s within easy distance of the David Jones Foodhall and Metro St James.

There are several monuments that stand guard in Hyde Park North, the most notable of which is the Archibald Fountain, with its commanding bronze Apollo.

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The fountain is in an ideal location to enjoy some of Sydney’s tourist sites. To the left of the fountain, you have a view of the Sydney Tower (or Centerpoint Tower), which is the tallest building in Sydney.

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To the right of the fountain, you overlook St Mary’s Cathedral, an English-style gothic church and one of Sydney’s most treasured historic buildings offering a unique space of solace and prayer within the bustling city.

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Some of the beautiful gardens within Hyde Park

We set up our picnic so that we could fully appreciate the view on each side.

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Taking an important call from the “Editor in Chief” – aka my mum :)

Our MissChu rice paper rolls and Peking duck pancakes were delicious and just enough so that we felt satisfied but not sluggish.

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The David Jones Foodhall chocolate covered strawberries were absolutely necessary and completely worth it.

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As soon as we found our spot on the grass in Hyde Park, we already felt more relaxed and refreshed.

We watched kids shriek with delight and chase giant bubbles made by a busker.

We saw people going about their business and realised the world doesn’t really revolve around us today.

We had real and genuine interaction with laughs and hugs instead of sending smiley faces and “xox’s” via email.

We felt our senses awaken by inhaling the crisp air and feeling the sunshine warm our backs.

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We left feeling happier and more human and ready to take on the rest of the day.

Facilities

→  ToiletsPublic toilets are available.

→  Parking / Transport: There is parking in the Domain Car Park, but we suggest leaving the car at home and making use of the train as Museum and St James train stations are beneath the park. Bus services are also available, as the park is bordered by several major roads.

→  Bike: You can’t really do any hard core cycling in the park, so bike parking is available.

→  Dogs: There aren’t any off-leash areas, but I saw a few dogs being walked on a lead.

See the City of Sydney website here for more details.

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See how fun getting out on your lunch break can be? We spotted these people dancing!

Final note

As someone who has worked long hours, I understand that taking a lunch break can feel a bit self-indulgent when you have deadlines pressing, clients chasing you, or a huge task to complete. A lunch break picnic may not be feasible or realistic every day. At the very least, get outside for 15 minutes to get some air and re-centre.

If you’re normally desk-bound or running about doing personal errands, try once a week (at least) to lock in some quality time for a lunch break that you will actually enjoy – not some half hearted attempt at your desk or on the run, which ends up being counterproductive.

A lunch break picnic is a more fulfilling option and the fresh air and sunshine will stand you in good stead to face the rest of the afternoon. It’s also far less stressful than claiming a sticky table at a bustling and overcrowded food court. Time seems to move slower too, so even 30 minutes of actual rest will feel longer than an hour of running around or online shopping ‘al-desko’.

Invite your colleague, friend or partner along, or if you need some time out, take a good, fun book or magazine and some nice, deep breaths.

We’d love to hear if a lunch break picnic makes a difference to your day. Are you more focused? Less stressed? More productive? Happier? Please also tag us on your Instagram pics, and we’ll share with our community: @thepicnicpress #thepicnicpress.

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Next week on The Picnic Press: We set up our picnic blanket in the beautiful town of Berry, on the NSW South Coast.

See you then! Now back to work…

L&M

P.S If you love Mark’s photos, check out his other work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.

 

THE ABBOTSBURY ANTIPASTO PICNIC

If you read the subject line and thought, “What’s an Abbotsbury?” then I encourage you to read on. (Hint: It’s a place…in Sydney).

When I was at uni and subsequently working in the Sydney CBD, I was surprised to meet many adventurous people who had lived in Sydney their entire lives and who had never ventured to South West Sydney.

There’s a whole world out there, people!

From European to Asian, to Middle Eastern to South American, South West Sydney is one of the most culturally diverse areas in all of Australia. The delightful upshot of this is that it’s a region with many beautiful and authentic cuisines to be experienced and enjoyed. It’s where people learn to cook traditional, cultural delicacies by osmosis from their mothers, fathers, and grandparents, rather than from a cooking show or recipe book.

What that means is that you can find seriously delicious food in Sydney’s South West. You know, the kind of food that doesn’t rely on hype or fussy presentation or fancy decor or price to justify its worth. The kind of food that is just good, honest, enjoyable food.

For our first Western Sydney edition, we explored three neighbouring suburbs in the City of Fairfield in South West Sydney, starting with Edensor Park (for food), via Bonnyrigg (for coffee), and to Abbotsbury (for our picnic). This little pocket of suburbs has a particularly dominant Italian community which is apparent from the abundant range of delicatessens and continental grocery stores in the area. In fact, in Abbotsbury, the 2011 Census found that 22.5% of its residents recorded their ancestry as Italian. That’s almost one quarter!

In honour of this, we decided on an Italian ‘antipasto-style’ lunch picnic.

Here’s our itinerary:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food:     Fred’s One Stop Shopping, Edensor Park

Coffee:   Cafe Harvest, Bonnyrigg Garden Centre, Bonnyrigg

Picnic:   “The Dairy” at Western Sydney Regional Park, Abbotsbury

FOOD:

FRED’S ONE STOP SHOPPING

 661-671 Smithfield Road, Edensor Park 

Fred’s One Stop Shopping, or just “Fred’s” as it is known to the locals, is part of a family owned and run fruit and vegetable empire that was established in Western Sydney in the early 1960s. It’s one of the best in the area for fresh fruit and veggies and to prove the point, in 2014, Fred’s won its second Fairfield City Business of the Year award and the title of most outstanding fruit and vegetable shop for the fifth time.

As well as the huge variety of fresh fruits and veggies, Fred’s also sells a mouth watering selection of cheese and cold cuts from the Delicatessen and a range of continental groceries.

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Here’s what we picked out for our antipasto picnic:

♦   Mixed marinated olives with a scoop of extra Sicilian green olives for me. (I only like the hard olives).

♦   Jamon Serrano Prosciutto sliced very thin. (The only way).

♦   Vecchiet Calypso Hot Salami – We were assured this was the hottest of the lot. (It has to be hot).

♦   Pepperdews stuffed with fetta cheese – These are small marinated peppers which are sweet but with a mild heat complemented by creamy, salty fetta cheese. (Trust us, they’re amazing).

♦   Buffalo mozzarella – Need I say more? It ended up also being a perfect balance to the prosciutto and hot salami.

♦    Olive Panini – Those delish rectangle rolls that kind of feel a little oily with a hard chewy outer crust and flour dusting.

Buon appetito!

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If you are after something more filling or substantial, there is also a salad bar which sells prepared salads, and for dessert, browse the aisles of continental cakes and biscuits, or pick up some creamy Greek yoghurt and fruit.

Check out Fred’s website for more details. 

COFFEE:


CAFE HARVEST

Bonnyrigg Garden Centre, Cnr Elizabeth Drive & Wilson Road, Bonnyrigg

The Bonnyrigg Garden Centre has been around for 40 years and sells a range of plants and gardening accessories. I have no green thumbs and have, through basic negligence, killed all plants and herb patches gifted to me. So lucky for the plants, it also recently opened up a lifestyle centre within its grounds which is home to the Cafe Harvest. Now there’s something for everyone!

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This little cafe serves a good coffee drop and has become a popular breakfast and lunch spot due to its pretty location in a beautiful and unique garden setting.

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Take a walk around and smell the spiky green plants…? Don’t worry, there’s roses too.

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There’s also a homewares store next to Cafe Harvest which sells a variety of gifts, furniture, and household accessories!

The Bonnyrigg Garden Centre is only a short drive from Fred’s and on the way to our picnic destination. See the Bonnyrigg Gardens Centre website for more details.

PICNIC:

“THE DAIRY” AT WESTERN SYDNEY PARKLANDS

Cowpasture Road, Abbotsbury (turn left at the roundabout)

Set in the heart of Western Sydney, the Western Sydney Parklands comprises 5280 hectares that streches 27km from Blacktown in the north to Leppington in the south. To give you an idea of the scale of this, it is 16 times the size of Sydney’s Centennial Parklands (!).

We went to “The Dairy” which is a smaller venue located in Abbotsbury via Cowpasture Road for our picnic.

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This section is good for groups who are after a quieter and more picnic oriented visit to the Parklands or to read a book on the grass and take some time out.

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If you go up to the crest of the hill, you will see gorgeous open views of the surrounding landscapes and can find picnic tables (with shelter) and facilities.

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We set up our picnic close to “The Dairy” gates, as this little section has a stunning outlook. See what we mean?

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Here’s how we assembled our antipasto-style picnic:

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And here are some close ups for food porn factor:

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We aren’t fussy so didn’t bother with plates or cutlery for this one. We did bring a nice wooden board and a jar for the olives but this isn’t mandatory – technically, you could just eat off the deli paper and out of the containers provided, but we are suckers for presentation and making it look special and encourage you to do the same!

All you need to do to make a delicious lunch is tear up some bread, add some prosciutto and mozzarella and Roberto is your zio.

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Facilities

→  BBQ facilities: There are 4 electric BBQs located throughout the picnic ground.

→  Shelter: There are sheltered picnic tables (in a very modern design) which are available on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

→  ToiletsThere is a toilet block near the picnic tables.

→  Dogs: Dogs are allowed to walk anywhere in the Parklands but must be on a lead at all times.

→  Parking: There is a formal car park up near the picnic tables, but you can also park along the drive on your way in. If you’re driving, the gates are open from 8 am to 7 pm daily and 8am to 5pm during the months of June, July and August.

→  Bicycles: Bring your bike because there is a cycling track which runs for 27 kilometres if you need to burn off your picnic lunch.

→  Walking: If you’re not into bikes, bring your walking shoes, as the bike track also accommodates walkers / runners. Sorry, no excuses!

See the Western Sydney Parklands website for more details.

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Final note

There is so much to discover in Western Sydney (including the South West) and not too many people writing about it, so we have made it our personal mission to keep exploring and updating you on these gems.

The bonus of having a vast cultural mix in the area means there is so much variety to suit any craving. It’s a region where you will find a kebab van parked around the corner from a shop making cevapi rolls, in walking distance of a delicatessen serving panini and beside a Vietnamese bakery assembling Bánh mì.

We have so much inspiration for delicious and fun picnics, coming up!

Next week on The Picnic Press: We do an express lunch time picnic in the Sydney CBD. See? There’s always time for a picnic.

Ciao amici!

L&M

P.S If you love Mark’s photos, check out his other work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.

THE CENTENNIAL PARK SAUSAGE VS. SAUSAGE DOG PICNIC

I’m going to put it out there.

I am a dog lover.

Sorry cat lovers. I do tolerate cats but ever since I tried to introduce one to my dog when I was 7 (yes, not the smartest idea), I haven’t felt completely comfortable around any animal with the propensity and desire to claw at my face. I make exceptions for my dear furry cat-friends, Roger, Ziggy, and Sarah Socks, but otherwise, cats and I unfortunately got off on the wrong foot.

Dogs however steal my heart, hands down. I am one of those people who will pat dogs I see waiting for their owners outside cafés. I love nothing more than cuddling up on the couch with Gina (our family dog). I have googled, “How to become a dog walker”.

I would own a dog but for the fact that I don’t live in a pet-friendly apartment. Boo!

So when my lovely friend Shani mentioned to me that she was going to an event in Centennial Park called “Dachshunds in the Park” with her boyfriend Kieren and their gorgeous dogs, Coco and Taco, I invited myself and Mark along and we came up with the genius idea of a “Sausage vs. Sausage Dog Picnic“*.

*No sausage dogs were harmed in the making of this picnic.

Here’s what we did:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food:     Victor Churchill, Woollahra

Event:    “Dachshunds in the Park”, Centennial Park

Picnic:   A quaint spot near Musgrave Avenue, Centennial Park

Coffee:   Centennial Park Kiosk, Centennial Park

Let’s go!

FOOD:

VICTOR CHURCHILL

 132 Queen Street, Woollahra

If you’re after swanky sausages (yes, there is such a thing), Victor Churchill is your place.

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Victor Churchill has maintained its location as a butchery in the leafy suburb of Woollahra in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs since 1876 (!). It is now in the hands of father and son team, Vic and Anthony Puharich, the duo behind Vic’s Premium Quality Meat. Shall we go inside?

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The door handle is modelled on a link of sausages and I was pleased to see this theme continued to the draw handles at the work bench where they wrap up your produce.

As you will see, the store is a work of art. Literally. It won the 2010 International Interior Design Award for retail stores and the window display when we visited had been commissioned by an artist and featured beautiful and intricate copper and brass autumn leaves which framed a huge cut of meat.

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It is unfitting to describe Victor Churchill as a “butchery” in the traditional sense as it is the antithesis of your ordinary butcher shop with plastic door curtain, abrupt fluorescent lighting and astro turf grass display. Rather, Victor Churchill is a high-end meat boutique. It’s what you get if you crossed a butchery with a Louis Vuitton store (as it is oft described).

There is a glass-walled meat ageing room where specialty cuts of meat slowly travel along a cog gear and metal chain rack, infusing with the flavour of the Himalayan rock salt brick wall. You can also watch expert butchers deftly preparing meat behind floor-to-ceiling glass, as if it were theatre.

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You can find all cuts and types of meat, house-made charcuterie, rotisserie chicken, and also salts, oils, French butter, duck fat, terrines…

My Djedo (grandfather) used to have his own smoke house and make this. I wish I loved prosciutto back then as much as I do now :(

…and freshly baked bread and pastries

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For our picnic, we ordered a selection of the house made sausages:  Lamb Merguez, Pork Apple & Cider and Pork Italian.

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They were carefully wrapped up and packaged in a beautiful bag, equivalent to a designer shopping bag, and a fitting end to the Victor Churchill experience.

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Note that if you stop into Victor Churchill between Monday and Saturday, you can purchase freshly cooked gourmet sausage rolls and hot dogs, so save yourself the cooking time and simply pick one up on your way to Centennial Park!

Check out the Victor Churchill website for more details. 

 

EVENT:


“DACHSHUNDS IN THE PARK”, CENTENNIAL PARK

Federation Valley, near Loch Avenue, Centennial Park

From Victor Churchill, it is an easy drive or walk over to the beautiful Centennial Park, for our next stop, the “Dachshunds in the Park” event.

Firstly, a bit about Centennial Park as it has quite an interesting history. It opened on the first centenary, 26 January 1888, and at the opening, Sir Henry Parkes gave a rousing speech and said:

“It is emphatically the people’s park and you must always take as much interest in it as if by your own hands you had planted the flowers; and if you take this interest in it, and if you thus rise to the full appreciation of its great beauty, and your great privileges, the park will be one of the grandest adornments of this beautiful country”.

Truer words have not been spoken and you will fully appreciate the great beauty of Centennial Park when you come across views like this one:

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Here’s a bit of trivia: Did you know Centennial Park was also where they proclaimed the Federal Constitution of Australia on 1 January 1901?  Apparently, 250,000 people (I’m guessing all of Sydney at the time) gathered in Centennial Park to celebrate the joining of six formerly independent colonies as one Commonwealth of Australia. The highlight of the festivities was a ceremony which took place in what is now known as Federation Valley, which has rising slopes that afforded the crowd and members of the press good views.

Federation Valley is now an off-leash dog area and the meeting point for the “Dachshunds in the Park” event, created by a dedicated group of dachshund lovers who meet around 10:30am on the last Sunday of every month.

I once read in awe about the popularity of “cat cafes” in Tokyo, where people who do not have the space for a pet can pay to spend time patting cats. For me, the “Dachshunds in the Park” event was kind of like that, but less creepy as it was consensual and all doggy cuddles were given to me out of free will. All I needed to do was sit on the grass and wait for gorgeous little dachshunds to jump in my lap, like this one:

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Here are some friends I made:

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We nicknamed the dapper dachshund in the bow-tie, “Lord Nelson”, but we’re sure he might have a cooler name. Please let us know what it is!

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I believe this pretty girl was named “Bettina”

It was funny to watch the confidence of the dachshunds en masse. They definitely have a pack mentality and worked together to drive away other breeds that dared to gatecrash their party. This little guy was brave enough to sneak through – look how happy we are!

If you have a dachshund, sign up to the “Dachshunds in the Park” group on Facebook to stay up to date on events. Below is a map of the Federation Valley off-leash area which you may want to visit at other times if you’re ever in need of a quick dog cuddle – just try to act normal, and if anyone asks, pretend one of the dogs is yours:

 

PICNIC:

CENTENNIAL PARK

Near Musgrave Avenue BBQ area, Centennial Park

We found a really quaint picnic spot just off Musgrave Avenue and in close proximity to the BBQ area and bathrooms. It was also in walking distance of Federation Valley.

Time to meet our friends, Coco and Taco:

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Coco (pink collar) and Taco (blue collar) are best buddies and as you can see, they are super, super cute. They both have their own distinct personalities. Coco can be described as a princess with a diva attitude. She is a bit aloof around strangers and standoffish to the other dogs, but deep down behind that ‘mean girl’ exterior is a very sweet girl just looking for some attention.

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Taco, on the other hand, is a friendly, laid back and chilled dude (surprisingly, a bit like his owner, Kieren). He’s the counterbalance to Coco and the two are inseparable. Even with all the other dachshunds around at the “Dachshunds in the Park” event, they didn’t want to leave each other out and stuck together, like all BFFs do.

We set up our picnic rug and Mark got to cooking up the sausages on the BBQ nearby. I sliced up our baguette and we filled these with our sausages and “Sataraš”, the Croatian equivalent of tomato relish, made with tomato, onion and capsicum (get the recipe here).

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Our Victor Churchill sausages were juicy and flavourful. Combined with the Sataraš and our crispy baguette, it made for a delicious and satisfying lunch.

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Thanks to Shani, Kieren, Coco and Taco for joining The Picnic Press. We had so much fun!

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Facilities

→  Parking: There is plenty of parking within Centennial Park and its free.

→  BBQs: There are free BBQ sites in Centennial Park which operate on a first-in basis. BBQs are located in picnic areas near Model Yacht Road, Musgrave Avenue (where we went), Ash Paddock, Learner’s Cycleway, Paperbark Grove and adjacent to the playground near Paddington Gates. Don’t forget to be considerate and clean the hotplate after use. You can also bring your own portable BBQs with legs (provided there are no total fire bans in operation). You cannot use BBQs that sit on the grass and it goes without saying that you must not dump hot coals or any other rubbish.

→  Toilets: The public toilets are actually, well, nice. In fact, a respected UK design firm voted them one of the top 10 amenities in the world. Yeah, tweet that.

→  Reserved picnic spots: You can reserve picnic sites for large groups on payment of a fee – see the Picnics bookings page for more details. Note, you cannot reserve BBQ areas.

→  Playground: There are a couple of playgrounds for kids at Paddington Gates and near the Centennial Park Kiosk, our next stop.

→  Bicycle hire: Centennial Park is very popular with cyclists who like to tear through the inner loop. There is a good area for kids called Learners Cycleway with an off-road bike track, so that they are not exposed to cars or other cyclists. You can hire bicycles from Centennial Park Cycles, 7 days. There’s also some pedal cars for a fun experience.

→  Horse riding: You can ride horses in Centennial Park and there are pony rides available for kids on the weekends.

→  Dog-grooming: Get this, Centennial Park has its own dog grooming service, available 7 days. See details here. Handy!

→  Alcohol: Alcohol is permitted within most of Centennial Park, but there may be declared alcohol-free zones, so take note of any signs near your picnic spot.

Check out the Centennial Parklands website for more details about Centennial Park, including upcoming events and activities!

 

COFFEE:

CENTENNIAL PARK KIOSK

Corner Grand Drive and Parkes Drive, Centennial Park

The Centennial Park Kiosk is in the middle of Centennial Park and a great spot to grab a coffee or tea to recharge.

The Kiosk serves light meals and takeaway treats, including brownies (that I barely resisted) and some healthier snacks as well, such as muesli bars, fruit, and popcorn.

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If you want to take a seat at the Kiosk, it’s in a pretty, shaded spot (just behind me, below). Keeping with the picnic theme, we took our coffee and enjoyed it on our blanket on the grass in the sun. Ah, bliss!

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BONUS:

CHECKLIST

Here is a bonus this week – our list of packing essentials! As this picnic involved some cooking, we needed to prepare ahead and pack a little extra this time. The below list may be handy as a checklist for your next BBQ picnic!

The Picnic Press essentials:

♦   Picnic blanket

♦   Plates

♦   Napkins / paper towel

♦   Drinks (with optional lemon and mint garnish)

♦   BBQ scraper

   BBQ tongs

♦   Cooking oil

♦   Salt (to clean the BBQ)

♦   Hand sanitiser (a good idea around dogs, and great for cleaning sticky hands)

♦   Lunchbox / container with lid to easily transport cooked sausages and keep warm

♦   Home made Sataraš (click here for the recipe!)

AND if you’re planning to visit Centennial Park, make sure you bring your best friend!

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 Coming to The Picnic Press: Next week, we reveal where to find delicious food and a gorgeous spot to visit in South West Sydney!

Your Suggestions: We’re on the hunt for a great picnic spot in South Sydney (e.g. Cronulla, Sans Souci, Brighton Le Sands, Dolls Point, etc…). Where is your favourite place for good takeaway, coffee and a picnic in South Sydney?

See you next week!

L&M

P.S If you love Mark’s photos, check out his other work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.

Sataraš

Mark and I both come from a Croatian background although I am a bit of a mix as my Dad also has Italian heritage. Growing up, my family mainly spoke English at home so apart from rote learning prayers to say when we went to Croatian church or for when the priest came to bless our house (an annual Croatian tradition), my Croatian is not fluent or to be trusted.

I can understand Croatian when I hear it and I could follow what my Baka (grandmother) was saying as she used enough English words amongst her Croatian to help me along. I will get the general gist of about 70% of a conversation that takes place around me while I nod, smile and pretend I know exactly what’s going on. But, when I go to speak Croatian, some kind of terrible wire crosses in my brain and I always, always mix up words. Badly.

Here are some recent examples of what I have said and, in brackets, what I thought I was saying:

  • To my Dad: “Look Dad, I’m wearing my pancakes” (“Look Dad, I’m wearing my cute Croatian knitted slippers”)
  • To my work colleagues: “Try this cake in bear, it’s delicious” (“Try this honey cake, it’s delicious”)
  • To Mark: “I love a**hole jam” (“I love rose hip jam”)

And, for some reason I have especially good pronunciation of the swear words and so this is usually what comes out by mistake. Sorry Mum.

But despite my spoken Croatian being very entertaining, I have always enjoyed the cultural traditions and in particular, the food. You don’t need Google Translate for food.

Croatian food is delicious and heartwarming and Croatians (especially Bakas) love feeding people. As a child, my beautiful Baka would greet me with a big hug and then immediately say, “Sjedi i jedi, Lien”, which means, “Sit and eat, Leanne”.

So to kick off The Picnic Press recipe series, I thought it would be fun to start with a Croatian recipe as a nod to our heritage and for something a little different.

I chose to make Sataraš (pronounced sa-ta-rush) for our Centennial Park Sausage vs. Sausage Dog Picnic.

Sataraš is the Croatian version of tomato relish and used as a complement to meat dishes.

I’m not going to claim that my version of Sataraš is authentically ‘Croatian’ as I have added in a couple of additional elements. But, it was tested on Mark’s mum (who is a fabulous cook) and given the seal of approval, so I’m less reluctant to share it.

Traditionally, Sataraš is made with majority red capsicum, tomato and onion. I had some eggplant and green capsicum to use up and thought, why not?

Ingredients:

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♦   6 x onions (4 brown, 2 red), cut into wedges

♦   2 x red capsicum, slivered

♦   1 x green capsicum, slivered (optional)

♦   7 x tomatoes, diced

♦   1 x eggplant, cut into batons (optional)

♦   2 – 3 tbl vegetable oil for frying (unfortunately I had run out so all I had was extra virgin olive oil. I took the punt, but recommend pure olive oil / vegetable oil as it is better for cooking with)

♦   1 tsp Vegeta

 Method:

1) Chop the onions into wedges first and then after you’ve dried your eyes, heat a heavy based pot to medium-high heat and sauté the onion in oil, until it gets soft. I’d estimate around 5 minutes (or however long it will take you to chop up 3 capsicum into 1cm slivers- do the capsicum while you wait).

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2) Add in your capsicum. Leave to cook and meld with the sweet onion flavours while you chop up your eggplant.

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3) Add in your eggplant and then let it cook uncovered while you chop up your tomatoes. By now, its starting to smell really good.

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4) Dice your tomatoes and be thankful you wore a red top as a tomato explodes on you. Once diced, add to the pot.

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5) Here is where you can start cleaning the kitchen and then make a cup of tea. It’s going to cook for a while. Keep stirring occasionally. It needs to cook uncovered and with a slight simmer so that the liquid from the tomatoes evaporates and the mix starts to thicken.

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SHHH: Now, I’m going to reveal the Croatian cook’s secret weapon… Vegeta.

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Vegeta (pronouced Ve-get-a, and not Vag-eet-a) is a vegetable stock that my Mum (and I’m pretty sure, all other Croatian mums and bakas) put into everything. Even Asian dishes. Yep, in our household, stir fry is Cro-Asian (Like what I did there?). It adds a secret flavour kick.

6) Add some Vegeta to your Sataraš. Warning: Do not add Vegeta and salt. It’s one or the other as Vegeta is salty. I went with a teaspoon and then let it sit for a while before tasting and agreeing this was all that was needed. Taste as you go along and add a little bit at a time if needed. The mix will get saltier as the juices evaporate so I find it’s best to do this closer to the end of cooking.

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7) Leave your Sataraš to cook until it thickens and resembles a relish. For us this took around 30 minutes on medium heat. What you are after is a mix that wont drip from a spoon. The flavours will have melded with a delicious sweetness from the onion, capsicum and tomato.

8) When you are done and the mix has cooled, you can spoon into a sterilised glass jar to take to your picnic!

Sataras

We used Sataraš as a complement to our Centennial Park Sausage vs. Sausage Dog picnic – it was delicious inside a crusty baguette with freshly cooked gourmet sausages from Victor Churchill.

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“Dobar Tek”

(Croatian for “Bon Appetit”)

L&M

 

THE WATSONS BAY FISH & CHIPS PICNIC

Last weekend, The Picnic Press hosted my gorgeous cousin, Stephanie, who was visiting us from The Netherlands where she has been living it up for the past year with her boyfriend, Corey, who is a bona fide international DJ sensation (DJ name: Code Black). It’s so cool, I can’t even make that up.

Steph has been missing her home-town of Sydney and the weather was smashing so we decided to be tourists in our own city for the day and enjoy what people come to Sydney for. We invited my brother, Adrian, his wife, Kristina (Kiki), and my sister, Nadia to join in.

Here’s how we spent our day:

ITINERARY & MAP

Food:     Doyles on the Wharf Takeaway, Watsons Bay

Picnic:   Robertson Park, Watsons Bay

Coffee & cheeky ice-cream sundae:    Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, Watsons Bay

 

What could be more ‘Sydney’ than sitting by the harbour fending off seagulls while tucking into fish and chips?

Adding in a ferry ride, that’s what!

Sydney-siders are blessed with one of the most beautiful forms of transport in the world. Yes, you can drive to Watsons Bay but its so much more fun by ferry. You can skip traffic and parking hassles and instead enjoy beautiful views like this one:

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There’s something about travelling by ferry that changes your perspective and makes you feel like you are going on a happy adventure. Besides, you really don’t need a car for this picnic as there is nothing to pack other than your picnic blanket.

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We got on the ferry at Rose Bay which is the last ferry stop before Watsons Bay and a beautiful part of Sydney to wait around for the ferry to arrive. I easily found four hour free parking on New South Head Road, adjacent to the Rose Bay promenade.

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For us, it was a short but joyous ride with the wind in our hair and smiles on our faces as we soaked up the salty breeze and harbour views from the deck.

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We arrived conveniently at our next destination – Doyles on the Wharf – which is located as soon as you get off the ferry.

Ferries operate from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay between 10am and 3pm weekdays and between 9am and 6:30pm weekends and public holidays. Check the timetable to be safe. If you want to stretch out the tourist and/or ferry experience, get on at Circular Quay. 

 

FOOD:

DOYLES ON THE WHARF TAKEAWAY

Fishermans Wharf – Marine Parade, Watsons Bay

If we’re talking Watsons Bay and fish and chips, we’re talking Doyles.

Doyles is a Sydney institution owned and operated by the same family for over five generations since 1885 (!) which makes it Australia’s oldest seafood restaurant. You can therefore be assured they know all things seafood.

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The menu has a great mix of grilled and battered options as well as fresh seafood packs and oysters, so you can go as light or as filling as you like.

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I’m not generally a fan of batter so I ordered the grilled barramundi pack, but I managed to distract Kiki (cue point in opposite direction with loud, “What is THAT?!”) to pinch one of her calamari rings. The batter was light, crisp, and delicious and not at all ‘gloopy’, which is how I usually describe battered stuff. Next time, I will definitely be ordering the calamari as well!

The tartare sauce that came with my fish had the perfect balance of sweet and sharp and a nice lemony zing.

Oh and the oysters? Well, they were as amazing and fresh as they looked!

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If you’re after a more upmarket experience sans picnic blanket, you can head to the restaurant, Doyles on the Beach, which is just opposite Doyles on the Wharf. See the Doyles website for more information. Thanks to Doyles on the Wharf who supplied our delicious lunch!

 

PICNIC:

ROBERTSON PARK, WATSONS BAY

Marine Parade, Watsons Bay and just opposite Doyles on the Wharf!

Robertson Park in Watsons Bay has been a popular spot for picnickers since the land was handed over to the public in 1906. I’ve done my research and according to the 1910 Tourist Guide to Watsons Bay and Vaucluse, it was named an ‘agreeable resting place for visitors’, and yes, I have to, well, agree.

Why jostle for a table at a crowded cafe when you can have perfect, uninterrupted views of the Harbour on your own picnic blanket?! We set ours up under a beautiful old fig tree with leaves that gently rustled with the breeze as we settled in to enjoy our fish and chips.

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It was so good that there was nothing left for the seagulls.

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After lunch, we took a stroll past lines of boats, feeling like we were somewhere far, far away. Proof that doing something ‘touristy’ in your own city will give you that magical holiday feeling.

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Robertson Park has all the facilities you expect – toilets, children’s playground, park benches and tables – and some you don’t expect – a rotunda and ferry access. See the Woollahra Council website for more details.  

 

COFFEE & A CHEEKY ICE-CREAM SUNDAE:

WATSONS BAY BOUTIQUE HOTEL

1 Military Road, Watsons Bay

I know we have so far specialised in delicious takeaway coffee enjoyed via our picnic blanket, but sometimes opportunities come up in life that you don’t plan for and that you cannot say no to. This was one of them.

As we strolled past the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, a glamorous watering hole perfect for watching the sunset over a beer, our eagle (or seagull) eye spotted someone from afar eating an ice-cream sundae.

We headed inside and noticed the Hotel also did Toby’s Estate coffee (tick √) and so placed an order.

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And while we waited, we investigated the menu and realised the sundae was no ordinary sundae – it was a chocolate fudge brownie sundae with salted caramel ice-cream and candied walnuts. Yeah, like we could say no to that!

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Our only disappointment was the size of the spoon provided – the way the sundae glass is shaped meant we couldn’t completely get to the bottom and it was too good to leave even just a little bit behind.

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Check out the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel website here. You can also get takeaway coffee to enjoy on your picnic if your sundae willpower is stronger than ours!

Other things to do in Watsons Bay:

→  Go for a walk: Check out The Gap – an ocean cliff on the eastern side, which has views to Manly and the Pacific Ocean, as well as Hornby Lighthouse for great views.

→  Go for a swim: In summer, bring your swimmers for a nearby dip in Camp Cove. If you forget your swimmers or are simply more daring, then head to Lady Bay Beach (a legal nudist beach).

A final reflection

The other night, I had to go to Westfields to pick up a birthday present. Whilst I was there, I thought I might check out new season knitwear and four hours passed without me even noticing. Four hours. I heard the 15 minute closing announcement in David Jones and thought, “How the bleep did that happen?!” Time had simply evaporated as I unconsciously wandered without purpose or reason. I left with the frustration that I had spent almost a quarter of my day in a vegetative retail state.

On the other hand, what Mark and I have been noticing from our picnic escapades is how ‘full’ our time picnicking feels. This Watsons Bay adventure took the same amount of time as my shopping blackout period but there was so much more ‘bang for buck’, so to speak.

We laughed…

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We connected…

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We loved…

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And we lived.

L&M

Coming up on The Picnic Press: If you’re a dog lover, you will love what we have in store for you next week, plus we share our first recipe!

P.S If you enjoyed these photos, check out Mark’s professional work at Mark Jay Photography and on Facebook.