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My favourite city in the world: Queenstown

April 7, 2012 6 comments

I thought long and hard before creating this post with the title that it has. It’s a big call, especially given how many great places I have travelled to. I thought of the obvious places like Rome, Paris, Sydney, San Diego, Vegas, Madrid and then some less obvious but still amazing places like Playa del Carmen, Hamilton Island, Silver Star and Racha Island. But my fourth and current visit to Queenstown has proven its place at the top of my list. I surprised Puneet with the trip this Easter long weekend (she knew we were going somewhere but not where, at least until the damn fools at the aereporto check-in counter gave it up). The city is indescribable. From the pristine water to the friendly locals to the backdrop of mountains surrounding the town and everything in between it is nothing short of perfection.

Queenstown Lake

The air is clean and during the cooler months the smell of fireplaces burning all around town envelops the town. There is so much to do: if you’re into the great outdoors then you’ll find no shortage of adventures or if you prefer to spend your time indoors there are a plethora of quaint restaurants, bars and places to chill out. An obvious favourite of mine is Wine Tastes the wine tasting centre in the middle of town. The idea behind it is that upon entering you are given a card which you can then insert into any one of the many machines surrounding the edge of the restaurant littered with wine bottles and descriptions to get either a taste, half glass or full glass of the particular wine. It is an excellent way to taste wine and the little touches of being able to order cheese or dip platters as well as the warm decor only adds to it’s charm.

This isn’t going to be a particularly long entry, and I will be sure to update at least once more on the specifics of what we did while here but there are two things that have excited me greatly this time that did not on any prior trips. The first is the availability and awesomeness of the Bluff Oyster. I had never heard of it until on this trip when we were walking throughout the streets of town and written in chalk on every specials board of every restaurant was “BLUFF OYSTERS AVAILABLE NOW” or “BLUFF OYSTER SEASON HAS BEGUN”. And if the restaurant didn’t have a specials board, they pulled out a board just to announce the arrival and availability of the bluff oyster. Needless to say I was intrigued.

A little online research of the bluff oyster found countless references to it being the best oyster in the world or, if the reviewer was particularly nitty, it fell to the pitiful rank of one of the best oysters in the world. So, today with lunch, I ordered up half a dozen of the bad boys:

Bluff Oysters

Outstanding. 10/10. The best oyster (perhaps the best thing ever) I have eaten. For starters they were enormous. The were creamy, but not too creamy, especially for an oyster of the size. They were intense in flavour. The first thought that came to mind was “this is a sydney rock oyster on steroids”. They were served with a sherry vinaigrette but they didn’t need it and I didn’t use it. They were perfect as is or with a bit of lemon. Holy moly. You probably think i’m overselling these things, but i’m not. I’ll be eating them every day for the rest of the trip, that’s for sure.

I mentioned two things but the second doesn’t seem all the exciting (at least not yet) compared to what I’ve just written. Tomorrow we’re heading out on a private fishing trip with Clearwater Fishing for 5 hours – something I have wanted to do ever since my friend Daniel went on one in Sydney a couple of months ago. I’ll definitely be taking photos and reporting back with a trip report after the fact but for now i’ll just end with: Queenstown is the nuts and to be continued…

p.s I also found a cool tree:

Tree!

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2012 Aussie Millions Recap + A Restaurant Review: The Atlantic

February 13, 2012 3 comments

That time of year has come and gone again where pros and recreational players from all around Australia (+ those game enough to travel from anywhere else in the world) came together for the Aussie Millions Poker Championship in Melbourne. It’s always a different experience for everyone who comes: some grind a tonne of cash, some play all the tourneys, some just the Main Event and others stop by just for the fun non-poker related activities. For me and the group of friends I was staying with it was mostly a few tourneys + a lot of non-poker related fun. This included a bunch of fantastic meals, a trip to the aquarium and a road trip to Philip Island to see the penguin parade not to mention some more off the beaten track Melbourne exploration. Well I say “off the beaten track” but in reality it was still all very central and beatenly tracky. The thing is — at least when it comes to poker players — anything further than a 5 minute walk away from the casino is basically the outback. So we hopped on our kangaroos and discovered (or re-discovered where others had told us to go, and by others i mean the internet) a few funky bars and one particularly awesome coffee/breakfast joint (ok, this one was recommended by a real person, thanks to Jay “seabeast” Kinkade for recommending it on 2p2!).

We had rented a 3br apartment across the road from Crown where we all stayed. It was Puneet and I, Gavin (Gavz101) and his gf Olivia, Mike (gordo16) and his lady friend Emma and Daniel (he plays euro sites so he has no screen name) and his female counterpart, his 27″ monitor.

Puneet and I were only there for eight days, as were most of the others, so that in itself didn’t leave for a lot of time to fit in cash games, tournaments + other stuff. I personally restricted myself to two tournaments and zero cash games. It wasn’t so much a planned restriction but when there were other amazing and more fun things to do the prospect of grinding live poker just wasn’t high on the list. Besides, I was able to at least muster together the motivation to put in a few hours playing online each day. Daniel and I found ourselves waking up at 7-8am most mornings, walking down to St. Ali for some breakfast + amazing coffee then returning home to put in a few hours of poker. Those sessions definitely stemmed my already limited desires to play live cash.

I played the $5k Chinese poker event as well as the $2.5k PLO. I failed to cash in either but both were fun events and I had swapped 5% with both Daniel and Mike who placed 6th and 7th respectively in the PLO. Also congrats to Mike for placing 2nd in the Chinese poker tourney. I forget Mike, did you get a trophy for that? (excuse the inside joke). The only other notable result was Gavz bubbling the main event by a handful of spots.

On the food and drink side of things we managed to hit up quite a few places: Flower Drum, Spice Temple, Movida, Movida Aqui, Lucky Chan, The Atlantic and St. Ali. I’d like to review them all but that would take forever so I’ll start with one or two and add the rest either as smaller/quicker reviews and/or will post them later as I have more time. Let’s start with The Atlantic:

The Atlantic is a restaurant specialising in seafood (surprise surprise) within Crown along the Southbank side. I went here three times, all for lunch, and all were excellent. In addition to the restaurant part of the venue they also have an oyster bar and a downstairs cocktail lounge called The Den. I didn’t try either but Puneet and Emma went to the cocktail lounge one night while Mike and I were in tourneys for a drink and said it was very nice. Despite not trying the oyster bar per se, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to order oysters off the menu each time I went. They had four options: Cowell Bay (South Australia), Duck Bay (Tasmania), Cloudy Bay (Tasmania) and Moreton Island Rock (New South Wales). They varied in flavour and texture but all were excellent, very fresh, and perfectly shucked.

Oysters at The Atlantic

Oysters at The Atlantic

The food was consistently very good. Twice we ordered individual dishes and the third time we ordered a bunch of their sharing plate options, the food was great in all instances. The Smoked Slow Roasted Quail with grilled figs, rocket salad, quail egg and blasamic jus gras was my favourite starter and of all the mains that I had and tried the Steamed Wild Barramundi with confit fennel, blood orange, fennel foam and pink peppercorn powder was the best. Drinks went off without a hitch too with all the wine we ordered being great not to mention the excellent cocktails. I’ll give the food & drink an 8.5/10.

Steamed Barramundi from The Atlantic

Steamed Barramundi from The Atlantic

Service was a bit of a mixed bag. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exceptional either. A couple of times we had to wait exceptionally long to place our orders or ask for something else but for the most part it was decent enough. On one occasion our waiter or the manager deduced we were poker players and it was a lunch right before the Chinese poker event Mike and I were playing so he immediately ran to ask the kitchen to rush our food out – that was a nice touch. Overall I give the service a 7.5/10.

The Ambiance of the restaurant was incredibly pleasant. Everything from the decor, layout, lighting and presentation of the space to the indoor/outdoor seating areas and individual rooms that gave you a very private dining experience worked wonderfully together. I sat in three completely different areas each time we went and none were even close to the others. They have a large space and use it very well — it’s not just one giant seating area with a bunch of tables. It’s far enough away from the gaming floor that you could convince yourself you’re not even at a Casino, especially if you enter from the Southbank side. I give the Ambiance a 9/10.

The Engine Room at The Atlantic

The Engine Room at The Atlantic

Value for money is always a tricky one. You can usually expect to pay a premium for any restaurant located within or in close proximity to a casino (especially one as prestigious as Crown which prides itself on offering high-end dining). The Atlantic is no exception but it certainly doesn’t use this fact as an excuse to unreasonably inflate their prices either which is refreshing. It’s definitely not a cheap eat, or a “cafe style” lunch but for a bit of a splurge and consistently good food it lives up to expectations. I’ve definitely had worse food for the same or more money and comparing it to the other options available in and around Crown it fares well. Oysters will set you back $3.50 to $4.50 each with a dozen ranging from $38 to $48 depending on the variety. Starters hover around the $25-$30 range and most main courses hit around the $40-$45 mark. Exceptions are the crayfish platter or “today’s catch” which are both sold at market price. All things considered I give The Atlantic an 8/10 for value for money. If the food wasn’t as good as it was this number would definitely drop quite quickly.

Verdict: I give The Atlantic a 33/40. If you’re in or near Crown and you like seafood, this is the place to go. I’ll definitely be returning.

After the Aussie Millions we returned home and Gavin and Olivia came too to spend a few days in sunny rainy Sydney. We made it out to the Hunter Valley one night where we hit up some wineries and had an incredible meal at Muse (more on this later). On the one day of sun we had we took full advantage: an afternoon at Bondi Beach, evening hanging out in our local park by the water and by night we had a feast. I BBQ’d some chicken wings then cooked my infamous rib-eye’s inside. Gavz and Liv made one of the best chocolate cakes in existence and Puneet was on cocktail duty. A pretty much perfect night.

Cake & Cocktail Production

Cake & Cocktail Production

I have much more to say and share but for now I’ll wrap this post up. My plans for the immediate future are more online grinding for a week until I head to India for 8 days for a cousin’s wedding. I haven’t been back for a few years (far too long!) and i’m sure the wedding will be amazing so i’m incredibly excited — i’ll have to remember to take plenty of photos and post some up when I return. Hope everyone is well – Cheers!

Restaurant Review – Jonahs at Whale Beach

January 16, 2012 7 comments

One of my blog goals for the years is to review more of the restaurants Puneet and I go to. It’s no secret that I love good food and with so many great options available both in Sydney and elsewhere these days it can be hard to keep track of what’s good and what isn’t. Hopefully the reviews help others in their choices + serve as reminders for us for the future.

I’ve thought a bit about how to rate each place and what categories to use and have decided on the following: A total score will be awarded out of 40.

10 points each food & drink, service, ambiance and value for money. They’re all pretty self explanatory. Value for money can be tricky when you’re comparing a $150 dinner to a $30 dinner as the former is rarely worth five times as much as the latter (diminishing returns blah blah blah) so i’ll try and use it as an indicator for evaluating a place against other places of a similar price point. There are definitely times when an expensive dinner seems totally worth it and other times when it doesn’t, similarly many times a value dinner will be incredible or just terrible.

Anyway, we have been to several places worthy of review over the past few weeks and I expect to get to the others shortly but to begin with, here’s a review of Jonahs at Whale Beach.

Jonahs Whale Beach

Jonahs at Whale Beach

website

Jonahs is a boutique hotel with restaurant and outside bar located high atop a cliff at Whale Beach. It is a part of the Relais Chateaux (from their website):

Relais & Châteaux is an exclusive collection of 475 of the finest hotels and gourmet restaurants in 55 countries.

Established in France in 1954, the Association’s mission is to spread its unique art de vivre across the globe by selecting outstanding properties with a truly unique character.

Furthermore, Relais & Châteaux is also a family of hoteliers and Grands Chefs from all over the world who share a passion for, and a personal commitment to, ensuring their guests are privy to moments of exceptional harmony. To choose Relais & Châteaux is to experience an unforgettable celebration of the senses.

From the vineyards in Napa valley to the Northern beaches of Sydney, from the olive trees in Provence to the lodges in South Africa, Relais & Châteaux offers a chance to explore the Route du Bonheur and discover a special place in a variety of destinations.

The Relais & Châteaux signature reflects this ambition: “ALL AROUND THE WORLD, UNIQUE IN THE WORLD.“

Jonahs was somewhere we had been wanting to go to for a long time, and we had high expectations. It didn’t disappoint. Before we even arrived and were driving up the cliff side winding roads we knew we were in for a treat of a view. The restaurant was quaint and house-esque with the decor of a modern French slash contemporary Australian beach side dwelling. We were greeted with great service and seated immediately. We elected to order our starters from the tapas menu and enjoy them on the outside deck while having a drink and enjoying the view then finish with our mains back in the main restaurant area.

Food & Drink

We started with Marinated Sicilian olives and fried Marcona almonds as well as some Garlic prawns Andalusia style. It’s hard to get olives wrong and i’m glad to say that these were up to par. The prawns were especially fantastic. They weren’t overwhelmed by garlic as is often the case and while they were doused in a good amount of oil it was very high quality and not at all over the top.

Our cocktails were very good. I had a gin martini and Puneet had a lychee martini. Again it’s hard to get those too wrong but it’s always good to know a place can do them right.

Before our mains came out I had also ordered their Half dozen Sydney rock oysters served with lemon and raspberry vinegar mignonette. I’m a big fan of natural oysters so any addition usually has to be pretty spectacular for me to like it better than the standard. The mignonette was good but a little too sweet for my personal liking. The oysters themselves were great.

Jonahs Oysters

For mains I had the Spring Lamb — Roasted saddle and  herb crumbed cutlet with zucchini and peas trifolati, baby zucchini flowers and pea purée. Again, very good. The whole dish blended together very well with both the flavours and aromatics complementing each other. The lamb was cooked to perfection, some of the best I have ever had.

Jonahs Spring Lamb

Puneet had the Bomba Rice on a creamy risotto with baby vegetables, semi dried tomatoes and Pedro Ximenez Sherry wine reduction. This was a bit thick and heavy without a tonne of flavour. The flavours that were there worked well and it was a tasty dish for sure but it wasn’t really in the same class as the other food we had.

Jonahs Bomba Rice

We ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir from Oregan in the US for our meal (I can’t recall the exact name, shame on me). It was excellent.

We were too stuffed to fit dessert in by the end.

Overall I give the food an 8/10.

Service

The service was good but not phenomenal. We were greeted well and everyone was polite and helpful throughout the evening but once we had been seated we had to wait a while and try and flag down a waiter a few times before getting our order in. That slight annoyance aside, the meal went smoothly. They were very accommodating in letting us have the first part of our meal outside and even brought over a blanket when they noticed it was a bit chilly. I give the service a 7.5/10.

Ambiance

View from Jonahs

Ten out of ten. Perched atop a cliff looking out over the pacific ocean with waves crashing into the rocks and beach below it’s hard to give this place any less. It was quiet, secluded, special. There’s not much else to say – in terms of places with a view to eat in Sydney (better yet, the world) you would be hard pressed to find better than Jonahs. 10/10.

Value for money

Jonahs isn’t cheap but you pay for the view. It also delivers in terms of food quality and competent service. There are probably better places you can go to for a purely fine-dining experience and similarly you can get away with views close to this for much cheaper but combining the two is a rarity. Overall it delivered what it promises without disappointment. I give it an 7.5/10 in terms of value for money.

The Verdict

I give Jonahs at Whale Beach a 33/40. I would definitely recommend it to others and it is somewhere everyone should go to at least once. If we were to go back anytime soon I think we would sit on the outside deck and have a few drinks + tapas rather than opt for the full meal. It would be a wonderful place to chill out with a few people and take in the view.

Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

April 20, 2011 2 comments

Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo 

Elements of Poker

4.8 / 5

I haven’t bought a poker book in 3 years so the mere fact that I ordered Elements of Poker speaks highly of the recommendations I had been given about it. I am here to add to that list of recommendations. I finished reading the book 12 hours after collecting it from my mail box. I didn’t set out to finish it that soon, and it’s a decent sized book — It’s just that easy to read, that enthralling, and that good.

There are passages and quotes that hit home hard and that will be read and re-read for the rest of my poker career. The book focuses on elements (144 to be exact) that Tommy has divided into several categories: Universal Elements, Table Poker, Internet Poker, Cash Games, Tournaments, Hold’em, Limit Hold’em, No-Limit Hold’em and Elements of Performance. As a primarily online pot-limit omaha cash game player you would think the book is largely useless to me. Not true. While a lot of the elements did not strictly apply to my branch of the poker tree there were certainly tidbits in each and every section that provided meaningful insight into my game. And I could tell that for someone who actually did have a vested interest in any of those said categories, the advice was very good.

Hell, the Universal Elements section alone is worth the book’s weight in gold. As I was reading the book I had in my mind that I would write a review, and give the book a score out of 5. After reading the Universal Elements chapter I was ready to give the book a 5. I don’t think I disagreed with anything in the book. The only reason that i’m knocking off a few points from a perfect 5 is that I wish the book went into more detail about a few points it makes. That’s not to say the book isn’t detailed – it is – it’s probably me being greedy and wanting the book to never end. I might have to shell out for some private coaching now (assuming he isn’t fully booked through 2035).

I don’t care if you have only been playing poker for a month or if you’ve been playing for 60 years. This book will help you. It will improve your winrate. A hundred thousand times over. It will save (and thus make) you more money than you can imagine. It will teach you everything you didn’t know you needed to know about poker, and life, and your poker life.

Elements of Poker isn’t about what hands to play, pot odds, reverse implied odds, check-raising the river or merging your range. It doesn’t preach poker theory and it won’t tell you how to play your hand. Everybody has an A game and everybody has a C game. This book is about closing the gap between the two (among other things). Imagine if your C game was only slightly worse than your A game. Just think about that for a minute. Imagine if you almost always played your A game and almost never your C game. Tommy doesn’t give you a 3 step guide to achieving this (nobody can do that) but he does give you the tools and knowledge required to get there on your own. I start working towards that today. When do you start?

Categories: Poker, Reviews

Mass Effect & I’m Winning Again!

April 11, 2011 3 comments

Mass Effect

I’ve been a fan of RPGs for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories was being oh so proud that I could play a particular RPG (the name of the game is long forgotten) on a Sega console with the controller behind my back! ..I was 4 at the time. Since then I made the standard progression that all gamers have made: the final fantasy series, baldur’s gate, diablo, etc etc. With my latest downswing came bad play, and one of my favourite ways to get out of a poker slump is to spend a few hours video-gaming it up. Enter Mass Effect.

I made a post in the 2+2 Video Game forum asking for an RPG recommendation and this game came highly recommended. The reviews sounded amazing and I was excited.

I gotta say, I’m a bit disappointed. It’s probably just me missing the old days but whatever happened to numbers in RPGs?! Where you’d actually see the damage you inflict. Where leveling up mattered because now you do that much more damage and can upgrade a spell and see it’s effect in the very next battle. So the battle system isn’t my cup of tea, nor is the equipment/item/mod setup they have going on. It just seems very basic and straightforward without much room for customisation or experimentation. Similar to the borderlands equipment setup. Oh how I miss Diablo. Oh how I miss Baldur’s Gate.

Maybe the glory days of the RPGs I once loved will never return; maybe they will. I have high hopes (probably too high) for Diablo III – if it is anything like the first two (or better?!?!) then good god will I be happy.

The storyline in Mass Effect is outstanding. Perhaps the best and most captivating storyline since FF VII. It’s a pity that the game play isn’t what I had in mind. I’m probably going to finish the game (for all I know I’m almost there! games these days are depressingly short) but if there was a Mass Effect book, movie or TV show I would probably go and experience the story that way and not open the game again.

There’s my little rant & review of what most people seem to think is a spectacular game. I’m not one to go against the masses usually but there you have it. At the end of the day it served its purpose. My poker results have turned around and I am finally seeing the good old green line move northward again. I haven’t changed my game at all. I’m just getting better starting hands, having some more hands hold up by the river and missing fewer flops. It’s silly to think how a downswing can cause even a online poker dinosaur like me to question my game. Logic goes out the window no matter how hard I try to hold it down. I hope I remember this in my next downswing / break-even stretch, and I hope it helps me play better and start winning sooner. But I know it won’t. It never does.

MTD April 11 2011