Everybody hurts, sometimes. REM
A BITING, bitter Brisbane wind is howling outside and I am inside, howling too. I’d love to say I have a case of the winter blues, but if only it were that easy. I am back home after a hectic six months of travel and I am struggling to earth myself, drop anchor. When you are out in the world, living the frenetic life of a travel writer, hunting and gathering the stories of others, it’s all too convenient to forget your own story. And that story is loneliness.
One in four Australians now live alone and despite having greater electronic connectivity than ever before, we are less connected. A recent article in the Guardian online, penned by Penelope Blackmore, examines the latest casualty of our disconnected world. In the United States, Uber has just launched a new service in which you can now request that you are not disturbed during your ride by the driver speaking with you. That’s right, cordial chit chat has just flown out the window.
In her piece, Blackmore argues that we can outsource almost every “irritation” in our lives, but we can’t outsource loneliness.
“Studies have shown that regular interactions with weak ties, or acquaintances, can drastically improve your mental health and feelings of connectedness,” she writes.
“So while we might think there’s no point waiting around at our local coffee shop when you can pre-order your flat white on an app, studies prove us wrong.
“Baristas, cashiers, yoga teachers – these are all people that might recognise you, and people that are worth talking to, even if it’s just a quick nod of the head.”
Baristas, cashiers, yoga teachers…her words resonate with me on this particular day, when the black dog of loneliness (or is that 10 cats for a single woman?) is nipping at my heels, poking and prodding at me with thoughts that I’m worthless, unlovable, all alone in the world. I’ve had a long, dark night of the soul that seems to affect writers who care about their words, and the world. Some days you wonder if you’re making any difference, on others, you doubt your basic ability to write. And then you panic. Because without your words, what are you? I have awoken on this particular morning in this precise frame of mind. So I force myself to return to my yoga studio that I’ve been neglecting for the past 18 months. Due in part to travel and part to laziness. I walk into the studio, tell the yoga teacher that “something” told me I needed to come back, and then burst into tears. “I need to release today, so please ignore me” I say. She understands, and tells me to simply resort to child’s pose at any point during the class. I make it through the class, noting how badly my balance is off, and leave in tears.
Around the corner, I pause at the second hand book store run by Lifeline volunteers. I say hello to the elderly gentleman behind the counter, and he greets me with a hearty hello back. I linger around the travel biographies section, my favourite genre, and see if any juicy new old books have arrived. On this chilly, crappy day, I want to escape into the arms of another writer, live vicariously through their travels, while I collapse on the couch. I should be writing words myself, but I’ll tell myself that this is research. Even better, the biographies are half priced and with their wizened, yellow pages, they smell so good. Of wild adventures, love, loss and ultimately triumph.
The next destination in my world which has shrunk considerably for now is the local coffee shop. Simon, the owner, sees more of me during winter, when I can finally bask in the winter sunshine after a long, hot summer. I am wearing sunglasses to hide my red eyes. I ask for a hot chocolate but then realise the Eftpos machine is out of order and I don’t have any cash on my person. Simon senses I need this hot chocolate, and simply says “no worries, fix me up next time.” I sit in the sun and fat, salty tears are streaming down my face. Anyone noticing me on this wild and windy day will think my eyes are running from the weather. I clutch my hot chocolate and nudge the karma fairy in Simon’s direction. If only he knew how much this cuppa means today.
Back home on this day, like the wind which is making my windows and bones rattle, I can’t stop howling. I try, but it doesn’t work. So I acquiesce to the sadness. Sometimes life’s answers are held in the pauses between the next breath. The next big adventure. Sometimes they aren’t. I have no answers today. I have friends scattered around the world, and in my hometown of Brisbane, yet I yearn to belong. I crave the next great love affair of my life. On a marvellous night, I want a moon dance. I search for a constant community with which I can connect, not merely dip in and out sporadically.
People think the life of a travel writer is one of pure glamour. And for 10, maybe 20 per cent of the time, this is true. But for the rest, it’s bloody, hard work. One of constant pitching stories and rejections. God, the rejections. Readers will stalk you from around the world to tell you that your story sucks. You spend an enormous amount of time chasing unpaid invoices, juggling Peter to pay Paul, wondering why it is so hard for publishers to pay you what is rightly yours. And for writers such as myself, it can be a lonely life on your own, out on the road. But you keep going, driven by a love of the written word, and the desire to understand the world. I know what a great privilege I have been afforded.
Blackmore sums up loneliness in her excellent article.
“Instead of plugging in your AirPods and listening to a podcast on how to better connect with your loved ones, or how to market your startup, or how to be as productive as humanly possible, try something new,” she says.
“Make small talk, make eye contact. Perhaps give a non-creepy smile to someone that looks like they need it.
“Walk to the train station without distraction, taking in the smells and sounds of your town. And for goodness sake, have a chat to your Uber driver. You never know, you might even enjoy it.”
Even the Pope has weighed into the conversation this week, during his Pentecostal Mass, saying “the more we use social media, the less social we are becoming.” The New York Post has quoted his warning that the temptation to cling to “our little group, to the things and people we like,” saying it’s only a “small step from a nest to a sect, even within the church.”
Two days later, the external and internal howling has finally relented and I return to my yoga studio. A woman I’d noticed the other day smiles at me when she sees me again. My teacher and I discuss my physical and mental release. I drop into the coffee shop and tell Simon I’m here to repay my debt. And I want to pay it forward, buying a coffee for the next person who needs one. His supreme act of kindness has reminded me to be kind, to myself, and others. I’m sipping my hot chocolate when a woman interrupts me. “Excuse me, but thank you, they just told me you paid for my coffee,” she says.
“My name is Chris,” I reply.
“I’m Aleisha,” she says, beaming as she skips off into the winter sunshine.
And all of a sudden, I’m smiling too.
IT had been a terrific trip. I’d trekked for seven, blistering and beautiful hours through Queensland’s gorgeous Carnarvon Gorge, stayed up late partaking in star gazing tours one night, watching for yellow-bellied gliders the next. Heck, I’d even cuddled an echidna (and if you think that’s a little tricky, you are right). Hold it like you’re about to eat a hamburger, my host advised. Which was fine, except a hamburger doesn’t feel like you are holding 1000 sewing needles, nor does it wiggle in your hands.
On my last morning, I expressed reservations about flying in a helicopter as I am not a fan of small aircraft. Give me an A380 and four Rolls Royce engines any day. Preferably Business Class, while we’re at it. But the life of a travel writer is nothing if not many and varied, and I not only survived my helicopter ride over a neighbouring gorge, which involved some spectacular banking so we could see the valley below, but enjoyed it. As my gay boys back in Brisbane would say, focus on the cockpit and everything will be fine…
Like most things in life, it’s not the things you fear, but the things you don’t even consider, that will surprise you. Later that same day, I was on a Fokker 100 out of Rockhampton airport, bound for Brisbane, on a clear-sky night. In 45 minutes I would be touching down in Brisbane at the end of several months of back-to-back trips. My own, glorious bed, beckoned. And then, suddenly, the aircraft plummeted. Not slightly, but by 5000 feet I was later told by the cabin crew. And then it pitched upwards, only to drop again, and again.
My fellow passengers grasped for sick bags, I clutched at the arm of the young bloke next to me, at the same time apologising profusely for being all handsy. We were caught in a storm that wouldn’t release us, and for the next 10 minutes we continued to lurch around the sky. There was a five-minute reprieve, and then it continued again. So bad was this out-of-the-blue storm, we had to abort landing…and go back up into the storm for another 30 minutes before we finally landed.
I was once a good flyer, until all of a sudden I wasn’t. I blame years as a news reporter as the reason behind this. You experience and write about everything, including airline disasters, and eventually some of it sticks. I’ve tried everything over the years, meditation, wiggling my toes (apparently this interrupts the fear pathway to the brain), drinking (plenty of it), prescription drugs, and a combination of prescription drugs AND drinking which has resulted in me hitting the slightest bump and declaring “we’re all going to die.” But one of the best remedies, I have found, when encountering turbulence, is to have a great playlist on hand on your device. Treat this turbulence like a carnival ride, hold on, and go with the flow. And so, I give you, my Perfect Playlist for Turbulent Flying.
1.Stay The Night, by James Blunt
This is potentially the perfect take-off song, particularly with its opening lyrics. “It’s 72 degrees, Zero chance of rain, It’s been a perfect day, We’re all spinning on our heels, So far away from real.” Not only is this such a sunny song, you’ll be so distracted by trying to convert 72 degrees Fahrenheit into Celsius you won’t even realise the wheels have left the tarmac.
2.Daniel, by Elton John
A soothing song for when you are flying into the night and have said goodbye to a loved one. “Daniel is travelling tonight on a plane, I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain.” Who cares if you are only headed to the Sunshine Coast and not Spain, and you’ll be back later tonight? It’s the thought that counts. Except, of course, if you have just broken up with a bloke called Daniel. Then you should be listening to Elton’s I’m Still Standing. Stuff you, Daniel.
3.Uptown Girl, by Billy Joel
Yes, you’ve been living in your white bread world, and now you’re in the ultimate uptown, 40,000 feet above the ground. Enjoy it at least as long as Billy’s marriage to Christie Brinkley, particularly if you are living the rock-star lifestyle and have been upgraded (see my previous note about Business Class).
4.Working My Way Back To You, by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
So, the plane is starting to lurch around but hey, Frankie Valli reminds you that you are working your way back. To You. To Who? Who cares? Just don’t confuse Frankie Valli (who is still alive) with Buddy Holly (who died in a plane crash). You should never, ever play Buddy Holly on a flight.
5.Holy Grail, by Hunters and Collectors
Look, if you are going to go down in some fiery plane crash, let it be to good old Aussie pub band like Hunters, and seriously, what could be more fitting for your final descent than a song about the Holy Grail? And the chorus, should you hit turbulence, is rather fitting. “I’ve been high, and I’ve been low, But I’ve got nowhere else to go, There’s nowhere else to go.” Except down. You are going down. By hey how great were the 80s?
6.Human, by The Killers
“And sometimes I get nervous, When I see an open door, Close your eyes, Clear your heart”. No matter how nervous you get, don’t open the plane door. Just don’t.
7.All The Lovers, by Kylie Minogue
This song is a bit of a final montage to all those you have loved…and may never see again.
8.F**k You, By Lily Allen
Another song that pays homage to your past, but this is for those you hope to never see again.
9.If Tomorrow Never Comes, by Ronan Keating
Speaks for itself. (Note to my sister: make sure those travel editors pay those outstanding invoices in my in-tray)
10.Against The Wind, by The Tributes
Because, ultimately, no matter how turbulent and terrifying, you will survive this flight. Against the wind.
Note to readers: The Global Goddess takes hundreds of flights each year, and hasn’t dropped dead yet (nor been arrested for groping hot, young blokes or staring at the cockpit of pilots). Happy Flying!
That’s right. The one and only. Regular readers will know I have erotic dreams about Hugh and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only Australian woman, or man for that matter, in this situation. The film set for the movie Australia may have long departed Bowen, but Hugh’s spirit lives on. Swim at Horseshoe Bay, where Hugh used to take a dip, or even better, head to Jocheims Bakery and wrap your mouth around Hugh, by ordering the Jackman Special Hunky Beef pie.
2.Coral Cove Resort
This 4.5-star apartment building, perched on the edge of the Coral Sea, is Bowen’s most luxurious and deservedly so. Opt for a penthouse or sub-penthouse and sit on your yawning balcony overlooking Grays Bay, sipping champagne and waiting for a spectacular sunset over the ocean. Every one of these tastefully-decorated apartments has a sea view, so you can’t go wrong. Order a tasting platter from Meraki Whitsundays, which also has a café overlooking the beach at Horseshoe Bay (where Hugh likes to swim), and you never need leave your apartment.
3.The Cove Restaurant
Everyone I spoke with about Bowen raved about the local Chinese place here. And there I was, picturing some badly-decorated joint from 1970s Queensland serving sweet and sour pork. Wrong. The Cove Restaurant, which is on the ground floor of Coral Cove Resort, serves delicious Chinese and Thai food. Feast on the likes of Local Barra Fish Fillet with Ginger and Shallot while enjoying a North Queensland sunset (preferably with Hugh). It’s Asian food, with an Aussie twist.
While The Global Goddess actually has three sisters, none of them live in Bowen. Instead, I am referring to Le Sorelle, Three Sisters Coffee House and Florist. Three local girls, Alexandra, Bianca and Virginnia, who also happen to be sisters, have banded together to open this cute café with its faux grass walls and ceiling. You’ll find fake and real flowers here (Hugh, are you reading this?), as well as good coffee among an extensive menu.
Breakfast was so delicious I forgot to take a photo…
5.The Big Mango
Yes, it’s a bit daggy, but Queenslanders love their big things (um, Hugh…), and once you’ve arrived at The Big Mango, you know you’ve arrived in Bowen. Pause for a mango sorbet here or to buy some mango soap, learn about all the things you can do in this alluring area, and take an obligatory snap with this huge yellow icon. What I didn’t know is that what we call the Bowen mango is actually the Kensington Pride, developed in Bowen and considered the best eating mango due the fact it is not stringy, is sweet, travels well and looks good. It was Indian horse traders who actually introduced mangoes to north Queensland.
6.The Grandview Hotel
This heavenly hotel, which turns 100 this year, has recently undergone a facelift. Outside, it’s still that stately Queenslander building which was a popular haunt for cast and crew filming Australia (Hugh was here) but inside, it takes its exposed brick and timber and blends it with a tasteful Hamptons feel. Think plush olive couches, plenty of cushions, great lighting. There’s old black and white photos adorned along the bar above which sits a boat, while a ship mast in the courtyard has been salvaged off another vessel. In the women’s toilet, you’ll love the black and white photo of Bowen’s bathing beauties, which dates back to 1948.
Again, I was too busy eating/thinking about Hugh, and forgot to take a photo
7.Bowen Summergarden Cinemas
Built in 1948, this is the longest continuous-running cinema in Queensland, and potentially Australia. Even better, owner Ben De Luca has worked here for the past 56 years, since he was first a trainee projectionist at 15 years of age. Ben’s passion for film is palpable and while the cinema has transformed from one theatre with hessian chairs into two modern theatres, this institution retains its old-world charm. Walk down “Catherine Martin’s Hall” and admire signed movie posters from the cast of Australia (you know Hugh…). Ben was named Queensland Cinema Pioneer of the Year in 2018 and knows a thing or two about the flicks.
Bowen boasts eight beaches within a 10-minute drive. That’s one for every day of the week, plus a spare. And each beach has its own distinct personality. Kings Beach is for the Robinson Crusoe traveller who likes to take their dog for a walk; Rose Bay is ideal for snorkelling; The Front Beach is for families where kids chase soldier crabs and frolic in a water park; Gordon Beach is off-the-beaten track which is great for fishing; Queen’s Beach is the longest with a 5km stretch of sand; Grays Bay is for sunset drinks, paddle boarding and kayaking; Murray Bay is a hidden local secret found down a little track; and on Horseshoe Bay you can be snorkelling reef with 10 kicks off the shore. Did I mention Hugh Jackman used to swim at Horseshoe Bay? Which brings me to ninth beach. Nudie Beach. As the name suggests, it’s for those who like to get their gear off. Hugh, I know you’re reading this…
I AM sipping a Spanish rose wine, the faintest colour of blood, which is apt, as I am perched among Spain’s largest collection of bull fighting memorabilia, staring down several mounted angry bull heads. But this is not a gory story, but one of love. It’s a crisp, damp November evening in Pamplona, in northern Spain, and I am crouched around a table with Senora Maria del Carmen Tahoces. While I ask clumsy questions, and the beautiful Senora attempts to answer them, my tour guide Francisco Glaria Baines, is tasked with the toughest job of all, translating our conversation which swings from bulls, to love, to loss, and life itself.
I am on a 10-day Novelties of Northern Spain tour with Collette Vacations and while my fellow travellers have since departed Maria’s home museum, which pays homage to bull fighting and her husband Marcelimo who died 10 years ago, I have asked to stay on. To dance with the bull. To find out more about this enigmatic woman who lives among these creatures. While Maria speaks no English, and I, no Spanish, we both understand the language of love and loss.
Before she met Marcelimo, Maria never went to a bull fight, she wasn’t interested. He was a doctor and on their first date they ended up at a ring. She admits she didn’t love bull fighting, or indeed her future husband at first sight, but both passions grew. That was back in 1967 and by 1970 they were married and had moved into Pamplona’s most famous bull running street, where the bulls turn a sharp right at Dead Man’s Corner and head straight for Pamplona’s bull ring. She lives there still.
When he died 10 years ago, Marcelimo left behind two children, six grandchildren, and a deeply heart-broken wife. But his love of bull fighting lives on. On this particular day, and for the first time in her grieving journey, Maria has opened her house to our tour group. Behind this unassuming entry lays Spain’s largest collection of bull-fighting memorabilia. There’s those bull heads mounted on the wall, a replica bull ring crafted by her husband, magical matador capes and even a Salvador Dali painting. It’s a huge step for the Senora to open her house to strangers – these artefacts are usually only reserved for Spain’s bullfighting community – and both her courage and grief are palpable.
I want to tell her how sorry I am for her loss, but I do not possess the Spanish words and it seems trite to communicate this through Francisco. These are words that are too important to be lost in translation. Instead, I tell her she is beautiful, for indeed she is.
“When my husband was alive, this was an open house for the bull world, you didn’t have to ask to come in,” she says.
“After he died, for two years, I could not do anything. We had everything in boxes for a renovation and I needed to put it out again.
“In the beginning, today was very stressful, but once I saw your reaction, I calmed. I was worried you would not like bull fighting.
“Bull fighting is not just what is in the arena. People only centre of the blood part. You need to make the decision to go for the human or the animal.”
While I don’t entirely understand bull fighting, I understand love. I clutch at small talk, and tell her my family are graziers in country Queensland. I know a little of El Toro. But not enough.
I ask Senora Maria whether she still goes to bull fights, but she says she can’t yet return to the one in Pamplona.
“I cannot go in Pamplona yet as it makes me sad,” she says.
“We always went to the same seats, me going alone, I cannot go there.”
I finish the interview, knowing I’ve already prodded deep enough around this woman’s grief. On the way out, I hug Senora Maria and thank her for sharing her story and her home. She tells me, through Francisco, that I am welcome to bring my family to visit and stand on her beautiful balcony during the Running of the Bulls. Sometimes you don’t need to speak the language to connect. It’s raining as I step out into the cold, night air and stroll along the empty, cobbled streets of Pamplona. I think of Senora Maria and her love story and a smile graces my face as I pluck my way back to the warmth of my hotel, walking the route of those running bulls and a love story which endures.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette
Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
IT’S a wonderful warm day and I am ambling along La Rambla, Barcelona’s beautiful and bustling pedestrian street, before pulling up a perch for a sultry Sangria and some prime people-watching. I sashay on, in Spanish style, arriving at a teeming Tapas bar, all colour and life on this glorious day with customers politely pointing and seemingly shouting for these tasty treats. Dinner and a show? You had me at rioja. I have arrived in Spain’s sexiest city earlier this morning, having flown in fashion aboard Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900 aircraft from Brisbane, via Singapore, with a brief touch down in Milan, before my final destination…Barcelona. And I immediately fall in love.
This jaunty journey for me begins before I even leave the ground in Brisbane. Last September, Singapore Airlines turned the heat up on the competitive airline food market, launching its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. And I have done just that, booked the cook, a few days prior to flying pre-ordering a main meal from a selection of options with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of Chefs, including Matt Moran. I had the privilege of taste-testing these delicious dishes on the ground last year, but I had never tried them at 30,000 feet. According to experts, you lose 30 per cent of your ability to taste at altitude, so would the dish I chose stack up?
But before I board, I am ushered into Brisbane’s SilverKris Lounge, a place I last passed the Duchess of Cornwell, Camilla, who was in town earlier this year for the Commonwealth Games with Prince Charles. Camilla, bless her, took one look at me and sighed, just as it occurred to me from where I knew this familiar face flanked by police. I may not be a blue blood, but I am treated like royalty in the lounge, with staff remembering me from previous visits, enthusiastically encouraging me to try “every dish on the menu”. “But I’ve Booked the Cook onboard,” I plead. I defer and munch my way through the lounge’s Asian-inspired delights including delicious dim sum and some Aussie treats with a twist as well such as mac and cheese infused with truffles.
Sated, I take my Business Class seat on Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900ULR aircraft, bound for Singapore. Singapore Airlines is the launch customer of these beautiful birds, taking delivery in late-September. In October this year, Singapore Airlines used this aircraft to launch the world’s longest commercial flight between Singapore and New York, covering 16,7000km with a travel time of 18hours and 45 minutes. By comparison, I have around 8 hours on which to sip creamy Charles Heidsieck champagne, before ordering a full-bodied 2015 Bordeaux to accompany my lunch. I’ve pre-booked the lamb and it’s as plump and juicy as I remember trying on the ground. In fact, I could be at a five-star restaurant. The other great thing about the Singapore Airlines’ afternoon flight from Brisbane is that it’s a meal, movie, a nap and snack before you are touching down at Changi Airport. On board, the Business Class service is so impeccable, the crew fold and tidy your bedding whenever you rise to stretch your legs, meaning you come back to a fully-made flat-bed every time, something I’ve never experienced on any other airline.
In Changi, I am ushered to the First Class Lounge and it is a first-class affair with a swanky bar where the bar man mixes your drinks and delivers them to you, and food is cooked to order, before again, being served to your seat. On this connection to Europe, there’s time for a shower with pristine facilities and thoughtful toiletries you’ll need for the next leg, before boarding, just before midnight, to Barcelona (via Milan). On the second leg I’m in Premium Economy which is a great, affordable alternative with the same service and meal offerings you receive in Business Class. Here, the seats remind me of the first-generation Business Class seats favoured by airlines before flat-bed became the norm. The only quirk in this entire journey was the refreshment served between Milan and Barcelona which fell short of Singapore’s impeccable meals, with my tuna, mayo and lettuce sandwich tasting less like tuna and more like mayo and lettuce. The young Aussie girl in the seat beside me, who raves about Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy because of her long legs, says the same about her vegetarian roll, which is simply some soggy eggplant plonked onto bread. I note on the sandwich packet that it’s an Italian caterer, and may be something for Singapore Airlines to review, given this airline is excellent in every other way. I arrive in Barcelona early in the morning, and am ready to amble along La Rambla with a Singapore spring in my step following my flights.
My journey home, from Munich to Brisbane, via Singapore, is in Economy Class and is again, effortless. One of the reasons I personally book Singapore Airlines is that even in Economy Class, you are still granted that Singapore smile and service. There’s refreshing hot towels, speedy service, and on both of these legs, Singapore has taken the trouble to ensure every Economy Class passenger has a spare seat between them. This is something I’ve never seen any other airline do, preferring to let guests battle it out for space in the air. It’s little wonder this airline continues to win awards. In February in London, Singapore Airlines was awarded three top awards at Cellars in the Sky including the coveted Gold Medal for Best Overall Cellar. In April, it was crowned Best Airline in the World in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. And in July, it was named the World’s Best Airline in Skytrax’s World Airline Awards. And it’s easy to see why. Any airline can fluke good service once or twice, but you cannot fake that consistently supreme service offered by Singapore Airlines, regardless of which class you choose to fly. Consider booking your next trip with Singapore Airlines and treat yourself to an upgrade, particularly if flying long-haul. You, too, will disembark with that trademark Singapore smile.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
Hola from Spain! I am currently on assignment in Spain courtesy of Collette Tours and Singapore Airlines, and about to take a week of R&R in Prague and Germany, to catch up with family and friends. I’ll be back soon with some more tantalising travel tales. In the meantime, please follow my travels on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
A FLIRTATIOUS French fellow is pouring a sexy shiraz from a pleasingly phallic stem, while explaining the sex muscle of a cow. I am dining in one of Brisbane’s oldest riverside restaurants, revisiting the classy classic that is Cha Cha Char…and my tastebuds are ready to rumba. While Cedric, the restaurant’s General Manager is ensuring I am well libated, it’s the steak here that really does the talking.
Brisbane’s beef baron John Kilroy opened Cha Cha Char 21 years ago after working in country pubs and vowing to “never sell a steak again in my life.” These days you’ll find every steak imaginable on his restaurant from the Wagyu Rump Cap which has been grain fed for 300-plus days; the Rib Fillet Black Onyx Angus aged 30 to 36 months and grain fed for 270-plus days; to the T-Bone Angus Yearling aged 12 to 18 months and grass fed. This is a man who knows his meat. When he’s not in the restaurant, he’s out mustering with mates “for fun”.
Kilroy, as he is known about town, was the first to introduce Wagyu to a sceptical Brisbane dining public who hadn’t yet cottoned on to the idea of marbelling in their beef. Now, he is about to tantalise the city’s taste buds with the introduction of a new cut, the French Blonde D’Aquitaine beef, to his menu. There’s also the new light dishes, tapas if you will, of the Oyster Carpet Bag bao bun with Wagyu striploin, oyster and bernaise sauce; and the Bugs BBQ served in brioche roll filled with Blonde D’Aquitaine steak tartar.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Cha Cha Char will soon transform the private dining room in which we are sitting into a Wagyu bar.
It appears there is not rest for the wicked for this country boy who once couldn’t read and was assisted in gaining his first job by Flo Bjelke-Petersen who helped him secure a role as a Main Roads surveyor…despite Kilroy having no surveying skills.
By his own admission, Kilroy has lost and made millions of dollars over the years, but for him, success all comes back to the customer.
“I can take a piece of meat in this town and make it tender just by the way it is cooked,” he says.
“Owning restaurants is not just how much money you have in the bank. You get to know people.
“I get to travel the world in people’s big boats and jets and planes. You never know who you are going to meet in there.”
Kilroy admits Brisbane palettes have come a long way “everyone knows Wagyu now” and has moved on from the days when calamari was used for fishing bait.
“We didn’t used to eat these things in Australia but people are eating anything now. A lot of this has to do with travel,” he says.
“There is passion in this restaurant. I can put a plate of food in front of you and in 30 seconds I know if you are disappointed or not.
“We’re just dishwashers listening to people. It is a very rewarding business.”
Along George Street, the Queensland capital has just opened its doors on new Indian restaurant Heritij in the new Brisbane Quarter. In this cavernous space, overlooking the Brisbane River towards South Bank, there’s dining for 210 people including private spaces such as The Library, Cellar Room and Passage, each accompanied by their own inspirational quote outside. I am feasting at the Captain’s Table, inspired by the quote “Around my table we make the big decisions, we solve the world’s problems, yet never lose sight of the deck or horizon.” It’s a fitting tribute to a city whose dining scene is on fire.
Outside, on the deck, it’s all breezy, blue cushions and river views, accompanied by a chic bar set up, while inside, it’s plush royal colours…purples, turmerics, navy blues, emerald greens, reminiscent of a Maharaja’s palace. The food here is fit for a king, with the pungent scent of the smoky tandoor wafting through this beautiful, big space, punctuated by voluminous, brick columns. While Michelin-star Chef Mural and his talented team weave their magic with the likes of chicken thigh, Thai basil, mint, rhubarb, zucchini, pineapple and kasundi from the tandoor, he pays homage to his homeland with his curries such as Kashmiri lamb, Goan fish, chicken Makhna, spinach kofta, black lentil dahl and vegetable masala.
“Indian food is incomplete without curries,” Chef Mural says.
“I don’t want everyone to be disappointed if there is no curry served in my restaurant. We used to serve this food in the home.
“Kofta is very close to my heart. My mother used to make this.”
Back over at Cha Cha Char, I ask Kilroy, the self-made man who has lost and made millions over the years, what he would do if it all went belly up.
“I’d go to Europe and buy a little restaurant on the beach,” he says.
“To me, it’s all about the people.”
We’re a bit like that in Brisbane.
The Global Goddess dined as a guest of Cha Cha Char – http://www.chachachar.com.au; and Heritij – https://heritij.com.au