Finding Refuge

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ON a balmy Brisbane evening I am slouched under a magnificent tree, savouring a plate of colourful African fare and sipping a Tusker malt lager. There’s but a whisper of a wind on this hot summer evening, just enough to scatter the tree’s tiny white flowers onto the faded tablecloth like confetti. The flowers fall into my hair and onto my head, like little sparks of inspiration.
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I’m at Mu’ooz Eritrean Restaurant in West End, surrounded by fellow writers, artists, poets, singers and daydream believers, attending Wild Readings. I blew in here a little like the white flowers, an invitation from a friend to join this underground movement of creatives, who gather on the third Tuesday of every month. It is here that they soak up the collective juices, which are threatened with drought when you are alone for too long in a big city, stalked by the shadows of conformity.
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The host opens the night by describing Wild Readings as a “public series for the storyteller in all of us.”
“We’d like to build a community of storytellers and people who just want to listen to words,” she says.
There are four readings in this delicious hour, Alanna uses art to tell stories about mental health and is reading from her book called “The Letter R” for Resilience. You need a lot of resilience to be a writer anywhere in the world, and it’s apt for this setting in which I find myself.
Tina is a published author and runs a children’s and young adults’ writers conference in Brisbane, fuelling the fire of future generations of crazy creatives.
Really, they should be building asylums for those of us insane enough to keep striking the keyboard in a world which begs us to do otherwise. And yet, thank God, we continue.
Annie, a program co-ordinator for newly-arrived refugees, picks up a ukulele and strums her story. There are others, a couple of poets and an author, but it’s Annie and her uke which strike a literal and metaphorical chord with me this evening.
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I didn’t leave the house expecting to find a story, but in this salacious setting how could I not? Not only am I inspired by the passion and prose of my fellow artists, but Mu’ooz itself is a not-for-profit social enterprise, established by Eritrean Refuge Women, which assists women arriving in Brisbane from many parts of Africa.
Shortly before the evening begins, I stumble across Manager Saba Abraham, who opened the West End location three years ago and since then has provided training and employment for more than 100 refugee women.
“We provide a pathway to employment with many of the women now employed in other places including schools, factories and cleaning jobs,” she says.
“The program aims to give them confidence and help them understand the workforce.
“Women refugees have minimal employment opportunities and many of them have never had any education in their country, therefore finding it extremely challenging in Australia, to learn the language and secure employment.
“Many of them feel like this is home to them, it is much more than a workplace.”
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Saba tells me the business is not without its challenges, rents in West End are high and there is still a disconnect between mainstream Australia and what they are trying to achieve, even in this socially-progressive suburb.
Which is a great shame, as the food here is different and delicious, boasting many dishes and ingredients even a well-travelled Australian palate may have never tasted such as Enjera – savoury purple pancakes; Silsie – a traditional Eritrean sauce; Berbere – traditional hot pepper seasoning; and Tasame – butter flavoured with Eritrean herbs and spices.
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I sip on my second Tusker malt lager, a beer I’ve never encountered before – and the white leaves keep falling on my head, urging me to write this story. A tale of a little courtyard in Brisbane, a meeting of people with big hearts and those cursed with that damn desire to write.
We are gathered on the traditional land of the Jagera, Yuggera and Yuggerapul people and we pay homage to them. A Yuggera elder has penned a Welcome to Country for us: “Everything sits in a circle around us. When we open ourselves to looking and listening it allows us to connect with Mother Earth, everyone’s Mother.”
On this hot night, I embrace the circle of refugees and creatives and watch as those tiny flowers keep falling, reminding me to keep writing.
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The next Wild Readings will be held on Tuesday, Feb 21 at Mu’ooz West End at 6pm for 6.30pm. You can join Wild Readings on their Facebook page. To dine at Mu’ooz and support their incredible work, go to http://www.muooz.com.au

Romance Is Just Around The Corner

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I AM dining in the Brisbane restaurant which has just been named Best for Romance/First Date 2015 by the Dimmi Awards. The irony of the fact that I am dining with five other women, two of whom are complete strangers, is not lost on me. Story of my life that this is, I am at Auchenflower’s Deer Duck Bistro to see what the duck the fuss is all about. How can a restaurant be romantic? Isn’t it up to the diners? We are here to try the 7-course Chef’s Menu with matching wines and even better, it appears romance is right around the corner from me, with this restaurant in the next inner west suburb to that in which I live.
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Owned by Chef Nicholas Cooper, if you love the planet, Deer Duck Bistro sprouts a very romantic ethos: to promote ethical eating by using the freshest, local, sustainable, organic and macrobiotic produce possible. A boxed garden onsite grows heirloom plants and micro herbs harvested just before they hit your plate, and the restaurant supports small, independent growers. Where possible fruit and vegetables are sourced locally from Mount Tamborine, The Darling Downs and South Burnett regions and bread is baked on premise using organic ingredients.
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While there’s not too many deer or ducks roaming the streets of Brisbane, you’ll see plenty on the walls of this restaurant which is themed with unusual antiques and is a pleasant departure from the usual bold Queensland colours you see elsewhere around town, particularly on this crisp winter night. In fact, so eclectic are things in this establishment, that even each table setting consists of mismatched cutlery, which evokes that comfortable, familiar feeling of dining at your grandmas. The aim: to deliver modern Australian, European cuisine.
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The restaurant also serves a-la-carte dishes and, despite its carnivorous name, is incredibly popular with vegetarians and vegans for whom it caters beautifully, including an individual 7-course degustation for those who don’t eat meat. For consummate carnivores like myself, the menu is a delicious dream. Our 7 courses started with mussels, carrot and dill, which was an unexpectedly tasty combination. Onion, thyme and veal sweetbreads followed before barramundi, shitake and black rice.
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Chicken, corn and tarragon formed the basis of the fourth course, followed by beef, pumpkin and onion. While not part of this particular 7-course menu, we had the opportunity to try the duck after which the restaurant takes its name, and I’m delighted to report it, too, was delicious. We finished the savory courses with beef, pumpkin and onion. While my forte as a travel and dating blogger lays more in describing destinations and men, rather than food, I can report that each dish possessed a crunchy texture and a surprise I’d never even imagined…just like most of my dates, although in this case, it’s a most pleasant surprise. I only wish, like the deer heads in this restaurant, I could hang some of the men I’ve met on the wall.
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While a refreshing zing, the rockmelon, honey and pistachio would have made a far greater impact served somewhere between the meat dishes as a palate cleanser and seemed slightly strange to serve just before another dessert – the chocolate, pear and hazelnut, which would have worked well straight after the rich, slow-cooked beef dish.
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But it’s difficult to fault this restaurant which pairs each course with a diverse and innovative wine list, serving everything from French champagne to start, to high-quality international and Australian drops in between. However the sparkling merlot at the end was an unusual finish and again, I would have ended with something sweeter like a sticky. Apart from the gorgeous main dining room, there’s a private dining room and my favourite of all, a cosy cocktail lounge in which you can partake in pre or post dinner drinks, and even order from a bar menu if the desire to slink into those comfy couches overtakes your need to sit at a table.
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Deer Duck Bistro last week won its first coveted Chefs Hat at the Good Food Guide Awards and it’s easy to see why. My advice: make a booking there sooner rather than later, as this is one of the hottest restaurants in Brisbane right now which is courageous enough to not follow the pack with its menu, flavours or décor. As for the romance, partaking in a fabulous feast with three old friends and two new ones may not be conventionally romantic, but you could do a whole lot worse. Bloke or no bloke, what the duck, I’ll be back.
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The Global Goddess was a guest of Deer Duck Bistro – http://www.deerduckbistro.com.au

Genius in a Bottle

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MONDAY, bloody Monday and I am in the sort of mood other people normally reserve for dentists and funerals. I despise Monday so much, that if there was an Olympic sport for this kind of thing, I would be the reigning gold champion. With such contempt do I hold the first day of the working week, that I am utterly convinced no one else on this planet could hate it as much as me. Except for my good friend Matthew, who is the silver medallist in this sport. Our email conversations on Monday run along the lines of “Only 51 more weeks until holidays”. But not this Monday. You see yesterday we hatched a plan to escape to Japan, if only for a few hours. Yesterday, we went to Sake Restaurant Brisbane.
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For those who have been hiding under a rock, and clearly I am one of these people (in my defence, it’s not like I ever go on a date), Sake opened in November 2010. In true Brisbane style, this riverside establishment not only survived the 2011 floods at its Eagle Street pier location, but has thrived during the past five years, winning a coveted Queensland Good Food Guide Chef’s Hat every year since it opened. And it’s easy to see why.
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Apart from the fact Matthew likes to match my Monday complaining (I am the Edamame to his Sapporo), he is also a Japanese aficionado, known to enjoy the food as much as the skiing there and hence, he makes the perfect lunch companion on this occasion. A creative way to experience the menu here is to indulge in the “omokase” which, loosely translated, means “we create the menu for you.” In fact, around half of this restaurant’s guests choose this option, leaving it in the hands of head chef Daisuke Sakai and his team to make magic.
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Drawing inspiration from the new winter menu, we were treated to a number of dishes, starting with a scallop tiradito with yuzu lemon and rocotto chili; and spicy tuna rice, tuna sashimi with crispy rice blocks.
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A wagyu gyoza with ginger, chives and butter ponzu followed; as did tonkatsu pocket buns with panko crumbed pork belly, spicy miso sauced on a steamed white bun.
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Our last two savory courses consisted of grainfed wagyu teriyaki cooked medium rare with sautéed shiitake, buckwheat and yakiniku sauce; and Osaka sushi roll with prawn, sweet ginger, egg sheet wrap with okonomiyaki barbecue sauce, and dancing bonito flakes.
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The outstanding flavours and texture of the spicy tuna rice made this dish a clear winner for both of us due to the clever crunchy base. For my money, the salty wagyu teriyaki was a close second, while Matthew enjoyed the tonkatsu pocket buns, describing them as upmarket sliders. The Osaka sushi roll prawn promised much, but fell short due to its overpowering ginger, and had the chef possibly deconstructed this dish, as I ended up doing, the beautifully distinct taste of the egg wrap became evident, as did its other individual elements.
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A really nice touch is the wine list, with an Austrian white from near the Austrian/Hungarian border and which tastes somewhere between a Riesling and Chablis, a perfect pairing to this menu. The restaurant has also sourced a rare Japanese white wine – Gris de Koshu – which comes from a Japanese grape, and is also a great drop for this kind of food. As the name suggests, Sake is home to numerous drops of the potent Japanese rice wine with 30 varieties of sake on the list. While Monday is pretty dire in my opinion, I did resist reaching for the sake bottle, instead, admiring the sake barrels on the wall, which I am told are used for traditional opening ceremonies.
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Matthew had to rush off for a meeting before dessert arrived, but not before he ranked the experience a 9/10. As someone who hosts business lunches of his own, he found the private space in which we were seated, the varied menu, and the use of local produce such as Hervey Bay scallops, impressive. I was all set to give the restaurant an 8/10 (we both agreed the thumping lounge club music in the background was a distraction), until dessert arrived. Even the name of this dish, on this melancholy Monday, made me smile. And the “nihon nemesis” – a delicate chocolate cake with raspberry, matcha raspberry sorbet and honeycomb, was enough to brighten even the darkest day. With stunning service, fabulous food and such creative cuisine, this restaurant is worthy of a 9/10 and a repeat visit. Just like Monday, I’ll be back.
Dessert
The Global Goddess was a guest of Sake Restaurant – http://www.sakerestaurant.com.au
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