Mario at the dining room

On a hot summer day, the cool white and dark wood interior of Mario at the dining room was a welcome and relaxing spot for a leisurely Sunday lunch with friends. It’s crisp and clean and the service is attentive. You feel confident you are going to eat some seriously tasty food.

Owner and chef Mario Alfieri is a leader of Italian cuisine in Queensland. His old school value of visiting the dining room to check on his guests was evident even on this relatively quiet Sunday lunch service.

First up, Miss P and I checked out the dessert menu. Yes, we’d definitely need to choose our entree and main wisely to accommodate for a sweet ending. We opted to share an entree of egg battered whiting fillets. The fish was moist and the batter light and crispy. Al chose the braised baby calamari with a tomato and pea sauce on ciabatta bread. The calamari was very tender and Al really enjoyed what was quite a large entree dish. M chose the Bruschetta with assorted toppings including traditional tomato, basil and olive oil, roasted eggplant and capiscum. Again, another tasty starter.

As expected at an Italian restaurant, there are many pasta options and Miss P really got lucky when she ordered Fettuccine scallops with asparagus, porcini mushrooms and wine. Although not particularly pretty, this was an absolute standout dish. Beautifully seasoned with bags of flavour, it may have slightly overpowered the delicate scallops, but nonetheless, was a definite winner.

Fettuccine scallops with asparagus, mushrooms and wine

I chose one of the specials of the day, spring lamb with garlic potatoes. Served with broccoli and mint sauce, the cutlets were juicy and nicely caramalised. Not particularly Italian but beautifully presented and very tasty with a hint of chilli and mint.

Spring lamb with garlic potato

Al ordered the Veal Saltimbocca. There was nothing left on his plate so clearly he loved it. Tender veal, salty prosciutto and punchy sage are always a good combo. Veal features heavily on the menu in the form of veal funghi, veal Florentine, veal involtini, veal parmigana and veal cotaletta a la bice (crumbed and topped with roasted capsicum and garlic).

Veal saltimbocca with prosciutto and sage

M ordered the daily special of braised lamb shoulder pasta in a tomato red wine ragout with pecorino. A rustic style dish with lovely tender slow-cooked lamb.

Braised lamb shoulder

Other specials of the day included Swordfish steak on homemade pasta with black olives and capers. Homemade tortelloni with ricotta, porcini and truffle sauce and pappardelle pasta with confit duck and truffle tapanade.

The flourless chocolate torte was an easy dessert choice for me. A special of the day, it was very moist, slightly bitter and served with raspberry compote. Completely satisfying in every way. Miss P choose homemade cassata with candied fruits, nuts and a liquor which from memory was Sambuca. Al went with the lemon tart. No complaints in the dessert department. All very happy campers.

Flourless chocolate torte


Mario at the dining room somehow feels like an old friend. A place you’d happily go back to when you are looking for comfort, calm and delicious food. Maybe a Saturday night dinner service would feel a little more lively with a full restaurant. Either way, we’ll be back to sample more Italian delights.

To end your meal, Mario serves the beautifully roasted and always satisfying Blue Sky Coffee.

Marios exterior

Mario at the dining room

Ph: 3268 4331

49 Gerler Road, Hendra


Dried cherry, almond and blueberry cake

I  love baking, especially without a recipe. I love just throwing it all in the bowl and waiting to see whether the result is a success or an epic fail! Glad to say my most recent effort was a huge success, so I’d like to share my recipe with you here.

2 cups of almond meal

1 cup of plain white flour (sifted)

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 egg

1/2 cup of raw sugar

A couple of heaped tablespoons of greek yoghurt

2 tablespoons of softened butter

1/2 cup of orange juice or milk

As many dried cherries or cranberries as you like and a good handful of blueberries.

Cherry almond cake2

It’s a one bowl recipe which is great so just start by creaming the butter and sugar together, till it’s light and fluffy. I just use a whisk to do this part. Add the egg and whisk again. Add all of the dry ingredients and then the wet ingredients. Add more juice or milk if the consistency looks a little dry. Then mix in the cherries and blueberries. I soaked the dried cherries in the orange juice first, just so they’d be nice and plump when I added them to the mixture. Put the whole lot into a bar tin and cook at 180 degrees in a non fan forced oven for about 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly and the top is golden.

I served it with an icy cold chocolate milkshake which Al was very happy about. I’ve only just discovered dried cherries and I really like them a lot so I’d be keen to hear how you use them in your cooking.

Cherry almond cake1

Gallery One

I’m not one to spend hours upon hours shopping but I might be persuaded to shop a little longer if I get to have a sit down and some decent (non food-court) food as a reward for stomping the carpet floors at Westfield Carindale.

Christmas shopping was my mission but really it was just an excuse to check out Carindales newest food offering, Gallery One. It’s slick with a black and silver fit-out and cheeky chairs that will make you smile or frown, depending on your feelings about a certain body part which we sit on. A smartly dressed waiter showed me to a table and presented me with a small black menu. It was only 10am so I ordered a coffee and went to investigate the line up of petite dessert options, beautifully presented and on display for all to see. The orange and almond cake stood up and begged me to to rescue it from it’s friends, the walnut and carrot genoise, the pistachio cheesecake and several other delightful sweet treats.


The coffee was ok, a mild blend, I suspect it was chosen to neither offend or excite customers. The orange and almond cake served with a vanilla cream and sitting on a chocolate base was so pretty, it was a shame to disturb it. It tasted exactly like orange and almond and for $7.50 I thought it was reasonable value.


Breakfast is served from 8am until 11.30 am. The older lady sitting at the table next to me had pumpkin scones with passionfruit butter. Three plump scones with butter and cream for $11.50. I wanted to take a photo but my shyness got the better of me.

The lunch/dinner menu is Italian with interesting salads, pizzas, antipasti and pastas including; gnocchi with confit duck, forest mushroom and parmesan cream or pappardelle with chicken, tarragon, truffle and walnut mascarpone. Gallery One also has a decent size cocktail and wine list for those that have time for a leisurely lunch. The credit card might get a decent work-out after a few glasses of wine with lunch!


It’s an interesting concept for a shopping centre. I think it’ll do really well catering for the ladies who lunch (and shop).

Gallery One is open for breakfast and lunch Monday to Sunday with dinner on a Thursday night until 9pm. Not open on Fridays.

Gallery One website

Phone: 3843 3566

Oh and for those of you interested. Christmas shopping did not go so well. I think next time I’ll be making a list and having wine with lunch!

Hidden food gems in Logan

Logan, south of Brisbane and north of the Gold Coast (30 minutes to each of these destinations) often gets a bashing in the media for being a less than desirable place to live or visit but if people looked a little harder they’d find some hidden gems.

Christopher’s fine food and wine is a lovely little licensed cafe hidden away in a suburban shopping centre in Daisy Hill. Operating at this venue since 1998, owner and head chef Christopher has a passion for food and friendly service. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Christopher produces honest, well priced food and decent coffee by Merlo. Whenever I’ve been in for lunch, it’s busy, so clearly he has a strong local following.

Lunch options include a range of gourmet sandwiches ranging between $10 and $13 and substantial meals like Chicken Parmegiani or The Hit Man omlette with smoked salmon, avocado and a leafy green salad. On my last visit I choose the Asian Salad with chicken (pictured below). This salad is also available with beef or duck. It’s a big serve, tasty and fresh, with plenty of cashews. Could have done with some more herbs but overall, a satisfying lunch choice.  I do remember in the past having tried the stuffed mushrooms, filled with leg ham, fresh basil and blue cheese. These were fantastic and are still on the menu.

I’ve not been here for dinner but the menu looks interesting, featuring the usual favourites of salmon, duck, chicken, eye fillet and vegetarian ravioli. For $36.95 you can have the Barramundi seafood special which comes with grilled king prawns, half baked bug in garlic butter and fresh smoked salmon, served with an avocado salad and citrus aioli sauce or maybe try the Lamb Sirloin encrusted with juniper berries, rosemary and peppercorns served with roasted Kipfler potatoes finished with an Ofe olive oil red wine jus for $34.50.

The atmosphere is pleasant and you certainly don’t feel like you are in a shopping centre cafe. Christopher has also set up a lovely wine bar and has a small menu of tapas items.

Located at the corner of Daisy Hill Rd & Allamanda Drv, Daisy Hill.

Phone: 07 3804 3800

Another hidden gem for a killer breakfast or lunch with a top-notch Segafredo coffee is Cafe Mio on the service road at Springwood. Again, hidden away, you’d miss it if you weren’t looking. This cafe has a warm Mediterranean feel. It’s been around for years and again is always busy for breakkie and lunch. Run by Angela, a lovely Italian lady, the food and coffee is consistently good. My favourite lunch is the Verdura. Roasted pumpkin, almonds and feta with lettuce on toasted ciabatta bread. This flavour combination works a treat. They also sell a range of specialty breads. Only open Monday to Friday from 7am to 3pm, this is a must visit if you happen to find yourself in Logan looking for good quality food and coffee.

Shop 3/ 3360 Pacific Hwy, Springwood

Top tips

Take the kids for a free visit to the Daisy Hill Koala Centre in Daisy Hill Forest and pop into Christopher’s for lunch.

Forget the Swedish meatballs, next time you visit IKEA, drop into Cafe Mio for some healthy lunch options and a decent coffee!

Miguel’s no-measure shortbread

I love a professional chef that says you don’t always have to measure and agonise over quantities. Touch and taste are your best friends, but I’ll come back to this theory later.

A and I recently attended Miguel Maestre’s Lifestyle Food Chef’s Table cooking demonstration at the 2012 Brisbane Good Food & Wine Show. It was laugh out loud good fun. Miguel clearly loves his life and his profession. This is what he prepared and what we thoroughly enjoyed eating.

Duck Liver Pate paired with Peter Lehmann 2010 Art Series Shiraz Grenache.

Beetroot cured salmon paired with Peter Lehmann 2012 Art Series Rose.

Olive oil shortbread paired with Peter Lehmann 2012 Art Series Moscato.

The pate was silky smooth with a hint of Pedro Ximenez sherry. If you think sherry is out-dated, then I challenge you to buy a bottle of this and enjoy as a pre or after dinner drink. It dances on your palate and is a favourite in our house. I use it in both sweet and savoury dishes.

The salmon served with crème fraiche, and salmon roe was delicate in texture but really packed a punch with flavour. A great dinner party entrée, easily prepared several days in advance.

The olive oil shortbread, buttery and perfect with a glass of Moscato. The joy of this biscuit is all in the preparation. No fuss and no measuring. Just tip your plain flour on a clean bench (roughly three to four cups) sprinkle over some caster sugar (roughly 200 grams), add some cinnamon and drizzle extra virgin olive oil (roughly 400 mls). Start kneading and keep drizzling olive oil until your dough comes together, soft and springy. Roll out to 1 cm thickness and using cookie cutters, cut out your shapes. Line your trays with baking paper. Brush the tops with egg for that beautiful golden colour and sprinkle with extra caster sugar. Bake for 15 minutes in a medium oven or until golden brown. Unfortunately, due to a few glasses of wine, I forgot to take a photo of the finished shortbread biscuits. Crazy stuff I know and I’ll do better next time, but here is a photo of some of the audience members making the dough.

Definitely worth a try in the lead up to Christmas, they’d make a great gift for a foodie friend in a hamper with all the ingredients and a hand-written recipe, courtesy of Miguel, of course!

Miguel was a wealth of information offering lots of cooking tips along the way, my favourite being how to test if eggs are fresh without putting them into a bowl of water.

Take three eggs and hold them with the pointy end of the outer two facing in towards the ends of the middle egg. If the middle egg spins, it’s fresh. This looked like magic when Miguel demonstrated. I’ve tried it at home and it works! Of course, if your eggs aren’t fresh, there will be no spinning egg for you.

The other unexpected treat at the chef’s table was the goodie bag we both received filled with loads of product. The session, at $50 each, was good value for money. Other cooks that had sessions in Brisbane included the lovely Anna Gare and Maggie Beer (I believe these sessions sold out very quickly).

If you have an interest in food, I can highly recommend the Good Food & Wine Show. It’s hours of entertainment, but be careful, you might need to allocate a responsible driver as sampling the many wineries on show, can get dangerous! Oh and bring a trolley or plenty of bags to carry all your purchases 🙂

The Spirit House

Fine dining needs to look after all of your senses and that includes making you feel relaxed and comfortable. The Spirit House at Yandina on the Sunshine Coast has got this down to a fine art.

Operating since 1995 with the same owners, The Spirit House has always had a good reputation. This was a birthday treat for Al so I was hoping he would be suitably impressed. I had high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed.

After being warmly greeted by staff and led to our table, Al commented that we could easily have been sitting in Thailand or Bali. The location is very special, the restaurant stretching around three sides of a tranquil lagoon that is home to many water dragons, big and small. I write this because if you are afraid of lizards, you’ll need to be prepared. They happily co-exist with diners and you are asked not to feed them.

It was a warm day so I started with a ginger fizz, Al a scotch and soda. Our waiter talked us through the menu, offering his suggestions as first time Spirit House diners.

As the menu suggests, food, like life is a shared journey, so that’s exactly what we did. To start we chose Ma Hor sticky sweet pork & peanuts with orange pineapple served on a betel leaf and crispy pork belly with a citrus caramel sauce.

The Ma Hor was sensational. It woke up the palate and made you excited for what else was in store. The Pork belly was well cooked although I would have liked just a little more of the crispy element. The citrus caramel sauce was mouth-watering and happily the recipe for this is on The Spirit House website under ‘free stuff’.

Ma Hor

Other small sharing plates that I’d like to try included coconut smoked tofu and coconut tempura whiting.

We then shared a whole crispy snapper with tamarind chilli sauce, Penang curry of confit duck with pickled ginger and crispy lime leaves and a salad of watermelon with coconut and mint.

The fish arrived at the table standing proudly. We noticed it being delivered to several tables, so clearly this dish is a winner. The flesh fell from the bones, the skin crispy and the sauce spicy hot and sweet. It worked beautifully with the refreshing watermelon and fresh coconut. The duck curry was from another planet it was so tasty. Again, beautifully cooked, rich and fragrant and served with steamed rice. It all paired beautifully with the German Riesling that our waiter suggested was the best choice for a white wine with Thai food.

The menu is a good size and the staff are well versed in the menu so they are more than happy to suggest combinations that work well together. Next time I’d like to try the Chargrilled Cuttlefish with mango, lychee and mint and the Spice crusted Pork Loin in green curry sauce.

The chefs are French trained so dessert is not typically Thai but a clever take on the fresh flavours you expect in a tropical location.

Spiced orange tea syrup cake with condensed milk ice cream. Banana crème brulee, Lime possett with mango and ginger honeycombe ice cream, Dark chocolate raspberry mousse with tapioca pearls and berry marshmallows.

We were full up to pussy’s bow so we shared a frozen passionfruit parfait with lemongrass jelly and turmeric sugar. Again, absolutely packed with fresh flavour, the lemongrass jelly so delicate, it was a lovely finish to the meal.

Coffee is from Maleny coffee company and there is also a lovely selection of teas.

Prices are reasonable considering the standard of cooking, presentation and location. Our final bill including drinks, wine and coffee came to $221.

Next time I visit I’d like to do a cooking class. Costing $150 they run over four hours and you get to eat what you cook including beer and wine.

I knew we wouldn’t be up for the 90 minute drive home, so I booked a night at Ninderry Manor, which is ten minutes from The Spirit House. Run by a gorgeous Japanese couple, the B&B is clean and homely and oh so peaceful.

The Spirit House

Lunch is everyday, Dinner, Wed – Sat

Highly recommend.

Orange and almond cake

Exciting news… I have found my new favourite cake and it only has five ingredients. The recipe isn’t new, in fact, it has been baked for Jewish Passover for probably thousands of years, but after seeing the Jewish episode of Food Safari, I knew I had to give this one a go.

I’m fascinated by all things Jewish. My mother’s parents are Jewish. Unfortunately I never got to meet them and it wasn’t until my mother passed away that I really became interested in this culture.  Now that I have found a Jewish cake recipe that I love, I’ll have to try my hand at the classic Jewish chicken soup with Matzo Balls (but that’s another blog, back to the cake)

Cakes without flour are truly delicious. Always moist, they are the perfect carrier of flavour. I just don’t think you can beat almond meal. It’s a staple in my pantry. The other thing I love about this cake is you can throw everything into the food processor. You don’t have to be precise and it’s very forgiving.

So, drum roll please…

2 oranges

250g almond meal

5 eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

250 g caster sugar

Boil the whole oranges in a pot of water for two hours. Yes, two hours. Make sure you keep topping up the water so the pan doesn’t dry out. Your kitchen will be filled with the perfume of oranges, which is just gorgeous. You can do this process the day before and leave them in the fridge.

In a food processor, blend eggs and sugar. Add the chopped up oranges. The texture is amazing and they taste great after having been boiled. Blend really well. Add the almond meal and baking powder and blend again.

Lightly spray a spring-form baking pan. Add some caster sugar to the pan and move around so you get a light coating.  Pour in the batter. Sprinkle the top lightly with caster sugar. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190 degrees for approximately 1 hour or until the top is browned. Just keep a watch as ovens vary in temperature and you don’t want to burn it.

To serve, dust with lots of icing sugar.

This is cake for morning tea, afternoon tea or you could dress it up beautifully for a dinner party with double cream and candied orange slices. It’s perfection. I’m sorry I don’t have a final image of a slice of this amazing cake. The whole thing was gone before I had a chance to do some artful food styling! I hope you enjoy it as much as my friends and I did.