The Shire’s Rest™ Cafe, Matamata

Arrived at Hobbiton Movie Set about an hour prior to the start of our selected fully guided walking tour session. After collecting our tickets at the ground floor, we went upstairs to The Shire’s Rest™ Cafe for a quick bite.

Grabbed a simple hotdog with fries along with a pumpkin soup. The food here are not overly decorated with Hobbit theme unlike those of Disney theme parks.

Another point to note is if you hadn’t got the tour tickets, don’t bother making your way to The Shire’s Rest Cafe in hopes that you could get a glimpse of the Hobbiton. The cafe itself is just a double storey structure with no association nor resemblance of a Hobbit Hole.

From the gathering point next to The Shire’s Rest™ Cafe, we boarded the shuttle bus which then fetched us further into the rolling hills where the shire (Hobbiton) was built. Therefore there is no way guests could roam around Hobbiton on their own and you have to book either a group tour or a private tour to visit the movie set.

With some time to spare, I browsed through the items available at the souvenir shop. The miniature house caught my eye but I decided to purchase it after the tour so that I wouldn’t need to carry it during the trip. Turned out to be almost the wrong decision as after the tour, it was sold out!!! The staff were kind enough to offer me the display set in the cabinet. Really appreciate their effort as they had to look for the original packaging and pack the pieces neatly into the box before handing it to me.

Photos of the walking tour:

We booked an English tour but only 4 of us followed the official guide, the rest are Chinese visitors who listened to the explanation from their own tour agents. Apparently the chinese guided tour are so popular that it is often sold out. Hence the tour agencies booked the english tour for their group and let their own agent do the explanation.

There was only 1 hobbit hole that we could enter to take photo from inside. It’s the house of a painter. However this hole doesn’t really have properly fitted interior. There is just a small space behind the door. According to the guide, most of the hobbit holes are just a false front with no actual space behind.

Finally arrived at the most famous hobbit hole of them all – the one at the top of the hill. Fun Fact: The oak tree on the hill above Bag End is fake, so that it will look exactly the way Peter Jackson wanted. 

View of the Shire from The Green Dragon Inn (the meeting place for all residents of hobbiton). The bridge was said to be the one Gandalf rode across to reach the Shire.

We ended our 2-hour tour with a complimentary drink at The Green Dragon Inn.

Hobbiton Movie Set is surrounded by land used for sheep rearing by the same family. One brother manages the tourism of Hobbiton while another manages the family sheep farm.

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The Bistro, Taupo

After a long day of driving, we finally arrived at our destination for the night – Taupo. Lake Taupo is said to be New Zealand‘s largest lake, which is widely known amongst the locals that the lake is the size of Singapore.

The Bistro is located in the town centre which was pretty lifeless when we got there – I suppose cos its winter season. The breeze from the lake sent chills down our back when we got out of the car.

Ordered the Olive oil poached prawn tails, duck & shiitake cream, coriander, savoy cabbage, mushroom tortellini which has very sweet crunchy cabbbage.

The Calamari cooked sous vide, handmade lemon gnocchi, fried capers, gremolata, champagne veloute was well-disguised as a pasta dish. The champagne veloute was creamy and rich with fresh gnocchi.

For main we shared a Grilled scotch fillet of beef, roasted shallots, baby beets, swiss chard, portobello mushroom, horse radish creamed potatoes. We shortlisted The Bistro as they are one of the restaurants in Taupo awarded the New Zealand Beef and Lamb Excellence Award, so we had to try the beef dish here. Judging from the pink meat it is certain that the beef was well-prepared with the right heat control.

Earlier Photos Taken:

Made it to Blue Spring before the sun sets.

The Blue Spring at Te Waihou Walkway is internationally acclaimed with water so pure it supplies around 60% of New Zealand’s bottled water.

We were awed by the turquoise stream filled with lush green aquatic vegetation as we walked further into the centre via the boardwalks through wetland areas. Staring at the featherly looking plants that sway ever so gently in the stream has a therapeutic effect.

I’m glad that they have banned swimming at Blue Springs. In fact they shouldn’t have allowed it in the first place…Visitors should be there to admire and appreciate the beauty of nature, not to destroy it.

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Surf and Sand Takeaways, Tairua

Blessed with a clear sunny day, we started our road trip around North Island by first visiting Hot Water Beach in Coromandel. After that we stopped by a fish and chips store – Surf and Sand Takeaways in Tairua. Although the shop itself does not have any seating space, there is a park nearby where we sat down for a quick bite in the companion of the lurking sea gulls sneakily eyeing our food…

We wanted to order the Whitebait Fritter and Paua Fritter but both were not available…The guy taking orders at the shop updated us that this year they hadn’t received any whitebait supply yet as the season has yet to begin.

So we ended up with ala carte platter of Oysters, Prawns, Scallops and Squid Rings. These didn’t disappoint as they were coated in a lightly floured batter and freshly fried. We were also pleasantly surprised by the huge size of the seafood items.

After the short rest, we were off again to our next stop for the day – Blue Spring at Hamilton.

Address:

7/236 Main Rd, Tairua 3508, New Zealand
Open: 12 to 10pm

Earlier Photos Taken:

Rise & Shine, early breakfast at the hotel and we were delighted to see Asian dumplings!

We took a detour specifically to visit Hot Water Beach as I was fascinated by the natural wonder after discovering it from the internet. The location is an amazing geology marvel as people are free to dig their own hot spring potholes right on the beach when cool waves start to recede during low tide. We brought a small humble spade to participate in the unique experience and only dug a small pothole enough to soak our feet. There were many others who carried several huge spades to form shallow potholes with diameter large enough to lay down for a relaxing rest.

If you have spare time to spend in Coromandel Peninsula, you may also consider visiting the famous Cathedral Cove which was seen in the movie Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. We didn’t visit it due to our schedule constraint.

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Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar, Auckland

New Zealand being a nation surrounded by oceans, we were certain that there would be a good range of quality seafood available for us to try during our visit. For our first meal in Auckland, I can’t wait to visit Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar as they are known for serving fresh oysters, clams etc. and is opened by New Zealand celebrity chef Al Brown.

The place does not accept reservations and when we visited them at around 8pm we were told to leave our name on the waitlist which requires approximately 1.5 hours wait. The good news was the restaurant is located in a rather central part of the city and we took the opportunity to visit nearby supermarket (which happened to be of reasonable scale) to stock up on our food and wine supply for the rest of our trip. Like Australia, New Zealand has strict restrictions on bringing any food in even for personal use.

As we last had our meal onboard our flight at around 11am, we were famished by late evening. Even had to grab some light snacks to curb the hunger while waiting for our dinner.

At 9.30pm we promptly received a call informing us that our seat was ready and we were shown to a bar counter. The whole restaurant was pretty packed and we soon found out that we should have made our way here earlier to snag the fresh catches…

Having done a bit of research, my attention zoomed into the “Raw Bar” section. We wanted to order all three types of oysters and two types of clams but were told that they were only left with Orongo Bay oysters and Tua Tua clams. I was slightly disappointed to miss out on trying the famed Bluff oysters…albeit it’s supply might be limited towards the end of the season (which started in Mar).

Nonetheless we were wowed by the platter we ordered and were impressed with the freshness of the oysters and clams! The oysters were plump and juicy while the clams were chewy and sweet. New Zealand is seafood paradise!

For the bigger sharing plate, we ordered a Squid ink linguine & ‘Cloudy Bay’ clams with hand-cut pasta, ‘Olaf’s’ ficelle, ‘Salash’ chorizo & sauv blanc sauce. This was also very well prepared and we enjoyed every strand of the delicious pasta.

Our first meal in Auckland was a good start that had me looking forward to enjoying more fantastic meals for the rest of the 1-week trip in North Island.

Earlier Photos Taken:

Kia Ora” is an expression in the Māori language, and simple means “hello”.

Onboard entertainment had a dedicated movie segment featuring the whole Lord of the Rings series! A reminder that I’m on my way to “Middle Earth”. =)

Lunch was Tea smoked Marlborough salmon, new potato, tarragon and dill salad with citrus creme fraiche and North Island snapper with parmesan crushed potatoes, green beans, crispy buckwheat and salsa rossa. Finished with Mocha panna cotta with cherry compote.

The reasons why we only headed for dinner at 8pm was partly cos we wanted to catch Auckland skyline during twilight. And I naively thought we could avoid the peak dining crowd after 8pm….

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Four Frogs Crêperie, Sydney

After taking a late afternoon nap, we woke up just in time to catch a late casual dinner. Was just looking for a light meal when I found Four Frogs Crêperie near where our accommodation is located.

In Singapore, there aren’t many eateries serving purely a full selection of sweet and savoury crepes.  Crepes are generally treated as after meal dessert or tea time snack. I’m happy to see one in Sydney and located conveniently in Circular Quay area.

We tried a Galette (savoury crepe made with buckwheat flour) with Chicken, Swissheese, mushroom, garlic & parsley sauce and a Crepe with Belgian Chocolate & Banana.

The open-kitchen allowed guests get to see the staff making the galettes/crepes upon order. We were pleased with the quality of the galette and crepe. The galette had a good crisp while the crepe was soft and light.

I also noticed that the Circular Quay outlet is open rather early – from 7am and closes late which makes it a good place even for breakfast or late night supper.

With a full belly, we took a short walk around the harbour area for some night shots.

Saw a beautiful sunrise at the bay area the next morning before we catch our flight over to New Zealand.

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Quay Restaurant, Sydney

En-route to New Zealand we made a stopover in Sydney to specially visit Quay Restaurant.  Touchdown in the early morning after enduring the red-eye flight, we arrived at hotel but too early for check-in. Went for a stroll in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney to counter the jet-lag before we head over for lunch. We reckoned that we would be too sleepy to catch dinner…

The bright daylight shining into the dining hall offered a fantastic view of the harbour~ We opted for the smaller 6-course set lunch instead of the 10-course one as we anticipated that we would not have regained our appetite after the flight.

Amuse bouche was Shiitake mushroom custard with pork crackling tart. The one-bite snack was a delightful blend of textures and balanced flavours.

Hand harvested seafood virgin soy, seaweed, aged vinegar comprised of octopus, scallops and vongole clams. The vinegar and seaweed dressing highlighted the umami characteristics of the crustaceans and mollusk. This light and appetizing dish was a showcase of the abundance of fresh seafood in Australia

Sandcrab Tennouji turnip, kombu, squid, Wakefield cabbage was a unique vegetable dish combining the best produces originating from different parts of the World. The tennouji turnip is said to be Japan‘s oldest kind of turnip and has 1.5 times the sugar level of regular turnips! While the wakefield cabbage is a classic early cabbage originated in England and known for its distinctly sweet flavour.  The addition of a piece of the dehydrated fried cabbage was a masterful stroke enhancing the texture of this dish.

Malted barley crumpets was presented at the mid-way point of our meal with butter loaded with Terra Preta black truffles. I would love to visit a truffle farm during the harvest season to witness a truffle hunt and tasting experience!

The next dish also had some Japanese influence: Tasmanian uni, Winter broth served with fish crackling and cured eggyolk. Once again I’m impressed by the amalgamation of textures. If there’s any significant takeaway from my experience at Quay, it has to be the perfect combination of textures for each dish thus far.

For the main course, there were two options to choose from and we tried one each. Maremma duck slow cooked carrots, red dates, karkalla. The duck has quite a gamey flavour on its own but was well-paired with the sweet concentrated carrots with red dates gravy.

The other main is considered Chef’s signature dish:  Smoked pig jowl fan shell razor clams, shiitake, sea cucumber crackling. The version presented now had undergone several iterations and evolution since it was first created by Chef more than two decades ago! What remained unchanged was the protein pairing of a meat with a seafood.

There were also two options for desserts and we tried one each. Unfortunately the wildly popular Snow Egg has been retired from the menu at the revamped restaurant.

On the left is Crystalised oloroso caramel prune cream prune jam and on the right is White coral feijoa, white chocolate, coconut. I was particularly interested in trying White coral as it uses the feijoa fruit – something I intended to try when we visit New Zealand as the fruit has been associated with the country (other than Kiwi). This dessert also featured technique using liquid nitrogen.

Our meal should have ended with the two desserts but the service staff presented us with an extra surprise dish – Chocolate Cake after knowing that we had made a 1 night stopover in Sydney specially for this visit. This unassuming looking dessert, has rich chocolate mousse along with different textures of chocolate, was the best chocolate cake I ever tasted! =)

Last but not least was the petite fours: Salted Caramel Canelés and Creme Fraiche Postbrood Honey Tart. While the salted caramel canelés were well-executed, we were more impressed with the tarts!!! The staff explained that the honey came from the honeycomb that has raised baby bees. What a delightfully sweet ending to our meal.

Was it worth our 1 day stopover? I would probably say yes. Afterall Sydney airport is seamlessly connected to the city centre and is only a short ride away. Technically speaking we could even make a detour from the airport to eat lunch and leave Sydney within the same day – provided that there is an available flight out to our next destination. However we were more than happy to spend the night at Sydney revisiting the iconic landmarks which are well lit-up at night and recharge ourselves before heading over to Auckland, New Zealand.

Earlier Photos Taken:

Preordered the in-flight meal service and chose the Prawn Chu-Chee (Choo Chee) Curry with Steam Rice which is now my favourite Thai curry. P.S I don’t typically eat green curry. This dish uses red curry as base but has less spices and sweeter.

Transiting at Bangkok‘s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Thai Airways meant free massage~ =)

Glad to receive a baby blue colour Rimowa amenity kit.

Had a late night supper after take-off. Fell in love with the Crispy Fried Oyster Mushroom with Tomato Salsa! It was so good that I started sourcing for fried mushroom snacks online thereafter. Although so far I hadn’t found one with similar quality…

We were also served the Caviar with condiments before our main dish. For main I couldn’t resist having a Pad Thai, especially when it comes with lobster.

Although I was really sleepy, I stayed up for this exquisitely plated Miniature of Thai Sweets and Sticky Rice with Fresh Mango dessert.

Though it was a relatively short red eye flight, instead of catching up on sleep I decided to wake up for Breakfast service after seeing what would be served.

The sumptuous spread of accompaniments with the boiled rice was so impressive – with 9 side dishes in total! Including braised duck, pickled turnip with egg (aka chai po neng), salted vegetables (aka kiam chai)…Very homey Teochew dishes. One of the best inflight breakfast I ever had.

It has been 8 years since I last visited Sydney, nice to see you again!

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九 KYUU by Shunsui

KYUU by Shunsui is a sister restaurant of Kappo Shunsui and they took over the shophouse unit of  Five Nines (999.99) cos it’s a joint venture between the owners of the latter and Chef Watanabe from Japan.

The restaurant serves a $129++ (Ten-course) omakase set dinner from 6-9pm and offers ala carte menu after 9pm.

I can’t remember what promotion we ride on but we tried a $99++ (Seven-course) omakase set dinner during our visit.

First course was 3 kinds of assorted appetizers followed by 5 kinds of assorted sashimi. The ingredients were fresh and of good quality.

The charcoal grilled items were next: Spanish Pork Belly and Asparagus with Half-boiled Egg and Flatfish Saikyo-yaki. As with some izakayas, these are prepared in the semi-open kitchen where guests could see it being grilled over the binchotan resulting in a nice smokey flavour

After the grilled pork and fish, the last grilled item was Kagoshima A4 Wagyu beef H-bone. The charcoal grill meat selections was a good display of the skills required to control the heat for different types of meat.

Rice dish was Ikura, Negitoro and snow crab kaisen-don. A mini-size rice don topped with overflowing seafood delicacies~

This is a place suitable for folks who enjoys omakase Japanese meal, without feeling constrained by the traditional Japanese setup. The modern setting makes guests feel more relaxed.

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