A round-up of the weekend's news affecting the hospitality industry.
Squid origin a little rubbery
Some South Australian restaurants are selling low-quality imported squid because of excessive demand for the delicacy. Restaurants are selling between 30 and 50 per cent more squid dishes than five years ago. Kitchens and seafood retailers are having to shift meals quickly and at lower prices and are seeking imported frozen and pre-prepared products to make up the shortfall in local supply. Sammy's on the Marina restaurant manager Troy Bilsborow said he preferred to sell South Australian calamari because it was a ''better product''. ''I have had to sell the imported stuff in the past, but it was rather tough and rubbery and imported produce has been processed more,'' he said. Some chefs are serving squid from South American and South African waters which are frozen on board, shipped to China, Vietnam and Thailand for processing and packaging, then imported to Australia. South Australian Fishing Industry Council general manager Neil MacDonald said there was a limit to what the local market could sustainably produce. The Advertiser, April 10.
Consumers now game for a whole world of weird meat
Meat eaters are paying up to $50 a kilogram to indulge in a crocodile steak and more than $20 a kilogram for a taste of rabbit or kangaroo. Demand for cuts once thought to be a cheap alternative to pork, beef and lamb is starting to boom. Butchers say meats such as baby pigeon, pheasant and venison also are in vogue. The Meat-ting Place butcher Paul Geiger said customers were paying up to $50 a kilogram for crocodile from Papua New Guinea, $45 a kilogram for New Zealand venison and $22 a kilogram for kangaroo. ''People are starting to buy more of it (game) because they're seeing it prepared in restaurants and want to serve it at home,'' Mr Geiger said. ''We're selling more venison and duck but demand for the other (types of game) is definitely increasing.'' He also sells emu, ostrich, buffalo, and baby pigeon. At Brisbane restaurant Gianni's, patrons can dine on Flinders Island wallaby with apple and walnut chutney for $40 or New England rabbit with gnocchi and green asparagus for $43. Chef Damien Davidson-Kelly of Moo Moo, at the Gold Coast's Broadbeach, sells about 6kg of kangaroo a week—about 30 serves. The Courier Mail, April 9.
In this Chinese Year of the Pig, Australian Pork Limited approached me to host a promotional lunch at e'cco with fellow chef Jeremy Strode of Sydney's Bistrode. What a great opportunity to show just how versatile this animal can be. Pork has truly had a change of image over the past few years. Without proper education and tips on how to cook a joint of this meat and keep it succulent, pork managed to gain the reputation of being dry, tough and tasteless. Cooked properly, it is quite the contrary. The increased interest in diet has led to the production and marketing of pork as a lean meat. The very nature of many cuts of pork, however, mean they need to have a decent ratio of fat, as this imparts flavour during cooking and keeps it moist. Whether this fat is then eaten at the table is up to the individual. With the improvement of farming techniques and specialist breeders we can now buy fantastic Australian pork and, with the right method of cooking, can enjoy a nutritious, juicy and well-priced piece of meat. Unfortunately some of the best-bred pork is only available wholesale. I love to cook Western Plains Pork from Victoria, and more locally, Bangalow Sweet Pork, which is available from Village Meats at Rosalie; Superior Meats, Holland Park and Black Pearl Epicure, Fortitude Valley. The Courier Mail, April 10.
Offer salad and students send for pizza
Healthy canteen menus forced on to NSW schools to fight obesity are being openly snubbed as students order in pizzas, sell bootlegged Coke and leave school grounds to eat at fast-food outlets. A Daily Telegraph investigation has revealed students are resisting the low-fat menus—and private canteen operators are battling to survive with higher labour and ingredient costs. Canteen bosses estimate their revenue is dropping by up to a third as students take their business elsewhere. Pizza, Chinese takeaway and other fast-food deliveries to school playgrounds are becoming commonplace as students tire of salads, wraps and low-fat pies and diet soft drinks to order in lunch on their mobile phones. Government and most private schools began phasing in the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy in 2003 following a childhood obesity summit. Last year alone more than $600,000 was spent implementing and promoting the scheme to convince schools to speed up compliance. This year all sugar soft drinks were banned. The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), April 10.
Food outlets fail health inspection
More than one in three Melbourne food outlets failed to pass initial health inspections last year. Health officers from 13 councils had to revisit more than 5000 of 15,000 restaurants, cafes and other businesses in 2005-06 to make sure health concerns were fixed. The figures were obtained by the Herald Sun as a Bracks government inquiry called for restaurants caught with dirty kitchens, expired food and unsanitary practices to be slapped with on-the-spot fines. Council-supplied data show food outlets in Melbourne's north required the greatest number of multiple inspections, and some even closed.Municipal Association of Victoria president Cr Dick Gross said he was not concerned that more than a third of Melbourne's food outlets required second visits. ''There is no evidence that they were visited a second time because of problems with their food. Some of them may have just filled out their forms incorrectly,'' Cr Gross said. A State Government inquiry into food regulation has recommended on-the-spot fines and mandatory performance reporting. The Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission draft report said a central co-ordinated group of food safety regulators would save councils $24 million a year. Herald Sun (Melbourne), April 9.
Restricting sales of alcohol makes many see red
In April, 1995, state governments agreed, among other things, to ease barriers to retail competition - including the sale of alcohol. The plan was to relax restrictions so that a broader range of retail outlets could sell liquor. It makes sense to deregulate alcohol sales. You can buy meat, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and soft drink at a supermarket. But for some archaic reason, no doubt connected with the puritanical and wowserish beliefs which inspired six o'clock hotel closing, only liquor shops and hotels can sell alcohol in South Australia. The concept of specialist liquor outlets dominating and controlling alcohol sales is preposterous in these days of liberalised retail trading hours. If supermarkets can sell meat and fish, chemists can sell gift lines and newsagents can sell lottery products, why can't grocers sell alcohol? The 1995 agreement on alcohol outlets was based on the removal of anti-competitive elements of retailing. Restrictions could only continue if it could be demonstrated that they were in the public interest. If liquor sales are restricted to hotels and bottle shops, how can that be assessed as anything but anti-competitive? The Advertiser, April 5.
Two UK rivals vie for Muzz Buzz franchise
Two groups are vying for the master UK franchise for drive-through coffee franchise Muzz Buzz in what is poised to be the first overseas expansion for the WA-born business. Muzz Buzz managing director Warren Reynolds told WestBusiness the company had also received expressions of interest from the US, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore and China but had not had the time to pursue all the opportunities. The fast-growing business has built up 17 stores in WA in the past five years and has also embarked on an aggressive expansion across the country. The company recently opened its first Melbourne store and has several others in various stages of approval in Victoria. Two are under construction in Adelaide and negotiations are under way to establish an initial five stores in Brisbane and Sydney. The West Australian (Perth), April 9.
Last drinks, outside—Protest ends decade of pub in the park
A ''gentleman’s” agreement'' allowing a hotel to use a park as a drinking area has come to an end after 11 years. Owners of the Lord Wolseley hotel claim former Sydney lord mayor Frank Sartor in 1996 allowed them free rein of the tiny park adjacent to their narrow pub in Bulwara Rd, Ultimo. Owner Frank Camer said Mr Sartor—now Planning Minister -- allowed patrons to drink in the Quarry Green until 9.30pm. ''When Sydney won the rights to the 2000 Olympics, Mr Sartor was keen to give the city a cosmopolitan feel and he encouraged people like myself to have tables and chairs outside,'' Mr Camer said yesterday. ''We met and had a gentleman's agreement to use the park for consumption of alcohol.'' The Lord Wolseley hotel is one of Sydney's narrowest establishments and the ''extra space'' was welcomed by patrons. With new indoor smoking bans to be enforced by July, it meant patrons did not have to leave their drinks inside while stepping outside for a cigarette. ''It's impossible for me to create a smoking room or beer garden. My entire hotel is only 5m wide by 33m long,'' Mr Camer said. The ''arrangement'' worked well for the past decade until a local resident lodged a complaint with Sydney City Council. Rangers ordered Mr Camer to remove makeshift tables. Three weeks ago he was ordered to stop patrons drinking in the park. The Daily Telegraph, April 10.
'Bad apples' bounced—Tough new laws to put brains behind brawn
Heavy handed bouncers will be purged from Queensland's security industry by the end of the year under the toughest new laws in the nation. Police intelligence and unrecorded court convictions will be used to refuse security licences and disqualify bouncers. But the State Government's new legislation will be rolled out in stages, giving some ''bad apples'' and criminals up to eight months reprieve. Fair Trading Minister Margaret Keech told The Courier-Mail she wanted ''violent thugs'' and ''rogue operators'' out of the industry. ''We will use criminal intelligence, unrecorded convictions and other background information to get rid of members of outlaw motorcycle gangs and other thugs,'' Mrs Keech said. For the first time it can be revealed that 92 licences have been cancelled, 62 have been suspended and 484 applications have been refused in the past five years. For the first time in Queensland, repeat offenders face up to 18 months' jail. Queensland Hotels Association chief executive Justin O'Connor said hoteliers take seriously their responsibility for patron care. . The Courier Mail, April 9.
Smoke bans cut $50m in pokies trade
The smoking ban in Queensland pubs and clubs has slashed gambling on poker machines by $50m. While gambling support services welcome the news, club and hotel owners have been reeling from the loss in earnings since the tough new laws started on July 1. Some venues are down by a third or more, with those in regional locations particularly hard-hit. Hotels and clubs are expected to lobby the State Government to wind back some of the anti-smoking requirements. A spokesman for Health Minister Stephen Robertson said all submissions would be considered in a review once the laws had been in place a year. With hotels paying up to 60 per cent of gaming revenue in taxes, the reduction will leave a big hole in state coffers. But it will be a hard sell persuading the Government to dilute the smoking ban. The Sunday Mai, April 8.
With Tolarno, it's hard to know which piece of its history and gossip to begin with. Do we try the tiff between the venue's former owner, Iain Hewitson, and the building's landlords, which segued into a side debate between Hewitson and the new owner and fellow high-profile chef Guy Grossi? Or do we focus, instead, on the charming eccentricity of Mirka Mora, the woman who painted the walls of the St Kilda restaurant? Mirka at Tolarno Hotel has changed its name to distinguish it from its former, grungier, incarnation when it was simply Tolarno. It's a long story, but it's worth a few paragraphs before we look at the menu. Hewitson, who is well known outside Melbourne for his regular television appearances, ran the place for 15 years, from 1991 to 2006. In that time, his Fitzroy Street neighbourhood went from one of Melbourne's sleaziest to one of its safest, both in terms of law and order and the types of eateries it attracted. Most of the newer restaurants here are variations on the home renovator theme: the kitchens gleam a little too brightly, and the tables and chairs are frozen in their spots for fear of scratching the floorboards. Hewitson wanted to keep Tolarno at the down-market-bohemian end of the spectrum, but the landlords wanted to up the rent and refit the venue. Hewitson called them ''greedy'' and Melbourne's media couldn't get enough of the argument that followed. As in all good separations, the sledging escalated. When Hewitson left the building last year, he took with him some of the fittings—among them the light covers painted by Mora—which he said were his property. Weekend Australian, April 7.
Flood of cask wine coming to fill gaps
A surge in imported wine is expected to help fill a shortage at the cheaper end of the Australian market following this year's small winegrape harvest. Jim Moularadellis, owner of the nation's largest bulk-wine broker, Austwine, said the increase would occur because 2007's small Australian vintage had made it almost uneconomic for wine firms to produce cask wine. He expects an increase in the volume of imports from Chile, Spain, Argentina, South Africa and possibly the south of France. Mr Moularadellis said they were able to produce cheap cask wine because they had lower wage costs and an oversupply of wine. An increase was not necessarily a bad thing because it would allow the Australian wine industry to use its scarcer resources for higher-value end uses, including valuable bottled-wine exports. ''We expect to be quite active in importing wine to meet the market,'' Mr Moularadellis said. ''There is less bulk wine around this year and, from a consumer point of view, it will mean a not insignificant reduction in the amount of cleanskins. The Advertiser, April 10.
Ocean of wine evaporating
The good times for wine-lovers were never going to last forever. After years of cut-throat discounting and a flood of cheap plonk, wine-makers are preparing for price increases as the industry returns to equilibrium. Drought and frost have cut this year's crush to about one million tonnes from two million last year, and although major wine retailers such as Coles say supply is still strong, industry experts say prices will rise. ''I think the days (of cheap wines) are numbered,'' said Lawrie Stanford, the market intelligence chief at the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation. ''But it's not precisely clear to me when the time will be up.'' The fall in this year's vintage is not expected to eliminate the oversupply but to make a ''big dent in it'', and there are indications that next year's vintage will be low compared with the bumper crop of 2005. The Australian, April 10.
Standing order for House wine
Queensland will introduce an official parliamentary wine range to promote the state's best drops. Speaker Mike Reynolds and State Wine Development Minister Margaret Keech are developing the nine-wine range after criticism the in-House vino came from New South Wales. For several years, Hunter Valley wine giant Tyrrell's has supplied the wine served at Parliament's bars and functions. Mr Reynolds said he hoped to boost the state's wine reputation by allowing only local wine producers to bid for the contract on the new wine range, which will be sold at Parliament House and over the internet. ''This is a fantastic opportunity for the Queensland Parliament to support the Queensland wine industry,'' he said. The collection will include the Premier's range (for functions), Speaker's range (reserve wines) and President's range (port). Each wine will be named after former premiers or well-known parliamentary figures. 'The Lawmaker'' honours Sir Samuel Griffith, who helped draft the Australian Constitution. Another drop will be named after Standing Order 123A, used by the Speaker to eject unruly Members. The Sunday Mail (Adelaide), April 8.
Shift in tastes to lighter style whites, as demand for NZ sauvignon blanc grows
Old favourites and newcomers from New Zealand and Western Australia dominated the bestselling wine lists in the past year. In a significant change in Australian drinkers' preferences for some time, the NZ Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc is now the fourth biggest-selling white wine by volume in Australia. But by value, it is the top-selling white wine—the first time a New Zealand product has led Australian wine sales lists. AC Nielsen senior manager Matthew Knight said the growing demand for sauvignon blanc reflected a significant trend away from chardonnay. ''The trend towards lighter style wines can't be stressed enough and a lot of them are fostering value growth because they're selling for $15-20 a bottle,'' Mr Knight said. ''The wine market overall is quite slow moving in terms of change, with some of the key sellers on these lists for a long time. ''The few changes include the rise of the Oyster Bay to No. 4.''
Mr Knight said more Australian sauvignon blancs were coming on to the market, but the segment was still very much owned by New Zealand. ''Other varietals showing good growth are pinot grigio, and viognier with a 13 per cent growth,'' he said. ''We also have strong demand for discovery varieties such as Brown Brothers Dolcetto and Moselle.'' The Advertiser, April 7