Forget Melbourne, let’s all move to Oman

Oman skyline.

Ah, lovely Muscat. The capital of Oman has always been gorgeous (and hot and dusty and did I mention hot), and now it’s even more attractive, having been named the cheapest city in the world in which to live. 

Mind you, you’d have to be happy wearing white (if you’re a man) or black (if your a woman), though that wouldn’t be too hard, looking at Melbourne fashion lately. It’s just that we’d all be wearing gowns. 

In comparison, Melbourne is the eighth most expensive city in the world, beating New York, London, Hong Kong and even LA. However, it has to be taken with a grain of salt: it’s largely down to our muscular dollar that’s seen a loaf of Sydney bread ten times the price it was a decade ago, says the new report. 

The Chedi Muscat. One of the world’s great hotels.

That’s also the case for the world’s most expensive city, Zurich, which has finally bounced Tokyo off the top rung. Friends tell of Zurich mates who have had massive wage increases (30% in a year or two?) thanks to the Swiss franc’s stellar rise against all comers. 

Australia has eight cities in the top 20 (Sydney 7th, Melbourne 8th, Perth 13th, Brisbane 14th, Adelaide – hello, Adelaide? 18th). We don’t actually have that many more cities.

The answer is clear: we all have to move to gorgeous The Chedi hotel in Oman. Count me in.

Believe the hype: Chin Chin

Spanner crab and chicken salad. I would have photographed
the fab kingfish sashimi for you, but I ate it too quickly.

Is Melbourne under the influence of a new Thai fascination? We’re all talking about the Mexican Wave, with the impossible-to-get-a-seat Mamasita, Newmarket hotel, Fonda, the Taco Truck and Senoritas (opening end Feb). Exclude My Mexican Cousin, which, confusingly, actually serves Creole food.

But after a few days’ solid eating in the city, it was Thai that took the prize: there’s Easy Tiger, and gorgeous little Middle Fish and Chin Chin, which, despite being open for some seven months or so (so old!), is still hip to the eyeballs.

I like to think it’s their policy of treating us mean, to keep us keen. Like so many CBD restaurants, they have a ‘walk-in’ policy. Which means no bookings and plenty of incredulous looks when one wanders up at 7pm, table hunting. I understand the idea of seating equity, I just don’t like it so much.

However, my stars were aligned when I headed over last Friday night at 6.15pm. Every seat was being warmed, but I slipped into a banquette seat within minutes, after we’d wrangled over a few minor details (“We have no high chairs.” “She’ll sit on my lap.” “We have no room for your pram.” “It folds into the size of a pocket handkerchief. See?”)

“Thai food with attitude? Sounds like home,” sniffed my Sydney mate, Paco. But once I got past the door witches and into the domain of the smiling, heavily tattooed waiting staff, we were home and hosed.

It is beautiful. The kingfish sashimi with its shredded lime leaves is just beautiful. Don’t think boring potato-loaded massaman and cheap-ass green curries. It was vibrant, cute and saucy – perhaps a little too saucy, with my spanner crab and chicken salad sliding into the dressing by the end. Still, at the beginning, the salad was just perfect. And let’s face it, with all those wannabe diners pressing their noses to the window, you won’t be leaving food hanging around.

Chin Chin 125 Flinders La, Melbourne, (03) 8663 2000, chinchinrestaurant.com.au

Rise and shine: the new islands of the north

Chopper cam: an uninhabited island in the Palm Island group.

After a flurry of sales and makeovers, Queensland’s islands of the north beckon anew.

After the devastation left by last year’s cyclone season, several
islands and resorts have refreshed and changed hands, including Orpheus,
Lizard and Dunk islands, Fitzroy Island Resort and the celebrity haunt
Bedarra Island Resort, which was reportedly sold for just $6 million.

Six million dollars seems to be the magic number, as Orpheus’s new
owner has also just snapped up a tropical island for about the same
small change.

Cheong Liew and Arie Prabowo

The only way to the resort is via the skies in the
teensiest little helicopter, an egg beater that skims over uninhabited
islands, lonely atolls, the ruins of a former leper colony and busy Palm
Island, with a population of between 2000 and 3000 indigenous folk.
Orpheus’s new owner knows which side his bread is buttered on: he also
owns The Botanical in Melbourne’s dress circle, South Yarra, and has
lured Cheong Liew out of retirement to set the tone for the resort’s
kitchens with his protege, Arie Prabowo.

Orpheus Island is a hilly dot 80 kilometres off the coast of
Townsville, in the Palm Islands group. Lashed by Yasi’s cyclonic winds
last year, the resort recently reopened and, if it plays its cards
right, will be one of those hideaways where sneaky celebs have no need
for wearing wigs or bad ’80s fashion.

To read more about the new islands of the north, click here

Bubba’s happy, mama’s happy, let’s eat!

“Does she like it?” celebrity chef and restauranteur George Calombaris is hovering at our table, hands clasped, face concerned.
The food critic puckers her lips and spits the spoon out, clean. Yes, George. My 10-month-old baby does like your strained pumpkin. Forget about the journalist, the baby is happy. And George is happy.
“I brought some baby food, in keeping with the theme,” I tell George. “It’s lamb with polenta, but it’s not  so great. Would you like to try it?”
“Um, no thanks,” he declines politely.

The fab prawn tortellini, $26

“There is no restaurant down this lane,” my taxi driver declared confidently on our way to MamaBaba.
But after opening in South Yarra on 20 January, at 7pm tonight, it’s
three-quarters full. At 8pm it’s packed and roaring, as bronzed Toorak
blondes pick over the menu which features a range of Italian pastas and risotto married with Greek favourites such as stifado and kritharaki.
“My mama is Greek. My baba is Italian. This is my food,” reads a large banner in the newest addition to the Calombaris empire which includes the Press Club, St Katherine’s and the gorgeous Hellenic Republic.
George’s website tells me he’s been voted one of the top 40 most influential chefs in the world, and in the top 100 most influential Australians. The man knows his onions, and, more importantly, he knows what onions we like.

So it should come as no surprise during Australia’s current baby boom that I find that the tv judge’s new menu includes three types of baby food ($3.50), served in little glass jars with a label that reads ‘Just like my mama used to make’.
There were some timing issues (why did the complementary taste, a baby chicken parma topped with an Italian flag, come out at the same time as my main?)  but for the record, my prawn tortellini, soft pasta dumplings filled with prawn mousse and prawn meat saganaki with cherry tomatoes and feta, is divine. The service is slick and the international wine list exciting. We’ll be back.

MamaBaba, 21 Daly St South Yarra