Expedition To Canberra

Date of Visit:  April 18 2015

A quick pictorial post of my visit to the capital of Australia, which is not Sydney but Canberra.  I made this trip primarily to see James Turrell’s Retrospective at the National Art Gallery in Canberra (my post on his Skyspace installation here).  It was also the first time that an art tour in the buff was introduced in the NGA (here)

Unfortunately I can’t post any pictures from the exhibition because photography was prohibited.  However, I do remember, that I was quite blown away by the surreal experience of immersing myself in the lights, fully clothed – so those in the nude would have had an out-of-this-world experience!  In any regards, if you are interested, do check out Artsy’s James Turrell page for more in-depth information on the artist.

I met a friend of mine attached to the Foreign Affairs, so he took me for a walking tour of Canberra.

Trees are especially pretty in autumn, one of the ideas for the design of the ‘Garden City’ is to promote a distinctive European feel…And walking by the artificial lake was very relaxing.

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Hues of Gold

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Hues of Reds

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Flags of all countries with an embassy in Canberra

Canberra is a geometric city with radials and axis… The direct axis from Parliament House to War Memorial

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Parliament House

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War Memorial

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The National Carillon on Aspen Island

A walk on Anzac Parade with many sculptural memorials…

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A hike up Mount Ainslie – the highest point in Canberra

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Panorama of Canberra

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Note the distinctive axis

I stayed at Hotel-Hotel, the newest and coolest hotel in Australia at the moment…

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Entrance

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Rear of Hotel-Hotel linking to cinema, offices and alternative exit to the street

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Small, tight hotel reception

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Restaurant/ Cafe

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A play on linear-planes using recycled timber

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My room

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Artwork on walls

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External artwork – more bikes

We had a good dinner at the hotel.  Prices are comparable to Sydney.

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Octopus with smoked curd (?)

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Duck breast with figs and cherries

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Apple crumble

This breakfast cost $14.50!  Very steep for 2 crumpets – and a cup of Long Black! Totally not worth the $$! 😓

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2 small crumpets, honey and butter

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Cute salt container

External of the hotel at the back…

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Facade treatment at the back, sun-shades and vertical gardens…

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Origami facade at the frontIMG_2586

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The art gallery outside the hotel (at the back)

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More artworks… an eagle crafted from metal

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Overall, I enjoyed Canberra and look forward to visiting it again – although my friend told me that it’s small and dull! 😉

REVIEW: Henri Toulouse-Lautrec Exhibition @ National Art Gallery, Canberra

Date of Visit:  January 14, 2013
Entrance: A$25
Time I took: 2hours
Verdict: 5 Stars

While in Canberra, I took time out to view Henri Toulouse-Lautrec Exhibition at the National Art Gallery. It was a good-call since it was excellently curated from the Master’s early works following the landscapes of Monet, Renoir and Cézanne (in the Impressionist genre) progressing to “La Goulue” of the famed Moulin-Rouge poster.

I was especially intrigued by Henri’s caricaturist style of figure drawing which brought to life the characters taken from brothels and seedy clubs in Montmartre and the infamous Moulin Rouge by narrating them in a melancoly of flat colours, marked silhouettes and unusual points of view.  The tilted upturned hoinky noses, simple strokes for feet, curvy strokes and empty spaces brought movement and undoubtedly draws the audience into the excitement of his caberet.  His broke ground by boldy decking his posters with logos, which pioneered today’s advertising mojo.

La Troupe De Mlle Eglantine

La Troupe De Mlle Eglantine

Before attending the exhibition, I had no idea what he looked like nor for that matter – a DWARF – the result of generations of inbreeding – his maternal and paternal grandmas were sisters!  So I guess the sharp pointy upturned noses of his subjects were the result of his perspective from looking up people’s noses. He used simple strokes for his subjects’ feet since his own legs were stunted and child-like.  Imagine a man with a full-grown torso with tiny arms and legs!  He must have been a very shrewd and self-confident man to be able to poke fun in himself in order to be accepted into the Parisian arts and cultural scene.

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Henri being very a cheeky bugger in a Japanese costume

Henri showed real feelings towards his subjects through the tenderness he depicted on their faces by spending time detailing their features. His attention is turned to personages whereby “he focuses and analyses at close the human “type” that he meets (ala Flaubert) and he presents them under an ironic distorted light with new frames, new cut of scenes, new colours and new juxtapositions of colours.”

On a closer examination of his companions’ potraits, one can see his sense of humor and his cryptic messages, eg making fun of his man-around-town friend, Louis, below with a phalic-like walking-cane tucked under his arm.

Monsieur Louis Pascal (1891)

Monsieur Louis Pascal (1891)

Henri is very “Japonaised”. He was strongly influenced by Utamaro and the Japanese ukiyo-e woodprints.  Both artists emphasized the new connections between art and everyday life eg lives of the working-class women in brothels and even lived with them.

Note the slender neck, swish of hair and state of undress… very Geisha methinks!  Also, a bit of goss aside – he has a fetish for redheads!

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Combing

Henri’s monogramed ukiyo-eish signature on his painting, so similar to Asian painters’ seal.

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Toulouse-Lautrec monogram

In Henri’s posters, he extrapolated the theme of the Japanese’s graphic linearism, eg the profiles of the top-hat man and the black shadows behind the subject.  He also loved splattering, which is sprinkling his painting with diluted washes of paint (you need to sneak up close to the real thing to see it).

Moulin Rouge:  La Goulue 1891

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue (1891)

Henri’s posters are art masterpieces and documents of an age – they WIN public’s love.  What makes the poster so successful was that poster resonates with the grassroot people, since it is cheap to reproduce (lithography), thus everyone can have a piece of artwork to hang in their house.  This explained why his early posters were taken down (aka stolen by his admirers) as soon as they were put up.  Hear, hear, Posters = high artwork affordable by the common people.

On a personal note, he was estanged from his father because he was a commercial artist – which was a ‘no-no’ in aristocracy.  Fortunately, they reconciled shortly before his death aged 36 because he father came to realised that he was making oodles of money!

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His commercial work

Similar to contemporary rockstars, an artist needs a promoter, and his promoter was his mom. She built him a museum after his death so his legacy lives on. Viva Mama!

Some FYI additional reading:
Henri de Toulouse-L​autrec and Japanese ukiyo-e | Modern Tokyo Times
Japan Uki-yoe museum has the largest collection of Ukiyo-e collection in Japan, unfortunately the web is in Japanese.

This is my favourite painting of all – “Le Goulue with 2 women”.  Isn’t she the quintessential Grand Dame around town? Check out her style – lazy eyes, smirk on her face,  a ciggy dangling from her lips rocking the eff-the world attitudeGeez, only Henri can elevate vulgarism to classy!  LOL
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‘The’ Canberra Restaurant to Try…Aubergine or Courgette

So, you’re only in Canberra for a flying visit?  Which Hat-ed Restaurant to try? Let me help you… pictorially…

(Psst… As usual, before I embark onto a new destination, I will suss-out places to eat.  For Canberra, dinner for the first night was undoutedly – Aubergine – it’s Number 1 in both SMH Guide and Australian Gourmet Traveller – I mean, the moniker ‘A Chica Around Town’ must get some street cred by trying out THE Best Restaurant in Canberra 2013, right?  The 2nd night was a tough call – I  was deciding on CourgetteWaters Edge and Sage.  Coincidentally, Courgette and Waters Edge are owned by the same chap.  In the end, I decided to go for Courgette, which was the previous Best Restaurant in Canberra 2012.)

So, both the restaurants I chose are name after vegs – which veg came out TOPS?

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Date of Visit:  January 14, 2013

First up, Aubergine.  We decided on the A$95 degustation menu (in hindsight, we should have gone for the A$80, 3-course menu which many local diners ordered – they are bigger portioned!  Duh!)

Amuse Bouche:  A prawn cracker with wasabi mayo and bonito flakes.  (Betcha, one can get similar prawn crackers from any local Asian grocers *wink*)

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Amuse Bouche

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Amuse Bouche close-up

Wine:  Grey Sands Pinot Noir from Northern Tassie, A$60 for a half-bottle.  (Always happy with retaurants with half-bottles serves).  Pleased with my wine, 2009 with a bit of age.

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Course 1:  Was curious in the black flakes, so enquired the waitress about them.  They were bonito-salted flakes.  Hmm..salty and ashy…kinda OK… I really enjoyed the smoked trout parfait though, creamy and smooth almost like creme fraiche

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Confit of ocean trout, smoked trout parfait, shaved fennel, pickled cucumber

Course 2:  Pretty on the plate, but my tummy grumbles… 2 dainty bite-size pork bellies – fried in light batter – chef possibly experimenting tempura-style?  The spanner crab was not fresh – I should have known, since I could smell the ‘crustaceaness’ of it (if there is ever a word to describe it) – being allergic to crustaceans, I got a reaction.  Bummer!

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Salad of crispy pork belly, hand-picked spanner crab, watermelon, rouille

Course 3:  Really?  Seriously?!  How can this be the ‘Best Restaurant in Canberra’, when I can get better cuts from my local deli (Norton Street, BJ) or David Jones?!  Still, some cred for the scoth egg – it had a runny yolk – as Heston said boil egg (for 3 mins, for the hen’s egg), soak in cold water, peel, deep fry then finally bake.

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Quail breast, quail sausage, caramelised endive, scotch quail egg

Course 4:  Bonito Overkill!  This time I got the whole bonito! Yay!  What exactly is a ‘bonito‘?  I see it often in Japanese menus, never thought twice about it, but they are apparently sardines.  So, this sardine has been smoked and possibly dried over charcoal – if you have seen ‘Jiro’s Dreams of Sushi’, you’d have seen his son/ assistant sitting on a stool, outside their shop, patiently fanning the nori sheets over the charcoal pot.  So how was the taste?  Very tough and very salty (the white stuff on top were salt powders).  The beef was OK, done to my liking, which is medium rare, but salty, made even more salty with the horseradish crust

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Cape Grim beef rib eye, horseradish crust, smoked potato mash, braised mushrooms, 1 whole BONITO

Intermission time:  So, how was the interior?  Check out the pic.  Now you know that this restaurant is ideal for dates and some larger parties.  Parking is fantastic since it’s in the suburban shopping strip of Griffith.

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What the restaurant looks like

Palate cleanser:  I REALLY liked this!  Macerated cherries, ice cream and cherry sorbet!  It’s a close-up snapshot and was gone in 2 secs!

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Course 5:  Nothing really rocked.  It’s a close-up snap again, on the actual plate, it looked a pittance.  But, then again, I enjoyed the liquorice custard

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Dark chocolate ganache, liquorice custard, strawberries

So there you have it, my tapas-style European 5-course degustation dinner.  I guess this wasn’t the restaurant’s best effort since I found out later on their FB page that they were looking for a sous chef and a pastry chef.

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Date of Visit:  January 15, 2013

The next night, we tried Courgette’s offerings.  Their 4-course dinner menu at A$75 is CHEAP – for a French fine-dining restaurant, that is.

Course 1:  I really like the presentation (my iPhone 4s didn’t do justice).  I can almost feel the jelly melting in my mouth.  Anyway, my companion who had this said that the crab was very fresh and she liked it!

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■Blue swimmer crab, avocado, tomato and jelly raviolo, lime mayonaisse, baby celery

I chose this dish in honour of the name of the restaurant – Courgette!  And I’m happy with my choice!  The pumpkin ginger mash was perfectly fried and still crispy and warm when it came to me.

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■Pumpkin and ginger filled courgette flower, globe artichoke, ratatouille

Course 2:  The chef is very surf-and-turf for the 2nd Course.  My companion had squail and scampi.  I tried a bit of the sesame seed wafer, it’s like lavash and smells very sesame – so that is good!

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■Pan seared quail breast, butter poached scampi tail on corn mousse, split peas, sesame seed wafer, shaved black truffle

Mine was lamb with octopus.  It was an interesting pairing, but took off!  The gamey lamb with usually ‘tasteless’ octopus pulled off with the rich sticky caramelised sauce

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■Double lamb cutlet with aubergine caviar, slow cooked octopus, bell pepper and olive cannelloni

Course 3:  My companion remarked that the gnocchi were ‘al dente’.  So game on, Courgette!

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■Potato and parmesan gnocchi, asparagus tips, truffle, wild mushroom ragout, petite herbs

Mine was a heavy dish, very satisfying… *burp*…I was interested in the ‘ox-tail cigar’ and was not dissapointed.

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■Grainge grainfed angus beef, oxtail cigar, glazed eschalot, sugar snap salad

Course 4:  My companion had this.  The trick was to dip the choc spoon into the souffle to let it melt (psst…a cheeky trick from the chef, so you won’t know whether the souffle is cooked)  The expresso jelly was good too – like roll-ups!

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■Coffee soufflé with chocolate and hazelnut parfait, toasted marsmallow and espresso jelly

This is my plate.  I liked the popping candy (aka pralines) and the little jelly cubes, otherwise, not memorable.

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■Assorted textures of chocolate with fresh raspberries, salted pistachio nuts and popping candy

Nightcap:  We order tea, and they came with honey and lemon!  Little touches but fantastic!

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I guess you’d know my verdict by now.  Definitely Courgette!!

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