Quirky Sculptures @ The Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park, Mornington Peninsula

Enjoy good food, wine, art and the outdoors all in one at the Pt Leo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula, home to not one but two award-winning restaurants, a winery and cellar door, as well as 60 sculptures spread across 135 hectares of land. The sculpture park was one of our last stops to the area, and being located close to the edge of the peninsula, afforded beautiful views of the coast.

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The design of its restaurant is modern and contemporary, with lots of wood accentuated by touches of sleek black. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for a meal, but we did manage to explore parts of the massive sculpture park.

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The Pt Leo Estate is fairly new, having opened in 2017. Owned by the Gandels, who made their fortunes in retail, the ambitious project had a cost of over AUD 50 mil. The park, dotted with sculptures from international as well as Australian artists, can be enjoyed on well-paved walkways that wind through the hilly green. There are two circuits, one which takes 30 minutes to complete, the other 60.

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One of the most striking sculptures in the park is a nine-metre ‘sleeping’ head by Catalan artist Plensa. The sculpture is such that the three-dimensional sculpture projected a 2D ‘flat’ effect when seen from different angles, which was, to me, quite a trippy viewing experience.

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You can get up close to most of the sculptures and touch them; except the ones taht are fenced off.

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Surrounded by vineyards and flanked by the coast, the sculpture park and its quirky, oft times beautiful structures made for the perfect outdoor art gallery. If you’re dining at the restaurant, entrance is free. Otherwise, its AUD10 per pax.

Opening hours: 11AM – 5PM (Sculpture park and cellar door); Restaurant opening hours: 12 – 5PM Sun – Wed, 9.30PM Thurs and 10.30 PM Fri-Sat.

PT LEO ESTATE 

3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, Vic

ptleoestate.com.au

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Make Your Own Chocolate @ Mornington Peninsula Chocolaterie & Ice-Creamery, Flinders

 

Tucked by the sea on the Mornington Peninsula, the tiny town of Flinders (population: 905) is a two-hour drive south of Melbourne. Charming and idyllic, there are virtually no tall buildings here, and the main street is a wide expanse lined with beautifully manicured lawns and quaint shopfronts, some (like the post office and general store) of which date back to the 19th century, when the town was founded.

That is not to say that there isn’t anything to do in Flinders – it’s quite the opposite. I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite being away from the city centre, there is lots to do in town for visitors, from art galleries and golf courses, to nature trails, beaches and scuba diving sites.

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If you’re a chocolate or ice cream lover, then more reason to visit as Flinders is also home to the Mornington Peninsula Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery. Opened in December 2018 by husband and wife team Ian and Leanne Neeland (who are also behind the highly popular Yarra Valley and Great Ocean Road Chocolateries), the shop was a packed with customers during our visit on a Saturday, as staff bustled about handing out free samples and introducing the best flavours. The store offers a whopping 180 different chocolate varieties!

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Aside from ready-packed boxes you can get as souvenirs, the chocolaterie also offers handcrafted artisan chocolates, which form a colourful tapestry on display – each looking prettier than the last! The team behind these mini masterpieces are European chocolatiers, and you can watch them in action at the store and get an insight into the art of chocolate making.

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Better yet, try your hand at making chocolates, by joining one of the chocolaterie’s private Chocolate Discovery Classes. While you won’t be a master chocolatier anytime soon (that takes years of hard work and diligence!) it’s a great way to learn more about the art, and also take some of the chocolates you ‘make’ home.

Our session started off with tastings, and there were a variety of flavours to sample from. I like super dark chocolates, so the single origin cocoas were right up my alley, but I also liked the floral with its sweet, flowery scent, the spicy notes of the Buderim ginger, as well as the tangy hint from the Violet Forest Berries.

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More truffles for sampling!

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Our chocolatier, a pretty French lady (whose name slips my mind – I think it was Anne) guided us to create two chocolate items – chocolate bars (which we could fill up with our favourite toppings), as well as a chocolate lollipop to decorate. It felt like play-cooking at times! For the bar, after we made the ‘base’, we had to pour the chocolate over to seal up the toppings, which was easier said than done as we had to be quick with our hands, or the chocolate would spill over.

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I have the artistic capability of a five-year old. I think some five-year olds can probably make something better than this lol. Nevertheless, we had lots of fun and we left with plenty of chocolate (and some extra, to boot).

MORNINGTON PENINSULA CHOCOLATERIE & ICE CREAMERY 

45 Cook St, Flinders VIC 3929, Australia

Opening hours: 9AM – 5PM (daily)

mpchoc.com.au

 

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Review: Doot Doot Doot @ Jackalope Hotel, Mornington Peninsula

Our next stop in our Mornington Peninsula adventure brings us to the Jackalope Hotel, a luxury accommodation in Merrick’s North, an hour’s drive away from Melbourne. The hotel’s modern, industrial design is in stark contrast to the surrounding vineyards and farmlands, but it is this very element of fusion that permeates throughout the establishment. Greeting visitors at the entrance? A giant statue of a mythical rabbit with antelope horns, called the Jackalope.

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We venture in for a quick tour of the premises, which are equally quirky. The bar area exudes Alice-in-Wonderland vibes, with gold drapes on its couches and modern art pieces like busts forming part of the decor. The ceiling’s neon lights juxtaposed against the black wall create an illusion of floating in space.

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Laze on the decks by the 30-metre heated infinity pool, which faces the vineyards. On a quiet day, the pool is as still as a mirror, reflecting the blue skies above.

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With cool neon strips providing light in otherwise dark corridors, the Jackalope’s hallways are worthy of being a set for a neo-noir film.

A stay in one of its spacious rooms will set you back (a steep) AUD650, but it is worth it when you can sip on wine as you lounge in your bathtub with the windows open, taking in beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.

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We are ushered in the hotel’s contemporary fine dining restaurant, where its ceiling is a 10,000-strong rippling sea of lightbulbs. If the Jackalope was a single mythical entity, then Doot Doot Doot is a pack of them – which is also what the restaurant is named after. Funny name aside (I’m imagining a conversation where people go ‘Hey, lunch plans?’ ‘Yeah, let’s go to Doot Doot Doot?’), the menu is innovative and contemporary, drawing from fresh and seasonal ingredients.

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Canapes

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Doot Doot Doot offers a degustation menu (ie small, fine dining portions), so if you’re expecting rack of lamb or something substantial like steak, look elsewhere.

Our first course consisted of heirloom tomatoes, peach, burrata in umeboshi vinaigrette. Heirloom tomatoes are generally sweeter than regular tomatoes. Paired off with the tart flavours of the peach and umeboshi, as well as the creaminess of the burrata, and you get a well-balanced, light and refreshing dish.

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Flinders mussels with some brown butter emulsion, finger lime and seaweed powder were served in their shells ‘on the rocks’, which made for seriously addictive finger food. On another sharing plate, the molluscs were deep fried and served on chips like open-faced tacos.

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Prawn, carrot butter, sake roe and shell powder was next, garnished with tiny little flowers from the restaurant’s herb garden. Sweet and springy, the shrimp’s flavours were accentuated by the creamy carrot butter and sake roe.

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Snapper, eggplant pickle, beach herbs and lemongrass reminded me very much of the Asian cooking I am used to back in Malaysia. Firm but supple, the fish flaked on the tongue, slowly releasing the savoury flavours it had absorbed from the broth it was served in.

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Rounding off the meal, dessert was Blackberry, violet cream, beet juice and cacao nibs, a wonderful medley of textures and nuanced flavours. The dish was more sour than sweet, but I actually preferred this over something like cake or ice cream.

Dining at Doot Doot Doot will cost you (about AUD400 for 2 pax), but the service and food is on par with fine-dining establishments in the city, and you get nice views of the vineyards to boot. If you’re staying at Jackalope for the night, this will be a nice add-on to the entire experience.

DOOT DOOT DOOT 

166 Balnarring Rd, Merricks North VIC 3926, Australia

Open for lunch and dinner

Phone: +61 3 5931 2500 

or book via thefork.com.au

 

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Riding The Cable Car To Arthur’s Seat, Mornington Peninsula

Just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula is a popular weekend getaway spot for Melburnians who crave relaxation, nature and a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

One of the must-do activities while in the Mornington Peninsula is a ride on a gondola at Arthur’s Seat Eagle. The cable car takes visitors from the base at Dromona up to the peak of Arthur’s Seat – a 314-metre-above-sea-level hill which offers expansive views of the surrounding nature as well as Melbourne from afar.

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Dromona Base station.

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Originally, Arthur’s Seat had a chairlift service (the kind you see at ski resorts), which was opened in 1960. After several accidents and safety concerns, the service was closed and they decided to build a gondola system instead. The new service started operations in 2016.

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The ride up was cool and relaxing, and we could observe the surrounding bush and countryside as we slowly made our way to the top. If you’re adventurous, you can actually go on walking trails, some of which take you through exotic and indigenous gardens complete with picnic and camping facilities.

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Once at the top you will be rewarded with scenic views of the surrounding countryside, Melbourne in the distance, the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas, as well as Port Philip Bay and its azure blue waters. Low lying clouds made it appear as if the sky was blending into the water – a spectacular sight.

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While you’re at the lookout point – check out interesting plants indigenous to the region, like these kangaroo paw plants. No points for guessing how they got their name.

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Getting There 

By car: Access is by the Nepean Highway or by connecting from the Monash Freeway (M1), to Eastlink (M3) [use Frankston/Mornington Peninsula Exit] and on to Peninsula Link (M11) [use Portsea Exit].

Exit off the freeway at Arthurs Seat/Dromana (C789) to access the Base Station or continue up Arthurs Seat to the Summit.

By Public Transport:
Take the Frankston Line Train to Frankston station. Catch the Portsea Passenger Service (Bus #788) to the Dromana Visitor Information Centre. The Base Station is a 15 minute walk away.

Base Station
1085 Arthurs Seat Road
Dromana, Victoria 3936

Summit Station
795 Arthurs Seat Road
Arthurs Seat, Victoria 3936

Melbourne’s Best Kept Secret: The Lyon Housemuseum in Kew

Melbourne is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene – and while art galleries and museums abound within the city, the quiet suburban neighbourhood of Kew houses one unlike any other.

Enter the Lyonhouse Museum at 219 Cotham Road.

Part museum, part home, it is where the owners, the Lyons, display their extensive collection of contemporary Australian artwork – the largest in Australia. It is also where they live.

Photo by Dianna Snape

The Lyon Housemuseum was designed by architect Corbett Lyon. Together with his wife Yueji, the couple have been collecting art for over 29 years, and now have over 350 pieces. When they decided to move into a new home in the mid-2000s, they decided to have a purpose-built residence-cum-museum, inspired by private art collections displayed in residential settings, such as Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

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Stepping into the living room, we were welcomed by art pieces and installations blending harmoniously together with regular furniture like a cosy sofa, couches and bookshelves. In a corner were two large and cute-looking ‘baby’ trucks, one in pink and the other in blue, by Patricia Piccinini.

Yueji Lyon brought us on a tour of the home. She pointed at the ceiling and walls, which were covered in text that came together to form the word ART. “You get the names of the girls’ (Yueji’s daughters) best friends, places we’ve visited, and there’s also text in Chinese, which is my first language,” Yueji quipped. “It’s like a history of the house’s occupants.” She then flipped open a cupboard to reveal a collection of trinkets and souvenirs that the family has collected from their travels. It was certainly a unique thing to see, how the space blended both the public and the private.

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At the hallway was The Carrier 2012, also by Patricia Piccinini – featuring the figure of an ape-like creature carrying an old woman. The sculpture was extremely life-like, from the texture of the ‘skin’ down to the minute detail of folds, creases, fine hairs, moles and blemishes. Many of her works follow the same vein with humanoid/artificial elements blended together; fascinating but also somewhat unsettling. Imagine stumbling across this late at night!

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The Central Music Room was a large auditorium-esque hall with a massive, modified pipe organ that extended up to the ceiling. Yueji tells the group that if Corbett was the one leading the tour, he’d usually perform a piece for the audience! I was touched by how the family has opened up their home and their private collection for others to be able to enjoy them.

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There was another room downstairs which I didn’t manage to take a picture of – a ‘Black Cube Space’ for video art. The cavernous ceiling made it feel like a movie theatre, and Yueji tells us that her daughters used to have friends over for sleepover nights there, where they’d watch films. Must be nice to have your own cinema at home!

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The central space in the house is the White Cube, which resembles more of an actual art gallery, with white washed walls hung with paintings and artwork, as well as a central installation. Visitors are able to look down at it from the upper floor, as there are glass windows surrounding the space.

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The dining room.

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Even paper/print bags from their travels / shopping make for great decoration for the walls.

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My dream home will have a book collection as big as this.

There are parts of the housemuseum that are not open to the public, such as the bedrooms, so visitors can’t just barge into wherever they like. It is, after all, still a private residence, and must be respected as such.

Visiting the Lyon Housemuseum was certainly a unique experience, and one that was very different from a regular art gallery. A must if you’re in Melbourne! Bookings for tours may be done at lyonhousemuseum,com.au. and cost AUD25 per pax (tours are limited to groups of 25). Alternatively, there is a more conventional gallery space adjacent to the Housemuseum building.

Sheer Wizardry: Watching The Harry Potter And The Cursed Child Play In Melbourne

When I was 11, I recall stumbling across a dog-eared book at my cousin’s place. On the cover was a flying blue car with two boys and an owl sandwiched in between. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, the title said. I flipped it… and a whole new world of wonder and imagination opened up to me. Harry Potter and the wizarding world in which he inhabited and battled Lord Voldemort was the pinnacle of adventure for me. Needless to say, I secretly wished for a Hogwarts letter of my own!

When you grow up with a story and its characters, they become like friends. I anguished over Sirius’ death, rooted for Ron and Hermione to finally get together, and even years after the series ended, there is and always will be a special place in my heart (and bookcase) for the Harry Potter books. I was beyond excited when my editor told me I was going to Melbourne.. to watch the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play! It was literally a dream come true.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play is based on a story written by JK Rowling, together with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, who also directs. Melbourne is the third place in which the play has been staged since it made its debut on London and Broadway. Housed in the historic Princess Theatre in the city’s East End Theatre District, the building has been renovated exclusively for the play, and now includes beautiful themed fixtures including a giant nest at the entrance and various decorative elements within such as velvet red carpets with the Hogwarts sign, dragon-shaped lamps and more.

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The play is about six hours long (!) and is split into two parts, intended to be seen within the same day, or on two different nights. The excitement was palpable as we stood in line to enter the theatre, with people dressed in robes and their ‘house colours’ waving wands. The atmosphere was infectious. After having read the last HP book years ago (Sorry Fantastic Beast fans, not too keen on the films), I was looking forward to entering that magical wizarding world again, one that had so captured my imagination as a child.

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The theatre was packed. Even before the stage opened, we could see that the set and the pieces were amazing; soaring buttresses, clocks on the archway, movable staircases. Then the lights dimmed, a hush fell over the crowd… and the magic began.

Featuring a 35-strong Australian and New Zealand cast, the story picks up with an adult Harry, now an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, and a husband and father of three school-aged children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

It’s hard to describe in words how the play is like: it is definitely an experience that you have to see to believe. The way wands light up in the darkness, the way actors appear and disappear from seemingly thin air and how brooms soar up into the air. There were parts where the audience laughed, cried and gasped as one – and I with them.

There were several breakout performances, especially by William McKenna as Scorpius Malfoy, Albus’ Potter’s best friend (whom I think is the real hero of the story!). I was also mindblown by the clever use of set pieces, which truly came together to create ‘real magic’. One of my favourites was the scene where Dementors actually float towards the audience and you can see the slow fluttering of their sleeves – it felt like they were real and not just props! Another was when our young heroes Albus and Scorpius try to escape from a moving train and the scene featured a gigantic train set piece.

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Of course, Part 1 ended with a cliffhanger, and once the lights came on the hall immediately burst into a riot of voices, as everyone started talking about what they had just seen. If it were up to me I could have sat through another three hours of the play but I guess the actors have to take a rest too. 😛

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The motto for the play is Keep The Secrets – ie no spoilers, so that others may go into the play and experience the magic for themselves.

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As part of a media entourage, we were given an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into production before the play opened for its second night – and as you can see, there is a lot that goes into making it a success. What we see on stage for a couple of seconds is the result of months of careful planning, and perhaps hours of setting up.

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You can visit the theatre during the day to get some Harry Potter exclusive merchandise such as scarves in the Hogwarts house colours, wands and other souvenirs.

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I always thought that I would be a Ravenclaw (being bookish and all) but surprisingly, got sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore. 😀

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People like a streak of the dark – the shirt with the Dark Mark was especially popular.

 

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The atmosphere was equally electric on the second night, as people now anticipated what the play had in store after the dramatic cliffhanger.

While I felt that the second part was as brilliant as it was the first, the climax that I anticipated never did come. It felt like last night’s cliffhanger was the climax, as opposed to the actual one in the second part. Still, the twist that came at the end was quite unexpected, and the play wrapped up on a high note.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play is definite must watch for Potterheads (heck, even non-Potterheads – although you do need a bit of a background knowledge of Harry’s world). Having it in Melbourne is an awesome idea, as it is the only one playing in the Southern hemisphere, making it more accessible to Potter fans who will not have to go all the way to North America or Europe. The play has taken up a two-year residency since early 2019, which means you will still have time to watch it until the end of 2020.

Tickets are available at harrypottertheplay.com/au/ticket-information/. 

 

 

 

Visiting The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

As Australia’s hub for culture and the arts, it is only fitting that the city of Melbourne is also home to the country’s oldest, largest and most visited art museum – the National Gallery of Victoria. Located on St Kilda Road in the Southbank neighbourhood, the gallery was founded in the 1860s, and today welcomes over 5 million visitors a year.

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You’d probably have to make a couple of return trips to fully appreciate the gallery’s mind-boggling breadth of exhibits, which number over 75,000 in total. Aside from Asian, international and Australian art, they also house a large collection of items such as artefacts, photographs, prints and other media.

The gallery regularly hosts special exhibitions, so there’s something new to see each time. I visited while they were running the Escher X Nendo: Between Two Worlds exhibition, which was absolutely fascinating.

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Maurits Cornelis Escher (better known as M.C.Escher) was a Dutch graphic artist. A lover of mathematics, Escher’s pieces include intensely detailed woodcuts, lithographs (graphic prints) and sketches, and often incorporated his love for mathematics by applying concepts such as symmetry, reflections and perspectives. “Impossible objects” – a type of optical illusion where a 2D object appears 3D but cannot physically ‘exist’ in the real world – was one of his fortes. In fact, it was Escher’s works that partly inspired the creation of the world-famous Penrose triangle (ie the impossible triangle).

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Escher’s works are immensely popular today, especially in Australia, but it was not widely recognised until much later in his life, when he was in his 70s.

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Waterfall, 1961.

Escher was reportedly a poor student at school, so it was amazing to observe the complexity of his designs, as well as how much precision there was in each stroke and detail. His work became, for good reason, very popular among mathematicians and scientists.

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The exhibition also featured installations by Japanese studio Nendo, created specifically to complement Escher’s works. The installations were essentially physical manifestations of the world of Escher, inviting visitors into a glimpse of his mind. We walked through a series of ‘houses’, gradually changing colour and form from black to white, open to closed… or was it the other way around?

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A series of separate black rods that appeared as houses and frames when viewed from just the right angle.

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You can’t tell from the picture but the tunnel actually got smaller at the far end – an optical illusion.

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One of my favourite rooms in the exhibition featured thousands of tiny die cast ‘houses’. When viewed from afar, they formed the dark shape of a larger house.

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Escher’s last work, Snakes, 1969. Escher often took inspiration from nature, drawing insects, plants and animals. It somehow reflects the precise and mathematical nature of creation, where everything seems to have been ‘made’ with purpose – it makes you question if creation was really a random occurrence.

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Drawing Hands, 1948. 

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Another exhibition that was running during my visit was by Julian Opie, an English visual artist. His hallmark consists of walking figures drawn with thick black lines and minimal detailing. After Escher’s detail-heavy pieces, Opie’s work felt a tad simple – but also kind of refreshing.

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A video piece featuring moving figures

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Portraits

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I moved on to explore the permanent exhibits, which are spread across four floors. Unfortunately, as I was pressed for time, I had to breeze through the sections, but it was still fascinating to see the many different types of art as well as artefacts in the gallery’s collection.

 

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Ancient Greek vases

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I don’t even know what’s happening here

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A section dedicated to more contemporary art, using digital projections in a space

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If you’re ever in Melbourne, I highly recommend a visit to the NGV – dedicate at least a whole day if you love culture, art and history. There’s just so much to see within, and I guarantee you’ll leave with more than you came in with. There is also a nice souvenir shop on the ground floor that has a great selection of books, trinkets, gifts and other items to take home.

Entrance is free.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA 

180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3006, Australia

Opening hours: 10AM – 5PM

 

 

Food Review: Lesa, Melbourne

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. If I had to choose a place to live (other than KL), Melbourne would definitely be on top of the list. Why? Aside from a thriving arts and culture scene, they’ve also got awesome coffee. And of course, food. Australians in general are big on food and wine, but Melbourne is on another level. Not only is the scene one of the world’s most sophisticated, you literally cannot find food that sucks here, lol. Or at least not any that I’ve tried.

Enter Lesa, upstairs from another popular resto, Embla, along Russel Street. Ascend a dark and narrow staircase to find a cosy spot that is contemporary and slightly reserved; not too casual but not intimidating either. Rough, brick walls are complemented by sleek wooden furniture, the large glass windows allowing for plenty of sunlight to filter in during the day. It’s the perfect place for intimate dinner dates or a long lunch with business associates and/or friends – preferably with a glass of wine from their extensive list.

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Our four-course menu kicked off with Fermented potato flatbread, shiitake and macadamia. Fluffy with a crisp crust, the bread was elevated to new heights with the macadamia cream and the rich earthiness of the shiitake oil.

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Next was Spanner Crab, Floratina Tomatoes, Pine Nut & Laurel, a delightful combination of flavours pairing the natural sweetness of the carb with the tartness of the tomatoes, the slight bitter sharpness of the laurel and pine nut. Being a big fan of seafood, this was right up my alley!

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My favourite of the lot was the third course: Lamb rump, chocolate capsicum, garlic and almond. Chocolate capsicum sounds like a crazy combination, but it worked surprisingly well – it was almost like eating a mild and chewy sweet. The lamb was the star of the show – perfectly pink and succulent, with just the right balance of lean and fat.

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Sides of roast potato and reine de glace iceberg, rocket and hazelnut. Now people who know me know I’m not a big fan of vegetables, but these were so fresh and nicely dressed that it had me going for seconds.

 

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Last but not least was the innovative Roast potato parfait, chocolate, sourdough, lemongrass. This is one of those non-sweet desserts that do just as well as an ending to the meal; loved the creamy texture of the parfait and the fragrant notes of lemongrass.

Originality is definitely Lesa’s strong suit; the dishes are creative and put together in ways that many other restaurants will not even dare to go near with a ten-foot pole. Presentation can appear sparse, but what really matters here is flavour.

LESA 

level 1/122 Russell St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

Phone: +61 3 9935 9838

Business hours: Wed & Sat (dinner service only – 5.30PM – 11PM), Thurs & Fri (lunch and dinner, 12 – 3PM, 5.30 – 11PM). Closed from Sun – Tues.

lesarestaurant.com.au