Restaurant Review: Libertine in Melbourne

January 22, 2009


During the four weeks in Glenburn, Victoria I made it to the big city (= Melbourne) only once. My friend Tony Arthur had organised a lunch with Joe and Helen and myself at “Libertine”, a French restaurant in North Melbourne.

When Tony mentioned the name of the place we were supposed to meet in town over the phone, I was already enthralled. For a liberal like me, “libertine” augured well, promising freedom of French provenance.


The restaurant is tucked away between various other entrances and not easily glimpsed. I came in my pick-up truck from the countryside and had to circle the place.

The dining area downstairs is rather small but I understand they have more facilities upstairs. When I arrived at 12:30 sharp, my friends had already assembled. Most tables were still empty but that would change very quickly. The place was packed just a little later.

Tony, Helen and Joe had been travelling together in France. As a native of Trier, Mosel, just a few kilometres from France I am not exactly a stranger to French culture and cuisine and consider myself a “francophile”.

We started with aperitifs. I was introduced to a Floc de Gascogne. Based on a XVI century local recipe, this is a fortified sweet wine, a blend so to say, between fresh grape juice (2/3) and Armagnac (1/3). It is kept for about 10 months in the cellar. The aromas it displays are almond, jasmine, roses and honey. The alcohol content of the drink varies between 16 and 18%.

Also the second aperitif, a Pommeau de Normandie was a “mistelle”, in this case a mixture of apple juice with Calvados. It’s usually aged in oak barrels for about 30 months and contains 17% alcohol. The drink displays aromas of vanilla, caramel and butterscotch flavours.


The Pommeau de Normandie


The Floc de Gascogne

The next two photos introduce the diners. A happy lot they were. We had not met for more than a year. It was easy to lure me down to town from my farm upcountry in the Upper Goulburn to meet up and dwell on the happenings of the past months.


Tony and Joe


Helen and me


My steak

We all ordered the set menue were you have a couple of choices. I opted for the fresh onion soup, followed by a steak. The dessert I choose was a “tarte de pomme”, all very delicious. The service was relaxed but very attentive; the food of an excellent quality and taste for a very reasonable price.

We were also advised on the wines. We went with the house wine, all from bottles, a Roundstone Cabernet Merlot from the Yarra Valley. Helen had a Lis Neris Bianco from Italy. The blokes followed up with a glass of Tempranillo but by that time we were beyond producers and other wine information. I just did not record any of it any more because we were deep in philosophical conversation about love, life and the universe.


The dessert

We had a coffee at the end, bid each other farewell and scattered in all direction with the sincere promise to repeat this as soon as possible but latest at our next visit in Australia.

The Libertine is a great restaurant. If you visit Melbourne you should schedule a meal either lunch or dinner with your friends in this atmospheric little place.

500 Victoria Stret
North Melbourne 3051
Melbourne, Victoria

The North-South Pipeline II: Liberal democracy at its worst

October 26, 2008

I am writing this piece from the city of Taoyuan on the beautiful island of Taiwan where I teach a course on “good governance in land administration”. Good governance is more likely to happen in a liberal democracy, but, it not always does. The desperate efforts of the Victorian government pushing the North-South-Pipeline project is a case in point. Components of good governance are transparency and participation, both of which are non-existent in the case of the pipeline project.

That politicians treat voters with contempt, is nothing new in emerging (young), transitional democracies. But that this can also happen in a well established and more or less functional system is quite remarkable. The current Victorian state government is a great show case for arrogance of the ones who govern vis-a-vis the governed. In its election manifesto before the 2006 election the Labour party claimed that they would not take water from the north of the divide if elected. Making and keeping promises is of course an entirely different matter. Democratic institutions and governing mechanisms guaranteeing, that the strong cannot push the weak around at will, seem to be out of order.

Many political analysts think that the government has deliberately misled the Victorian public in justifying the pipeline project ( and

That the labour governments does not give a damn for rural populations is nothing new. Their voters are mainly sitting in the metropolitan area of Melbourne. However, the way the Victorian government pushed its ambitious North-South Pipeline project through is worth analysing. Here, you can witness an ecological disaster in the making. If the 21st century has more of this to offer to us in rural Australia, one of the backbones of the Australian rural economy will go down the gurgler in the years to come. The rural-urban divide is widening these days.

A similar pipeline project for the rural towns of Ballarat and Bendigo (The Goldfields superpipe) incurring huge costs to the taxpayers has miserably failed. The simple truth is: “where there is no water, there is nothing to be taken” and therefore the pipeline remains mainly dry.

Moreover, private property rights are not well protected these days, it seems. The so called “public interest” overrules private rights and dispossess many. That’s also so in the pipeline case. At the end of September some of our neighbours (Deb McLeish and Deb Bertalli) protesting the “invasion” of their lands by pipeline workers were taken into custody by police. If the state would react like this vis-a-vis those gamblers (CEO’s, bank and fund managers, traders, speculators, at Lehman Brothers or AIG, etc.) who destroyed billions of wealth in the recent financial crisis, our jails would be full. But they all walk free, enjoying even bailouts paid for by the little guys and their taxes.

Grass roots initiatives such as “Plug the Pipe” have organised widespread protests but to no avail. The government’s slogan “Our water, our future” does not include rural residents, it seems. But rural Victorians cannot even say, “our water, Melbourne’s future”, because there is no water in the rural hinterland of Victoria. Lake Eildon is at 23% of its capacity and allocations are just 4%. Water restrictions in many rural settlements (97 rural towns and cities) and are on stage 4 and this not just since yesterday (since 2002). The city is thirsty. This year Melbourne consumes more water than all the Goulburn farmers use for irrigating their crops.

An article carried by The Age website today, discussed the findings of a confusing state government-commissioned report (by the Sydney based Institute of Sustainable Futures) which comes to the conclusion that Melbourne does not need any new water-saving schemes in the future because of the abundance of water sources. I wonder how that will happen?

Eildon reservoir dry like a bone

I came across an interesting website when participating in an e-democracy forum the other day. As a wonderful example of participatory democracy the city of Melbourne was praised. On you can inform yourself about the vision the government has for the years to come. You can also participate in writing the plan of the town if you enter the wiki link. There are videos, maps, an e-village, and other things, state of the art, as far as modern participatory democracy is concerned, so you might think.

If the same method would have been applied when the North-South Pipeline project was in the making, the results might have been different. Instead secrecy, intrigue and deceit were the tools used by the Victorian government. Participatory democracy is only for those the government cares for but not us rural folks, that’s clear.

What does Melbourne want to become in 2010 according to the website?

A City for People
A Prosperous City
An Eco City
A Connected City
A Knowledge City
A Bold & Inspirational City

The same cannot be said about the rural areas surrounding the metropolitan area. They will be dried out so that Melbourne has sufficient water to become, let it slowly roll over your tongue, an “eco-city”.

Whow, that blows me away, really. It’s not easy to not turn into a cynic. I guess the Victorian government’s decision-makers should have sat in my classes on good governance here in Taoyuan. Though, I doubt it would have helped.

From North to South

September 28, 2008

Pinot Noir grapes at the Ahr.

It’s vintage time in my native Germany. Reports I am reading about the harvest conditions seem to indicate that everything is going well. Also my German wine blogger colleagues seem to be content.

Down under in Victoria, we have springtime. Spring is usually Victoria’s wettest season. However, weather reports indicate that this September will be one with the lowest precipitation in history of Victoria.

Melbourne recorded only 16 mm of rain in September, the lowest since recording began in 1855. The long-term average is about 59 mm. Also average day temperature was well above the long-term average (19 instaed of 17 degrees celsius) which make September 2008 the warmest September since 2001. The same trend could be observed regarding night temperatures.

Reservoirs around the state are at a record low as well. That’s no good news for vintners and grape growers.

I wonder how full our two dams at Two Hills Vineyard are. So far we had always had sufficient water to bridge the 4-6 weeks of high summer. Last year we had hoped that the draught would be finally broken. That seems not to be the case.

But as always, we hope for a good harvest.

Lake Eildon low on water (only 23% of capacity, 09/2008)

From the Old to the New World: My Vineyard in Glenburn, Victoria

January 10, 2007

Today I want to take you to a small place in Central Victoria Glenburn, between Yarra Glen and Yea, about one hour northeast of the capital city of Melbourne. From there we drive about 5 km up north and turn right into Two Hills Road, a gravel road which will lead us to our vineyard.

The vineyard
Our vineyard facing north

It’s all grazing land here surrounded by gum forests of the national park. Most residents are retirees; many are weekenders. The vineyard is located on the right hand side on a 50 acres block (about 21 ha). It consists of about 1 ha Sauvignon Blanc (planted in 1996), 1 ha of Pinot Noir (planted in 2002) and 1.3 ha of Merlot (planted in 1997). The rest of the land is grassland with some small patches of gum trees and a small forest. A small river, Katy’s Creek, builds the boundary on one side.

Second Hill

Two Hills Vineyard towards our second dam

In 2001 we had our first vintage. Our Sauvignon Blanc of 2002 even won us a bronze medal at the Singapore Wine Show.The wines are available in Melbourne at the Old England Hotel in Heidelberg (bottle shop;, at the Berry Cafe in Dixons Creek (on the way from Yarra Glen to Yea) and in the Alexandra supermarket chain. In Germany my friend Dr Ulrich Hillejan (Gesellschaft fuer Unternehmensentwicklung mbH, sells our Merlot to other friends and family. At the moment we have only Merlot 2004 for sale. All the other wines have sold out which is of course good news for the producer and bad news for the consumer. 2006 was our most successful year so far. We had a good harvest (after a complete loss in 2005 due to adverse weather conditions), sold all our grapes, and most of our wines. The 2006 vintage of Merlot is ripening in French and American oak and will be bottled in March 2007.
We are selling most of the fruit to other wineries. Living abroad is not very conducive to wine marketing. Another friend, Steve Sadlier of Vineadvice from Yarra Glen, takes care of the vineyard management. He is our viticulturist. Our wines are made by another friend, Alan Johns, owner and winemaker of Yering Farm Wines (please visit their website at:

The wine region is called the Upper Goulburn Wine Region Victoria (formerly Central Victorian High Country) and is promoted by various organisations among them the Upper Goulburn Winegrowers Association of which we are also a member (please visit their website: I took the map from this website. Unfortunately, it’s not up to date (we are not yet listed as members for instance) but it gives some idea of the location.