Eau de Vie

“Good evening, I am Patrick” the em-bearded man in suspenders proffered his hand to me with a formal air. I took it suspiciously, unmoved by his ceremony.

“Do you have a reservation?”.

“Yes, you’re rather hard to find you know”.

Freddy dug me discretely in the ribs. You see we’d spent precious minutes hunting for this establishment at 1 Malthouse Lane in Melbourne. Since it’s modeled after a speakeasy in the years of prohibition, there’s no signage on the door to indicate it’s even a door, let alone the place you are looking for. I had to impose on a rather flustered-looking French waiter at the nearby French Brasserie. The approach lent a certain pretentiousness to the place that set my teeth on edge at the start.

Pâté with cherry preserve - bar food at Eau de Vie.
Pâté with cherry preserve – bar food at Eau de Vie.

“I did warn you, it’s going to be a little… hipster” Freddy chided quietly.

Melbourne has a rather strong hipster influence. Those kinds of people who confuse obscurity with quality or old fashioned with classy. I have to admit to feeling some bias as we followed Patrick to our little seat at the bar.

It didn’t take this exquisite bar long to win me over.

The Aviator (left) and Yuzu mule (right) at Eau de Vie.
The Aviator (left) and Yuzu mule (right) at Eau de Vie.

The team here at Eau de Vie are as committed to their cocktails as they are to their aesthetics. The menu is impressive and their collection of spirits would turn any barman green with envy. I especially enjoyed their performance pieces.

I remember spending one drunken evening carefully teaching a barman in Queenstown how to make an espresso martini myself, his brow furrowed with a mixture of confusion and disbelief.  Here at Eau de Vie, a simple Espresso Martini is not nearly fancy enough. It’s served with a dollop of cream on top, solidified into ice cream through the use of liquid nitrogen before your very eyes.

This is how drinking should be. Or perhaps how all experiences should be. A wonder, a pure delight.

Without a doubt, the most impressive drink of the evening has to be the Ron Zacapa Blazer: a flamed rum affair infused with walnut and banana that will leave you smiling wistfully all evening as you slowly sip the warm liquid down. It also makes for a spectacular show, with the skilled barmen performing a rather dangerous looking stunt with aplomb.

At the conclusion of the evening, I had to get up and shake the hand of the barman who made my blazer (seen walking back and forth in the video above, wearing a white shirt). It’s one of the more memorable experiences you can have at a bar. Stylish, exquisitely flavoured and presented drinks and food which shines through so strongly that it’s no longer pretentious.

No pretense about it in fact, these guys know what they’re on about.


Lake Taupo Lodge

“I’d just like to get your photo into my scrap book” Gary explained “my memories, you see” he added, almost apologetically. This was the point at which I finally understood the passion behind the hospitality we had experienced for the last two glorious nights.

We arrived at Lake Taupo Lodge a little after 4pm on Saturday 4th April 2015. The plan was to spend a weekend simply enjoying the beauty of New Zealand’s largest lake over Easter while the weather was still fine.

Front of lake Taupo Lodge taken on 5th April 2015
Front of the lodge

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Lake Taupo Lodge is the beautiful way in which it has been appointed. Every detail immaculately and exquisitely chosen for a specific purpose: to evoke a sense of being in a comfortable, opulent and interesting home. Everywhere you turn you see another new and interesting thing. Or, more accurately, a collection of things. From the musical instruments arrayed within the sun room to the series of measuring weights sitting on the kitchen counter, to the decorative pickles in the dining room, the house is filled with unique and interesting collections.

Musical Instruments at Lake Taupo Lodge
Musical Instruments at Lake Taupo Lodge

Collections no less interesting than the proprietor himself. Having worked in the textile industry for many years, Gary has travelled the world over and from his travels has developed a knack for collecting interesting things which he uses to adorn his beautiful lodge. Like all guest house accommodation, the experience relies considerably on the hosts themselves. Gary and Shirley appear to have their roles down pat, causing Burt Reynolds himself to declare Gary “the best of New Zealand”.

High praise from someone who has undoubtedly seen some very fine accommodation, but I don’t think its hyperbole at all.

Lavender on our bed
Lavender on our bed

The crown of this accommodation has to be the Lake Suite we stayed in. Featuring stunning panoramic views of Lake Taupo over the immaculate garden and a most welcome spa bath, you could be forgiven for believing just for one night, that you really are the most important person in the world.

Lake Taupo Panorama from Lake View Room
Lake Taupo Panorama from Lake View Room

This is a feeling Gary works hard to engender. “Everyone is equally important” he opined to me solemnly when I remarked on the long list of distinguished guests he has hosted: everyone from intrepid adventurer Michael Palin to director Peter Jackson. He follows this philosophy through with his actions. No task is too small but that he would do it to ensure your comfort. I encourage any visitors to relax into the experience and settle into the natural cadence of the place. Breakfast is at 8am, canapés will be served in the gaming room at 6pm. Go out to dinner at one of the local restaurants and spend your evening drinking in the tranquillity of the great lake.

Smoked Trout Canape
Smoked Trout Canape

The canapés were exquisite, featuring pâté made from smoked trout caught by Gary himself using his own hand-made flies. Somehow, although the lodge was completely full for the weekend, we felt as though we were the only ones there. I think this is in part that it’s spacious enough for a sizeable group of people and also Gary works hard to give every guest a personalised experience.

Eggs Benedict
Eggs Benedict

Breakfast featured its own chef (Stefan from Germany) and an impressive menu to choose from. Breakfast was served in a style that reminded me of my grandfather: a leisurely multi-course affair befitting the most important meal of the day. We started with a continental breakfast with toast, cereals, croissants, yoghurt and fruit as well as a hot option (eggs benedict for me, pancakes for Freddy).

Garden Path taken at Lake Taupo Lodge 5th April 2015
Garden Path

The gardens have an old English design stuffed full with native New Zealand plants. A boulevard of living ferns leads you past a Koi-stocked water feature to little secluded spots within the garden.

Koi Fish Pond taken at Lake Taupo Lodge on 5th April 2015
Koi Fish Pond

Flowers from the herb garden adorned my eggs benedict the next morning and every night our bed was laid with fresh lavender cut from the little topiary garden. I especially enjoyed the passion fruit adorned greenhouse featuring some well cared for flowers.

Greenhouse Panorama taken at Lake Taupo Lodge 5th April 2015
Greenhouse Panorama

I think I understand somewhat the motivation behind Gary’s work. You see, he is a collector, not just of things but of experiences and when you collect such a broad range of interesting experiences and things the only natural thing to do next is to share them with as many people possible. In doing so, Gary is able to collect one more thing: us. I am proud to be nestled among the leaves of Gary’s scrap book, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. Not because they are rich and famous, but that in shared experiences we enrich each other’s lives in immeasurable ways. Perhaps this is why so many guests feel compelled to leave a piece of themselves behind: to become a part of the experience that is Lake Taupo Lodge.