It’s always such a buzz being in Australia, where the whole world comes together around the table with the best food of every ethnicity, style and and flavour. There is a real sense of modern Australian cuisine at play in restaurants everywhere – a confident fusion that takes its cue from the freshest ingredients and draws on various components of the global pantry with a sophisticated and well-balanced approach. It’s not try-hard or wannabe, it’s just really competent and delicious.
In Sydney I started out at my friend Mimi and her husband’s newest restaurant, District Dining, located in Surry Hills near Central Station. The crispy quail eggs with tarragon mayonnaise and white anchovy were one of those died-and-gone-to-heaven combinations – something not to be missed. The carrots with dukkah and salted yoghurt were simple and fresh, yet so wonderfully balanced. The menu is designed in a shared plates style with lots of great stuff to choose from.
Danks St in Waterloo is a wonderful place to spend a morning or afternoon in Sydney, with loads of restaurants, cafes and galleries. I can’t imagine how overindulged I would be if I had a set-up like this in my neighbourhood!
At the suggestion of local food blogger Rebecca Varidel of Inside Cuisine, we went to breakfast next morning at Danks Street Depot, where we met up with founder and head chef Jared Ingersoll. A champion of sustainable, ethical eating and GM-free food, he is one of many leading Australian chefs who are opposed to serving genetically modified (GM) foods in their restaurants, and who have endorsed a major Greenpeace initiative called the GM Free Chefs Charter. Loved the vego breakfast, complete with chilli broccoli!
After some book signings, my publishers at ABC Books had organised a magnificent lunch at Cafe Sopra, upstairs in the Fratelli Fresh market at 7 Danks St. Downstairs a great fresh food market and cooking school in a big industrial space and then upstairs a providore of Italian foodstuffs and Cafe Sopra. You know those lunches where you think the antipasti is lunch and then the two pasta courses come and you think, ‘Oh well, maybe I can fit this in because it looks so good’, and then two big main platters arrive, followed by two trays of desserts? This was one of those. Talk about needing to pace yourself! I just love this place – the food is casual and super fresh with a blackboard menu that changes daily. You can also find some great recipes up on the website.
For dinner (yes this is still the same day!) we headed over to Flying Fish at the Pyrmont wharf for a feast of seafood. Greedy me indulged in the crab with black bean sauce and fried curry leaves (yes, that's it in the picture at the start of this blog!). When it comes to crab you can’t go past Salvador Dali’s famous description: ‘Food that only a battle to peel makes it vulnerable to the conquest of the palate’. Crab is my very favourite crustacean. The flesh is just so sweet, and with a full-length bib and a big finger bowl I could really get down and dirty with lip-smacking finger licking and pay full homage to that beautiful crab.
And then it was off to Melbourne for a further gastronomic assault. But you know me – I am up to the challenge. At modern Japanese restaurant Izakaya Den on Russell St, I encountered some of the cleverest food I've ever eaten. The standout dish for me was the duck confit shredded and wrapped in duck skin then fried and served on a bed of turnip, winter melon, radish, shitake and shiso broth. As unusual as that might sound it was fantastically good.
To give you a taste of what I mean, here’s the degustation menu from Vue de Monde on the day we visited:
Amuse bouche of smoked eel, blue fin tuna, buttermilk and pumpkin
Spanner crab, broccoli and beetroot, served with 2008 Domaine du Pegau ‘Cuvée Réservée’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC Rhône Valley, France
Tomato, celery, goat’s cheese and chamomile, served with 2008 Eugenio Collavini Collio Bianco ‘Il Broy’ Collio DOC, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy
Marron & beef tongue yakitori and brown butter emulsion, served with 2007 André Perret Condrieu ‘Clos Chanson’ Condrieu AOC, Rhône Valley, France
Fried duck egg, lamb sweetbreads, pickled onion and truffle, served with 2002 Moët & Chandon ‘Cuvée Dom Pérignon’ Épernay Champagne AOC, France
Cucumber sorbet with elderflower granite and frozen lime
Blue fin tuna toro with pork fat and spiced pear, served with 2009 Carrick Pinot Noir Central Otago, New Zealand
Kangaroo with cabbage and raspberry, served with 2006 Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC Rhône Valley, France
Blackmore wagyu beef cheek with radish, dill, caper and anchovy sauce, served with 2003 Yarra Yarra ‘The Yarra Yarra’ Yarra Valley, Victoria
Assortment of cheeses, bread and condiments, served with 2009 Domaine des Bernardins Muscat de Beaumes de Venise AOC Rhône Valley, France
Frozen lolly, popping candy, house-made raspberry lemonade
Rockmelon and peach weiss bar, served with 1982 Toro Albalá Gran Reserva Pedro Ximenez Montilla-Moriles Andalusía, Spain
Eucalyptus, coffee, chocolate, strawberry and fresh meringue, served with 1982 Toro Albalá Gran Reserva Pedro Ximenez Montilla-Moriles Andalusía, Spain
Tonka bean soufflé and smoked cocoa ice cream, served with NV Vue de monde Muscadelle by Chambers Rutherglen, Victoria
A selection of coffee, teas, infusions and petits-fours
Yes – I ate and drank all of that, all in the name of research, of course! It took five and a half hours, but I got there in the end.
A trip to Australia is always journey of gastronomic discovery, but I have to say I arrived home ready for the simplicity of a bowl of vegetable soup...