The ultimate food experiences July 17, 2007
From the finest fine dining to the world's best pizza, Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix have found the most indulgent ways to tickle your tastebuds.
They don't call us the lucky country for nothing. But if eating in Australia is on everyone else's list of essential food experiences, what's on ours? Is there life beyond the joys of fish'n'chips on Bondi Beach and Tetsuya's confit of ocean trout?
Yes, there is. There is the special thrill of tracking down the greatest dishes in the world, of tracing traditional foods back to their source and of knowing, just as you put the fork in your mouth, that you are experiencing the ultimate.
We don't just mean rarefied experiences for those lucky enough to get a table at Ferran Adria's El Bulli restaurant in Catalonia for his white asparagus with virgin olive oil capsules and lemon marshmallow. We mean getting your mouth around the finest sushi, the perfect Parisian bistro meal or the world's best noodle soup.
It's called context. Benchmark experiences like these bring home the importance of provenance, tradition, culture and sense of place. It's like sending your tastebuds to university so they'll have a better future.
It's also the only way to truly appreciate the greatness we have in our own backyard.
So here they are: our pick of the ultimate eating and dining experiences. Not so much food to die for but food to live for.
Pasteis de Belem at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, Lisbon
You haven't eaten a Portuguese custard tart until you have eaten one in Belem. These scorchy little treats were originally made in the kitchens of Belem's famous Jeronimos Monastery. When the monasteries were dissolved in 1834, an enterprising baker bought the secret recipe from the Sisters and it has stayed in the family ever since. Every day, the Antiga Confeitaria sells more than 10,000 tarts. Sit in one of the blue-tiled rooms and order a bica (strong black coffee) and two still-warm, sweet-smelling pasteis. Dust each with icing sugar, then with cinnamon, and bite through the incredibly crisp, almost brittle-toffee pastry base with its tiny kick of salt and smoke, into the sweet, light custard. Follow with a medicinal mouthful of coffee. Repeat. Rua de Belem 84-92, Belem, Lisbon, +351 21 363 74 23 or http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt.
The DB Burger at DB Bistro Moderne, New York
"As a Frenchman in America," chef Daniel Boulud says, "my duty is to show that we can make the greatest burger on Earth."
By golly, he has done it. The finest, hand-chopped sirloin is infused with chopped truffle, then moulded around a heart of braised, deboned and shredded short ribs, a mixture of root vegetables and a central plug of fresh foie gras. It is then flame-grilled, served on a parmesan bun, slathered with confit tomato and served with fresh tomato and frisee lettuce, next to a gleaming silver cup of French fries or pommes souffles for $US32 ($37). A DB Burger Royale layered with fresh truffles is also available in truffle season (December-March) for $US120. 55 West 44th Street, New York, +1 212 391 2400 or http://www.danielnyc.com.
Fugu at Nibiki restaurant, Tokyo
When it comes to fish, the Japanese like to dice, slice and fillet with death. Every year, they reputedly go through 10,000 tonnes of fugu or puffer fish, the liver of which contains a nerve toxin that is 500 times deadlier than cyanide. Fortunately, only chefs licensed by the state are allowed to prepare it. (Real thrill-seekers go underground, aiming for just enough of the toxin to give them a hallucinatory buzz.) The Yoshida family's 150-year-old Nibiki was famously visited by Anthony Bourdain for his TV series, A Cook's Tour. A set Ume banquet consists of nine different fugu dishes, including a delicate dish of fugu sashimi in the shape of a chrysanthemum and fugu tempura. 3-3-7 Shimoya Taito-Ku, Tokyo,
+81 03 3872 6250.
Pizza Margherita at Da Michele, Naples
The best pizza in the world comes from Naples and the best pizza in Naples comes from the 137-year-old Da Michele. Despite having all the charm of a working man's caff and serving only beer and soft drink, it's insanely popular so be prepared to wait. You can forget about ordering a quattro stagione because Da Michele only does two types: margherita, topped with tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella; and marinara of tomato, garlic, oil and a pinch of oregano. The crust is soft-but-tough, the raised edges, or cornicione, form an embankment to hold the fruity tomato and the base has to be soft enough to be folded a libretto - like a book - and eaten in the hand, never with a knife and fork. Via Cesare Sersale, 1/3, Naples, +39 81 553 9204.
FRENCH BISTRO MEAL
Bistro Allard, Paris
If you close your eyes and try to imagine the perfect Parisian bistro it would look exactly like this 75-year-old Left Bank institution. Everything is as it should be, from the very Gallic, long-aproned waiters to the traditional zinc bar. The menu is a roll call of bistro classics from a dark, blood-stained coq au vin to garlicky Lyonnaise sausage with potato salad and a hefty cassoulet Toulousaine. We love the huge share plates for two, such as duck with olives, and a fork-tender roast chicken. For a less touristy, more Parisian experience, come after 9pm and ask for the front room. 41 rue St-Andre-Des-Artes, Paris, +33 1 4326 4823.
Ca's Patro March, Deia, Mallorca
There you are, barefoot and bikinied, sitting at a table at an eagle's nest of a restaurant, perched halfway up a cliff overhanging the dense blue Mediterranean with a bird's-eye view of Deia Beach. There are no windows, no walls and no roof, apart from a rough piece of straw thatching that throws some much-needed shade. In front of you is a simple, grilled whole sea bass, a plate of scorchy, smoky calamari and a bottle of the local fruity rosé, chilling in an ice bucket. Everything is fresh and local, except for the gadabout crowd who come by foot, dinghy or superyacht. From up here, it's easy to see why Deia has attracted so many artists and celebrities, from Robert Graves to Michael Douglas. Cala Deia, Deia, Mallorca, Spain, +34 971 639 137.
Hacienda Benazuza, San Lucar La Mayor, Spain
This luxurious hacienda, just 20 minutes from Seville, is Ferran Adria's archival restaurant where all his recipes are replayed by talented protege Rafael Morales. Dinner is an unbelievable 30 courses, but do leave room for the seven-course breakfast. Exquisite breads and pastries are served with three different butters (fisherman's, chive and chocolate) carrot and nut marmalades. There are vanilla creams with lemon jelly, oranges in saffron liqueur and papaya with lime juice and papaya sorbet. Salty dishes run from toasted sobrasada and roquefort cheese sandwiches to jabugo ham and padron peppers. La Alqueria, Hacienda Benazuza, Calle Virgen de Las Nieves, Sanlucar la Mayor, Seville, + 34 955 703 344 or http://www.elbullihotel.com.
Cal Pep, Barcelona
Cal Pep makes it onto so many best restaurant lists that Pep-virgins assume dining here must be a refined experience. Ha! Cal Pep looks like a tapas bar, acts like a tapas bar and is the best tapas bar in the world. Queue for a seat at the front counter and watch the brigade of chefs cook up a storm of achingly simple, honestly fresh and adorably good food in front of you. Try the chiperones (baby squid), the trifasico of crisp-fried whitebait, squid and shrimp, or percebes, leathery-skinned goose barnacles that taste sweeter than lobster. The wait for a seat can be daunting, but is always worth it. Placa de les Olles, 8, +34 9 3310 7961.
The Hinds Head, Bray, Berkshire
Heston Blumenthal liked his local pub so much that he bought it - and then left it alone. The wooden-panelled oak-beamed hotel is just a few steps away from his three-starred Fat Duck, but there is no snail porridge or tobacco chocolate here - just classic pub dishes, reworked without deconstruction or desecration. Freshly opened Colchester oysters are a sweet-salty delight and standards such as Lancashire hotpot and oxtail and kidney pudding are a far cry from the gloopy, sodden messes that usually trade under their names. High Street, Bray, Berkshire, England, +44 1628 626 151.
Mak Noodle, Hong Kong
It may just look like another hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant but for three generations Mak Chi-Ming and his family have served the world's most famous wonton noodle soup. Apparently, his grandfather once served the dish to former Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek. Today, the recipe remains unchanged. The secret is the broth - not chicken, as one would expect, but a special combination of dried flounder, dried shrimp and pork bones. Slip into a booth for a taste of dumpling heaven for $3.50 a bowl. 77 Wellington Street, Central Hong Kong, +852 2854 3810.
Nominate your ultimate dining experience on the Foodie Forum blog.
AND IF MONEY IS NO OBJECT, TRY THESE TOP 10
The whole of the modern Spanish culinary movement can be traced
to this ground-breaking Basque restaurant, where Juan Ramon Arzak's daughter Elena now tends the stoves. Avenida Alcalde Elosegui 273, San Sebastian, Spain, +34 943 278 465, http://www.arzak.es.
Carlo Cracco takes Italian cooking into the strange land of molecular gastronomy for an unforgettable Italian dining experience. Via Victor Hugo 4, 20123 Milan, Italy, +39 02 876 774.
The culinary mountaintop: an intellectually challenging, technically dazzling experience. Every year, 550,000 hopefuls vie for just 8000 places. Cala Montjol, Roses, Spain, +34 972 150 457, http://www.elbulli.com.
The Fat Duck
"Don't call it molecular gastronomy," cries Heston Blumenthal - then goes and creates the "Sounds of the Sea", a mixture of seafood and seaweed on sand-like tapioca, eaten while listening to crashing waves on an iPod. High Street, Bray, Berkshire, England, +44 1628 580 333, http://www.fatduck.co.uk.
The French Laundry
Thomas Keller effortlessly combines contemporary American cooking with French savoir faire and humour, in the middle of California wine country.
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, California, US, +707 944 2380, http://www.frenchlaundry.com.
Robust, chilli-spiked northern Chinese food in a 21st-century skyscraper with killer views. 28th Floor, One Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, +852 3428 8342, http://www.aqua.com.hk.
Le Louis XV
Still the height of Provencal gastronomy, with its trolleys of breads, butters and living plants snipped for your personal infusions, set in a Madame de Pompadour room. Hotel De Paris, Place du Casino, Monte Carlo, Monaco, +377 98 06 88 64, http://www.alain-ducasse.com.
Newly three-starred, Yannick Alleno is wowing Paris with his gutsy flavours and blinding technique, set in a candle-lit, mirrored, gilt-edged room of rococo splendour. Hotel Meurice, 228 rue de Rivoli, Paris, France, +33 1 4458 1010, http://www.meuricehotel.com.
Rene Redzepi raises Nordic cuisine to new heights in a former whale blubber warehouse decked with animal furs. Strandgade 93, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1401, +45 3296 3297, http://www.noma.dk.
A serene, idyllic oasis in the middle of Tokyo, serving exquisite Kaiseki banquets in traditional tatami rooms overlooking Japanese gardens. 3-4-27 Roppongi, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 03 3585 6600.
Pasteis de Belem
One down, many to go (except for the whale blubber and fugu).
Snow was forecast for today, but the sun was out. It was still cold.
Court came around for dinner tonight, after work. And he cooked! It was baked chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto, mashed kipfler potato, broccoli and served with a mushroom and garlic cream sauce.
Hmmm... maybe Emily might cook tomorrow night.