2008: A Retrospective in 10 Courses
11:02AM, Dec 9, 2008
How is it that from a menu of so many great dishes (the wagyu tongue with mustard fruits and horseradish, the blood on toast, the pour-your-own rum baba), everyone zeroes in on this relatively humble, yet undeniably awesome dish? Pretty much chowder in a tumbler, topped with an emerald stratus of parsley foam on top, it’s the best seven bucks anyone spent on food in Australia this year. “It’s a freaky thing”, owner/chef Andrew McConnell tells me. “I’ve never had such a positive response from a soup before.”
2. Bluefin tuna, foie gras butter, brioche, pork crackling, Marque, Sydney
Raw fish on toast is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a hot property. Bodega’s ‘fish fingers’ are a prime example: grilled country bread and raw kingfish or mackerel with a confetti of raw cuttlefish and loads of garlic and olive oil. Finger lickin’ good. A couple of blocks up at Marque, though, they take the concept into rarefied territory, using lush slices of tuna belly, their own excellent brioche, a sweet foie gras butter and then, the coup d’état, crisp pork crackling showered over the lot with a Microplane. Boo-ya.
3. Sweetcorn soup with blue swimmer crab and sherry cream, Etch, Sydney
Super-rich, super-creamy and everything a warm-weather soup shouldn’t be, this instant favourite at the Bécasse crew’s diffusion label has a lifted florality and pretty sweetness that speaks of summer nonetheless.
4. Ragù of cod tripe, Gambero Rosso, San Vincenzo, Italy
On the menu of Gambero Rosso, the seafood-focused restaurant on the Tuscan coast hailed as Italy’s best, it reads “dentice su tripette di baccalà”. On the plate, it’s a just-set piece of hugely fresh dentice (the Mediterranean bream beloved of Italian cooks) atop what, at first glance, could appear to be very fine, rather pale noodles. But no, they’re the intestines of the cod, painstakingly cleaned, cooked off with aromats, and before the idea of fish guts sends you over the edge, know this: they’re really tasty. Quite sticky, too.
5. Chorizo with sofrito paste, Bodega, Sydney
Our love of the work done at Bodega is well documented, and one of the reasons the Gourmet Traveller posse like the restaurant so much is because the menu seems to offer fresh flashes of inspiration each time we open it. Though several new and exciting dishes have adorned recent menus (and though we still miss the pork-stuffed cabbage rolls with black grapes and dried olives), the one that is creeping ever closer to the top of my house-favourite list is their chorizo with sofrito paste, all chunky meat and smoked paprika goodness. It’s a sausage on a plate. It’s perfection.
6. Brussels sprouts with fish sauce, mint and puffed rice, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York City
David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants are undoubtedly the most exciting and most essential places to eat in Manhattan right now, and their offer of inventive good food and good times in a casual setting nails the zeitgeist perfectly. The short ribs with pickled mustard seeds at the impossible-to-book Momofuku Ko [see the GT food blog to see how our correspondents made it in] and the brand-new Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery’s English muffin with deep-fried egg, caramelised onions and lardons have their adherents, but I’m still hooked on Momofuku Ssäm Bar’s is-it-a-side-is-it-an-entrée bowl of Brussels sprouts dragged kicking and screaming down flavour street with the tang of fish sauce, chopped mint and crunchy puffed rice.
7. Lamb souvlaki, Hellenic Republic, Taste of Melbourne, Melbourne
Okay, so I haven’t technically been to Hellenic Republic as I write this, as it has only just opened this very minute. But George Calombaris was generous enough to give everyone a preview of his new, more casual venue at The Press Club’s stand at Taste of Melbourne back in August. The preview being this juicy, chip-stuffed lamb souvlaki. The only drawback: because Taste of Melbourne was a day-thing, it wasn’t possible to order the souvlaki at three o’clock in the morning after an enthusiastic night on the turps and do it justice.
8. Snow egg, Quay, Sydney [pictured]
In a restaurant known to be one of the best, among desserts considered among the finest, is a near-sphere of crystal holding white peach fool and white peach granita. And on those smooth, sighing layers of peach is an egg of the creamiest white peach ice-cream, malt biscuit and soft poached meringue. This is Quay’s snow egg, and Fabergé hasn’t got a patch on it.
9. Bistecca Fiorentina, Da Padellina, Strada, Italy
In these steak-crazy times, it’s important to do some benchmarking. Among Tuscans who know their steers, this rather curious restaurant in Strada, in the hills of Chianti, is the name quietly passed from man to man. The room is festooned with taxidermy testimony to the owners’ love of the hunt. What the chef’s mullet signifies is beyond me, but the bistecca Fiorentina is unmistakeably a thing of beauty. Sharing two three-inch-thick steaks between six, there’s plenty of time to admire the rich crust, the depth of savour and the winning absence of ornament. (They also do a killer ragù of black cockerel, guts, comb and all.)
10. Bloody Mary three ways, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Sydney
Technically speaking, the menu doesn’t list any such dish. It does, however, detail gazpacho three ways, and with many vodkas sitting there on the bar, the logical leap is not a difficult one: order three shots of good, clean vodka (Goose, say, or Ketel) and enjoy three colours Mary, red, green and white. The last, made with almonds in the style of Spain’s south, is quite the revelation.
PHOTOGRAPHY JEREMY SIMONS
This article was published on Gourmettraveller.com.au in December 2008.
MORE BEST OF 2008Christine Manfield, Universal, Sydney
1. Bodega’s ‘banana split’– banana crème caramel, banana marshmallow and more.
2. Breakfast at Cumulus Inc – Turkish baked eggs, spiced tomato and labne, then a chocolate canelés with my espresso.
3. The seven textures of chocolate dessert at Quay.
4. Palak patta chaat at Aki’s – spinach leaf fritters with sweet sour tamarind and yoghurt dressing and chickpeas – a symphony of flavours and textures.
5. Xiao long bao – steamed pork dumplings at Din Tai Fung – love them with a splash of chilli sauce.
Greg Doyle, Pier, Sydney
1. An entrée of apple-wrapped foie gras timbale with vanilla oil at El Celler de Can Roca in Spain: wafer-thin caramelised apple that you had to crack to get to a perfect foie gras.
2. Spain again: Martin Berasategui's amuse bouche – lightly smoked cod with powder of hazelnuts, coffee and vanilla.
3. Martin Berasategui again: warm vegetable hearts – a salad with seafood, cream of lettuce hearts and iodinized juice, with Pago de Los Baldois de San Carlo olive oil. Unbelievable delicacy of touch, beautiful hearts of tomato, lobster pieces, granita, soft jellies and different baby lettuces.
4. El Bulli's yoghurt sponge with peach confit: an individual sponge as light as air with a smear of peach confit on top. Bloody brilliant, and just one of 37 unique courses. The autumn chocolate was another: so many small components – chocolate leaves, twigs, spheres, sorbet, soils... the amount of labour and time to do this dish astounds.
5. The Emmental cheese consommé with miniature spring garden flowers and vegetables at Mugaritz, outside San Sebastian. Great produce, beautiful tiny vegetables and an amazing-tasting consommé.
Jane Cornes, GT West Coast Editor
1. At Galileo (199 Onslow Rd, Shenton Park, 08 9382 3343), where chef Vince Soresi cooks up wood-fired treats and the best meatballs (soft, based on breadcrumbs and milk) in WA, I ate a salmon carpaccio - the fat, shiny cured salmon slices topped with chopped egg, Kalamata olive cheeks, flat-leaf parsley and capers, drizzled with evoo. Oh my.
2. Gypsy Tapas House's (High St, Cnr Queen St, Fremantle, 08 9336 7135) baked feta with herbs, tomato and olives is just the thing for those yearning for simple but good. A slab of feta is baked en papillote then topped with tomato sugo and wild olives.
3. At Menu on James in Guildford (187 James St, 08 9279 5828), chef-owner Louisa Iacopetta made me a warm squid salad with crisp chorizo, warm, crunchy asparagus, semi-dried olives, char-grilled red peppers and English spinach.
4. At Maretti Caffe Cucina, I ate the best pasta of my life. Chef-owner Matteo Maretti's spaghetti al crostaci features scruffy little nuggets of just-cooked lobster and crab nestled into house-made spaghetti. Worth every damned calorie.
5. A very fine whiting and chips with house-made mayo at The Wharf in Broome (40 Port Dr, 08 9192 5700). Go at lunchtime before the wind gets up, and take along your rod for a spot of fishing on the wharf after.
David Sly, GT SA Editor
1. At The Grange in the Hilton Adelaide, Cheong Liew’s most recent degustation menu was headed by an extraordinary “jelly”, which translated to chilled cauliflower and oyster mushroom soup, topped with saffron jelly and seared abalone strips.
2. At The Manse, chef Ayhan Erkok produced a bold entrée of seared scallops with boudin noir and droplets of white chocolate.
3. At the Greedy Goose, chef John Hall started a degustation with a natural Coffin Bay oyster captured in a tomato consommé jelly with citrus ceviche of South Australian kingfish.
4. At Appellation in Peppers The Louise, chef Mark McNamarra cooked a beautiful pigeon breast with beetroot confit and peppered juniper game glaze.
5. Pub food done right by Todd Steele at the Victory Hotel, Sellicks Hill, where perfect lamb cutlets from Strathalbyn are gently char-grilled and served on crushed peas with a red wine jus and baby carrots.
Fiona Donnelly, GT Qld Editor
1. Bar Lourinhã’s zingy yellowtail kingfish pancetta and lemon oil.
2. Marque’s salty, earthy pommes Pont Neuf served with plenty of fresh black truffle shavings by Mark Best at Brisbane Masterclass. Sensational.
3. Nu Nu’s roast chicken with leatherwood honey, grilled figs, radicchio and Taleggio crumble – comfort food, but beautifully balanced.
4. Sassi at Balé’s simple char-grilled wild barra with lemon, capers and roast spuds (and I’m not a huge barra fan).
5. Ricky’s tender baby artichokes with mozzarella and gremolata crumbs. As an entrée, just lovely and springlike.
And... I have to say I also loved eating Bruno Loubet’s rabbit with preserved citrus purée and fennel at Baguette.
Roger McShane and Sue Dyson, GT Tasmania Editors
1. Attica’s sublime small dish of mushrooms, pureed chestnut and a froth infused with casa canestrato, with a shower of Tasmanian black truffle grated at the table.
2. Fausto Guadagni’s Colonnata marble-entombed lardo (what alchemy can make fat, salt and spice taste so good?) at Racines in Paris, although their salad made with spring vegetables from Alain Passard’s vegetable garden was pretty impressive too.
3. In San Francisco, SPQR’s extraordinary almond-milk granita with espresso crema. How did they do that?
4. The Jerusalem artichoke soup with foie gras granita at Restaurant Itinéraires (5 rue de Pointoise, Paris, +33 01 4633 6011) is a tie with the grated frozen foie gras over Riesling jelly at New York's Momofuku Ko – definitely a trend.
5. Café Pecora in Tasmania (sadly no more) had multiple contenders for best dish - garlic soup with smoked eel and summer savoury, tomato and bread soup with king crab and basil oil, or possibly the vanilla pannacotta with biscotti crumbs. Here’s hoping Luke Burgess has his own kitchen again in 2009.