A year ago I was sitting at Vini in Surry Hills, fondling a cube of their spiced chocolate panforte and finishing an espresso. It was the perfect end to dinner on my birthday eve.
In the 364 days that followed some pretty amazing things have pranced across this palate.
What is below is nothing more than navel gazing. Self indulgence squared.
But really, if you can’t take a moment in a year to remember all the great stuff that happened in the 12 months prior, then what’s the point?
Here’s my top 10 (in no particular order)
1) Bruschetta with ricotta, mint, lemon and chilli at North Bondi Italian
NB, when eating this it helps if you’ve come straight out of the surf on a sunny day and still have salt crusted to stray bits of your hair and skin. It needs some sunshine, a table outside, baby waves to look at and a campari and orange or a carafe of pink wine on the side. We had one or two days like this last summer. It’s the fuel that helps the happy bus carry on.
North Bondi Italian
118 Ramsgate Rd, North Bondi, Sydney
2) Banoffee pie at Sopra
I’ve waxed on about this enough. It’s borderline obscene. The biscuit base, made dense with butter to bind it together. A sticky topping of dulce du leche caramel, thicker than spackle. Wafers of just-ripe banana, some splodges of cream and a dusting of dark chocolate. It’s best shared with friends with a machiatto to help it go down. The Waterloo outpost will always be our favourite, but the novelty of being able to tuck into some banoffee at Walsh Bay before an outing to the Sydney Theatre Company cannot be underestimated.
16 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay, Sydney
3) The Autumn salad at Bar Boulud
This is a place renowned for its cured meat . Terrines, rilettes, pates, what-have-you , (never fear – a proper writer up will come soon). We’ve only ever been to the London outpost of Daniel Boulud’s hymn to the restorative power of bistro classics. But what really stood out was a salad. They couldn’t fit it on the table at the same time the ‘degustation of charcuterie’ (read- a mass of very tasty cured meats and accompaniments). The salad came afterwards; our nod to sensible eating. Draped across an egg shaped platter there were roasted rods of root vegetable, salty segments of roasted walnut and delicate fronds of leaves. That was all fine and good- what took it to another level were the pearls of pomegranate and sly little splodges of tepid sweet potato puree. Sweet and salty with a good level of crunch. Now this is a salad that packs a serious punch.
66 Knightsbridge, London
4) Ode to Earl Grey at Alinea
It would make sense that I loved this dish. All of the flavours of my beloved Earl Grey, on a plate. The fact that I spotlighted this dessert as and not the more obvious flourishes in Grant Achatz’s edible chocolate and eucalyptus Pro Hart speaks volumes of the cumulative effect of these initially disparate flavours. There were noodles of white chocolate. Spheres of lemon curd- dabs of rosewater jelly and a sturdy baseline from a roasted pine nut custard. At the start it looked like a dessert landscape from a distant land. Not long after, the plate was scraped and pristine.
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago
5) Egg at Momofuku Ko
It’s a pity I have no photo of the dish that made me utter “I’d tongue kiss this plate if I could”. They’re not too keen on you taking photos at Momofuku Ko. Getting a reservation at David Chang’s 12 seater kaseiki style bar involved running a gauntlet with a website, a clock and three consecutive days of clicking ‘reserve’ at 9.59 and 52 seconds .Even after that the only booking we could get was at 9.45pm. But it was all worth it, if only for this dish. It’s a soft cooked egg, tinged with smoke. It comes bruised on the plate and the yolk runs out onto a bed of slow cooked soubise onions. In the crevice there’s a generous whack of caviar for a salty ping, micro herbs for relief and a pile of potato chips for crunch.It is the kind of dish that makes you very very quiet, and very possessive of your allotted portion.
You can get an idea of what it looks like here.
163 1st Avenue, New York
6) Guacamole made tableside at S &S in Tulum
Fresh guacamole. That should explain it. Made with diced onion, tomato, a gluttons serve of avocado, salt, lime and coriander. Over the waiter’s shoulder there’s the pristine Carribean coastline. The guacamole is made in a molcajete- an oversized mortar and pestle. To go with it there’s the choice of crunchy tostada chips, warm and soft corn tortillas. If you’re like me and looking for the ultimate experience, you can layer them both. Squish, crisp and a doona of the freshest guacamole around. You know that something is seriously good when you go back seeking more- even when you’re still burdened by some very evil food poisoning from a place not nearly as good just up the beach.
S & S Hip Hotel Tulum
Carr. Tulum – Boca Paila Km 8
7) Shredded lamb pie at Nick and Libby’s
It’s the edible equivalent of a hug from family. Left over roast lamb, slowly braised in gravy until it threads apart. Sandwiched between puffed pastry and seasoned well. Baked until the pastry is crispy. Carve it like a strudel. Serve it with some pretty sinful mashed potato and a splodge of tomato sauce. It was a cold night in Sydney and we were feeling a little brittle. Luckily some of our oldest and dearest buds took us in. I think a bottle of 389 or two was cracked and we ate off their good china. It was just one of those magical nights.
8) Mozzarella at Torrisi Italian Specialties
This is no ordinary mozzarella. To start, it looks like proving dough. And then you discover that the cloud like mass rising from a moat of olive oil is the stretchiest, milkiest most interactive mozzarella around. It comes at the start of the four course family style feast at Torrisi Italian Specialties in Nolita, NYC. It was just across the street from the flat we were staying in. At Torrisi they don’t take bookings. By 6pm there was a crowd of 15 people milling calmly at the front door, keen to get in for the early sitting. The first course was shared antipasti. There was tomato and herb bruschetta, a salad of fresh peaches with crumbled amaretti cookies- but it was the ball of mozzarella that had us all reaching in at the same time, surreptitiously stretching the curd and trying to make off with the biggest share. I think I won.
Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry Street, New York
9) Blueberry macaron at Per Se
It came at the very end, when any sensible person would have no more room at the digestive inn. Opening up like a tiered jewelery case there are salted caramels, chocolate covered hazelnuts and other mignardises. In the middle are a selection of macarons. There’s lemon. Then there’s blueberry, which tasted so much of a summer’s day it was shocking. There was the gentle release of the shell, the soft give of the centre. It was the best macaron I’ve ever had. And let’s be honest, I’ve tasted a few.
10 Columbus Circle, New York
10) Aerated foie at wd 50
It’s only when you hear yourself saying ” I think I’d like all my foie to be aerated” that you realise that you may have been spending a little too much time in high- end restaurants. Though, credit where credit is due. Wylie Dufresne’s entree of fluffy foie gras is a revelation. It looks like displaced coral from the barrier reef and it has the texture of fairy floss. There’s still the pungent richness of the liver, but without the heft. For cut through there’s Iranian plum and beets, and to the side there are wafers propped like patient stegosauruses. It’s so pretty that it’s hard to start eating. But once you start, it’s darn hard to stop.
50 Clinton Street, New York.