I have no idea how it got to be November so fast.

I’m sitting here dressed up,  too-early.  I put a frock on too early because I was excited.  Birthdays will do that to you.

This year the number doesn’t have a zero, but there have been plenty of ‘oh’s’ over the last 12 months.

Looking back, it’s easy to clock some obscene highlights. I got to see the big five on safari. I learned the steep way why I should only ski after two glasses of wine (definitely not three). I woke up in palatial beds at the Plaza Athenee and Villa Dubrovnik (this travel writing thing certainly has some perks)

I went to the Olympics in London. We moved into a new flat- and I got access to a new kitchen– with gas and some bench space. I finished two books (one of which you can pre order here, the other is still available for a bargain price here….). I was on tv a little bit and in a couple of magazines. I twisted the arm of a very talented friend to make this lovely video.

The Hungry One and I jaunted to Cape Town, Istanbul, St PetersburgMilan, Cyprus, Malta and Oslo. I snuck back to Sydney twice (oops) and got to hang out with horses and family on the south coast of NSW.  We started properly exploring the UK (though there’s still plenty more spots on that list).

I write the below with the complete knowledge that this  is nothing more than navel gazing squared, but if you fancy indulging a girl on the anniversary of her birthday at all, here it is;
The top 10 things I ate this year.

1. Blood pudding with purple potato and raspberry vinegar at Le Chateaubriand, Paris.

The setting for my birthday dinner last year. It was a big one, with a zero on the end. Le Chateaubriand in Paris was one of the outstanding restaurants left on our mortgage bustingly insane quest to eat at the top 10 restaurants in the world. At 9.45 pm on a Saturday night in November  there’s a queue of 20 people already out the door. We were lucky enough  to have a table for us at 7 pm, courtesy of navigating their booking system (three weeks before, at 2 pm you call. Call at exactly that time and you’ll be fine). If you can’t get through, then there’s a second sitting that starts at around 9.30 pm. That’s what the people in the queue are waiting for .

It’s the first of the courses proper that  blows me away. It’s cubes of blood pudding with purple potato, raspberry vinegar and some tendrils of frisee. The blood pudding is as soft and as rich as foie; but murkier and much, much sexier. Sprayed across the side of plate is a powder made from raspberries. It looks a little like a splatter from a crime scene. It’s richness and light, earthy and sprightly. It’s plate-scrapingly good. Start a year as you mean to go on, I guess.

Le Chateaubriand
129 Avenue Parmentier
75011 Paris, France
01 43 57 45 95
Hours: Mon, Sun Closed; Tue-Sat 12-11:30pm
Subway: Goncourt

2. Manti at Mihman Orta Aysa Sofrasi, Istanbul

Manti are like fat northern Chinese dumplings. If you’ve found your way to Istanbul, you’d be sorely remiss not to look out for some Uighur food; hailing from from Turkmenistan and central Asia.  Mihman Orta Aysa Sofrasi is a grand place to come for lunch, within walking distance from the Grand Bazaar. We escape the rain that’s being chucked from the sky in fat buckets into the clean tiled and gold accented  interior (that’s also air conditioned in summer). We sip some gentle green tea and order platter after platter of the boiled beef manti. The dough is sturdy, the beef heartily seasoned. But what makes these dumplings a revelation are the condiments. It’s the cooling yoghurt coupled with a fiendishly sharp chilli relish. It’s a meal that’s meant I now look at every plate of dumplings I eat and wonder- what would this be like with yoghurt?  It’s not a bad way to think .

Mihman Orta Aysa Sofrasi
Kemal Paşa mah. Gençtürk cd. no:65 Fatih, Istanbul
http://www.mihman.com.tr/index.asp

 3. Risotto with truffles at Relaiz Plaza, Plaza Athenee

If the Alain Ducasse is the shining gastronomic jewel of the Plaza Athénée, the Relais Plaza is the comforting robe.

It’s refined, but there’s nothing stiff or precious about it. The restaurant boasts an art deco charm and its plush burgundy carpets and fawn leather banquets wouldn’t be out of place on an elegant ocean liner.

Since the restaurant opened in 1936, the staff has perfected the art of polished service with a smile – from wine suggestions right down to filleting sole tableside. The menu traverses French bistro classics, but, in a sterling surprise for a French restaurant, they’re also a dab hand with a risotto.  We didn’t intend on ordering it. But there it came as a surprise mid course. It seemed the kitchen were quite keen on us trying the truffles they had in store. Well, if you twist my arm (I told you this travel writing thing occasionally has a perk).  As more and more and more black gold is shaved onto our risotto, I grasp around for the appropriate collective noun for truffles. An ‘embarrassment’ seems about apt. If pure hedonism has a taste, this might well be it.

Hôtel Plaza Athénée Paris,
25 Avenue De Montaigne, Paris, 75008 France.
Tel. +33 1 5367 6665. .

4. Chicken and thyme Scotch Eggs, our flat for Oscars 2012

Maybe it’s poor form to list something you cooked yourself, but these really did out perform my expectations. And the fact that anything good could come from watching ‘Tree of Life’ was a blessing in itself. These aren’t just any Scotch Egg, but a real and metaphoric one. An enigma and a riddle bound together; this is a chicken wrapped egg. Nobody’s really sure in the grand scheme of things which one came first, but when making these you need to tend to the eggs first; soft boiling to maintain the innocence of the yolk.  They’re then coated in a thyme speckled and pulverised mixture of chicken.  Then like most things you’ll find in the film’s locale of suburban Texas, they’re breaded and fried.

If you’ve got the timing right the yolk should spill like a starburst across the plate when cleaved open. If not, you’re still going to be eating a delicious snack- and unlike ‘Tree of Life’ consuming this won’t chew up 139 minutes of your life.

Best consumed with one of ‘The Artist’ popping candy martinis. Recipe for the scotch eggs here.

5. Bouillabaisse at Bistro Bruno Loubet

A great bouillabaisse is hard to find and impossible to forget.  It was just one more thing that made our anniversary meal this year  a joy.

Bistro Bruno Loubet is in that triangular gem of London between Farringdon and Barbican that includes St John, The Modern Pantry, Vinoteca and Workshop Coffee (formerly St Ali). Here are some other great things about it. It’s buzzy, without being loud. It’s special, without being stiff. The man at the helm can really cook.

The fact that the bouillabaisse was made from sustainable fish like gurnard, cuddling up to scored squid, prawn, mussels, broth stained potatoes and a pliable wedge of fennel is just gilding for the lily. It’s a dish that requires a hectic display of cutlery- knives, forks and a spoon to rescue the last drops of complex broth, but it’s worth every effort to get there and eat it. Don’t be like me and wait so long to do it.

Bistro Bruno Loubet
Zetter Hotel
86-88 Clerkenwell Rd, London EC1
020 7324 4455
http://www.bistrotbrunoloubet.com/

6.  Strawberry lattice pie at Stolle, St Petersburg

There isn’t that much that’s spectacular to eat in St Petersburg. Sure there are hipster bars that double as laundromats, but when it comes to the food there’s a lot of borscht, dumplings and overpriced sushi. That was my opinion until I happened upon the strawberry lattice pie from Stolle. There are a few outposts of Stolle throughout the city, it’s a casual bakery, where you can also get a beer. But here’s some of what shines about the sweet fruit pies. The lightly yeasted dough is latticed over the top and softens against the roasted fruit. For us the strawberries bled into the base and threaten to ooze out the side. It’s a dose of sunshine, wrapped in pastry. It’s brittle and bloated, a little rough around the edges but full of hidden charm. It’s St Petersburg on a spoon.  It’s exactly what you need before tackling the Hermitage. That place makes the Louvre seem slight.

Stolle
Konushenny Lane 1/6, St. Petersburg, Russia
(812) 312-1862
www.stolle.ru/eng/main.htm

7. Eggplant with labna, mint and chilli at Morito

I have no decent excuse for why it took us two years in London to get to Samantha and Sam Moro’s place in Exmouth Market.

Morito is the baby sister of the two adjacent restaurants. And while it does beautiful things to protein, what stood out for me was how sound this place would be for vegetarians. No being short changed with bread and tomato, or potatoes and tomato while their friends tuck into platters of cured meats. Here in many dishes the vegetables become heroes. This is a sterling example; fat discs of aubergine, fried until they’re molten in the centre are topped with marshmallow blobs of yogurt cheese and brightened with mint and chilli. The eggplant is earnest  and the chilli and mint a cartwheel in frivolity over the top. If you try to replicate it, don’t even think about leaving off the black sesame seeds. They add a musty pop that bring it all together. It’s very clever stuff.

Morito
(020) 7278 7007
Clerkenwell

32 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE
Islington, EC1R 4

8. Honey tart with peanut ice cream at Bistrode, Sydney

For an Australian child reared on a household favourite of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, it doesn’t get much better than this. This is the reason Jane Strode’s sister gave for why the honey tart with peanut ice cream supplanted the superlative lime maple tart with creme fraiche sorbet  at Bistrode (now upstairs in the CBD hotel).  And it’s also one reason why this is a stonkingly good dessert. Here are a few others; the biscuit crispness of the pastry; the satisfying wobble of the honey centre; the occasional delight at finding a honey crystal stowed inside and the way that the slight saltiness of the peanut ice cream tags along like an old friend. It’s all the best things about a snickers bar and a childhood snack on a plate.  Evenings won’t end much sweeter than this.

Bistrode CBD
merivale.com.au/bistrodecbd
/1/52 King Street  Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

9. Lamb shoulder with garlic scrapes and turnips, Jon’s Bistro, Cornwall

It might be the view of sloping green pastures, gambolling sheep and the clean smell of salt spray from Mawgan Porth beach below. Then there’s the warmth and hospitality;  the welcome into Jen and John’s Harvey’s cosy farmshop/restaurant feels more like a visit to distant relatives than an excursion for dinner in Cornwall.

But you could eat this in a cold garage with rain dripping on your head and it would still be sublime.  It was a lady-like portion of cheek-soft shoulder delicately plated with beautifully turned artichokes and turnips, linked together by oil they made from garlic scrapes when they were in high season. It takes guts to put bitterness on a plate. When it doesn’t work, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. When it does, it’s the kind of plate that makes all other food in its realm seem juvenile.

Jon’s Bistro at Bre-Pen Farm
Bookings: Ph 01637 860420
http://www.bre-penfarm.co.uk/bistro.html
Mawgan Porth, Newquay
Cornwall TR8 4AL

10. Chelsea Bun at Fitzbillies, Cambridge

A chelsea bun is a slice of childhood wonder for me. Each year of my adolescence stale and stodgy versions were purchased from the school tuck shop, lurid with pink icing and fat with sultanas. They sustained me through band practice, debating and far too many spockish activities.  A visit to Fitzbillies in Cambridge, where the bun really came into its own is a little like travelling back in time and getting a do over.  It’s a bun made of a yeast dough that’s adorned with lemon peel and cinnamon. Before it’s rolled into a squarish shape it’s spread with currants. It’s sticky with syrup in a way that makes a napkin and repeated licking of your fingers a necessity. Share if you must, but the best way is to scoff one for yourself, then make a firm plan for a walk through the colleges and the river. That’s exactly what we did. And like so much else of what we did this year, it was perfect.

Fitzbillies
52A Trumpington Street  Cambridge CB2 1RG
www.fitzbillies.com/