Monday, 12 June 2006

my vote for best restaurants in asia

Today is the day to get your votes in for the Asia Pacific Best Restaurants List.

Sadly, I have not travelled much through the region. I have only eaten at two non-Australian restaurants that would qualify, both in Vietnam, yet I can’t for the life of me remember their names. Terrible, considering I had such divine meals. Oh well, that was back in the days when I didn’t record every detail of my life for this blog.

So, unfortunately I can only vote for Australian restaurants. Here is my vote:

1. Best 2 restaurants in your home city.

Tetsuya's (Sydney)
Australia is a very multicultural country and I feel Tetsuya Wakuda’s food represents this perfectly. He combines of cooking styles and traditional flavours from a variety of different cultures to come up with unique signature dishes such as white truffle ice cream with sticky rice or crab raviolone, the interior stuffed with a smooth paste of kaffir leaves, crab and chilli (almost laksa like) and the exterior drizzled with olive oil and finely chopped tomato and basil (very Italian). The service here is most likely the best Australia will ever produce and the food is art: visually and conceptual.

Marque (Sydney)
The joy of Marque lies in the tradition of experimental food. Chef Mark Best, who once worked at L'Arpége in Paris and Le Manoir Aux Quatre Saisons in Great Milton, is back in Sydney and winner of the 2006 Sydney Good Food Guide ‘Chef of the Year’ with a score of 19/20. Food at Marque is artistic and it certainly pushes borders. Ingredients that seemingly shouldn’t mix meet in harmony on the plate. Mark Best shows imagination but also an intuitive knowledge of flavour compositions, which permeates even the garnishes. The entire menu was a delightfully confusing challenge to standard conceptions of sweet and savoury: almond mousse with crab and prune oil; lobster broth with parmigiano custard; potato mille-feuille; pigeon with orange and chocolate; dessert of anise ice cream and a caramelised tomato stuffed with dried fruits. The list could go on, but every dish is balanced and all flavour combinations are pulled off successfully. This is dining for the adventurous.

2. Nominate what you feel is your favourite restaurant in your home city

Otto Ristorante (Sydney)
Right on Woolloomooloo's Cowper Wharf, diners sit by bobbing yachts as they feast on James Kidman’s reliably good food. The cuisine is based on traditional Italian fare but shows uniquely Australian variations. Every dished sampled at this restaurant has been right on the money - excellent tastes and textures, always bursting with flavour and always cooked perfectly. Desserts are equally good and there is an interesting selection of wine and cocktails as well.

Why isn’t it in my “best” list? While I love the food at Otto’s much more in general, it doesn’t contribute to the evolution of gastronomy in Australia. It produces beautiful, delicious, reliable food but it doesn’t challenge diners and it doesn’t invent new concepts or methods.

3. Please nominate what you believe are the 3 best restaurants from outside your own home city.

I haven't eaten in many places outside Australia that would be eligible for this survey, therefore I'll give vote for restaurants outside Sydney. I only feel comfortable recommending two in this category though.

The Apothecary 1878 (Adelaide)
Excellent, imaginative menu using beautiful local produce in an elegantly designed dining room. There is an Old World feel with a young, funky vibe and this restaurant caters for everyone. The downstairs wine bar serves tapas snacks and the upstairs restaurant delivers generous portions of beautifully cooked food by Natalie Homan. To start try scallops oven-baked on the shell with mixed beans, diced olives and crispy panegratto or chevre balls, shallow fried then drizzled with honey and served on a bed of caramelised onion. Mains were also high quality with a succulent roasted spatchcock, marinated in lemon and thyme, then dressed with salsa verde and a side of panzanella.

Penfolds Magill Estate (Adelaide)
Excellent service, divine food and renown wines are a glorious package at this vineyard estate restaurant. Jerome Tremoulet’s menu shines. Quail confit sat upon an eggplant ravioli, accompanied by parmesan polenta and thyme jus. Venison, cooked perfectly pink, was well matched with a red wine glaze and sweet red cabbage. Served with Penfold’s delicious wines and set amongst the vines, what more could you ask for?

4. Please nominate what are your 2 favourite restaurants outside your own home city.

Borscht, Vodka & Tears (Melbourne)
This Modern Polish restaurant is renowned for the more than 100 types of European (mostly Polish) vodkas available for sampling and the great przekąski (Polish snack dishes). Solid highlights were the crispy fetta and rice balls; pan-fried uszka with porcini mushrooms; black mussels with chilli; Golabki (veal and cabbage roll) as well as the most divine dill cucumber pickles I have ever eaten! For liquid dessert I tried a sampling tray of three liqueur vodkas: winter romance (rose and forest fruit infused); sour cherry (sour cherry, honey and spices) and advocaat (brandy, vanilla and egg yolk). I also tasted the delicious wild bee vodka which is like liquid honey. Service is faultless despite the fact that the restaurant is packed out most nights and the decor was a cross between bohemian Paris and country-pub Poland. Overall the style added significantly to the cosy atmosphere. This is very much a happening place, loud and buzzing with a warm, friendly environment.

Blanc (Adelaide)
At Blanc, the seafood is expertly handled and Chef Norman Thanakamonnun clearly understands his ingredients. A half dozen natural oysters came with a shot glass of gorgeous sauce made from lime and red chilli. The oysters were salty, creamy and delicious and the sauce was fragrant but not overpowering. Grilled whole flounder was dressed in a beurre noisette. The fish was cooked beautifully, flaking away from the bone so easily I didn’t have to pick out any bones from my meal at all. The flounder flesh was sweet and flavoursome and I couldn’t have been happier. The beurre noisette was also expertly prepared, imparting a classical nutty flavour and complimented by a squeeze of lemon and tiny salty capers. The side of chips was also worth a mention: crisp, salted outsides and smooth soft innards. These were fried wonderfully. They did not have a vegetarian main on the menu, but the chef delivered a superb linguini, cooked to perfection, with a fairly sticky, dry red sauce with a clean capsicum flavour. The sauce was further enriched by small pieces of tomato, zucchini and asparagus. The flavours were deliciously pungent for a vegetarian course. Excellent. Service here is a little amateur but we were there for the food and so walked away ecstatic. I would recommend this restaurant whole heartedly and don’t think many Sydney restaurants could compare in value for quality.

And why aren’t these two on my “best” list? For the same reason Otto didn’t make it. Blanc is a great seafood restaurant, but it isn’t an experience in itself. While Borsch, Vodka & Tears is certainly an experience, it is very casual and more of a great night out than a world class establishment.

Happy voting to everyone else!!!

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