The Hot 100: 61-80
Food that levitates? Check. Arabian luxury digs in the Abu Dhabi desert? Check. Planking and cold-smoking? Check. It must be the Gourmet Traveller Hot 100. Restaurants of the moment, exciting new talent, emerging trends, savvy travel tips… consider this your new global hit list.
61 Chef to watch
Alex Stupak has given up molecular for mole. The boy wonder of hydrocolloid gum and liquid nitrogen desserts, who served as pastry chef for both Grant Achatz at Alinea and Wylie Dufresne at WD~50, recently hung up his butane torch. Now, as we go to print, he’s set to open a taquería called Empellón (Spanish for “push”) in collaboration with wife Lauren Resler, a former Babbo pastry sous chef, in Manhattan’s West Village. But this ain’t gonna be any old Taco Bell. Look for tomatillo-pasilla Oaxaqueña-avocado leaf salsa and tinga of Long Island duck with Toluca chorizo.
62 Most exciting music trend
Just as chefs are re-exploring smoking, grilling and other old-school cooking methods, there’s a similar lo-fi revolution taking place in front-of-house – 45 revolutions per minute, to be exact. Vinyl is the restaurant sound of now, with a growing number of establishments choosing to ditch the iPod and go with the turntable to inject some snap, crackle, pop and personality into guests’ eating and drinking experience. Whether it’s perusing the wine and food selections at Darlinghurst’s Love, Tilly Divine to the strains of Madlib, savouring the Latin tunes at Mamasita, or making eyes at the tube amp and eclectic record collection that are property of Carlton boozer and GT’s 2010 bar of the year, Gerald’s, black (wax) is definitely back.
63 The Esquire, redefined
Brace yourself, Brisbane. Former GT Best New Talent winner Ryan Squires is poised to debut his new establishment, Esquire, at 145 Eagle Street in mid-May. There will be formal and informal dining areas, the latter suited to lunchtime micro prix fixe bites. It’s a departure from the dégustation-only Buffalo Club where Squires last headed the kitchen. “The new restaurant is about the guest,” he says. “They’ll be challenged and encouraged to think about the food, and what we provide will exceed expectations.” Squires credits a stint at Noma for encouraging him to appreciate ingredients that can stand alone. At Esquire, some of the things you can expect to see on the menu include Gympie duck, wagyu beef, Queensland halibut and skate wings cooked over bincho-tan coal.
64 Tea 2.0
Is ancient oolong the tea of the future? All true tea comes from varieties of the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Green tea leaves are treated or steamed to prevent the leaves from oxidising and to retain their natural colour. Black tea leaves are rolled to break the cell structure of the leaf and to accelerate the oxidation that is their distinguishing feature. Oolong teas fall between the two. “They’re partially oxidised, and the art of making oolong tea lies in knowing when to halt the process,” says importer David Thompson of Melbourne’s Larsen & Thompson. “Terroir plays a part, too; as you move up the mountain, the growth slows, the leaves are smaller and the flavour is generally more intense.” Oolongs often have the vegetal flavour of green tea along with the rich smooth flavours of quality black tea. One of the most compelling reasons to take a closer look is that they make great accompaniments to food. “The assertive flavours of oolong teas have a capacity to cleanse the palate,” Thompson says. “They complement a wide variety of foods, from dark chocolate to smoked meats and fish; others even taste good with cheese.”
65 Most inspiring mix of ancient-meets-modern
The deceptively humble courtyard dwellings of Amanfayun in China’s historic Zhejiang province, many of which date from 100 years ago when local villagers working the surrounding Longjing tea plantations inhabited them, are set among bamboo groves and five Buddhist temples. Today, interiors visionary Jaya Ibrahim has transformed the one-time socialist utopia into a jet-set retreat of cloud-like beds, under-floor heating, invigorating rain showers and, for those who pay a little more, a private double massage room. Guests can wander along well-worn tea farmers’ paths or join the monks on pilgrimage to Lingyin temple, home of China’s largest wooden sitting Buddha.
66 Next best reason to do away with tablecloths
The Long Apron’s Cameron Matthews is playing with dégustation grand finales. He whips the cloth off the table and arranges dessert sans plate. And we’re not talking a slice of cake here. Think a Pollock-esque banana split, comprising banana bavarois, cocoa crumbs, chocolate mousse, warm coconut pudding, Nutella malto, caramelised white chocolate, hazelnut streusel, cherry purée and aerated chocolate, all spread across the dining table. “It entices the diner to interact and explore,” Matthews says. Just watch your cuffs.
67 Hottest spot to bed down in Bangkok
Renowned Asian resort landscaper Bill Bensley (St Regis Bali, Anantara Resort Hua Hin, Thailand) is known for the lushness of his creations. In his latest commission, the 39-suite Siam (an urban retreat on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River), Bensley blends South East Asian antiquities with highly polished woods and extravagant furnishings. The high-ceiling deco vibe might feel inspired by Old Siam but the hotel has all the mod cons, a five-room spa and a hammam. For the ultimate indulgence, book Connie’s Cottage, a one-of-a-kind teak-wood structure brought from the ancient capital of Ayutthaya to Bangkok by silk tycoon Jim Thompson.
68 The world’s most happening capital
It’s hard to shake the sense that London is – once again – riding the Cool Britannia wave. The buzz around this month’s royal wedding and next year’s Olympic Games is reflected in the number of five-star hotel openings. The venerable 122-year-old Savoy is looking sharper than ever after a $350-million makeover to get it match-ready for the Games. On Park Lane, the Four Seasons has likewise spent $200 million getting its house in order and installing a penthouse spa. Other notable newcomers include the W Leicester Square and the Corinthia, a $480-million hotel lodged in a stunning Ministry of Defence building down the river from Westminster. Next month a gothic Victorian palace opens as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, with a 120-seat British brasserie by The Berkeley’s Marcus Wareing. Go now – beat the rush.
69 Best advances in air travel
Air New Zealand is shaping up as the Little Airline That Could. Its innovative thinking delivered the Skycouch last year (more than 30 rival airlines have since contacted the carrier seeking to license the idea) and now comes the convection oven. This addition to the airline’s new Boeing 777-300s promises to deliver steaks cooked to order, fresh pizza and burgers, toast and eggs. Tasty. Meanwhile, Qantas’s next-gen check-in kiosks have wiped waiting times at Sydney and Perth airports for top-tier frequent flyers. Got an iPhone addiction? Singapore Airlines is introducing inflight connectivity across its long-haul fleet during 2011, allowing passengers to while away the hours on text and email. And Virgin Galactic’s entry into outer space edged closer to blast-off with the first piloted free-flight of the VSS Enterprise late last year.
70 Aperitivo time
Der Raum mark II? Not exactly. Matt Bax’s long awaited Melbourne CBD sequel to his standard-setting Richmond watering hole looks more to the past than to the future for its inspiration. Bar Americano, set to open on Presgrave Place this autumn, will serve stand-up espresso by day and a line of classic drinks after dark, complemented by tiny bar snacks. “As the name suggests,” says Bax, “it’s a homage to the great American bars of Europe that fuelled my love for cocktails.”
71 Most unusual road-side pie
Persian spiced camel pies have made Old Bakery Stone Hut an essential stop for travellers driving north from Clare to the southern Flinders Ranges. Dennis Wheatley draws on his 50 years’ baking experience to specialise in old-fashioned cakes – chester squares, Eccles cakes, lemon meringue pies – but the star attractions are his Taste of the Outback pies: venison pie, kangaroo pie, rabbit stew pie and Saeid’s camel pie. The last, named after an Iraqi man who gave the Wheatleys his recipe for cooking camel, has a rich flavour amplified by big pinches of cardamom, turmeric and cumin.
72 The bitter end
Maybe it’s the maturing of the cocktail market; bottled bitters have exploded in recent years. Where bars once had the single dusty bottle of Angostura for seasoning cocktails, many now have a score of tiny vials. The trend, fuelled by the parallel passions in today’s mixology for history and for DIY projects, sees the ancient grand Chartreuse and revived classics such as Boker’s Bitters sitting alongside house-made concoctions and the more out-there likes of bitters flavoured with wormwood, Memphis barbecue and, yes, sriracha chilli sauce. Want to dip your toe? Try a few drops in a dry Martini.
73 Most ambitious to-do list
Imagine you were already known for turning your breathtakingly innovative restaurant into the object of international gastronomic pilgrimage. What would you do for an encore? If you are Albert and Ferran Adrià, the genius chefs of Spain’s elBulli, you just might open a place like Tickets and 41º.
Which is to say you might open a place unlike any other. Tickets and 41º is as unusual as its appellation suggests. To start with, it is two different places. 41º is a sweet little cocktail bar where the drinks are classic – Martinis, Mojitos – and the snacks are classic elBulli, which is to say not classic at all. The bar offers the best of elBulli’s small bites: the sandwiches with “bread” made from dehydrated meringue, the cookie that looks for all the world like a macaron but proves, upon first wobbly bite, to be made of chocolate and lime marshmallow.
Tickets, connected to 41º by a narrow passageway, is part tapas bar, part food hall, a place that turns out everything from straightforward grilled seafood to montaditos (a simple tapa) served, sushi style, on rice instead of bread, to some of the spectacular desserts that made the younger Adrià brother famous. It does so in a rowdy, eclectic room that includes a long, curving fibreglass bar the owners call The Ferrari.
With elBulli slated to close in July 2011 (it will reopen in 2014 as a kind of culinary think tank), many are looking to Tickets and 41º as a means of easing the pain of the restaurant’s passing. But asked why he wanted to open this kind of place in particular, Albert Adrià cites, in his typically cryptic way, a different challenge. “We’ve done haute cuisine,” he says. “We’ve done traditional tapas. We’ve done a hotel and fast food and catering. What else was left?”
74 Best reason to stay that extra day in Paris
Just when you’d clocked Le Châteaubriand as Paris’s hottest dining address, it’s time to move on. But not far. Le Dauphin, the immaculately tousled Inaki Aizpitarte’s new tapas canteen, is a few doors down Avenue Parmentier from the mothership, and on our “must-visit” list. And not just for Aizpitarte’s inventive food (maybe steak tartare, enlivened with crosnes, bitter greens and herbs, or bread soup made sexy with foie gras and hazelnuts, or his unique take on brandade). When New York missionary wine writer Alice Feiring tweets, “Walking into Le Dauphin, I could have been in NYC. Let’s see, how many people did I bump into?”, you know the wines will excite too. 131 Avenue Parmentier, 11th Arrondissement, Paris, +33 1 55 28 78 88
75 Cosiest new Kiwi
The setting beside placid Lake Wakatipu, gazing onto the snowy peaks of The Remarkables, is faultless. The interiors, by lodge queen Virginia Fisher, are bold, warm and autumnal. The food, by Dale Gartland (who also oversees sister properties Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs), is modern and shows his flair for premium local ingredients. The combination makes Matakauri a spectacular addition to the Kiwi lodge collection.
76 Chicest new shopping
We’re loving Sydney CBD’s flashy new Westfield shopping centre (not to mention its iPhone app), and news that Italian leather house Bottega Veneta is about to join luxury brands Gucci and Prada in the complex has us in even more of a tizz. The boutique is designed by BV creative director Tomas Maier and is the first to open in Australia. Be sure to check out the brand’s luxury luggage (from $1540) and, of course, the signature woven leather goods, including a black Intrecciato Nappa eye mask, $260.
77 Latest Australian assault on LA
The Sunset Strip, peppered with glitzy stores and gritty clubs, is not known for elegant dining options. But Australian restaurateur Nick Mathers is set to turn the tables with Eveleigh. A roaring fireplace, open kitchen and bar greet guests, but most dining takes place on the expansive patio with its retractable ceiling and striking city views. Mathers, one of the founders of the Mod Oz bistro Kingswood in New York, has appointed Aussie chef Jordan Toft to the kitchen, but they’re not trying to replicate the Bondi-meets-Manhattan vibe of Kingswood. “Eveleigh is about Californian food with a focus on market-sourced ingredients,” says Mathers. “And we have the cheapest valet on the strip.”
78 Best evening prayers
At last, an alternative to that awful throng of tourists who defy calls for silence inside the Sistine Chapel. Italy with Us, a small tour company run by effervescent Irishwoman Helen Donegan, offers intimate tours of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel after hours – when both are completely empty. There are no crowds, no noise and no stress so you can marvel at the Creation of Adam or stare at the frescoes in Raphael’s rooms with only a guard and a well-informed guide beside you. At $379 it doesn’t come cheap, but it does guarantee an unforgettable experience.
79 Fastest dudes in the West
If St John’s Fergus Henderson and Au Pied de Cochon’s Martin Picard had offspring, they would undoubtedly resemble Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, the adorably scruffy chefs spearheading the West Coast dude-food movement. They pack the house nightly at Animal, their downtown Los Angeles lair for carnivores with a gutsy menu that reads like a butcher’s wet dream – barbecue pork belly sandwiches in screaming hot brioche buns and, of course, the ever-popular poutine of house-made fries, drenched in molten Vermont cheddar and oxtail gravy. The Florida natives have a new fish joint, called Son of a Gun, where captain’s chairs are positioned at a bar built from Maker’s Mark bourbon barrel staves. Lobster rolls and baked clams “mafia style” rule the seas here.
80 The culinary jet set
The spa stopover is a trend with legs, but what of the restaurant-driven flight itinerary? With the opening of Tetsuya Wakuda’s shimmering Waku Ghin in Singapore, Gray Kunz’s superb Café Gray Deluxe in Hong Kong and David Thompson’s essential Nahm in Bangkok over the past 18 months, today’s traveller is likely to check in with the reservationist before the travel agent as they plan that next trip.
WORDS LISA ABEND, MAX ALLEN, GUY DIMOND, SUE DYSON & ROGER MCSHANE, GEORGE EPAMINONDAS, MICHAEL HARDEN, KENDALL HILL, JOSEPHINE MCKENNA, SHANE MITCHELL, PAT NOURSE, DEBBIE PAPPYN, ED PETERS, KAREN REYMENT, CYNTHIA ROSENFELD, EMMA SLOLEY, DAVID SLY, MAX VEENHUYZEN, EMMA VENTURA PHOTOGRAPHY JASON LOUCAS
This article is from the April 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.