We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.
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1 BEST REASONS TO DRINK OUT OF THE BOTTLE
Matt Bax isn't into barrel-aged cocktails. "If you want age, use old spirits," he says. But on the other hand, he's excited about the Bellini-inspired bottle-fermented cocktail he and his cohorts now serve at Melbourne's Der Raum. It joins Fred Siggins's US Route 10 at The Kodiak Club and the twist on an Americano that Pez Collier serves at Brisbane's Laneway bar as part of a trend for bars bottling drinks in-house, whether it's for reasons of taste, for convenience or simply as a talking point.
2 BEST ART-FULL ESCAPE: ROME
If you think Rome is nothing more than ancient rubble and a swathe of baroque gems, think again. The Eternal City is in the midst of an artistic renaissance that stretches from the 16th century to the avant-garde. The MAXXI has put 21st-century art on the map but the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art has also had a makeover. Its stunning collection includes Klimt, Kandinsky and Van Gogh and Italian artists such as Modigliani and Giacometti, and is displayed in a new setting filled with natural light. The Venetian 16th-century legend Tintoretto has also come to town and some of his finest pieces, including Susanna and the Elders, are on show at the Scuderie del Quirinale next to the Quirinal Palace until 10 June.
3 GOING OFF WITH A BANG
Bompas & Parr, the London-based food provocateurs best-known for their elaborate jelly creations, want to blow up your wedding cake. For a (substantial) fee, they'll rig your cake with explosives with a view to making it a truly memorable highlight of your nuptials. "Wedding cakes can be brutally stodgy," says Harry Parr. "Blowing the cake up spares the stomach after a heavy meal and is a good way to wake guests up for the speeches."
4 BUZZIEST ISLAND
The buzz on Borneo, long the domain of the adventure traveller, is starting to grow. New Gaya Island Resort, a 120-villa retreat set among ancient rainforest on the shores of Malohom Bay on Pulau Gaya, is just minutes from Sabah's capital, Kota Kinabalu. Gaya is on track to open on 1 July but owner YTL Hotels is already planning a second, more intimate property on the nearby island of Pulau Tiga, with private pool and dedicated spa treatment area standard inclusions in each of its 65 villas.
5 BEST REASON TO TREAD GINGERLY
The giant gingerbread design we've used to open this year's Hot 100 (pictured above) might be the most prominent reason to visit its creators at new Woolloomooloo pâtisserie Flour and Stone, but it's just the tip of the iceberg.
6 LUXURY IN THE SERENGETI
Kenya's recent troubles see its African neighbour Tanzania taking advantage of even more visitors in search of the mighty big five within the popular Serengeti. New to the scene is Lamai Serengeti from Nomad Tanzania, set within the Kogakuria Kopje with views out over the Mara River Valley and Lamai Wedge. The lodge sits in a quiet corner of the national park, with its 12 open-fronted, light and luxurious rooms - eight in the main lodge and four in a separate private area - built to take advantage of the views and the constantly changing colours of the dramatic Serengeti skies. On the menu are game drives, walking safaris, lounging by the pool, and the service and food on which Nomad Tanzania built its reputation.
McLaren Vale chef Nigel Rich loves the locavore philosophy but reckons the 100km sourcing radius is too generous. He says 40km is more like it. At his new vineyard-encircled restaurant, The Elbow Room, Rich can point to the paddocks where his plump figs, apples, grapes, almonds, olives and wild strawberries grow, and his Berkshire pork is raised just 30 minutes' drive down the road.
8 THE COMEBACK CITY
Cartagena, on Colombia's northern coast, has weathered decades of political upheaval and cartel violence to emerge as the next great South American hot spot. The handsomely preserved, walled old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site; it's filled with cobblestone plazas, salsa clubs, tapas bars and boutique hotels. Colombian-born fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi's restored mansion has seven modernist guest rooms; if you're lucky, spot Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez dining on red-snapper ceviche at Bazurto Social Club in the emerging neighbourhood of Getsemaní.
9 COOLEST SANDWICH TREND
Coolest? How about downright chilly? Sydney is no stranger to the ice-cream sandwich, from the Monaco Bars of yesteryear to the Pat and Stick treats of today, but in 2012 it's become a menu must-have, popping up at the likes of Wilbur's Place in Potts Point (toasted brioche ice-cream sandwich with caramel), Petty Cash Café in Marrickville (chocolate brioche French toast ice-cream sandwich), Balmain's Lodge Wine Bar (chocolate, cherry and coconut ice-cream sandwich), and Surry Hills hot spot Reuben Hills (the "Doggs breakfast" ice-cream sandwich with salted caramel). Beware the brain-freeze.
10 CHICEST EXOTIC IDYLL
We're smitten by Mexico's latest hot spot, Tulum, an eco-oasis on the country's Caribbean coast. This once slightly scruffy beach town for budget-conscious new-age types is a 10km stretch of jungle and beachfront that has rapidly evolved into the travel ne plus ultra for New York's fashion set. To soak up the town's spirit, rent a bicycle and peddle the single road that ends at Sian Ka'an, a stunning UNESCO biosphere of mangroves, canals and wetlands. Lining the road is a string of off-the-grid hotels, open-air restaurants, road-side taco joints and recently arrived upscale boutiques selling boho staples: fedoras, floaty maxi-dresses and handcrafted jewellery. Such urbane additions haven't detracted from the town's main draw, though: its languid, back-to-nature vibe and utterly unspoiled beaches. Swing a hammock in one of the simple bungalows on the beach, or opt for more grown-up lodgings at Coqui Coqui Tulum, tranquil-luxe Ana y José, or Design Hotels' pop-up Papaya Playa (until 5 May), with rustic cabanas, castaway-chic bar and spa. Once the sun goes down, hit one of the excellent restaurants, including the Hartwood, a farm-to-table magnet for beautiful people founded by New York chef Eric Werner.
11 BEST NICHE EATING
Japan is the home of the specialist restaurant, and that culture of specificity is slowly but surely infiltrating our own dining scene. Specialists in sushi, ramen and soba are now joined by restaurants which do just yakitori (grilled chicken), kushikatsu (deep-fried things on sticks), oden (simmered foods), and more.
12 MOST MOORISH MAKEOVER
The Alfonso XIII hotel offered the most luxurious lodgings in Europe when it was built for the Ibero-American Exposition held in 1929 in Seville, the sultry southern capital of Andalusia and home of Carmen. It was conceived so that every room was unique and lavishly Moorish in inspiration. The decades had taken their toll on the hotel but it now shimmers anew thanks to a year-long renovation, and reopened just in time for Holy Week, Seville's defining annual festival.
13 NEW IN BEEF
Lush Tasmanian grass and John Hammond's 20-year breeding program have created what Garagistes chef Luke Burgess calls "a unique product that could only have come from this place". It's meat produced from cows that eat grass all their lives, rather than grain, and dry-aged, which means beef that's truly seductive, verging on addictive in its complexity and density of flavour.
14 TRACKS WORTH MAKING
Walking is the best way to experience the natural beauty of a landscape and the day-to-day rhythms of a new culture. The new Wales Coast Path, opening this month, will make Wales the only country to have an official walking trail along its entire coast. The 1400km stretch meanders through coves and villages, along clifftops and glorious beaches. Another new track of note is the Rota Vicentina, 250km of trails south of Lisbon that take in some of Portugal's most beautiful and undiscovered coastline.
15 SOFTENING THE BLOW
What better way to make the appearance of the bill more welcome than to pair it with a gift? At Hong Kong's perenially packed Yardbird, it's a small bag of the restaurant's blend of shichimi togarashi chilli powder. In the UK, diners leaving The Fat Duck tote custom-designed lolly bags, while guests departing Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social receive breakfast goodies and a house-made tea, a strategy also deployed by the local likes of Vue de Monde and Bécasse.
16 THE LIVER DELIVERED
Born of necessity after a long night at Sydney's Wine Library, says Varuni Kulasekera from Hobart's Chado teahouse, Wine Lover's Tea - a bespoke blend of St Mary's milk thistle, dandelion root, burdock and honeybush - cleanses and detoxifies the liver. It's a must-have for every serious bon viveur's toolkit. (03) 6231 6411
17 EASY BEING GREEN
Ripeness is all well and good, but now that we're across seasonal flavours, it's time to start exploring the unseasonal via the tastes and textures of early-picked fruit. As Vietnamese chef Trinh Diem Vy put it in her Melbourne Food & Wine Festival masterclass, "for us, when they're green they're a vegetable, and when they're ripe they're a fruit". Between crunchy Asian salads of green papaya and mango and Scandinavian influences via the likes of pickled green strawberries, unripe no longer has to equal unwanted.
18 MILE-HIGH TABLEWARE
KLM, the national carrier of Holland, serves its business-class meals on tableware designed by Marcel Wanders. The internationally acclaimed Dutch designer is better known from the brands Moooi and Droog and his tableware consists of very refined porcelain, glassware, cutlery and linen in Wanders's signature shapely style. The collection is already so popular that a selection can be purchased in-flight. A favourite is the stainless-steel coffee stirrer in the shape of an aeroplane propeller.
19 THE COMPLETE WINE EXPERIENCE
Small-scale wine tours draw you straight to the cultural and gastronomic heart of any region. Arblaster & Clarke offers classic tours in Bordeaux and Champagne as well as off-the-beaten-track wine destinations including Georgia, home to the world's oldest wine culture. Try a Mediterranean wine cruise or a vineyard walking tour through Rioja or Piedmont - meandering through picturesque scenery builds a hearty appetite for the carefully chosen restaurants and their excellent wine lists. Local guides provide invaluable insider knowledge and ensure you visit only cellars that provide expert insights and the most authentic experiences.
20 GUNNING FOR BRIXTON
Brixton is a vibrant neighbourhood in south London long associated with the Afro-Caribbean community. In recent decades the fortunes of Brixton Market - a sprawl of lively covered markets - had gone into decline, but the worst-affected part of the market has been resuscitated by new initiatives. The new wave of cafés, boutique shops, and small restaurants is called Brixton Village and it's become a hip destination for terrific Thai food at Kaosarn, fab flat whites at Kiwi-run Federation Coffee, perfect patties at Honest Burgers, and a score of other fun places to eat and drink.
21 TRAIN IN SPAIN
Spain's dazzling new very fast trains make exploring Iberia's diverse landscapes not just speedier, but also infinitely more affordable and more comfortable. The AVE has cut the trip between central Madrid and Barcelona to two and a half hours, and from Madrid you can reach must-see historic sites including Toledo, Seville and Córdoba in a flash. A trip from the Catalan capital to Perpignan in France's south is in the pipeline.
22 FIVE-STAR SPA BEFORE THE FIVE-RING CIRCUS
London likes to keep fit, well rested and in shape these days. In anticipation of the 2012 Olympics, new hotels and spas are popping up all over the UK capital, including The Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall, with its impressive four-floor ESPA Life spa and gym. The grand old building, previously the Ministry of Defence headquarters, has been revamped by interior designers GA Design. The spa is sumptuously kitted out with Calacatta and black marble, hammam-style steam rooms and an artfully lit swimming pool. We especially like the German Klafs sauna with its amphitheatre-like design. Relax on sunken benches and look out through its glass walls on to the rest of the spa.
23 FAIREST DAIRY
The art of cultured butter-making has a less obvious but equally delicious spin-off: luscious low-fat buttermilk, the liquid that's left over after churning. Streets apart from the cultured skim-milk product sold as buttermilk in supermarkets, naturally churned buttermilk has freshness, acidity and handy emulsifying properties, which in applications such as baking help create a finer crumb. Cultured artisan butter production by Sydney's Pepe Saya, Tasmania's Meander Valley Dairy and The Butter Factory in Myrtleford means a trickle of old-school buttermilk is starting to add serious tang to some of our top kitchens. But fluffy pancakes and tender buttermilk fried chicken are only half the story. Try Ryan Squires's coal-cooked duck hearts at Esquire in Brisbane, with cold buttermilk split with a sweet juniper oil, or his buttermilk dotted with dill oil and smoked pickled scallops with a sorrel granita. You'll see buttermilk at Attica, Sepia, and Aria Brisbane, where Ben Russell's buttermilk sorbet is the perfect lactic foil for a simple plate of fresh and freeze-dried berries.
24 SNAPPING UP VINTAGE
Yes, the world is now one endless shortcut: Instagram, not SLR, is the way we record our travels. But everything old is new again, and New York design duo Proenza Schouler's vintage-inspired camera case is priced from $1770. Not willing to kiss goodbye to your Instagram addiction? The case is good enough to use as a bag in its own right.
25 THE WINE TO WATCH - BY CANDLELIGHT
It's the dream team: a choice swathe of mature Yarra Valley vines; winemaker William Downie (of the cult eponymous label) at the vats; viticulturist Stuart Proud (ex De Bortoli) in the vineyard; and marketer Paul Henry (ex Wine Australia) steering the ship. They'll be releasing their first wine - a 2011 shiraz, whole-bunch fermented, minimal additions - next month for $100 a bottle. Expect the most talked-about wine launch of 2012. thousandcandles.com.au.
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