Food News

GT’s best dishes of 2012: Pat Nourse

He's made a list and checked it twice. Drum roll, please, for Gourmet Traveller chief restaurant critic Pat Nourse's 10 best dishes of the year (in no particular order).
Julian Kingma

**1. Beef and preserved lemon tangia, Marrakech

** This is one you’re going to have to try for yourself. Named for the amphora-like vessel it’s cooked in, the tangia is Marrakech’s favourite dish (particularly for the fellas). You can buy one ready-made in the souk, but the real joy comes from buying the pot, getting the butcher to fill it up with slices of beef shin, then visiting other vendors to add the aged butter Moroccans call smen, preserved lemon, a head of garlic, oil and a good dose of ras el hanout. Seal it with parchment, then find a hammam. Out of the back of the hammam you’ll find a farnatchi, the woodfired furnace that heats the water to provide the steam for the baths. Slip the bloke whose job it is to tend the farnatchi a few dirhams, and he’ll wedge your tangia into the heap of coals scraped out of the firebox, alongside several others from the neighbourhood. Come back at lunch (or, better yet, dinner) collect your pot, and get ready to savour slow-cooked Moroccan goodness like no other.

**2. Onion ice-cream, Loam

** I like onions. I like ice-cream. But it took a trip to Loam, on the beauteous Bellarine, to convince me that I like them on the same plate at the same time. As the same thing, in fact. Proving that the kitchen’s most familiar ingredient can, if handled with wit, have as much impact on a tasting menu as the more challenging-sounding likes of duck tongues, sea blight and freeze-dried olive oil, this dessert (pictured above), accessorised deftly with honeycomb and a quinoa crisp, is a quiet riot. Loam, 650 Andersons Rd, Drysdale, Vic, (03) 5251 1101

**3. Tohu byawk, Inle Lake, Burma

** The Shan people of Burma make a yellow “tofu” from split chickpeas. It’s served set, often fried, but perhaps the most exotic expression is when it’s served as the “liquid” in this very interesting take on the Shan noodle soups seen all over central Burma. The version I had, served at a market stall near Alotawpauk pagoda one fine Sunday morning, was topped with fried chicken, garlic chips, chopped roast peanuts, sesame seeds and not a little chilli oil. Fairly unusual and perfectly excellent. Definitely the best 40 cents I spent on food this year.

**4. All the crabs, Mr Wong

** You know you’ve got a problem when you can’t just drop in for yum cha without ordering a muddie on the side. You know that problem is out of control when you find yourself ordering two between three. But, dammit, the crabs chefs Yu, Hong and the crew were scoring this past winter were off the chart, and, whether it was steamed with ginger and spring onion, peppered Singapore style, done with the house XO or deep-fried with spiced salt, the handling was every bit as good as the raw product. Not since the rebranding of Rockpool Fish has Sydney seen crab this fine. Mr Wong, 3 Bridge La, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9240 3000

**5. Coddled hen’s egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter, Dabbous

** In some ways it’s a no-brainer: mushrooms, butter, eggs. But if it were that simple, everyone would be blowing minds with this one, left, right and centre. The result here is a dish that’s by turns bosky and rich, sleek and earthy. Like so much of Ollie Dabbous’s food, it’s a quiet revelation, and a very tasty one at that, especially at prices that top out at a mere $24 a dish. Dabbous*, 39 Whitfield St, London, England, +44 20 7323 1544

***6. Snook ceviche taco, Pujol

** Enrique Olvera doesn’t make it easy to single out a favourite dish over the course of the tasting menu at this, the distrito federal’s must-visit restaurant. I think it was the elegant surprise of the hoja santa leaf backing the tortilla in this highly unusual take on the taco that stuck in my mind, but I was equally taken with just about everything else set in front of me over the course of the evening. The Noma of Mexico? It’s not a comparison entirely without basis. More usefully, you just need to know this: it’s a great restaurant, and very much a centrepiece around which you can build an excellent Mexico City eating adventure. Pujol, Francisco Petrarca 254, Polanco, Mexico City, Mexico, +52 55 5545 3507

**7. Caesar Brussels sprouts, Bäco Mercat

** I’d characterise the food at Josef Centeno’s new downtown LA foodist-magnet as “small plates, big impact”. Writing at the beginning of this year in the LA Weekly, critic Jonathan Gold noted that if the restaurant could be any more of the moment “it would be a Pinterest page devoted to Tumblrs of itself”. As I instagrammed my lunch, surveying the wreckage of a cold soup with noodles, romesco, a fried egg, beef, pork and basil, the salad of grains, cured fish and sesame, the yuzu and dill pickled veg and the crisp flatbread with guanciale and ricotta dotted with mostly drunk glasses of Sicilian reds and Napa ribolla gialla and bottles of rye IPA, house-made vinegar-based Meyer lemon soda, Van Winkle bourbon and cold-brew coffee, I gave that observation a mental Facebook like. And then I thought about getting another order of the good, small Brussels sprouts punched up with pecorino, garlic and anchovy. Bäco Mercat, 408 South Main St, Los Angeles, California, USA, +1 213 687 8808

**8. Sausage and cime di rapa, Popolo

** There have been flashier restaurant openings in Sydney this year. More money spent. Bigger names. Bigger concepts. And yet few have contributed so richly to the realm of everyday eating than this Rushcutters Bay newcomer. If you’re in the business of restaurants, much can be learned here about the art of under-selling and over-delivering. If you’re here to eat, then you can simply kick back and enjoy it. This heavy skillet of rustic, yet attentively cooked ingredients is a fine case in point. Popolo, 50 McLachlan Ave, Rushcutters Bay, NSW, (02) 9361 6641

**9. Mandarin granita and honeycomb ice-cream, Sean’s Panaroma

** No dust, sand, snow, crumbs or dough. No smears, no leaves, no flowers, no microwaved sponge cake and definitely nothing called “textures of” anything. Just produce at its peak, handled with finesse. Sweet mercy.Sean’s Panaroma*, 270 Campbell Pde, Bondi Beach, NSW, (02) 9365 4924


**10. Andalucia, Quay

** If only everyone came back from a trip away with a “what I did on my holidays” essay as evocative as this one. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Peter Gilmore’s paean to one of the highlights of his mid-year sabbatical is written in roast-almond ice-cream, almond crumb, orange and bergamot marmalade. This, the nation’s restaurant of the year, has many contenders for the list on its menu (I’m looking at you, pretty poached chicken, scallop, noodle, eggplant, wasabi flower thing), but this newest dessert just can’t be denied. Quay, upper level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, NSW, (02) 9251 5600

Also: Mitch Orr’s smoked eel, lardo and radicchio linguine at the Buzo pasta nights, the sourdough soup at the Royal Mail Hotel, Massimo Bottura‘s 25-30 yolks-per-kilo-of-flour tagliatelle with ragù Bolognese, the barbacoa on the streets of Mexico City, Albert St Food & Wine‘s tri-tip with potatoes and anchovies, the Middle White chop, mustard and chard at the Chinatown branch of London’s St John, and…

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