Restaurant News

2008: A Retrospective in 10 Courses

Restaurant critic Pat Nourse delves deep into his duck fat-stained personal files to bring you the best of 2008’s eating in 10 easy dishes.

  1. Salt cod soup, Cumulus Inc, Melbourne
    How is it that from a menu of so many great dishes (the wagyu tongue with mustard fruits and horseradish, the blood on toast, the pour-your-own rum baba), everyone zeroes in on this relatively humble, yet undeniably awesome dish? Pretty much chowder in a tumbler, topped with an emerald stratus of parsley foam on top, it’s the best seven bucks anyone spent on food in Australia this year. “It’s a freaky thing”, owner/chef Andrew McConnell tells me. “I’ve never had such a positive response from a soup before.”

  1. Bluefin tuna, foie gras butter, brioche, pork crackling, Marque, Sydney
    Raw fish on toast is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a hot property. Bodega’s ‘fish fingers’ are a prime example: grilled country bread and raw kingfish or mackerel with a confetti of raw cuttlefish and loads of garlic and olive oil. Finger lickin’ good. A couple of blocks up at Marque, though, they take the concept into rarefied territory, using lush slices of tuna belly, their own excellent brioche, a sweet foie gras butter and then, the coup d’état, crisp pork crackling showered over the lot with a Microplane. Boo-ya.

  1. Sweetcorn soup with blue swimmer crab and sherry cream, Etch, Sydney
    Super-rich, super-creamy and everything a warm-weather soup shouldn’t be, this instant favourite at the Bécasse crew’s diffusion label has a lifted florality and pretty sweetness that speaks of summer nonetheless.

  1. Ragù of cod tripe, Gambero Rosso, San Vincenzo, Italy
    On the menu of Gambero Rosso, the seafood-focused restaurant on the Tuscan coast hailed as Italy’s best, it reads “dentice su tripette di baccalà”. On the plate, it’s a just-set piece of hugely fresh dentice (the Mediterranean bream beloved of Italian cooks) atop what, at first glance, could appear to be very fine, rather pale noodles. But no, they’re the intestines of the cod, painstakingly cleaned, cooked off with aromats, and before the idea of fish guts sends you over the edge, know this: they’re really tasty. Quite sticky, too.

  1. Chorizo with sofrito paste, Bodega, Sydney
    Our love of the work done at Bodega is well documented, and one of the reasons the Gourmet Traveller posse like the restaurant so much is because the menu seems to offer fresh flashes of inspiration each time we open it. Though several new and exciting dishes have adorned recent menus (and though we still miss the pork-stuffed cabbage rolls with black grapes and dried olives), the one that is creeping ever closer to the top of my house-favourite list is their chorizo with sofrito paste, all chunky meat and smoked paprika goodness. It’s a sausage on a plate. It’s perfection.

  1. Brussels sprouts with fish sauce, mint and puffed rice, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York City
    David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants are undoubtedly the most exciting and most essential places to eat in Manhattan right now, and their offer of inventive good food and good times in a casual setting nails the zeitgeist perfectly. The short ribs with pickled mustard seeds at the impossible-to-book Momofuku Ko [see the GT food blog to see how our correspondents made it in] and the brand-new Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery’s English muffin with deep-fried egg, caramelised onions and lardons have their adherents, but I’m still hooked on Momofuku Ssäm Bar’s is-it-a-side-is-it-an-entrée bowl of Brussels sprouts dragged kicking and screaming down flavour street with the tang of fish sauce, chopped mint and crunchy puffed rice.

  1. Lamb souvlaki, Hellenic Republic, Taste of Melbourne, Melbourne
    Okay, so I haven’t technically been to Hellenic Republic as I write this, as it has only just opened this very minute. But George Calombaris was generous enough to give everyone a preview of his new, more casual venue at The Press Club’s stand at Taste of Melbourne back in August. The preview being this juicy, chip-stuffed lamb souvlaki. The only drawback: because Taste of Melbourne was a day-thing, it wasn’t possible to order the souvlaki at three o’clock in the morning after an enthusiastic night on the turps and do it justice.

  1. Snow egg, Quay, Sydney [pictured]
    In a restaurant known to be one of the best, among desserts considered among the finest, is a near-sphere of crystal holding white peach fool and white peach granita. And on those smooth, sighing layers of peach is an egg of the creamiest white peach ice-cream, malt biscuit and soft poached meringue. This is Quay’s snow egg, and Fabergé hasn’t got a patch on it.

  1. Bistecca Fiorentina, Da Padellina, Strada, Italy
    In these steak-crazy times, it’s important to do some benchmarking. Among Tuscans who know their steers, this rather curious restaurant in Strada, in the hills of Chianti, is the name quietly passed from man to man. The room is festooned with taxidermy testimony to the owners’ love of the hunt. What the chef’s mullet signifies is beyond me, but the bistecca Fiorentina is unmistakeably a thing of beauty. Sharing two three-inch-thick steaks between six, there’s plenty of time to admire the rich crust, the depth of savour and the winning absence of ornament. (They also do a killer ragù of black cockerel, guts, comb and all.)

  1. Bloody Mary three ways, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Sydney
    Technically speaking, the menu doesn’t list any such dish. It does, however, detail gazpacho three ways, and with many vodkas sitting there on the bar, the logical leap is not a difficult one: order three shots of good, clean vodka (Goose, say, or Ketel) and enjoy three colours Mary, red, green and white. The last, made with almonds in the style of Spain’s south, is quite the revelation.

PHOTOGRAPHY JEREMY SIMONS

This article was published on Gourmettraveller.com.au in December 2008.