Travel News

The Hot 100: 1-20

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.
William Meppem

1 Most awesome museum

It took five years and $175 million for David Walsh to realise his dream, but his Museum of Old and New Art was definitely worth the wait. MONA‘s January debut put it at the cutting edge of modern art and opened our eyes to one of the country’s most exceptional collections. With a winery, a brewery, accommodation and a restaurant complementing the striking underground museum designed by Nonda Katsalidis, Hobart has a compelling new calling card.

**2 Just say sriracha

** Originally from Thailand, sriracha is a bold red chilli sauce that many diners and chefs can’t live without. Ms G’s chef Dan Hong, the condiment’s high priest in Australia, likes it on everything from spag Bol to spring rolls, and says it’s all about balance: “the sweetness, acidity, and salt as well as the trademark garlic flavour and the right amount of heat.”

**3 The other white spirit

** Gin is to vodka as Cary Grant is to Charlie Sheen. As Matt Bax from Melbourne’s lauded and awarded bar Der Raum says, gin is “a logical progression from the dreaded ‘something sweet and fruity with vodka’ dominance of the last decade”, particularly now the market is awash with “subtle floral variances of ‘New Western’ [dry] styled gins, such as Martin Miller’s, Hendrick’s, Aviation and G’Vine, that lend themselves to both introductory and seasoned drinkers alike.” Time to grow up and gin up.

**4 Australia’s terroirist sells

** Terroir, the ultra-hip New York wine bar with outposts in Tribeca and the East Village, has cast a spell over Australia’s sommeliers. Some are increasingly inspired by Terroir owner Paul Greico’s anarchic approach to writing wine lists (think Spike Milligan meets Jancis Robinson meets Terry Gilliam), while others – led by Sydney’s Fix St James and having Greico’s full blessing – have been compelled to stage a local version of Terroir’s hugely successful Summer of Riesling promotion.

**5 Green seeds

** Fennel pollen has been absorbed into the restaurant mainstream, but as more chefs get closer to the kitchen garden, common food plants are being scrutinised ever more closely for less common uses. Dan Hunter, of Victoria’s Royal Mail, is currently besotted with fresh or green seeds, especially those from coriander and fennel. “When the plant flowers and then seeds,” he says, “instead of drying the seeds for future planting, we’ve been using them in their green state. A dish of heirloom carrots and calamari cream has fresh coriander seeds dotted about the plate and they give an amazingly pure intensity of flavour.”

6 Latest leap forward in travel guides

Augmented Reality is what you get by crossing a GPS-enabled phone with the entire knowledge base of the internet. In short, it’s a handheld window to the world for global travellers. Point your phone in front of you and AR apps overlay the view with useful links to, say, the nearest metro station, traffic updates, restaurants, landmarks and even shopping coupons. Wikitude World Browser 6 is the leader of the AR pack, closely followed by Junaio and Layar. Hearplanet goes one step further, turning printed information into audio commentary.

**7 Where there’s smoke, there’s… smoke

** The latest in Tom Cooper’s quest to bring the joys of cold smoking to the world is a bar fridge-sized machine called the Tom Cooper Kold Smoker, which Cooper developed to make the process simpler and more accessible. The TCKS has a refrigerated smoking chamber and a separate smoker drawer that’s temperature- and time-controlled. It’s good for cheese, vegetables, meat and anything else that might benefit from the exposure to smoke from fragrant hardwood sawdust. The machines have already been fired up at MoVida, Cumulus Inc., Donovans and Gerald’s Bar, marking the start of a new era of smoking in Australian restaurants. 

**8 The next big cuisine: regional food

** Yes, yes, we know you like Chinese, Italian and Thai food, but can’t you be a little more specific? As more restaurants choose to be regionally particular – Guy Grossi’s Veneto-centric Merchant, the spin on spicy Isaan food from north-east Thailand at House in Surry Hills, Spice Temple eschewing old-fave Cantonese for the flavours of Hunan, Jiangxi and the like – the old generic titles start to seem a little vague.

**9 Most anticipated chef memoir

**Blood, Bones & Butter is Gabrielle Hamilton’s unblinking confessional of a pierced lesbian cook’s wayward path to the cramped kitchen at Prune, her wildly successful New York restaurant. If you’ve already gobbled down Heat and Kitchen Confidential, this narrative about chemical dependency and sex among the spuds will be familiar turf. What sets it apart from the ravings of Hamilton’s bad-boy brethren are lyrical passages about mother love, epic lamb roasts and asphyxiated lobsters.

**10 Designers of the moment: projects of imagination

** Already known for the edgy good looks of Melbourne’s Coda, Trunk and Mr Tulk, design consultancy Projects of Imagination will further increase its influence on the look of the Australian restaurant scene this year with the opening of Andrew McConnell’s St Kilda outpost Golden Fields, Chris Lucas’s city venture Chin Chin and the reopening of Half Moon in Brighton. The two men behind POI, Nick Cox and Dion Hall, have backgrounds in graphic design, fine arts, interior design and industrial design, and it’s this multidisciplinary approach that seems to be attracting business. McConnell appointed them because POI was able to “tackle the project from many different angles with a unique and fresh approach”. These angles include designing and commissioning wall tiles and tableware specifically for Golden Fields. It’s a holistic approach that has made POI the one to watch.

**11 Best short cut to polar paradise

** Antarctic veterans agree the only bad thing about a trip to the White Continent is getting there. But the faint-hearted can now bypass the sometimes violent Drake Passage by flying direct to the Peninsula with Antarctica XXI. Flights depart Punta Arenas in Chile and land in the South Shetland Islands two hours later. Passengers then spend six days cruising the polar wonderland aboard an expedition ship with a maximum of 68 guests. Activities include zodiac landings on snowy beaches home to breeding penguin colonies and barbecues on the ship’s deck with a backdrop of icebergs. An onboard team of biologists and other experienced crew completes the experience.

12**Next hit on the offal charts

** Pigs’ tails? So last decade. But what of cockscombs? The dangles atop the chicken’s head might adorn a plate near you soon. They’re already on a bone marrow-enriched risotto Milanese at Sydney’s Otto, along with a medley of other textures from sweetbreads, brains and pig’s ears. Like the other offal elements he loves, chef Richard Ptacnik says, “they add character, flavour and an element of surprise to the dish”.

**13 Best reborn legend

** Three years after it was damaged in the terrorist attack that brought Mumbai to its knees, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel has, like the city itself, bounced back with renewed vigour. Behind its impeccably restored façade are 285 rooms, housed in two wings of trellised balconies and eye-catching Indian art. Sharp service and a range of in-house attractions – designer shopping, world-famous dining and Mumbai’s most beautiful pool – make it difficult to leave this Indian oasis.

14 Learn the (A)chacha

Seeds from the Amazonian achacha fruit have been planted in Queensland’s Burdekin farming belt, a region with an altitude similar to the achacha’s Bolivian turf, producing the first commercial orchard anywhere in the world. The snow-white flesh, best eaten chilled, is delicate and sweet and finishes with a hint of citrus tang. Chef Alastair McLeod at Brisbane’s Tank takes his frozen achacha flesh in a glass of Champagne.

**15 Best use of old-vine grenache grapes

** Still warm from the midday sun, a bunch of grenache grapes served moments after being picked makes a telling statement of intent from regional produce advocate Kiren Mainwaring at the Swan Valley’s Dear Friends. (Never mind that he also used the grapes’ wild yeast to establish his sourdough culture.) 

**16 Most glamorous new arrivals

** Paris is abuzz with anticipation as Asia’s most opulent hoteliers arrive to challenge the supremacy of the city’s grand hotels. The Shangri-La opened late 2010, the Mandarin Oriental opens mid-year and The Peninsula debuts in 2013, an unprecedented invasion that has raised accommodation levels across the capital and sparked a renovation frenzy at such venerable addresses as Le Crillon and Le Bristol. Compounding the foreign competition, Le Royal Monceau, owned by the Raffles Group, has reopened on Avenue Hoche with more than $163 million worth of Philippe Starck interiors. Rumour has it that the empire will strike back in 2013 when the Samaritaine department store will reopen as a hotel under the aegis of luxury goods giant LVMH, with interiors by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architects.

**17 Best reason to dress for dinner

** The menu at Dinner, Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant at London’s Mandarin Oriental, is an extraordinary read, inspired by his passion for historic British dishes, with powdered duck and salamagundy among the names. Fat Duck-style sorcery isn’t apparent in every dish, but with a few, such as the “meat fruit”, you see why he’s earned international respect. This faux citrus fruit really does look like a mandarin, but the peel’s constructed from mandarin jelly, while the filling is a delicate chicken liver parfait. A clever deceit but also a delicious one.

**18 Best accommodation for art lovers

** The Melbourne-based Art Series Hotels has injected colour and culture into the hotel concept with the launch of three new hotels, each paying homage to a noted Australian artist. The Olsen in South Yarra, The Cullen in Prahran and The Blackman on St Kilda Road reveal a winning formula of contemporary design overlaid with art, lending each a vibrant personality. The group is rumoured to be heading interstate next.

19**Thursday’s sweet treat

** It’s certainly no secret, but the idea of a one-night-a-week dessert blowout in a backstreet Fitzroy café still seems slightly guerilla, particularly with pastry alchemist Pierre Roelofs at the helm. You opt for one, two or three courses that change every week and might include a pandan, coconut, iced coffee and port number with gel, parfait, flakes, tuile and bread in the artfully tumbled mix.

**20 What? No Champagne?

** Now there’s even more reason to immerse yourself in Pilu at Freshwater’s magnificent, strongly Italian-accented wine list: sommelier Lara Caraturo has taken the bold step of ignoring Champagne in favour of a lovely selection of top-quality Italian fizz and Aussie sparkling. This just makes so much sense for a Sydney-based Sardinian restaurant; we hope it’ll inspire others to be brave and specialise, too.

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