Summing up 2014 – restaurantsMonday, 12 January 2015
The best – amazingly the year’s most interesting dining experiences were in Havana. A batch of places with interesting food, interesting décor and interesting ideas, like Cuban-Swedish fusion. Who’d have believed it? Well Peruvian restaurants have been all the go recently, so why not Cuba.
Otherwise there were lots of restaurants in my two home towns – London and Melbourne. Plus assorted places in an assortment of other countries. Some international highlights
▲ Greece – I’d just sat down for lunch at Kolomaki Kolonaki when it starts to rain, which quickly becomes downpour and then deluge. It’s a sloping street and the water is soon coming over the steps into their bit of sidewalk like a waterfall and then flowing through like the rapids. I retreat indoors and perch at a counter.
Italy – I found Perugia a strangely unsettling experience. So many of the richer places in Italy are like this, wonderful old buildings, romantically ruined places, medieval history, all wonderful. And then equally wonderful glossy shops, if there was a modern Michelangelo or Da Vinci he’d be doing the shop window displays, seductively arranging the knickers in the lingerie shops. There are so many lingerie shops it almost felt unreal, this juxtaposition of history and modern consumerism. Then you turn a corner and find yourself in some dark alley where a feral looking couple are having an argument, looking as if they’ve been warped from some gloomy corner of Naples. I almost feel like I’m hallucinating, tripping into some fantasy Italy, where family squabbles still end in sword fights and deaths. Supposedly Perugia still has its dark shadows. I ate in Ristorante del Sole, which fitted the mood and had great views from Perugia’s hilltop location.
Then in Torino – Turin – Dausin (Via Goito 9, just on the corner) where a nice glass of red, osso buco with cabbage and black rice and a pannacotta were all very good and I come out having spent less than €20.
China – Lost Heaven near the Bund. The food, which is very good, and the fantastic décor are from western China, Yunnan and Tibet. Afterwards we retired to the rooftop bar, from where there are equally fantastic views.
◄ Hong Kong – In Sai Kung, a New Territories waterfront place, I ate with an airline pilot friend at Jaspa’s on the main town square. It’s a do-everything-restaurant so we had Italian wine, Turkish bread, Mexican fajitas for my friend, Singapore noodles for me and finally Aussie pavlova for him and banoffi pie (from wherever) for me. All good, although rather too much of it. We walked it off the next day. Meanwhile we talk, amongst many other things, about the demise of the 747, how 747s are all disappearing from the skies. My 747 pilot friend was retraining for 777s and when our bill comes it’s appropriately for HK$747, about US$95.
USA – There were restaurants in Durham, Miami, New York, San Francisco, San Jose and assorted other places around the San Francisco Bay Area, none of them remotely memorable. But in Nashville I was impressed by Rolf & Daughters, which felt remarkably like a Melbourne favourite Cumulus. Just like I might have done there I ate at the bar, a squid ink pasta, then trout, then rice pudding, a beer, two glasses of red. Well I didn’t have lunch. It came to US$90.
France – In Marseille I have lunch at Le Bar des 13 Coins, a salad niçoise and a half. With a beer as well, I think my request for ‘une personne’ was interpreted as ‘une biere pression.’ I’m not one for taking photographs of my food, but this was such a perfect salad nicoise! ►
◄ Romania – Caru’cu Bere in Bucharest is the tourist place to dine, you have to book ahead, and I’ve really got no memory of the food (well it was fine, I remember that), but it’s the activity which makes it a great place to dine – whether it’s people watching outside or the dancing performance inside.
But back to Melbourne – there were also restaurants in an assortment of other Australian cities but in Melbourne I was back at a number of standard reliable places which came through with the goods as usual. They included The Smith in Prahran, Café e Cucina that old Italian standby in South Yarra and that even older Carlton standby (I’ve been eating there for nearly 40 years) Jimmy Watson’s. Other recent regular places included E Lounge in Richmond (still Melbourne’s best pizza), Panama Dining Room in Collingwood and Il Solito Posto in the city. The Moat, underneath the Wheeler Centre in the city is my city office-café-coffee bar and I had some good meals there during there year.
There some new places (or new for me) – Morris Jones, interesting food in an interesting small new restaurant in Richmond. The Crimean in North Melbourne – a real surprise, great food from eastern European right round to Ukraine, interesting beer and wine. Surprising cuisine for Melbourne. Hellenic Republic in Kew – terrific modern Greek food, but unfortunately on visit one it was noisy and on visit two it was so noisy I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. Eat and run. Cantina del Nonno, a brand new (opened just before Christmas) place very close to where I live in Hawthorn. Good straightforward Italian food and pizzas, I’ll try it again.
And the year’s real Melbourne surprise – Flower Drum in the city, OK it’s one of Melbourne’s longest running and most highly rated restaurants and certainly the best Chinese place in town, but I thought it was very old school, not a place I’d have taken a visitor. I went with two American visitors Don George and Ruth Reichl – and let’s face it Ruth knows food! It was definitely the meal of 2014 (even if it did cost me – I paid – US$530 for the three of us). We moved right around Australia course by course, state by state:
• Broome pearl shells, with abalone and pearl meat – Western Austraia
• Garfish tempura style – South Australia
• Mud crab in the shell – Queensland
• Peking duck – Flower Drum’s iconic dish
• Angus eye fillet beef – New South Wales
• Deep fried ice cream
London – New places (for me at least) included Merchants Tavern in Shoreditich in the East End (a stone’s throw from Silicon Roundabout) and Union Street Café south of the river in Southwark. They felt curiously alike. Colbert, right on Sloane Square at the top of King’s Rd in Chelsea where I’m people (and car) watching out the window. There’s a totally disproportionate number of Porsches and Priuses circling Sloane Square. In the other direction Maureen’s watching the diners which include a pair (trio?) of priests tucking in to their food (escargot to start with) with gusto. And Oblix the fancy high altitude restaurant in the Shard. It reminds me very much of high altitude places in Dubai. A great place, so long as you can afford it, come for the sunset.
London – And at the other end of the price range I ate a number of times – en route to the theatre, the cinema or something – at branches of Pizza Express and Côte Bistro. Familiar and always well done. One evening, pre-movie again, I ate in Valentina at Notting Hill Gate, a nicely trad little Italian place hidden away behind their deli. The food was good and I was intrigued by the three Motoms (in Italian red, white and green) hanging on the wall. A make of motorcycle, out of business in 1971, I’d never heard of before.