Interesting Restaurants

Monday, 26 December 2005

Some interesting restaurants from the past 12 months.

M on the Bund

M on the Bund – Shanghai, China
In April 2005 I set out to travel by land from Singapore to Shanghai and before I started I decided I was going to mark the end of the trip by dining at M on the Bund. It’s strategically sited in one of the magnificent old buildings which line ‘The Bund’, the superb old buildings of Shanghai’s European period along the Huangpu River in the centre of the city. The food owes virtually nothing to China (but I’d had quite enough Chinese food by that time), the setting, looking out across to the breakneck development of the Pudong area across the river, is terrific and so is the food. Dinner, including several glasses of French and Australian wine, cost me US$70.

Vox – Reykjavik, Iceland
In September 2005 Maureen and I were in Iceland for a travel writing conference. We’d expected Iceland to be pretty amazing – glaciers, volcanoes, wild scenery – but the restaurants were the real surprise. Every meal was superb but it was one dish at Vox which took the prize. Between the starters and the main course we were served tiny glasses of a totally clear liquid – ‘brennevin, the local blow-your-head-off firewater,’ I surmised. We all (an international assortment of travel writers, photographers and publishers) took a sip and, most of us, immediately identified it as gazpacho, that signature Spanish cold tomato soup and, for me, an international favourite dish. But how could tomato soup be totally transparent? The chef was summoned from the kitchen and explained how filtering it multiple times through a coffee filter eventually removed all the tomato red but none of the tomato flavour. A great trick, totally pointless but, like everything else at Vox, delicious.

Tetsuya – Sydney, Australia
The British trade publication Restaurant Magazine decided this was the fourth best restaurant in the world in their 2005 rankings. And the best ‘fusion’ restaurant. The food is a stunning blend of French and Japanese influences and the ‘confit of ocean trout’ is their signature dish although they also turn out a pretty mean gazpacho. The set menu is A$180 per person (you can bring-your-own wine, however) which may seem incredibly expensive, but in this sky high category not unusual. Maureen and I took her niece Tanja and her soon-to-be-husband Nick there in January 2005. We went back to Sydney for their wedding in December.

Kurt Scheller’s Restaurant at the Rialto – Warsaw, Poland
I crossed the narrow Baltic Sea inlet from Helsinki in Finland to Tallinn in Estonia in May 2005 and then travelled by bus through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and on to Warsaw in Poland. Where I had dinner one night at the restaurant in this classy art deco style restaurant in this equally classy hotel. ‘Tonight’s special is lasagna,’ announced the waitress and, I have to admit, it was the best lasagne I have ever had.

Mecca – Melbourne, Australia
A couple of years ago I wrote an article for the Guardian in London listing 30 travel favourites including my favourite restaurant. If it was going to be my last ever restaurant meal, I wrote, it would be at Mecca, beside the Yarra River in Melbourne, the city where I live. That still holds true, Mecca produces a great blend of Pacific rim cuisine with a touch of the Middle East and it’s always terrific.

Friends – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
On my Singapore-Shanghai jaunt I spent a couple of nights in Phnom Penh and if the restaurants I tried hadn’t been up to scratch I would have been severely disappointed, since I was dining with Nick Ray. He’s the author of our Cambodia guide and also advised on locations for the movie Tomb Raiders’ Cambodian sites, Nick knows his way around the country. Friends was set up to employ street kids, many of whom go on to work in other hotels and restaurants.  The food is superb.

Cyclo – Hanoi, Vietnam
The seats come from old cyclos (cycle rickshaws), the food is Vietnamese with a French flavour (Stephane Yvin is French, his wife Tin is Vietnamese) and it’s not only terrific it’s also terrific value. Travelling from Singapore to Shanghai in May this was one of the best meals on the whole trip and it cost just US$10.