Thursday, 1 January 2015

Food highlights - 2014

Happy new year everyone!

2014 has just passed and what a year it has been! Looking back now, I've only started to realise how much fantastic food I was lucky enough to eat last year (as well as how much I've yet to have a chance to write about)!

The Famous Berry Donut Van
I’ve been fortunate enough to do a bit of travelling domestically and abroad this year. In April, I had a weekend getaway in Berry (for one of those infamous donuts) and the Southern Highlands for my wife’s 30th birthday. This trip concluded with a memorable lunch at Biota.

Clockwise from top-left: Lavender fields in Furano, Miso ramen at Ichiryuan, Salad of 20 vegetables at Restaurant Asperges in Biei, Lake Mashu, Furano melon with soft cream, Sushi set at Masazushi in Otaru
In June, I went to Hokkaido for the first time. Hokkaido is probably the most beautiful place I have been to in the world! The grass was so green, the lakes were serene... there was just an abundance of natural beauty everywhere! But it was the food that was the most rewarding part of this trip. I hopped into a hire car and was able to discover some of the most amazing food from farms, markets and local producers. I had the freshest seafood at the fish markets (my mouth is salivating at the thought of Hokkaido sea urchin, crab and bluefin tuna); the creamiest milk (the soft serve ice cream in Hokkaido is so smooth and the creamiest you will find anywhere; it is to die for!) and the best vegetables and fruits (rockmelon will never be the same once you try the prized Yubari melons!). This was a trip that I will never forget (posts to come… eventually)!

Not a cheese board! The best yuzu cheesecake ever at Takazawa! 
I also made a return trip to Takazawa in Tokyo for my birthday. My meal at Takazawa in 2012 is my all-time favourite meal anywhere and I vowed that I would return one day. My post for my latest meal is pending. 

The view from Pilu at Freshwater
In October, I went away to Newcastle for a weekend and had three fine dining meals in three days (Subo, Restaurant Mason and Pilu – posts to come)!

Signature Frozen Kangaroo dish at Mister Jennings
And in December I went to Melbourne for business and had some memorable meals at some newcomers to the Melbourne dining scene in Minamishima and Mister Jennings (post to come).

MEAT at LP's Quality Meats
Closer to home, I had the opportunity to eat at some old favourites (such as Ormeggio, Osteria di Russo & Russo, est.) as well as sample some of the newest players to the scene (like Cho Cho San, LP’s Quality Meats, Kefi, Acme - post to come).

I love coming up with lists, so here were my 10 favourite meals for 2014.

10. Biota Dining (Bowral)
Mum's roses
I celebrated my wife's 30th birthday at Biota dining in Bowral. For me Biota is the benchmark for regional dining in NSW. The menu is focused on local produce, seasonality and sustainability. Every one of our 5 courses were memorable, concluding with a light, refreshing, fruity dessert: mum's roses.

9. Sepia (Sydney)
Winter chocolate forest
Sepia is a popular spot to celebrate special occasions and this is where my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. The seafood courses were all next level of awesomeness. The meal did take a little dip when the red meat courses arrived. But the meal concluded on a high with the Chocolate Forest, one of my favourite desserts in Sydney!

8. Ormeggio at the Spit (Mosman)
Biodynamic veal tonnato
Readers may be aware of my tradition of Xmas eve lunch at a fine dining restaurant. I have another tradition: I dine at Ormeggio on Sunday evenings during long weekends for the Stressless Sunday menu. This menu consists of 6 courses for the low price of $69! This is a bargain considering that Ormeggio is a 2-hat restaurant. But unfortunately this special offer is no longer available following the opening of the Chiosco next door, which focuses on Italian street food. 

Risotto with fresh Australian Perigord truffle and pecorino
I also dined at Ormeggio for their special 3-course truffle menu during the Australian truffle season. This meal started with Ormeggio's signature dish, veal tonnato, with fresh black truffles shaved over the top. Main course was a simple pecorino risotto with fresh black truffle, which was quite simply, mind blowing. The dessert was interesting, a monte bianco of chestnuts with fresh black truffle.

7. Momofuku Seiobo (Pyrmont)
Steamed buns, pork belly, hoisin, cucumber, scallion
During Good Food Month this year, Momofuku Seiobo ditched their normal degustation menu for a week. Instead there was a special menu that included a la carte selections of classics from Momofuku Ssam Bar's 2007 menu in New York, such as steamed pork belly buns and marinated hanger steak. This menu was wildly popular with queues snaking outside the restaurant due to its no-reservation policy. The food was just epic!  So much so that my partner in crime from EMC2, Crystal, and I made a last minute trip to The Star on the final night of the Ssam Bar menu to try the dishes we missed out on in the first meal.

6. Sokyo (Pyrmont)
Seared sea urchin, Sea urchin salmon roe squid, Sea urchin and scampi, Tamago
Since coming back from Japan in June, I had been craving amazing sushi. But unfortunately Sydney doesn't have many options, especially in the high-end department. I have finally discovered my go-to sushi place in Sydney after I tried Sokyo's sushi omakase menu. Piece after piece, I was mind blown. There was bluefin tuna, scampi, sea urchin, engawa... the list goes on! This meal confirmed what many others have already said: Sano-san is the best in the game in Sydney!    

5. Guillaume (Paddington)
Marron, pork cheek, broad beans, cauliflower, sea spray
My meal at Guillaume Brahimi's new digs in Paddington was memorable for so many reasons. But I love classical French fine dining and Guillaume is by far the best in Sydney. What I love about Guillaume is the overall simplicity of the food with each dish focusing on 3 or so elements, the painstaking attention to detail in its cooking and flavour combinations that quite simply just hit the mark time and time again. The sauces and purees (and that little bit of extra butter) were some of the best I have had anywhere!

4. Minamishima (Melbourne)
Minamishima is like a dream come true for me. Long have I wanted to see a high-end sushi-ya serving Edomae style sushi in Australia. There's otoro, sea urchin and engawa as well as a variety of shellfish such as tairagai, mirugai and torigai that you can only find in Japan. My meal here was like I was transported to Japan. The unfortunate thing is Minamishima is in Melbourne, not Sydney.

3. Sushi Tanabe (Sapporo, Japan)
Hokkaido crab (kani)
My meal at Sushi Tanabe in Sapporo was easily the best sushi I have eaten in my life. The freshness and variety of seafood and the progression of one course to the next absolutely blew me away. The crab, chu-toro, abalone and sea urchin were among some of the best things I have ever eaten in my life, all in the same meal! This meal was most definitely a 3-Michelin star experience, worthy of a special journey.

2. Tempura Kondo (Tokyo, Japan)
Tempura prawn
My meal at Kondo in Tokyo is undoubtedly the best tempura that I have eaten. Each morsel was cooked to perfection, coated with an unbelievably thin, light and crispy batter that doesn't feel at all oily. It was amazing how chef Kondo was able to transform cooking tempura into an art form. This meal was all about the sublime quality of the produce, with only minimal intervention from the chef to bring out the natural flavours of the ingredients.

1. Rockpool (Sydney)
Vacherin pandan custard with coconut parfait, jasmine sorbet and lime granita
My favourite restaurant for 2014 is Rockpool because they have provided me with so many wonderful memories! What I love about Rockpool is that they offer 3 different menus for different occasions. The dinner offering takes your palate on a special journey. The evening starts off with a series of snacks and then you move on to 2 or 3  courses from an al la carte menu. The vacherin pandan custard is my all time favourite dessert in Sydney (surpassing even the snow egg at Quay and chocolate forest at Sepia). It's light, it's refreshing, it's delicious, it's got nice textures... it's got everything I ever want in a dessert!

The famous date tarts
The bar menu is in my view the best of the bar menus at the 3 hat restaurants. They do mini size versions of Rockpool classics like the rich and noble congee and chirashi zushi as well as decadent little bites like the caviar finger sandwiches. The bar menu also gives me an excuse to duck into Rockpool for their signature date tarts at $3 a pop (what a steal for one of the best sweets out there)!           

Abalone "meuniere" with fried bread and herb salad
And then there's my lunch on Xmas eve! During the lunch service, Rockpool offers an al la carte menu that's quite different from the dinner offering. This meal really had everything I look for in a fine dining meal. The food was outstanding, faultless in execution (oh my that abalone "meuniere", possibly the dish of the year!). And the service (one of my bugbears at 3 hat restaurants). It was friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive without being overbearing. They really looked after my wife well from start to finish. This meal was a perfect end to 2014. 

And that's a wrap! Thank you to everyone that has taken their time to read my little blog. And thanks for all your support, kind words and well wishes.  I look forward to more good eats in 2015 and sharing these with you!