Napa Valley dining: Flavour fit for the gods

To reserve a table at The French Laundry in Napa Valley, you must pick up the phone and call precisely two months ahead of the day you wish to dine, from 10am local time.

You will hear a busy signal, at which point you should hang up and redial. You can expect to do this up to 400 times. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a voice message requesting that you hold.

The wait is around 15 minutes before a real person picks up. When you ask that person for a table, she will tell you that you are too late.

If that sounds like something you’d enjoy doing from your home in New Zealand over successive mornings at 5am, then perhaps a meal at The French Laundry is for you.

Read more here: Napa Valley dining: Flavour fit for the gods

Orphan’s Kitchen

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Ahh, Ponsonby Rd. For a couple of years, New Zealand’s most stylish street fell deeply and, it seemed, irreversibly out of fashion. Lunching al fresco at a table near Craig Parker must have been exciting 15 years ago but, by 2011, Ponsonby dining options were hard to love. You could always find a park, but you didn’t always want one.

Then things picked up. Moochowchow opened with a waiting list some people are still on. Tin Soldier fed the spillover crowd before Blue Breeze Inn, Mekong Baby and Late Night Diner arrived. Ponsonby Road Bistro and Sidart sparkled anew. And now here is Orphans Kitchen, fresh, fun and friendly. The hill is alive with the sound of cutlery, and life is beautiful again.

Read more here: Orphan’s Kitchen

New South Wales: The Asian tastes of Sydney

Mackerel floss anyone? Jesse Mulligan finds new and innovative Asian eateries in Sydney.

Unlike Melbourne – everyone’s favourite example of a walkable, navigable foodie paradise – Sydney is big, and hard to grapple with. For too long, I put off booking an eating weekend there because it seemed impossible to narrow down where I would go.

When I did finally commit to 48 hours of Sydney gluttony, I decided to thin-slice it by genre, rather than area. There are great restaurants in average suburbs and average restaurants in great suburbs, so instead of choosing a neighbourhood, you’re better to choose a style, then stalk around the city sniffing out meals, and enjoying what you stumble upon on the way.

Sydney’s immigrant population has always been a portal to fantastic Asian food, but often those motherland cuisines are now being used just as a starting point, as chefs fuse traditional ingredients and dishes with modern fine dining techniques and presentation. Here are five fantastic new Asian restaurants you should try during a visit to Sydney:

Sepia

As soon as you book your trip, book a table at Sepia. The Sydney Morning Herald Restaurant of the Year last year, Sepia mixes the best of Japanese izakaya (shared plates, charcoal cooking, bamboo skewers) with the best of fine dining (vintage champagne, exquisite presentation, perfect service). The tasting menu is the only option on the weekend, but during the week you can order a drink and casual yakitori – cooked over 1000C oak charcoal imported from Japan. This food is as good as it gets, with surprises and delights in every dish.

What to order: Wagyu brisket, slow cooked then grilled over coals and served with pickled pink shallots.

Sura by Ku

It’s a nice walk from the city up Oxford St to Paddington, and if you have enough energy you can stroll a little further to this friendly, family-run Korean restaurant in Woollahra. I’m crazy for kim chi, the fermented cabbage side dish that works with just about anything This is a great place to try the mellower-style Korean sake, too.

What to order: The tiramisu, a local version of the classic Italian dish made with green tea extract and pistachio instead of coffee.

Left: Jesse Mulligan tries a green tea ice cream. Right: Modern Korean food from Moon Park. Photos / Victoria Mulligan, Supplied

Moon Park

Serving traditional Korean flavours with high-end fine dining tricks, Moon Park is another must-visit in Sydney. The food is beautiful and perfect, and it’s also a great spot if you’re interested in wine – the sommelier has an unusual and memorable list.

The menu is full of incredible creations, so just order the banquet. Ingredients like mackerel floss, acorn jelly and maesil marshmallow are as much an intellectual challenge as a taste experience.

What to order: Bibimbap – traditional comfort food enriched with subtle new textures and flavours, this dish has everything that makes Moon Park so great.

Cho Cho San

Cho Cho San is light, urban and stylish, and combines a casual, communal style with precise, excellent service. The food – modern Japanese – is so good you want to close your eyes and block out everything that isn’t happening in your mouth. If in doubt, choose from the raw section of the menu – though you can’t go wrong, no matter what you order. We finished with a green tea ice cream in a cone – perfect to eat on a hot Sydney day as you amble back to the hotel.

What to order: Ocean trout with black pepper and wasabi. This would make my top 10 dishes of all time – the trout looks and tastes like salmon, but a bit less rich. The cold freshness of the sliced fish is perfectly complemented by the sweet and salty Japanese sauce, with a big wasabi kick at the end. Absolutely unmissable.

China Diner

It’s very easy to follow the locals and catch a bus to Bondi Beach for the afternoon, and the food and drink is much more sophisticated than you might expect for a beach suburb. China Diner is a big, buzzy restaurant where it’s okay to arrive with sand on your feet. As you’d expect, the food is predominantly Chinese – that means plenty of fatty cuts and barbecued meat, but there’s also a lot of fresher stuff to choose from.

What to order: The steamed barramundi is sensational, drawing Vietnamese flavours with a tart and sweet pickled green mango dressing.

CHECKLIST

Accommodation: Pullman Hyde Park.

Online: Sydney.com

Jesse Mulligan travelled courtesy of Destination NSW.

– NZ Herald

Macau: Collision with the past

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They may have gambling in common, but historic Macau has a genuine heart – and far better cuisine – than its glitzy American desert cousin, writes Jesse Mulligan.

I hadn’t expected to like Macau much. When I mentioned to people that I was visiting, they’d inevitably talk about the casinos.

“It’s apparently like an Asian Las Vegas,” they’d say, before adding something sniffy like, “fine if you’re into that sort of thing”.

The real Vegas didn’t do it for me – once you get over that incredible first sight of neon rising out of the desert it’s really just fat Americans on holiday, isn’t it? But Macau has what Sin City doesn’t – a rich cultural history, plenty to look at outside the gaming districts, and some good and unique local food.

A Chinese territory, Macau was for 400 years controlled by Portugal, and that influence is easy to see in the cuisine. Unlike, say, the English who spent 150 years across the estuary in Hong Kong without managing to get mushy peas onto local menus, the Portuguese contributed to and borrowed from Cantonese cooking to create tasty and memorable hybrids.

Years later, in the age of jumbo jets, many authentically Iberian ingredients are now flown in for the local Lisbonese (is that a word? It looks more like a sexual preference when I see it written down) so it’s now actually possible to eat three ways in Macau: Chinese, Portuguese and the crazy mash up known as Macanese.

Casinos and hotels are a great place to find very high-end Chinese – at somewhere like Wing Lei at Wynn’s Casino you can sit beneath a giant crystal dragon and eat Michelin-standard dim sum, crispy prawn and their famous baked barbecue pork bun: light, sweet and sticky inside.

Likewise, the sprawling, incredible buffet breakfast at my hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, was one of the culinary highlights of the trip, if only for the dumplings.

Or, of course, you can grab a cheap bowl of wonton noodle soup and a beer from pretty much any tiny restaurant and it will be good. There’s no bad food in Macau – just a bit of grumpy service – and if you can point to a photo of what you want you’ll be laughing. To go even more low fi, follow Anthony Bourdain to the food carts; there are plenty on and around Avenue De Almeida Ribeiro.

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Macau has a range of food flavours that reflect the cultures that contributed to its success. Photos / Supplied

One of the best pure Portuguese restaurants is Espaco Lisboa, in Coloane Village, a sweet and tiny little town where it seems like the monster casinos are a thousand miles away. The restaurant does Portugal’s national soup, caldo verde, as well as plenty of potatoes, bacalao (salted cod), goat’s cheese, charcuterie and other things you’d never otherwise expect to see on the coast of the South China Sea. Ask especially to try the ginjinha – sour cherries infused in grappa.

It’s also right next to Lord Stow’s Bakery, the justifiably famous home of the Macau egg tart. The titular baker, an Englishman, came up with a local version of the Portuguese tart – an eggy custard baked inside a multi-layered filo shell. His version is notable for a creme brulee-style charring on the top, and they taste as good as they sound. Treat them like Weet-Bix and see how many you can do.

A comparatively recent addition, the tart probably doesn’t count as traditional Macanese, but plenty of dishes do. A Portuguese-style fried rice with tomatoes, chorizo and olive is one classic, as is African chicken (introduced by Mozambique soldiers stationed in Macau on behalf of Portugal). You can find these and other pleasures at Cafe Litoral, in the historic Taipa Village just across the bridge from Macau peninsula.

Speaking of bridges, China is building one between Hong Kong and Macau; it will be 50km long. Yes, Macau is booming, growing and heaving, with not enough hotel rooms on the weekend for all the mainland Chinese who want to come and play.

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Macau is a bustling city of wonderful architecture. Photo / Supplied

Yet you’ll stumble upon very charming pockets of daily life that will make you love the place – a park near old town where locals each have a daily spot reserved for tai chi, reflexology or simply reading the paper; a lane a couple of blocks over where thousands of tiny fish dry on racks in the sun; churches and graveyards with understated tributes to the centuries of hardship, illness and death that laid the foundations for the city now crowded with cranes and scaffolding.

Macau is not like Las Vegas. It has a heart. That heart has beaten strong for hundreds of years and, despite ongoing changes to the skyline, will continue to make this tiny part of the world worth visiting, so long as you’re into that sort of thing.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Cathay Pacific has 14 direct weekly flights from Auckland to Hong Kong. A sale on return economy fares at $1379 runs until December 1.

Flights connect to the Turbo Jetfoil service running to Macau.

Accommodation: Try the Mandarin Oriental Macau.

Further information: Visit the Macau Government Tourist Office.

The writer flew courtesy of Cathay Pacific and stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

– NZ Herald

Restaurant Reviews by Jesse Mulligan

Having reviewed restaurants for Metro magazine for the past five years, in between hosting TV and radio shows, Viva eating out editor Jesse Mulligan knows his way around a menu.

Restaurant Review: Ortolana
This is for Viva’s winter fashion issue and as such I’m obliged to share the contribution I made to our fashion industry some years ago in Wellington. I was in a bar and bought a drink for a young design student named Kathryn Wilson, who told me she dreamed of becoming a shoe designer.
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Restaurant Review: Tokyo Bay
I visited Tokyo Bay with three nervous men, friends of mine who, like me, are at a stage of life where skipping domestic duties for a boozy meal in the sun is an incredibly high-risk move.
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Restaurant Review: Better Burger
Make no mistake, Viva reader, in an ideal world I would not be celebrating my second week as eating out editor for New Zealand’s most stylish weekly magazine by writing a review of McDonald’s.
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Restaurant Review: Phil’s Kitchen
Though Auckland these days has a new restaurant opening each week, and most of them are solidly nice places to eat, Phil’s is something different. The food is ambitious and delicious, and the people who work there are so adorably enthusiastic that when you leave you want to run out and tell everybody in Auckland about it. Fortunately, that’s my job.
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viva.co.nz

Queenstown: You’ll feel good

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In the age of the hipster, coolness in a hotel is almost as important as luxury. At LA’s The Standard, a female model broods in a fishtank behind reception, while US chain Hotel Palomar provides guests with a goldfish on request if they’re alone and feel like company.

At the new Sherwood in Queenstown, the coolness comes from somewhere deeper, and more authentic. Described as “an experiment in modern living”, it’s a hotel, restaurant, cocktail bar and wellbeing centre. Each aspect works independently, but all flow from the same core philosophy: doing good for the world, doing good to your body and not taking the whole thing too seriously.

This last bit is quite important, given that the idea of staying at a hotel where employees constantly hector you about improving your posture and recycling your drink bottle isn’t particularly alluring. In fact, though the staff are all on message, much of the worthiness lies below the surface, out of sight until you scratch around.

Examples: the stylish black kitchen floor in each room is made from recycled car tyres; the dark brown feature wall is made from carbon negative cork.

Read more: NZ Herald

Chasing Garry Shandling by VCR, YouTube, Twitter and fax: Jesse Mulligan on his comedy hero

For three decades, Jesse Mulligan has followed his favourite comedian to the point of obsession via every available medium, facsimile included. On Garry Shandling, who has died at 66

Before YouTube, it was so much harder to follow the careers of the comedians you loved. I’d fallen hard for the comedy of Garry Shandling when TV2 played his sitcom It’s Garry Shandling’s Show late on a Saturday night, and when the series disappeared (four seasons, Wikipedia tells me, though I can’t believe we got more than one or two), Garry disappeared here, too. In the States he was still guest hosting the Tonight Show and doing comedy specials but in New Zealand it was like he’d never existed.

 

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Supermarket vouchers and ‘shitty’ flowers: media’s worst-ever leaving gifts

Think media celebs are spoilt rotten? They are, confesses Jesse Mulligan – right up until the day they say goodbye.

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders will watch Hilary Barry deliver her final bulletin on TV3 this Friday night, but the real tragedy is that only dozens will get to attend the party afterwards when she receives her leaving present from Mediaworks. What will they give her – a cake shaped like her face? A “Block: Girls & Boys” key ring? A new shrub?

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