From Cape Town to Sydney, London to Melbourne, chefs extraordinaire are cooking up storms. Dining at their restaurants is an experience to relish for a lifetime.
My wife and I compromised on our last anniversary holiday. She agreed to go to Cape Town and watch cricket with me so long as all I said was "Yes dear" for the rest of the trip. With that settled, we stayed at the Twelve Apostles in the shadow of Table Mountain and spent our mornings earnestly hoping to see whales and the rest of the day exploring the city.
The One and Only had just opened there but their new Gordon Ramsay restaurant was quite disappointing. However, friends steered us to La Colombe, which is inland about 30 minutes from the waterfront. The drive there was truly spectacular and makes you realise why Cape Town is considered to be one of the world's best cities to live in.
The area is good for wine growing and La Colombe is itself in a vineyard. This year it achieved an impressive 12th place in the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants of the World Awards 2010 as well as the Acqua Panna Best Restaurant in Africa and Middle East Award.
The food is contemporary French fine dining but as is now happening everywhere, Luke, the executive chef, has added Asian influences. Though he wasn't around when we visited, his bio notes told us that he starts with the thought that "a dish has to be understandable and have bold flavours". From there he builds it and adds textures and presentation.
I just love being served by someone I can have a long chat with. The team there certainly fit the bill and the hours just flew by. With that service and an award-winning wine list, La Colombe is a truly unforgettable experience!
Just as memorable was the meal we had at Tetsuya in Sydney. When I first looked at opening a Japanese restaurant in India I took both the Saby's in my life on a trip here. Australia has a huge Japanese immigrant population and as a result the meeting of Japanese with western cuisine happens at its best here.
On the one side is Western influenced Japanese food best seen throughout the world by places such as Nobu and Zuma. On the other is Japanese influenced Western food which you see all over Sydney. Tetsuya Wakuda has refurbished a heritage-listed site in the city to create a restaurant based on the Japanese philosophy of natural seasonal flavours, enhanced by classic French technique. And it's been such a hit that its regularly rated amongst the world's top five restaurants.
While my wife pointedly read a book and refused to eat, Chef Saby and I gorged our way through Tetsuya's renowned degustation menu. Eleven courses but many just a mouthful. The dishes that stood out included the Tuna Tartare with Beluga Caviar and a Quail Egg in a Scallop Pouch, Wagyu with Lime and Wasabi, Tetsuya's signature dish Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout served with Konbu and Fennel and the twice cooked de-boned Spatchcock with Foie Gras and Gobo.
For dessert we had his signature Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ice-cream. All this was served to us on superb crockery that had been made specially for him by a renowned Japanese artist.
After the meal, Tetsuya invited us to his personal 'experimentation' kitchen upstairs where we sat and discussed the difficulties of overseas ventures, and the impossibilities of women and marriage. We kept talking till we realised that Tetsuya had gently fallen asleep. It wasn't the company we assured ourselves but the 16-hour days he has.
Chef Saby had summered in both Tetsuya's kitchen and the popular Rockpool, so we were lucky enough to also get a few minutes with Neil Perry, a sort of poster boy of the Australian food industry. He certainly looked it with his pony tail and his rock star-meets-celebrity chef style.
Though he is as Australian as they come, his food reflects the melting pot that is Australia today. We tried the Chef's Tasting Menu and Asian influences were visible across it. Some of the highlights include Sterling Caviar with Tuna Tartare and Ginger Jelly, Squid, Iberico Ham and Parsnip Salad with Nitro Black Pearls--Inspired by Heston Blumenthal, Namgim salad, Grilled Fish with Dom Kha Foam, Stir Fried Lobster with Noodles and XO Sauce. For dessert, we had his signature Passionfruit Souffle.
Unfortunately we did not have time to visit Melbourne which is consistently showcasing some of the most innovative and freshest western cooking. But when I was younger, by a happy chance, both my then girlfriend and my twin brother were posted there and I spent an exceptional month exploring the city.
For me it's not paying thousands of dollars for the rarest caviar that make for an exceptional meal. It's a combination of factors which come together and create a moment that you can carry with you always. One of these is a great setting. At that time I couldn't afford top-end restaurants but I did have some unforgettable picnics on that trip.
No one does picnics better than the Australians and it is a simple matter to create a gourmet basket at a supermarket. One evening we did just that and went to the zoo. We went close enough to touch a tiger and then sat down to enjoy some of the city's finest jazz through sunset. It doesn't get much better than that.
Continuing our look at the Japanese dining diaspora we next travelled to London, where we had some superb modern sushi at Umu and lots of delicious meals at little Japanese restaurants all over the city. However what amazed us was the ongoing excellence of Zuma. Their Japanese fusion food is flawless and always fresh. The tasting menu is fantastic, but we have so many favourites that we usually order a la carte. These include the Sea Bass with Yuzu, Truffle Oil and Salmon Roe, Baked Sea Bream in Sea Salt with Seaweed, Garlic and Ginger, Lobster with Spicy Ponzu Sauce or Wagyu Beef with Soy and Wasabi.
We normally accompany this meal with sake and we were impressed to find they have a sake sommelier whose family produces one of the signature sakes on the menu.
At the taste of london
On this trip to London we also spent an amazing day at the Taste of London as 40 of the city's best restaurants came together in Regent's Park for four days of al fresco feasting. Each of us chose restaurants that most excited us and worked our way through a range of miniature speciality dishes from upmarket places like Le Gavroche, L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon and Theo Randall. I was stunned to find that world famous chefs were personally tending to us and had a long chat with both Atul Kochar and Michel Roux.
The family enjoyed the Blue Elephant stall and it left us wondering again why we don't have more Thai options in our country. And all this was on a balmy summer day with the strains of jazz everywhere. The Taste of London really is a gourmet grazing picnic extraordinaire, so don't miss it next summer.
Reproduced From India Today Travel Plus. Copyright 2010. LMIL. All rights reserved.
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