How To Dine, Travel and Stay Well

How To Dine, Travel and Stay Well
PLUS Australia’s Top Restaurant: Surprise Trumps Expectation

For over a decade my foodie must-do bucket list has included dining at The French Laundry and Tetsuya’s, which have placed near the top among the world’s finest restaurants. Remarkably I accomplished both within a few months – yet both were surpassed by an unexpected contender.

Planning to be in Sydney in November, by August I attempted a reservation at Tetsuya’s. Their weekend dinners were already booked up until the following year! We just managed to book for lunch instead, which has the same tasting menu for all diners.

Unfortunately there was a poor start. As tourists on unknown streets we arrived 15 minutes early. The person at the door told us curtly we would have to wait outside. The fact was understandable. But there is a way of saying no charmingly, that this young man had yet to learn. Once seated, staff was obviously busy attending to 100 covers over two sittings in two rooms. My polite queries about the courses sometimes seemed to interrupt their sense of purpose, rather than be the essence of it.

Also surprising was one waiter saying they considered this to be a French restaurant with Japanese influences. I would reverse that description. Tellingly, the flair was highest with the raw or lightly cooked fish and seafood dishes. Twice I sprinkled salt on other courses – a rarity at any restaurant for me. Pancetta can usually out-diva tamer companions, but on one dish it was overwhelmed by the uncooked legume taste of too many bean sprouts – and this from a veteran hippie sprouter.

One course of the 8 particularly stood out. It is Wakuda Tetsuya’s (‘Tet’ to staff) signature dish. Trout warm, yet still raw salmon pink had its top skin covered in dark flakes that first looked like coarse pepper. Lifting up the delicate covering a green tinge was evident. It was a minutely diced combination of dried kombu and chives with deeper oceanic hits and colour notes than mere salt and pepper could ever achieve.

Another subtle stand out was scampi with tiny balls of herring formed to resemble black caviar, all floating on a sea of avocado cream. Almost as good was a delicate sashimi with the tang of blood orange and the grunt of black beans.

At our meal’s end, a waiter kindly treated us to a tour of the kitchen. It was impressively calm. Almost every surface was festooned with plated chocolate pave and violets. These had been served with the thinnest twigs of pastry shaped to resemble cinnamon bark. The chef generously gave us his time as if he’d been in charge of contemplative gravel patterns in the Japanese garden outside. So it was a mixed experience in service and food rather than the sublime, manifold flow of San Francisco’s The French Laundry (see website TIPS article).

Multi Level Magic

And then there was Quay. This is more newly touted as Australia’s top restaurant. It thoroughly toppled Tetsuya’s and currently ranks an impressive #27 in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants (as voted by esteemed chefs and reviewers). It too played hard to get regarding reservations. After many attempts the one option was early Sunday evening with the tasting menu only. No tears were shed at this news. Top tier chefs deserve full compositional license to create a symphonic whole.

Down on the wharf in close view of the Opera House, Quay’s aquatically shimmering glass ceiling, chrome and purple decor welcomed diners into interior and exterior drama. Service was the best we encountered. Australians can still confuse service with servitude. Discretely and without rush staff served a full house, Hollywood star Jack Black and entourage, plus a wedding party upstairs. There was one 9 course menu or a vegetarian option (A$210 each; as was Tetsuya’s) with the possibility of matching wines with each course, including a premier wine version for a mere A$190 extra.

Quay had the superb setting and supreme craftsmanship of The French Laundry plus a more playful sense of adventure (The French Laundry probably just had the edge on the best service – smart and engaging – I’ve ever experienced). There was a stately maturity to the courses. Musically it was assured and classical while Quay was Rhapsody in Blue – building on tradition then jazzily taking flight. Each course was supremely well integrated and exciting, without a dud or banal note. A few ingredients were new to me (pine resin, prune kernel oil) and some formations were structurally masterful and mysterious, rivalling the Opera House curves for “how did they achieve that?”.

We began with small glasses of cool, creamy milk curd and morels. From Chinese iron teapots the waiter then poured hot oxtail consommé on top. If I had to pick 3 favourites (any fewer is too challenging) the next dish would be one of them. An enchanting sphere made of tiny pearls of scallop bound with a smoked eel mousse was topped with mild Tasmanian wasabi and edible silver. It resembled a jewel you’d covet from Tiffany’s.

Next was an enchantingly original salad. It arrived as a miniature forest that fairies and elves might inhabit. Tiny marinated vegetables – such as turnips the size of a thumbnail – stood upright as a round palisade secured on a goat cheese and pine resin lawn. My second favourite was moist quail (so often dry) combined with “ethical” foie gras (geese eat and live free range instead of being force-fed), topped with toasted quinoa and walnuts. It pulled together like the ultimate savoury caramel pudding with crumble.

After the mains we waited for the first of 3 desserts: no doubt a refreshing sorbet starter with a novel touch, such as Tetsuya’s melon version with the punch of black pepper. The waiter raised his eyebrows in exclamation and said to prepare ourselves for the Snow Egg. A large brandy glass arrived holding shaved, white peach granita supporting a sizeable round ball. Under a dusting of icing sugar, the egg-shell brown exterior was crisp as if deep fried. I was told this was due to its blow-torched tuille topping made with maltose: thick, sweet syrup from fermented barley traditionally used to enhance the skin on Peking Duck. Inside this shell was softly poached white meringue housing a centre of yellow peach ice cream, which subtly oozed like a perfect soft-boiled yolk. Hidden beneath the granita was a delicate stratum of fruit fool. So as your spoon – and later lips – travelled down the ensemble each layer contrasted with the next. Understandably, dauntingly, this dish was used as the eliminator for TV’s MasterChef Australia finale.

When we later toured the nearby Grand Canyon-esque Blue Mountains and mentioned the restaurant to our guide, he said it was far too pricey for him. Yet he spoke of rock concerts and sporting events he had been to – no doubt at a similar cost. As with any field, the more experience you bring to the plate the deeper your sense of enjoyment and value. For our dollars we got not just a meal but a memorable tapestry of art, science and grace. And there was an evening’s worth of big screen entertainment as we watched the brilliance of the harbour on a warm Sydney day merge into the sparkle of a full moon and city lights.

We flew home thoroughly spoiled and ate soup.

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Food and Health Travel Tips

9 courses don’t enter my body without consequence and needed adjustments. Eat lightly – whether during or after your vacation – for the same number of days you ate generously. At the latest, start this the day you return from your holiday to help prevent your stomach size and expectations increasing on a more permanent basis.

If you were a healthy weight at age 20, aim to gain no more than a few kilos (2.2 lbs each) throughout the rest of your life; up to 3 kilos for a short person; 5 for someone tall. The metabolic rate usually slows each decade after 30. Even if you ate the same thereafter your weight will probably increase. Exercise regularly and eat for your body type to maintain metabolic efficiency (see The Shape Diet to determine which body-type you are and which foods will tend to work for or against you). Metabolism is also likely to slow after pregnancy, yo-yo dieting, or lengthy illness.

If you know that eating certain foods tends to be stressful or have unpleasant consequences for you (contact this office for an allergy test), especially avoid these foods for at least 4 days before and after your holiday (and all possible meals in between). It takes the liver 4 days to be free of the effects of any one food or drink. People often go on holiday to return unwell. This is hardly rejuvenating.

Restaurant portions can be huge. In the United States (and its dietary allies) these are commonly 1/3 larger than in France – a status confirmed by public girth. If something arrives oversized, immediately scoop extra onto a bread plate – it will be easier to ignore. Wasting food is sad but threatening your health is no compensation. Try having one or two starters instead of a main. Sample everything but don’t necessarily finish or have seconds. Twice as much doesn’t make for twice as happy.

Fruit Therapy

If dinners are large or late then have only fruit at breakfast – no matter what your body type. This is short term management only (long term this type of breakfast will encourage food cravings, weight gain or erratic vitality levels for ENTHUSIAST and ANALYSER body types; see The Shape Diet). Fruit is high in fibre, antioxidants and water. This makes it easy to digest and quick to elevate blood sugar levels, which can be lower than usual after a large meal – especially one with Alcohol (see website TIPS).

If the weather or your body temperature tends to be cold, you can cook the fruit. In a small saucepan place a tablespoon of water or juice. A particularly therapeutic combination is 1 small apple chopped, 4 diced prunes and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon. Cover, bring just to a boil then simmer for 2-3 minutes until almost soft. Serves as is or with a little honey or maple syrup. Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar as does the soluble fibre in prunes and apple. Blood sugar levels are critical to mental function, mood, vitality and maintaining a sensible weight (see HEALTH STORE page for my report: You Are Just A Few Steps Away From Peak Vitality).

If you have had ample dinnertime food and/or alcohol intake but oddly, think you feel extra hungry next morning, this is actually an indicator of low blood sugar. A big – especially high fat – breakfast would leave you exhausted as digestion struggles to cope, which further plunges blood sugar. Exercise and eat fruit only until you feel your vitality increase and a natural hunger develop. When vacationing, always carry a small bag of nuts with optional dried fruit for a balanced snack that can help you avoid poor choices or missed meals.

Travel with your body, not in defiance of it and you will both prefer the experience.

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