Diner’s report from Sydney via Paris and Stockholm
Early winter brought me a whole slew of exciting dinner dates — could this be the ideal way to combat the grey day blues.
Never mind your charred cos (I saw it on three menus in two weeks), woodfired grilling is getting extremely serious. Sydney chef Lennox Hastie has come back from Europe versed in the finer points — and when I say finer, I mean a kitchen equipped with multiple grills, each with charcoal created from a different wood, selected for just a few specific dishes — at new Surry Hills restaurant, Firedoor. Some of the finer points of smoke variation are perhaps too subtle to detect, but a gorgeously simple plate of a split marron, delicately done to perfection then dressed with native herbs and pearls of finger lime is worth its price tag.
How about this for a surprise: terrific, ultracasual, very up-to-the-minute share plate, produce-driven dining in Paris? I mean we all know that food got a little bit stuck there for a while, don’t we? Happily, the New World may have lent the Old World a bit of understated adventurousness. I knooow — Paris, understated! So anyway, the shackles of uptight cuisine have been kicked into the gutters. The new kids in the kitchens are relaxed enough to serve a decent bit of terrine one moment, and a very artful cabbage dish the next, then some new wave roast chicken a bit later. Probably with a glass of orange wine from Bourgogne that is anything but bound up in tradition. Mind you, at neighbourhood-y Au Passage their housemade sourdough boules are cracklingly brilliant and remind you that the French never lost the knack of baking heavenly bread.
At Bones, another very low key spot east of the tourist traps, the daily menu takes the best of what’s around, to the point where they are not embarrassed to splash asparagus around several of the eight small plates du jour, because the white and green asparagus spears are in their prime and deserve a party in their honour. We fell in love with small heaps of steamed asparagus, jumbled in modest bowls with some very recently podded peas and broad beans, all doused with dreamy herb broth that was scented with lovage and just a hint of salad burnet. It was so good that it was a conversation-stopper. All that produce will be appearing here soon, so bear it in mind.
Okay, Stockholm. Very okay with me! What can I tell you? Charming, charming service. Ridiculously fresh seafood. Ridiculously good-looking dining rooms, in that unforced Scandi way. I know everyone says that it is expensive, but it was no worse than Sydney (which could well be a judgment on Sydney). Money well spent, is my opinion. Needing a mention: their crisp bread is seriously tasty. Don’t overlook it if you visit. Cram in a cinnamon roll each day, too.
We pushed the boat out one night at Oaxen Krog, a restaurant you may have seen on a well-publicised “world’s best” list. Stunning, modern, all-timber dining room, without a trace of starchiness. Service beyond compare. Close to an acre of space per table. A choice of just six courses or 10, degustation. The particular dishes on offer tipped us into the 10 (ambitious), but we were blind-sided by the six little surprise starters that preceded the menu. The very first little mouthful was a fried curl of jerusalem artichoke wrapped around a filling of raw moose heart and soft blood sausage, with 2mm dice of raw jerusalem artichoke for balance. In one tiny morsel they’d laid their manifestoon the table. It was an extraordinary night of gorgeous plating, myriad techniques, intensely local ingredients, and a massive dose of creativity. A lot of the food was very challenging. Which is not to say that we ate an awful lot of food, volume-wise, but the incredible range must have satiated every last satiety cell in our brains. We finally made it on to the distant shore of completion after two vegetable-based desserts, wondering if we’d ever need food again, when what should arrive but their complimentary array of chocolates: nine each. Scandinavian to the last, they were practical enough to serve them in a handy — and beautiful— custom-made box, so that we could take them away and savour them at a later date, perhaps a later year, once we had rediscovered our appetites. (Lunch time the following day, if you are wondering.)
In the space of a month I ate pavlova-inspired desserts in three countries and two hemispheres. With mixed degrees of success, I’d say, and the best was back home in Sydney: perfectly smooth, tangy passionfruit gelato concealed inside a layer of vanilla icecream, turned into a Swiss alp by the application of shards of meringue tinged with that crucial flavour combination of vanilla tempered with a dash of malt vinegar. All enhanced by a little bit of slimming creme fraiche, of course. You can travel all you like, but it is good to come home and find some things aren’t done better anywhere else.
Laurie Black has done all sorts of things in her career, from head chef to food editor. Read more on Laurie here.