Monday, March 11, 2019

Australia - The Food. Unexciting






It took a while getting down and writing this post. Australian food did not inspire me to tell you all about it. As I had written in the previous post, Australia did not really work out for us. Something is missing. The food too, largely failed to make an impact. You may have read my review of Tetsuya's here.

Let me try and put this in perspective. Mind you, our opinions are based on the 30 odd meals we had there. Therefore, the sample size is small. We did eat at the so called “best” restaurants, that all guides recommend. That would be the kind of restaurant you would eat at if you went to Australia. So, to that extent though the sample size is small, the restaurants are generally where you would eat.

Michelin, does not review and rate restaurants in Australia. Thus, you have no reliable way of determining standards. Of course, the cynical among you will say lots of rude things about Michelin ratings, but the point is, it is a respected rating agency. Australia has its own rating system which the AGFG [Australian Good Food Guide] runs. This system has two indicators, a crossed fork and spoon which signifies restaurant facilities and style. The second is Hats or Chefs Toques which rate the food only, not the overall experience.

Australia has no indigenous cuisine. Yes, it does have its indigenous ingredients. The food tends to be a mish mash of standard French and Italian techniques and styles. The immigrant food is varied, but unfortunately, did not seem to us to be of very good quality. The Chinese food in London, New York and San Francisco, for example compares very favorably to what is available in China, Hong Kong and Singapore. The Lebanese food in London is as good to what is available in the Gulf. The Indian food in the UK is, dare I say, better than what we get at home. Sadly, that is not the case in Australia.

We had two sets of friends in Australia. One [whom I shall call “Pilot”] originally was our neighbor in Mumbai. The other [whom I shall call “Noorjehan”] is an old friend from way back in time. 

Pilot made a very astute observation, nothing to do with food, but telling all the same. He said that no one who is educated in an Indian Ivy League – IIT/IIM – would seek a job in Australia. For them UK/USA/Europe would be the goal. Australia is according to him, for class 2 or lower people. We thought that this was a startling observation and spot on. With a lower common denominator could one really expect very much?

Noorjehan is in the travel industry. He said that the Australian Travel Board is spending a lot of money, and, devoting a lot of resources to promoting Australia in India. Think about it. We are bombarded by Australian TV shows from Masterchef Australia, to daily soaps, to Boys Weekend, to Maeve O'Meara and her Food Safari series, to My Kitchen Rules. We have the new show by Gary Mehigan. Manu Fieldel in Around the World in 80 Dishes, Miguel Maestre with his shows. Sarah Todd has featured on shows. Our very own Parineeti Chopra stars in an Australia Tourism ‘Undiscover Australia’ advert. The result of all this has been dramatic. More and more Indians now travel to Australia. All this adds to the allure of Australia.

The irony of all this was lost on me till I started researching in Australia. Gary Mehigan, Manu Fieldel and Miguel Maestre are not restaurant owners anymore. Just TV stars. So, the beautiful food they show off cannot be eaten by you or me.

One positive aspect is the fact that the quality of produce served is really good. Far far better than anything we get in India. By produce, I mean the vegetable. As far as proteins are concerned, these are without exception, honestly, superlative as compared to absolutely anything in India. This aspect should be borne in mind by you. The problem is that despite the top ingredients, the manner of cooking is rather poor.

I must stress this point again. The ingredients are world class and generally treated with care. The problem is that the dishes are no better in conception and execution that what you get at Indigo Deli or Smoke House in its avatars or at the Willingdon Club. Simple food, a mash potato, the obligatory 3 bits of green vegetable, a simple pan sauce and of course the protein.














We did have salads at a few places at lunch. In all the salads I ordered and ate, the plates had a splodge or thick smear of a cream cheese/Labneh/Mascarpone type dairy product on the base. Over this the rest of the ingredients were artfully laid on. This thrill of eating this was soon replaced by boredom as salad after salad had this base. While they looked brilliant, it soon got jaded.




Much has been written about the Victoria Market in Melbourne. We made two visits, one was exploratory and the other was to buy food. Regrettably, only after we returned to Mumbai and started to eat what we had bought, did we realize how disappointing the charcuterie was. A Duck Salami and Pork Salami looked the business but were sub-par. A cylinder of N’duja [pronounced En Do Ya] was a huge let down. N’duja is a Calabrese specialty, being a very spicy spreadable salami with a very high fat content. This was a rock hard, un-melting sausage like product. Very sad.

But it was not all painful and sad. We did have a relatively few good meals.

The first night in Sydney we ate at the wonderful Mr. Wong; an upmarket Chinese restaurant. A most un-Chinese looking restaurant which looked like a cross between a warehouse and a speak easy. It was huge, seating some 280, but despite that, it managed to have a more intimate feel. The d├ęcor was industrial, with exposed ducts and walls. The front of house staff was almost all Caucasian. On enquiry, I was told by the restaurant manager that “we keep all the Chinese in the Kitchen.” Ouch! That was rather racist, or, truthful. You decide. This was by any standards a good Chinese meal. We were seated at the bar as there were no tables available. Absolutely no complaints. Of course, if you have a look at the photos you will realise that this is not a place to have a quiet romantic dinner. This is a noisy lively place with excellent food.

Mr. Wong is in Sydney CBD and we can unhesitatingly recommend it.






Delicious Crispy Peeking Pigs Ears  


Stir Fried Snow Peas with Garlic Broccoli & Rice Wine


Grandma's Sticky Pork Belly - Awesome deep fried Pork Belly


Mr Wong Special Fried Rice with Pork & Prawns

The other good meal was at Cut in the Rocks area of Sydney. We were scheduled to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb that evening. On the way there we saw the Cut, a steak restaurant, made a reservation and had a very good meal. This is also a restaurant we can recommend. Romance possible.


Southern Calamari with Chickpeas Nduja and Sesame


Octopus with Cucumber, Dill & Kipfler Potato Salad


Slow Roast Porterhouse 800 Grams

We did have a couple of mixed meals. Chin Chin is a Thai restaurant in the very popular Flinders Lane area of Melbourne. It is a very popular restaurant and highly recommended by all guides. Lines to get in snake along the foot path. Some dishes were very good, others more ordinary. A loud, rumbustious place with closely packed tables. Very casual.



Spicy Chicken Larb


Beef Rendang


Stir Fry Green Beans & Shredded Coconut


Pad Thai



Cumulus also on Flinders Lane is another reasonably nice restaurant. The food is “Conti”. Very casual, we sat at the bar. A live kitchen. Once again noisy and not suited to a romantic evening. Mixed meal with some hits and misses.



Rabbit and Pork Cheek Terrine


Roast Potato Confit Garlic & Sage



Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder, Almond & Roasted Red Pepper


Snapper Mussels Spinach & Fennel Pollen


The last restaurant I recommend is a branch of the world famous Peking Duck Restaurant from Beijing – Quanjude. We found this quite by chance in a moment of serendipity. Located in the Chinatown area of Sydney, this is a newly opened restaurant. The food was good, the Duck, obviously being the star. The waiter was a very friendly young man from Hong Kong. He claimed that he made more money in Australia than Hong Kong. This is a formal restaurant and one can have a more sedate meal.


The Brilliant Peking Roast Duck - above & below



Fish in Beijing Style Crab Flavoured Egg


Kailan


Duck Soup


Beijing Flavoured Noodles with Soy Bean Paste

So, folks, here it is. Our impression of an underwhelming food experience in Australia. If I was asked to recommend just one place, I believe it would be Mr. Wong, for its good food served in a very non-Chinese setting, with mainly Caucasian diners. You will certainly not starve or be food poisoned in Australia. The food is decent but no sophisticated or complex by a mile.





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