Memorable Dishes from 2007

In reviewing the best food and wine experiences of 2007 there were many highlights, but we have chosen the very best to share with you and to explain why we considered them to be so good.

1.           Bentley Bar and Restaurant, Sydney

320 Crown St, Surry Hills, New South Wales

The Bentley made it into our top fifty last year and our first visit to a restaurant in 2007 was the Bentley again. All dishes were wonderful but one stood out.  The description of "Venison sausage with honeycomb tripe salad and horseradish' belied the complexity of the dish. Some slices of anise flavoured sausage were flanked by two splodges of fine horseradish cream, sitting on top of a layer of jelly made from meat juices. Surrounding this was a drizzle of densely flavoured green basil sauce. Also on the plate was the salad of tripe wrapped in deep fried tripe and cured venison. Adding more complexity were some basil and some shisho leaves. This dish was a riot of textures and flavours and is a dish we hope to try again and again. The accompanying wine was a Herencia Remondo 'La Montessa' Rioja which was velvety, warm, enveloping and beautifully structured.


2.           Italian trifle at Icebergs

Notts Avenue, Bondi Beach, New South Wales

Icebergs is one of the few restaurants in the world to combine stunning views with food that matches (Michel Bras in the Aubrac mountains also achieves this feat). This year we finished a very, very good meal with a mind-blowing Italian raspberry trifle for two served in a large bowl.


3.           Snapper and cockles at Salopian Inn, South Australia

Corner McMurtrie and Willunga Roads, McLaren Vale, South Australia

A Spanish-style special of roasted snapper fillet sitting on a light stew of local cockles, tomato, rice and chorizo sausage. The stew was lightly touched with saffron and deeply-flavoured with the sausage. The fish had been cooked perfectly still being moist and just off translucent.


4.           Scallops with cauliflower at Assiette in Sydney

48 Albion St, Surry Hills, New South Wales

Pan fried scallops with cauliflower puree, cauliflower beignets and macerated sultanas saw perfectly cooked shellfish teamed with cauliflower, a vegetable that seems to love this seafood.


5.           Cauliflower salad at Bodega

216 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills, New South Wales

The salad of fried cauliflower, chickpeas and silver beet shows the Moorish influence on Spain. This dish would be at home in an up-market Lebanese or Turkish restaurant and shows the influence that the Middle East has had on Spanish cuisine. We love deeply roasted cauliflower. It develops the nutty quality of the vegetable. In this dish the chickpeas added body and the silver beet softened the flavours. A hallmark of the cooking here is the deft combination of acid and oil. In this dish it was judged with absolute precision rounding out a perfect dish.


6.           A dish of green beans and pork at Golden Harbour in Hobart

Hunter St, Hobart, Tasmania

A dish of green beans with minced pork is a revelation at this unpretentious Hobart eatery. The beans are cooked at a very high temperature and always cooked to the correct degree of doneness.


7.           Ikan bilis at Nudel Bar, Melbourne

76 Bourke St, Melbourne, Victoria

At the popular Nudel Bar at the top end of Bourke St they serve Ikan Bilis on toast. We always ask for it in a bowl and just keep picking at it during our meal. It is a dense mass of salty fish in a flavoursome sambal that is very compelling.

8.           Spit-roasted lamb at Auberge l'Houmet, Monteux, France

1544 rt de Velleron, Monteux, Vaucluse

Monteux is a small village on the plains below the giant Mont Ventoux north of Avignon. On the outskirts of the village is a farm where you can enjoy a set course meal in the large dining room. Spit roasted lamb was a dish packed with flavour and incredibly tender.

9.           Long-cooked squid stew and rice at Chez Serge

90 rue Cottier, Carpentras, France

Another year, another visit to the delightful Chez Serge. This year we had a great dish of Caillettes and a very good duck liver salad, but these were just edged out by a soulful plate of long-cooked squid stew served over rice.

10.        Freshly-made junket at Bodegon Alejandro in San Sebastian

Fermín Calbeton, 4, San Sebastian, Spain

A particular delight was a dessert of junket made at the table in Martin Berasategui's 'family' restaurant in San Sebastian. It is here that he presents more traditional food than in his eponymous restaurant in Lasarte-Oria. The accoutrements were placed on the table and diners are invited to make their own junket. It worked very well.


11.        Grilled and smoked food at Etxebarri at Axpe in Spain

Plaza San Juan, 1. Axpe, Spain

In the mountains behind Durango in North West Spain there is a culinary gem that foodies will be flocking to for years to come.

Etxebarri  is where self-taught Victor Arguinzoniz turns out his sublime smoked and grilled dishes that signal the future.

Arguinzoniz may just serve the world's best grilled lobster, his Galician beef grilled over grape vine cuttings is deep and elemental, but there are also incredibly subtle flavours, such as smoked egg yolk topped with slivers of raw St Peters mushrooms, and ice cream made from smoked milk served with a complex savoury berry infusion. We should include every one of the fifteen dishes as they all deserve their ranking on the best dishes of the year but we restrained ourselves to the lobster and beef.


Grilled lobster at Etxebarri


Grilled beef at Etxebarri

12.        Sublime seafood at the Pier Restaurant in Sydney

594 New South Head Rd, Rose Bay, New South Wales, Australia

There are many great seafood restaurants in the world but few present as complete a package as Pier in Sydney.

Peter Doyle is truly a remarkable seafood master. His cooking is precise to the point of perfection and the quality of the fish he sources here is amazing.

This year, a dish of steamed Murray Cod with baby beets, prawns and smoked prawn butter was exceptional.


13.        Shopping at the Velleron evening market in Provence

Velleron is a small village on the flat plains that lie between Mont Ventoux and the Luberon in the Provencal Départment of Vaucluse.

Each evening at 6pm precisely the gates to the market swing open and customers swarm towards one of the one hundred suppliers who have set up stalls in the back of their vans. The produce must have been grown or farmed in the region. One man sells just mushrooms that he picks in the nearby Ardeche hills. Another just sells perfect green beans. Another sells fresh apple juice of considerable quality. Whenever we stay in this beautiful part of the world we make a point of visiting this stunning market at least once.


14.        Gargouillou at Michel Bras

route de l'Aubrac, Laguiole, France

We were here to experience the Gargouillou so we chose the Vegetable degustation (not vegetarian mind you).

The Gargouillou was a work of art as well as a culinary feat. Dozens of vegetables and herbs had each been either cooked or placed separately. Our waiter told us that there were over forty herbs and vegetables in the dish that day! They were then drawn together by four deeply-coloured slashes of herb purees across the plate and a binding ham-based emulsion that drew the elements together.


The sign to Michel Bras


Gargouillou at Michel Bras

15.        Edmond Vatan Clos la Neore Sancerre

Now we know this isn't a dish, but the experience was just SO good that we had to let you know about this very special wine!

The Sauvignon Blanc grape is often traduced in terroirs to which it is ill-suited. However in Sancerre and the surrounding villages such as Chavignol the grape reaches its highest expression.

And no-one makes a Sancerre wine as well as Edmond Vatan. He is an acknowledged master of his craft, but sadly due to his age, we are not likely to see any more vintages from this outstanding producer.

Which makes the experience of drinking one of his amazing wines even more precious. We were fortunate enough to try his wine at Michel Bras this year.

This is not an 'upfront' wine. Rather it is a complex, shy wine that reveals its favours slowly. There are hints of lime and peaches but there is also spice and minerals. This is all wrapped around a backbone of racy acidity that will ensure that it lasts for a very long time. The complexity of this wine is breathtaking. It was certainly the most memorable wine experience of 2007.


16.        Set course meal at Les Papilles in Paris

30, rue Gay Lussac, Paris, France

Les Papilles is an unpretentious wine store cum bistro in rue Gay Lussac just near the Luxembourg Gardens. We have included it in our best experiences of the past year because everything about it is 'right'.

The staff are wonderful. The number of tables is restricted. The place is set up as a wine shop and tables are set in front of racks of wine bottles. The chef who works in an impossibly small kitchen out the back is very talented. The menu is exactly the type we like with just four dishes on offer with no choice.


The 'Reour du marche' menu

A stunning pannacotta to end the meal

17.        Smoked tuna broth at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, Victoria

Parker St, Dunkeld, Victoria

Dan Hunter has returned to Australia after a stint as head chef at Spain's highly regarded Mugaritz and has been snapped up as Executive Chef for the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld.

An alluring smoked tuna broth was lifted by fresh herbs, small shoots and impossibly fresh slices of radish.  This dish was one of the taste sensations of the year!


 18.        Caillettes at Yves et Virginie charcuterie

Town Square, Sault, Vaucluse

Yves et Virginie is a perfect example of a country boucherie in the small village of Sault east of Mount Ventoux. The food on display looks real and tastes wonderful. Whether you go here for slices of Jamon de Ventoux, pieds et pacquets, gutsy country terrines, freshly made pies, robust caillettes or pate en croute you will be delighted with the results. We really enjoyed some flavour-packed cailettes we bought here.

19.        Guinea fowl cooked in clay at Atelier de Jean Luc Rabanel in Arles

7 rue des Carmes, Arles, France

L'Atelier de Jean Luc Rabanel is a restaurant that is worth a visit in this ancient town of Arles. It is tucked away discreetly down a small lane in the centre of the old town.

Early in the meal the guinea fowl encased in a salt crust is paraded through the restaurant prior to being rested until ready to serve as the last savoury course.

When a parade of other dishes of exemplary quality was complete, the guinea fowl was served with two swords of tempura salsify and more parsnip.

A small salad of fresh leaves, herbs and flowers was served on the side. The flesh of the guinea fowl was richly-flavoured and very, very tender.

20.        Dinner at Spring

28, rue de la Tour d'Auvergne, Paris, 75009

Spring is one of our favourite restaurants in Paris. It is small, just 16 seats, and has an open kitchen where you can watch Daniel Rose ply his trade.

A main course of lamb saw very sweet and fresh peas in the base of a bowl with long, long cooked lamb on top, around was poured a jus of amazing depth and complexity without reaching the unappealing sticky stage.

21.        Charcuterie at La Cremerie

9 rue des Quatre Vents, Paris, 75006

La Cremerie is one of our favourite wine bars in Paris.

Most of the wines here are either organic or non-interventionist. There is a great selection, however the space is very small so you need to be patient if you want to find a table at which you can linger.

We love the charcuterie, bread and cheese that they serve and can always find wines offered by the glass that go well with these foods.

This is what you see when they are closed

The Berkel slicer

The charcuterie plate

22.        Stuffed pigs trotter at Sek Yuen

313-315 Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sek Yuen is a must-visit venue in Kuala Lumpur. The wood-fired wok is a defining feature but the food that was brought to our table was simply exemplary!

But this was but an opening movement to the main production. We were soon presented with the main protagonist of a stuffed pig's trotter that was one of the best dishes that we have tried anywhere in the world!!

It was stunning. The four of us gorged on the contents until it had disappeared! A lovely, lovely dish!

Wood-fired oven

23.        Breakfast of congee and raw fish at Hon Kee in Kuala Lumpur

Jalan Hang Lekir (off Jalan Petaling), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Hon Kee Porridge Hawker Stall is tucked away amid the sea of stalls in the Petaling Market in Kuala Lumpur. Look for the 'Famous Hon Kee Porridge" sign then push between the stalls to find a seat at one of the tiny tables. You will be given a blue plastic bowl of the most beautiful rice congee and a flat plate of slices of raw fish garnished with a mound of spring onion and fresh ginger and a sprinkling of fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves. It was delicious with that creamy texture that only comes from long, slow, careful cooking of the rice.


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Our book recommendation

This week we recommend the excellent book by Marco Canora, a chef whose food we admire having eaten his food at Hearth and Terroir.