We enjoyed a few grand dining experiences in 2022 but mostly it was all about the small pleasures – the lilly pilly jam I bought from CWA ladies in Bendigo, sunset dining by the Tweed River, an awesome apple crumble in Stanthorpe, not to mention all the beautiful meals we enjoyed at home. Better late than never, here’s my list of the top food experiences we had in 2022.
Rémy Martin Cognac dinner at Bennelong
It was dinner with a touch of gold when we dined at the Sydney Opera House for the launch of Rémy Martin XO Atelier Thiery Cognac. Produced from the most revered vineyards, this limited-edition Cognac comes in a stunning decanter with 18-karat gold serigraphy. We were privileged to attend the launch in the Opera Circle at Bennelong Restaurant, with magnificent views of Sydney Harbour. Executive chef Peter Gilmore (who I have huge admiration for) presented a superb three-course dinner befitting this exclusive drop.
Apple Crumble at the Granite Belt
Apples are synonymous with the Granite Belt, the region around Stanthorpe producing pretty much the whole of Queensland’s apple crop. On the highway at Thulimbah, you can’t miss The Big Apple, one of Australia’s iconic ‘big things’. Here you’ll find Vincenzo’s café, deli and wine bar where you can enjoy light meals and wine tastings and buy a wide range of gourmet products and gift items. Co-owner Anna Schnitzerling turns out a wonderful homemade apple pie but the highlight for me was her feather-light apple crumble, made from a family recipe.
Farm to Table dining in Dubai
You might be as surprised as I was to learn that Dubai has ‘farm to table’ dining. As I wrote in my Top Travel Experiences post, Dubai was the only overseas trip I did in 2022. On the flight over, I was watching a short doco about Hattem Mattar, an Egyptian-born chef who is making quite a name for himself in the UAE. Hattem’s business started as a hobby in his backyard, where he mastered the art of smoking meat before going to Texas to hone his barbecue skills. That led him to running Mattar Farm and, more recently, The Farm House restaurant. The restaurant is on an upper level of the very posh Souk Madinat Jumeirah, with twinkling lights, gorgeous lounges, and an open fire producing grilled meats including tender, juicy brisket served on large platters with beautiful Middle Eastern salads and accompaniments. Hattem is a gregarious character and it was an honour to meet him.
First experience of Iftar
While I was in Dubai, I had my first experience of Iftar, the meal consumed after sunset during Ramadan. Dubai restaurants pull out all stops for Iftar, with lavish nightly buffets on a scale that must be seen to be believed. Iftar at The St. Regis Dubai was incredible, with a vast array of Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian and Mediterranean dishes, breads, cheeses, charcuterie, hot and cold mezze, seafood, salads, and on my reckoning, at least 30 different desserts and sweets. Wow, just wow.
Birthday lunch at Pialligo Estate
The Pavilion at Pialligo Estate is one of our favourite Canberra restaurants and the perfect place to celebrate Maurie’s birthday. The estate has a flourishing orchard, olive grove, vineyard and smokehouse, and I love that all the produce is grown just metres from the table. On a beautiful autumn day, with a menu driven by the seasons, this is exactly the way I love to eat. And it’s all just 10 minutes from Parliament House and the CBD of our National Capital — remarkable by any standards. Favourite dish: Duck breast with pickled cherries and beetroot.
Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, Bendigo
Although 2022 was the 24th Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, it was a first for me. As I noted in my Top Travel Experiences post, it was an inspiring, convivial event for food nerds. There were fascinating presentations on a huge range of topics, from sustainable food production and growing native grains, to the Chinese influence on Australia’s culinary landscape. The Symposium was held in Bendigo, a UNESCO-designated City of Gastronomy. One of the event locations was PepperGreen Farm, a social enterprise providing employment for people with disability. Another was The Old Church on the Hill, a community hub where people come together to cook, garden, and connect. Afghan women cooked a beautiful breakfast for those of us attending the Symposium. I bought delicious lilly pilly jam from the CWA ladies and have found that it goes beautifully on a cheese plate.
Blue Suede Shoes, Bendigo
OMG, these blue suede shoes were the sweetest thing. Made by Bendigo’s Bluebird Patisserie to celebrate the Elvis exhibition, the choux pastry eclairs were filled with chocolate cremeux and decorated with blue icing. In other words, fit for a King.
A long lunch at Parlar
In May, I was invited by the Catalan Tourist Board to attend a launch of the Grand Tour of Catalonia, a 2,000-kilometre driving route encompassing cultural heritage, landscapes, and food and wine experiences. The launch was held at Parlar, a Spanish restaurant in Potts Point, Sydney. It was a very long lunch (something the Spaniards do well!) and hard to pick a favourite dish, but the anchovy churros and manchego vol-au-vents were hard to beat, the crema Catalana was a fitting end to a grand meal, and what can I say about the lobster with smoked samfaina (similar to ratatouille) … it was simply divine.
Fine dining at Tattersalls, Armidale
In my Top Travel Experiences post, I mentioned how far regional dining has come in recent years. Tattersalls Hotel in Armidale is a perfect example. The old hotel has undergone a stunning transformation, taking it back to its Art Deco heyday. The hotel dining room is the jewel in the crown. Elegant but not stuffy, it serves first-class steak, seafood and other dishes, many of them cooked in a Josper charcoal oven. My grass-fed Black Angus steak with a classic Diane sauce was perfectly cooked, as was Maurie’s barramundi. The house-made terrine was exceptional. And what can I say about the Salted caramel brûlée with rum and raisin icecream? To die for. Country dining at its finest.
Local is lovely at Potager
Potager, in the tiny hamlet of Carool in northern NSW, is both a country restaurant and a restaurant drawing on produce picked from the garden. It’s a relatively casual restaurant where people with small kids feel equally as comfortable as couples celebrating a special occasion. Set in an old cottage on a 10-acre farm, the back deck has a wonderful panorama across the lush valley. As much as possible, vegetables, fruits and herbs come from the Potager garden, the rest from the surrounding region, along with locally caught fish and grass-fed meat. The tables are made by local craftspeople, and most of the crockery by local potters. The food is creative and delicious: Lemon myrtle tempura zucchini flowers with macadamia and miso cheese (entrée), Rum-glazed Bangalow pork chop with charred pineapple and coconut (main); and Strawberry and elderflower panna cotta with rosella gel, strawberries, and basil meringue (dessert). Superb.
Tweed River House
Life doesn’t get much better than sipping on a gin and watermelon cocktail while watching the sun set over the beautiful Tweed River. Located in a white two-storey colonial-style house, Tweed River House restaurant offers a stunning first impression with its vaguely Raffles air. We dined on the back deck overlooking the river, but inside is lovely too, with gorgeous furnishings and pressed metal ceilings. The menu draws on locally grown, organic and indigenous ingredients, but it was the overall ambience that sold us.
Boronia Kitchen, Hunters Hill
Hunter Valley winery, Scarborough, launched a new Reserve label, Keepers of the Flame, not at one of the Sydney big guns but at an unpretentious restaurant in suburban Hunters Hill. The reason I’ve chosen Boronia Kitchen as one of my top experiences is that I loved its homely, community feel and the wonderful kitchen garden it has out the back (you can probably detect a theme here). Owner/chef Simon Sandrall comes with impressive credentials – he was head chef at Aria for 16 years – and produces what he calls “quirky little twists on good family-style food”. We started on Hiramasa kingfish that was smoked in old wine barrels in the courtyard while guests were arriving, then roast chicken with duck fat potatoes and a white peach and fennel salad. The final course was a chocolate nemesis paying homage to late Sydney chef Darren Simpson who popularized the indulgent torte.
Celebrating Thanksgiving, Sydney-Style
Having never experienced a Thanksgiving dinner before, this was a huge amount of fun. Three Sydney venues hosted ‘Thanksgiving Month’ in November and we were invited to a preview. It began with Southern Belle Spritz cocktails at NOLA Smokehouse and Bar, a Barangaroo venue that looks like it has been plucked straight out of New Orleans (wrought iron work over the bar, wooden window shutters, a jazz band playing). We enjoyed an amazing banquet of Southern fried chicken, barbecued corn, fried Brussels sprouts, devilled eggs (yum!) and a whole turkey, barbecue-smoked creole-style. With more cocktails and music at The Swinging Cat, followed by pecan pie and music at Jolene’s … yeehaw!
Luke’s Kitchen, Kimpton Margot Sydney
This Luke Mangan-run restaurant in the Kimpton Margot Sydney is one of the grander restaurants I dined at during 2022. The Art Deco-style hotel is gorgeous and Mangan has hotel dining down to a fine art. Not surprisingly, the bottomless brunch was very special. Courses were small but exquisite: Duck tortellini in a Peking duck broth, Tempura coral trout, Braised pork belly with green papaya salad and carrot purée, and so on. With generous pours of La Vieille Ferme, a pale pink Rosé from the Southern Rhône, it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday.
Making bûche de Noël at Le Tres Bon
Learning to make bûche de Noël (Yule log) at Le Tres Bon in Bungendore, NSW, was a fun note to end the year on (second only to having all our family around the Christmas table, which was simply the best). A gift from my very generous sister, who joined me in the class, we had a great time baking and decorating this Christmas treat under the expert tuition of chef Christophe Gregoire and his wife Josephine. Afterwards, we enjoyed a convivial lunch with our classmates, dining on classic French rillettes with the best caramelized onions ever, followed by a slice of the bûche de Noël we’d created. Here’s cheers to more wonderful food experiences in 2023.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out our Top Travel Experiences for 2022!