Pretty. Tasteless.

Hey Dan,

For my sins – and they must have been pretty big sins – my better half has taken to watching Masterchef of late. Yep. We’re inflicted with Australian Masterchef here in Thailand too. (Apparently it’s one of India’s highest-rating shows as well, so if a contestant of Indian heritage manages to stay on the island longer than he deserves…well, there’s your answer).

Anyway, yesterday’s challenge was to bake a cake. Not just any cake. But a cake of absurd dimensions, and one wearing one of Carmen Miranda’s hats on top too, the task of replicating which the contestants were given 4.5 hours to complete.

Apparently the bloke with the beard who is the mastermind behind said cake is some sort of legend in Australia. But as I don’t live there, I don’t give a toss. Arguably the same would be true if I did live there.

The cake – which seemed to be roughly the proportions of a standard bucket – looked pretty enough to be honest. But then they decided to cut it. And of course that was easier said than done with a 50cm-high cylinder of cake – they had to take a knife the size of a sword and slice away at its edges, then divide it up so everybody could have a taste of every one of the different-flavoured layers (of which there seemed to be half a dozen or so) and then scrape some of the décor off the top. End result? A plate of mush. Nice.

Now it’s not that there weren’t some nice-sounding elements to the cake, but I did wonder why we needed the kitchen-sink approach.

It struck me – as does Masterchef in general – that everything that is wrong with the current restaurant trade is being celebrated here.

Taste is rather a difficult concept to communicate via television, so in its stead we get visual presentation. Masterchef is merely a moving-picture version of Instagram, albeit with absurdly concocted and highly repetitive ‘drama’ to keep us watching.


While I’m perfectly happy to avoid drama in a restaurant, I am getting a bit tired of prettily-presented plates without any substance. You know, those minor culinary concerns like aromas and flavours.

Don’t get me wrong. Presentation is important – it is that first impression that can be hard to shake. It’s why you wear a tie to the office, rather than a tutu.

But here’s the thing: It isn’t the tie that does the job. If the bloke in the tutu is the best at what he does, and the guy in the tie is completely incompetent then eventually that’s what is going to be remembered.

And that, thanks to Masterchef and Instagram, is what we’re getting these days – we’re getting the guy in the tie/the girl in the pretty dress – but then when we taste the food, too often we realize that he’s a dope and she’s brainless.

They’re all show.

There’s no substance there.

It’s not a beauty contest folks. It’s food.

Let’s try to put the cameras away, and remember that flavours are important too, and maybe, just maybe, the whole industry won’t disappear up its own backside – a direction is seems to be racing, headlong.

World’s Best Bumpf


I thought you might be interested in this: It’s the World’s Best Tree!

No. Not the best example of this species of tree. Not the best species of tree.

The. World’s. Best. Tree.

This decision was made by a committee of appointed experts, without any apparent judging criteria, and that may or may not award second place to a tree in a different country – for a bit of variety, you know – after a ‘normalisation process’ is applied to the voting data.

Makes you want to visit the World’s Best Trees, just to post on social media, doesn’t it?

If you’re a sucker for this sort of thing, we had the announcement of Asia’s Best Restaurants recently. Fully nine of them are in my adopted home-town, but they include one that I’ll never visit again because it was so average, and another that…well, maybe, but only after a bit of arm-twisting.

It makes for headlines though. And it’s a great marketing tool for those appearing on the list. But I think it’d be better known as Asia’s 50 Hardest Restaurants to get a Booking For Now. Fortunately there are plenty of others worth trying that aren’t having the joy sucked out of them by serious foodies with their Instagram devices.

It is good motivation for me to get out and discover some others, at least.

You’re on track to see the launch of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants soon in your neck of the woods: Melbourne, April 5 – mark it in your calendar.

Read all about it in The Age here.

I’m rather impressed that the futility of the exercise was noted in the story: “Despite the absurdity of attempting to compare and rank millions of restaurants around the world the brilliant simplicity of the list made it an instant hit.”

It’s restaurant reviewing for the simple-minded social media generation! We’ve seen how well dumbing things down goes for American presidential elections, so now let’s ruin the restaurant industry too. And if the sheer number of wannabe Ferran Adrias ruining my dining enjoyment with their ill-advised foams and mismatched ingredients is any indication, it’s already happening. Picasso’s suggestion that you need to ‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,’ clearly applies in the kitchens of the world too, though it’s a shame so few aspiring chefs seem to agree.

But it is hard to argue with numbers: When the event was held in New York, it apparently “resulted in over US$73 million worth of coverage with a reach of 13,476,821,864.” Impressive, galaxy-wide coverage then, reaching nearly twice the world’s population? Does E.T. agree it’s finger-licking-good? Or just more marketing bumpf? I’ll let you decide – but remember 13b people/visiting aliens can’t be wrong.

In the meantime the World’s Best Elbow belongs to…

Reds, Whites, and Why I Have the Blues

Hey Dan,

Thanks to my *favourite* local supermarket (take a bow Tops ) I received an invitation to the second annual ‘Bordeaux Rendez-vous’ – a little tasting of 93 wines from Grand Cru producers in the region, with retail prices ranging from BHT1,420 (A$54) to BHT12,660 (A$478) a bottle.

I didn’t quite manage to get to all 93, but as indicated by the pricing there were a range of styles and quality on display. Highlights to my mind included a 2005 Château d’Issan (yours for a mere BHT10,530), a 2006 Château d’Armailhac (a snip at BHT6,130 – though to be fair, their château appears to be half-price too), and there was something utterly sensational when I first arrived that may or may not have been a 2006 Domaine de Chevalier (for BHT8,050), but I can’t remember exactly – serves me right for not taking notes as I did last year…

There were a few disappointments too, though had I been a man with a plan, I would have started with the more affordable wines and moved up from there. Also, as I’m not one of the fabled 1% who can afford extensive cellaring facilities (ahem), I found myself in a bit of a pickle – my limited climate-controlled space is reasonably fully stocked with rather nice Australian and Spanish reds right now (whites are definitely in short supply, but I’m not about to fix that with Bordeaux) – so no new purchases.

I did, however, have a few interesting discussions with the winemakers on hand.

Corks were one thing. Or 93 things, actually. Nothing so gauche as a Stelvin in sight here. One winemaker told me that the extra-long French corks he uses set him back €2.50 each – and that nothing could replace the sound of it being removed, nor the smell. He confided that his family also owns a winery in South Africa, and they do put their whites under screw caps, but not the reds.

I’d reckon that if you’re paying this much for wine, a screw cap adds just a little extra piece of mind. Still, it could be worse: the same guy told me that he had won a bet with his father, and the prize was a bottle of Romanée-Conti  (a bottle for which you’ll be lucky to get change from US$10k) and it was corked!

The other comment that took me by surprise was that “wine is all about marketing.”

The cynic in me thinks everything is about marketing these days, so it came as a surprise to hear someone with a Troisièmes Cru, or third growth ranking dating back to 1855 could sound so cynical – and disappointed – about it too.

But then, maybe he has a point. Even if he reduced his yield to two grapes per hectare and produced two bottles of perfect wine in a good vintage, he will always be a Troisièmes Cru. It almost seems a disincentive to invest. And the same could be said of the Premiers Crus: They’re going to sell every bottle they make anyway, so do they really need to try harder?

I guess that wine can also be a Veblen good.

That said, I’m happy to  trust my palate. I may never taste Romanée-Conti, but I’m not convinced I appreciate Burgundy enough to truly appreciate it – I could try a bottle of very good wine a day for a year for a similar price as a single bottle – even at Thai prices. That is surely a better plan, no?

Barcelona part 1…of many

Hey Dan,

Well it’s that Barcelona time again, and that means food. Seriously good food.

In three nights and an extra day of marathon dining we got to Tickets, Bar del Pla, Restaurant Arume, and Cuines Santa Caterina before collapsing in an overstuffed heap. My double cheeseburger at Caravelle for lunch before even starting was probably not my best idea. But it is a good burger…maybe there’s a post on the casual dining scene later.

So first things first: Tickets. Here you have the Adrià brothers post El Bulli, so of course it is a foodie Mecca. Strangely, San Pellegrino only ranks it 42nd best restaurant in the world, but then that list is so flawed it is almost a joke.

What it does mean is that you’re lucky to get a seat at Tickets. Every day at midnight they open a day two months hence and if you’re online on their booking system  at that moment, and can figure out how the system works, you may just get a seat. This meant waking up at 5:00am on a Sunday morning in Bangkok. For you Australians life gets a bit easier.

I managed to secure a table for four at the very Spanish time of 9:30pm.

The first surprise is that Tickets is not some dimly-lit establishment with starched tablecloths, starched waiters and starched customers. The entrance looks like a theatre, the waiters are in ringmaster uniform, the lights are bright, and the place is buzzing. The nose-snubbing at formality is capped-off with a wall of Japanese waving cats behind the bar.

You get the idea that the Adriàs want to put on a performance, and that even the dullest foodies who are there to check the place off a list will get swept along with it.

You can choose your tapas a la carte, but the menu is so extensive that we just went with the kitchen’s suggestions.

Wine-wise the selection is not quite as extensive as you’d expect of a joint on the San Pellegrino list – then again, that list is pretty inconsistent in this regard too – but that’s okay as I’m on the steep part of the learning curve with Spanish wine, and am finding the reds from the Ribera del Duero region almost failsafe. Can’t remember what I ordered, but it was good, befitting the 50€ pricetag – that is at the expensive end from what I’ve seen so far.

But you’re not here for the wine: the food’s the star.


The first item to arrive looked like a cake – two bright red confections with cream between, and served on a cake plate. Turns out it was some featherweight beetroot meringue filled with horseradish cream, sliced into four at the table and meant to be eaten with fingers. Not your average start, and a sign of things to come.

The imagination that the kitchen displays is something else, and in ten or so courses the only real miss was a vodka-infused pear that looked like a urinal lolly, and my dining companions suggested this is what a urinal puck may taste like too. Odd.


Otherwise the relentless flow of dishes was superb. The tuna sashimi on a lime meringue stood out, as did the octopus, which was so good we ordered a second round.


The entire show ended on the third desert with some chocolate ice cream made at the table in a mortar and pestle and a jug of liquid nitrogen – again with the show.


In terms of creativity of cuisine, I’m blown away that San Pellegrino only ranks Tickets at number 42 – I’ve eaten at places higher on the list that don’t even come close. Then again, it is one of seven Spanish restaurants that make the list, and there must be pressure to spread out the prizes geographically, though perhaps not so far as Australia, which gets by with just the one…

The fact that it isn’t stuffy fine-dining probably works against it a bit in this arena too.

I’m less worried about that. The fine-dining rigmarole (and the serious foodies it often attract) can suck the joy right out of a meal. At tickets you get the happy informality of a corner tapas joint, with creativity of cuisine that is rare. Very rare.

It is a truly compelling combination.

Check out more Barcelona restaurant reviews (and more) at

Exotic Adelaide


Hi Tony,

I guess you’re basking in tapas, cerveza and all things Catalan at the moment? Got to find a time to come visit Barcelona soon.

While you are indulging in Michelin star restaurants by the dozen, we’ve been exploring the best that Adelaide has to offer.

A very brief visit to Adelaide for Sarah and Anthony’s wedding, we had a little time outside the formal festivities.

Now we’d heard stories about a mysterious place known as Africola. The rumours were that the food was on the money and the place was hitting the mark in every other aspect. But, this is Adelaide. A place where the list of the top 10 places to have breakfast in Adelaide include more than a few places which are more than an hour’s drive out of town (e.g. in the country). So, I was sceptical.

I flew in early evening and was whisked into the big-smoke by Julia. Our aim was to try and get a table at the most in-demand place in Adelaide without a booking. Something you simply wouldn’t try in Melbourne, London, Dubai, Port Moresby…well, most any place in the world.

Rolling in right on the dot of 6pm and we were seated by 6:00:05pm. Game on!

The menu is difficult to navigate, but the oh-so-hipster wait staff suggested the chef’s tasting menu. Who were we to argue? Matching wine? Alas, Julia was driving (I have an injured wing, so can’t drive).  

Africola is premised on South African food. So, to start, kingfish ceviche? Followed by a bowl of clams in a biriyani broth? Maybe it is the influence of so many cultures coming through? Hey, it was good. Could have had another bowl and been well pleased…some bread or naan please!?


Charred baby leeks. Did I mention I really don’t like leeks? But these were served with some pork sausage, like chorizo and some delectable white anchovies. Bless. We did need a steak knife to cut the leeks though.


And…meat. So much meat. Smoked, bbq’d beef short ribs and some bbq’d peri-peri chicken served with an array of pickles, a salad of endives and bitter leaves and a bowl of hearty, tangy polenta with fermented tomatoes. No, that wasn’t an accident. The tomatoes were meant to be fermented and I, for one was pretty happy about it.

Meat a plenty

At this point I could barely sit on the bar stool (which weighed more than me). But there was dessert to come. Chocolatey, minty, curdy, a good finish to the meal…but ended my glass of wine in a single bite.

Minty goodness

The wine list is obscure, but short. Clearly the wines are designed to match the menu and the staff were pretty happy to help point in the right direction.

As is typical with Adelaide, it’s hard to charge much (people won’t come), so the whole thing was pretty reasonable.

Would I recommend you go there? Heck-yeah…but only if are already going to be in Adelaide. My tip, bring an appetite. This is not a place with modest helpings.

When we left the place was heaving. Good on them. Adelaide needs places like this to excite more innovation.

Looking forward to the scoop on Barcelona…in manageable portions.



High Steaks


Don’t you hate it when you’re not in on a secret?

For quite some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for a really good place in Bangkok for steak. But here’s the problem: What I don’t want is a ‘steakhouse’, or, heaven forbid, an American version thereof.

What I mean is a place that does the French bistro staple – steak frites.

Now I appreciate there should be less meat in my diet, but that only means that when I do have it, I want it to be good. Not big (refer to my disdain for American steakhouses). Not faddish (Wagyu, this means you). Just good.

Flavourful. Well-cooked (as in rare to medium rare). And tender (though this is somewhat overrated when people write about steak).

So it annoys me to discover that there is a French restaurant within walking distance from home that has apparently been there for years; that does pretty fabulous steak frites; and even has champagne by the glass for less than US$10, which is unheard-of in this town.

It’s so old school that it doesn’t have an official web page or social media presence.

Welcome to Indigo French Restaurant & Bar.

The arrival is typically Bangkok, in that the place is along a messy side-soi, but what you find is a rather lovely old house with a courtyard set with tables out the front. I’d have chosen the courtyard, but every table was set with an ashtray, so I knew that would be a mistake. And sure enough, a fat bald bloke was polluting the atmosphere with a cigar as we departed. Cigars are just so glamorous, don’t you think?

In any case, the interior is pleasant enough, despite the bar, which I suspect was shipped from France and reassembled on site in 1972.

The service is old-school too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We were actually delivered our aperitifs before the meal, for instance. But old-school in the sense that your steak tartare is prepared tableside. (I didn’t look, but I bet they do crêpes Suzette at the table too). It’s that kind of place.

The menu is big physically, which meant trying to avoid treating the place setting – replete with arguably too much stemware – like tenpins, and in the sense that there was just too many options from which to choose.

Steak frites is an easy enough choice, however. And it was a choice we’d been hankering after, it being Good Friday and all. A decent enough wine list offered a Pomerol at a price that didn’t make me wince, which is a surprise in Bangkok too.

So, it was a good night all-round, and my new go-to place in Bangkok for steak has been found.

Do I know the provenance of the steak? Actually no. I hope it was from somewhere like the image above: cows that have eaten grass while living comfortably in the French countryside. American steakhouse fans should note that their ‘grain fed’ cows are penned in to disgusting enclosures and fed grains that they’ve not evolved to eat in order to fatten them up quickly. It is as close as you can get to industrial steak production short of this and I really don’t want either.

And as for health. This long, but well-considered piece hits most of today’s food neuroses right in the nose with some well deserved blows. It does, at first, suggest that the secret is: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So maybe a steak is not a great idea. But it does point out that the French survive on a diet of saturated fat and alcohol and are generally healthier than both nutrition-obsessed and nutrition-oblivious Americans. So an occasional steak frites and a bottle of red is something I’m treating as a health tonic.





Ol’ Blighty


Gday Tony.

I heard a rumour that you have been/are travelling? Anywhere luxurious? Somewhere full of tasty food?

We’re just back from a quick trip to London and Dubai. London for a short break, Dubai for a cracking good fun wedding.

Now before we went to London (I’ve never actually been before), I sought guidance from some trusted foody friends who lived there for a good period. I was half expecting to find stodge, the other half 300 quid/person uber Michelin star greatness. Guess what, we found the stodge.

Ok, so I didn’t try and secure a table at The Fat Duck or any of the other super premiums, but we did look for some simple, go-to food for mere mortals.

Staying in funky Fitzrovia, we expected this would be simple. A diverse selection of local eateries, each packed night after night with eager inner-city London dwellers had me, I must admit, a little excited.

Imagine my surprise to find that, in general, the food was pretty ho-hum though pricey. But we were expecting that.

In fact, we did find some cheap stuff in London…beer, chocolate and flowers. Everything else is ouchies expensive.

We did find a great little breakfast joint. As it happened, across the road from our Airbnb place. It was called Lantana. Guess where the owners are from? My go to was the slow braised ham-hock smoky beans. Worthy.



Now, living in Melbourne, coffee is an institution. Get it wrong and your café will not last the season. London however seems to pride itself on some pretty lousy stuff. Yeah, it’s reasonably priced, but that’s a bit like not-quite genuine, but pretty close to it truffles or caviar. It’s just not worth bothering.

Londoner’s seem to take pride in good ol’ fashioned pub grub. So, who were we to go against the grain. First night was a random pub nearby. The food was reheated, with soggy chips. The beer was cold though. We tempted fate and chose another pub, the Marquis of Granby.  This time the food was ok and the beer was cold. Guess you have to be in the know, as both pubs were bursting at the seams.


We tried to have some food at Harrods, after strolling around for the day, but baulked at the 27 quid hamburger. Needless to say, Harrods is not a thrifty place to obtain sustenance.

Qantas directed us to the American Airlines lounge on our way out. Not sure what to say about that. So best I leave it. I don’t even know if there was food to be had.

Dubai is next. Different place, different context.



…but the company was fabulous


G’day Tony.

Have you ever been to a restaurant which you’ve been looking forward to, a stunning building, surreal view, a modern setting (read: a little stark and uncomfortable) but then walked away at the end of the night thankful for your dining companion?


My lovely wife and I just spent the weekend on the Mornington Peninsula, courtesy of Royce & Jan. Yes, it was Christmas present from last year…the effect of simply having way too much happening. A cosy self-contained cottage, only a short hop to some interesting wineries and restaurants.

We were additionally fortunate that Meredith & Tim gave us a voucher for Ten Minutes by Tractor. That allowed us to combine the experience. Let me immediately dispel any thoughts that Ten Minutes was anything short of superb. It was sublime.

Ten Minutes is a worthy inclusion on your next visit. Option to go al a carte or degustation and an eclectic wine list which didn’t leave me wanting. Extremely attentive wait staff and sommelier. The wait staff are those who are clearly career wait staff. Yep, that good. And the food. Either locally sourced or at least from the type of producer who is well known for their quality produce.

Now, back to the stunning building. If it wasn’t for the fabulous company I would have little nice to say about the following night’s venue. Do I say something bad about it? Or offer them some opportunities to improve? I don’t want to feel like a whinge, but.

Let’s start with the matching wine. Ok, showcase your estate wines, but at least tell us what it is you are pouring…is it a sauvignon (blanc I assume?), a chardonnay, a pinot gris…a little info and if I like it I may even buy some to take home.

The kicker for me was mains. I opted for the lamb double…sweatbreads for entre and belly/rump for main. So why were both served on a bed of broad beans and spring peas with a jus. And that splodge of blended black garlic. It all felt a little same, same. Lacking a little imagination?

But what about the side of leafy greens? I would have been happy to pay extra to maybe have a little dressing…but a bowl of torn oak lettuce with nothing else? Rabbit food anyone?


We finished the night with dessert, but only after highlighting the spelling mistakes on the menu to the waitress. She thought it was very funny. Lucky really…I could easily have been mistaken for someone taking the piss.


Do I name the restaurant? No, let’s just say it was a winery restaurant and if you have seen the building in the photo at the top, you may know it.

So, doesn’t matter mater how good or bad, the company is the thing to make it a great night.



Will the pop-up pop off?



I stopped by a pop-up pizza joint in the Silom area in Bangkok recently. Not a bad pizza, though running out of fresh tomatoes and onions in a pizza joint seems a little out of order – I’m calling it teething troubles.

But making a proper pizza in a wood-fired pizza oven mounted in the back of a truck isn’t such a bad idea – even if the ingredients are mostly imported.

This lack of local produce should kill any claim Pizza Massilia may have to being a hipster business – any self-respecting hipster joint sources ingredients locally, didn’t you know? – that and the fact that it is a joint venture by a couple of Bangkok’s brand-name chefs.

Hardly livin’ the hipster dream then.

But just as the whole hipster look was easily appropriated from elsewhere, the hipster image can just as easily be appropriated by any corporate entity. MacDonald’s is already giving it a shot.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the food at Pizza Massilia, and for a parking lot it is an awfully attractive setting, but it does raise the question about why it isn’t in an actual building. There is not going to be any business conducted at all if it happens to rain, and rents are hardly at Singapore levels in this town (less than a third, in fact, so if you ever wondered why a coffee in Singapore requires a mortgage, the ‘landlord tax’ may well be the answer).

But the hipster trend may offer an answer to why a pop-up is actually a good idea.

Last year Alex Proud wrote a piece in The Telegraph about being ‘Shoreditched’; the UK version of Brooklyn or whatever other area around the world has been taken over by the bearded set and the process that entails:

“You find a previously unnoticed urban neighbourhood, ideally one that’s a bit down on its luck. Pioneer hipsters move in and coolhunters ensure it starts trending on Twitter. A year later, the mainstream media notices and, for the next 12 months, the neighbourhood is byword for urban cool. Soon property prices soar pushing the original residents out, the bankers (always a trailing indicator) begin to move in and a Foxtons opens. Finally, the New York Times runs a piece in which it “discovers” the area and the cycle is complete. The last hipsters move on and find a new neighbourhood to play with.”

So if you’ve actually got a hipster business – or even one that looks like a hipster business – it helps if you can relocate it easily enough to the next trending neighbourhood. And a pop-up is perfect for that.

In Bangkok nailing down the cool areas is rather difficult – they seem to change from one month to another, so not quite enough time for the New York Times to ‘discover’ it.

But there is one thing that the pop-up trend in Bangkok has failed to notice, and that’s the fact that just about every street in this town features a pop-up restaurant or two, or twenty.

pop up

Not a pop-up, apparently

My local corner restaurant is set up and completely pulled down and carted away six days a week. The greater irony is that they’re probably using local ingredients too (they’re cheaper, after all). All they need are beards and fixies and they’re set.

Until the next trend arrives.

In the meantime pop-ups are the height of fashion, and hawkers are not. Go figure.








The Big B/C

Making Bacon

G’day Tony.

Well, I’m a little stunned. No, I’m mortified.

How can the UN tag what can only be described in every other way a ‘superfood’ as cancer causing? Of course, I’m talking about bacon.

Alright, so they don’t say it actually causes cancer, but the research suggests that it can increase the risk of certain types of cancer. It does make me wonder though. Given our intake of counter-cancer causing foodstuffs like gin and tonic, I wonder whether this still holds true?

I notice you’ve sourced some locally made bacon? There are many local producers here, unsurprisingly. But just to mix things up a little, I’ve started making my own.

It actually pretty simple, though I use a nitrite mix, rather than the traditional salt cure. But that makes it easier to get some flavours into the meat. The last batch had some bourbon and maple syrup and of course some hickory smoke from the smoker box.

The wonderful thing about the web is accessing some really high quality pork belly for purpose. While there is plenty of pork at the local butchers, I’m just not sure of its source. Am now hunting down some old fashion breed with a good mix of meat and fat.

I wonder if I can source some of that elusive Wagyu pork that one might find in Hong Kong?

Happy bacon-ing in the interim.