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Burgers and no bookings may be all the rage in London, but what’s hot on the restaurant scenes of the world’s other major food cities? Square Meal asks the experts abroad.
Sydney jumps on a trend like a koala on a gumleaf, so currently has more than its share of Mexican cantinas (El Loco, El Topo, Mejico) and dude food mash-ups (The Norfolk, Hartsyard, Bayswater Diner). But it’s also embraced ‘the Chinese century’, with a new wave of modern Asian dining, spearheaded by Mr Wong. Then there’s the Asian-Australian cooking of David Chang’s Momofuku Seiobo and Neil Perry’s Rockpool on George; the Japanese delicacy of Sepia; and the revamped Eastern promise of China Lane, Bar H and Spice Temple.
Kitchen gardens are greening the city’s menus, and rooftop beehives are popping up at cafés (Cornersmith) and pubs (Four In Hand). Chefs at Three Blue Ducks in Bronte and Sixpenny in Stanmore garden by day and cook by night; while at Quay (pictured, right), Peter Gilmore raids his garden with glorious consequences.
And finally, indigenous Australian ingredients are getting their moment in the sun. At Billy Kwong in Surry Hills, Kylie Kwong’s ‘Chinese bush tucker’ showcases red-braised wallaby tail and fried old man salt bush cakes for a taste of the lucky country.
Hot table: Mr Wong
For decades, San Francisco has been known for simple, rustic preparations of locally sourced meats and produce. But a new spirit has infused its restaurant scene of late, boldly upending tradition and challenging diners with arresting riffs on global cuisine.
Mission Chinese Food, which started as a pop-up inside a run-down Chinese takeout joint, has gained international renown for its playful takes on Asian classics (think char siu pig-ear terrine or spit-roasted General Tso’s veal rib). Bar Tartine reinvented itself with a menu that could best be described as ‘Danish-Hungarian meets Northern California with a touch of Japan’. And newcomer State Bird Provisions has charmed legion diners with its dim sum-like serving style and eccentric cuisine such as house-made potato chips with salmon roe and horseradish crème fraiche.
Underlying these daring menus is the same attention to local ingredients that has long made San Francisco a global dining destination. These raw materials are now being used to push boundaries and create new forms of culinary sorcery.
Hot table: State Bird Provisions (pictured, left).
Some things never change: Vietnamese in the 13th, Japanese on Rue Sainte-Anne, and the top addresses for opulence, such as Le Grand Véfour, Ledoyen, Lasserre and L’Ambroisie. Alain Passard (L’Arpège) and Pascal Barbot (L’Astrance) are still highly influential, but young Paris chefs for whom Iñaki Aizpitarte of Chateaubriand (still a must) is a hero now look to Brooklyn, Melbourne and even London for inspiration.
The economic downturn has brought more casual openings, such as neosandwicheries Chez Aline and Abri, wine bar spin-offs Frenchie Bar à Vins (pictured, right), Le 6 Paul Bert and Septime Cave; and look-no-kitchen newcomer La Buvette de Camille, where ultra-foodie products (aged Gouda, Aubrac saucisson sec, smoked swordfish) are served alongside natural wines by the glass.
Neobistrots with pulling power include Frenchie, Bones, Septime, Roseval and Semilla; a hip microquartier has grown on the cusp of the 9th and 10th, where hot tables such as Abri, L’Office and Vivant Cave cluster. Don’t forget the older guard: L’Ami Jean, Chez Paul Bert and Le Baratin, ultra-Parisian and easier to get into than the upstarts.
Hot table: Roseval
Hong Kong fosters more than big-name celebrity chef projects, with the city’s growing grassroots dining scene and blossoming appreciation for specialists giving rise to more independent eateries united in their creative undercurrents and anti-chain mentality.
Democratic dining (no bookings) and a cool Japanese aesthetic seem to be a potent mix these days – izakayas and yakitori restaurants have hatched all over town, and trend trailblazer Yardbird (pictured, left; which has just been placed 46 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards) is once again leading the parade with the opening of its second project, Ronin: think small, seafood-based plates, artisan Japanese tipples and an urban vibe.
A dedication to a single spirit is another trend to look out for. Following last year’s openings Sake Bar Ginn (self-explanatory) and Angel’s Share whisky bar, the city recently saw its first full-on gin palace, Origins. Resplendent in leather, tartan and bare brick walls, it’s hopefully the start of a more serious elbow-bending scene in Hong Kong.
Hot table: Ronin
New York diners are digging deep into their wallets once again. Tasting menus are maxing out, with many restaurants abandoning the à la carte option. At Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm debuted a 16-course New York-themed menu last year. Other chefs are also demanding three or four hours for dinner, serving a dozen or more courses. The settings may be casual at new chef’s counters, like Blanca in Brooklyn and Atera in lower Manhattan, but the food certainly is not.
Meanwhile kitchen stars from outside NYC have been enjoying uncommon success. Many of the hottest tables are imported from elsewhere: from San Francisco (Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese), Portland (Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok), Copenhagen (Mads Refslund’s Acme) and Marbella (Dani Garcia’s Manzanilla; pictured, right).
Some top chefs, though, have moved beyond the cult of personality to launch low-key spots where a good time comes first. Anglo expat April Bloomfield branched into Mexican drinking food at Salvation Taco, while modernist whiz Wylie Dufresne went casual with avant-garde gastropub Alder.
Hot table: Mission Chinese
With more than 100,000 restaurants, taverns, bars and hole-in-the-wall eateries, superb food quality and some of the most discerning diners in the world, Tokyo remains unrivalled as a restaurant destination.
At the upper end, exclusive, one-counter restaurants such as Sawada, Sushiso Masa (both sushi), Kojyu and Ishikawa (formal kaiseki cuisine) are as popular as ever, boosted by their growing international renown. Narisawa (pictured, left; crossover French) and Nihonryori RyuGin (contemporary Japanese) continue to garner awards to go with their Michelin stars.
As consumers tighten their belts, chefs are responding to the challenge. At Ginza Shimada, for example, customers get to enjoy premium kaiseki-style cooking at bargain prices. The catch is they have to stand up.
Meanwhile, a new generation of creative young chefs are bringing innovation (and affordable menus) to their respective genres. Names to watch include Florilège (creative French), Convivio (modern Italian) and Jimbocho Den (inventive, witty Japanese): the future of Tokyo’s dining is in safe hands.
Hot table: Jimbocho Den
The Cape has always had a surfeit of fantastically located restaurants – with sea views, on mountainsides, or surrounded by rolling vineyards. Indeed, the past decade has seen a proliferation of eateries opening on wine farms just outside Cape Town. All this farm space allows chefs to cook from their own gardens and really pay homage to the seasons. Restaurants on wine estates that should be added to any diner’s wish list are Overture, Waterkloof (pictured, right), Rust en Vrede, Tokara, Jordan, La Colombe and Pierneef à La Motte.
At the same time, the city centre has begun to reclaim old working spaces to create wonderful modern urban restaurants that source direct from small suppliers. The Test Kitchen by Luke Dale-Roberts has shot to fame as the best contemporary fine diner. It’s housed in a refurbished old factory space that’s also home to Dale-Roberts’ other small-plate eatery, The Pot Luck Club. Also in this precinct is the very good modern Italian, Burrata.
Hot table: The Pot Luck Club
Time was when Catalans loved a properly set table and three courses, but the rise of tapas done well combined with the disastrous Spanish economy has seen chefs change direction and diners follow suit. Good value Catalan fine-dining options such as Cinc Sentits do continue to thrive, but many of the latest openings from star chefs are far more casual.
Carles Abellán opened Suculent for conservas (canned gourmet goods) and vermut (vermouth), while the Roca brothers rethought Moo at the Hotel Omm into Roca Bar (pictured, left), serving posh snacks and bocadillos (sandwiches). Atmospheric tapas bars such as Cañete and Cañota are buzzing, and burgers are huge after being given a makeover by places such as Kiosko Burger, La Royale (with its caviar lounge, Black, out back) and El Filete Ruso. Barcelona was never much of a place for brunch, but now there are queues for Federal’s famous baked eggs and Bloody Marys.
Finally, Gastón Acurio’s Peruvian bistro Tanta for pisco sours and antojitos (street food), and Los Azulejos Mexican fusion for tacos and margaritas, are putting South American soul firmly on the map.
Hot table: Black
This feature was published in the spring 2013 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.