Tag Archive: Australia

Exploring South Australia

Passport Magazine
Issue 15 – April 2003

GLOBETROTTING – Exploring South Australia

thornpark1If your idea of an Australian vacation is hanging out at the 24/7 gay bars of Sydney’s Oxford Street then South Australia is not for you. For my money, a vacation means getting away from the hustle and bustle and need to constantly do things, and the wine and hill country of the Clare and Barossa Valleys is a great option. I’m seriously into food, wine, and true relaxation, so I naturally put South Australia on my “must do” list. Exploring wineries, small farms, wildlife parks, and the countryside are just a few of the things that await the intrepid traveler.

I started my vacating by winging my way into Adelaide. Flights from the United States tend to connect through Melbourne or Sydney. You can also arrive by rail from either of those stopovers. The city proper is a square mile of only about 40,000 people, ringed by a manicured parkland. Just across a small river, North Adelaide is half the size and is the center of the main historic district with many beautiful homes and buildings worth exploring. Overall, Adelaide’s suburbs take up 140 square miles, populated by over a million people.

There are many places to stay in Adelaide, from small boutique hotels to modern luxury towers. Two places that exemplify this spectrum are The Embassy, a new luxury apartment tower on the North Terrace (www.pacifichotelscorporation.com.au), and the quirky Fire Station Inn in North Adelaide. The latter is a converted firehouse that rates five stars in most travel guides with huge, well appointed rooms, and, for the ground floor unit, a restored antique fire engine parked in the bedroom (www.adelaideheritage.com/firestation.html). This conjured up some interesting fantasies for me, as I never outgrew wanting to be a fireman.

A day or two to explore this city with its beautiful art museums, lively pub scene, and many fine dining restaurants gets the ball rolling. I spent a morning wandering the Central Market and its many food shops, including “Stall 55” that sells reasonably authentic “bush tucker” (indigenous Australian foods). I also viewed some of the more fascinating indigenous peoples’ exhibits at both the South Australian Museum and the Tandanya Art Gallery. If you’d like a truly personalized tour of the city and its bounty, touch base with Tourabout Adelaide where they can set you up with an individual guide. (www.touraboutadelaide.com.au)

Before long it was time to drop in at the Universal Wine Bar and have a glass or two of the local vino. One of Australia’s most famous chefs works the range at The Grange, a haute cuisine establishment that serves a unique tasting menu of love it or hate it fare. If you’re interested in a modern take on many of the unique ingredients of the Australian outback, drop in for dinner at Red Ochre, a floating restaurant on Torrens Lake, just off the North Terrace.

Perfect timing would have your visit coincide with Adelaide’s famed Feast. This is a gay and lesbian extravaganza of cultural, political and social events that takes place over a month-long period in late October and early November. Whether it’s a discussion group on gender identity, a picnic in the park, an evening of music, or a stunning drag show, everything and everyone is included. (www.feast.org.au)

natwinecenterBefore heading out to the countryside, a mandatory stop is the National Wine Centre of Australia which features a fascinating interactive museum dedicated to fermented grape juice and the people who make it. While there, drop in for a glass or two and a bite at de Castella’s, the Centre’s delightful restaurant. In a fun reversal of typical menus, this one lists the wines available by the glass and offers some suggested pairings of dishes that the chef can whip up.

When visiting the wine country you will need to rent a car, and keep in mind that whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing. My introduction to some of Australia’s finest white wines, especially those made from Riesling, begins in Clare Valley. Most wineries here have tasting rooms, and some even have organized tours. I found some of the more fascinating happenings at the smaller venues like Mount Horrock’s, Grosset, and Knappstein, but don’t neglect the bigger wineries where there might be a chance to sample a bigger selection.

thornpark2There are two absolutely delightful places I recommend for accommodation in Clare Valley. The first, gay owned and operated Thorn Park Country House, is located in the Sevenhill area. Long-time partners David Hay and Michael Speers have put together one of the coolest guest houses at which you’ll ever stay. Beautifully furnished and appointed private rooms are located in a century and half old homestead on 65 acres of rolling hills. Here you can kick back and relax, or take advantage of art and cooking classes offered on site. Deliciously prepared breakfast and dinner are included in the package. (www.thornpark.com.au)

The second place is the gorgeous 19th century Martindale Hall. A perfectly restored and maintained museum home, the rooms are available for rental packages for individuals or small groups. As an active museum, you’ll have to vacate the premises during the day (your belongings safely stowed away), but come evening, dinner is served in formal manor style, and the classic rooms are prepared for sleeping like a nobleman or noblewoman. (www.martindalehall.com)

After enjoying some of the pleasures of Clare Valley, take a short drive over the hills to the Barossa Valley. Here Shiraz is king, and some of Australia’s best examples are available. I wouldn’t dream of missing the tasting rooms at Peter Lehmann, Henschke and Kilikanoon for award winning representatives of the class. Lunch at the famed Bridgewater Mill affords samples of some of the best modern Australian fare in the South. For a Mediterranean-Australian fusion, the Vintner’s Bar & Grill is a great choice.

To arrange an individually planned tour of the region, with a focus on food and wine, contact A Taste of South Australia (www.tastesa.com.au). Whether it’s driving, cycling, hiking or even a private limousine, you can’t beat having people who know the right connections on your team.

If you have the time and feel adventurous, there are other wine regions to explore, including McLaren Vale and the other “Southern Vales“, the Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra and many more. For more information about South Australia visit www.southaustralia.com


Passport magazine is a relatively new, ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay travel magazine. My friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who have owned and run QSF magazine for many years, launched this publication recently. It has received industry accolades. They asked me to come along and write the occasional article for this venture as well.

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World Eats – Sydney

Passport Magazine
Issue 14 – March 2003

WORLD EATS – SYDNEY

Sydney is currently one of the exciting places for dining on the planet. Chefs and foodies alike are exploring brave new frontiers of cuisine using amazing seafood, pristine produce and unique native herbs and spices. With the wide range of cultures that call Sydney home, from Greek, Italian and Dutch to virtually every southeastern Asian ethnicity, the horizon seems limitless.
The Australian dollar currently runs close to two-to-one to the American dollar, so dining out may look initially like it’s just as expensive as dining out in New York, L.A. or San Francisco, but in reality is costing only about half.

[This was deleted from the final print article, and I want to include it here:

As long as you’re headed Sydney-side for luxury Modern Australian dining you may as well put yourself up in some great digs. The Contemporary Hotels group offers two great options right in the heart of Darlinghurst, on the edge of the main gay neighborhood. The Kirketon is all sleek, modern design with grey tones, chrome and splashes of bold color. Every detail has been thought out, right down to matching charcoal grey bars of soap! One of the hippest bars in the neighborhood, and one of the best new restaurants round out the package.

The Medusa is perfect for the business traveller who wants to unwind a bit. A converted, fashionable, eighteen room space that caters to every need. A private business lounge, courtyard fountain with chairs and tables to relax in, and rated one of the “coolest hotels of the 21st Century”, this is a don’t miss option. (www.contemporaryhotels.com.au) ]

Roughly ten years ago I had the opportunity to spend a month exploring the Sydney dining scene with some of the new, up-and-coming chefs on the food scene. A decade later, these chefs are at the forefront of the best restaurants down under. With maturity has come a level of attention to detail and a flowering of fine cuisine.

One note on dining out in Australia, even in a cosmopolitan city like Sydney. Many restaurants are open very short hours, often taking reservations only from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m., with only one seating per table; and don’t count on much in the way of late night dining at most of the tonier restaurants.

passportsydneyariaARIA
Dining at Aria is as much an experience in atmosphere as anything else. Located on the second level of the far point end of East Circular Quay, from one side you have a fantastic panorama of Sydney Harbour and from the other an amazing view of the famed Sydney Opera House. The food is beautifully presented and thoughtfully prepared. You won’t find anything outlandish or challenging, but you will have an exquisite meal.

Two of the starters, a Peking duck consomme with wontons, abalone, enokii and mustard sprouts, and a boudin of quail stuffed with lumps of Balmain bug meat were outstanding. The winelist is extensive, well considered, and overseen by a staff of three young, completely competent sommeliers who, if you take their advice, will only heighten your dining experience. 1 Macquarie Street, 612-9252-2555. www.ariarestaurant.com

LONGRAIN
Several times while dining out in Sydney, chefs and and restaurateurs had told me to check out the “scene” at Longrain. Situated on a back street near Hyde Park, this cavernous space is devoted to chef Martin Boetz’ unique interpretations of southeast Asian cuisine. The space seats probably close to 150 people, half of them at long communal tables or bars. On a Saturday night, with many restaurants barely half full, Longrain was packed to the rafters. Nonetheless, the speed with which people drink, dine and depart was quite astonishing, and seating opened up quickly.

A moderately priced menu of delights like grilled octopus with pineapple, mint and chilies, and roasted chicken in tangelo caramel, was perfect for late night dining (one of the exceptions to the rule here). Small starters like fresh scallops grilled right on the shell, or smoked ocean trout and roe on betel leaves make a great beginning. A nicely selected winelist with a short, but good range of wines by the glass complemented the meal. 85 Commonwealth Street, 612-9280-2888.

QUAY EAST CHINESE
Being so close to southeast Asia, Australia is home to many ex-pats from that continent. Some truly outstanding chefs have made their mark on Sydney’s food scene. Quay East Chinese has a trio of them putting out some of the best Cantonese food you can find in the city. That doesn’t begin to take into account the spectacular setting along East Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour, with unobstructed, unparalleled views of the Harbour Bridge.

You can dine inexpensively if you order a simple dish or two and just relax, but if you want a truly outstanding experience order from some of the top banquet dishes. Amazing dishes from local fish can be prepared in your choice of classic Cantonese preparations. A two pound abalone showed up at our table sliced paper thin and stir-fried in just a touch of oil with snowpeas. This was unquestionably one of the most sublime shellfish dishes I’ve had in years, and unquestionably the best abalone I’ve ever had. Shop 8, 1 Macquarie Street, 612-9252-6868.

passportsydneyrockpoolROCKPOOL
Okay, a decade ago Neil Perry was already a star. He was also a bit of an enfant terrible, and many of his dishes showed more boldness than refinement. Over the years he has opened and closed other restaurants, written books, hosted a fantastic cooking show, produced his own CD’s to cook by, planning Qantas airlines menus, and generally just been all over the food scene. Rockpool has survived, thrived, and quite recently, been completely renovated.

Opened in 1989, Rockpool is sleek, chic and sexy and the perfect showcase for someone with Chef Perry’s enthusiasm and skill. His signature “flavours from the sea”, small samplings of amazing sashimi each with their own accompaniment, is legend. Squid ink pappardelle with grilled squid, a Middle-Eastern style Yllarra lamb, and his signature date tart are must haves. A daily tasting menu, with optional paired wines, and one of Sydney’s more interesting winelists are all part of the game plan. 107 George Street, The Rocks, 612-9252-1888. www.rockpool.com

SALT
When I was last here, Luke Mangan was a budding new chef who had just joined the Sydney dining scene after taking time out to work in Europe. He worked under three Michelin star chef Michael Roux for nearly two years after having served his apprenticeship under one of South Australia’s finest chefs. In early 1999 he opened Salt in The Kirketon hotel to critical acclaim.

At Salt, Chef Mangan puts out intricate, off-beat combinations that are unexpected and completely tantalizing. Soft-poached quail eggs rolled in celery salt and brown sugar launch a meal that includes amazing dishes like roasted barramundi (a native fish) with basil and preserved lemon risotto, seared scallops in spicy coconut broth, cornmeal and chili crusted marrons (large freshwater crayfish) with cauliflower puree and star-anise broth, nori-wrapped tempura of quail topped with a sesame-wasabi sauce and a stunning finish of licorice parfait in fresh lime syrup. Salt also boasts a fantastic winelist and a great tasting menu with an option for paired wines. 229 Darlinghurst Road, 612-9332-2566. www.saltrestaurant.com.au

TETSUYA’S
There are certain chefs on the planet who the powers that be have blessed with talents above and beyond ordinary mortals. Sydney is blessed with one of these, Tetsuya Wakuda. A decade ago, in a forty-seat hole-in-the-wall in suburban Sydney, Tetsuya’s was the most impossible restaurant to get into. There he drew chefs, foodies, and press from the world over, all competing for the limited seating that was available. Two years ago he purchased a two story building with multiple dining rooms in downtown Sydney. Possibly the handsomest restaurant I’ve ever set foot in, the two main dining areas and the bar-lounge flank a stunning Japanese garden and pool. It’s still probably the hardest reservation you’ll ever try to make.

The wine program is not only one of the best I’ve seen in Australia, it is extraordinarily thought out in relation to the food. Tetsuya’s cuisine is a fusion of Japanese and French. The only option is for a degustation menu, which is alterable to fit dietary considerations. The food is sublime and elegant, featuring simple yet amazingly creative flavors. We managed twenty courses that included plump pink Tasmanian oysters in mirin-ginger sauce, chestnut, mushroom and truffle consomme, kingfish sushi with orange jelly, confit of ocean trout with fennel salad, and grilled filet of veal with sea urchin-wasabi butter. 529 Kent Street, 612-9267-2900.


Passport magazine is a relatively new, ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay travel magazine. My friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who have owned and run QSF magazine for many years, launched this publication recently. It has received industry accolades. They asked me to come along and write the occasional article for this venture as well.

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Eating Down Under

Out & About
Essential Information for the Gay Traveler
January/February 1994
Volume 3, Number 1
Pages 4 & 8

Chef Chat
Eating Down Under

with Dan Perlman

The big question is, of course, are you going to have to eat a kangaroo? The answer is – maybe. Sizing a ‘roo up for dinner while at the petting zoo is considered bad form. But if thin slices of smoked emu and kangaroo show up on your plate, give them a try, they’re delicious! Modern Australian cooking is as varied as the populous: containing elements of native foods and the cuisine of early British settlers, French, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and yes, even American – especially Californian.

Fish, low fat, and low alcohol are all the rage. Yet, Australians consume massive amounts of ice cream and a whopping 100 pounds of sugar per year, each. The “national” dessert of Australia, Pavlova, is a sugary meringue basket filled with fruit and whipped cream.

So what is modern Australian cooking? First, you should remember that Australia is as big as the continental United States. Regional tastes are as different as a Maryland Crab Bash is from Cajun Jambalaya or an avocado salad in downtown L.A. While mainstay of daily life may still be very basic British foods like sausages, eggs, and overcooked vegetables, some great cutting-edge restaurants await in Australia. You might find a perfectly grilled barramundi steak with tomato salsa, Victorian salmon with charred peppers, crispy prosciutto and caramelized figs, broiled yabbies with spinach gnocchi in garlic butter, lamb with field mushrooms and garlic potatoes, a date and pastry cream tart or a chocolate and riberry torte.

Australian wines have also come up in the world. The style is unlike those from anywhere else in the world, and a lot of what we get over here is barely representative. Most wineries are open to the public for touring and tasting, but even if you don’t make it out to one of the wine regions, the average Australian restaurant has a great selection. For the beer drinkers among you, not all Australian beer comes in a blue and gold can. Check out some of the local brews.

One last note, “grilled” means what we call broiled, while what we call grilled, they call barecued, as in, “slip another shrimp on the…”, only Australians are more likely to slip a sausage on and have a “sausage sizzle”.


Pavlovian Response
So Hungry I Could Eat a Kangaroo

The climate and isolation of this former penal colony have given rise to a spectacular array of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, meats, and seafood – many species found nowhere else on earth. The influx of cultures from around the world has led to a bewildering array of dishes and ingredients. Here’s just a sample of what you’ll find.

Barramundi – a tasty whitefish.
Bug – a bay-water relative of lobsters and crayfish, anmed for the bay they come from, e.g., Moreton Bay Bugs, Balmain Bugs.
Capsicums – what we call bell peppers, green or red.
Damper – a traditional campfire flat bread, now prevalent in commercial imitations.
Lamingtons – chocolate and coconut covered spongecake.
Meat Pies – imagine that Hostess filled its snack pies with overcooked, greasy meat; perfect for the football (in this case rugby or soccer) stadium.
Pavlova – the national dessert, a fruit and whipped cream-filled meringue shell.
Riberries – small, conical berries tasting something like cloves.
Vegemite – the famed Vegemite, trust us, you don’t want to know what it is. Try it on toast one morning, it’s definitely an acquired taste.
Warrigal – a native green, somewhat like spinach.
Yabbies – a common and absolutely delicious crayfish.


Out & About was a bimonthly newsletter focusing on travel for the gay and lesbian community and travel agents. I’m fairly sure I wrote a few articles for them over time, but this is the only one I’ve been able to find a copy of.

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Sydneyside for Sustenance

Asia Pacific Travel Magazine
Fall 1993

Sydneyside for Sustenance

(Note: This article was accepted for publication, edited, laid-out, and then the magazine folded before printing… this is the edited version)

Swooping in over the South Pacific, I got my first good look at the Emerald City of Oz, Sydney. I knew I was in for high-rise office buildings and a lot of water, but I hadn’t predicted the bushland and white sand beaches. I always thought those were somewhere else in Australia. I’d also figured on a bunch of folk with Paul Hogan accents running around saying “G’day mate” and “Throw another shrimp on the bar-b.” I hadn’t figured on three and a half million people from every ethnic background on the planet, with accents to match, uttering those very words.

As a chef, my main goal in wandering through Sydney was the search for good food. I was unprepared for notable success, as Australia was rumored to be a country where, according to a local chef, the typical citizen is likely to be happy consuming “bangers and mash” three meals a day, every day. I’d heard that the traditional British based cuisine is so entrenched that the onslaught of Asian, North and South American, African, and other European cuisines don’t stand a chance.

Luckily, I found that with the help of some dedicated chefs and foodies, change has been in the air for the last decade or so. I’d like to say I had a chance to survey all the best that Sydney has to offer, but I didn’t even make it halfway through my list by the end of a month. Of course, the list kept growing as restaurateurs enthusiastically recommended each other’s cooking. These energetic and talented masters of pan and whisk put together some meals that made up for the endless hours I’d spent in the air enroute to dinner.

The Restaurant Manfredi

My local host insisted on taking me out to this romantic Ozzie-Italian brasserie hidden away in a back alley high above Darling Harbour. Stephanie Alexander, one of Australia’s most noted food writers had also recommended the place. Chef Stefano Manfredi came out to say hello and offered to whip up a special dinner for us. He and his family have been whipping up what may be the best Italian style food in the South Seas for almost eight years.

On his recommendation, our waiter opened a bottle of 1986 Plantagenet Cabernet Sauvignon that was rich with plum, cinnamon, and toasted oak flavors. We started our repast with a basket of fresh bread dipped in a glassy pool of olive oil and then moved on to opening courses of succulent seared Queensland scallops on a cradle of linguini and sun-dried tomatoes tossed with garlicky olive oil and, a local favorite, delicious yabbies (local crayfish) served with incredibly light spinach gnocchi in a pool of browned butter.

Next, we had savory grilled kingfish steaks perched atop sauted Chinese greens and accompanied by olive puree and a basil, parsley, garlic and olive oil salsa verde. This was followed by a plate of tender baby Illabo lambchops roasted with new potatoes and rosemary. Even better, a platter of roast pigeon with accompanying figs was stunning.

We finished off this culinary tour de force with a huge platter arrayed with outstanding baklava, an incredible pistachio mousse and slices of a delicious macadamia log, with side scoops of delicious pumpkin ice cream and tangy fruit sorbet. A striking presentation, especially with the scattering of caramelized figs and fresh berries.

The Restaurant, 88 Hackett Street, Ultimo, 281-2808. Dinner $60-70 (US$40-45).

The Bathers Pavilion

We met up one evening with a couple of friends down at the Balmoral Esplanade. Picture an attractive sandy beach and cove, the last rays of sun glittering off the rippling water, and a bather’s pavilion converted to a first class dining room situated squarely on the beach. The atmosphere inside is relaxed, and patrons sometimes climb through the windows from the beach, though we chose to enter by the door. Chef Genevieve Harris was not present on our visit. However, her second, Greg Smith, took exquisite care of us. On top of that, the restaurant’s sommelier, made recommendations perfect for every course.

He started us off with a bottle of 1990 Howard Park Riesling, with flavors of peaches and lime. Meanwhile the chef whipped up cold and hot appetizer platters. A salmon tartare, lightly dressed and served on toast was delightful, as were the timbale of roasted eggplant filled with goat cheese and the delicious tea-smoked river trout with caramelized onions, lovage and feta cheese. The hot selections provided us with two superb dishes, Yamba king prawns with “rag” pasta, tomatoes and olives and Western Australian sea scallops with sauted pine mushrooms on a parsnip rosti.

A bottle of 1990 Stafford Ridge Chardonnay, with a toasted vanilla bouquet and a hint of anise was served with the fish. A perfect match for savory John Dory filets, crusted lightly with pepper and served on top of crisp green beans and a mound of babaganoush and delectable Victorian salmon filets surrounded by charred peppers, crispy prosciutto and caramelized figs. The kitchen then served up platters piled high with slices of lamb and field mushrooms with a smooth puree of garlicky potatoes and a wonderful roast breast of guinea fowl nesting in spinach, garlic and almonds, while we sipped on a 1987 Mount Mary Cabernet Sauvignon, with its tart cherry and peppery air.

A fresh raspberry and clotted cream tart left my companions unimpressed, but I’ve always liked simple desserts. The chocolate and hazelnut semifreddo gave us our chocolate fix without going to excess. Cinnamon baklava with custard filling and a nectarine, roasted almond and candied orange rind salad was superb. The crowning selection, however, was coconut lace wafers with slices of fresh mango, whipped mascarpone cheese and a scoop of mango sorbet. And they didn’t miss with a small bottle of the delicious 1988 Petaluma Botrytis Riesling, an elixir of apricot and spice flavors.

The Bathers Pavilion, The Esplanade, Balmoral, 968-1133. Dinner $65-70 (US$45-50).

Rockpool

I’d already toured The Rocks, Sydney’s revamped and very touristy wharf area, and hadn’t been overly impressed. But, on recommendation, I decided to try this art deco establishment, serving up top-flight “new Australian” cuisine. Besides, Chef Neal Perry’s reputation as a master of fusing local flavors with touches of the Middle East and Asia couldn’t be ignored. None of my local friends were available, so I ventured out on my own.

A generous scoop of Sevruga caviar gracing a fresh Sydney Harbour oyster with a light squirt of lemon began an impressive evening. A small bottle of 1992 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling with lemon and grassy overtones was a nice match for a delicious dish of beautifully plated slices of steamed crayfish on a bed of braised leeks and lamb’s lettuce and a sauce of olive oil, golden raisins, toasted pinenuts and strips of dried mango. This was followed by delightful sea scallops, seared and served with hummus and fava beans, all drizzled with a garlicky olive oil. Although an interesting idea, the Spanner crab and bean sprout omelette floating in fish broth went limp on plate and palate.

The 1991 Pipers Brook Chardonnay was rich and buttery, with toasted oak and a hint of crisp apples. Rockpool is a place for fish, and the main course of herb encrusted salmon filet, pan-blackened and served with a red pepper sauce and savory roasted Szechuan eggplant was absolutely incredible.

Chef Perry’s signature dessert, a date tart filled with plump California dates baked in a custardy pastry cream just about did me in, until, sighing with contentment, he presented a second offering of caramelized nectarines layered with crisp waffles amidst a pool of caramel and vanilla bean sauce, with a scoop of nectarine ice cream at the side. I found room for more.

Rockpool, 109 George Street, The Rocks, 252-1888. Dinner $75-80 (US$50-55).

Riberries

It was, of course, necessary that we sample “native” cuisine in some fashion. Sydney is not currently host to an eatery that serves up first class witjuti grubs or grilled fruit bats, but it does have this bistro that specializes in using native Australian bush foods as ingredients in a dining experience not to be missed. Chef Jean-Paul Bruneteau greeted us as we sat down to the evening’s prix fixe selections. Riberries is a BYO kind of place, so we picked up a 1991 Wyndham Estate Pinot Noir at the bottle shop down the block.

It is admittedly not every day we get to sample a tasty emu liver paté, or a followup treat of smoked emu. Plates of chargrilled eggplant and zucchini rolled around roasted peppers with bush tomato relish and black olives were passed around to sighs of contentment. We sampled the main courses of delicious panfried Tasmanian Trumpeter fish with garlic potatoes, and a rack of lamb with native mint that was perfectly cooked and perfectly delectable.

Riberries themselves are used with abandon in the desserts. Tasting something like cloves, they made a mouth-watering match for the Chocolate Struth with Tasmanian cream and macadamia nut praline and the Caramel Cheesecake with homemade ice cream.

Riberries, 411 Bourke Street, Darlinghurst, 361-4929. Dinner $35-40 (US$25-30).

Angkor Wat

I’ve tried a lot of different Asian cuisines as I’ve travelled and tasted my way around, but Cambodian food had yet to pass my palate for review. In the course of our wanderings one day, we passed this tiny local establishment proudly announcing “Traditional Cambodian Cuisine From The Khmer Temple Palace.” With billing like that, who could pass it up?

Our appetizer selection ranged through a variety of dishes that appeared vaguely reminiscent of Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian. We settled on Baksey Trong Ker, a roasted quail stuffed with minced pork, lily flowers, peanuts and vermicelli accompanied by a lime juice and spice dipping sauce, and Moan Slekteuy, chicken marinated with herbs and spices and steamed in bamboo leaves. Both were absolutely delicious and didn’t really remind us of Thai, Vietnamese or Indonesian cooking after all.

We followed with main courses of chicken stir-fried with lemongrass, onion, straw mushrooms and spices and a melange of prawns, mussels, scallops with their roe, and squid in a flaming brandy, cream, lemongrass and chili broth. Simply, outstanding.

Angkor Wat, 227 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, 360-5500. Dinner $20-30 (US$15-20).

Darley Street Thai

I had heard stories and read articles about Sydney’s “Thai kitchen god,” David Thompson. So it seemed a necessity to make a trip to the depths of Newtown to sample his cuisine. (Since that time he’s moved his exceptional establishment to downtown Kings Cross, but I doubt his culinary prowess has suffered.) Thai cuisine is ubiquitous throughout Sydney, but his is reputed to be the best.

We settled in with a couple of Thai beers, and set out to sample from the remarkable selection of appetizers. One of my favorite Thai dishes has always been Laap Gai, or spicy chicken in lime, chilies and toasted rice, and it was no exception here. Crab Miang Mae Prow, a union of fresh crab meat, curry paste, kaffir lime leaves and roasted coconut wrapped in fresh betel leaves made our mouths water for more.

For main courses we sampled an unusual pineapple curry of those famed yabbies, which was deliciously sweet, if a bit messy. We also savored the flavors of the superb sea scallops in coconut milk and ginger.

Thai restaurants are not famous for desserts, at least in the U.S., but are worth saving room for here. We tried the bananas and white sticky rice grilled in banana leaves which was tasty, but the sumptuous golden syrup pudding with coconut cream was the clear winner of the evening.

Darley Street Thai, 28 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross, 358-6530. Dinner $40-45 (US$30-35).

Flavour of India

My host insisted that this establishment serves up the finest in Indian fare in Sydney. Although I didn’t sample the victuals from any other kitchens, I have to admit that this place serves up some great food.

We started off with Bhel Puri, a winning combination of potatoes with tomato, tamarind and coriander and a selection of spicy chutneys. We quickly followed up with Kankra Thal, a superb composition of crab, ginger, chili and onions mounded in potato skins, and a plate of Sabzi Patis, panfried vegetable patties coated with chickpea flour topped with almond sauce and beets.

The main courses menu included all the standards from curries to kormas, but our waitress recommended the Lamb Saag, a spicy hot blend of creamed spinach and sauted lamb and the Chicken Butter Masala, fillets of chicken breast broiled in the tandoor oven and served with a creamy butter sauce. Both were good, but I must admit, the appetizers were the winners here, especially accompanied by freshly baked pappadams and nan breads, and bowls of Raita, Dahl, Lime Pickles, and a spiced onion and tomato salad.

Flavour of India, 142 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, 692-0662. Dinner $20-25 (US$15-20).

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