December 12, 2018 Review of the Year No Comments

Guides to Dining Around the World

Wherever you land in the world, deciding where to eat can be a tricky business. There are a plethora of guides, the highly difficult to interpret TripAdvisor, as well as the simple pleasure of just wandering and choosing a place that takes your fancy.

I was a bit of a shambles in terms of research prior to this trip, but I’d say the strongest steer I took in terms of recommendations was from Netflix. Whether the various city guides from Tony Bourdain, Phil Rosenthal et al to things like the Chef’s Table or Inside the Mind of a Chef, it was these guides that informed certainly where I went in cities such as Copenhagen and Singapore as well as where I booked in advance for Australia and South America.

Cut through the fog…

Second most influential has been the World’s 50 Best lists, including most significantly the Latin American version. This was very handy for Buenos Aires in particular.

We then come to the Michelin Guide which proved very much more helpful in Europe than in Asia where it led me to the dreadfully disappointing Pierre Gagnaire in Seoul and the bafflingly two-starred Shisen Hanten in Singapore.

For me the Michelin Guide’s strength is the Bib Gourmand designation which is generally the kind of place in which I want to eat. It led me to Lokal in Berlin and Petrus in Budapest most helpfully.

In Australia and New Zealand word of mouth is by far the best guide I came across. This is partly because I knew a few people working in the hospitality trade but equally when you ask the question, fellow punters are just as good a source of top tips.

I suppose it’s my own lack of language ability that has made this route less open or fruitful in many of my other stops, which is my own stupid fault. If there is one phrase I’d recommend you get to know in the native language of your current destination it’s something like “this has been amazing, where else is there that I should eat/drink when in town?” I suspect it will serve you very well.

Find the gems by asking

In Australia and New Zealand the Chef’s Hat designation is the most pervasive and authoritative guide. In Australia this is operated by the Australian Good Food Guide and in NZ by Cuisine magazine.

I sort of stumbled in to these being relevant once I’d been to a few places and was looking to understand what the local reputations of the places was. In particular, when Amaru was so good I wanted to understand if it was held in such high esteem for which I think the answer is only partly. It did jump from one to two hats in the new 2018 guide which was released during my time in Oz. The same goes for Ides and Franklin.

In somewhat converse fashion, two of the previous two hat places in New Zealand – Orphans Kitchen and Pasture – were demoted from 2 to zero during my time there. This was genuinely baffling as Pasture was the best restaurant I visited in New Zealand by some comfortable distance and Orphans was deeply satisfying and every bit a two hat offering, if compared with the others given that designation.

Hats and Michelin Stars have almost no equivalence that I could see. Australia and NZ have a tier of restaurants – characterised by big kitchen teams, typically open kitchens, strong focus on local produce, at a price point that is fancy but not beyond perhaps monthly or at least quarterly visits – that I think we don’t have in the UK.

To illustrate with examples, imagine Purslane had a dozen in the kitchen and occupied Contini Ristorante on George Street. Or Field was cooking in Amarone. Partly this is due to force of numbers in Melbourne’s 5 million population. But somewhere like Amano in Auckland showed what could be done with Italian food at barn scale with a highly skilled kitchen team. All they’re doing is nailing the original vision of places like ASK, Jamie’s etc. But we just don’t have that in the UK.

The hats guides are highly adept at capturing and rating this tier that might just about fit the Bib Gourmand model – although many would be a little above that pricepoint – and steering you to the good ones.

I don’t think any of the two hat places would trouble the two star bracket, but many would be at strong one star level. Others, as said above, would find good homes with Bibendum.

It would be interesting to see what impact the Michelin Guide might have in Australia. I doubt it will go to New Zealand because I just don’t think there are enough good places to draw its interest – Michelin’s two year foray then withdrawal from LA is my thinking here.

Starbucks famously didn’t stick in Oz, and I’m assured TripAdvisor holds much less sway than in the UK, so I have a feeling that anything less than a mirroring of the hat scorings – which will never happen in a million years – will be met with a restrained “please leave” by the restaurant going public.

I reckon the Good Food Guide peeps are doing a damn fine job so should be left to be about their business without any Gallic intervention from on high.

I’m not sure if this is helpful or useful but I hope it reinforces that in all likelihood when travelling you will find very good places as you go. My best streak was from Cazador to Pasture to Rita to Salty Pidgin across my time in New Zealand, none of which I would have visited without friendly words and happenstance.

There is little in the way of a consistent guide that’s going to serve you across all locations, which I think is good. Customers are the arbiter of the well-invested dollar. It’s best to listen to their opinions first-hand and draw your own conclusions.

Written by BKR