Babu Ji: an Indian taste explosion

23 Apr

Babu Ji has just become one of my dining highlights so far for 2014. In case you have missed it, this is the newest Indian restaurant from Jennifer and Jessi Singh, who first showed Kyneton how to do Indian well with Dhaba at the Mill, before moving to Fitzroy North and opening Horn Please. Babu Ji has moved into a section of The George in St Kilda and is showing south-siders just how delicious Indian food can be.

Babu Ji- photo by Albert Cromper

Babu Ji- photo by Albert Cromper

The decor features whitewashed walls with cursive black Hindu scripture snaking up the walls and classic Brentwood cafe chairs. Striking portraits of Indian characters add to the atmosphere, as does the projector screen in the corner playing scenes from classic Bollywood films.

Colourful Indian characters adorn the menus at Babu Ji

Colourful Indian characters adorn the menus at Babu Ji

While they do not take bookings, Babu Ji was not busy on the evening we visited, probably due to many people heading away for Easter so we were quickly shown to our table. The menu is composed of smaller ‘street food’ bites and larger curries with everything on the menu perfect for sharing. And of course, it wouldn’t be an Indian restaurant without basmati rice and naan.

We begin our journey with a local Indian Kingfisher beer, which for a rare beer drinker is refreshing and a perfect match to the flavoursome cuisine before us. We start with the Gol Gappa, which can only be described as a ‘party in your mouth’. According to the menu these are a ‘most favourite Indian street snack’ and we quickly discover why. Biting down on the delicate pappadum shell my mouth fills with scrumptious flavours of yoghurt, tamarind and coriander among others. All of my senses are well and truly consumed.

Kingfisher beer

A refreshing Kingfisher to start

Gol Gappa

A party in my mouth- Gol Gappa

Next up is the Samosa plate, which is presented with two large golden triangular Samosas drizzled with pomegranate and green mango powder and tangy chutney. The samosas are extremely moreish, chock full with spicy potato and peas. Delicious!

Samosas

Delicious samosas

Moving on to the larger curries we elect to try the butter chicken and the smoky ‘Goat Dhungar’ curry. The butter chicken is possibly one of the best I have had…rich, creamy and filled with the sweetness of tomatoes and fenugreek. The goat curry is more complex, richer still with a real kick of spice from the fresh chillies. The basmati rice and fresh-baked naan provide the perfect vehicle to mop up the delicious sauces.

Butter Chicken and Goat curries

Delicious curries

Freshly baked naan and basmati rice

Freshly baked naan and basmati rice

With bellies bursting we rug up and head out to face the elements. I have not had the fortune to visit India, but I am sure if I did this is the sort of food I would experience. As I board my tram home my taste buds are still zinging…

If you dine anywhere this year make your first stop Babu Ji, I promise you will not be disappointed. I cannot wait to head back again and sample more from this talented duo.

Babu Ji

The George Building

4-6 Grey Street

St Kilda VIC 3182

(03) 9534 2447

Open Sunday-Tuesday 5-9pm and Thursday-Saturday 5-10pm

Closed Wednesday

Lunch Friday-Sunday 12-3pm

Babu Ji on Urbanspoon

B’Stilla: a taste of Morocco in my own backyard

22 Apr

Confession: I cannot believe it has taken me so long to check out the exotic flavours of B’Stilla, a Moroccan restaurant tucked in the back streets of South Yarra. Under the expert guidance of Jason Jones (ex head chef of Mamasita) diners are in for an exotic treat- no passport required.

Entering B’Stilla on a chilly Autumn night, we are greeted warmly and offered a seat at the bar. B’Stilla offers a handful of tables of varying sizes inside as well as a covered alfresco area with a few more tables (perfect for warmer Melbourne nights) and a handful of seats at the bar. They do take bookings (Hallelujah), but also keep tables free for walk-ins. The overall feeling is one of warmth, with soft lighting, timber and mosaic tiles. Staff are friendly, personable and knowledgeable.

We begin with a ‘Cucumber cocktail’, which is presented in a glass with a scoop of lime green cucumber sorbet and a sprig of fresh mint accompanied by a mix of west wind’s cutlass gin and tonic. Pouring the gin and tonic mix over the sorbet produces a theatrical effect which consumes my dining companion and I for a few minutes as we marvel at the ensuing bubbles. The perfect way to start our evening!

Cucumber Gin and Tonic

Cucumber Gin and Tonic

The menu at B’Stilla is designed to share and after seeking recommendations from the staff, we settle on a couple of entrees, a main to share and accompanying sides. First up: the Tangier BBQ’d octopus with tahini remoulade, sprigs of dill and crunchy slivers of eggplant that have been salted and lightly fried to resemble salt and vinegar chips. The octopus is perfectly grilled and the eggplant chips are a taste sensation!

Tangier BBQ'd Octopus with eggplant chips

Tangier BBQ’d Octopus with eggplant chips

I could not come to B’Stilla and not have the namesake pastry, a traditional Moroccan pie often served at special occasions and pronounced bee-stee-ya. Traditionally made with pigeon, B’Stilla’s is made with a combination of duck and chicken with almond and saffron, encased in flaky pastry and topped with cinnamon and icing sugar. This was one of the highlights of the evening (even if my companion refused to try it…something to do with a pet duck! Oh well…more for me!) The pastry was delicate and the duck and chicken filling was hearty. The cinnamon and icing sugar dusting on top added a surprising and delicious sweet twist.

B'Stilla- traditional Moroccan pie

B’Stilla- traditional Moroccan pie

Next we were presented with the Mechoui slow roasted lamb shoulder with honey baked prunes. Accompanying this was a bowl of steaming, fluffy couscous flavoured with fennel, green olive, orange and honey. And the life changing plate of cauliflower, but more on that later. First; the lamb was slow roasted to perfection and fell apart with ease as we piled delicious juicy chunks onto our plates. The sweetness of honey baked prunes was a delicious Moroccan twist. Yum! I have long been a fan of couscous and often serve this at home for a quick and easy accompaniment to grilled meat and this was as good as any. However, what I could not get enough of was the cauliflower! This has transformed the humble cauliflower in much the same way as Mamasita transformed the humble corn cob. Seriously don’t think I will be able to eat cauliflower any other way now. Lightly fried with ras el hanout (a mixed spice blend from Morocco), herbs and a pine nut sauce this dish blew my mind! Yum yum yum!

Mechouli Lamb Shoulder with honey roasted prunes

Mechouli Lamb Shoulder with honey roasted prunes

Cauliflower...my favourite dish of the evening...yum!

Cauliflower…my favourite dish of the evening…yum!

Couscous

Couscous

We finished the evening with comfortably full bellies, tastebuds still popping from the delicious Moroccan flavours. I will definitely be heading back to try more delicious fare from B’Stilla sooner rather than later. B’Stilla also offers a three or four course Moroccan banquet if you would prefer to leave the decision making to the kitchen. You can check out the menu here and this video giving insight into the story behind B’Stilla is well worth watching. Having just recently been awarded the Best Restaurant for 2014 in The Age Good Food under $30 Awards, I am sure B’Stilla will continue to build on its strengths.

B’Stilla

30b Bray street, South Yarra, 3141

03 9826 2370

Tuesday-Saturday 5:30pm to late

B'Stilla on Urbanspoon

Missguided: A culinary tour of Vietnam

8 Apr

Vietnam…a country of extraordinary beauty, amazing people and some of the freshest and most delicious food I have encountered anywhere. My previous trips have instilled in me a great love of this amazing country. Whenever I feel homesick for this glorious land, I head to Miss Chu, the ‘Queen of the Rice Paper Roll’.

There is so much to love about Miss Chu; quirky decor, speedy service and delicious fresh ingredients that provide a cheap and satisfying meal. I highly recommend that you head along to Miss Chu and try a taste of Vietnam right here in Australia, if you are not already a convert like me. Some of my favourites would be the duck rice paper rolls, scallop and prawn dumplings and BBQ pork char sui buns. Tasty, delicious and healthy food all washed down with a refreshing young coconut, pineapple and mint frozen juice. Just try not to feel hungry looking at images like these…

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With stores throughout Sydney, Melbourne and London and with plans for more on the horizon, Nahji Chu is determined to make authentic Vietnamese food accessible to everyone. Check out the website to find out more about the Miss Chu Tuckshops and Nahji’s story from refugee to culinary doyenne.

In news that is literally hot off the press, I am very excited to announce that I will be escorting a culinary tour of Vietnam with Miss Nahji Chu and Travelcall. This 12 day tour of Vietnam features luxury accommodation, domestic flights and most meals throughout and a culinary touring program approved by Miss Chu herself! You can expect to enjoy a Vespa ride through the streets of Saigon trying authentic street food, a market tour and cooking class with the head chef of Mango Rooms Chef Duc in Hoi An and a walking tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter with Daniel Hoyer (celebrated chef and published author), as well as a leisurely bike ride along the banks of the Mekong Delta. With three departures throughout the 2014/2015 season, each tour is limited to just 18 people. The first tour is scheduled to leave on the 22 November 2014. These tours WILL sell out, so for more information check out the exciting Missguided tour passport and fill out the booking form here to avoid missing out! Keep an eye on the Miss Chu Facebook page and Instagram account for more information on how you can be part of the inaugural Missguided tour of Vietnam. 

missguided: a culinary tour of Vietnam

Miss Chu South Yarra Tuck shop

276 TOORAK ROAD
SOUTH YARRA VIC 3141

03 9041 5848

Open 11am-11pm 7 days a week

Miss Chu on Urbanspoon

Africa: A Photo Diary

7 Apr

I am often asked what are my favourite overseas experiences and without a doubt my two trips to Africa hold a special place in my heart. Africa…just the name conjures up images of exotic landscapes, wild animals and far reaching adventure. For me, it is often hard to put into words just how my time in Africa changed me as a person, but I did feel a deep sense of affinity with the landscapes and the people. I returned home after each trip feeling a deep sense of contentment and awe at what I had experienced and also an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I am able to live in Australia, which is truly a lucky country.

One thing that struck me was the emphasis on family and community, rather than material possessions. I witnessed children with the widest and brightest of smiles despite seemingly having nothing. The opportunity to be educated is prized as is food and shelter, no matter how simple. A simple photo on a digital LCD screen sends children into fits of giggles and squeals. Our arrival at a school prompts a reception fit for a head of state. Life is precious and valued.

People often ask me whether they should visit East or South Africa and although I have not (yet) had the opportunity to visit East Africa I would say that South Africa offers a softer landing. The driving distances are nowhere near as long and the roads are certainly a little less bumpy. The private game lodges offer a sense of luxury in the heart of the African bush, with world class cuisine, super soft king size beds, jacuzzis, plunge pools and much more. The other added advantage is the ability to get closer to the wildlife, as the vehicles are able to traverse off the beaten path to get within metres of a large male elephant for example. South Africa is also the best place to head if you are short on time, as it is possible to see the Big Five in just 2-3 nights. (Note: The Big Five are not what you might think and include the elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino. Aptly named due to their difficulty to hunt in years gone by.) Your safari can easily be combined with a city break in Cape Town, which is an amazing cosmopolitan city not to be missed, as well as the beauty of traversing the Garden Route either through self drive or for a more luxurious experience aboard The Blue Train. And of course not to forget tasting some of the best South African wines with a few nights in the South African Wine Lands.

East Africa on the other hand offers an arguably more ‘authentic’ African experience with an emphasis on tented accommodation. The Masai Mara or the Serengeti offer vast savannah plains as far as the eye can see- a sense of space that is truly staggering. You could say East Africa offers an experience similar to that depicted in The Lion King. You may not get up close and personal with the wildlife, as you do need to stick to the marked paths, but you will witness staggering herds of wildlife making their way across the savannah. It is quite possible to see 60 plus elephants at any one time, which is a truly breathtaking sight. There is also not the same separation between wildlife and human life as there is in South Africa. It is highly possible that you will witness a Masai herdsman moving his cattle across the savannah in the presence of elephants and giraffe. Of course, one of the biggest draw cards of East Africa would have to be witnessing the spectacle of the Wildebeest migration from June-August every year as they move across the savannahs in truly staggering numbers in search of water and under the watchful eye of predators looking for an easy target.

In South Africa, a typical day on safari usually begins with a wake up call and hot tea or coffee with home made biscuits on the deck before setting off in search of the Big Five. After a few hours traversing the bush, sometimes with the added warmth of blankets and hot water bottles on chilly mornings, you will generally stop in a clearing to reflect on the morning’s adventures and enjoy a hot chocolate, tea or coffee and more home baked goodies. Returning to the lodge for a hearty breakfast, you then have free time to enjoy the surroundings. Perhaps a massage, a dip in the pool or curling up in the lounge with a good book. In what seems like no time at all, everyone gathers for a long lunch (it is very easy to pile of the kilos on safari). This usually leads into afternoon tea and the afternoon game drive, which may continue into early evening if you are chasing a particular sighting. At the conclusion of the game drive, usually around sunset, you will again stop for sundowner’s. Light snacks served with a Gin and Tonic or Amarula on ice (similar to Baileys) is a wonderful way to close the days adventures. Returning to the lodge you would have the opportunity to freshen up before drinks in the bar. Dinner is often served in a Boma around a blazing fire to the sounds and sights of African music and dance.

Regardless of how you choose to visit Africa I have no doubt that your experience will be just as life changing as mine have been. It is truly a trip for everyone’s bucket list and will change the way you view the world around you. Enjoy some of my favourite images below.

Bedroom at Kirkman's Camp

Kirkman’s Camp- luxury at its best

Me on my first game drive

First game drive

Elephant

Leopard yawning

A tiring day for some…

Leopard

So close you could almost touch them…

Rhino at the waterhole

Time for a drink

Safari staff preparing sunset drinks

Sunset drinks

Lanterns in the trees

Lanterns lighting the way

A family of elephants

The cutest family

Bird Lillies Giraffe

Lion cub

Can I keep him please?

Sunset on the Zambesi

Sunset on the Zambesi

African children

These children melted my heart

African school kids

Smile

African school kids

Visiting a school…a moving experience

Elephant

Zebra

A mama and her baby

The view over the wetlands in Botswana

The view over the wetlands in Botswana

Mokoro canoe in Botswana

Mokoro canoe time in Botswana

Lion

The majestic King of the Jungle

A food journey for all the senses

2 Feb

Sometimes in life you witness something truly magical and last Wednesday was one of those moments. I have a list of aspirational restaurants that I am ever so slowly ticking off my bucket list. I have amazing memories of evenings at Jacques Reymond and Quay, but I can honestly say that my evening at Attica was on another level.

With a number of prestigious accolades including being voted the fifth best restaurant in Australia by Gourmet Traveller in their 2014 Restaurant Awards; number twenty-one on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list; three hats in the Age Good Food Guide 2014 as well as Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year, my expectations and excitement were high.

Located in the middle of suburbia on Glen Eira Road in Ripponlea, the unassuming brick building could easily be missed to all but the keenest eye. Once inside the immediate feeling is one of warmth. The decor is minimalist without being stark; clean lines of pressed white heavy tablecloths, black glossy walls and striking black and white images of wild landscapes ensure the focus remains on the food. Service is attentive but never overbearing. Wait staff wear freshly pressed black aprons over black pants and crisp white shirts. Moving with purpose and keeping an eagle eye over the tables they ensure that each diner’s experience is faultless.

Standing outside Attica

Outside Attica

Attica's dining room with black glossy walls, heavy white tablecloths and dramatic black and white photographs of landscapes

Attica’s dining room

Attica offers an eight course tasting menu on Wednesday to Saturday nights for $190 per person (wine matching available for $115 per person), as well as the more adventurous Chef’s Table on Tuesday evenings where the kitchen test and develop new ideas in a five course tasting menu ($125 per person with a wine match available for $70 per person). The eight course tasting menu offers two options, including a full eight course vegetarian menu and the kitchen is happy to cater to any dietary requirements.

We settle in to the evening with a cocktail for me; the aptly named ‘Garden by the Lighthouse’ has all my favourites gin, elderflower, mint, cucumber and lime topped with soda, and a freshly squeezed tomato and verjus juice for mum as the designated driver. The juice was refreshing and the addition of verjus was a surprising twist. With a wine list totalling thirty pages, we sought the assistance of our knowledgable waiter, who suggested a bottle of Kracher Illmitz pinot gris from Austria, which was low on acidity and perfectly balanced for the dishes on the menu.  The evening was off to a stellar start.

A Garden by the Lighthouse cocktail

‘A Garden by the Lighthouse’

To begin we were presented with freshly baked dark rye bread which was accompanied with the most divine macadamia nut butter purée finished with macadamia oil and dried quandong (a native Australian fruit) and the most delicious creamy, fresh-churned butter, which simply melted on my tongue. I quickly decide my final meal would happily consist of bread with lashings of this butter.

Macadamia Nut Butter Purée and freshly churned butter

Macadamia Nut Butter Purée and freshly churned butter

Before the main event, we are presented with a number of appetisers which introduce the theme of the evening. At Attica, Ben Shewry and his team draw inspiration from the landscapes around them, be it the volcanos, rivers, oceans and native bush. The key to any Attica experience I believe is to surrender any pre-conceived notion of what you think something might taste like and instead embrace the experience.

Our first appetiser was two stalks of mushroom leaves presented in a woven basket with a hollandaise-style sauce. The smell of mushrooms fills my nasal passages and one bite of the crisp stalk fills my mouth with the most unbelievable flavour. Next two petite pikelets decorated with a dollop of ‘wallaby blood’ (similar to a black pudding), topped with delicate herbs and flowers from the Attica garden were produced with a flourish from the crisp napkin. I know what you are thinking….black pudding would certainly not be a favourite for everyone and it is not something I have tried before, but actually I thought it tasted more like a jam or chutney and was surprisingly pleasant.

Mushroom Stalks with hollandaise-style sauce

Mushroom Stalks with hollandaise-style sauce

Wallaby blood pikelets

Wallaby blood pikelets

The final appetiser was perhaps the most striking; a hand painted mussel shell sat alongside dried seaweed with two flash fried crumbed mussels topped with a wishbone-shaped sprig of salty pig face. The mussel is warm, salty with the added crunch of the crumb. Delicious!

Flash fried mussels with pig face

Flash fried mussels with pig face

Having prepared our tastebuds, the main event commenced. The first dish was simply called ‘Snow Crab and Sour Greens’ and consisted of a mound of minced snow crab with mustard flower and sweet mandarin purée encased under sorrel leaves. Next came ‘Marron and Ground Greens’ served on an earthy pale blue ceramic dish. The tender poached marron from Western Australia was served with a side of kale and minced chicken and drizzled with a flourish of white onion and pork fat reduction. An out-of-body experience.

Snow Crab and Sour Greens

Snow Crab and Sour Greens

Snow Crab revealed

Snow Crab revealed

Marron and Ground Greens

Marron and Ground Greens

We were next presented with one of Ben’s most famous dishes, ‘Potato Cooked in the Earth it was Grown’, which was actually fortuitous as it is due to be removed from the menu this year. The perfectly round Virginia Rose potato from McLaren Vale sat on a bed of coffee coconut ash and goats curd with grey salt bush leaves. The beauty of this dish comes from the way the humble potato is slow cooked for two hours, in the earth, ‘maori hangi style’. I doubt I have ever tasted a more perfect and creamy potato.

Potato Cooked in the Earth it was Grown

Potato Cooked in the Earth it was Grown

‘Cucumbers, holy flax, sauce of burnet’ offered a Spring freshness after the creaminess of the potato and featured  crunchy cucumbers soaked in Chardonnay vinegar topped with slices of garlic in a sauce made with the herb burnet, cucumber peels and snow peas.

Cucumbers, Holy Flax, Sauce of Burnet

Cucumbers, Holy Flax, Sauce of Burnet

Next came the ‘King George Whiting in Paperbark’. Served on a beaten ceramic dish, the whiting was encased in paperbark that had been grilled over coals. Unfolding the paperbark revealed perfectly cooked fish in a pearl oyster and green tomato juice with onion flowers. Perfection in every way!

King George Whiting in Paperbark

King George Whiting in Paperbark

King George Whiting revealed

King George Whiting revealed

The final savoury dish of the evening was a true taste of Australia, ‘Red Kangaroo with Herbs Tended by the Hands of our Cooks’. A loin of kangaroo sourced from the Flinders Ranges was served medium-rare and topped with half-spheres of tart quandong and pepper berry sauce with leaves hand-picked from the garden.

Red Kangaroo with Herbs Tended by the Hands of our Cooks

Red Kangaroo with Herbs Tended by the Hands of our Cooks

As an interlude to dessert we were taken on a tour of the kitchen garden. Quite possibly one of my favourite moments of the evening. Weaving through the restaurant, past the buzzing kitchen pass and out the double doors we happened upon the cutest herb garden, complete with two chefs manning a candy-striped ice-cream stand. They presented us with two tiny cornets of raspberry liquorice ice-cream dipped in chocolate from Mossman in Queensland’s Daintree topped with zingy freeze-dried raspberries. A perfect appetiser leading into the dessert courses. Talking to the chefs I got a sense of just how passionate everyone is about the Attica vision. Clearly Ben has cultivated a fantastic team, who are just as excited talking about the dishes as they are tending to their herbs and vegetables. This small kitchen garden is fed by rain water tanks and is just a taste of the much larger garden housed at Ripponlea Estate, a short stroll away. Here they have around fifty crates of herbs and vegetables on either side of the orchard totalling around five hundred square metres.

Candy striped ice-cream stand

Candy striped ice-cream stand

Raspberry liquorice ice creams

Raspberry liquorice ice creams

Enjoying the Herb Garden at Attica

Enjoying the Herb Garden at Attica

The many varieties of Basil grown at Attica

The many varieties of Basil grown at Attica

Suitably inspired we head back to our table and are shortly presented with the first of two dessert courses. Simply titled ‘Blueberries, Vinegar and Fresh Cheese’, the dish comprises of tart sheep’s milk yoghurt with pink lady apples, fresh and dehydrated blueberries drizzled with apple balsamic vinegar and the petals of a chrysanthemum flower. The combination of the fresh burst of juicy blueberries with the slightly chewy frozen dehydrated blueberries is another hero moment.

Blueberries, Vinegar and Fresh Cheese

Blueberries, Vinegar and Fresh Cheese

At first I was slightly disappointed to learn that the last course of the evening would not be ‘The Plight of the Bees’ which famously featured as the final pressure test on last season’s MasterChef Australia. That was until I was presented with ‘Raw Strawberry Jam’. A disc of vinegar meringue sat on a bed of soured cream with fresh and freeze-dried strawberries and a fresh strawberry purée that saw fresh strawberries painstakingly pressed through a rotary mill. If Strawberry Shortcake was a dessert this is exactly what she would taste like!

Raw Strawberry Jam

Raw Strawberry Jam

Totally in awe of the eight flawless dishes we had been presented with and not quite being able to express in words just how amazing this evening had been, we sat for a moment in quiet reflection and enjoyed our tea. The piece de resistance to a truly amazing evening appeared in the form of a white chocolate speckled Pukeko egg coated on the inside with salted caramel. Accompanying these two perfect eggs which sat in a bed of grass, was a leaflet with a painting by Rob Shewry (Ben’s father) of the New Zealand Pukeko bird (it seems creativity runs in the family). The leaflet also gives some insight into where Ben draws inspiration from. For me this summed up the Attica experience perfectly:

“Being a thoughtful cook is about understanding a little of the history and culture of cuisine other than your own…So, for me it’s important to have respect and empathy for animals and plants and a connection to the past, or an emotion felt through a memory of an event or a culture experienced.”

Pukeko Eggs

Pukeko Eggs

Peppermint Tea at Attica

The perfect end to an amazing evening

I cannot thank the amazing team at Attica enough for creating some of the most ingenious dishes and an atmosphere that satisfied each and every single one of my senses. Get yourself to Attica for what is truly an evening like no other.

Attica

74 Glen Eira Rd

Ripponlea VIC 3185

(03) 9530 1111

Attica on Urbanspoon

New York: my love affair with the Big Apple

23 Jan

Confession: New York City has stolen a piece of my heart. My love affair with this dynamic city began back in 2009, though truth be told we probably began our courtship much earlier as images of the city are wrapped up in so many of my childhood film and television memories. From the iconic scenes at The Plaza Hotel in Home Alone II to some of my all time favourite romantic comedies; Bride Wars, Twenty Seven Dresses, The Devil Wears Prada and of course Sex and the City, New York’s famous landmarks have long played a starring role in my life.

The bright lights of Times Square

The bright lights of Times Square

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge

One of my favourite places to admire New York in all its glory- Top of the Rock

One of my favourite places to admire New York in all its glory- Top of the Rock

I have been fortunate to visit my love, New York, twice so far and it remains my most favourite city anywhere in the world (apart from Melbourne). This could also be due to the fact that one of my best friends has been living out her Carrie Bradshaw dream in New York City for the past few years. Something I am immensely proud of (and just a bit envious of). Since her relocation to the Big Apple I have gotten to know the city on a much deeper level and discovered hidden gems that make New York the dynamic city it is.

I have always thought that the best way to discover any city is to get to its heart. To truly get to know a place you need to get away from all the mass consumerism and find its authenticity. New York is truly a city of iconic images with an amazing and constantly evolving food scene. As the saying goes it is the city that never sleeps….

In my role as a travel advisor, many people ask me how long they should spend in New York and my answer is there is no such thing as too much time. I would always advise a minimum of five nights, but ideally anywhere between eight and twelve nights really gives you the chance to see and experience so much.

For first time visitors I recommend spending at least half your stay in Midtown to tackle all the key sights like Top of The Rock, Empire State Building, major museums and strolling down Fifth Ave and through Central Park; before moving down into the Soho area if you are staying longer. There are so many hotel options in New York, but these are a few of my favourites:

The Crosby Street Hotel

This is my dream hotel and one day I hope to be lucky enough to tick it off my bucket list. Located in groovy Soho, amongst cobblestone streets, iconic brownstones, chic boutiques and fabulous restaurants. With interiors designed by the brilliant Kit Kemp this hotel is truly something special. If money is no object you simply must stay in the Meadow Suite with its private terraced garden, but in all honesty all of the rooms are gorgeous.

An image of the Meadow Suite at the Crosby Street Hotel with the terraced garden and comfortable seating area

Meadow Suite at the Crosby Street Hotel

The Plaza Hotel

Who doesn’t know The Plaza. Immortalised in film with iconic scenes of Macauley Culkin wreaking havoc through the hotel, this is a must visit even if just for high tea! The rooms are a stunning mix of opulent grandeur with all the modern conveniences one expects from a property of this calibre. Not to mention the iconic location with Central Park, FAO Schwarz Toy Store and Bergdorf Goodman literally a hop, skip and jump away.

A photo of the exterior of The Plaza Hotel

The iconic Plaza Hotel New York

The Plaza's tiered stand of high tea delights

The Plaza’s tiered stand of high tea delights

The Greenwich

Located in TriBeCa this hotel owned by Robert De Niro has a masculine members club feel. Each of the rooms and suites are slightly different. With its cosy drawing room, inviting courtyard and authentic Italian cuisine served in its restaurant Locanda Verde, this property feels less like a hotel and more like a home.

An image of the sitting room at the Greenwich Hotel

The cosy drawing room at The Greenwich Hotel

The Mondrian Soho

A great mid range option in a fantastic location this property offers crisp clean white rooms, some with fabulous views and all with splashes of baby blue throughout. Run by the Morgan Hotel Group this is a great choice for the young and young at heart. Modern with a French toile twist.

The deluxe guest room at The Mondrian Soho

Deluxe guest room at The Mondrian Soho

The Hudson Hotel

With its fabulous midtown location this hotel is seriously hip. With interiors by design genius Phillippe Starck and some of the coolest public areas in any hotel this is a place to see and be seen. From the beer and burger eatery Hudson Common, to the English country-garden feel of the seasonal Sky Terrace and the first urban ski-resort themed bar the Hudson Lodge this is a great entry-level hotel. Beware of the entry-level rooms though, they are seriously small! (Think shoe box size) Definitely pay the extra to upgrade to a larger room.

One of the hammocks in one of the public spaces at The Hudson Hotel

The Hudson Hotel has some inspired public areas

I also love the Affinia apartments especially Affinia 50 or the Affinia Manhattan for a long stay or for something different and a real New-Yorker experience check out the private rental homes with One Fine Stay.

Trying to choose my top New York restaurants is like asking me to choose my favourite child, but here goes. New York’s dining scene is also constantly evolving so before any trip please check the restaurant website or Open Table for up-to-date information. I also recommend making some bookings before you travel through Open Table, so you don’t miss out on your favourites.

In the brunch/lunch category try these:

Pastis- located in the cobble-stoned streets of the Meatpacking District this is a seriously cute restaurant serving classic French bistro fare. Try the weekend brunch with classic poached eggs ‘Hussard’ served with ham, tomatoes, mushrooms and a tangy bordelaise and hollandaise sauce with a Bloody Marie (a Pastis twist on the classic Bloody Mary)

An image of me enjoying brunch at Pastis in New York

Enjoying brunch at Pastis New York

Balthazar- located in Soho this is the sister restaurant of Pastis, so expect similar fare. Try the raw seafood bar and the breads and pastries from the bakery. The bright red awning beckons and for a moment you can believe you have been teleported to Paris.

Juice Press- for a liquid breakfast or snack try these juice bars located all over New York including one nestled amongst the boutiques of Nolita. Specialising in cold pressed, raw and organic juices and smoothies these are so tasty you will forget you are being healthy.

Shake Shack- you have not been to New York until you have tasted the mind-blowing burgers, flat-top dogs, shakes and frozen custard at the original Shake Shack amongst the leafy greens in Madison Square Park. Check out the menu here

The Shake Shack stand at Madison Square Park

Shake Shack at Madison Square Park

Meatball Shop- offering a completely customisable menu of meatballs, sliders and meatball sandwiches this is the perfect place to take the man in your life for a nice hearty serving of delicious meatballs. With locations all over New York you can have a meatball fix anytime

The Food Hall at The Plaza- think the David Jones Food Hall on steroids and you have the Food Hall at The Plaza. A perfect place to stop and refuel after a hard day shopping on Fifth Ave or walking through Central Park. Head downstairs and experience a world of culinary delights.

The Central Park Boathouse- an icon from the movies the Central Park Boathouse is one of the most romantic lunch spots in New York City. In the warmer weather dine alfresco under the striped awning looking out on the lake, as couples row across the water in front of you. There is also an express cafe next door, but my advice is to spend the extra and head into the restaurant for a dining experience to be remembered.

The Central Park Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park surrounded by the lake and rowboats

The Central Park Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park

For sweet treats you cannot go past Magnolia Cupcake Bakery, which rose to fame after featuring on an episode of Sex and the City. You will find it hard to stop at just one of these fluffy cupcakes adorned with perfect butter cream icing. The original store is located in Bleeker Street in the West Village, but there are now locations all over New York. For macaron lovers try the Parisian outpost of Ladurée located on Madison Ave. Grab yourself a pretty little box filled with a half dozen and head to Central Park to enjoy them.

A delicious cupcake from Magnolia Bakery with chocolate icing and sprinkles

Reliving childhood fantasies with a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery

A must visit in New York macarons from Ladurée

A must visit in New York- macarons from Ladurée

In the dinner category try these: 

Buddakan- if you go to one restaurant in New York make it Buddakan. Fans of Sex and the City will recognise this restaurant as the location for Carrie and Big’s rehearsal dinner before their ill-fated wedding in the first movie. Excellent service, fabulous cocktails and delicious modern Asian cuisine for an extremely reasonable price make this a dining experience to remember. Check out the menu here

Looking down on the amazing chandeliers of Buddakan

Looking down on the amazing chandeliers of Buddakan

About to enter the wonders of Buddakan

About to enter the wonders of Buddakan

Mercer Kitchen- located at The Mercer Hotel in Soho this restaurant features the cuisine of chef extraordinaire Jean-Georges. Think industrial overheard lamps, dark wood tables with comfortable bench seating, an open kitchen offering a window into the drama of service and a menu focused on seasonal ingredients presented simply and elegantly. Check out the menu here

Eataly New York- for any serious foodie this is a must visit. Eataly is a diverse marketplace that sells the best in Italian produce and wine, as well as offering a culinary school with six different courses including one combining basic Italian language with specific regional dishes, and seven boutique eateries including La Birreria on the rooftop. Their motto is “we cook what we sell, and we sell what we cook.”

Red Rooster Harlem- located in the heart of Harlem, Red Rooster celebrates American comfort food with the culinary traditions of the neighbourhood. Expect fried chicken, mac & greens, fish & grits, Harlem chowder and crab cakes. Music is also a huge part of the Red Rooster experience with nightly entertainment ranging from hip hop, jazz, latin beats, gospel, soul to world-class DJs.

The exterior of Red Rooster Harlem

Red Rooster Harlem

ABC Kitchen- located in Union Square and another of the many in the Jean-Georges stable, this restaurant focuses on seasonal eco-friendly produce similar to Mercer Kitchen. The design is all white with shabby chic touches including ornate chandeliers and touches of birch wood throughout. Check out the menu here

Daniel- the eponymous restaurant of Daniel Boulud, this three Michelin star Relais Chateau restaurant is perfect for a romantic evening with someone special. Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Upper East Side expect contemporary French cuisine that celebrates seasonal produce. In the main restaurant you can choose from a seven course tasting menu or a three course prix fixe menu. The lounge and bar have a casual elegance about them and is the perfect place to stop for late night cocktails and sumptuous desserts.

Amazing chandeliers and white tablecloths inside Daniel New York

The magical dining room at Daniel in New York

Morimoto- the New York outpost for Iron Chef America, Morimoto, this restaurant features a raw bar, an incredible selection of the freshest sushi, sashimi and maki rolls, plus cold and hot appetizers, salads and wagyu beef steaks.

Eleven Madison Park- currently rated no. 5 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, Eleven Madison Park is a dining experience in a similar league to Quay in Sydney or Vue De Monde in Melbourne. Headed by Daniel Humm and Chris Flint, expect food that is not only delicious but also aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Modern French with a New York Twist. With its multi course tasting menu this is a dining experience to be remembered.

An image of one of the exquisite dishes at Eleven Madison Park

Plating perfection!

Looking for the best bars/nightlife? Try these:

Top of the Standard- worth it for the views alone this is a spectacular place to see in a New York City sunset. Top of the Standard is the rooftop bar located at the Standard High Line Hotel. The early evening sees the bar morph into a sophisticated supper lounge with delicious cocktails, small plates and live jazz. Floor to ceiling windows offer a spectacular view over the Hudson and Meatpacking District. In the summer, there is also an al fresco rooftop featuring a traditional Japanese grill. Cocktail attire is required for the evenings.

PDT- one of the many cool NY speakeasy bars, PDT (Please Don’t Tell) is a lot of fun. Accessed through Crif Dogs Hot Dog store in St Marks Place East Village, entry to the bar is granted by dialling the phone inside the telephone booth. They are very particular about who they allow in, so don’t be surprised if you get knocked back. Inside there are seats around the bar or cosy booths if you are with a larger group. The cocktails are true works of art. Hot tip: Visit the bathroom and read the etiquette for PDT- loved it!

Salon de Ning- after a long day shopping on Fifth Ave I recommend heading to the rooftop bar at the top of The Peninsula New York. A stylish lounge bar with Shanghai Deco influences and spectacular views over Fifth Ave Salon de Ning is extremely popular with the after work crowd.

Enjoying a cocktail at the rooftop bar Salon De Ning at The Peninsula New York

Enjoying a cocktail at the rooftop bar Salon De Ning at The Peninsula New York

Beauty & Essex- located on the Lower East Side, Beauty & Essex is accessed through a secret door at the back a quirky pawn shop filled with boom-boxes and used guitars. The overall feel is boudoir elegance with pony fur walls, peacock feathers, Chesterfield lounges and a draw dropping two-story crystal chandelier framing the staircase. Featuring a restaurant with four unique dining rooms, two bars with some of the best artisan cocktails and a seriously glam ladies room with a luxurious sofa, vintage perfume bottles and other secret surprises. The menu consists of small sharing plates, a raw bar and larger plates including lobster mac & cheese and a burger with garlic aioli, goats cheese and crispy BBQ fries. They also have a decadent champagne brunch on Sundays. Dress code: upscale casual, no ripped jeans, shorts, tank tops or hats.

The magnificent chandelier  and spiral staircase at Beauty and Essex

The magnificent chandelier and spiral staircase at Beauty and Essex

Bathtub Gin- based on a 1920′s prohibition-era speakeasy, where so-called ‘bathtub gin’ was created in underground bars in response to the prohibition on alcohol. With exposed brick walls, flocked wallpaper and touches of gold throughout this bar is very Great Gatsby-esque. Here you will find a range of cocktails including a large selection celebrating gin in all its forms and a menu of small plates, cured meats and cheeses.

Decadent fun at Bathtub Gin

Decadent fun at Bathtub Gin

Employees Only- behind the glowing neon ‘psychic’ sign lies Employees Only, another 1920s style speakeasy. Catering to the dinner crowd, as well as pre-theatre and late night patrons looking for somewhere to kick on into the wee hours of the morning, Employees Only is well worth a visit. The bartenders are dapper with parted hair and handlebar moustaches, serving up cocktails from the Golden Age including Manhattans, the Pisco Sour, Bloody Mary and the Hemingway Daiquiri. There is also a good selection of single malt whisky’s and tequilas. Don’t forget to stop by the small foyer for a tarot card reading.

JIMMY- an all weather rooftop bar located at The James Hotel in Soho, JIMMY, features some of the most spectacular views in New York City, with a 360 degree panorama of Midtown, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge and beyond. In summer JIMMY opens on to the rooftop pool deck, while in winter the fireplaces create a warm and cosy atmosphere. The decor features herringbone floors, a solid wood bar top and a rich blue banquette built along the floor to ceiling windows. With an inspired cocktail menu this is a must visit on any trip to the Big Apple.

Getting around?

I recommend that you embrace life as a New Yorker and purchase the seven day unlimited subway pass. The subway is pretty easy to navigate once you work out which platform goes uptown and downtown, and I found it to be perfectly safe (I didn’t use it really late at night though). With its great acoustics the subway is also one of the best places to discover new musical acts and dance troupes. The seven day unlimited pass will set you back only USD$30- bargain!

For sightseeing you really cannot go past the New York City Pass, which at around USD$100 is a steal, allowing you to gain entry to all the major NYC sights including the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock Observation Deck at the Rockefeller Centre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Museum of Natural History and much more! Even better with this pass you can skip lines. Purchase one here

The steps at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The famous steps of the MET

One of the angelic faces in the sculpture court

One of the angelic faces in the sculpture court

Amazing statues in the European Sculpture Court at the MET

Amazing statues in the European Sculpture Court at the MET

T-Rex at the Museum of Natural History

T-Rex at the Museum of Natural History

For a unique experience try these suggestions:

My girlfriend introduced me to Classic Harbour Line Cruises and I must say it was one of my favourite NY tours. Unlike the overcrowded Circle Line Cruises around Manhattan, Classic Harbour Line gives you an entirely new perspective of the city in an elegant 1920s style yacht. My cruise focused on Architecture and was led by an accredited expert who was extremely knowledgeable. The three-hour cruise also included light canapés and a complimentary beer, wine or champagne. They also offer some terrific brunch, wine tasting and special event themed cruises.

Enjoy the sights of Manhattan by classic yacht with Classic Harbour Line Cruises

Enjoy the sights of Manhattan by classic yacht with Classic Harbour Line Cruises

A view of Manhattan from the water

Manhattan from the water

New York is the perfect city for budding photographers and there is a great company called New York Photo Safari that leads small groups through iconic NY locations on themed photographic expeditions, with the guidance of a professional photographer. They can also arrange a private tour for a more personalised experience. Check out the available tours here

I loved heading out around East Village and enjoying $1 oysters and a champagne at the bar during happy hour from 5-7pm. There are a number of restaurants to choose from but I loved The Mermaid Inn. Keep the party going with lip-smacking lobster rolls from Ed’s Lobster Bar. Another special experience is to admire the grandeur of Grand Central Station and toast your visit to the Big Apple from the Oyster Bar located on the lower level. (Note: Closed for renovations until March 2014)

Another must-do experience is to wander The High Line, which is a 1.6km disused elevated railway track that has been turned into a stunning aerial park. Take in the sights of Chelsea and the Meatpacking Districts from an entirely new vantage point.

The High Line...a unique aerial park

The High Line…a unique aerial park

A view of the Meatpacking District and DVF from the High Line

A view of the Meatpacking District and DVF from the High Line

In New York on a Sunday? Head to Ginny’s Supper Club, an edgy speakeasy come jazz lounge which is located downstairs from Red Rooster Harlem for their decadent Sunday Gospel Brunch. Indulge in Southern Fried Chicken, grits, waffles and bacon drowned in maple syrup while enjoying the rousing gospel sounds of Vy Higgensen’s Gospel for Teens Choir.

Exploring Central Park is a must when in New York City and there are a number of ways to do this. You can hire a bike from Bike and Roll and ride around the outskirts of the park, you can hire a row-boat from the Central Park Boathouse and cruise the lake, wander down The Mall with its towering elm trees and check out the Central Park Zoo, various bridges, lakes, statues and take a ride on the Carousel. If the weather is beautiful and sunny I also love to duck into Whole Foods on Columbus Circle and pick up an array of tasty morsels before heading into the park for a picnic on the Great Lawn.

The Mall at Central Park

The Mall at Central Park

Central Park is truly breathtaking

Central Park is truly breathtaking

Enjoying a game of chess in one of New York's many parks

Enjoying a game of chess in one of New York’s many parks

Regardless of how you choose to spend your time in the Big Apple I hope that you fall in love with this city, just as I have.

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