Neil Perry table-hops from Melbourne to Mexico as he reveals his most memorable meals of the past year.
I’ve just experienced another terrific 12 months of eating my way around Australia and the world. This is my wrap-up of dishes I’ve loved in 2016, whether they came from fine-dining restaurants or humble little holes in the wall. The one thing they have in common is that they moved me and have become entrenched in my memory. I encourage you to seek them out yourself.
I wrote about Melbourne’s Lune Croissanterie in an earlier issue because it’s just such an inspiration. At siblings Kate and Cam Reid’s vast and impeccably designed bakery in Fitzroy, there’s a dedicated team working for a single purpose: to create the greatest croissant in the world. My verdict? Nailed it! Lune’s specialty is everything you want in a croissant: crisp, warm, buttery, tender and chewy, all at the same time. They do a life-changing ham and Gruyère croissant – don’t miss it.
My other recommendation in Melbourne is Embla, in the CBD, for the wood-roasted chicken with whole roasted garlic cloves, rosemary and chicken sauce. The crisp-skinned half-chicken with mellow garlic is cooked to perfection and will leave you with just one request: “Please, can I have some more?” Embla’s anchovies on toast is pretty good, too.
In Los Angeles, we took the kids to Jon & Vinny’s Italian for pizza. It’s seriously good, with a beautifully dimpled base that’s blackened in places from the wood fire. Pizza aside, I’d go back for the marinara-braised meatballs with ricotta and garlic bread. The meatballs are well balanced with the rich tomato sauce and are so creamy and mousse-like that you can just spread them on the bread.
In New York, I always find myself drawn to Xi’an Famous Foods for its spicy hand-ripped noodles that are pleasingly chewy and totally amazing. Then there’s the accompanying spicy Asian cucumber salad, which I could imagine eating every day. It’s the perfect balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet, with a good dash of numbing Sichuan pepper.
At Restaurante Nicos, in Mexico City, the guacamole they make at the table is legendary. And the peanut-and-tomato salsa ground in the mortar and pestle and served with corn chips is just delicious. It reminds me of a satay sauce, only much lighter, and is something I now make at home most weekends.
In London, a fusion-inspired dish at Park Chinois really captured my attention. It was the Park Carbonara (Inaniwa udon noodles, sea urchin, pancetta and 65-degree egg), a crazy Asian creation based on the Italian carbonara. It probably shouldn’t have worked but, my goodness, it did. And yes, it tasted like carbonara, only better.
Back in Australia, David Thompson’s return to Sydney with Long Chim has delivered yet more brilliant Thai food. On my visit, the grilled pork (short name, big on flavour) on the lunch menu was the standout. The meat had been marinated in delicious Thai aromatics before being cooked over charcoal – classic cooking at its best.
Early last year, I had dinner in Melbourne with some fellow chefs, organised by Ben Shewry of Attica. We ate at Dainty Sichuan (03 9662 2019), where all of the food was awesome, as was the company, but it was the fried rice that was truly exemplary. This humble dish of leftover steamed rice can be so much more – as it is here – when each grain is perfectly coated, the scorch from the wok is present and the flavour is balanced. It’s a thing of great beauty, as the simplest things so often are. ￼