Tuesday 29 December 2009

Greedy Diva's Gluttonous Travel Highlights for 2009

(Lamb & spinach pizza wrap, St Ali, Melbourne)

The Greedy Diva blog is a wee piglet at less than 3 months old, but the Greedy Diva philosophy of exploring the world as led by the rumbling compass of her stomach has been a life long journey. Here are my top greedy travel adventures for 2009 - with more gastro-travel snaps to follow when my feet hit London where they're stashed (the photos, not my feet).

    (Pickled vegetables, Japanese style)
1. Tokyo:  It's hard to put your lips wrong in Tokyo. At one end of the scale are high end restaurants serving the freshest melt-in-the-mouth sushi & intricate bento meals presented gracefully like beautiful foodie giftboxes. At the other are discreetly hidden bars dishing out mouthwatering grilled yakitori skewers to accompany refreshing Japanese beers. Either way, if you can cope with the sensory overload, this is a sensational travel destination for any food lover.

Best of all (and that's saying something in Tokyo) was Kantera, a Korean shabu shabu restaurant hidden discreetly in the 'burbs of Tokyo, and recommended to us by Rob, a former man about Tokyo town. At reasonable prices, we tried 2 types of wagyu (including the richly marbled - premium wagyu tenderloin which will send you off into the clouds), barbecued pork, seafood pancakes, refreshing leafy salads with sesame, sizzling vegetables and plate after plate of delectable fare. All were selected by the manager who was so delighted to see two salivating westerners who had arrived on a recommendation that he gave us personal service all night. We lost count of the sake flasks. Make sure you take a taxi - impossible to find. Kantera, 3-12-26 Daizawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 155-0032

For fabulous gyoza in the funky Harajuku shopping area, we loved Harajuku Gyoza Lou, also recommended by the now beloved Rob. 6-2-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku 150-0001. Other fab foodie finds: eat fresh sushi washed down with a beer for a 5am breakfast at the stalls surrounding the amazing Tsukiji Fish Market (the giant tuna auctions begin at about 4.30 am); gulp in the breathtaking views of Tokyo over an expensive cocktail at Hyatt Hotel's New York bar (straight from the scenes of "Lost in Translation"); sample beautifully presented, delicate Japanese fine dining at Kozue (also at the Park Hyatt) where the panoramic views include a squizz at Mt Fuji on a good day - service is amazing (you'll be treated like a king or queen).
    (Lashings of truffle at La Cocinella, Piedmont)
2. Piedmont: My all round favourite foodie holiday. Tuscan type scenes, but less tourists, more local food holes with Nonna in the kitchen. Dawdle lazily around the vineyards drinking Barolos, Barbarescas and sparkling proseccos from nearby Asti, stopping off at roadside eateries for perfectly cooked plin ("pinched" little raviolis) with rosemary or fresh eggy tagliatelle with rich and meaty ragus. Sample chocolates from Turin, prosciuttos, cheeses and melt in the mouth meats topped with lashings of truffle straight from the local forrested foothills and encrusted in the sweet, native nocciola. Alba, home of the famous white truffle and the Alba Cheese Fair and Slow Food Festival was 10 minutes from our "hotel", I mean "castle". Wander around the bustling markets scoffing local nocciola delights (nougats, hazelnut cakes - even the Nutella factory is nearby), yellow peaches the size of a baby's head and other fresh summer fruits bursting with flavour.

Some of the best eateries included La Coccinella (amazing fine dining quality food cooked up by 2 brothers, with a mix of homey and elegant atmosphere) and, at the more casual end of the scale, the brilliant Trattoria Nella Vigne in Diana D'Alba where, for around 20 Euros a head, plate after plate of delicious, rustic local fare was brought to our table as we slowly reached explosion point - never before have we been defeated before even making it to the main (meat) course (which was rabbit). All this, while soaking in the views over the hills and valleys of Piedmont.

These suggestions are just the smallest tip of the massive local culinary iceberg. We stayed at the excellent Hotel Castello di Sinio (centrally located in the cute local town of Sinio, with a pool overlooking the piazza, and a reputedly great restaurant which was unfortunately closed during our visit - but the owner, Denise, is free flowing with many other great foodie suggestions) and the stunning La Villa (closer to Asti, glamourous villa and gardens, friendly service, lie by the pool smelling the lavender and rosemary bushes at your feet while looking over sunflower fields, and enjoy views of the Alps to help digest your breakfast on the terrace after a morning bike ride through the local hilltop villages - however not so central and local scenery out on the tracks is not so stunning as that in the Sinio area).
    (Smack your lips around the Little Owl burger, NY)
    (Bedazzling Million Dollar Chicken & sprouts at The Standard Grill, NY)
3. New York: Foodie nirvana. From mouthwatering steaks to gob stopping cupcakes, the Big Apple has it all. With fabulous shopping opportunities in between to help burn it off. Don't miss Shake Shack for your greasy burger fix. See my previous rants here (Breakfasts and Brunches), here (Lunch, Dinner, Snacks on the run), here (The Standard Grill) and here (the fabulous Babbo).

Those were my top 3 foodie destinations for the year. Other culinary highlights for 2009, somewhere in my top 10, included:
Paris: Mais oui. Of course. I adore the cafes, bakeries, cheese shops, florists, chocolatiers, patisseries, butchers etc on Rue Montorgueil for some serious people watching and typical Parisian street scenes, guaranteed to include freshly baked bagettes protruding from bicycle baskets. Mooch into any of the cafes on the strip for a decently cooked piece of steak or duck. Nearby, you gotta love the Love Burger at Cafe Etienne Marcel. This looks like the sort of uber trendy place which we would not normally give a second glance for lunch in Paris, but we were stopped in our tracks by the glorious sight of the Love Burger and it did not disappoint - quality beef grilled beautifully and nestled within a lovely brioche bun, with perfect frites on the side.

Chez Janou is fun for bistro fare in a bustling atmosphere - although the food is not always amazing, and recent visits have featured more tourists than it used to, it's worth a go for the massive bowl of chocolate mousse alone. Said mousse is left at the table to scoop one's own serving to one's greedy heart's desire (although they may have stopped this honesty system as a direct result of my last visit - definitely an eyes bigger than stomach trap every time). Make a late booking for when the crowd hots up and have a kir at the bar beforehand. I also like Juveniles wine bar for casual wine soakage, and can't wait to try Marche Les Enfants Rouges (markets) in the Marias and Chez Georges in a few weeks times. God Bless the Eurostar.
    (Parisian patisseries feature aplenty in the GD travels)
Antwerp: This funky design and fashionista city is not just beer and chips - but they're good too; great bars, cafes and restaurants aplenty. Give the fashion museum a miss unless paper dress installations are your thing.

Moscow: Hit and miss on the foodie scene, and the locals constantly look morose, but Moscow is worth a mention for the vodka alone. Who would have guessed sushi would feature so rampantly on every menu in town? The grand and expensive (yet somehow still tacky, being a replica mansion and all) Cafe Pushkin needs to be seen - enjoy the classical live music while you eat in 19th century replica grandeur ... just don't order the beef strogonoff which looks like a microwave meal from an old people's home. Enjoy traditional Georgian fare at Tiflis, under a canopy of vines, washed down with lots of you know what. Purse your lips and don't dare crack a smile as you mingle with the models (and rich old blokes trying to meet them) at the local bars and clubs.

Miami: Some unexpectedly delicious finds, and none better than Michael's Genuine Food & Drink - see my posts here. And you're never too far from a palm tree.
    (The Spot's Po Boy in Miami)
Rome: In a city where the men out dress the women every day of the week, soak up the atmosphere at wine bars and trattorias, sipping Aperol as the sun sets and breaking the egg yolk over a delicious pasta alla carbonara after dark. Coffee gelato, big flat pizzas where 2 ingredients pack more flavour than 20 anywhere else (such as the pizza alla romana - brushed with olive oil and rosemary), gorgeous al dente pastas, fried artichokes, and basic cuts of meat cooked by hairy chinned Nonnas to taste like the food of the Gods. All while wearing your black Armani shades.

Kuala Lumpur: Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese, Portuguese and Korean influences for a touch of exotica - see my previous rant here. Let me know how it goes if you sample the frog porridge.
Melbourne: So many places, so little time. I never miss Cicciolinas for pure Melbourne Italian in funky St Kilda, and Mart for my morning coffee and breakfast wedged between Albert Park and the sunny shores of Middle Park beach. Melbourne does Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, Italian and Greek with aplomb - and did I mention the coffee? I am enthralled by all the amazing new places which have sprung up on the Melbourne food scene over the last 18 months - best get exploring.
GD's more detailed guide to Melbourne is coming soon - for now, you can see here (my tribute to the Melbourne dimmy, typical Aussie street food) and here (dreamy corn fritters at Mart 130).

Happy New Year to all! I'm looking forward to clocking up more stamps in the passport and sharing further greedy adventures in 2010. A big thanks for reading the Greedy Diva throughout her infancy.

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