Dining – Part 1: Haute cuisine

Food is one of the most complicated things that humans do. From a strictly primal, biological view, all we need to do is ingest chemical energy so we can convert that into movement, heat, and other necessary functions.


                        Like stealing oxygen.

But macro-nutrients and amino acids aren’t the whole story.  We have 9,000 taste buds and although their primary function is as a food safety sensor, we’re past that now. No longer do our bodies serve to protect us from poor quality ingredients; now they are merely vessels of culinary pleasure.


As illustrated by this borderline orgasm.

Nowadays with the slew of cooking shows like My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef, we’ve taken food preparation to new levels of pornography. Every man and his wok now knows what crème fraîche is, that Harissa isn’t just a stripper name, and that it’s impossible to present a croquembouche without looking like a complete tosser.


This is the human equivalent of croquembouche: equal parts fat and wank.

Haute cuisine is known to most people as “when you’re served a big plate of small food”, and that is a pretty succinct definition. It’s the “less is more” mantra, where subtleties and nuances are dished up instead of flavour. There’s no denying that this is what the most revered restaurants serve, and they charge what’s known in the industry as a “Royal Fuck-tonne”. Don’t believe me? Check out this menu, the highlight being a $5,000 burger! I can only assume that it’s served with a drink made out of Antarctic ice and virgins’ tears.

But some people have either too much money or too little self-esteem, and just love to blow their money on overpriced food, in a desperate attempt to seem wealthy or cultured. Sydney and Melbourne both contain enough of these people to have cultivated a market for this sort of dining, so let’s sort out the foie gras from the foy grass, the sauté from the sour-tea and the jus from the Jews.


Yes, this is actually what comes up when you Google Image “Jew jus”

According to gourmettraveller.com.au, the top ten restaurants in the country were all from either Sydney or Melbourne with Sydney scoring seven of the top ten. In fact, Victoria and New South Wales are responsible for twenty-eight of the top thirty! Does this mean that the rest of the country are subsisting on a bland diet of potatoes and mushrooms? Or is it that the best chefs in Australia hunger only for the big-city money?


All those kilos of butter aren’t free, you know.

Now, as many of you know (from Masterchef – be honest), the highest honour a restaurant can receive is the Michelin Star. This started in 1900, when tyre manufacturer and slippery Frenchman Andre Michelin published a book reviewing restaurants…to promote car tourism, aaaaand to increase tyre usage. Basically, 1 star is excellent, 2 stars is super-excellent, and 3 stars is “Bring your Gold Amex”. So, how many Michelin Star restaurants are there in Australia? Exactly zero. We’re too classy for that. We have our own system, devised by the Australian Good Food and Travel Guide – a Chef’s Hat. It works the same way as the Michelin Star, except you can only score “one”, and no one cares.

But if you were to care (and I’m not suggesting you should), the best restaurant in Australia is called “Vue de Monde” and it’s in Melbourne, as are three of the top ten. This is compared to Sydney, which has four of the top ten. Incidentally, the website that lists Copenhagen’s Noma as the best restaurant IN THE WORLD has only one Australian restaurant listed. At number twenty-nine, it’s Quay, from Sydney.

This post has all been about dining’s cream of the crop. Next week, however, will be all about real food. Peasant food. The 99%. Until then, if you’re in the market for the top 1% of cuisine, Sydney has you served.

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Coffee

For some reason, coffee is the drink of choice for adults around the world. I don’t really understand it. If I had to choose between coffee and tea, I would choose tea. Green tea, black tea, chai, whatever. But, at some point in humanity, it was decided that coffee would be our master. Not tea, or cocoa, but coffee. In fact, just asking “Do you wanna grab a coffee?” is as good as “Do you wanna chat?” to a mate or “I’d like to fuck you, but I’m not paying for a meal” to a girl.


By accepting a cup of coffee from a man, this woman has consented to give him at least one blowjob.

The worst part of it is the fraud. People claim they like the taste of coffee, but THEY DON’T! They only like it if it’s been diluted by milk, sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, blah blah blah. A simple glance at a Starbucks menu will yield at least infinity varieties of not-quite-coffee. I reckon everyone turns into a hipster when they’re ordering coffee. I’ve never heard anyone go to a cool cafe and say they want “just a coffee”.

Now, I’ll accept that coffee is culture, in the same way that Jerry Springer is quality television. But how much coffee do Aussies drink in comparison to the rest of the world? Well, turns out we’re way down the list, being the 42nd greatest coffee consuming nation. We have an average of 3kg of coffee per person per year, which sounds like a lot, until you consider that Finland consumes FOUR times that figure. Not bad for a country of rude, depressed alcoholics. They need it more.

Back in Australia, we won the highly-coveted “Best Coffee Nation” in 2010 at the World Barista Championships. Impressive. But how does coffee rate in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two most important* cultural cities? *(according to that sentence I just wrote).

According to urbanspoon, there are 1,910 cafes in Melbourne, compared to 1,320 in Sydney. That’s 45% more, in a city with half-a-million people less! Is it the cold weather? Is it the typical Melbourne hipster? I don’t know. And I don’t have any facts to get in the way.

From purely anecdotal evidence, the best places to go for coffee in Sydney include:
Gusto in Coogee, Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville, Reuben Hills in Surry Hills and Campos Coffee in Newtown. In Melbourne, the best places to go for coffee include: everywhere but Starbucks.

Don’t believe me? Well, fuck you! Also, check out which city is number five in the Huffington Post’s “9 Best places to have a cup of coffee“. Or globeinnovator.com’s “world’s 5 greatest coffee cities“…guess which city is the only non-European? And worldhum.com’s “Best Cities to Drink Coffee“? Number four is…Melbourne.


That, my friends, is a river of coffee. I know, it looks like fecal matter, but it’s not.

So, despite my earlier rant, I actually DO like coffee. It’s gotta be black with no sugar, and you can only have it once in a while. It’s best with something sweet like baklava or biscotti. And the stronger the better: Turkish, if possible. I don’t know why I hate coffee culture so much. Maybe I’ve been jaded by all the gourmet coffee corporations. More than likely, though, it’s YOU. You with your “I don’t feel like myself until I’ve had a coffee” whinging. You with your “I can’t wake up without a coffee” mentality. I’m sick of your dependencies! But when you do need your fix, you know where to go: Melbourne.