Follow your tastebuds
When it comes to that post-holiday debrief, the first question is usually about the food: those regional specialities that are half the reason we make the trip. This is our menu of hotels with destination dining, knockout cocktail bars and entire counties' worth of write-home-about cuisine. Bon appetit!
My wife, Sarah, organised a surprise 60th birthday party at a friend’s farm overlooking the sea near Mollymook. One of my sons, Jack, turned up from the UK and Mark, a chef from our restaurant Bannisters, did the food, unbeknown to me. It was a lovely mix of barbecued beef and lamb chops, snapper with harissa, warm potatoes with chives and mayo, and a fabulous salad of tomato, prosciutto, pear and creamy goat’s cheese. We followed it up with passion fruit pavlovas and vintage champagne, Ten Minutes by Tractor chardonnay and even some old red Burgundy.
Hire a car – Rick’s recommended company is No Birds – and drive down the New South Wales South Coast. With surf-lapped beaches, niche vineyards (shoalhavencoastwine.com.au) and foodie town Berry en route, the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Jervis Bay is easy on the eye and stomach. Paperbark Camp offers safari-chic tents just a skip from white-sand shores. Spend your days there swimming, kayaking or whale-watching, then dine on Chilean-accented Australian fare. For local dining, Rick rates Wharf Rd for seafood at 10 Wharf Road in Nowra or book a table at Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook, a 45-minute drive south. His former chef Alex Delly runs St Isidore, just outside Milton at 89 Croobyar Road, serving seasonal produce.
Glittering Sydney is all about laid-back coastal life, and QT Sydney hotel – with its quirky bar and day spa – is ideal for unwinding. Take the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay out to Layne’s pine-fringed home beach Manly for swims or surf classes. Order delicious pizza on the Wharf at Hugos Manly, followed by Adriano Zumbo’s famous macaroons (Shop 1a, 40 East Esplanade). Merivale is launching a hot new Latin American restaurant on the wharf this November, too. Iconic Bondi Beach boasts sociable sunbathing and surf. Refuel on seasonal produce at Sean’s Panaroma (270 Campbell Parade) or swing by Pompei’s (126 Roscoe Street) for artisan gelato. The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk is jaw-dropping, and you can take dips at Clovelly or Bronte along the way; look out for artworks during spring’s Sculpture by the Sea. Finally, fly home from Sydney to the UK with Emirates.
Claypots in St Kilda, at 213 Barkly Street, for fresh uncomplicated seafood, and in or outdoor dining. It’s BYO wine, with a no bookings policy, and always full of locals. Donovans, set in a 1920s bathing house in St Kilda, has an incredible shoreside location, great service, chic style and delicious Modern Australian-meets-Italian food. Go for the terrace on a hot night. Attica, at nearby Ripponlea, was recently voted Victoria’s best restaurant (and number 21 in the world) under chef Ben Shewry, and serves delicious tasting menus. Vue de Monde – on Level 55 of the iconic Rialto tower – is sophisticated and cool with a view to rival the Shard!
For your first course, spend two nights in Verona, the historic city known as the home of Shakespeare's fictional star-crossed lovers. But there's nothing fictional about Palazzo Victoria, a luxurious, modern-meets-mediaeval boutique hotel hidden away among the city's cobbled streets. Be sure to sample the work of the Michelin-starred chef in the restaurant.
Worth getting out of bed for
– Dine at the hotel's Corso Porta Borsari restaurant
– Go wine-tasting at the Allegrini vineyards outside of town
– Day-trip to Venice for seafood risotto
Served on a stick, or sipped from a steaming bowl, Hong Kong’s cuisine rewards the brave. We dare you to steel your tastebuds and dive in.
What’s cooking? Warming congee, yak’s milk cheesecake, fat noodles and sticky char siu – Hong Kong is a bubbling and boiling, scent-swarmed hotchpotch of tastes and textures.
• Hidden within the visceral melee of Gage Street wet market, Lan Fong Yuen is a historic reassuringly shambolic spot for a restorative cup of silk-stocking milk tea – a pungent concoction that’s achieved city-wide fame.
• Causeway Bay is threaded through with Dai Pai Dong eateries. Ho Hung Kee is one of our favourites; here fish, chicken or 100-year old eggs can be added to your congee (Chinese porridge).
• Yan Wo Dou Bun Chong’s modus operandi is extraordinarily well-executed tofu dishes; in fact, it’s the only thing on the menu, but their tofu fa pudding finds perfection in simplicity.
Stay at within walking distance of authentic eateries and markets – and the home of Hong Kong hot spot Café Gray Deluxe – The Upper House will keep connoisseurs happily sated.
Italy's booted ball is a degustation-worthy destination in its own right. Plump olives, grapes and citrus fruit sprout from Sicily's fertile soil, there are few middlemen between the sea and your plate, and pistachios, marzipan and creamy cheese are worked into dreamy dessert creations.
Known for ricotta: piped into cannolis, encased in pasta or baked and eaten with a spoon, Sicilians love it. Capers from Salina, blood oranges from Catania and panelle chickpea fritters are very good; cannolis, gelato and Marsala wine cater for sweet-toothed Smiths.
Dishes here are tableaux vivants of star-turn ingredients. Fresh and flavourful fish sprinkled with herbs, and pasta with spare sauce: a dollop of ricotta, juicy tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil and a jaunty basil leaf makes a perfect pasta alla nonna. Candied-fruit-dressed desserts are comparably flamboyant
• A humble but punch-packing ingredient, capers are liberally sprinkled over Sicilian dishes; those from Salina are the most revered. The Aeolian Island's caper buds, preserved with salt instead of brine, are the island's pride and joy, and they're infused into gelato and panna cotta during the caper festival in June. Salina's also the only place where Malvasia wine is produced.
• Prefer your wine honey-hued and sweet? Visit Marsala on the west coast, to drink your fill of its eponymous plonk. Take a cellar tour of Florio Winery, then stop at Donnafugata Winery for more Dionysian swigging and slugs of grappa. The famed vino was first produced by the English, but maybe it's best to keep schtum about this when mingling with Marsalesis.
• With iridescent swordfish, frilly-legged langoustines and surprised-looking skates, Catania's fish market is a dizzying, and pungent, experience. Dishes are simple – a smattering of squid tentacles, a squeeze of lemon – but oh so good. Wash down with very fresh orange juice from the stalls and finish with cannoli from Prestipino Cafè or chiacchiere biscuits at Savia pasticceria.
Stay at homestead Azienda Agricola Mandranova; here you'll find yourself drifting to the cucina frequently, whether to eat co-owner Silvia's home-made fare or to make your own in the excellent cookery school.
While it can't quite match the French wine industry's cachet, Napa Valley's largely organic, Tricolore-waving gastro offerings will raise a 'Que c'est délicieux!' from the most patriotic Gaul. The region's sun-kissed rows of vines spread for miles over gently rolling Californian hills; with more than 300 estates to explore, even dedicated oenophiles may be overwhelmed.
Known for wine, wine and more wine… Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot are especially sippable. Food-wise, pick up chicken and pork from Hudson Ranch, olive oil from the Cliff Family Winery and peaches and meyer lemons from Frog's Leap Winery.
Food isn't second fiddle to drink in Napa: tasting menus with soulmate wine pairings wow Michelin inspectors and St Helena Farmers' Market has succulent organic fruit and veg. 'Freedom fries' may be a faux pas, but luxe fried-chicken joint Addendum, and chilli and 'franks' at Gott's Roadside are skewed to heartland tastes.
• Yountville is Napa Valley's hedonistic heart: home to Moët-Hennessey-Louis Vuitton's Domaine Chandon estate and Michelin-star-amassing eateries, including The French Laundry and Bouchon. Wine pairings are, of course, discerning.
• No mere mortal can sample all of Napa Valley's quaffable delights. However, it's possible to get an informed overview in a day or two. We suggest a select few: pinot noir at Taittinger's Domaine Carneros, sauvignon blanc at The Lane Vineyard, a rich Cab Sauvignon at Joseph Phelps Vineyard, moscato at Kuleto Estate and a sophisticated slap-up meal at Auberge du Soleil.
• Culinary Institute of America’s California campus, in St Helena, offers expert cookery demonstrations from the next generation of superstar chefs. The Institute's suite of eateries – Bocuse Restaurant, Greystone Restaurant – show off their alumni's wizardry with dishes such as Oaxacan hot-stone soup.
Stay at Carneros Resort and Spa, a mod farmstead in between Napa and Sonoma, where guests can tuck into mouthwatering organic cuisine and arrange an on-site wine-tasting – or take a tour, if you prefer.
Where Barachois, Constance Le Prince Maurice, Mauritius
Cuisine Gallic-Asian fusion
What's the inspiration for your cooking?
Nature for the colours. People and traditions for the structure. Gormandising for the taste.
Favourite ingredient right now?
All the citrus fruits – and particularly preserved.
Fresh baked home-made croissants with home-made cherry jam, in my family home when I was a kid.
Where do you like to eat out?
In a small family restaurant (generally Italian; if possible in Italy), and at Le Bristol in Paris, to eat Eric Frechon's food – the best in the world to me!
Where Borsaro 36, Palazzo Victoria, Verona, Italy
Cuisine Modern Italian
What's the inspiration for your cooking?
My cooking is inspired by classic Italian recipes, with a modern twist.
Favourite ingredient right now?
Tomato and basil, inevitably.
Best breakfast ever?
The best breakfasts I ever had were at Shangri-La Sydney and Burj al-Arab Dubai.
Where do you like to eat out?
I normally prefer to eat food in the place its ingredients come from, whether that's a simple trattoria or a Michelin-starred restaurant.