Plates of Joy: My global top 26 of 2017

  19.12.17    Hong Kong

In chronological order only, these are some of the tacos and breakfasts, drinks and produce, fine dining and street food that lingered longest in 2017. Some come with accompanying feature stories I’ve written, others link to the restaurant in question. All are great, all worth the trip. And why 26? Because that’s how many I jotted down in the minibus.

1 CopenhagenHija de Sanchez is run by a former NOMA alum, Rosio Sanchez. She serves some of the most authentic tacos – and drinks – imaginable, far from the sunny beaches of Quintana Roo in Copenhagen, a riot of colour on cold wintry days.

2. Singapore – Modern Australian spot Cheek by Jowl brings together the hugely talented couple of chef Rishi Naleendra with the front-of-house, somm – and his wife – Manuela Toniolo, to brilliant effect. One of a number of Aussie chefs thriving in Singapore, as I write in a forthcoming SCMP feature. This was ‘Mackerel, dill, radish, crispy bones’.

3.  Cozumel, Mexico: More sensational Mexican, this time at the source in Cozumel. A tiny shack, El Amigo Mario are renowned for their take on the local dish, Cochinita Pibil. The old lady serving laughed as I was rendered speechless by the flavour in that pork, a mix of chilli, achiote, garlic and orange juice, piled on the torta bread.

4. Mayura Station, South Australia: The backstory to Mayura wagyu beef, some of the finest on the planet, is fascinating enough even before they’re fed expired Cadbury’s chocolate for the last couple of months of their lives. My piece for CNN explained the unique process in all its peculiar glory:

5. Kakadu National Park, Australia: Staying down under, the mind-blowing scale of the Kakadu National Park in the remote Northern Territory also revealed some good dishes and native ingredients in a ‘bush to table’ menu at Wildman Wilderness Lodge. There were also plenty of crocs – and croc lovers, especially ‘Saltie’ Saltmarsh –  in my piece for the SCMP.

6 Kyoto, Japan: The incredible creation below was at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto where chef Chisaki Iba wows diners with her impeccable skills and beautiful presentations at Sushi Mizuki. In a particularly male-dominated culinary sphere, female sushi chefs are notable by their absence, but Iba-San happily breaks the mold in many ways. My piece for the SCMP revealed more:

7 Rome – more carbs, this time pizza and pasta – how could I possibly choose? One was pizza, sold traditionally by weight, the other an impeccable carbonara. My piece for CNN looked at some of the best al fresco dining options in the Eternal City.

8. Lisbon. Ahhhh crisps. Maybe fried potatoes? But if it looks like a crisp and tastes like a crisp…. At the delightful tiny spot Pinocchio, these were just one stand-out. My feature for the SCMP looked at dining in one of Europe’s most underrated food destinations.

9 San Sebastian, Spain bought incredible eats at every turn, nowhere more so than at Amelia where chef Paulo Airaudo did incredible things. But then there was also  tomatoes in a century-old Basque cultural club called a txokos, as I revealed.


10 Chengdu, China: I don’t know where guo kui had been all my life, but once discovered, these sichuan fried pork and hua jiao pastries were categorically not forgotten. Wow. My piece for Fine Dining Lovers, home to World’s 50 Best Restaurants, revealed more:

11 Macau – Two dishes, one the lobster ‘tart’ at The Tasting Room from Fabrice Vulin, accompanying a 2006 Dom Perignon, the other brilliant Silverhill Farm applewood-smoked duck at Vida Rica at the MO. And yeah, neither are my photos.


12 Tbilisi, Georgia: What I knew of Georgian cuisine prior to visiting could have been written on a stamp, but the country proved a brilliant revelation in every way imaginable. A couple of stories I wrote revealed much more, but overall my standout was the national dish khachapuri, essentially mind-blowing gourmet cheese pizza – and this was just a side dish.

13 Zurich, Switzerland: The Dolder Grand is an incredible five star property overlooking Lake Zurich and the city, home to a contemporary art collection with few rivals – and also a brilliant two-starred restaurant helmed by German chef Heiko Nieder, as I explain in this feature where Swiss Chef Daniel Humm from Eleven Madison Park recommends his favourites:

14 Montenegro A tour high in the mountains of Montenegro, up on the Serbian border, delivered an incredible food experience through a farm tour at the home of Milijanka and Misko Puletic, an elderly couple who have lived there all their lives and shared an amazing lunch, all from produce within metres of their table. Including some homebrew firewater. Oh yes.

17 Dubrovnik, Croatia: As non Game of Thrones viewers, (I know, I’ve heard it’s supposed to be quite good), the wave of people in Dubrovnik looking for Kings Landing was beyond us. Dinner, however, meant incredible ravioli with sweetbreads, truffles, prosciutto chips and Dubrovacka wine sauce at Sensus restaurant in the beautiful Excelsior hotel overlooking the city and harbour.

18 Laucala, Fiji. Breakfast of champions in what is surely one of the most perfect places on the planet. To be followed by a dip in their pool. My piece on Fiji dining explains why.

19 Dublin. A pint of Guinness. On its side. Just because it’s kind of a meal.

20 St Malo, Brittany: Just too many incredible things to eat in France, starting with a kouign amann buttery pastry with a caramel bottom and finishing with a dozen huge oysters…for six euros. My writes on the mind-blowing produce as part of a Windstar cruise with the James Beard Foundation:

21 La Rochelle, France. Even in a country renowned for sensational markets, La Rochelle is one of the best. You can tell why by these ridiculous toms. Here’s a piece with more.

22 Fukuoka. Motsunabe or tripe stew is way, way better than it sounds. Not the prettiest bowl, but on cold evenings, with steam rising, it’s the ultimate spirit-lifter. Here’s a look at some of the finest food of Kyushu.

23 Perth, Australia. Another brilliant trip with COMO hotels bought an introduction to the brilliant use of indigenous ingredients by Chef Jed Gerrard at the hotel’s aptly-named Wildflower restaurant, explained here. Every plate was a highlight, but this wattleseed sourdough bread with whipped butter decked in candied macadamias. Oh my days.

24 Taipei, Taiwan: While Taipei has always been a street food Mecca, the quality of the country’s produce and talent of its chefs make it a brilliant dining destination in its own right. Here’s why, while below is one of countless awesome little plates, this one a genius onion-based dip, for which I’d sell my right kidney.

25 Amsterdam: Not exactly historically renowned for its cuisine, The Dutch capital wowed with restaurants showing how and why it’s one of the most exciting dining destinations in Europe. Too many dishes to choose from, this ‘edible pearl’ cocktail was one of the most striking. My piece to come in January looks at some of the best places to eat.

26 Salamanca, Spain: Aaaaaaaand finally to the home of one of the world’s great foods, Iberico pork, here at artisanal chorizo producer la hija de carrasco. The person with the greatest job title I’ve seen? Their ‘hambassador’. I want that gig.