The forket list: five things to taste before you croak

Meat fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, England

“I might be the first chef who’s put a testicle in Germaine Greer’s mouth,” Heston Blumenthal pondered aloud when serving this medieval English sleight-of-hand – a plum made from a bull’s testicle – to her on his TV show Heston’s Feasts.

“Bollocks have never frightened me. I’ll eat a bollock any time,” the expat Australian feminist replied. 

Meatfruit – it’s so good that at the time, Henry VII considered swapping wives for one

Meat fruit is part of the culinary archaeology of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, where the chef recreates long-forgotten British dishes that belie the country’s reputation as a gastronomic wasteland. It dates from 1500, when entertainment was an essential part of the meal, so savoury meat dishes were disguised as fruit.

Blumenthal’s restaurant version, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel overlooking London’s Hyde Park, is somewhat tamer but no less remarkable, revelatory and delightful. What looks like a mandarin, complete with stem and leaves, is made from chicken liver parfait inside a dimpled skin of mandarin jelly.

It’s a lush opening gambit in a meal that explores six centuries of British cooking, starting with a c. 1390 dish of rice, calf tail, saffron and red wine.

Blumenthal, who’s also responsible for one of the world’s top five restaurants, The Fat Duck, in Bray, makes history vividly delicious.

 

Breakfast at Tiong Bahru Hawker Market & Food Centre, Singapore

Start the day in Singapore with breakfast for less than $1 at the Tiong Barhu market

Nestled between the towers of Singapore’s shiny modernity, in an area of low-rise 1950s buildings, this two-storey market, recently rebuilt, is where the day builds momentum amid dozens of small hawker stalls crammed with Chinese Nonya, Muslim and Indian dishes. The downstairs wet market does brisk trade in fish, meat and vegetables, while upstairs the covered, but open air hawker centre  is a large food court of aluminium tables and bench seating

Along with murtabak, dosai and regional Chinese flavours such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Hainanese and Teochew (the roast pork and duck are especially good) there are local breakfast classics, including chwee kueh, steamed rice cakes topped with preserved radish and chilli sauce; and tau suan, a sweet, hot and thick Chinese soup made from split mung beans, garnished with fried fritter (you tiao); and tutu kueh, crumpet-like rice flour pancakes filled with sweet, shredded coconut and crushed peanuts.

Wash it down with a visit to Teck Seng Soya Bean Milk, where the sweet drink and fresh tofu are made daily, starting at midnight. Some of these family-run stalls are three or more generations old, and manned by every generation.

You’ll eat spectacularly and exotically well for just a few dollars.

 

Moonlight Flat oysters, Australia

Steve Feletti had a literal seachange when left Australian Wheat Board to buy a rundown oyster lease 15 years ago on the Clyde River, Bateman’s Bay, on the New South Wales south coast.

His genius is the way he “finishes” the oysters, known as affinage, to create distinctive flavours. In the process he’s been acclaimed as the best oyster farmers of one of the world’s finest bivalves.

He champions the Sydney rock oyster, endemic to Australia’s eastern seaboard, which take three-to-four years to mature, and are threatened by environmental problems and the increasingly popularity of the imported, faster-growing Pacific oyster.

He’s created three brands: the concentrated briny Clair de Lune grown from wild sprat, the firmer Label Rouge and creamier Moonlight en Surface, which lacks the minerality typically found in Sydney rocks.

Feletti also farms angasi, a flat, round Australian native that’s a close relative of the French belon, but rarely seen in commercial production. The Moonlight Flat angasi has a smoky note and pink tinge to its flesh.

He also offers “best on the day” under the Rusty Wire brand – a reference to oysters being ready when the wire keeping on the tray lid has started to rust.

You can order Moonlight Flat oysters directly from the farm for home delivery or restaurants such as Sydney’s Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay and Melbourne’s Culter and Co. are among the best places to sample the full range in pristine condition.

 

 

Walking safari breakfast at Ngala Game Reserve, South Africa

 

Throw another shashlik on the braai

A cup of tea and biscuit are the only compensation when you’re woken at 4am to begin a two-day hike through this private game reserve abutting Kruger National Park’s western edge. Soon after, you’re hurtling through darkness in an open truck and through a herd of sleeping buffalo before setting off at first light. Over the next five hours, we hike, led by an armed guide, and tracker, through the undulating savannah, spotting buffalo, an elephant herd and endless birdlife, as both the sweaty summer heat and exhaustion builds, before the welcome relief of the breakfast campsite under a large, shady tree. 

A gingham-covered table is filled with cured meats, cheeses, pastries, fruit, yoghurt and muesli, while two chefs cook omelettes, game sausages, bacon, shashliks and a pan of chicken livers braised with onion, chilli and tomato, on a large wood-fired braai (barbecue). It’s a feast to make you drowsy, before a bucket shower behind a tree and rest from the noonday heat in a shady hammock. After the afternoon walk, there are well-earned sundowners (drinks) and dinner around the campfire by kerosene lantern as baboons screech in the darkness.

The food is good, but in such a magnificent setting, even a celery stick would do.

 

Alba white truffle fair, Italy

If Dom Perignon champagne is drinking the stars (a phrase attributed to the Benedictine monks, but in truth, made up by 19th century Mad Men for a print ad), then tasting white truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico) is like kissing an angel: ethereal, sensual and incomparable.

They’re sexy. The musky scent mimics a boar pheromone, which is why sow pigs were traditionally used to hunt them, a task now reserved for dogs, which are less likely to devour them once detected below ground, growing on the roots of oak and hazelnut trees.

The legendary French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called truffles “the diamond of the kitchen” and the spectacularly aromatic white variety is king, generally commanding prices three times higher than its black cousin. A Macau casino owner set the record in 2007, paying $330,000 for a 1.5kg white truffle.

Every year in Alba (also home to Ferrero Rocher and Nutella chocolates), the wild truffle hunters of Northern Italy’s Piedmont region appear to take part in the Alba Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco (it sounds sexier in Italian) a weekend market that runs from early October to mid November. The fair began in 1929, and alongside the excitement of frenzied trading, sometimes from car boots, are a range of food-related festivities and events celebrating Alba’s history. It’s also a great excuse to try the region’s famed Barolo red wines. The one must visit is Tartufi Morra, the town’s famed white truffle store. The full season for fresh truffles runs from mid September until the end of January.

 

Dinner at Faviken, Sweden

The trip to this 12-seat restaurant, in an 18th century grain store on a sprawling estate 750km north of Stockholm, makes you feel like you’ve joined an Ingmar Bergman movie. The remote setting is partly responsible for Faviken’s cult status, however the dedication and imagination of 20-something chef Magnus Nilsson, who mostly cooks ingredients found on the estate using traditional techniques.

Nilsson’s table d’hote menu is unlike anything you’ve seen before. He ferments, ages and preserves like a culinary Viking for dishes with titles such as “An opening in the late summer forest” – diced raw moose meat with forest herbs, sour milk drops, vinegar jelly, egg yolks, breadcrumbs and concentrated birch sap.

Wild trout row is served on a warm crust of dried duck’s blood, scallops are cooked over burning juniper branches, an old dairy cow is dry-aged for five months to produce stunning, richly flavoured meat. This is an hypnotic meal that draws you into the local landscape, with Nilsson appearing regularly to guide you. Too few will get to experience Faviken – now ranked 34 on the World’s 50 Best.

That’s a good thing, but also a shame. 

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