Food Travel

iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 | Comments Off on iTT addresses the luxury in the experience


On Sunday September 1, Luxperience 2013 opened in Sydney, Australia’s Town Hall with a “Thought Leaders” evening. David McGonigal of iTravelTree was asked to present as the opening speaker –
his topic was “The Luxury in the Experience”.

Good evening. From Andrew’s introduction you may gather, I’ve been a travel writer/author and photographer for too many decades.

100 places to visit

In fact, a friend recently send me one of those Facebook quizzes on  “100 places to see before you die” –  and I had visited 90 – I’m either well travelled or ready to cark it.

My latest venture is a start-up called iTT. Basically, iTravelTree conducts a meta search of travel data filtered by your social preferences. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to “luxury” lately – the trend I see in luxury is to collect exotic experiences not things or famous hotels.

If you had asked my mum, she probably would have defined travel luxury as a grand old hotel – like Sydney’s Australia Hotel.


I suspect Scandinavia may agree with her. While flying on SAS last month I read in the in-flight mag: “Marstrand has something that no new luxury resort can buy: dignity and soul”.

It was both a sweeping generalization and wrong. Marstrand may do it well but so do many new resorts. Brilliant architecture, environmental sensitivity and empathy with local residents lie at the heart of dignity and soul. Some go further:

D on ele

© David McGonigal

The Anantara Golden Triangle gives you a chance to be part of a care centre for mistreated Asiatic elephants. More on that later.

My last 18 months have been special as my wife Sandra, stepped down from running Rupert Murdoch’s Australian magazine division early last year and, after a lifetime of being tied to an office has finally had a chance to travel. We’ve been referring to it as her executive gap year. Seeing our industry through her eyes is enlightening. Fittings and service are a given – and only noted in their absence – but special moments like hugging a baby orang utan or being taught to cook Tiramisu by the head chef of the Villa San Michele are prized.


* This is Milan’s Galleria Hotel – self proclaimed 7-stars

First can I say how I hate the attempt to add more stars – Dubai’s Burj al Arab started it and the Galleria has taken it further. I think the trend is in reverse: high degree of comfort is no longer limited to 5-star properties. Some 4-star resorts now offer a standard that would have been 5-star a decade ago. And why is it new hotels that think they might be 6 or 7 star: what about grand, established hotels like Monaco’s Hotel de Paris that could probably lay a better claim?

And, anyway, many of us would forego the front door being opened (or yet another chandelier) in exchange for free high-speed internet or the chance to make a cup of coffee and tea in the privacy of our room.

So what makes a property or travel experience truly special? There are three possibilities:

  1. The destination itself is enough
  2. The travel experience itself is enough
  3. The experience maximizes the location

1.       In some rare cases, the place itself is enough.

Simply being there is a luxury. And here I’m talking about discerning, experienced travellers. For the first timer in London, a dodgy hotel in Kensington might seem like paradise – it isn’t.

What’s a destination where the privilege is simply to be there?


  • Bhutan Paro Festival © David McGonigal

I was fortunate enough to go to Bhutan some 15 years ago. The food was terrible, the accommodation basic and the roads were shocking. But the richness of the culture – and its lack of cultural pollution from modern pop culture – left all of us, all very experienced Himalayan travellers, saying that we had found Paradise. And, then and now it wasn’t cheap.

But what’s the impossible dream? As a boy, I always thought I’d go to the moon but never thought I’d visit Antarctica.

Breaking Ice South of the Antarctic Circle DSC0727

  • Antarctica © David McGonigal

I now work in Antarctica as an expedition leader – I’ve been there more than 100 times and feel privileged every time. Passengers will pay the fare for a basic cabin on a Russian icebreaker that would give them five star accommodation for the same duration anywhere in Europe: $60,000 for two weeks.

The luxury to travel to Bhutan or into polar ice is at least as special as 5-star luxury.


Space remains the ultimate travel destination and it looks like I won’t make it there. Space travel is coming but affordability might be a problem. Mike McDowell popularized Antarctica as a travel destination – and his Space Adventures have arranged all 8 people who have paid (a lot) to go into space.

Virgin Galactica

Virgin Galactica says it’ll have first flight on Christmas Day this year. Cost for 2.5 hr flight to 360,000 ft is $250,000. Not bad value for 110 km up.

This is the category where indulgence doesn’t correlate with luxury. There are people prepared to pay $1/4M to throw up in a capsule a long way from home.

2 What about creating the unusual? Manufacturing the whole experience from scratch?


In the non-luxury market, it’s hard to go past Disneyland then DisneyWorld as places that create their own need. While you’d go to London or Paris regardless, would you go to Anaheim or Orlando without Walt’s worlds?


© David McGonigal

Closer to home – both in terms of location and audience – we have David Walsh’s MONA that has brought a whole new travel group to Hobart. When a gallery is talked more about in tourism stats than in the Arts pages you know it’s significant. Amazing and confronting, too.


Creating something from nothing is hard. Yet that’s what Dubai has done – taken a small fishing village and turn it into the world’s hub of luxury hotels and shopping.

us on eles

© David McGonigal

I go back to the Anantara because it epitomizes the luxury in the experience. And it drew us to a place we wouldn’t have visited. We signed up for a three day mahout course – and we were allocated our own elephants for the duration. Having your own elephant is absolute luxury – coming to understand the likes and dislikes of this giant gentle creature was very special. We still dream of elephants.


*Oasis of the Seas

The modern cruise industry has done it, too – created a huge growing industry out of nothing. Of course there were cruises before but ships were mainly a form of transport not entertainment.

Fat DuckFat Duck © David McGonigal

Then we have the modern phenomenon of food tourism. Perhaps it has always existed in a small way. nearly always directed towards France.

But now Noma has as much drawing power as the Little Mermaid, El Bulli rivals Sagrada Familia and The Fat Duck has put Bray UK on the map. Even in my suburb of Balmain, many hear the name and think Adriano Zumbo’s macarons.

When you are creating something from nothing, you are limited only by your imagination. Here luxury can be indulgence and the experience.

3      Finally we have the experience that works to enhance the location – the most common scenario


  • Cipriani Hotel © David McGonigal

Every company that delivers a travel product needs to be thinking “what next?” There was a time when just having been to the rim of the Grand Canyon was enough. Then people said “what next?” So now we can raft through it, hike to the bottom or walk out on a glass platform. Likewise, Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb changed the bridge (and Sydney) from a static setting to an experience.

I experienced this first hand in Venice last year. Once it would have been enough to have Venice as my destination. And for luxury it’s hard to go past the legendary Hotel Cipriani. But then the Cipriani raised the stakes into the stratosphere – “come stay with us and kayak the canals of Venice.”

kayak Venice

© David McGonigal

This was luxury at all levels – the pampered indulgence of the hotel and the experiential indulgence of seeing Venice from my own kayak. I fondly remember the Cipriani – especially breakfast on Easter Sunday – but I’ll never forget paddling under the Rialto at sunset then turning to glide under the Bridge of Sighs.

It’s hard to up the arms race in hotel amenities. Better champagne – but when you get to Krug vs Dom, what’s next? Better beds? More service? If you want to stand out you have to think laterally and offer the unusual – as the Cipriani has done.

David Bowie

Luxury can simply be service. A great concierge is there to realize your dreams. A couple of weeks ago I was London for the day and wanted to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but it was sold out. So we contacted Red Carnation Hotels where we had stayed the last couple of times we’ve been in London and Egerton House Hotel provided a couple of passes that they were offering their guests. They have our loyalty.

Summer Palace

  • Summer palace, St Petersburg © David McGonigal

The ultimate luxury is not more brocade but rather “Access All Areas”. So a cruise that features a private dinner in one of Catherine the Great’s palaces has special appeal. Or a Danube cruise that includes rare tickets to Oberammergau Passion Play. In Sydney you’d hope a hotel has some Springsteen tickets in a drawer. Think big – come to LA and we’ll take you to the Academy Awards. Who would say “no”?

Hugh Jackman

“Access All People” is a luxury for the sociable. I spent a weekend at Gwinganna Health Retreat when Hugh Jackman was there (he’s a part owner) and that’s been good for a few stories afterwards. The lesson I learned was don’t try to hold eye contact with any woman when Hugh is heaving himself out of the pool behind you. I always thought the ultimate would have been on the Antarctic cruise that had the reclusive Neil Armstrong on board.


There’s also the wonderful experience when the environment and the property perfectly interlink. I first discovered this in South Africa where game parks like &Beyond’s are luxurious but have strong links to not just wildlife conservation but also the local community. Luxury for visitors is feeling part of the place not a casual observer.

Turtle Island

Things change. Many years ago I was asked to give Bernie Eccleston suggestions for a tropical Australian resort with no expense spared. I suggested he go to Fiji instead. Places like Turtle Island gave a better experience because you are immersed in local culture while being treated royally. Australia has evolved – today I’d say to Bernie – have a look at the website of Luxury Lodges of Oz.

Southern Ocean Lodge

  • Southern Ocean Lodge

We’ve come a long way from the days when Australian tourism culture was a reflection of Crocodile Dundee.

Bulgari Bali

It’s predicted that more hotels and resorts will align themselves with luxury brands – think the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Missoni Hotel in Kuwait and the Bulgari resort in Bali. I hear even Vogue is considering moving into the area. Of course, the name gives instant cut-through but I think it’s lazy.

Doing the hard yards to find a way to offer a unique experience that provides your property with an authentic, memorable life moment that ties to its location will result in enduring success.

Easter island

  • Easter Island © David McGonigal

A recent report  by the Adventure Travel Association and George Washington University  defined adventure travel as any trip that includes at least

2 of

a)    physical activity,

b)   interaction with nature, and

c)     cultural learning or exchange

It valued the industry at $US263 billion pa, with 65 per cent annual growth since 2009. There’s certainly money in experiential travel.

But, if I can distill a lifetime of travel into a few words – For me luxury is not about limos or five-star fittings and glamorous furnishings, it’s about taking time to create a memory that’s held in my heart and stands out among all others. In our privileged world we can always buy ‘luxury’ things but access and experience stands out as the ultimate luxury!

Hindu devotees travel on a crowded passenger train in Goverdhan

Sadly, there are a lot of ordinary travel experiences being sold. Exceptional ones stand out – from the time you hear about them to the moment you do them. It doesn’t have to be grand –

Cafe Tartufi

© David McGonigal

I smile when I think of Café Tartufo in Florence where we had perfect truffle paste rolls and good red wine for lunch on a rainy day – it was the perfect Florentine experience.

Bora Bora

© David McGonigal

It was a highlight as much as snorkeling with stingrays in Bora Bora lagoon or

Mig 21

flying a Mig 21 jet fighter as a paying guest of the Slovakian Airforce.

It’s no coincidence that it’s 2013 and we are here at an event called Luxperience. We’re in a Golden Age of Travel and you are at the cutting edge of it. Thanks for the experiences you offer – and the wonders that are yet to come.

If you have special vision – please come and tell me about it. Meanwhile, please “like” iTravelTree on Facebook or bookmark the webpage to follow us as we develop.

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Renowned Katz’s ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ New York deli turns 125

Posted on Jun 2, 2013 | Comments Off on Renowned Katz’s ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ New York deli turns 125


During its 125 years on New York’s Lower East Side, Katz’s Deli, has been host to politicians, presidents and one of the most memorable movie scenes ever. Few who have seen “When Harry Met Sally” will ever forget Meg Ryan’s very public fake orgasm that was filmed in the E Houston St kosher-style eatery. f you’re in NYC this weekend it’d be worth stopping by to share in the celebrations.
As they say on their website:

“Mind if we drop a few names?

When you’re sitting in front of the best pastrami sandwich in the world, you gotta concentrate on the food. We understand and respect that. But when you’re done noshin’, take a tour around the place and check out our photo gallery. It reads like a who’s who in culture, sports and entertainment—Barbra Streisand Kathleen Turner, Bruno Kirby, Bruce Willis, Dan Aykroyd. And let’s not forget our  political guests. Four U.S. presidents have enjoyed Katz’s hospitality, Vice President Al Gore brought the Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to lunch, and most of the hotshots on New York’s political scene have eaten here.

Katz’s Deli is no stranger to the silver screen either. Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan was, uh, faking it? Yeah, that was at Katz’s. (And we’re not so sure she was really acting. If you’ve had our brisket, you catch our drift.) Or how about when Johnny Depp meets up with his FBI contact in Donnie Brasco? Katz’s again.

You can check out a few snapshots here on the site, but to see the full collection, you gotta come in and eat.”

(212) 254-2246
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36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand –

Posted on May 25, 2013 | Comments Off on 36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand –

36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand


Admittedly, few fly all the way to New Zealand just to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. Most aim to explore the otherworldly landscapes with which, thanks to the silver screen, this remote nation has become associated. But before delving into the cinematic beauty of the North Island countryside, discover the San Francisco-steep streets and regenerated neighborhoods of newly vibrant Auckland. This multicultural city, home to a third of all Kiwis, has recently welcomed a raft of bars, boutiques and restaurants that highlight locally made products, from excellent craft beer and wine to fashion and art. And none of it has anything to do with orcs or rings.


1. 3:30 p.m. | National Portraits

One highlight of the Auckland Art Gallery (Corner Kitchener and Wellesley Streets;; free), which reopened in September 2011 after a three-year expansion, is the gallery of turn-of-the-century portraits depicting Maori leaders, many with exquisite tattoos. The museum’s permanent collection, spread across four levels, also includes commissioned works from contemporary Kiwi artists. After a tour, stroll through the adjacent Albert Park or refuel with a Snickers cookie (3.50 New Zealand dollars, or $3 at 1.18 New Zealand dollars to the U.S. dollar) at the new Moustache Milk & Cookie Bar, two blocks from the gallery (12 Wellesley Street West;

2. 7 p.m. | Seafood Depot

Seattle has its Space Needle, while on the opposite side of the Pacific, Auckland answers with the Sky Tower — over 1,000 feet tall. But the most noteworthy action happening near this imposing landmark is at its base, at Depot (86 Federal Street;, a seafood-centric bistro. This new restaurant is invitingly rustic — ice-cold pewter water mugs, tall stools clustered around wood-plank tables — and the fresh seafood is top-notch. A recent meal started with some shucked-to-order oysters from Marlborough’s Tio Point, followed by spicy mussels with chorizo and garlic; kingfish sashimi cubes atop dollops of oyster cream; and sliders stuffed with hapuka, lemon mayo and watercress. Dinner for two, about 70 New Zealand dollars.

3. 10 p.m. | Britomart Bars

The once-derelict Britomart district near the port has recently transformed into a bubbling night-life hub with new bars and restaurants housed in handsomely renovated historic buildings. Start at Xuxu (Corner Commerce and Galway Streets;, an elegant French-Vietnamese-inspired hideaway serving inventive snacks and cocktails like the Chanh Bac Ha (rum, palm sugar and Vietnamese mint; 16 New Zealand dollars). Then stroll to the Japanese-themed bar Fukuko (48 Tyler Street;, which opened in December, for steamed pork buns (4.50 dollars) and shochu tonics flavored with spiced jasmine and green tea (9 dollars).


4. 9 a.m. | Walk to the Market

Wake up with a walk through the Auckland Domain, a sprawling 185-acre park southeast of the city center whose peaceful paths wind through wooded areas and around expansive swaths of grassy lawn. When hunger strikes, stray a block from the southern edge of the park to the Parnell Farmers’ Market (545 Parnell Road;, where stalls overflow with local products. Bite into a bacon-and-egg bap (sandwich) with spicy tomato sauce (5 New Zealand dollars) while listening to a musician strum a guitar, and then sample the goods at the Hakanoa Ginger Beer stand and the mouthwatering varieties at the NZ Cheeseman stall.

510:30 a.m. | Kiwi Culture

If you’ve ever wondered about Maori culture, what a kiwi bird actually looks like, or why Auckland’s streets are so hilly, visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum (Museum Circuit;, steps from the market on the edge of the domain. Don’t be fooled by the name: in addition to housing a war memorial, the museum features three floors of interactive exhibits that explain New Zealand’s history, geography, ethnography and culture, from prehistoric volcanoes (hence all those hills) and Maori tribal traditions to the nation’s uncommon flora and fauna.

6. 1 p.m. | Central Lunch

The inner-city suburb of Ponsonby is a charming neighborhood whose main drag, the mile-long Ponsonby Road, is lined with cafes, bars and boutiques. Late last year, Ponsonby Central (136 Ponsonby Road;, a new complex packed with small restaurants and shops, added to the area’s appeal even more with, among other places, a bakery, an organic market, a butcher and pocket-size dining spots doing a decent impression of a United Nations food court — sushi, Neapolitan-style pizza, Argentine barbecue. Inside the main building, you’ll find a fortuneteller, the booth of Ponsonby’s radio station, and, for lunch, the pleasant cafe Toru ( Try the cafe’s pressed sandwich of Serrano ham, melting Manchego and truffle butter, which comes with a pile of scrumptious crinkle fries (13.50 New Zealand dollars).

7. 3 p.m. | Domestic Design

Explore the rest of Ponsonby Road by seeking out the talented domestic designers who have set up shop here, like Juliette Hogan (170 Ponsonby Road;, whose floral-print suits and ladylike separates are elegant with an edge. Nearby at Kate Sylvester’s namesake boutique (134 Ponsonby Road;, eggshell-blue walls offset colorful fashions: red leopard-print pants, sheer emerald blouses, embroidered ink dresses. Find design of a different kind at the new pop-up poster and art-print shop Endemicworld (62 Ponsonby Road;, with works from up-and-coming graphic designers, artists and illustrators like the street artist Cinzah Merkens and Australian design studio Inaluxe.

8. 7 p.m. | Made by Meredith

Modern New Zealand cuisine is what’s for dinner at Merediths (365 Dominion Road;, a formal tasting-menu-only restaurant run by the chef Michael Meredith. Finding inspiration in cutting-edge culinary techniques, seasonal local products and his Samoan background, Mr. Meredith turns out multicourse feasts matched with fine wines, many from small domestic producers. In the cozy establishment, frosted windows and simple black-and-white décor ensure that all attention is directed toward the parade of plates, which during a recent meal included an inventive venison tartare with horseradish and smoked eel, and savory macarons made by stuffing duck and chicken liver pâté between beetroot-flavored meringues. Six-course tasting menu with matching wines, 160 New Zealand dollars.

9. 11 p.m. | The Golden Hour

After dinner, head to the Golden Dawn (134 Ponsonby Road;, a superb bar and music venue in Ponsonby where the vibe is a mix of laid-back surfer style and rockabilly glam. There’s an indoor pub with exposed brick walls and dark corners for intimate conversations, but it’s in the outdoor courtyard where the party really happens. There, amid hanging strings of colored lights and long pastel-blue picnic tables, local D.J.’s and rock ’n’ roll bands provide the soundtrack for the New Zealand night. So grab a draft beer from the excellent local Hallertau microbrewery — the #2, a refreshing pale ale with flavors of citrus and honey, is delicious — and prepare to hop and shimmy along with the friendly crowd.


107 a.m. | Summit Sunrise

A sunrise hike up Mount Eden, a dormant volcano that rises nearly 650 feet above sea level, will be rewarded with a priceless panorama. The view spans the entire isthmus that greater Auckland occupies, from Manukau Harbour to the south across to Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf to the north. While savoring the solitude at the summit, peer into the vast, sloping crater at your feet or scan the landscape for landmarks like the Sky Tower and One Tree Hill, another substantial volcanic mound that is crowned with an obelisk.

11. 11 a.m. | On the K Road

Compared with Ponsonby, the thoroughfare known as K Road — or Karangahape Road — has a quirkier, less polished atmosphere. The street’s Queen Anne-style buildings and neo-Greek facades once made up a seedy red-light district, but today, upstanding businesses have moved in. At the Theater Coffee Company (256 Karangahape Road;, have a gooey herb-and-cheese-stuffed omelet and thick slices of toast (16.50 New Zealand dollars) for breakfast beneath the narrow building’s original vaulted ceiling. Afterward, visit Iko Iko (195 Karangahape Road;, a cute nearby shop where shelves are stuffed with treasures, trinkets and Kiwi-kitsch — windup kiwi birds, kiwi-bird-shaped cookie cutters. Then swing by the new high-end clothing boutique Maaike + Co (Shop 18, St Kevin’s Arcade, 179-183 Karangahape Road; in a handsome shopping arcade to find stylish designs from the store’s own label, Maaike, and other fashionable New Zealand brands like Nyne and Kowtow.

12. 1:30 p.m. | Vineyard Views

For a glimpse of New Zealand’s bountiful natural beauty, take a 40-minute ferry ride across the aquamarine waters of the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke Island. This quiet 35-square-mile island, with its rolling hills and gorgeous coastline, is so visually inspiring that a growing number of artists have made Waiheke home. See their work at the Waiheke Community Art Gallery (2 Korora Road; or the newer Toi Gallery (145 Ocean View Road; Then retire to the scenic estate of Cable Bay Vineyards (12 Nick Johnstone Drive; overlooking the gulf for a glass of Waiheke Island viognier. The winery is one of many on the island, but the view from the backyard terrace — of the glittering water stretching toward Auckland in the hazy distance — is hard to top.


The stylish Hotel DeBrett (2 High Street; is a 25-room boutique hotel. Each room is individually decorated, but all contain a cool mix of furnishings, artworks and brightly striped carpets made of New Zealand wool and designed by the owner Michelle Deery. Doubles from 300 New Zealand dollars.

The Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour (21 Viaduct Harbour Avenue; opened in June 2012 with 172 luxurious rooms with balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious marble bathrooms. There are also two restaurants, a Champagne bar and a recently opened spa. Doubles from around 230 dollars.

New York Times Travel


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51 Buckingham Gate’s 24-Carat Gold Afternoon Tea

Posted on May 22, 2013 | Comments Off on 51 Buckingham Gate’s 24-Carat Gold Afternoon Tea

24 Karat Gold Afternoon Tea 2 sm 

Satiating the UK’s resurgent passion for traditional afternoon tea but going one step further, 51 Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences and Luxor Champagne have created a 24 Carat Gold Afternoon Tea, which includes edible gold.

The new afternoon tea will feature a half bottle of Luxor Pure Gold 24K Brut Champagne, which includes flakes of 24-Carat Gold and is one of the world’s most prestigious and rare sparkling wines. Produced in the Champagne region, Luxor was created due to founder Jean-Christophe Rousseau’s fascination with gold, and his desire to marry one of the most coveted treasures in history with the most luxurious of drinks. This exclusive Brut is a blend of 90% Pinot Noir, 7% Chardonnay and 3% Pinot Meunier.

London’s Afternoon Tea aficionados can expect a dining experience of unparalleled opulence. Inspired by Luxor, Executive Chef Vikas Milhoutra, has created a series of decadent delights, also made with edible gold. The 24 Carat Gold Afternoon Tea includes a Gold Leaf JellyWhite Chocolate Delight with Gold Leaf and Strawberry Tart with Gold Flakes and is accompanied by a selection of scones and delicate finger sandwiches.

The 24 Carat Gold Afternoon Tea is available at an introductory price of £99 (AUD$154) for two. Booking is required with a 24-hour notice. It includes a range of scones, cakes and sandwiches as well as half a bottle of Luxor Gold Leaf Champagne.


About 51 Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences

51 Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites & Residences, combines the facilities and convenience of a luxury hotel with the space and exclusivity of a private home. 51 Buckingham Gate consists of three individually designed buildings: Kings, Falconers and Minsters. The buildings have been beautifully restored and ’51’ now offers 86 elegant suites each with their own separate kitchen and living area. Located in St. James’s and just minutes from Buckingham Palace, shops and theatres of the West End, the townhouse hotel is an ideal base for a long weekend visit to London. 

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10 things to know before visiting Morocco

Posted on May 20, 2013 | Comments Off on 10 things to know before visiting Morocco

Writers, rock stars and eccentrics flocked to Tangier's cafés in the first half of the 20th century. Cliffside Café Hafa, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier's most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.

 Writers, rock stars and eccentrics flocked to Tangier’s cafés in the first half of the 20th century. Cliffside Café Hafa, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier’s most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.
By Lara Brunt, for CNN
May 8, 2013 — Updated 0945 GMT (1745 HKT)
  • Cafés are where Moroccan men socialize, gathering to drink sweet mint tea
  • Cumin is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui
  • Train company ONCF operates one of the best train networks in Africa
  • Morocco’s souks teem with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters

(CNN) — Rainbows of color, spice-market smells, an urban orchestra of sounds: Morocco can be overwhelming at first.

Lying 13 kilometers, or 8 miles, from the coast of Spain, the North African country mixes Middle Eastern magic, Berber tradition and European flair.

Tourism has more than doubled since 2002, to nearly 10 million visitors in 2011. King Mohammed VI wants to increase the annual visitor numbers to 18 million by 2020.

The royal ruler’s strategy is underpinned by infrastructure development, making traveling around the country even easier.

Add to this a program of ongoing social, political and economic reforms, and Morocco is one of the most moderate and peaceful countries in the region.

Cafes dominate life in Tangier

Cafes are the key place to socialize, for Moroccan men at least. They gather to drink sweet mint tea and watch people as they go about their affairs.

The northern port city of Tangier has a history of literary bohemianism and illicit goings-on, thanks to its status as an International Zone from 1923 to 1956.

The Interzone years, and the heady decades that followed, saw writers, rock stars and eccentrics flock to the city’s 800-plus cafés.

Two must-visit spots: Cafe Hafa (Ave Hadi Mohammed Tazi), overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, was a favorite hangout of Tangier’s most famous expat, Beat writer Paul Bowles.

Smoky and slightly edgy, Cafe Baba (1 rue Sidi-Hosni) is the coolest spot in the Kasbah. A photo of Keith Richards, kif-pipe in hand, still adorns the grimy walls.

Most mosques are off-limits to non-Muslims

Nearly 99% of the population is Muslim, and hearing the muezzin’s melodic call to prayer for the first time is a spine-tingling moment.

While very few Moroccan mosques are open to non-Muslims, one exception is the towering Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah; +212 522 22 25 63).

Located on a promontory over the Atlantic Ocean, the mosque was completed in 1993 and can hold 105,000 worshipers inside and out.

Tradition and technology sit side by side, with colorful zellij (mosaic tiles), intricate stucco and carved cedar complementing the retractable roof and heated flooring.

If you can’t make it to Casa, Marrakech’s 16th-century Ali ben Youssef madrassa-turned-museum (Pl Ben Youssef; +212 524 44 18 93) is open to all and also features impressive Islamic design.

Multilingual Moroccans will put you to shame

Arabic is the official language, but you\'ll also hear French, Spanish, Berber and various dialects.
Arabic is the official language, but you’ll also hear French, Spanish, Berber and various dialects.

Moroccans switch languages mid-sentence, reflecting the cultures — Berber, Arab, French and Spanish — that have crisscrossed the country.

Arabic is the official language, and you’ll hear the Moroccan dialect, Darija, spoken on the street.

French continues to be widely spoken in cities; foreigners are often addressed in this first. Spanish is still spoken in Tangier.

There are also three main dialects spoken by the country’s Berber majority: Tashelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit.

You’ll be able to get by with English in the main tourist hubs, although “La, shukran” (“No, thank you” in Arabic) is one phrase to master.

Don’t get stuck in Marrakech

Marrakech is justifiably popular, but there’s so much more.

Fez tops the list for its maze-like medina, fabulous foodie scene and annual Festival of World Sacred Music.

For a slice of the Sahara, there’s the desert town of Merzouga, near the impressive Erg Chebbi sand dunes, accessible via camel treks.

Active types can hike between Berber villages in the High Atlas or head to the blue-hued Andalusian town of Chefchaouen to explore the Rif Mountains.

Beach bums will love laid-back Essaouira and Sidi Ifni on the Atlantic coast, while surfers often head south to Taghazout.

For quiet contemplation, Morocco’s holiest town, Moulay Idriss, is hard to beat. Plus, you’ll have the nearby Roman ruins of Volubilis pretty much to yourself.

If you don’t like cumin, you may starve

Cumin is one of the main spices used in Moroccan cooking. This pungent powder is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui (slow-roasted lamb).

Cumin is used as a condiment on most Moroccan tables, along with salt and chili. It’s also a popular natural remedy for diarrhea.

“Cumin has anti-parasitical properties, so if you’ve got an upset tummy, a spoonful of cumin knocked back with water will help,” said food guide Gail Leonard with Plan-It Fez.

Trains are cheap, comfortable and reliable

First class train travel in Morocco is affordable and worth it. Just be prepared to share your food.
First class train travel in Morocco is affordable and worth it. Just be prepared to share your food.

Train company ONCF operates one of the best train networks in Africa, making it the easiest way to travel between cities.

It’s worth paying extra for first class, which comes with a reserved seat and A/C.

First class carriages have six-seat compartments or open-plan seating. Stock up on snacks, or buy them onboard, as it’s customary to share food.

When it comes to traveling to smaller towns and villages, buses and grand taxis, usually old Mercedes sedans that can seat six (at a squash), are best.

Couscous is served on Fridays

You’ll see it on every restaurant menu, but traditionally, couscous is served on Fridays, when families gather after prayers.

This is because the proper (not packet) stuff takes a long time to prepare.

Coarse semolina is hand-rolled into small granules to be steamed and fluffed three times. It’s pale in color, deliciously creamy and served with vegetables and/or meat or fish.

Bread is the staple carb and is served with every meal, except couscous.

It’s baked in communal wood-fired ovens, one of five amenities found in every neighborhood (the others being a hammam, or bathhouse; a drinking fountain; a mosque and a preschool).

Riad rooftops rock

The traditional Moroccan house (riad) is built around a central courtyard with windows facing inwards for privacy.

They’re decked out with elaborate zellij, stucco and painted cedar and are easily the most atmospheric places to stay.

While Moroccans tend to use their rooftops as clotheslines, a riad roof terrace is the place to be come sunset.

In Marrakech, Italian-designed Riad Joya (Derb El Hammam, Mouassine Quarter; +212 524 391 624; has prime views of the Koutoubia Mosque minaret, while five-star La Sultana (403 rue de la Kasbah; +212 524 388 008; overlooks the Atlas Mountains.

Top picks in Fez are the bohemian Riad Idrissy (13 Derb Idrissi, Sieje, Sidi Ahmed Chaoui, +212 649 191 410; and its suntrap terrace, while Dar Roumana (30 Derb el Amer, Zkak Roumane; +212 535 741 637; has sweeping views of the world’s largest living medieval Islamic city.

When you hear balak!’ watch out

The narrow streets of Morocco\'s souks are filled with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.
The narrow streets of Morocco’s souks are filled with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.

Morocco’s souks are not for the faint-hearted. The narrow streets teem with hagglers, hustlers, mule-drivers and motor scooters.

Rule No. 1 is to step aside when you hear “Balak!” It means there’s a heavily laden handcart or mule bearing down on you.

You’ll inevitably get lost, as maps don’t usually include the warren of small alleys that make up the medina.

A guide can help you get your bearings and fend off touts, but be aware that anything you buy will have his commission built in to the price.

Alternatively, taking snaps of landmarks with your smartphone can help you find your way back to your accommodation.

It’s not weird to be bathed by a stranger

There are plenty of posh hotel hammams, but nothing beats a visit to a no-frills public bathhouse.

Spotting the entrance can be tricky, as most signs are written in Arabic. Look for a shop selling toiletries or a mosque, as these are usually nearby.

It’s advisable to stock up on black olive oil soap, ghassoul (clay used as hair conditioner), a kiis (exfoliating glove) and a mat to sit on. Visitors need to take their own towels, comb and flip-flops.

Women strip to their knickers (no bra), and men wear underpants. Then you’ll be steamed, scrubbed and pummeled until you’re squeaky clean.

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101 Best Restaurants in Asia 2013

Posted on May 18, 2013 | Comments Off on 101 Best Restaurants in Asia 2013

101 Best Restaurants Asia

TheDaily Meal celebrates the most exemplary epicurean endeavorsin Asia

Asia’s 101 Best Restaurants

First came The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in America, then101 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World and 101 Best Restaurants in Europe. Now, The Daily Meal continues its culinary tour of the world with its first-ever roster of the 101 Best Restaurants in Asia.

See 101 Best Restaurants in Asia 2013 Slideshow

It would have been easy to name 101 excellent restaurants in China alone, or in Japan, or Hong Kong, but we wanted to represent as wide a geographical area as possible, discovering lesser-known gems in other corners of Asia as well as recognizing the best establishments in more familiar places. Thus, our list includes restaurants in 11 countries — Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam — plus Hong Kong and Macau. China has the most entries, 28 in all.

We offer choices in 25 cities — not just capitals like Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo, but smaller municipalities, too, among them Danang (Vietnam), Unawatuna (Sri Lanka), and Bintan (Indonesia). We’ve included plenty of showplace dining rooms in grand hotels, but also places in unlikely locales, like two in Tokyo: Sushi Saito, a seven-seater in a parking garage, and Sukiyabashi Jiro, a celebrated 10-seat sushi bar down in the subway.

In choosing our 101 best, we called upon more than 50 experts who either live in Asia or spend time there frequently — restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and bloggers with wide restaurant-going experience — supplemented by The Daily Meal’s well-traveled editorial staff, and asked them to help nominate a short list of 202 places, then evaluate the selection and vote for their favorites, country by country (meet The Daily Meal’s panelists).

We further asked our panelists to vote by region in four categories: Cuisine, Style/Décor/Service, Value, and Don’t Miss. From innovative menu options to plating and presentation to freshness, quality, and taste, panelists evaluated each restaurant’s cuisine and voted only for the restaurants which they believe to be extraordinary, whether showplaces for avant-garde culinary techniques or simple venues specializing in noodles or dumplings. They also rated the overall dining experience, from the restaurant’s interior design and dining room ambiance to the skill and efficiency of the service. In the Value category, panelists selected the restaurants that offer the best meals in each price category, defined as the price per person for a meal, food only: budget ($25 or less); moderate (between $25 and $100 — and yes, by Asian standards, that counts as moderate); and pricey but worth it for a splurge ($100 or more). Finally, we asked this question: What restaurant or restaurants should a visitor to each city in our survey absolutely not miss — which, that is, are essential to the culinary identity of each place?

Every restaurant, then, had the chance to be voted on up to four times in the survey. The percentage scores from each category were weighted. With 50 percent, the greatest weight was assigned to our “Cuisine” category. Our “Value” and “Style/Décor/Service” categories had equal weight with 19 percent each, and the remaining weight, or 12 percent, was assigned to “Don’t Miss.”

We considered restaurants offering the cuisines of their own regions, of course, but also those that serve the food from other parts of Asia (we found excellent Thai food at Baan Aarya in Indonesia, for instance, and excellent sushi at Sushi Oyama in Shanghai). And of course, we included a number of the great restaurants offering classic French, authentic Italian, imaginative East-West fusion, and other cuisines of the world. We did not discriminate according to location; no town, island, or enclave was off the table (see the entire 101 Best Restaurants in Asia list).

Slideshow: 101 Best Restaurants in Asia 2013 Slideshow

Four restaurants from The Daily Meal’s inaugural 101 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World are also honored here, including three in Hong Kong — Felix at The Peninsula Hotel, Lung King Heenat the Four Seasons, and Man Wah at the Mandarin Oriental — along with Orient Express at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi.

The dining options in Asia today are seemingly endless, from street carts to night markets to cosmopolitan cafés to the domains of European and American celebrity chefs. This has by no means always been true. Sushi bars, for instance, barely existed before the 1920s, and really became ubiquitous around Japan — and then around the rest of Asia and the world — only after refrigerated shipping became common in the last third of the 20th century, allowing fresh fish of sushi quality to be sold almost everywhere.

In most Asian countries, in fact, there isn’t a long tradition of restaurants in the modern Western sense — which, among other things, helps explain why there are so many European or fusion places on our list. Another factor, though, has been the rise of the so-called Four Asian Tigers — Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — whose economies skyrocketed in the latter half of the 20th century, and the increasing Westernization (and accumulation of private wealth) in China, all of which helped create a customer base for restaurants offering sophisticated French or Italian dining. At the same time, provincial, often humble mom-and-pop places remain the norm in vast parts of Asia, and continue to provide some of the best food and most authentic flavors of their regions.

Arguably the most dramatically changed culinary landscape is that of China, which has the most restaurants on the list with 28, 21 of which are in Beijing. As the country opened up after 1989, chefs began to arrive from other countries, eager to serve the people in this vast new marketplace. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games only stimulated culinary creativity, and soon a who’s who of culinary luminaries, like Daniel Boulud and Joël Robuchon, were setting up shop in Beijing, Shanghai, and beyond. Today, it is possible to find not only great Chinese food in the country but also first-rate sushi and Thai and Vietnamese food, as well as representations of French, Italian, Spanish, and other European cuisines that are as good as anything anywhere in the world.

Any list like this one is bound to stir disagreements among discerning diners; even our own staff was divided on which restaurants should make the final cut.


After checking out The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in Asia, share your compliments and critiques in the comments section below — or on Twitter using the hashtag #bestrestaurants — and let us know what places you think should have been included, or should have been left out.

If you have dined at any of these restaurants, pin your favorite photos on The Daily Meal’s Eating & Dining Pinterest board.

Which restaurant made it to the top of the list? Its identity — and its signature dish — might just surprise you.

101 Best Restaurants in Asia 2013

101. Baan Aarya (Bintan, Indonesia)

100. Kitcho Arashiyama (Kyoto, Japan)

99. Karaiya (Beijing)

98. Jia 21 Hao (Beijing)

97. Agua (Hong Kong)

96. Bao Yuan (Beijing)

95. Mandarin (Ho Chi Minh City)

94. Sirocco (Bangkok, Thailand)

93. Long Beach Seafood Restaurant (Singapore)

92. Three Guizhou Men (Beijing)

91. Friends the Restaurant (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

90. Hutong (Hong Kong)

89. Man Fu Lou (Beijing)

88. Petrus (Hong Kong)

87. My Humble House (Beijing)

86. Hiroshima (Taipei, Taiwan)

85. Jing’An Restaurant (Shanghai)

84. Ramen Santouka (Hokkaido, Japan)

83. Don Alfonso 1890 (Macau)

82. The Chairman (Hong Kong)

81. The Courtyard by Brian McKenna (Beijing)

80. Hajime (Osaka, Japan)

79. Garuda Padang Cuisine (Jakarta, Indonesia)

78. Camões (Macau)

77. Sushi Mizutani (Tokyo)

76. La Cocotte (Taipei, Taiwan)

75. Restaurant Guy Savoy (Singapore)

74. Seventy-two Beef Noodle Restaurant (Taipei, Taiwan)

73. Iggy’s (Singapore)

72. Hatsune (Beijing)

71. Hoi An (Ho Chi Minh City)

70. Osteria de Angie (Taipei, Taiwan)

69. Nihonryori Ryugin (Tokyo)

68. Felix (Hong Kong)

67. Transit (Beijing)

66. Bo.lan (Bangkok, Thailand)

65. Sawada (Tokyo)

64. Mozaic (Bali, Indonesia)

63. Nicholini’s (Hong Kong)

62. Ishikawa (Tokyo)

61. Goga (Shanghai)

60. Quintessence (Tokyo)

59. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet (Shanghai)

58. La Maison 1888 (Danang, Vietnam)

57. The Drawing Room (Hong Kong)

56. Liqun Roast Duck (Beijing)

55. Orient Express (New Delhi, India)

54. Farmer’s Original Handmade Hamburger (Busan, South Korea)

53. Cépage (Hong Kong)

52. Sushi Oyama (Shanghai)

51. Yat Lok Restaurant (Hong Kong)

50. Nonzero (Taipei, Taiwan)

49. Noodle Loft (Beijing)

48. Koju (Tokyo)

47. Ojangdong Hamheong Nengmyeon (Seoul, South Korea)

46. CUT Singapore (Singapore)

45. Yung Kee (Hong Kong)

44. Alameda (Beijing)

43. Tu Hsiao Yueh (Taipei, Taiwan)

42. Sushi Saito (Tokyo)

41. Man Wah (Hong Kong)

40. Southern Barbarian (Beijing)

39. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Hong Kong)

38. Jean Georges (Shanghai)

37. Soul Food Mahanakorn (Bangkok, Thailand)

36. Baekdu (Busan, South Korea)

35. Maxim’s (Hong Kong)

34. Amber (Hong Kong)

33. Kikunoi Honten (Kyoto, Japan)

32. Indigo (Mumbai, India)

31. Tim Ho Wan (Hong Kong)

30. The Byeokje Galbi (Seoul, South Korea)

29. Fat Sui Lao (Macau)

28. Quan An Ngon (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

27. Flutes At The Fort (Singapore)

26. Mr & Mrs Bund (Shanghai)

25. Kingfisher (Unawatuna, Sri Lanka)

24. Bukhara (New Delhi, India)

23. Takazawa (Tokyo)

22. Endo Sushi (Osaka, Japan)

21. Lemongrass (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

20. Le Musée (Sapporo, Japan)

19. Nahm (Bangkok, Thailand)

18. Caprice (Hong Kong)

17. Karavalli (Bangalore, India)

16. Bellagio (Beijing)

15. Sukiyabashi Jiro (Tokyo)

14. Da Dong (Beijing)

13. Susu (Beijing)

12. M on the Bund (Shanghai)

11. Restaurante Fernando (Macau)

10. 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA (Hong Kong)

9. Michel Bras TOYA Japon (Toyako, Japan)

8. Lung King Heen (Hong Kong)

7. Dali Courtyard (Beijing)

6. Varq (New Delhi, India)

5. Capital M (Beijing)

4. Temple Restaurant (Beijing)

3. Green T. House (Beijing)

2. Duck de Chine

1. Din Tai Fung (Taipei, Taiwan)


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Anyone for cricket? Bug Cuisine

Posted on May 18, 2013 | Comments Off on Anyone for cricket? Bug Cuisine

Crickets are some of the most commonly eaten insects in the world and are regarded as a solution for the malnutrition problem plaguing Laos. Fried crickets and grasshoppers are sold at markets like this one in Vientiane. According to consumer feedback in the U.N. report, farmed crickets are tastier than the ones picked in the wild.

A traveler’s guide to eating insects

By CNN Staff
May 17, 2013 — Updated 0517 GMT (1317 HKT)
Crickets are some of the most commonly eaten insects in the world and are regarded as a solution for the malnutrition problem plaguing Laos. Fried crickets and grasshoppers are sold at markets like this one in Vientiane. According to consumer feedback in the U.N. report, farmed crickets are tastier than the ones picked in the wild.
  • U.N. report argues more of us should eat insects
  • In places like Bangkok, eating things such as bamboo worms are the norm
  • Beijing’s popular Donghuamen Night Market has quite the range

(CNN) — According to a recent U.N. report, insects could be a solution to some of the world’s food and health problems. They’re nutritious, eco-friendly and abundant. Many countries already consider them a staple part of their diets.

So if we’re all to start consuming locusts and scorpions, we can start in Southeast Asia for guidance.

They’re a common sight in Bangkok.

Come nightfall, at any given outdoor market or busy road there will usually be at least one vendor with a pushcart loaded up with insect snacks, making many tourists squirm and others lick their lips.

Maybe you’re in the mood for some fried crickets. Or perhaps it’s the pile of bamboo worms that has you salivating. These bug vendors serve up to a dozen varieties of insects, which are usually fried in vegetable oil then sprayed with soy sauce to add some zing.

To locals, and some expats, these foods are not out of the ordinary — they’re part of the many meals on offer. Though most tourists prefer to munch on bugs for the shock value and to try something different — check me out on Facebook/Instagram, how crazy am I? — locals enjoy them for the flavor.

“Customers often like to eat fried insects while drinking beer, as a healthy and exotic replacement for popcorn or peanuts,” one vendor says.

More on Thailand’s fried bugs: A guide to Thailand’s edible insects

Similar markets and food carts exist throughout Asia and other parts of the world.

Take some of the options at this Beijing night market — fried scorpions, centipedes and locusts.

Going back to that U.N. report, it says 2 billion people around the world consider insects a delicacy or even a dietary staple.

Insects are generally high in nutritional value and beat out both meat and fish in protein content and quality. They’re also rich in fiber and healthy micronutrients including copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc.

This makes insects the ideal food of the future, the U.N. says — not just for the above parts of the world but globally. They will help promote health, wealth and a better environment and go some way to addressing current and potential food shortages.

Not only does chomping on a bamboo worm win you likes on Facebook, it helps save the world. Extra ‘like.’

Read more about the U.N. report here, via eatocracy.

We’ve put together, in the above gallery, just a tiny entree-sized smorgasbord of some of the many insects eaten around the world.

For those in the United States or visiting, this great eatcracy piece lists several insect servers.

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Nobel Dining in Stockholm

Posted on May 17, 2013 | Comments Off on Nobel Dining in Stockholm


December 10, is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896. It’s also the day on which the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Literature are awarded in Stockholm (the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo on the same day). After the awards, there’s a grand banquet in Stockholm’s City Hall where 1300 guests, including the king and queen of Sweden, eat a grand dinner served by over 200 waiters.

Few visitors to Stockholm are aware that in the beautiful cellar restaurant under the City Hall they can have a Nobel meal served by candlelight on the same china and accompanied by the same wines as the official dinner guests.

You can even choose which award year’s meal you’d like – but a week’s notice is required for most. And there’s a minimum of 10 diners required. However, the dishes on the menu of the immediate past awards dinner is available every day on the a la carte menu (it changes on December 11 each year) but everyone at you table must order it and the restaurant suggests that pre-ordering is a good idea..

The cost of the dinner is 1495 Swedish kroner (or about $A228) per person. While that’s not cheap, nor is expensive by Scandinavian standards.

Considering the elaborate process of deciding on the menu for a Nobel banquet, the meals certainly on the cutting edge of adventurous cuisine. Perhaps the prestige of the event leads to conservatism? Dishes such as shellfish are avoided because many people are allergic to it – and cultural sensitivities must be taken into account, too. Within these parameters, three different menus are prepared by the kitchen manager, the head chef and the restaurant’s general manager. At a trial dinner members of the Nobel Foundation give their opinions on each of the dishes and the final menu may be a mix and match of the original suggestions.

It’s not a meal you’d complain about. For example, the 1994 menu is an entree of roulades of smoked duck breast, mango and chard with mache salad with pine kernels; a main of fillet of veal with sage and pompom mushrooms, tomatoes stuffed with spinach and fondant potatoes with ginger; then a dessert of Nobel ice-cream parfait with spun sugar. The wines are Moet & Chandon champagne, 1990 Haut-Medoc Chateau Liversan and a 1984 Coteaux du Layon Moulin Touchais, coffee and Carl von Linne mineral water.

If you can assemble enough friends and give sufficient notice, you can select the menu from any year you like since 1901. A lot of people simply pick the year they were married (or were born) and wait to see what dishes are served. Two of the more popular menus are those of 1937 and 1926. Back then the meal always started with cream of asparagus soup followed by six or seven more courses. 1937 had consomme with sherry, fillet of brill (a fish that often appears on Nobel menus), cold breast of duck, parfair nougat, fruit and small cakes. In 1926 consomme was again followed by brill then lamb and vegetables, artichokes, pineapple a la Brazilian, biscuits, fresh fruit and a mixed dessert.

Stockholm’s City Hall is a rather stark building completed in 1923 and the Nobel banquet takes place in a vast hall at long tables each seating over 30. In many ways, tourists dining in the recently-renovated cellar restaurant get a better deal than the official guests. Not only are there no speeches or intrusive television cameras but they dine at small tables in a welcoming room rich with dark wood and subdued lighting.

However, the remarkably attractive bone chinaware on which the meals are served is identical at both venues. The current china is the first set specifically designed for Nobel meals; it was created by Karin Bjorquist, a Swedish designer, and first used at the 1991 banquet.

Stockholm is a clean, attractive harbour city with a wealth of history and fascinating nooks and crannies to explore. The chance to experience a Nobel meal is one more attraction in a city that offers much to the visitor.

To book a table or a Nobel meal contact the Stadshuskällaren (city Hall Cellar), tel. (46) 8 586 218 30 or

By David McGonigal


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Tasting ‘Modern Hungarian’ in Budapest

Posted on May 16, 2013 | Comments Off on Tasting ‘Modern Hungarian’ in Budapest

Akos Stiller for The New York Times

Kata Talas, chef at Mak Bistro in Budapest.

Published: May 10, 2013

Budapest is a city of coat-takers. Walk into any restaurant, no matter how humble, and you will barely be through the door before someone is graciously easing you out of your wrap. That warm hospitality, coupled with menus filled with creamy soups and meaty stews, can make dining in this city feel like stepping back in time. But all is not so sepia-tinged. A movement that began several years ago toward lighter and brighter food, served in more modern environs, has been gathering steam.

Follow @nytimestravel for tips, features and photography from all over the globe.

Akos Stiller for The New York Times

Tamas Szell and Szabina Szullo, chefs at Onyx.

One of the first examples came in 2004, after the renowned Hungarian winemaker Jozsef Bock joined forces with a local chef, Lajos Biro, to open Bock Bisztro, a clubby wine bar with an ambitious menu that mixed updated favorites from the Hungarian repertory with imported flavors (wasabi) and ingredients (calamari). That effort proved so successful that the men opened a second Bock across the Danube River — and more recently one in Copenhagen as well.

Others caught on to the concept, and somewhere along the way, the idea of “modern Hungarian” was born. More mood than movement, it has none of the technological innovations of modern Spanish (though one easy way to figure out that a Budapest restaurant sees itself as modern is to look for “Sous Vide” on the menu) or the foraging aesthetic of New Nordic. But as a trend, modern Hungarian is prominent enough now to extend up and down the dining hierarchy, from Michelin-starred rooms to neighborhood cafes — all while keeping that most old-fashioned of values: hospitality.


A riot of etched wallpaper, marble statues and gilded Louis XIV chairs: no one will mistake Onyx for a casual bistro. One of Hungary’s two Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s the kind of place where the elegantly dressed waiters virtually glide across the room, and every communication is hushed.

The cuisine of the chefs Szabina Szullo and Tamas Szell likewise doesn’t skimp on luxury: a lunchtime special of ravioli in a delicate saffron broth bursts with fat chunks of lobster. But the best way to sample all that richness is in the “Hungarian Evolution” tasting menu. Here, some of the most exquisite ingredients in the Hungarian larder are transformed through techniques that suggest that the chefs are paying attention to their colleagues to the west. The black pearls of local sturgeon caviar, for example, are a perfect visual match for the dehydrated “soil” — charred breadcrumbs — that comes underneath a lovely heap of just-cooked vegetables. A silky marinated goose liver gets paired with “textures” of tart plum. And a smoky loin of chargrilled Mangalitsa pork comes with a side of the meat, this time confited until it practically melts, and topped with a lentil foam. Even the classic Somloi spongecake gets deconstructed into a glass of rum-soaked pudding, but it is the tiny, perfect canelé with its creamy interior and shatteringly crisp shell at meal’s end that reminds you why Hungary has the reputation for pastry that it does.

Oynx Restaurant, Vorosmarty ter 7-8; Dinner for two, tasting menu, not including wine or tip, about 43,700 forints, or $200 at 220 forints to the dollar.

Mak Bistro

With her tiny frame and cheerleader’s blond ponytail, 25-year-old Kata Talas knows she doesn’t fit the image of a chef — least of all that of her colleagues in Budapest. “They don’t like me,” Ms. Talas said bluntly. “They’re always saying, ‘You’re too young, you’re too small, you’re a girl.’ ” But it takes only one bite of her grilled scallops with Jerusalem artichoke purée to recognize that the girl can cook — and that her restaurant is one of the most exciting places in town. Ms. Talas, who worked for a year at Heston Blumenthal’s Hinds Head pub in Bray, England, revs up the Hungarian repertory with new, vibrant flavors. The standard velouté found on most menus in the city, for example, gets a bit of heat and sharpness when it’s made from black radish. Soy and ginger infuses her gamy squab. A lunch special of panko-crusted shrimp in a thick tomato emulsion hits all the receptors: crunch and sweetness from the crustaceans; creamy acidity from the sauce.

Located across the street from Central European University, the bright, industrial space fills daily with the polyglot voices of visiting lecturers and local intellectuals. Many diners complement the buttery pogacsa — somewhere between a biscuit and a scone — in the bread basket with a puckery house-made fruit soda. Should you show some interest in Hungarian wines, the knowledgeable servers may open a few bottles for you to sample.

Akos Stiller for The New York Times

Roasted chicken breast with citrus mozzarella and grilled tomato at Pesti Diszno.

Follow @nytimestravel for tips, features and photography from all over the globe.

Akos Stiller for The New York Times

Matzo ball soup at Macesz Huszar.

Mak Bistro, Vigyazo Ferenc utca 4; Dinner for two, not including wine or tip, 16,390 forints.

Pesti Diszno

The name translates as “The Pest Pig,” and that pretty much sums up the offerings at this buzzy gastro pub on the Pest side of the city. The restaurant’s founding chef Tamas Bereznay did a stint as the Hungarian president’s personal chef, and before that he oversaw the kitchen at Karpatia, one of those fine dining establishments in Budapest that comes with gilded ceilings and Gypsy serenades. But with Pesti Diszno, he made a bet on livelier cooking and a livelier environment, characteristics continued by his successor, Gyula Molnar. Pesti Diszno is sort of a Hungarian Momofuku: loud and trendy, and serving surprisingly good food, heavy on the pork.

Just over a year old, it has already established itself as one of the best places in the city for sampling Mangalitsa, the indigenous, longhaired pig that nearly went extinct in the factory farms of the Communist regime but has lately experienced something of a foodie revival. Well marbled and intensely flavorful, it turns up here in guises both traditional (a peppery goulash) and not (a juicy, towering burger, dripping with yogurt Gorgonzola sauce). Slices of grilled loin, whose slightly charred edges impart a bitterness to offset the impossibly rich meat, are an excellent introduction to mangalitsa’s glories (the hunk of crisp potato cake, layered with sheep’s milk cheese, doesn’t hurt either).

The restaurant bills itself as “Budapest’s first tapas bar,” and the menu includes a series of small plates that, in the evening, draw stylish young diners around high tables. While there’s nary a fresh vegetable in sight, the menu does contain a handful of nonpig offerings — an earthy pheasant consommé, for example, or a smooth goose liver pâté with the fiery local fruit brandy, palinka.

Pesti Diszno, Nagymezo utca 19; Dinner for two, not including wine or tip, 7,650 forints.

Macesz Huszar

With Central Europe’s largest Jewish population, Budapest has no shortage of places to get a decent bowl of matzo ball soup. But at Macesz Huszar, the owner David Popovits is aiming to appeal to younger generations, including those who — like so many people in their 20s and 30s here — are just learning of their Jewish ancestry. “There are a lot of Jews here who don’t practice the religion or know the traditions,” said Mr. Popovits, referring to those who grew up under Hungary’s Communist regime. “But they still want to feel Jewish. And dinner is a very easy way to feel Jewish.”

He must be right: though it only opened in December, Macesz Huszar is almost always fully booked. Located near the Dohany Street Synagogue and decorated with floral wallpaper and plastic lace tablecloths, it has a menu with many recipes that Mr. Popovits retrieved from old cookbooks. That includes a matzo ball made not from meal, but from actual crushed matzo — irregular-size pieces still visible — and a plate of goose skin cracklings (called gribenes in Yiddish) that are as much fat as crackle. This is no one’s idea of refined eating, but there are some innovations on the menu that show a modern hand: a flavorful vegetarian version of cholent, the traditional slow-cooked bean stew; a schnitzel with almonds in the breading; a carrot soufflé pushed into decadence by a dark chocolate sauce. Best of all is the burger made from that most Jewish of meats, goose. It combines fresh meat with smoked (and more than a bit of goose fat) to produce a burger unlike any other: rich and slightly gamy.

Macesz Huszar, Dob utca 26; Dinner for two, not including wine or tip, 8,740 forints.


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Tasting Argentina

Posted on May 16, 2013 | Comments Off on Tasting Argentina

article by
Los Angeles Editor, JustLuxe | Eric The Epicure

The Evolution of Argentina’s Mendoza Wine Country

For many years now, one wine has become practically synonymous with Argentina: Malbec. This hardy red varietal has garnered fans across the globe thanks to its popular fruit-forward, robust qualities and affordable price point. Argentina’s wine industry has ridden its popularity to worldwide acclaim for about two decades.

However, the country’s wine industry has continued to evolve dramatically since then, especially in Argentina’s primary wine region of Mendoza. A cadre of dynamic young winemakers are actively exploring the area’s various terroirs and making distinctive new wines from them. Visitors can taste at any number of gleaming, palatial wineries and intimate luxury wine lodges, many of which have sprung up only in the last decade or so. Much like Napa or Sonoma on the cusp of becoming their present-day incarnations, Mendoza is poised to become the next international luxury wine destination.

The wine districts here, all of which are encompassed in the name Mendoza, include Maipu close to the city, Lujan de Cuyo just a bit farther out and including sub-appellations like Agrelo and Perdriel where some of the area’s most prized Malbecs vines are. Then about two hours south of the city lies the Uco Valley, which is fast gaining international attention thanks to the sophisticated and elegant wines being produced there, which has attracted massive international investments.

Not only that, but travelers have more options than ever for accommodations, ranging from budget to ultra-luxury, whether they choose to stay in the city or out in the vineyards. What was once the province of backpackers stopping through to get in some cheap wine tasting between hiking and white-water rafting excursions has become a top-shelf wine destination in its own right.

Cavas Wine Lodge exterior

Cavas Wine Lodge guest room
Although the Park Hyatt Mendoza has dominated the city’s central Plaza de Independencia for over a decade now, it has recently been joined by a Sheraton (2008) and an InterContinental (2011) for brand-conscious international travelers. There are also charming boutique options like the Villaggio in the heart of town and the Bohemia Hotel Boutique, a contemporary hidden gem a few blocks from the Plaza. It is out in the vineyards, however, that more and more travelers are choosing to stay, and for good reason. Dozens of boutique hotels and vineyard inns have opened, many on the luxury side of the spectrum, and many offering easy, direct access to wineries.

Spearheading the trend, Cavas Wine Lodge (pictured above) opened its doors in 2005 and was one of the first Relais & Chateaux properties in South America. Cavas is situated on a private road amidst its own vineyard in Lujan de Cuyo, neighboring some of Mendoza’s most outstanding wineries. It has just 18 freestanding villas (with plans for more soon) that start at nearly 1,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor living space and boast outdoor patios with private plunge pools, wood-burning fireplaces in the room and on their rooftop patios, beds dressed in Egyptian cotton, as well as a spa-style bathroom with a deep soaking tub.

Martin Rigal, who opened the lodge along with his wife Cecilia Diaz Chuit, discusses the process of opening Cavas. “There was nothing at all like this in Mendoza, but we found this vineyard and because of Cecilia’s background in hospitality and a clear vision of what we hoped to do, we knew we could open a luxury hotel at this level.” That vision proved to be true. Soon the lodge attracted international attention from major press outlets, joined the Relais & Chateaux family, and has since been setting the standard for luxury in the area.

That is thanks to unique amenities such as private guest wine tastings and harvest experiences, not to mention the intimate spa’s vinotherapie treatment, complete with a soak in Bonarda wine to invigorate the circulation and rejuvenate the skin. Equally impressive is the hotel’s fine dining restaurant where guests gather each evening for meals prepared by Chef Martin Dolz. A spread might include a tasting menu of dishes such as confit suckling pig with blood sausage cream and apple compot in a torrontes wine sauce; or salmon and shrimp crudo with avocado cream and lemon air.

Cavas’ success spawned a veritable trend here, and now visitors have a full roster of vineyard hotels and spas to choose from including Entre Cielos and the more rustic-chic six-chalet El Aguamiel. About a 30-minute drive from Mendoza, Club Tapiz is nestled among vineyards with stunning mountain views and is part of the enormous Tapiz winery (they also produce El Zolo) that was once owned by Kendall Jackson but has since changed hands.

riding bikes in mendoza wine country

Posada Salentein exterior

For those venturing to the wineries farther afield to the Uco Valley, Posada Salentein is the place to stay. Set far back in the vineyards of the winery with which it shares its name, backing right up onto the Andean foothills, this little inn is a hidden treasure with contemporarily decorated rooms, enormous bathrooms stocked with bespoke wine country products, and a little parrilla, or grill, serving up a sizzling array of meaty specialties for guests each night. Guests can walk or bike down the tree-lined rocky road from the inn to the dramatic winery.

Even more interesting than the developments in tourism infrastructure, however, is how Mendoza’s wine culture has developed over the past decade or so. Once upon a time, you would find low- to mid-range bottles of Malbec with perhaps a few Cabernets and Merlots thrown in, and the odd bottle of Argentina’s other national red grape, the spicy, fleshy Bonarda. Nowadays, however, winemakers are becoming bolder than ever when not only blending Malbecs from the areas various sub-regions, but also in terms of exploring the permutations of other varieties here, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and how they are distinct from those produced in other parts of the world.

A good place to start is the sprawling Familia Zuccardi winery in Maipu. A veritable legend in Argentine winemaking, the winery was founded in 1963 by a civil engineer named Alberto “Tito” Zuccardi who applied the skills of his craft to winemaking infrastructure, equipment and water needs. Since his time in the mid-20th century, two subsequent generations of winemakers have undertaken to grow the estate. Now the winery produces everything from supermarket wines to single-block, vineyard-specific vintage wines at what can best be described as several wineries within the winery.

vineyards in mendoza

Familia Zuccardi
Visitors can stop at the Mondavi-esque winery for a guided tour of the facilities and perhaps a leisurely lunch in one of the two restaurants on the grounds (where you can also sample the olive oils they produce). Settle in for a tasting that will hopefully include some of their single-vineyard offerings like the Aluvional La Consulta (with luscious dark berry and wildflower flavors) or El Peral Tupungato Malbecs (finer tannins and more delicate fruit), which third-generation winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi describes as wines that “tell you about the place they come from, not just the grape—making these wines is about finding a unique place and expressing all it has to offer.”

On the other end of the spectrum is one of the most well-respected names in Argentine wines, Vina Cobos. It’s a boutique winery with an outsize reputation due to the involvement of international wine consultant and co-owner Paul Hobbs. Hobbs was one of the first foreigners to see the potential in Argentina’s wine industry on an international level and his influence on the industry’s development here cannot be underestimated—both because he helped raise expectations of the quality of wine Argentina could produce as well as signaling the start of more and more international wine industry interest in the country.

Familia Zuccardi estate in maipu

Vina Cobos label

Hobbs partnered with Andrea Marchiori (whose father is also a distinguished winegrower) and her husband, Luis Barraud, to create ultra-premium, vineyard-designate wines that exemplify their terroir. The Bramare Appellation and Vineyard Designate Malbecs from Lujan de Cuyo, and especially those from the Marchiori Vineyard, are complex and spicy with some flinty notes as well as some coffee and caramel from the new French oak barrels in which they are aged. On the more affordable and immediately drinkable side, the Felino line of wines including Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet are blends from all over the Mendoza region and represent an overall snapshot of the characteristics wines from here take on.

By contrast, a two-hour drive to the hinterlands of the Uco Valley—where winemakers are fully exploring a variety of different terroirs in this vast appellations various sub-regions—visitors can enter the enormous private domain of Clos de los Siete, a multi-million dollar investment by some of France’s most illustrious wineries including Malartic-Lagraviere and Chateau Leoville-Poyferre, all overseen by world-renowned wine consultant Michel Rolland, who also has a winery on the massive property. The project’s flagship wine, to which all these wineries contribute some of their production, is the eponymous Clos de los Siete red, which is a mix of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes a little Petit Verdot depending on the year.

The wine exemplifies one of the new directions in which Argentina is moving: producing wines that are in the mid rather than low-price range that exhibit the same high qualities as top-tier products from other markets and that are incorporating varietals traditionally found elsewhere, but that are here being used both to temper and enhance the Malbec that still makes up the majority of production. Not only that, but although there are several wineries all on the same property and cooperate on several levels, each is producing a line (or lines) of its own wines under its own staff and direction. This is a completely new model for Argentina and one that allows them to work together while still being able to create individual identities for their wineries and produce distinct wine lists.


On these, you’re likely to see some interesting varietals you would not have found before in Argentina, such as Viognier, as well as new interpretations of previously overlooked ones such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which here takes on interesting characteristics of green notes, peppers and red fruits that you won’t typically find in Cabernets from other parts of the world.

With all the recent interest in Argentine wines, it’s no wonder that the country’s wine industry, and the region of Mendoza in particular, has developed so much in so short a time, both in terms of the wine being produced and the ways in which visitors can experience it. What was once an offbeat wine tasting stop on larger South American itineraries is fast becoming an international jetset destination in its own right, and one which any wine lover should be sure to visit.

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