The Holiday Hangover

I hate the holiday hangover. It feels like shit to go back to work after the completion of an amazing trip abroad. Recently we spent a month going around the world, visiting fantastic places, seeing incredible people, and eating some of the best food of our lives. We spent time in Hong Kong, Milan, Rome, Positano, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Zaragoza, Barcelona, Girona, Zurich, and Boston. We ate at Bo Innovation, Tim Ho Wan, Cracco, La Pergola, Imago, Akelarre, Mugaritz, and Arzak with many others in between. Now that’s one hell of a trip!

But once we return home, face the reality of regular life, the enormity of the credit card balance, and the growing expanse of my waist, a sinking feeling sets in. Wouldn’t it just be easier and much less expensive to simply stay at home? Why do we have this insane obsession with seeing the world?

And then we reflect. We spend an afternoon gazing through the thousands of photos we took on the trip. We open the gorgeous cookbooks and remember some of the incredible dishes we tasted. We read some of the tweets from the new friends we made around the world. And then it hits us – these are the reasons we travel.

It’s the so friendly and helpful people of Hong Kong, who not only helped us find Tim Ho Wan (1 Michelin starred dim sum madness) but spent time translating the full menu into English for us. It’s chef Alvin Leung (Bo Innovation) sitting down with us and giving us tips on the Spain part of our trip.

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It’s seeing the Alps for the first time on the train ride from Zurich to Milan.

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It’s standing on our balcony next to the Duomo in Milan, Nastro Azzuro in hand, watching the world go by.

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And it’s standing in the middle of the Colosseum, right where the gladiators walked into the arena thousands of years ago. It’s talking ourselves into spending a couple hundred Euros each to visit La Pergola and being seated outside in time to see the sun set over Rome and the Vatican. And it’s the look on my wife’s face when she sees the dessert surprise. It’s also another amazing sunset at Imago, above the Spanish steps, and having the most incredible ravioli we have ever tasted.

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It’s arriving at our room in Positano and having our breath taken away by the view. It’s listening to my in-laws (they crapped on about it for years) and taking the little-red-fish boat to Da Adolfo and having one of the best seafood lunches on earth. And it’s growing some balls and climbing up to a little rock arch and jumping off into the Mediterranean. It’s also about spending the night on our balcony, eating luscious prosciutto, and drinking fantastic Italian wine.

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It’s seeing a pinxtos bar for the first time in Bilbao and diving right in.

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It’s checking into our room in San Sebastian and realising that not only do we have a gorgeous balcony but it looks right over the sea. Not only that but realising that it’s festival time in the Basque country and that we’re smack in the middle of a weeklong party! It’s the sunset at Akelarre and then having some of the best food of the trip, top that off with meeting Chef Pedro Subijana!

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It’s being complete idiots and booking the #4 and the #8 restaurants in the world, Mugaritz and Arzak, on the same day… for lunch and dinner. Yep, that’s thirty-nine courses, and seven hours of eating later! But it’s having simply the most enjoyable meal ever at Mugartiz. It was the food, the kitchen tour, scoring an authentic apron, enjoying dessert outside, buying a copy of Mugaritz BSO and then being lucky enough to have Chef Aduritz sign it in person and then thank US for coming.

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It’s meeting both generations (and genders) of Arzak chefs the moment we walk into the restaurant for dinner. And senior Arzak telling us he loves a “little restaurant in Sydney called Tetsuya’s”.

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It’s making the best decision of the trip and spending an extra 60EUR a night to get a balcony in our room at Hotel 1898 in Barcelona. And then eating mammoth amounts of tinned seafood with cheap-ass sangria each night. It’s also having the best sandwich on earth – nothing but tomato smeared bread and jamon Iberico.

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It’s being convinced to hire a car and visit Dali’s house in Portlligat. And being greeted by a freaky stuffed polar bear as we walk in the front door!

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It’s being bummed that we couldn’t get into El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, no matter how much I harassed them by email and Twitter. But it’s then finding an amazing gem in NU Restaurant, where we sat at the bar and the chef cooked a mind-blowing degustation menu for us.

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And then him loving our Spanish attempts so much that he started ad-libbing dishes for us, taking a photo of us together, and plying us with shots of an alcohol available only in Girona.

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It’s finding out that Zurich is fucking expensive. No, really. Really.

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It’s seeing my parents and best friend for the first time in two years and my mother putting on her annual luau. And it’s my best mate looking like a complete dumb ass.

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It’s $12 lobsters in New England.

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It’s taking my mom, dad, and wife to a Red Sox game and my dad wearing his Australia hat for the whole day. It’s dad and my wife pissing themselves with laughter during the sixth inning. And it’s the Sox winning and my dad smiling like a little kid.

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It’s finishing our trip with a freaking cool ice cream sandwich at Coolhaus LA...

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and then having what some consider the best burger in the world at Fathers Office.

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And it’s giving each other a kiss on the cheek on the flight home.

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Guess all that travel is worth it after all.

La Pergola - Heinz Beck At His 3* Best (Michelometer at 9*)

When we were researching our global food journey I quickly added La Pergola in Rome to our itinerary. Firstly, it is the only three Michelin-starred restaurant in Rome, and second, its head chef is Heinz Beck, who is world renown for the things he’s done over the years. He even made a guest appearance on Channel 7 in Sydney back a few months ago. But as with Imago, I had no idea how amazing the views were! We were again treated to a fantastic table, right on the edge of the patio overlooking the whole of Rome. You can’t beat this view…

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As for the food, well, it was just beautiful. We’ve only done one other three starred restaurant before, Jean-Georges in NYC for lunch, so we didn’t know what to expect. I usually don’t start with a dessert shot but this picture really sums up our visit to La Pergola. Look at the inquisitive look and expression on the Gourmet Female’s face! This was a dessert surprise box, with an amazing little treat in each tray.

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I know that's an "after" shot, but here's a "before" shot. She looks so happy. In retrospect this was the start of an amazing night and an incredible meal. 

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Our first dish was “Tonno tonnato”. What you see is a rich tuna broth with freeze dried and ground tuna powder. We immediately knew that something different was up here. Yes, Cracco and Imago were amazing but this was going to be special.

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Next up was an emince of lobster on apricot puree with basil puff. The lobster was barely cooked and was amazingly soft. The primary flavours matched so incredibly well – I was inspired to try to create something similar when we return home.

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This was followed with, “The sea…” I don’t really know how to explain this dish to do it any justice! One of our friends who have been following our journey asked what the dish of foam was all about. I guess if you imagine all the amazing flavours you’ve ever had from the sea, condense that thought into a foam and place it on a plate that would nail it. Still unclear? Visit and eat it!

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The lightest pasta dish we had on the trip was fagottelli “La Pergola”. They were light pockets of pasta sitting in an amazing broth of bacon and vegetables.

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Quickly I realised that while I understood what the names of the dishes were I wasn’t going to be able to understand the complexity that underlies them. Case in point were the king prawns in tempura on puree of fried squids. Yes, that’s king prawns with squid but no, there was so much more going on than that. But they were a perfect segue to the remainder of the meal.

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Our first main savoury dish was cod with celery sauce and curry crust. If I could cook cod like this my friends would never leave my house. The fish was masterfully cooked and the celery sauce was the finest, lightest accompaniment to the dish I could have imagined. Best fish fillet dish of the trip!

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Our final main savoury dish was fillet of veal with mushrooms, summer truffle, and potatoes. This was so good that the next day I went to a deli in Rome and picked up a big jar of summer truffle to try to recreate this dish or to use with duck when we return. It had the right level of richness but also treated the mushrooms with the care that they deserve.

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Dessert started with a fine selection of cheeses from the trolley. Each was handpicked by our waiter and individually plated up for our enjoyment. We then had a nice sorbet palate cleanser.

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We were then given a couple other desserts, including a gorgeous chocolate suffle.

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Like I said before, this picture of the “Grand dessert” and the Gourmet Female’s reaction says it all. Each individual tray had some tasty surprise, whether it be a macaron, fruit jelly, or chocolate truffle. They were all beautiful.

The food and service at La Pergola was very refined but yet retained a sense of whimsy. Looking back on it, while we more enjoy the laid back atmosphere in Spain it was the experience of a lifetime to get properly dressed up, stare at the skyline of Rome, and enjoy a meal from one of the best chefs on the planet. Thanks, chef! 

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