What a year it’s been – full of new sights seen, new experiences had, and plenty of new food consumed – I’ve loved every single minute of it. I started 31 in Melbourne and we have spent the year in New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Japan, before eventually coming back to London a couple of months ago. This year has been an utter privilege and taught me so much about what I value and what I’m so lucky to have. For the nine months that we were on the road, a certain someone and I had the freedom to explore and the time to be engaged and present in new experiences; this was a true luxury and something I will never take for granted.
Summarising this year into a handful of highlights has been tough, but as always, I’ve loved taking the trip down memory lane. We’ve checked into some rather swanky hotels, and seen some sights that have genuinely made me pinch myself. We’ve eaten a ridiculous amount of incredible food from plastic stools on the roadside, Michelin star restaurants, and tiny eateries with a countertop bar and a handful of seats – all different but all a unique memory etched into my mind. Here are my favourite moments from the year that was…
Most Memorable Food Experience – Eating the street food of Vietnam
We quickly learnt that if you wanted to eat well in Vietnam, you needed to follow your nose and be prepared to perch on a comically low and tiny plastic stool. We found the best bun cha down a smokey alley in Hanoi, a flavoursome and well-balance bun hen by the side of a major intersection, and even enjoyed a stack of bahn cuon next to a motorbike parking bay – the atmosphere and food went hand in hand to create one of my most memorable food experiences of the year.
Favourite Overseas Restaurant Discovery – Macalister Mansion in Penang, Malaysia
This was not the best restaurant we ate at this year, but it was perhaps the most pleasant surprise. I’ve always sung the praises of Malaysia’s food culture – the variety and flavours in the authentic local dishes are phenomenal, but I never thought there was much of a fine dining scene. I still don’t, but do think that Macalister Mansion is a rare exception to the rule – our meal was a beautiful east meets west fusion, the execution was top notch, and the service was sleek too. The street food is what brings people to Penang but somewhere like Macalister Mansion is the kind of place which will hopefully get people talking about Malaysian food in a more refined light!
Most Delicious Travel Destination – Japan
We already knew we liked Japanese cuisine, but spending ten weeks in the country made us truly fall in love with their food culture. The Japanese seem to have such a special relationship with the ingredients, techniques and traditions that go into each dish, I swear that when you eat it, you can feel the passion and skill that went into making it. We had some meals which consisted of so many meticulously prepared elements that we found ourselves eating more slowly, wanting to savour ever bite as a sign of respect to the chef.
But even the most simple of dishes, perhaps a bowl of rice topped with fish and pickles, were made to such exacting standards that you can’t help but be impressed. At times we did struggle with the lack of diversity or modernity in style of the food, but those times were rare and the complaints were minimal. If you were keeping tabs on our trip, you’ll know that we developed quite a ramen obsession… every couple of days, we found ourselves getting a ticket from a vending machine and sitting down at a counter, before ferociously slurping the piping hot bowl of noodles until every last drop was devoured!
Favourite Travel Destination Discovery – Japan
We spent over two and a half months in Japan, and at no point did I ever get bored of being there. Everything I had seen in a million and one instagram posts lived up to the hype – the bright lights of Tokyo were awesome, the Arashiyama bamboo forest was eerily breathtaking in the rain, seeing a geisha was quite thrilling… however we discovered that Japan is so, so much more than those tourist hotspots. With the luxury of time, we were able to travel more slowly through the country and visit some of the smaller towns and cities. This showcased just how diverse the country is; the countryside is so lush and welcoming, and the different regions take such pride in their local delicacies and cultures. Japan was without a doubt the highlight of our travels, and we are already plotting a return to this magical place!
Favourite Michelin Star Experience – The Whitebrook, Wales
We were first introduced to The Whitebrook through seeing chef Chris Harrod on Great British Menu this season. His eclectic style and respect for the local ingredients impressed us from the outset; as we followed his progress throughout the show, we decided we wanted to try his food for ourselves and ended up planning a weekend getaway around it. The road to The Whitebrook was dark and windy, but worth every twist and turn to get there – the food was exceptional. We loved almost every part of the seven course tasting menu, in particular the “Everything but the Squeal” pork dish, and the “Tea and Cake” dessert, which were both featured on Great British Menu. Though the service could have been a lot sharper, we had absolutely no complaints about the food and wholeheartedly recommend it, especially when combined with a stay and meal at The Walnut Tree Inn for the ultimate food-lover’s getaway!
Best Home Cooking Experiment – Tonkotsu Ramen & Crusty Bread
Since we’ve been back in London, we’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Cooking was one of the things we missed most whilst travelling so it feels like we’ve been making up for lost time. We look forward to weekends at home when we could potter around and experiment with new recipes and dishes inspired from our travels. I have rediscovered the joy of baking, mainly thanks to my shiny new Kitchenaid. It was a bit of an impulse ‘first pay cheque’ purchase, but has been proving its worth ever since as I’ve been whipping up cakes and biscuits on a regular basis, and now baking bread each week. Meanwhile, a certain someone has set himself the task of turning into a ramen-sensei, lovingly bubbling pigs trotters and other carcasses for hours on end to create some beautifully rich and creamy ramen broths which have transported us back to the country we love so much! Next step… making our own ramen noodles…
Looking Ahead to 2019…
We are once again calling London home which I know was a surprise to many of our friends and family. We genuinely had no idea where we’d be at the end of our travels, and we’re not sure long we’ll stay, but for now this feels like the right place to be. But second time around, I will be living London life differently. I realised that when we left last year I was burnt out from balancing too many work, blog, and general life commitments. I don’t and won’t be needing to visit every new restaurant opening, or waiting for invites to various events around town… the focus will be on going where we want and sharing with you what I want. Our life will still involve copious amounts of food and travel (I’m not sure we know how to live any other way) so there will be plenty more stories to tell in the future but I’ll be doing so more slowly and hopefully more thoughtfully… I do hope you’ll stick around!
How has this year treated you? What were some of your highlights?!