The original plan was to go to Stockholm, but that would have involved handing over our hard-earned dosh to Ryanair, something we had pledged never to do again… so that plan was never going to take off. Thankfully, with the help of Google and our trusty 36 Hours in Europe book, it didn’t take long to conjure up an alternative: Gothenburg. Sweden’s second city caught our attention because it was often lumbered with the tagline of being a little rough around the edges but undergoing a resurgence. We like the sound of places like this, they are usually a little more under the radar and less chaotic than the main tourist haunts.
After spending a long weekend in Gothenburg, I would whole-heartedly recommend it as city break destination for those who are content with strolling the pretty streets, browsing through the trendy shops, and wandering down the halls of their excellent museums. We did all that, but mainly so we could walk off all the food we were devouring. The city is covered by both the Michelin Guide and its specifically Nordic counterpart, the White Guide, so there is a lot of great food to be had at all times of the day. We dabbled in the Swedish ‘fika’ culturewith stops for tea and buns, while also enjoying a mix of traditional and modern Swedish cuisine – here are a few ideas for you if you ever find yourself in Gothenburg…
Bangkok is not a city for the faint hearted; in fact, I’ve come to realise it’s a bit of a marmite kind of town. You either love it or hate it. In our case, we love it… it wasn’t love at first sight but after three decent stints, we’re firm fans. So much so that we’ve often talked about how we could see ourselves living there for a while, to truly get under its skin. I would ecstatically devote my days to uncovering the nooks and crannies you don’t get to find when you’re just visiting, and eat my way through the side alleys and street stalls. But what really excites us about Bangkok is that on top of all that, there’s also a burgeoning contemporary restaurant scene which is dead set on catching up with its more established Western counterparts.
Right now, the food industry in Bangkok feels like a land of opportunity that everyone wants a piece of. International chefs are flocking to this fertile ground, while local chefs are upping their game to hold their place. Contemporary fine dining here doesn’t seem to have the same constraints or rules, perceived or otherwise, that may exist elsewhere and as a result, the cuisine is ambitious and creative. As a diner, this gets me salivating and hungry for more… new restaurants are popping up all over the city, some of them are serving up traditional Thai flavours in a fresh new approach, whilst others are bringing their own style and incorporating the very best of Thai ingredients!
I looked over the menu not once, but twice, fervently studying each and every course listed. There are seven on the tasting menu and none of them have any mention of a fish amok. This, dear friends, startles me because it is quite unusual for a Cambodian restaurant to be without a version of the national dish, but then, Embassy is not your usual Cambodian restaurant. This is Cambodian-inspired fine dining, where chefs Pol and Sok have combined their love of local ingredients with their French culinary training. The double act are nicknamed the Kimsan Twins, though they aren’t really twins but coincidentally share a surname. I get it, it’s catchy, but after dining at their all-female restaurant, I think the food and service is memorable enough.
I’ve barely had time to admire the crisp white tablecloths and the very chic decor before the amuse bouche arrives. It’s a steamed baby tomato stuffed with buffalo; I like that it looks dainty and cute, but tastes a lot bigger and bolder. I take this as a sign of things to come and heartily look forward to the next course. The lotus stem salad comes tightly packed together and well dowsed in the sweet and sour dressing which I’m a fan of, even though it means the slow cooked pork belly which is also supposedly present, is nowhere to be tasted.
When we came to an abrupt halt outside the entrance of Malis in Siem Reap, I was in a mild state of shock. Our tuk tuk driver hooning down a one-way street in the opposite direction might have contributed had this been our first week in South East Asia, but by this point we were nonchalant about these things. I was actually more taken aback by the grandeur of Malis, and relieved I had decided to ditch the flip flops in favour of real shoes. From the attention-grabbing entrance to the sultry dining room which wrapped around a lush little courtyard, the whole space was rather stunning. As was the food, but I had already suspected that would be the case. Malis, brainchild of local celebrity chef Luu Meng, has been serving its refined take on traditional Khmer cuisine for close to 15 years in Phnom Penh and has recently brought this same touch of class to Siem Reap!
After weeks of eating solely out of melanine plates and bowls, usually perched on stools at a wobbly plastic table, the sight of a well set table at Macalister Mansion was a welcomed one. Hawker centres hold a special place in my heart but there are also times when one wants to have a meal they can linger over. Preferably without the soundtrack of woks being fired up and pots clanging, and away from the glare of other hungry diners eyeing up your seat. The Dining Room at Macalister Mansion provided this brief oasis; you won’t find any of Penang’s famed street food here but you will find a fine-dining experience good enough to make you think you’re sitting in London’s Mayfair. In a country like Malaysia where hawkers reign supreme, this is a rare find indeed!
Macalister Mansion is named after Sir Norman Macalister, one of the first Governors of Penang. I’m not sure what he would have made of the transformation, but personally I think they have done a marvellous job restoring this colonial mansion into an exclusive eight bedroom boutique hotel in the heart of Georgetown. While each of the unique rooms has a luxurious but sleek approach to their design, the common spaces are where the artistic flair truly shines. We spent our first few moments at Macalister Mansion in their delightful Cellar, sinking into the oversized leather couches, eyes darting around taking in the trinkets carefully placed across the room. Before we got too comfortable, we moved into the Dining Room, another stunning space with tables set around a striking white tree centrepiece. The Penang we already knew felt like a world away…
We may have arrived in Melbourne late into the night, but from the very first moment I saw its dazzling city lights, I was smitten. Often described as a grown up version of our hometown Wellington, and being just as varied but more laid back than London, it was no surprise that I felt completely at home in Australia’s second largest city. It is stylish, filled with culture, and has everything a food-obsessed traveller such as myself could want! I used to dismiss all those reports calling it one of the most liveable cities in the world as skewed promotion, but frankly I’m now a convert and it’s on the list as a possible future home for a certain someone and I.
With only a couple of days in the city, we decided to leave the suburbs for our next visit and mostly stick within the grid of the CBD. Not that this was in any way limiting. Visits to the National Gallery of Victoria, Botanic Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance, walks along the Yarra River and a spot of shopping was more than enough to hold our interests. There was also plenty to sate our appetites; we only tried but a slither of Melbourne’s eateries but from what I tasted, I was impressed. It reminded me a lot of London’s food scene where the whole world is at your fingertips, there’s something to cater for every budget, and great places spread all over the city. We pretended to be Melbournians and brunched with the best of them, wandered around the city, then checked out some of the wide range of cuisines on offer…
After boldly putting my Wellingtonian status on the line, I thought I better try and salvage what chance I have left of being let back into the city by pointing out that there is actually great food in Wellington. I stand by what I said: Auckland’s restaurant scene is better and booming right now in terms of style and quality, but… Wellington’s isn’t too shabby either. Wellington has always had fantastic cafes and once upon a time when I lived here, I actually liked going out for brunch. It excelled at cheap and cheerful eateries too with Malaysian cuisine leading the pack for the best wallet-friendly hearty dinners, and the craft beer buffs were always well looked after.
The coolest little capital in the world does have some culinary prowess and I was reminded of this once again on a recent trip home. We were back in Wellington for a few weeks over the summer and though we spent a lot of time catching up with friends and family, and taking advantage of the fact we had a temporary kitchen, we did manage to eat out a bit too. Would I be Connie Consumes if I didn’t?! I took many trips down memory lane with my favourite pick-your-own sushi and bagel lunches, leisurely weekend visits to old favourites such as Sweet Mother’s Kitchen (I still love their curly fries) and a few wines on the waterfront for old time’s sake.