Category Archives: Restaurants

Café Edison, a quintessential piece of New York

Breakfast was not included in my deal at the W Hotel in Times Square. If it had been, I would never have discovered the Café Edison. To have missed this iconic Broadway eatery would have been to miss a quintessential piece of New York.

Café Edison
Café Edison

Housed in the former ballroom of Edison Hotel, at 228 West 47th Street, in the heart of Broadway, the café’s mirrored bar and booths with benches sit under a vaulted blue ceiling and between pink walls busily embossed with white. Added to this is a pastiche  of posters, homey art works that look like the oeuvres of some rising family star, fragments of menu, advertisements and framed newspaper article that proudly blow the trumpet of this theatre world landmark.

Theatre patrons, stage-hands, actors, producers and playwrights all congregate here. Plays are conceived and written here. August Wilson dashed off the notes for three of his scripts on Cafe Edison napkins. Neil Simon’s comedy, 45 Seconds From Broadway is about this café which he claimed as his second home, whose staff he embraced as his family and where he could always be found at his special, reserved, cordoned off table, just inside the front door. Big theatre deals are clinched and important Broadway decisions, like who’s up for a Tony, are thrashed out at the Café Edison’s tables.

The café is also known as the Polish Tea Room, which according to N.Y.C. lore, is a nod, or rather a dig, at the prestigious, expensive and now long-gone, Russian Tea Room. But it is also, surely, a tribute to the Café’s Polish founders Harry and Frances Edelstein and to the legendary Polish Jewish cuisine that the Edelstein family have turned out over two generations. The menu includes Latkes, matzo brei, borscht, stuffed cabbage, corned beef, pastrami, lightly fried blintzes stuffed with sweetened cheese, blueberries or cherries, giant open-faced reubens, kasha varmishkas, mazzo brei, an assortment of soups, including, according to Condé Nast Traveler, “the best matzo ball soup in town” and fabulous breakfasts with eggs “over easy” and endless coffee.

Wielding the coffee pots is a gaggle of waitresses of an appearance, age and style that strongly reminded me of an already dated sit-com called Alice which I watched every day during at 1.pm during the summer of 1983 while I breast-fed my newborn son. Other reviewers have described them as “short”, “rude”, “crabby” and “off-hand”. But to me, they had the weary, long-suffering, matter-of-fact, business-like demeanor of working mothers with jobs to do, mouths to feed and messes to clean-up before they could get off their feet. So, cups were filled, toast was replenished and extras added to meals without fuss or favour because they knew, or seemed to, what all their customers needed before they did themselves and it wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest if they’d slapped some hands and wiped some chins into the bargain.

Don’t miss the Café Edison on your New York adventure, it’s worth it for architecture, the people watching, the exceptional (though not in the conventional sense) service and absolutely unreservedly for the food.

Fusion Virtuoso, very cool, very Zen, very different

I discovered Fusion Virtuoso quite by chance. As I made my way back along Wellington’s Manners Street to my hotel one Friday night a few weeks ago, this pavement blackboard  stopped me in my tracks.

Fusion Diversity
Fusion Diversity

Fusion  Diversity?  The art of thinking independently together?   – Interesting!

I followed the arrow.   Fusion Virtuoso Bar Restaurant!  The name suggested exotic dishes, unexpected blends of flavours,  imagination, creativity and flair. I glanced back at the blackboard. There were no menu specials, no prices, just that fragment of philosophy – very cool, very zen, very different.

Fusion Virtuoso is very cool, very zen and very different. It is a calm and restful place with lots of space, lots of black, lots of white and very gentle light. Pots of plants provide splashes colour.  At the front is a lounge area with comfortable chairs and low tables. To the rear there is a bar, lit with blue neon strips (Fusion Virtuoso’s colour, as it happens) and a dining area, with simple black tables and chairs.

Fusion Virtuoso
Fusion Virtuoso

Jordan was behind the bar when I arrived. His warm and friendly welcome made me feel instantly at home. He  found me the perfect table, at the back, against the wall, with a great view through the restaurant, to the street. Then he withdrew, leaving me to the menu.

The Fusion Vituoso menu is everything that the name suggests. With tastes from Europe, Asia, South America, the West Indies, the Pacific as well as Aotearoa New Zealand, it’s a mouth- watering read.  There some fabulous combinations – imagine caramelised kimchi, French duck and kumara noodles!

It took me quite some time to make my choices but Jordan did not hover or hurry me. I decided finally on the Lite Fish Salad entree. This subtle, melt-in-the-mouth tuna infused cottage cheese and tomato dish, on its bed of crisp lettuce, cucumber and soy beans, was the ideal starter. Not too little, not too much, with just enough flavour to sharpen the appetite.

Sautéed Pork, inspired by the bright lights of Tokyo
Sautéed Pork, inspired by the bright lights of Tokyo

It was an extremely hard decision but after dithering for ages between the Kimchi Duck and the Sauteed Pork, I settled on the latter. “Inspired by the bright lights of Tokyo”, this dish brings together  an amazing palette of tastes and textures – salty, juicy, tender marinated pork strips, sharp, tangy spinach, beans with the perfect crunch factor, delicately flavoured rice (two types) and, best of all, sweet Turkish apple tea sauce.  Everything had that fresh, just out of the pan, home-cooked (but in a good way!) flavour.  Not only was this dish absolutely delicious, it looked like a work of art.

I read the dessert menu avidly and was seriously tempted by the Hazlenut chocolate rolls. The crispy, sweet, spring rolls filled with hazelnut and chocolate, accompanied by ice-cream flavoured with Aotearoa’s own invention, pineapple lumps, sounded like a slice of heaven. Sadly, I could eat no more. But then, Fusion Virtuoso’s operations manager, Becky Chin, brought out two dishes filled with what looked like tiny, gleaming gold and jade jewels. They were in fact, little drops of frozen fruit juice. Although usually served as a palate cleanser, they are the perfect dessert solution for the person who is looking for a sweet, but also small, light and healthy finale.

The perfect dessert solution
The perfect dessert solution

I rarely dine alone, so when I do I want to luxuriate in the experience. Everything matters – environment, service and of course cuisine.  Fusion Virtuoso ticked the all top boxes on my solo dining list. The restaurant environment was relaxing and attractive. The service was exemplary; Jordan and Becky were friendly but not invasive, attentive but not overbearing, gracious, but not effusive and most of all, thoughtful and intuitive. The Fusion Virtuoso cuisine was a totally new, delightfully different taste experience and it was evident that thought, care and imagination had gone into sourcing, preparing and presenting it.

My one regret that night was that I didn’t sample a Fusion Virtuoso cocktail, but I think a dedicated  session might be required to fully appreciate these.

Check out www.fusionvirtuoso.co.nz and read all about the people, the philosophy and the commitments that underpin this very cool, very zen, very different Wellington restaurant.

Fusion Virtuoso, 2 Manners Street, Te Aro, Wellington 6011,

Phone 04 801 6611, Mobile 021 516 889

Lunch, a culinary adventure at qualia

“the qualia experience would not be complete without a culinary adventure through the finest produce our region and country has to offer”.

The view from qualia's Long Pavilion
The view from qualia’s Long Pavilion

We begin our culinary adventure with lunch at the Pebble Beach Restaurant which sits just on the edge of the beach below our pavilion. Our table on the deck looks out over the sea to bushy bays on a distant shore and the waves lap softly at the stones below.

The menu is a great read and it’s sensibly short. Those seeking awakenings of the sensory imaginations, especially in three days, don’t really have time to linger.  Still we dither. Beside us a gentleman is tackling a large colourful burger while his partner tucks into a work of art in fruits de mer which the waitress confides in a whisper is the black kingfish and salmon nori tempura with green apple, cucumber, wasabi, sweet ginger dressing.

We decide finally to divide and conquer,  mounting a united assault on the entree of  ribboned foie gras, chocolate paper and pear purée served with toasted brioche. We divide for the main. He takes the lead from his neighbour and orders the char grilled beef burger with fries, bacon, gruyere, caramelised onions, lettuce, and tomato while I wade into unknown waters for the alt ‘n’ pepper bugs with bean sprouts, Asian herbs and hot ‘n’ sour sauce. Together we conquer dessert – vanilla panna cotta with espresso jelly and hazelnut biscotti.

A wonderful beginning to our culinary adventures at qualia! After only half a day, my jaded sensory imagination is already beginning to revive!

Brick Lane, Part 2, Little Bangladesh

This series of posts was first published as an article in the Travel and Indulgence section of The Australian (newspaper) in October, 2008

In the 1920s the first Bangladeshi, mostly single men from Sylhet in the north, arrived in Brick Lane. Packed into tiny bedsits and rented rooms, they laboured on the docks, in sweatshops and in clothing factories. The first curry houses opened and the great tradition of Anglo-Southern Indian cuisine began.

Outside a Brick Lane Curry House
Outside a Brick Lane Curry House

Now, the south end of Brick Lane is Banglatown, the heartland and the symbol of British Bangladesh. Here, Monica Ali set her controversial novel Brick Lane and here, outraged Bangladeshi took to the streets to protest against Brick Lane the movie which followed it.

Here the call to prayer brings out old and orthodox Islam, the patriarchs, the matriarchs in hijabs and the  fervent, bearded young. Signs in Sylheti and English point the way to the mosque.

Bangladeshi businesses line the pavements; money exchanges, travel agents, barbers, Islamic goods, leather ware, music and book shops. There are food stores stacked with fragrant, brightly packaged produce and piled with exotic fruits and vegetables, like Taj, which flies in Halal meat and fresh fish daily from the Bay of Bengal. There are fabric houses like Epra, crammed with bales of sumptuous sari silk, gorgeous brocades and cottons of amazing colour and design, all at giveaway prices. There are seventy Indian restaurants, the highest concentration in the world.

Curry is now a staple of the English diet and heading down to Brick Lane for a tikka is almost as much a London tradition as stepping out to the pub for a pint. Choosing a restaurant is a ritual; there are menus to browse, celebrity endorsements to check and curry touts’ deals to consider.

Monsoon, self-proclaimed “best of Brick Lane” is endorsed by the Beckhams. Housed in a narrow Hugenot terrace with a wide dark curving staircase, its style is old Raj, with layered tablecloths, heavy silver and fine china edged with Indian filigree. Indian art festoons the walls. The house specialty is chicken tikka masala, best teamed with spicy thali, smoky naan, samosas, coconut rice and Kingfisher beer. (Monsoon, unlike many other establishments, has a bar) A picturesque dessert menu shows pages of flamboyant fluoro-coloured, fruit-flavoured ice-cream extravanzas with fanciful names, like Royal Cup. In the background of lads’, tourists’ and city types nights’ out, family life plays out – a bored schoolboy polishes glasses behind the bar, a teenage girl in a hijab takes a break at back table, a gnarled grandmother watches from the kitchen door, a suave, avuncular maitre d’, patronises the punters and lords it over the long-suffering and endlessly obliging young waiters.

This short stretch of Brick Lane might seem another world, an exotic add-on from the Indian subcontinent, but it’s very much a part of modern Britain.

Putting on the Ritz in London

Frequented by Royals, rock stars and the rich and dripping with class, privilege and luxury, the Ritz has long enjoyed a reputation as the best joint in town – any town – Paris, New York, Rome or London. The epitome of all that is exclusive and, often, unattainable, to ordinary folk, it has informed song, in the cheeky “Putting on the Ritz”, story, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s whimsical “A diamond as big as the Ritz” and popular expressions, in  those stock retorts to dissatisfaction with fare or service at family tables the world over – “What do you think this is, the Ritz?” or even “Where do you think you are, the Ritz?”  So, what, really, makes the Ritz so special? What is it actually like behind that grand façade? What exactly is it that brings in all those big names and megabucks? I popped in for lunch recently to find out.

 

The Ritz
The Ritz

Arrival at the Ritz is a kind gauntlet run (and probably a well disguised presentation and security check, too) past top-hatted, waist-coated and bowing doormen, from the taxi, up the steps, through glass doors (opened and held by more top-hatted, bowing waist-coats) and across a lobby gleaming with polished wood.

The interior is a symphony for the eye – no discordant note of mismatched colour or misplaced decoration here – no, everything, from the perfectly pleated and draped curtains, the deep-piled carpets, the ceiling roses, the choirs of sculpted cherubs, the plaster cornices, the chandeliers bristling with twinkling bulbs, the huge wall mirrors, the furniture, the table linen, the china to the cutlery, is in perfect, soft-sheened pink, green, cream, white, gold, glass and silver baroque harmony. Classical piano music plays quietly against a background of discreet voices and the subdued tinkle of silver – no musak, no bursts of raucous laughter, no clash of stainless steel or crash of smashing plates here. No camera flash distracts the guests or disturbs the subtle lighting. Photographs are not permitted at the Ritz.

My three course lunch, from an unpretentious, English, three-choice menu, probably speaks for all Ritz cuisine. It all looked too good to eat but, in the end, tasted even better than it looked. The monkfish entrée was small, a manageable, melt-in-the-mouth lead-in to the “just-roast-pork-with-apple-sauce-and-four-veg.-but-oh-boy-what-they’ve-done-with-it” main, while the not too sweet and deliciously healthy vanilla yoghurt and fresh fruit dessert was the ideal finale.

Service at the Ritz strikes the perfect balance between the discreet touch and the flourish. Glasses never empty while plates and cutlery come and go as if by magic. Serviettes flap into place with a flick and a twirl while courses are ferried by waiters in single file who lift their silver covers with one accord. Staff are formal but not stiff, friendly but not familiar, attentive but not intrusive, respectful but not obsequious, efficient but not brisk, and mindful of their jobs but not afraid to be themselves.

Undoubtedly, the Ritz is luxurious, classy and exclusive. But the thing that really made my Ritz experience so special and that would certainly bring me back again, is that it is beautiful, comfortable, pleasant and welcoming.

Seri Melayu, a Malaysian showcase

The Seri Melayu Theatre Restaurant, on Kuala Lumpur’s Jalan Conlay aims ‘to provide a holistic cultural experience enriched by authentic cuisine, décor, music and dance and Malay hospitality ….” (Restaurant brochure)

Dancers and guests at Seri Melayu
Dancers and guests at Seri Melayu

Architecturally, the Seri Melayu is a showcase of Malay traditions. Made entirely from local timbers, it is styled on the rumah kampong the old Malay house, with elongated windows and wide eaves. The gabled roof, with the traditional Tunjuk Langit at its apex, is inspired by the dwellings of the Perak and Malacca. A tiled Malaccan stairway leads up to a wide verandah with carved rails. Tall wooden doors, thick with intricate carvings, open into the restaurant’s richly paneled lobby. The huge dining hall is designed and decorated in the luxurious style of the Malay Istana or palace. Its walls are paneled in wood and along its centre are four elaborately carved columns or Tiang Seri. At the ceiling the carvings merge and blossom into a giant hibiscus. The central column is another feature of the traditional rumah kampong and in the old Malay home it was of great importance and significance as the mainstay of the house.

If the Seri Melayu’s décor evokes the ambience of the Istana, its buffet of gourmet Malay cuisine evokes the generous traditions of palace hospitality. Presentation, variety and abundance are hallmarks of this extensive, colourful, sumptuous feast. Catering to local gourmets as well as foreign tourists, there are dishes to tempt and please all palates, from the afficiando to the initiate. There are satays, laksas and redangs, in a dozen different forms, and as many other ikan, goring and acar items. The desserts are delicious and include kueh mueh (little local cakes) and tempoyek (fermented durian) Choice is difficult and over-indulgence a real hazard.

The Seri Melayu’s cultural performance of Malay music and dance is another kind of feast. Featuring some of Malaysia’s famous folk dances, accompanied by the traditional string instrument and drums, in a parade of gorgeous costumes, it is a breath-taking spectacle of sound movement and colour.

For the tourist an evening at Seri Melayu is a total, traditional Malaysian cultural and culinary experience, in a setting typical of old Malaya.  Magical! But please, don’t wear shorts or you’ll be obliged to don a sarong before you enter!

 

Four great Budapest cafes

Budapest is well-endowed with cafés, restaurants and fast food joints which cater for every kind of international palate. If, however, you’re looking for a true taste of Hungary, or for a place which is as interesting for its history and its décor as it is for its cuisine and its service, there are four famous Budapest establishments which you simply must visit.

The Gerbaud Coffee House
The Gerbaud Coffee House

The Hotel Astoria, on the corner of Rokoczi Ut is home to a 19th century café and restaurant with old world charm and a traditional Hungarian menu.

The New York, on Erzebet Korut, is a coffee house in the old Budapest tradition. The interior is  exquisite and as it was once the haunt of the cream of Budapest society, it has a certain class and cachet.

The Gundel restaurant on the northwestern edge of Virosliget, or City Park, near the entrance to the Zoo, was the birthplace of Pancakes à la Gundel, a confection covered in chocolate, nuts and cream which has all the elegance, and the complete disregard for calories and colesterol, of times past.

The most famous and the grandest of all of Budapest’s cafes is the Gerbaud Coffee House. Founded by Hungary’s culinary leading light, confectioner Emil Gerbaud, it has stood at number 7, Varosmarty Ter since 1858. It still offers the traditional coffee and cake enjoyed by Budapest society ladies and gentlemen in the Dual Monarchy days. Home-brewed beer is also on tap at the Gerbaud Coffee House and it is warmly received by those who come to rest here after an exhausting day’s shopping on Vaci Utca.

Mykonos, Part 11, Oasis Garden

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Oasis – it’s a word that conjures up a haven of palms and endless sands, or at least shade and a pool in a parched landscape. The Oasis Garden Restaurant in Mykonos has neither palms nor ponds. But, tucked into the corner of a square overhung with bougainvillea and surrounded by neat blue and white houses, the Oasis Garden with its flowered, sheltered courtyard, is a haven of hospitality.

It’s at Oasis Garden that we spend our last evening on Mykonos. It’s a quiet Sunday night and until a quartet of young Brits drops in for a night cap, we’re the only customers. So the entire place is ours. We are at home, or at least at the home of old friends or neighbours. The meal is beautiful – from the tazsiki, taramasalata and Greek bread at the beginning, to the baklava at the end. The service is impeccable, the setting exquisite and the ambience wonderful. It’s a perfect last supper.