Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

Sydney’s night noodle market
10/11/2009, 00:32
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I thought I’d already posted a peek into my final evening in Sydney last month, but checking back I only captured the night noodle market on TwitPic. It’s now a little late in the day, or indeed the following month, but the market is certainly still worth a mention.

Sydney is a foodie’s paradise. You don’t have to spend long there before it becomes apparent the city has a truly world class selection of cuisine on offer (except for oysters, perhaps – I don’t like to talk about them anymore). And because of Australia’s proximity to what is our Far East, there’s a strong Asian flavour running throughout the city’s kitchens.

Twitchhiker - night noodle markets

The night noodle market is an annual event taking place in October – the city’s Hyde Park is boxed in by stalls that tease the tummy with all manner of whiffs and sniffs and smells. I was alone so I quietly plumped for some chicken dumplings and milled amongst the crowds – there was probably a thousand people enjoying the weekday evening in Sydney, splashing a drop of vino and slurping noodles from cartons.

I’m not sure the UK could pull something similar off; two dozen burger vans selling pork sandwiches in gravy while you crack open a warm can of Stella – it isn’t quite as seductive, is it?


Woks and rocks, sharks and shells

Twitchhiker - Sydney, as seen from Shark Island
I’d never considered Sydney as a destination for foodies until I arrived here. Obviously any major city attracts its fair share of renowned restaurants, but this place is teaming with them; the Good Food Guide 2010 is like a telephone directory. This is a place that loves food.

As part of Crave Sydney, the International Food Festival has hosted the World Chef Showcase this weekend. Chefs from around the world arrived at Star City to demonstrate the fine art of food in front of attendees; imagine Ready Steady Cook without the ¬£5 bag of groceries, the contestants who can’t chop an onion or Ainsley Harriott mugging for the camera, and you’ll realise this is nothing like Ready Steady Cook at all and I’ve wasted your precious time making the comparison.

Instead what you have is an astounding line-up of the world’s unsurpassed kitchen talents; I may not be a professional foodie, but I know Rainer Becker is one of the best in the business. And I may not have a well-developed palette, but when Neil Perry discussed the composition of his 3 Shot Chicken (a shot of soy, one of chilli and another of Coopers Pale Ale) as I was simultaneously dribbling the free sample down my last clean shirt, it all made sense; so the portions weren’t the size of my Nana’s chicken dinner but if I took the time to actually taste my food, I’d discover something quite wonderful.

The culinary education didn’t end there. A group of us took to Circular Quay to tour the four islands in Sydney Harbour; Crave Sydney is the first time the public has been able to tour all four on a water taxi, hopping from one to another. We ate lunch at Fort Denison, a flattened length of rock on which defenses were built to protect the city (not that it was always flat; most of the island was quarried¬† in the 19th Century to build the nearby Circular Quay).

Despite the remote position in the harbour, island life isn’t dull according to one grizzled member of staff welcoming visitors:

“You see a lot when you’ve worked here a long time. Sharks, whales, dolphins. Even saw a body once. That was interesting.”

As we sat down to lunch, writer Graeme Reid told us how his father remembered the scene a very different way; he described the harbour as once been home to so many sharks, you felt you could walk across their backs from one side of the harbour to another. Like James Bond in Live and Let Die, I imagined.

Twitchhiker - Sydney Harbour Bridge
I played the lunch card safe with Gorgonzola tart and egg linguine, but Graeme and our host Tonia opted for oysters. Apparently the oysters served up were the best Australia had to offer. That’s all very well, I said, but they look like a mouthful of flu in a shell. I ate one anyway – you can’t talk with authority on a matter through apathy and inaction – and while the experience wasn’t as completely revolting as I had suspected it would be, I can safely safely say oysters won’t be troubling my menu selection in the near future.

There are plenty of new photos of the island hopper tour on Flickr – let me know what you think!

Craving Sydney
10/10/2009, 22:56
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I wasn’t expecting my flight from New York to Sydney to take quite so long, certainly no longer than a flight from London to Sydney. The possibility warps logic a little; after all; you’ve already flew across 3,500 of Atlantic Ocean – surely that puts you closer to Oz, right? Of course it doesn’t; from London to Sydney is a little shy of 9,600 miles, while NYC to Sydney is just under 10,000 miles. Approaching Sydney from the states means crossing the International Data Line and flying several thousand flying further on into the Eastern hemisphere.

Twitchhiker - Sydney

Still, I thought I’d feel worse after 29 hours of travelling, but I seem to be developing a resistance to tiredness and jetlag. I have no problems accepting the time difference; you lose all bearings while sealed in a pressurised steel tube for hours on end so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to accept you’ve lost a day and it’s light outside instead of dark. What I do struggle with is my perception of when I started travelling. I left New York on Thursday lunchtime – by the time I arrived in Sydney yesterday morning, that seemed like weeks ago. The routine of sleep provides reasonably fixed bookends to my days, and when I lose these points of reference even recent events are distorted.

So here I am, my first trip to Australia. It took me 15 minutes to have a shave once I arrived – I had to keep checking the view out the hotel window to confirm that yes, that was the Sydney Opera House looking up at me. I’ve yet to see much of the city, save for a brief mosey around the opera house and into the Botanical Gardens at Circular Quay.

The opera house is obviously known worldwide for those pristine white teeth that bite into Sydney skyline, but close up the building is even more fascinating. The structure is covered in over a million ceramic tiles tinged with creams and greens, rather the uniform crisp white skin we imagine; there are patterns within patterns, more as you move closer and closer:

Twitchhiker - Sydney Opera House

Last night was spent dining at Rockpool Bar & Grill, a world-class restaurant spread across the lobby of a former bank. The original Art Deco fittings provided a decadent setting to a venue that has 9,000 bottles of wine stashed away in the original bank vault. Downstairs in Spice Temple, fiercely delicious aromas of Asian cuisine thickened the air as our group sampled cocktails based on the Chinese calendar; I drank a whole Horse, and it’s not often you can say that.

Life on Mars – the Sydney dust storm
23/09/2009, 19:26
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I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here yet, but following my trip to New York next week I’m heading on to Sydney. Australia is new territory for me, and I’m arriving during the first annual celebration of the city, Crave Sydney. It’s a month of comedy, arts, events and food (mmmm), and so I’ll be blogging and tweeting my way around the events and the city itself.

That said, I’m a little disappointed I’m not there right now. The photos of the dust storm that’s consumed the city in the past few hours are phenomenal – the images are like stills from Total Recall. I’m sure it’s that not much fun to be in amongst, but there can’t be too many opportunities in life to see a modern city shrouded in a veil of science fiction. There are galleries of the event popping up all over the web, including Flickr (naturally) and the Boston Globe (thanks to @charlesarthur):

Image by redwolfoz on Flickr. Some rights reserved.Photo by redwolfoz on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The drama will have long since past by the time I arrive on the 9th, but I’m looking forward to exploring the city and dining like a king during Crave Sydney. I’ll tell you more about the festival closer to the time (or you can read about it on the Crave Sydney website) – and if you live in the area and would like to meet up for coffee or beers, let me know!