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

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!