Posts from the “Oceania” Category

Le Kou’Gny, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia: lobster restaurant nonpareil

Review:

Eating a lobster lunch at Le Kou’Gny on Boxing Day 2012 was simply one of  the best meals of my life.

As you will know by now I abhor Trip Advisor, but when it comes to New Caledonia, because there are so few people who visit, there aren’t that many websites where you can find a list of potential eateries.

So, when I was researching NC I did end up reading Trip Advisor reviews out of morbid curiosity rather than for any intention of listening to their advice.

What I read there and what I experienced at the restaurant show what a useless tool such rating and review sites are. Find a critic (or dare I say a flogger) whose opinions you trust and go with that where you can.

This wasn’t going to be a post about the perils of Trip Advisor, but now I’m all riled up again, it’s going to have to be an illustrative case study.

Now, bear in mind that the vast majority of the few thousand tourists who go to New Cal each year are Aussies or cruise ship passengers or both. Aussies as a bunch of people are completely spoiled. We get it. You have fabulous beaches, great weather, amazing landscapes and great food, so whenever you go on holiday you compare it to what you have back home. Unfortunately this can make some of you very small-minded, and this is doubly true of the cruising classes.

To read many of the English language reviews about Le Kou’Gny you’d think that it was a horrendous, overpriced beach shack whose staff were lazy, ignorant Pacific Islanders who choose the size of the lobster they serve you based on your ability to speak French. Honestly, I kid you not. Check out the reviews.

The reality is this:

The restaurant is a simple, rustic family business. Picnic tables are set out on the sand underneath the shady pines in what is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The restaurant is unreachable by road, and is a 15 minute trek along a jungle path. The Kanak guys who run it speak very little English, but are friendly and polite even if you are obviously struggling to make yourself understood in poor French. If you don’t speak French, bring a bloody phrasebook. It’s not that difficult.

Strangely enough, it’s not possible to catch 30 lobsters all the same size each day and so there is going to be variety of size between portions. However, whilst our lobsters were absolutely smaller than the table’s next to us, we were given an extra one and half slipper lobsters each, which were different and delicious. It’s obvious that the restaurant aims to serve each party with a uniform size of portion, but between tables the size might vary. Get over it.

That anyone should expect to pay buttons for a meal because they think that the overheads of the restaurant, the cost of ingredients and the material needs of the owners are limited, is frankly disgusting. I’d have paid double the US$70 per person price tag and been just as happy. They have every right to charge whatever they like.

Now the rant is over, here’s the nitty-gritty.

lobster_kougny

Food:

When you make a reservation you have to tell them whether you want lobster or fish as they will catch or buy the produce they need for their clients every morning. This is why you cannot turn up to Le Kou’Gny on spec and hope to eat lunch.

You absolutely must book in advance (I’ve been advised that you can ring as late as 6am the morning of your hoped for reservation and they will accommodate you if they have room).

Lunch is three courses of utter simplicity. A salad to start, followed by the seafood of your choice and rounding out with a fruit platter.

The salad was fresh with a really tasty dressing, a perfect starter on a hot day.

The lobster and slipper lobsters were superb. Lightly grilled, they were succulent and sweet. I’ve never had slipper lobster before and it was actually sweeter than the big lobster. I cleaned those shells, and sucked those joints and legs of every morsel, and pretty much drank the juice out of the shells too. Bliss.

The fruit was delicious. Local bananas, papayas, passion fruit etc, all sun ripened and perfectly set off with lime juice.

Simple. Delicious. Sweetly presented.

Drinks:

Ice cold beer and soft drinks on hand. Jugs of water brought to your table as a matter of course, and a small wine list. There’s also a dude selling coconuts at the restaurant which completes the tropical tableau.

Service:

We found the service perfectly friendly. We muddled through with our limited French. The food service was languid. There was no rush to get you finished and move you on. A Korean couple turned up without a booking and asked for a table (in English) for that day and were told that was not possible but they could book for the next day. All of this was in English. All perfectly friendly, if not verbose.

Ambience:

Perfect beach restaurant. An amazing view. Soft sand underfoot. Shady trees overhead.

kougny_food

Location:

Kou’Gny is up in Baie D’Oro in the north-east of the Isle of Pines. Road access is close to The Meridien Hotel and the drop-off point for the Piscine Naturelle. I would skip the piscine and head straight for Oro as it’s just as sheltered and beautiful and massive compared to the slightly crowded piscine (although there’s not as much to see snorkeling).

Our journey to Kou’Gny was organised through the Kou Bugny Hotel who were very helpful with tours even though we weren’t staying there. It involved an early start to grab a pirogue (traditional boat) at Baie St Joseph for a trip through the beautiful Baie Upi and then an hour’s easy trek through the forest to the restaurant. Such a lovely way to get there.

On the way back we just had a 15 minute walk back to the road where we were picked up in a minibus and taken back to the Baie Kuto where we were moored.

Mobile: +687 91 17 94 Landline: +687 46 10 65. I’ve read on some sites that you can leave it up to 9am on the day you want to eat to book, but if it’s a busy time of year, then don’t leave it that late.

Price:

The three course lunch was US$70 per person and then there were drinks and coconuts on top. Bear in mind that they are only open for lunch.

Summary:

Idyllic and charming. One of my favourite ever meals because of the mix of awesome location, great food and laid back atmosphere.

Quay, Sydney: Well worth the reputation

Review:

Mr H and I spent the first few days of the new year in Australia, staying on the Hawkesbury River at Berowra Waters for some quality relaxation time, and then we spent 36 hours in Sydney which included just one night.

It was my first time to visit the city and we’re not sure when the next opportunity to go will present itself, so we only had one option for dinner, and that was Quay (don’t worry, lunch was at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels at Woolloomooloo the next day, so we did feast on Aussie pie too).

When I was reliving the meal at Berowra Waters Inn for an earlier post I was inclined to think that the food was pretty close to that at Quay, but once I went through the menu again for Quay I realised what a special meal it was, and what a talented chef Peter Gilmore is.

Food:

Just beautiful food. The execution of the dishes is very impressive. There’s that 3* delicacy of flavour and precision of presentation that’s really delightful, (think flowers and micro herbs arranged using tweezers).

However. I had to ponder why I thought that the food at Berowra was close to Quay, and realised that the last three courses at Berowra were absolutely amazing and the whole meal reached a crescendo at the cheese course so it sits firmly in my mind as a great meal.

Whereas, Peter Gilmore’s menu was (to my palette at least) extraordinary for the first few courses, but once we’d scaled the giddy gastronomic heights of the smoked and confit pig cheek with scallops (literally cannot ever be topped), the rest of the meal wasn’t quite as good, and the whole ‘signature’ snow egg extravaganza just completely passed me by. And, whilst we are on the subject of desserts, why does anyone need two? Plus petit fours at the end. I do wish chefs would reel themselves in. Sugar overload at the end of a big meal doesn’t do anyone’s digestion any good.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome food, and worth every penny when you can spend the same amount of money in Hong Kong for food not one smidgen as good. Make sure you check out the menu.

Drink:

We chose the Classic Wine Match menu to pair with the meal and it was almost exclusively Aussie wines. The premium wine matching is Old World wines, and we had no inclination to drink those in our host country. I think that would have been rather rude.

The wines were great, but I think that the sommelier at Berowra Waters actually did a better job. The wines she chose (apart from the Topaque) really made the dishes pop and they were actually enhanced by the wine, whereas at Quay you didn’t notice that so much. You just noticed that they were really nice wines.  Again, I’m nit picking, it’s just that because I ate at these two restaurants on consecutive nights, I can’t help but compare.

The Space/The Ambience

We were warned when the reservation was made that there was a cruise ship in so there would be a very limited view from the restaurant. This didn’t bother us. All we wanted was a quiet corner to enjoy our food, which we got.

It was quite hilarious watching all the cruise passengers watching us right back, especially as we kept a running tally of the ratio of normal sized people to the utterly obese, (about 1:10). If that Royal Caribbean liner had gone down like the Costa Concordia, there is no way in hell that everyone would have been able to move fast enough to get off, let alone would there have been enough room in the lifeboats for all those fatties. I suppose at least they’d survive longer if rescue was delayed…

I digress. Without the view, the restaurant itself is nothing special.It’s tastefully Hyatt bland if you know what I mean. I presume they keep the lighting down so low to enable guests to get the full effect of the view across the harbour at night, but I would prefer to be able to see my food properly, and not have to worry about falling over steps that are impossible to see in the dark. Although going back to the cruise passengers, maybe they turn the lights down so that the restaurant isn’t such a goldfish bowl for people to stare into.

Service:

Can’t fault the service. It was efficient and friendly. Our sommelier was an American lady who was very informative and relaxed.

Price:

The set menu is AUS$220, and the Classic Wine matching option was another AU$95. All this is ++

Location:

The Quay is on the top floor of  the International cruise terminal on the western edge of Circular Quay.

Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, Sydney 2000. Tel: +61 2 9251 5600.  www.quay.com.au

Summary:

It’s nice to have the luxury of being able to go to restaurants like this. The food was great with platefuls of genius early on, but I still can’t quite shake the slight disappointment of everything post pork and scallops. The wine was good, the service was good, but now I feel like I’ve been-there-done-that, and I’m raring to try some other restaurants the next time I’m in Sydney.

Quay, Sydney Tasting Menu

Quay Tasting Menu – 6 January 2013

Sashimi of local lobster, bergamot, green almonds, grapefruit,   elderflowers

Salad of preserved wild cherries, albino and chioggia beetroots, radish, crème fraiche, violets

Line caught iki jime Tasmanian squid, squid ink custard, society garlic, pink turnips

Smoked and confit pig cheek, shiitake, shaved scallops, Jerusalem artichoke leaves

Hawkesbury free range chicken cooked in Vin Jaune and cream, steamed brioche, egg yolk confit, truffle

Poached Rangers Valley beef, bitter chocolate, black pudding, morel, ezekiel drubs, shaved mushrooms

Andalucia citrus and almonds

White nectarine snow egg

Berowra Waters Inn, Sydney

Review:

After our sailing trip in New Caledonia over Christmas we spent a few days staying on the river at Berowra Waters. Awesome spot, and just perfect for total relaxation. I found the location when I was looking for places to go for lunch by seaplane from Sydney and saw that Berowra Waters Inn was a recommended trip.

Long story short, the inn has a rather convoluted past with a few dramas and changes of fortunes (this is maybe why the Short History section of their website is currently disabled). But it’s a new year in 2013 and, fingers crossed, the restaurant in now entering a more stable phase of existence.

berowra_waters_inn1

Food:

We thoroughly enjoyed the food. It was beautifully presented, intricate and very tasty. You can see the full menu in the previous post to see what we were able to savour.

The slow cooked beef rib was superb, and topped the beef at the Quay the next night, and the cheese course was inspired. I never realized that Australia had such fantastic cheeses. As good as anything you’ll find in France or the UK.

Drink:

We opted for the wine pairing with the dinner and weren’t disappointed. All really good Aussie wines that we would never have known about otherwise.

The wines really set some of the dishes alight in fact, so full marks to the sommelier, a fiercely enthusiastic Aussie chick.  The only one that didn’t catch my fancy was the Topaque – sorry, but the Hungarians can’t be beaten when it comes to Tokaji.

Service:

The service was very good, friendly etc etc. The sommelier forgot to bring us one of the wines for the second course and was mortified. They slowed down service so we could enjoy the glass, and gave us the cheese course in recompense which was worth AU$70. A very sweet thing to do and certainly an overcompensation that was much appreciated as the course was delicious.

The ONLY thing I would say about the service is that the evening felt rather serious. Food was introduced with reverence and hushed tones, and felt a bit like a performance that wasn’t suitable for this bushland restaurant.  This is Australia after all, and I was expecting a little more camaraderie with the wait staff. You don’t need to have such formal service in order to be taken seriously as a fine dinning establishment, which is what I felt might be behind this.

The Space/Ambiance:

The restaurant faces the creek and floor to ceiling windows overlook the Hawkesbury River and cliffs opposite. It’s a lovely space and not at all cluttered with tables. Light, airy and modern.

Price:

There is one six course set menu on offer with optional cheese course and wine matching. The menu is AU$165 and with the wine pairing it rises to $240.

If you have any allergies or special requirements then let them know when you book, although they asked us as a matter of course when we made the reservation.

Location/Opening:

The restaurant is only open at weekends.  Friday night, and then Saturday and Sunday lunch and dinner. Diners generally arrive by car and park at the Berowra Waters Marina before being brought by the restaurant’s boat downriver to the site. It is not accessible by car.

You can also take a seaplane from Sydney for lunch, or be picked up by the restaurant’s boat if you are staying in Berowra Waters like we were (remember to leave a light on in the porch, else you’ll be struggling to find your house. You live and learn…)

Summary:

Comparing the meal to The Quay in Sydney the next night, I think the AU$240 including wine matching was worth every penny. It was a great meal and if only they’d have lightened up a little then it would also have been a fun meal.

Berowra Waters Inn Menu

Berowra Waters Inn Menu – 5 January 2013

Sydney Rock Oysters, Cucumber, Ginger & Dill

Confit of Ocean Trout, Smoked Milk, Dashi & Wild Rice

Vegetable Garden, Pumpkin & Licorice

Roasted Duck, Peach, Lavender & Fennel

Slow Cooked Rib of Beef, Potato Terrine & Braised Cos

Gippsland Triple Cream, Caramelised Red Onion Sorbet, Celery & Walnut Crumb

Tropicana