Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I will begin by saying that I loved Melbourne and my time there. Every last waking minute of it.

For lots of reasons it appealed to me in a way that Sydney did not. Not as pretty, certainly, but, there is a spirit to the place, gritty in parts, eccentric and laid back in a way that smacks of confidence of its place in the world. Unlike its NSW neighbour it is not desperately squealing to be noticed by more famous cities in the rest of the world, it is happy to revel in its position as a great Australian city. And trust me, it is a great Australian city.

In the same way I prefer the truly American city of Chicago to New York or Madrid to the theme park Spain of Barcelona, Melbourne appealed to me on so many levels. It just gets on with its daily life. A life which they are happy for you to be a part of, but not particularly concerned if you choose not to.

Lots of people in Sydney asked me what I thought of the city. In fact, they didn’t really ask me, they merely stated “ Sydney’s the greatest city in the world” and raised their voices at the end of the sentence in that slightly odd way that Australians do as if to ask for a reassuring agreement. No one in Melbourne asked me what I thought of the city although lots of people asked me if I was having a good time. They probably needn’t have bothered. It is would be a hard man indeed who could fail to have a good time in Melbourne.

It probably helped that I was staying with friends. In this case, my chum Adam, who combines the roles of parasitologist and food obsessive with consummate ease. With his lovely missus, Rebecca and their 15 month old destroyer of planets, Eric, they proved to be the most patient of hosts. Adam, who takes such matters very seriously, had also planned an itinerary that, he hoped, would show off Melbourne to its very best. He didn’t fail.

What can I tell you? With its huge immigrant population, Melbourne offers up some of the best ethnic food I have tried, well anywhere. And, being a relatively small city, it is all within easy reach on foot, by tram or by the slightly unreliable train system.

After a late arrival the day before, we made an uncomfortably early start as Adam wanted to do some shopping down at The Victoria Market for a supper he was planning with his usual military efficiency.

Now, when people mention markets to me, I usually glaze over. Oh, I can look interested, but inside I am thinking of Natalie Portman lap dancing in Closer. But, The Vic’ Market is another thing altogether. Not huge, but perfectly formed and with an array of fresh produce that would pass muster anywhere in the world.

The Asian section particularly took my fancy and having my brainiac friend around to tell me what all the weird looking stuff was made it doubly interesting. Mind you, after about 15 minutes of looking at vegetables I was bok choi’d out and needed some brekkie

Who knew? Well, obviously half of Melbourne. Adam took me into the market and up to a stall that proudly proclaimed itself “ Melbourne’s First Bratwurst Shop”

The queue was huge which is always a good sign and, when I fought my way to the front, I followed my strict instructions and ordered two large bratwurt with sauerkraut and German mustard. Gargantuan portions of excellent sausage, perfect sauerkraut and the slightly sweet mustard. The perfect breakfast. I was tempted to have another. Adam, knowing what lay ahead, warned me not to. I never did get another chance to have one and I regret it still.

The Prahan Market is less impressive. Adam told me it had been gussied up in the last few years and you can tell by the price of everything ( almost double that at The Vic ) and the sheer number of babystrollers. Talking of which, by this time, Rebecca had arrived with Mjolnir, I mean Eric, who was resting his lungs in preparation for bedtime and snoozing comfortably in one of said strollers and we headed over to Victoria St for lunch.

Victoria St is, of course, the spiritual home to most of Melbourne’s Vietnamese restaurants but we were not there for that. Adam, of course, had my Vietnamese experience all mapped out and ready for me later in the week. So, we winged it this time and did what all self respecting Melbournians would do. Yum Cha.

In the UK, of course, we go for Dim Sum, which is what you have at Yum Cha. Confused yet? Let’s just say there were dumplings involved. Pretty good they were too. No better than I am used to back home, but filling enough and cheap enough ( even taking into account the exchange rate which means you can buy a house in Australia for the same price you can buy a packet of crisps in London) to barely scratch a $20 note.

By now, Eric was waking from his sleep and pondering on a practice session for the dawn chorus and the rest of us were a little weary. So, we toddled off home to prepare for supper.

Now, Adam is not only a man with a brain the size of Shropshire. He is a true food obsessive. He spends an inordinate amount of time on Ebay buying handwritten cookbooks from The Raj by people with names like Ponsenby-Smythe and his knowledge of the history of food is unsurpassed by anyone I have every encountered.

He likes to cook too and does it as well as he bloody does everything else. Don’t you just hate people like that?

So, it seemed only fitting that I become his kitchen bitch for the night while he whipped up a Diana Kennedy style Mexican banquet. Obviously, Adam being Adam, it was only about 10 courses the finest of which was a fiery shrimp and cuttlefish dish which I am salivating about as I write.

So that’s German, Chinese and Mexican in one day. Just about sums Melbourne up

More to come

Monday, May 28, 2007


Ah, Perth

This town
Is going like a ghost town.
All the clubs are being closed down.
This Place
Is coming like a ghost town.
Bands won't play no more,
To much fighting on the dance floor.

A little unfair, but when I stepped off the plane on a Sunday afternoon and found my way to my accommodation, I couldn’t help having this song running through my head.

It started sounding even more loudly when the receptionist informed me that “ everything would be shut by now” 5pm that is.

It started shrieking through my brain when I said “ what, because it’s Sunday?” and he replied “ nope, it’s pretty much closed by this time most days.

Oh my God, I had come to Bournemouth.

He did point out a small area on the map called Northbridge and said that this was where most of the restaurants where. So, as soon as I had dumped my bags and showered away the misery of five hours on Quantas’ flying gulag, I headed out in search of supper.

I wandered through the Central Business District (CBD) which was deserted as advertised and across a small footbridge to Northbridge. Hardly a culinary hub but a few blocks with a number of restaurants which were mainly of the obligatory Asian or Italian Pizza variety. I selected one at random and filled the yawning chasm left by my refusal to eat “ something in foil” on the plane with a huge plate of noodly something or other for $15.

I couldn’t help wondering how I was going to fill the next four days and I felt more than a little dispirited when I headed off to bed at about, oh, all of 8pm.

Still, I had not predicated my visit to this city, officially the most isolated on Earth, for the food, which is just as well, but for the opportunity to see a part of Australia that is currently undergoing a boom not seen since the gold rush.

And, in truth, I have to say, Perth is actually a thoroughly agreeable city despite the fact you can eat better in a Wimpy Bar.

When I woke the next morning, the sun was streaming in and the view down towards the Swan river from my room was enough to have me leap out of bed, into a pair of the most fetching ¾ length trews and to head out of the hotel for an early morning stroll.

There can be few better located cities on the planet and, when I spent the next couple of hours walking around King’s Park and The Botanical Gardens, it was not hard to imagine why this is one of the fastest growing cities in Australia and why it is a magnet for emigrating brits looking for work in the burgeoning mining industry. The salaries are high by any standards and the quality of life (restaurants excluded ) is considered one of the best in the country.

For all that, it does still retain a pleasing frontier town quality about it and nowhere is this more obvious than in it’s neighbouring port suburb of Fremantle. They told me it had changed a great deal since it hosted the America’s Cup in 1987, but it still holds on to its history as the first point of entry for the £10 POM and its past as a seedy port and a magnet for victims, mavericks and outcasts. I loved it and only wish I could have spent more than one day exploring its fabulous architecture.

I also wish I could have spent more time there as the one day I did spend there is a vague memory clouded by ten pints of beer.

It all went so well to begin with. A short train journey and I arrived fresh faced and ready for a day’s civilised strolling about the town of “Freo” as the locals call it. A cup of tea and a healthful bran muffin ( regular as clockwork, thanks for asking) on the Cappucino Strip where most of the population of Fremantle seem to spend all their time and then a walk along the beach and a nose around a couple of shops. Happy as Larry and Larry with a glowing tan to boot. Then I made my big mistake.

One of Perth’s few contributions to the foodie world is that it is home to a number of the best microbreweries in the country ( the influence of ex pat Brits and other Europeans, I imagine ) and one of the most famous of these is Little Creatures in Freo. I am a bit of a fan of their work, so it would have been remiss of me to visit the town and not visit them. What a fabulous place. A cavernous, modern bar with the brewing tanks on full show. The food looked pretty good too and I sat down outside under the shade of a tree and sucked down a pint or two while I read my book and waited for the food I ordered to arrive.

“good book?” a gravely voice said. I looked up to see an leather faced man give me an amiable grin. “yeah, not bad” I replied not encouraging further conversation. “what’s it about?” Oh God, he wanted to be my friend. I placed the book down with an audible and slightly rude sigh and we started to chat.

Jim, as he turned out to be called, was actually, a rather engaging chap. An ex pat Scot who moved to Australia in the 70’s and like so many found himself arriving in Freo on a vacation and never leaving. We started swapping rounds of beer. That is a dangerous thing to do with either a Scot or an Australian. When you do it with a combination of the two, you are bound to suffer the inevitable consequences. In this case, ten pints later, the world was a blur and I had no idea where I was or how the hell I was going to get home, if indeed I could remember where home was.

The next morning, I woke up in my hotel bed, fully dressed with not clue number one about how I made it there. Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch were all in good order, so no one had, apparently taken the opportunity to take advantage of this gorgeous piece of half Welsh half Asian ass while I was indisposed. So, Jim, if you are reading this, I can only assume you poured me into a cab, for which I am grateful. But, next time, just let me read my book, eh?

If I was grateful to have got home in one piece, I certainly wasn’t grateful to remember that this was the day I decided to head out to Rottnest Island, about 30km off the coast of Perth across some, er, interestingly wavy sea. I showered quickly in as much cold water I could bear and jumped in the back of a cab just in time to make the ferry I had already paid $69 when I had no idea I was going to drink my own body weight in cold beer the day before.

What a journey. “ it has been quite smooth recently” said the appallingly cheery guide on the ferry as the boat lurched from side to side in an action directly opposite to my stomach and I began to join that long line of people ( predominantly female ) who wished that Simon Majumdar was dead.

But, we made it, and I did the only thing that any sane person who has the mother of all hangovers and has spent at least an hour hurling his guts over the side of a boat can sensibly do. I went and hired a bike.

Rottnest Island is stunning. A former prison colony, it is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Western Australia and, so popular in fact, that they limit the number of people visiting in Summer by way of ballot. On an Autumn weekday, however, it was nearly empty and I was able to do a cycle/vomit/cycle/vomit tour of the island with only the resident Quokkas as company bar one old man who took this scary and slightly unedifying picture of me trying hard not to spew after a particularly tough hill.

By the time I was ready to catch the afternoon ferry, I was feeling ever so slightly more human again if not particularly up for the foodie splendours of Northbridge, so I bought a take away and headed back to my hotel for an early night.

By the next day, I was right as rain again and decided on a little R&R on Cottesloe Beach and to finish off my visit to this odd little place with the prerequisite (non Alcoholic – still recovering see?) cocktail at The Indiana Beach Club while watching the sun set over The Indian Ocean.

So that was Perth. I think I may have eaten better in its Scottish equivalent, but, as ghost towns go, it’s one of the best

Saturday, May 26, 2007

If, like me you have bestowed upon you the title, Sir William of No Mates, then joining a tour group is something to be avoided. Those in family groups or, even worse, canoodling couples, tend to view you with a suspicion normally kept in reserve for convicted child molesters. There is usually pointing involved and often a few suppressed giggles.

Still, when I decided to leave Sydney for a day and head up to sample the delights of The Hunter Valley, I had precious little choice, given that the wineries of the area are some distance apart and the police of New South Wales take a strangely dim view of bald men swerving around the country roads on scooters slugging wine out of opened bottles of Shiraz.

So it was I found myself climbing aboard a small coach outside The Sydney Marriott Hotel at 7.30am to join a tour of The Hunter Valley. Me and 15 others.

True to form, I was the only single person on board as I joined a handful of young couples and a group of Filipinos who spoke hardly any English but seemed to have decided to go on a wine tour purely on the basis that one of them had watched “ Sideways” on the plane over. Prospects of a good time and some communal bonding were bleak and I prepared myself to hide my blushes in the pages of a hard boiled crime novel.

Fortunately, the driver of the bus, Steve, turned out to be a very amiable and amusing man from New Zealand and, recognising my plight, cleared the seat next to him so we could chat on the two hour journey to The Hunter Valley.

The Australians take their wine very seriously and I have lost count of how many people told me that the reason all Australian wine in the UK is vile is that they keep all the good stuff for themselves. Well, I can’t speak for all of Australia, but they certainly don’t keep it in The Hunter Valley. But, more of that later.

The area has a poor reputation with its more urban Sydney counterparts who refer to it as The C**ter Valley and have renamed Cessnock, its main town as Cesspit because of the preponderance of crime and drug abuse. Lovely eh? And, I didn’t find this out until I was on the bus and having it all explained to me in gory detail by Steve.

The tour consisted of visits to two boutique wineries which bookmarked an extended visit to a winery resort, a new(ish) concept of building a small themed area within walking distance of a number of wineries so you can have lunch, buy wine related gifts, try tastings at all the cellar doors and even stay over night if your heart so desires.

It is all harmless fun. A decent lunch came thrown in and there were enough free tastings to give even my jaundiced liver a bit of a buzz. But in truth the wines I sampled did not impress me at all and, by 4pm, I had tasted enough over oaky Chardonnay, fruit bomb Verdelho and figgy Semillon to last any number of lifetimes and was ready to give the last winery a miss and stay on the bus with my book.

Fortunately, Steve came to the rescue. During the drive up there, I had been complaining loudly about the paucity of decent beer in Australia. God it’s dreadful. Tasteless and full of gas (there is a joke in there somewhere, but I plan to go back to Australia someday, so I am not going to make it) brews like VB, Carlton, Toohey’s etc are an abomination and being forced to drink them could be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Steve agreed with me and mentioned that, near to our final official stop was a small micro brewery called, with a huge imaginative leap, The Hunter Brewing Co.

Fortunately, the beer showed a lot more imagination than the name and, after Steve had dropped the handholding couples and camera clicking gaggle of Paul Giamatti fans off to taste yet more of the same, we high tailed it to the brew pub.

He, of course, was far to sensible to drink on duty, but sat patiently watching me work my way through a paddle tasting of four very decent beers in about ten minutes before we had to rush off to collect the throng of pointers and gigglers who waiting patiently outside the final winery for the trip back to Sydney.

Another two hour journey during which most of my, by now, close companions snored loudly as they slept off the freebies they had hoovered down during the day.

Me? I just sat happily burping to myself, quietly pleased that I had finally found some decent beer in Australia even if I didn't like the wine.
If I am being brutally honest, I spent the next few days of my time in Sydney being slowly less than whelmed at its reputation as a great foodie town.

That is not to say that I did not have some decent meals and some good things to eat, I did. But I found it limited in a way I had not expected.

The food courts and the offerings of Asian food are, of course, astonishing and I spent a number lunchtimes wandering around Sussex and Dixon Sts sampling some of the places that Helen Yee had deemed worthy of visit. I had little reason to doubt that she would be correct and, as I suspected, she was bang on the mark.

BBQ King is a bit of a local legend not least because it is open until the wee small hours and is a hangout for off duty chefs including, Tetsuya. A plate of BBQ pork & rice was very good, but ( as Helen warned) over priced at $15 but worth it for the “you finish, you leave now” theatrics which saw my plate whisked from my grasp the moment the last piece of dead pig hit my mouth.

The Silk Road restaurant introduced me to Chinese cookery from a region new to me. The people from the Urgyur region are predominantly muslim and specialise in lamb dishes which the serve with noodles more akin to pasta than some of the other offerings in the region. Also, fantastically, eye wateringly spicy skewers of tender lamb.

Golden Century offered the opportunity to point to a tank and benefit from the untimely death of the inhabitant simply prepared with chilli, ginger and garlic.

Harry’s Café De Wheels is a local legend. A small van by Pott’s Point that has provided meat pies to celebs, bikers and workers alike for over 70 years

The restaurant scene “ proper” is another matter. There are some good restaurants, of course. Some great ones, in fact with some of the Three Hat places, like The Pier, Bacasse and Tetsuya, comparing favourably with anywhere in the world. It is in the mid range that I found a lack of depth. I had some enjoyable meals at Bistrode, Bentleys and Fish Face but little to make me imagine I would crave revisiting them when I am back in London. Obviously, I did not get to try all the places I would have liked as time and budget did not allow, but my overriding impression is of a city that is, in dining terms, not as great as it likes to think it is.

Where Sydney is every bit as good as it likes to think it is ( and trust me that is a hard thing to achieve) is in its assertion that it is amongst if not the most beautifully located city in the world. It truly is and damn, don’t the aussies know how to make the most of it. I have seldom seen a city so filled with people making the most of what a city has to offer. Jogging, cycling, surfing, kayaking, windsurfing, every person in Sydney seems to be obsessed with at least one of these pastimes and few places on earth give them such a chance to exercise.

It may surprise those people who only know me through my love of food, but I am actually a reasonably fit chap. I love to run and, as a qualified Personal Trainer in my spare time, I spend a lot of time in the gym. Most of all, though, I love to hike.

Yep, hike. That hobby which in the UK means , woolly hats, leather boots, dubbing and weak lemon squash.

I first got a bug for it during a walking holiday in New Zealand a few years ago and now, whenever I am travelling for EAT MY GLOBE, I always try and fit in some serious walking.

Well, there are few better opportunities than in Sydney. A short ferry ride from Circular Quay finds you in Manly, one of Sydney’s many weekend playgrounds and the location of the Manly-Spit walk (about 23km round trip) which takes in some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery I can ever recall. A fabulous way to pass four or five hours.

Similarly, 10km from the city brings you too the legendary Bondi beach where I spent a happy four hours hiking from the beach to Coogee along a benign but scenic route along some of New South Wales’ spectacular surfing beaches.

If the food offerings were, on the whole, a disappointment, they did at least give me the opportunity to meet some fantastic people.

At Fish Face, the scene of one of the better meals on my trip in Sydney’s achingly trendy Darlinghurst, I met the Chef/Owner Stephen Hodges. A hugely abrasive, witty man who took great delights in telling me how many people he had fallen out with in his career and who invited me downstairs to his fish processing area to watch him gut a kingfish.

There was Simon Thomsen, the coruscatingly witty food critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, who invited me to join him in a long and booze infused supper at Bentley’s which resulted in me having to spend the rest of the next morning in bed.

Charlie, the young mixologist at The Bayswater Brasserie, plied me with four lethal cocktails and restored my faith in Sydney’s ability to mix a decent martini.

Finally, and perhaps best of all was Jeanette. An irascible Mauritian who, supposedly was the cleaner at my hostel but who seemed to spend most of it being rude to the guests. She seemed to hold me in particular opprobrium and had my card marked as a “whining pom” which, it appeared gave her the right to yell “POM” at the top of her voice every time she saw me while waving the palms of her hands at the side of her head in a satirical imitation of my own large and flappy lug holes. Apparently, this meant she liked me and, when she heard why I was off around the world, she questioned me about my knowledge of Mauritian food. Fortunately, my mumbled reply of “adobe” and “curry goat” passed muster and every day for the rest of my visit, she brought small parcels of food for me to eat as she hovered clucking over me looking for signs of approval. Very good it was too and, I like to think that, by the end the Mauritian and the POM formed a bond of understanding. Not enough, of course, to allow me to take a picture of her as, she quite rightly explained “ I am not a f**king freakshow” fantastic.

Monday, May 07, 2007

EAT MY GLOBE is, if anything, about the people I will meet and, when I decided to head off on my travels, the one thing I decided to do was to get in touch with all of the like minded bloggers around the world and ask them to show me around their city or at least to point me in the right direction.

Some, quite rightly, ignored my mails as the ravings of an internet loon. Others gave me some helpful suggestions and a few even took the risk of agreeing to meet me face to face.

First up was Sydney’s very own Helen Yee, author of the foremost Sydney Food blog GRAB YOUR FORK.

We swapped a handful of e-mails and then she suggested we meet for a late lunch in Chinatown with very firm advice that I was not to miss the opportunity of seeing Sydney’s Grower’s Market before hand.

Now, I am usually, profoundly wary of grower’s markets. There are only so many stalls selling apple juice and badly made cheese I can look at in a life time and, to be honest, Sydney’s is not much different. A lot of exceedingly well meaning people standing behind little stalls with freezer boxes full of stuff that I am sure is all very tasty but, well just a little bit dull. I will probably be drummed out of the Blogger’s union for having the temerity to say so, but Hey Ho!

Great location, mind you, right by Darling Harbour and, once I given the market the obligatory once over, I bought a copy of The Sydney Morning Herald and found a nice quiet spot to sit and catch up on the World’s news. Rather a good paper it is too, by the way and, its Saturday edition was about an inch thick and occupied me for a good couple of hours (as opposed to the twenty five minutes I had given the market)

By now, it was rapidly approaching meeting up time and I wandered to the bottom of Sussex St to find Helen waiting as planned by a strange little gold painted tree that symbolised the Earth’s mating with the sky or something like that.

Now, Helen is what I would call an uber food blogger.

One of those who puts what Dos Hermanos do to shame. GRAB YOUR FORK is a very lesson in how to create a foodie resource for your city. Links aplenty, good writing and pictures, well the pictures are another thing altogether. Whereas Dos Hermanos whip out a small digital for our blurry shots, Helen lunges into her bag and brings out an entire studio’s worth of paraphernalia. She carefully sets up the shot and takes multiple shots just in case. A true professional.

Now, all of this could be a little bit weird if it was not for the fact that Helen really loves her grub. She really knows her grub too and she gave me a detailed and loving tour of the area around Sydney’s impressive Chinatown. There are restaurants here for regions of China that I didn’t even know were regions. There are great Korean restaurants, noodle bars, sushi bars and all points in between.

Perhaps, Sydney’s greatest treasure is its food courts. Unlike their UK equivalents which are to be avoided, here you get whole floors of shops offering a bewildering variety of Asian fast food much of it coming in for under AU$10( about £4.50) Helen has views on this too, well of course she does. She gave me a tour of the three main food courts telling me which were worth visiting and which were not. Then a tour outside to show me her favourite places for seafood, dumplings, sushi, BBQ pork and any number of others.

Now, Helen is a woman after my own heart and, despite the fact she had just had Yum Cha with her family, she was happy to indulge in a late lunch. We lighted upon a Vietnamese place because Helen had found out my secret shame that I had never had a Bahn Mi ( a Vietnamese pork Sandwich) She, of course, had views on which was the best place for that, so we ended up in a small, empty little café chowing down on a crunchy baguette filled with salad and three types of pork. It was fine, but my life would not have been any the worse if I had never tried one.

Much more interesting was a well made beef pho and the fixings for some hand made beef rolls.

Helen was an expert at these and, while I made something that looked like a tampon for an elephant, she created delicate little cylinders which she then dipped in sauce before plopping into her mouth. All the while, I was busy trying to scoop my mess off the table.

She was too kind to mention it, but I blushed when she handed me a perfect example of one just in case I starved.

A couple of hours after I met her, Helen had to whiz off to get ready for her own trip to Japan, so we waved goodbye at Central Station.

This is exactly what I was hoping for when I first came up with the idea for EAT MY GLOBE. The food AND the people all thanks to the power of the internet and a mutual obsession with shoving stuff in our gobs. Even if, like Helen, they do it with so much more grace than me.

It’s a brutal old journey from civilisation to down under. Make no mistake. Twenty one hours in a tin tube hurtling at 600kph while breathing in recycled air with all the health properties of inhaling next to a sweaty wrestler is bad enough. But, for a man whose idea of roughing it is a manicure every other week then, well you get the picture.

Add to that, the fact that the cheapest ticket I could get was on Quantas, an airline so awful that people on board talk with misty eyed nostalgia about the days of the convict ships and it was not an altogether positive start to my trip to Australia.

As we prepared to take off, the Captain’s voice was heard over the p.a “a special welcome to all Australians returning home” What about the rest of us? I paid good money too. I mean I am not expecting him to say “big up to the man in 46c who looks like an out of shape Vin Diesel” but some acknowledgment that I exist would have been nice

Unfortunately, my seat companion had no doubts I existed. Believe it if you will, he was called Les, and was every bit the stereotypical Aussie male that Barry Humphries has padded out his career with when not wearing dresses. Les decided that I was the perfect person to discuss the cricket world cup with despite my protestations that I loathe cricket. Nothing would dissuade him and we ( and by “we” I mean “he”) spent the best part of the next day discussing in minute detail why the England team were, and I quote “ spoilt, woofters”

By the time I got to Sydney, I was, quite frankly a gibbering wreck and, when he asked for an e-mail address I quickly scribbled and scurried up the walkway while he wheezed behind me burbling to some other poor sucker about “Long Leg.”

But, despite all of that, I was here. Sydney. I had been previously but, only for three days. Barely enough to scratch the surface of a city of four million people and some of the best food offerings in the world.

I am often quite wary of Sydnians(?) when I encounter them abroad. Too keen to point out that Sydney is © The Greatest City On Earth. They tend to get terribly upset when I respond “ how many times can you let fireworks off that fucking bridge and expect the whole world to applaud?” Ever the diplomat.

Here though, in their own environment, they are different. Less inclined to push Sydney as a competitor to NYC or London which it patently is not and content to luxuriate in the fact that this truly is a very beautiful city with some of the most stunning views of any capital anywhere on earth.

When I arrived at my accommodation, I felt very weary. Not just from the jet lag but also from the fact that all the people in the communal breakfast room seemed to be half my age at most. That is what you get for doing these things on a budget, I guess. Still, it my room was clean, if basic and, after a quick shower I threw myself on a slightly rickety bed and was in the land of Nod almost before I hit the mattress.

Surprisingly, the jet lag barely hit me and, at 6am the next morning, I was up and in my running gear for a few miles of cobweb clearing. I love running in cities and never thought I would find anywhere to compare with running alongside the Thames or by The Hudson in NYC. Sorry folks, but, jogging around Sydney Harbour with the bridge on one side and the Opera House on the other certainly does take some beating even if the Opera House ( he whispers quietly) really isn’t that impressive.

But, this trip is about food, no? So, as soon as I was back at the hostel and showered, I headed out for breakfast at Bill's, a Sydney institution run by perma grinned, blond uber chef, Bill Granger. Very good it was too with some house made ricotta along side creamy eggs, home cured salmon and excellent sourdough. Just what the post run Dr ordered to set me up for a day of mooching.

And, mooch I did. If mooching was a sport, I would represent England at the Olympics at it. I am the moochatolla, the moochmeister. The, if you will uben moochenfeuhrer. If you did not already get the picture, I like to mooch.

First a mooch to The Sydney Fish Market. A hugely impressive collection of stores offering a bewildering variety of fish and seafood to Sydney's eateries. Astonishing and now, open from 9am to the public to come and buy fish and have lunch at a number of restaurants that have opened in the complex. In truth the stalls are more interesting that the restaurants where tired looking seafood sat hardening under heat lamps and fried fish glistened in the oil of bad frying. But, definitely worth a visit.

Then, I mooched down to Darling harbour and spent a thoroughly agreeable couple of hours in The Powerhouse Museum of Design which has the single most eclectic collection of any museum I can recall. Everything from the Victorian announcement board of Sydney Train Station to an entire seaplane hanging from the ceiling. Great fun.

After the mooching (please see above) I was a it peckish and recalled from a previous visit that across from the museum was an out let for Hannah’s hot Pies. Let’s put this into perspective. What Shakespeare is to England, hot pies are to Australians. They are one of the true expressions of their culture and it is a little known fact ( little known because I just made it up) that Australia Fair only just became the national anthem by a whisker when it beat, by one vote a song called “ Touch My Hot Pie and I will Beat You To Death with My Boomerang”

They are wonderous things, your meat pie. Short crust pastry traditionally filled with lean minced beef, although now there are any number of other combinations including Indian Curry ( do the joys of this ethnically diverse land know no bounds?)

By now, I was beginning to feel the effects of the traumas of the previous day’s flight and headed back to the hotel for a bit of a kip in preparation for an evening of 3* pleasures at Sydney’s finest restaurant,Tetsuya