Tuesday, 17 May 2016

FRANCE: Nobu Matsuhisa comes to Paris at Le Royal Monceau Raffles

bathroom in the Deluxe Collection Room at Le Royal Monceau - Raffle Paris

The country's first Matsuhisa restaurant opens at Le Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris

World-renowned restaurateur and celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa has an internationally recognised name, although it's usually either his given or his family name hanging above a restaurant door. Both are associated with the high-end fusion cuisine that blends traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients. His restaurants go by the name of Matsuhisa and Nobu, and together they can be found at 39 sites dotted around the globe.

The most recent addition to this galaxy of stars is the very first in the whole of France, Matsuhisa Paris, which opened in Le Royal Monceau in March this year, and is Nobu's sixth Matsuhisa restaurant.

Under the guidance of Executive Head Chef Hideki Endo, this latest outpost has both adopted and adapted the celebrated formula of Peruvian-Japanese cuisine from Nobu's other restaurants, whilst managing to incorporate some local French delicacies. Think algae tacos with black truffle, crispy oysters with caviar, and wagyu beef with foie gras ravioli and ponzu sauce.

Matsuhisa Paris at Le Royal Monceau - Raffle Paris
If you'd like to put your trust into the kitchen entirely, go for the omakase menu, which roughly translates to a multi-course feast chosen by the chef on the day, dependent on the best ingredients he has to hand. I've tried an omakase menu at a sushi bar in Tokyo, to much delight. It's often the best way to go if you're feeling indecisive. You don't know what you're going to get, it just keeps coming, and it's all very good.

From the all round very well executed menu I sampled during my visit, highlights included the sashimi trio: yellowtail with jalapeno and yuzu soy sauce, scallops, and seabass with dry miso. The spinach salad with dry miso might have been my favourite dish from the entire meal, and the wagyu with antichucho sauce (cumin, ají pepper and garlic) was glorious. Our table asked for some off menu otoro (the fattiest and most prized part of the tuna belly), because if you don't ask, you don't get. And we got. Marbled, delicate, gorgeous.

the Deluxe Collection Room at Le Royal Monceau - Raffle Paris

If you're popping over from London to pay the new Matsuhisa a visit, and you fancy pushing the boat out, it makes sense to spend the night in one of Le Royal Monceau's exquisite rooms. The property reopened in 2010 after a dramatic and complete two year transformation by designer Phillippe Starck. And the result is impressive.

The Deluxe Collection Room I stayed in is inspired by the 1940s and 50s, with a walk-in closet as big as my bathroom at home. And every inch of the actual bathroom is tiled in mirrors. No hiding in there. 

It's also worth noting that one-way tickets on Eurostar now start at just £29 (based on a return journey), if you book far enough in advance. Which is a steal, and probably cheaper than getting to the rest of the UK.

Note: the meal at Matsuhisa Paris, the travel on Eurostar, and the stay at Le Royal Monceau Raffles were all hosted as part of a media visit. All views remain my own.

Related links

Monday, 16 May 2016

AUSTRALIA: How to spend 5 days in and around Sydney (the Blue Mountains) - Part 2

views of the vast eucalyptus forests from Echo Point, Blue Mountains

Think you need weeks, rather than days, to do any bit of Oz justice? Not necessarily. I hopped over to Sydney via Doha on Qatar Airways for a total of one week - two days travelling, and five days exploring. That's a decent amount of time to cover a city and its surroundings areas. 

Segueing seamlessly into the second part of this two part series - the first covering how to spend three days in the city of Sydney - this post deals with the remaining two days of the five I spent in this part of Australia. 

Less than two hours away by train or car and around 85km northwest of Sydney, you'll find the slice of eucalyptus paradise that is the vast Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, and one of the country's most spectacular natural parks. 

If you're into the great outdoors, wildlife, nature and adventure, the Blue Mountains' close proximity to one of Australia's most popular cities, means a night or two there really can't be missed if you find yourself in this part of the world. 

What to do in the Blue Mountains

Have an outdoor adventure at Scenic World

Scenic World in Katoomba (the chief town of the City of Blue Mountains) has quite a bit to boast about. It's got the steepest incline railway in the world (that's us in it in the picture below), the steepest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere, and a 2.4 km pathway through rainforest that's hardly changed since the Jurassic period, which also happens to be the longest boardwalk in the Southern Hemisphere.

Add to that bristling panoramas of the wilderness, waterfalls, valleys and rugged sandstone tablelands, and the opportunity to explore ancient caverns and discover limestone crystal and underground rivers deep within the mountains, and you have the makings of the ultimate Blue Mountains adventure.

And all this less than two hours from Sydney. What a treat. 

Scenic World, Corner Violet Street & Cliff Drive, Katoomba NSW 2780 

Scenic World in Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Soak up the views at Echo Point Lookout

We almost bypassed this, as we'd spent the morning feasting on gorgeous views at Scenic World. But I'm glad we didn't.

Perched on the edge of the escarpment, on the traditional land of the Gundungurra and Darug People, all that stands between you and eucalyptus forests fading into the horizon is a metal railing. Which makes for some fantastic and completely unobstructed photo opportunities.

From this point you can see the southern Blue Mountains, Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness, and the storied Three Sisters sandstone rock formation from a variety of lookouts. You can also head down the path to the Three Sisters Walk, and for those after something a bit more taxing, take the 980 steps down the Giant Stairway to the valley floor. 

It's also a great spot to appreciate how the area got its name. These immense forests are densely populated by eucalyptus trees heavy with oil. They fill the atmosphere with finely dispersed droplets of oil, which, in combination with dust particles and water vapour, scatter short wavelength blue light. This means on warm days, the whole area is cloaked in a blue haze. Very cool.

Echo Point Escarpment, Echo Point NSW 2780
More details about Echo Point on the Destination NSW website.

magnificent views from Echo Point lookout

Get close to nature on a bush walk

Oh boy, did I enjoy this. The hugely passionate Tim from Tread Lightly Eco Tours drove us into a remote part of the World Heritage area early one morning, to rendezvous with some kangaroos. Mist-covered wilderness, learning about wildlife and the Blue Mountains environment, spotting loads of wild wallabies and kangaroos - this was right up my street.

I learnt a serious amount of interesting nature facts, which for a wildlife nut like me, I couldn't get enough of. 

Did you know: kangaroos are the only animal on the planet to be permanently pregnant (bonkers reproductive process - look it up). They're also the only animal on the planet to not have a gait i.e. they can't move their legs independently, they can only hop (rabbits can walk, if you're wondering). There's a mind-boggling 22,000 species of fungi in the Blue Mountains, one of the highest concentrations in the world. It also has one of the highest counts of lightening strikes thanks to the conductive iron sand rock, and it's that lightening that creates about 1000 bush fires a year. And Australia is the only country that has trees which drop their bark in autumn, instead of their leaves. I mean, I could go on.

Tim also packed a breakfast for us to enjoy al fresco in the morning dew, including still-warm rhubarb turnovers made by his wife, yoghurt, homemade granola, and coffee. Really, it was a good morning.

Tread Lightly Eco Tours, 102 Great Western Highway, Medlow Bath NSW 2780

spotting kangaroos and wallabies on a bush walk with Echo Tours, Blue Mountains

Where to eat in the Blue Mountains

High Tea at The Hydro Majestic

The Hydro Majestic is in fact one of the country's most iconic and historical hotels. The Wintergarden is a popular dining option within the property, thanks to the sweeping views over the Megalong Valley. It's here that people come from far and wide to enjoy a premium afternoon high tea, whilst gazing out the windows over the sensational surroundings.

I appreciated the option of an Eastern High Tea, with steamed dumplings, crispy BBQ duck spring rolls, coconut chicken sugar cane skewers, twice cooked pork belly and a selection of eastern and western desserts, with the usual choice of tea or coffee. Particularly good if you're from the UK where we're spoilt with afternoon tea options, and you're a bit jaded by the classic format.

The Hydro Majestic, 52-88 Great Western Highway, Medlow Bath NSW 2780

high tea at The Hydro Majestic, Blue Mountains

Leura Garage

There's no hiding this laid back and bustling restaurant was once a mechanic's workshop; there's timber, steel, stone and leather, with a vintage car-hoist used as a wine rack and plant pots made from stacked tyres. 

Leura Garage is about hearty and fresh food cooked simply, blending the best of city and country life, with a strong nod towards Italian cuisine. Expect the likes of big and bold salads, arancini and calamari, pastas with beef ragout or mountain mushrooms, roast lamb shoulder, and a range of pizzas.

They also take their environmental impact very seriously, taking great pains to minimise their carbon footprint. A rainwater storage system holding 22,000 litres makes the restaurant self-sustainable for its water needs, and 100 square metres of solar panels on the roof help keep electricity bills at a minimum. Along with a host of other initiatives, it's a beacon in eco-construction in one of the country's most beautiful natural environments.

Leura Garage, 84 Railway Parade, Leura NSW 2780

lunch at Leura Restaurant in Leura, Blue Mountains

Echoes Restaurant

Should you want to enjoy dinner teetering on the very edge of the Blue Mountains National Park, this is the place to do it. Outstanding views are a common theme when visiting this part of the world, and the ones from Echoes Restaurant boast cliff edges and lush rainforest valleys, right through the Jamison Valley to Mittagong, 80km away.

The menu showcases modern Australian cooking with an Asian influence using local produce, and complimented by select boutique Australian and imported wines. Expect the likes of pan-fried quail with kale, shimeji mushroom and a tamarind and honey glaze, and chicken wrapped in jamon with sweet potato and quinoa rosti, braised fennel, wild mushroom and truffle velouté.

Echoes Restaurant, 3 Lilianfels Ave, Katoomba NSW 2780

sunset views from Echoes Restaurant, Blue Mountains
dinner and views at Echoes Restaurant, Blue Mountains

Where to stay in the Blue Mountains

You'll find Fairmont Resort in Leura, one of the most charming upper-mountain cities in the country. Incidentally, it's also the only city in the world that is actually within a world heritage area. And it's also the only city in the world that has managed to keep McDonald's from opening a restaurant there, even if it does cost the local council $150k a year in legal fees. Keep up the good fight! Both things I learnt from Tim during our bush walk with him (above); told you he was a fountain of fascinating facts.

Part of the prestigious MGallery collection, Fairmont Resort features 222 charming and spacious boutique-style rooms and suites, surrounded by Jamison Valley, and adjoins Leura Golf Club. It's an upscale base from which to launch your Blue Mountain adventures.

Fairmont Resort, 1 Sublime Point Rd, Leura NSW 2780

Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains, Australia

How to get to the Blue Mountains

I've already covered the journey from London to Sydney on Qatar Airways in Part 1 of this two part series - do check it out. It was a joy.

To get to the Blue Mountains from Sydney, you can drive the 90 minutes direct via the M4 motorway, or take the scenic route through the Hawkesbury along Bells Line of Road. If you're catching the train, get the Blue Mountains Line from Sydney's Central Station to Katoomba, and you'll be there in just two hours.


Note: This Sydney trip was hosted by Destination New South Wales and the flights by Qatar Airways. Thank you to everyone involved for a truly wonderful experience. I've been greatly missing Sydney since the moment I left..

All views remain my own, as always.

Related links

Thursday, 12 May 2016

RECIPE: Jamie Oliver's granola dust breakfast smoothie

My thoughts on sugar, and a great breakfast recipe with no added sugar

I find myself joining the sugar debate quite a bit these days. I sat next to a nutritionist at dinner this week, and the first thing I asked her was what her thoughts were on the white stuff. 

I think its power to infiltrate and detriment whole societies and cultures really hit me during the four weeks I spent in Mexico last year (Mexico City, Oaxaca, Merida, and Tulum), where in the poorer parts, I regularly witnessed babies being fed Coca-Cola instead of milk or water. I was surprised at just how uncomfortable this made me; it's an incredibly jarring image.

breakfast smoothie made with
Jamie Oliver's granola dust 
Out of the more populas nations (so, excluding the little Pacific islands that even manage to surpass US and Mexico when it comes to inches around the waist), Mexico is now the fattest country on the planet

They've overtaken the Americans, with a whopping seventy percent being overweight, and almost one-third registering as obese. In the poor districts, there are obese parents and malnourished children. And it doesn't help that in Mexico, the fizzy pop is cheaper than a bottle of water or milk.

And then when I returned to the UK from my eight months of travel, I watched Jamie Oliver visit Mexico in Jamie's Sugar Rush, a programme he presented that investigated sugar's contribution to global health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. He discovered that in 2014, Mexico introduced a 10 per cent tax on sugar sweetened beverages, in a bid to reverse the trends which helped it take the accolade of being the most obese country in the world. 

And just in January this year, the British Medical Journal reported that Mexico's sugar tax has resulted in a 12% drop in sales of sugary drinks, and an increase in sales of bottled water. Which can only be a good thing.

So good old Jamie put his balls on the line, and decided to take this same idea to the UK Government, to prevent the UK going the same way as the USA and Mexico. After months of campaigning, he finally succeeded - the UK Government announced that a sugary drinks tax will be introduced in the UK in 2018.

Why am I ranting about all this? I'm not anti-sugar, not in the slightest. The last two recipes I published attest to that - gluten-free hazelnut and coffee cookies and 'The Elvis Sandwich' peanut butter, banana and bacon mini cakes

There is always a place for sugar. In sweet treats - cakes, biscuits, chocolate. And who doesn't love a dessert after dinner? We go to these things because we fancy that sweet hit. And they should be treated as just that - treats. The occasional reward we give ourselves because we've earnt it, and there's nothing wrong with that.

me and JO, just hanging
My main problem with sugar, is when it appears in places it just doesn't need to be. Like pasta sauces, daily drinks, and a real gripe of mine, cereals. Especially the ones that try to market themselves as 'healthy' - *rage*.

Turns out my good pal Jamie Oliver (pretty sure this picture 👈 means he's ok with me calling him that) has the same bugbear. 

Jamie mentions in his ace book Everyday Super Food, that he and his wife get particularly frustrated over how most breakfast cereals are full of added sugar, and nutritionally aren't the best start to the day. So with his nutrition team, he developed this epic megamix of great ingredients - oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. There are also a couple of pages covering the number of ways you can use this magic granola dust. 

The guys over at personal healthcare providers Benenden asked me if I had opinions on sugar and if I wanted to take part in a blogger challenge they're running, to help spread the word about their Sugar Hub. Clearly, I have opinions on sugar that I'd been meaning to write about anyway, and I wanted to share how great JO's granola dust recipe is as a part of that. So I said, why not.

Unless I'm out of the country or in a restaurant for breakfast, this is the stuff I start every morning with, throughout the year. 

In the winter, I heat it up on the stove with milk and make porridge, and maybe throw on a sliced banana if I'm feeling fancy. It tastes so much better than standard porridge, because the toasting means the natural sugars present have begun to caramelise, adding a whole new flavour dimension. I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to un-toasted oats when it comes to porridge. Plus, it's gloriously nutty.

In the summer, I blitz up the powder with milk, fresh fruit and cinnamon, for a gorgeous morning smoothie.

However you decide to use it, make up a big batch, store it in a jar, and use 50-60g per serving.

Jamie Oliver's awesome granola dust - nuts, seeds, oats and fruit galore

Makes about 15 servings

500g porridge oats
125g unsalted mixed nuts, such as walnuts, Brazils, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews
50g mixed seeds such as chia, poppy, sunflower, sesame, linseed, pumpkin
125g mixed dried fruit with no added sugar, such as blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, mango, apricots, figs
1.5 tbsp quality cocoa powder or raw cocoa nibs
1/2 tbsp freshly ground coffee
1 large orange 

Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4. Places the oats, nuts and seeds in a couple of large roasting trays, toss them together, and roast for around 15-20 minutes, until they start to golden and caramelise.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then add the dried fruit, cocoa and coffee to the mix. Finely grate over the orange zest, then in batches, blitz the whole lot to a rough powder in a food processor. Tip it into a large airtight jar for storage.

For my smoothies, I take 60g of the dust and blend it with one fresh banana, a handful of frozen berries, around 200ml of milk, and a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Related posts
RECIPE: Blueberry and almond smoothie

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

AUSTRALIA: How to spend 5 days in and around Sydney - Part 1

spectacular views on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, Sydney

How to get to Sydney

I'm no stranger to long journeys. I did a 13 hour overnight train from Hanoi to Hue in Vietnam last year. Thirteen hours. Sounds a lot, was a lot. But actually, so much more comfortable than I dared hope. Even more so than the overnight trains in India, and we didn't see a rat on the Vietnam one. 

When those of us in Europe consider venturing to Australia, we need to take at least three weeks off work, and account for the day and discomfort it takes to get there and back. Or at least, we think we do.

What if I told you that you could comfortably do Sydney and the surrounding areas in just a week? That's five days of exploring, and two days travelling. Not bad, you might think. But clocking up those distances in a plane always feels like an endurance test, and a waste of your holiday days, doesn't it. Well, if you're flying with Qatar Airways, the journey to get to and from the destination becomes part of the holiday. Because they're a bit bloody good.

Business Class on Qatar Airways | London - Doha - Sydney

Qatar Airways win a lot of awards. Some of their most recent include Airline of the Year 2015Best Airline in the Middle East 2015 and Best Business Class Seat 2015 - all Skytrax wins. If you're an aviation geek, as my partner is ("I can't bloody believe you're flying with Qatar without me"), you'll already know the Skytrax World Airline Awards are coveted accolades known as "the Oscars of the aviation industry", and a global benchmark of airline excellence. So they're pretty big time things to win.

Well, good news. Qatar Airways have recently launched two new routes from their Doha hub to Australia - Sydney a few weeks ago, and Adelaide a few days ago. And with a connecting time in Doha being as little as 45 minutes (exactly what I experienced coming from London), the whole journey ends up very seamless.

Not to mention, they don't really do first class because their business class seats are like everyone elses first. I'm lucky enough to have experienced BA's first class before, and I can attest to this.

Of course, you don't have to fly business with Qatar. Economy tickets from the UK to Sydney start at just £649, and you would be flying with the 'best airline in the world' as voted for by passengers, so you can expect all the comfort and excellent service that goes with that. But I do plan to write a separate piece about flying business class with Qatar Airways, so you can see just how worthwhile it is, especially when covering those sorts of distances.

In the meantime, here's the first part of this two part series, guiding you on how to spend three days in Sydney. I really miss that city.

soaking in that surf on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, Sydney

What to do in Sydney

The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

Sydneysiders (yep, that's what they call themselves) love to be outdoors. It's not hard to see why; all that sea air and the kind of sunshine that gets right into your bones. 

There are probably few better ways to top up that vitamin D quota than by walking the winding stretch of coastal path that follows the cliff edge between Bondi and Coogee, and soaking up those sweeping ocean views at the same time.

Watch surfers tame the angry waves, pass spread-eagled sun bathers, rock pools, beaches and parks, appreciate the ruggedly handsome coastline, get the sun on your back, take a lot of great pictures, and recharge at a whole number of pit stops with postcard views on the way.

The full walk is 6 km or around two hours at a leisurely pace. If you're a bit tight on time or the whole hog sounds a bit long, you can join the trail from any point along the way - we did Bondi to Bronte which was about half an hour.

More details of this walk on the Destination NSW website.

Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, Sydney

more views on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, Sydney

Hop on the ferry

Sydney looks especially gorgeous from the water. Taking a ferry is also a smart way to visit the surrounding areas, bypassing traffic whilst getting the wind in your hair. It's these blue waters that form the heart of one of the world's most beautiful harbour cities, and Sydney's ferries are a great way to explore them.

We took one from Circular Quay (the main ferry terminus in Sydney) and 30 minutes later we were at the popular beach-side suburb of Northern Sydney, Manly. Five minutes into the journey we glided past the majestic Sydney Opera House with unobstructed views backed by the city's skyline. Lovely stuff. And I bet it looks even better as it starts to light up at dusk.

Tickets are available at several locations. If you plan on using a lot of public transport during your stay, you could pick up an Opal card, which you can top up and use on buses, trains, ferries and light rail across Sydney.

Catch a regular service from Circular Quay to Manly, Parramatta, Balmain, Watsons Bay, Sydney Olympic Park, Taronga Zoo and many other locations. More details on the Destination NSW website.

passing the Sydney Opera House on the ferry to Manly

Paddle board in Manly

If you do get the ferry to Manly, then visit the lovely guys at Manly Kayak Centre and try paddle boarding! 

Paddle boarding is a rare case of a water-based activity I've done before (I'm not a great swimmer), when I was visiting family in Cape Cod - proof in the last image in this post

And I was actually not bad at it, in that I didn't fall into the water once. Just as well, what with the can't-really-swim thing. Kudos to my low centre of gravity, which roughly translates to sometimes it's good to be short.

If this is the first time you've heard of it, the aim is to stand on a board which is a bit like a surf board, and propel yourself with a long paddle. It's very leisurely and relaxed, probably the complete opposite of surfing. But you do need to 'engage your core' in order to remain upright. You can stay in the shallows if you are worried about falling in - you only need a couple of feet of water and you're well on your way. It's great for all ages.

And if you do fall in, you'll soon realise it's the quickest way to cool down under the midday sun. So well done you for discovering that.

Manly Kayak Centre, 1/40 East Esplanade, Manly NSW (Manly Wharf Pier, next to Manly Wharf Hotel)
paddle boarding with Manly Kayak Centre

Snorkel at Shelly Beach

When it comes to the sea, Sydney isn't only about crashing waves and adrenalin junkie surfers. The Northern Beaches are particularly good for the marine-based activities that require calmer waters such as paddle boarding above, and snorkelling.

a posing water dragon during the
Snorkel Walk and Talk tour
Damien from Eco Treasures is a passionate guide offering an experience that allows you to search for and learn about the local wildlife, both on land and in the sea. 

In his Snorkel Walk and Talk tour, Damien talks about native wildlife, the Australian environment, and Sydney's heritage and culture during a headland walk that ends at the clear waters off Shelly Beach.

At which point, you don your wet suits and snorkel gear, get an extensive safety briefing, and finish off spotting marine wildlife amongst the sea grass meadows, sandy bottom and rocky reefs of protected Cabbage Tree Bay at Aquatic Reserve.

Conact Damien McClellan (Director) at Eco Treasures: 61 (0) 415 121 648

Take a bike tour around the city

This might have been my favourite activity we did in Sydney. It was a perfect combination of covering lots of ground, feeling that glorious sense of freedom you only get on two wheels, being outdoors and under the sun, getting some exercise, lots of great photo opportunities, and having a really lovely, informative and chilled out guide. 

I've said many a time, I would never cycle in London - it's far too dangerous. Sydney however? Totally different story. Lots of dedicated cycle lanes, permission to ride on many pavements, and loads of pedestrianised areas that allow bikes.

We did the 2.5 hour Sydney Highlights tour, which sounds quite long but was over way too soon. It's recommended if you don't have a lot of time on your hands, and want to take in the key sights in a quick loop of the city. Highlights included Walsh Bay, Sydney's theatre district, the Botanical Gardens and Chinatown.

I'd recommend doing a bike tour at the start of your stay, as it's a great way to help you get your bearings. And as for safety and equipment, expect super comfortable bikes, shiny red helmets, and bike-mounted bags for small items. My only regret is I wish I could have done a longer tour with them - their five hour Sydney Harbour Bridge ride sounds awesome!

Bonza Bike Tours, 30 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney NSW

scenes from a fantastic city ride with Bonza Bike Tours 

Where to eat in Sydney

North Bondi Fish

This iconic seafood eatery overlooks Bondi Beach and serves up creative dishes in an open space with lanterns and beach front views. Expect patrons to sidle on over from the shore still in their swimmers and with sandy feet, and the likes of rock oysters, daily sashimi, crab sliders, fish tacos, and crispy skin barramundi on the menu. 

And don't miss some of their rocking cocktails - their Goji Watermelon Martini did nothing for the jet lag, but it sure tasted good.  

North Bondi Fish, 120 Ramsgate Avenue, North Bondi

seafood spread at North Bondi Fish on Bondi Beach

360 Bar and Dining 

Thought revolving restaurants were a thing of the 90s? Think again. 360 Bar and Dining is a prominent restaurant space in Sydney Tower, boasting one of the city's best vantage points. 

It takes about one hour for the room to complete one revolution, and in that time you would have gazed over the entirety of the city's skyline from 275m in the air, surrounded by hand-carved panels and crafted pendant light sculptures.

I very much enjoyed a plate of roasted quail breast with quail egg, beetroot, goat's curd and semolina gnocchi, and an expertly executed rib eye. The peanut butter and chocolate parfait with cherry, cocoa nibs and pate de fruits was a winner too.

It's certainly worth a visit, even if just for a cocktail and nibbles with a sparkly cityscape backdrop at their iridescent golden-shell bar.

360 Bar and Dining, Sydney Westfield Centre (between Pitt and Castlereagh Streets), Sydney NSW


This is a gorgeous spot for relaxed al fresco dining, found on the ground floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. All of the tables are outside and enjoy uninterrupted views over Circular Quay, whilst the menu showcases simply cooked seasonal Australian produce delivered on casual sharing plates. Expect the likes of big salads, dips and sides, za'atar crusted grilled chicken, pan-fried prawns, vegetarian tarts, and lots more.

Kick back with pals, enjoy the fresh and vibrant food, and treat yourself to glass or two from the snappy wine list.

GrazeMCA, Ground Floor, MCA Café, 140 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney NSW

harbour-front setting and great sunshine eating at GrazeMCA, Sydney


The Boathouse Shelly Beach

If the world-famous chilled Aussie sunshine vibes were epitomised in a restaurant, The Boathouse Shelly Beach is surely it. 

This spot is tucked away right around the bend from beautiful Manly Beach - it's another great reason to hop on the ferry and head north from Sydney. The venue is open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner boasting an open kitchen, massive portions of glorious fresh food, and a wood-fired oven for proper seafood and bread treatment.

Just look at my 'bucket of prawns' with what was pretty much a whole loaf of sourdough. So very excellent.

The Boathouse Shelly Beach, 1 Marine Parade, Manly, Sydney NSW

beautiful food and huge portions at The Boathouse Shelly Beach - look at those prawns!

Where to stay in Sydney

I do enjoy Sofitel properties; I experienced much relaxation and respite at Sofitel in Siem Reap and Sofitel in Phnom Penh, both in Cambodia, during my eight month travel stint

Sofitel Sydney Wentworth is a heritage listed five star offering, slap bang in the middle of the CBD (Central Business District) and a leisurely jaunt to many of the city's major sites. You'll find it opposite the Chifley Tower - it's an ideal spot to very comfortably rest your head and base yourself for the city's excursions.

Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, 61-101 Phillip Street, Sydney NSW

How to spend 5 days in and around Sydney - Part 2

In the second instalment of this Sydney guide, I'll be covering how to spend two days in the area about 80km north west of the city in a slice of eucalyptus paradise known as the Blue Mountains. Stay tuned!


Note: This Sydney trip was hosted by Destination New South Wales and the flights by Qatar Airways. Thank you to everyone involved for a truly wonderful experience, especially Claire and Daisy. You guys were the best. I've been greatly missing Sydney since the moment I left..

All views remain my own, as always.

Related links

me sitting what was probably too close to the edge of a goddamn cliff. Still, nice shot

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