Shannon Bennett's New York

A personal guide to the city's best, co-authored by Scott Murray

By Robyn Lewis
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Shannon Bennett's New York

Shannon Bennett's New York

 

A confession. Despite being a foodie, and having visited the USA several times, I have never been to New York.

I’ve travelled widely, and lived in some genuinely dangerous places, but there’s something about the Big Apple that has failed to appeal. Perhaps the opportunity has never arisen at the right time, or it’s because I prefer nature to shopping, or it has felt… too intimidating? Apparently I’m not alone. A significant percentage of America’s population has never been there, either.

But for many US immigrants, it was their first sight of a new home, full of promise and excitement; for others, a refuge. And hey, with direct international flights from Australia to Dallas, it’s only a hop off a plane, and far more affordable with the Australian dollar around parity with the greenback.

9/11 is now a monument, and even the notorious cabbies are reportedly kinder to strangers. Friends assure me that New Yorkers are the most helpful and courteous people they've met, and will go out of their way to assist you. So perhaps it’s time for a rethink. And then, there's the food.....

If you love food, you need to travel and expose your taste buds to the real deal. To meet a region’s chefs. Dine in a city’s renowned restaurants. Let your imagination run riot with unfamiliar ingredients. Sample the street food and the local produce. And stroll through foodie heaven, the markets, food stores and delis, seeing and tasting things that you don’t get at home, absorbing the sounds, the colours, the smells, the lifeblood and fuel of a city.

But where to start in a place like New York? Sure, you can Google “New York food” and sift through over 2.7 million results, starting with the New York Magazine’s Best of New York, or trawl iTunes for a suitable app (there aren’t very many, I looked) – or you can pick up Shannon Bennett’s New York.

For those who don’t know him, Shannon Bennett is a Melbourne boy made good, chef and founder of Vue de Monde, his ground-breaking home town restaurant. Famously beating some of Australia’s top chefs in an open competition whilst still in his teens, he went on to secure several top positions in some of Europe’s toughest kitchens, before returning home to establish Vue de Monde.

Bennett has been described as the ‘enfant terrible’ of Australian haute cuisine, in part due to his drive and ambition, his self-proclaimed ‘sixth sense for cooking’ and his standards of perfection. And then there’s his Attitude – something he first experienced in the London restaurant of Marco Pierre White, distilled into the food. He became a culinary convert.

He has been fortunate to be a regular visitor to Manhatten, cooking for good causes, and also for researching this book, along with friend and co-author Scott Murray. Between them, they have scoured Downtown, Midtown and Uptown, and a few outlying boroughs as well, searching for perfect meals, places for an aesthetically sensitive foodie to stay, and more than the occasional bar.

Enlisted into this far-from-tedious research have been a wide array of Bennett’s friends, including fellow Australian chefs such as Luke Mangan, Matt Moran, Neil Perry and Tobie Puttock, Vue de Monde customers and staff (Marvin Holder and Bryan Lloyd in the latter category), film director vignerons (Fred Schepisi), sommelier Raul Moreno Yague, actors, gallery owners and even the New York Editor-in-Chief of Starchefs.com, ‘the magazine for culinary insiders’.

It looks like they all had a good time. Shannon Bennett’s New York starts with an introduction to fine dining, including tips on what to look for and how to select and book a fine-dining restaurant in New York (start with the two principal guidebooks, Michelin New York City Restaurants and Zagat New York City Restaurants, the New York magazine’s annual restaurant edition, and various weekly and daily guides, including a list of websites).

The authors find the New York Michelin guide less convincing than the French equivalent, and Zagat’s too general to sift the wheat from the chaff at the higher end of gastronomy.

Instead, they present their own list of the ‘five most exciting New York restaurants’, which for the record are: 1. Corton 2. Le Bernardin 3. Per Se 4. The Spotted Pig 5. Masa. A foodie friend recently dined at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and found it sensational. If you want to research these and more before you leave home, Bennett and Murray also list nine cookbooks by master New York chefs, dating back to the 1990s.

The vexed question “should I drink only American wine in New York?” is raised; they found that not only is it very hard to buy American wines by the glass there, but the prices for US wines by the bottle are high relative to French. That said, the range of American wines is vast, and of course following through the ‘eat local drink local’ maxim, dictates that at least some American wines should be tried. Ask the sommelier for advice.

There are also tips for finding perfect accommodation: boutique, arty hotels in food precincts, or for those with families or in a group, apartments. You can of course self-cater in the latter, and with the huge range of produce on hand, you may be tempted to cook at least some meals yourself.

Bennett also lists his top five New York ‘fantasy’ hotels, for that special New York experience when budget is not a consideration.

There follow 360 pages of recommendations by Districts, with photos that help give a feel for the local character. Each section includes the fine dining options, then restaurants, steakhouses, bistros and cafés, bars, luxury hotels and other hotels and accommodation options.

Interspersed with all these lists are tips, including the practice of tipping itself, something that Australians are generally very unused to, except at higher-end restaurants and then generally as a ‘reward’ for good service. A compulsory 20% surcharge might seem like a lot, except when you consider that American waiters and other hospitality industry staff are paid only a fraction of Australian wages, and that in turn the prices are a lot lower. So overall, you’ll probably end up paying around the same as you would in Sydney or Melbourne (and depending on where you stay, possibly less for accommodation).

One feature of the book that I don’t quite get is “Shannon’s New York Recipes”, one at the end of each section. These range from Pumpkin Soup (a recipe you can get anywhere, ditto Warm Chocolate Mousse), to Mussel Chowder – The 10 Minute Way, Grilled Beef Short Rib with Bay Leaf Dressing, to Shannon Bennett’s Apple Pie, with a pastry recipe adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller. None speak to me of nor entice me to visit New York, and personally I’d rather the guidebook were lighter (it’s a luggage allowance gobbler) or the space devoted to most useful tips, like more of Murrray’s shopping insights, or even some galleries and other mind food.

That said, I find Shannon Bennett’s New York not only useful but charming, adeptly crossing the line from mere information into entertainment and interesting reading. It’s attractive, and relatively portable, and if you wander New York with it, you may well live up to Bennett’s hope that “you can walk along the street with it and not be labelled as a tourist but as a foodie heading to (your) next story-filled destination”.

Bring on the iPad or Kindle version, please, and as Bennett advises “go there before New Yorkers realize just how good their food really is”. The Big Apple has certainly moved much higher up my ‘must visit’ list after reading this book.

 

Shannon Bennett’s New York by Shannon Bennett and Scott Murray is published by The Miegunyah Press (2011, Melbourne; hc, 384 p) and retails in Australia for RRP A$ 44.99

It can be purchased on Booko.com.au here »

 

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November 01st, 2011
 
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