52 Dream Destinations: Food and Wine

Hunt for truffles at the base of the Dolomites, try alligator tail in La Paz, take in Georgia's robust red wines – or just kick back with a four-hour tasting menu in New York state: the world's extraordinary gourmet experiences have become travel destinations in their own right.



Sokasi Cooking School, Four Seasons Resort at Sayan

THE EXPERIENCE: Forage, cook and dine at Bali's first custom-designed cooking school, in a dramatic, open-air setting on the island's longest river, the Ayung.

Made entirely of Bali bamboo, Sokasi, the creation of Elora Hardy – daughter of renowned jewellery designer John Hardy – aims to connect guests with Balinese culture through its cuisine. Senior sous chef Wayan Sutariawan shares family recipes and insights into local herbs, spices and aromatics during the half-day classes, which include a guided tour of the Ubud markets.

Learn about traditional Balinese cuisine, or take a class featuring plant-based menus. Then lunch under a towering banyan tree surrounded by rice fields, mere steps from the flowing river. 

This Four Seasons offers 60 plush thatched villas and suites overlooking the Sayan Valley, surrounded by rice paddies, gushing waterfalls, organic vegetable gardens and lotus ponds. 

IDEAL FOR: Gourmands.

PRICE: From $US69 a class, a person; rooms from $US550; fourseasons.com.


LIKE THIS? Take a cooking class in the NSW Hunter Valley with agri-dining pioneers, Margan Restaurant; margan.com.au.

The food at Yarri is simple, but tasty and refined

The food at Yarri is simple, but tasty and refined. Photo: FRANCES ANDRIJICH




THE EXPERIENCE: The Margaret River region's reputation as a fine dining destination owes much to Aaron Carr's 21 years as chef at Vasse Felix. He upped sticks in 2017 to partner with boutique winery Snake + Herring on the sleek modern diner Yarri Restaurant & Bar, which takes its name from the Indigenous word for blackbutt – a eucalypt wood that's used throughout the interior.

Carr is taking a more casual route than his previous digs, via a menu laden with snacks like corn and manchego croquettes. Simple, but tasty and refined. More substantial plates are hitting the mark for diners, too, such as the organic 550-gram dry-aged sirloin with anchovy and caper butter, supplemented by sides that could sit alone, such as burnt cabbage with miso and buckwheat.

IDEAL FOR: The room and terraces are suited to groups. Sit at the bar if you're flying solo; yarri.com.au.

PRICE: Dishes $10-$58; chef's menu $78 a person, five courses.


LIKE THIS? Award-winning wines and fabulous degustation with postcard-perfect Margaret River views await at Wills Domain, Yallingup; willsdomain.com.au.



THE EXPERIENCE: In an era when country restaurants shine as dining beacons, Fleet throws out some of the warmest rays. Much is said of its size – just 22 seats – but not enough can be said about the passion of its owners, Josh Lewis and Astrid McCormack. They moved from Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula in 2015 to set up in a shopfront down a side street. Before they arrived, the most notable eating in the town, 20 minutes from foodie favourite Byron Bay, was pub grub.

But Lewis, ex-sous chef at Loam and with a stint at Noma on his CV, has created a truly local dining experience. He befriended fishermen and farmers and put their produce on the menu, while McCormack chose the creations of nearby potters as plates and dishes. Her effervescent warmth drives the meal as she brings eight small courses out of the tiny kitchen (staffed by just Lewis and a dishwasher) and lays them on the concrete communal dining table. 

Amid this is the signature dish of smoked mullet crowned with golden shards of potato and fish skin: the ultimate chip'n'dip combo. Fleet offers one of the most memorable meals in Australia.

IDEAL FOR: Couples.

PRICE: $85 a person; fleetrestaurant.com.au.


​LIKE THIS? Try the Mornington Peninsula's fine diner, Laura, at Merricks; ptleoestate.com.au/laura.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
is a working farm
offering a four-hour
tasting menu.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a working farm offering a four-hour tasting menu. Photo: Ingrid Hofstra



Blue Hill at Stone Barns

THE EXPERIENCE: Ethical principles, environmental impact or animal welfare don't always factor in choosing where to eat out. But the time is coming when they will, says Dan Barber, one of a new breed of evangelist/activist chefs who want diners to connect their food back to the soil.

The soil, in his case, is a 32-hectare property, Stone Barns, in the Hudson Valley, 50 kilometres north of Manhattan. Originally a dairy farm owned by the Rockefeller family, in 2003 the land became an educational centre and working farm.

Blue Hill's "grazing, pecking, rooting" menu is a four-hour procession of 30 to 40 bites and small courses. You might get pizza made from beetroot, "face bacon" made from a pig's head or a parsnip "steak" served with carving knife and condiments. It's the kind of food that has rocketed Blue Hill at Stone Barns into 11th on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list.

IDEAL FOR: Foodies with a conscience.

PRICE: $US258 a person; bluehillfarm.com.


LIKE THIS? At Single Thread Farm in California, a collective of farmers, chefs, foragers and artisans contribute to the restaurant table; singlethreadfarms.com.



THE EXPERIENCE: There's major deliciousness at chef David Chang's first foray onto America's west coast. And thanks to the launch of his new Netflix documentary series Ugly Delicious, seats are hotter than a leg of gochujang marinated crab.

Compared to the chef's Sydney (Momofuku Seiobo) or even smaller New York offerings (Ko, Ssam Bar) Majordomo is enormous, with an outside area you'd never see in NYC and would pay a premium for in Sydney. Not too far from Chinatown, it's lit beautifully by Chinese lanterns on one side and forklifts moving crates on the other. But that's a true-to-form representation of the general push-me-pull-you attitude of the Momofuku empire.

Snack-wise, a soothing cup of onion consommé on arrival sets the tone, while sausage-stuffed peppers set the pace. It's a swinging chandelier of a menu in general, from truffled noodles to that Santa Barbara rock crab served three ways: chilled claws, crab fat rice and gochujang-marinated raw crab meat.

A whole section devoted to "bings", a play on the classic Chinese street food, might see soft boiled egg topped with smoked roe, ready to be spooned on top of an accompanying pancake, all swoosh, pop and smoke.

Aussie sommelier and restaurant manager Rich Hargreave – the yin to Chang's yang – works the room pouring a mix of small American producers and drinks that generally tickle him while Chang is in the kitchen, going to town preparing beef short rib and running plates. 

How raclette, melted to order with the Swiss cheese scraped straight from the grill and onto the plate, is on the menu at all is a mystery but therein lies that classic Chang magic. It shouldn't all work together, but it just does.

IDEAL FOR: Couples and groups.

PRICE: mains from $US22; majordomo.la.


LIKE THIS? Try NoMad, the Los Angeles newbie from NYC's 11 Madison dream team, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara; thenomadhotel.com.

Gustu instantly says

Gustu instantly says "Bolivia". Photo: LUIS FERNANDEZ


Restaurant Gustu

​THE EXPERIENCE: Walls of granite, colourful traditional textiles, hand-carved totem poles made of timber from local rainforests – Gustu instantly says "Bolivia". But its dedication to place is not just window dressing. It is Bolivian to the core. 

Created in 2013 by food innovator and activist Claus Meyer, the co-founder of Noma, its goals include cultivating a high-end food culture, inventorying Bolivia's astounding natural larder of more than 20,000 plants and lifting locals out of poverty by training them for careers in hospitality. It also serves world-class meals.

Led by chef Kamilla Seidler (Latin America's Best Female Chef in 2016) and her business partner Michelangelo Cestari, the team at Gustu – which means "flavour" in Quechua – takes diners on a journey of discovery through unusual ingredients, such as the instantly appealing papalisa, a small yellow root vegetable with cheery pink dots. Familiar proteins such as lamb and rabbit appear alongside alligator tail. The taste of a cured trout from Lake Titicaca, served with pickled achoccha, a cucumber-like vegetable, is a culinary eye-opener.

IDEAL FOR: Adventurous eaters.

PRICE: From 430 bolivianos a person for dégustation menu; gustu.bo.


LIKE THIS? At the Incan ruin of Moray above Cusco, Peru, Virgilio Martínez Véliz showcases Andean food; milcentro.pe.

Tuck into stuffed clams at Noma 2.0 in Copenhagen.

Tuck into stuffed clams at Noma 2.0 in Copenhagen. Photo: Jason Loucas



Noma 2.0

THE EXPERIENCE: So you never got to Noma, named the world's top restaurant four times, before it closed in 2017? Never mind. René Redzepi has now opened Noma 2.0 in Copenhagen's historically hippie neighbourhood, Christianshavn, complete with its own urban farm and fermentation workshop.

Redzepi works closely with the seasons. From March to May, his tasting menu concentrates solely on seafood, such as hot and cold shrimp heads, 100-yearold mahogany clams with green gooseberries, sea cucumber gonads, and cod eyes. In June, the focus moves on to vegetables, and by the Danish winter, game meats and foods from the forest. 

Getting a table, sadly, is no easier than at the original. Reservations open online two months before the start of each season, and currently fill in less than 24 hours.

IDEAL FOR: Hard-core foodies, bucket listers, the rich and curious.

PRICE: DK2250 a person; wine pairing DK1100 a person; noma.dk.


​LIKE THIS? Pop into Barr, at the original Noma site, where Redzepi has teamed with Thorsten Schmidt to serve "northern sea" cooking, from salted waffles to Danish meatballs; restaurantbarr.com.

Spend the afternoon cooking, prosecco tasting and truffle hunting.

Acclaimed chefs lead the cooking classes at the Villa Casagrande. Photo: Supplied


Villa Casagrande

THE EXPERIENCE: At the luxurious 15th-century Villa Casagrande, one hour north of Venice in the foothills of the Dolomites, start the day with cookery classes, lunch in the elegant walled garden and spend the afternoon prosecco tasting and truffle hunting.

The villa is virtually the second home of Italophile Sarah Roberts of UK-based Stirred Travel. At classes led by acclaimed chefs Ursula Ferrigno and Jake Simpson, you can learn to make brasato all'amarone (slow-cooked beef in red wine) or tortellini di zucca (pumpkin tortellini with crushed amaretti). As well, visit a fifth-generation cheese-maker, or enjoy dinner matched with the legendary Masi wines of Valpolicella.

IDEAL FOR: Foodie couples.

PRICE: From £2750 for six nights; stirredtravel.com.


LIKE THIS? Try "An Italian Gourmet Journey with Le Ponant", a culinary cruise on a private yacht; captainschoice.com.au.

A bakery in Georgia.

A bakery in Georgia. Photo: Supplied


Tblisi, and the Kakheti wine region

THE EXPERIENCE: On Intrepid Travel's new food tour of this former Soviet state, taste hot, pomegranate-flavoured mtsvadi (meat skewers), whip up the classic cheesy bread khachapuri at your home stay on the Russian border, and learn folk songs while mastering the art of eating Georgia's fist-sized dumplings, khinkhali.

A hiker's paradise, Georgia is usually known for its religious tourism, but on this tour it's all about the eating – and drinking. Take in its robust red saperavi wines, aged in barrels hidden in the Kakheti mountains' bellies.

IDEAL FOR: Those who like their food hearty and historic.

PRICE: From $2365 a person, twin share; intrepidtravel.com.


LIKE THIS? Abercrombie & Kent also runs tours to Georgia and neighbouring Armenia; abercrombiekent.com.au.

Tick off sights and sink your teeth into traditional dishes on this Iran tour.

Tick off sights and sink your teeth into traditional dishes on this Iran tour. Photo: Damien Raggatt



Tehran to Shiraz

THE EXPERIENCE: Ticking off the sights is one way to experience a city. Sinking your teeth into its traditional dishes, however, is a far more delicious choice. On Intrepid Travel's new 10-day Iran Real Food Adventure, you do both. 

In the city of Isfahan, for instance, admire the elegant bridges and grand mosques before feasting on a turmerictinged Persian biryani laden with lamb, onions and sangak bread. Enjoy a sugar rush in the maze-like streets of Yazd as you sample haji badam: small pastry balls flavoured with cardamom, nutmeg and almonds. Or go the pistachio-studded, rosewater-scented baklava.

In Shiraz, the city's namesake wine may be off the menu, but you can imbibe a range of beverages flavoured with mint, rose or walnut, for example. Or feast on faloudeh, a dessert made with noodles and frozen rose water syrup.

The trip also includes shopping excursions to the local food markets, farm visits and cooking classes in the homes of locals, where you will learn the secrets of dishes such as tahchin: saffron-infused rice layered with onions, chicken, yoghurt and eggs, all baked in a pan. Dig deep: the crunchy layer at the bottom is the best part of the dish.

IDEAL FOR: Food fans.

PRICE: From $3265 a person; intrepidtravel.com.


LIKE THIS? Savour the flavours of Turkey with Gourmet Safaris; gourmetsafaris.com.au.

Belinda Thomson.

Belinda Thomson. 


BELINDA THOMSON winemaker and viniculturist, Crawford River Wines, VIctoria

Favourite holiday activity? I'm kind of high-energy so it depends how much I have left in the tank, but it has to be a complete disconnect. A good book, good food and some glorious sunshine with a body of water is usually top of the list. However, a couple of years ago I did the Tour du Mont Blanc, and the intense physical challenge, lofty peaks, extraordinary views and interesting characters along the way turned out to be invigorating and renewing.

Preferred reading material? Definitely a book. Something that needs more time than I usually have, as long as it's engrossing and not too heavy.

Cook in or dine out? A bit of both. Dining out on occasion is fun and relaxing, but I love to cook and find it very therapeutic, especially when you can take your time without the usual pressures of life.

Favourite travel gadget? Noise-cancelling headphones for sure. On the plane, in the airport, on the beach.

On the plane: to drink or not to drink? Depends how far you're going. A cheeky bevvy to start the journey is always relaxing, while I tend to love a decent single malt whisky if I can't sleep.

Worst holiday? Unfortunately, the stunning island of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. The day before I flew out, I burnt myself severely and had to stay out of the sun for the week. On a beach holiday at Christmas – bit of a disaster. The location, food and people were stunning.

Favourite travel hack? Get a great pair of travel socks for long flights – daggy but true. You get off the plane in great shape!


This article 52 Dream Destinations: Food and Wine was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.