The San Francisco Diet

Timothy Hollingsworth Ate Some *Really* Spicy Sh*t in Sydney

Hollingsworth at the Bocuse d'Or.
Hollingsworth at the Bocuse d’Or.

For this week’s edition of the San Francisco Diet, we go Down Under with a local chef: 2010 James Beard Award winner for Rising Star Chef Timothy Hollingsworth — currently the man in charge of the kitchen at The French Laundry — who used the Laundry’s July hiatus to take a quick trip to Australia. In addition to surfing at Bondi Beach, Hollingsworth dined with restaurateur Neil Perry and hit several of the greatest restaurant hits in Sydney. Below, see his entire food itinerary for his week off work.

I had been thinking of using my vacation this year to go to Mexico to do some surfing, but I got an email from my friend Phil Wood who’s the chef at Rockpool — he spent some time last year at the Laundry on a work visa, working the canapé and garde manger stations — and he was saying flights to Sydney were super cheap. I’ve got another friend there who also worked at the Laundry, and I’d never been to Sydney, so I figured what the hell.

Monday, July 19
That morning I had a bacon scone from Bouchon Bakery and a cup of coffee - I live next door to the restaurant so I’ll usually just have some French press at home or else go to the Coffee Caboose. I had a French press iced coffee at home and bought a bunch of pastries for the guys. This was the day we were closing down the restaurant and we had to break down the whole kitchen so they could do a little light remodel, replace some tiles, etc.

Afterwards I went to Bouchon for lunch with all the dining room managers and talked about what everyone was going to be doing for their break. I had a dozen oysters and the Bibb lettuce salad with a fines herbes dressing, and a glass of champagne. Then I went home and packed and headed to SFO.

I didn’t eat on the plane - the food looked that bad. United Airlines. I couldn’t even make out what it was it was just so processed. I think I took one bite and then slept most of the rest of the seventeen hours.

Wednesday, July 21
[day lost in travel]
When I arrived in Sydney at 7:30 a.m. a friend picked me up. Went to the hotel, couldn’t get into the room and went to have breakfast at a little patisserie - croissant and a café long - that’s what they call it there… it’s basically a double espresso with lightly steamed milk.

Then it was lunch at Rockpool Bar & Grill - Neil Perry’s place. Said hello to Neil. They specialize in dry-aged meats and local seafood. We had a few different salads, different shrimp with hummus - the highlight was David Blackmore’s Wagyu, dry-aged for 45 days, and we had Australian beef as well, side by side. You could choose your garnish: horseradish, mustard, Bearnaise, barbecue sauce. I chose barbecue sauce because I wanted to know what barbecue sauce tasted like in Australia. It was a puréed sauce, pretty sweet, not very spicy like a real Southern one but pretty typical.

Then I headed back to the hotel and crashed. I didn’t have dinner that night and my clock was really off.

Thursday, July 22
Woke up and went to this chain place near my hotel called Coffee to Go or something, and had this really great panini with pickles, cheese and smoked ham and another café long. Went surfing and walked around Bondi Beach. Checked out some shops, took a hike. Had lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant at Bondi Beach and had a really great cappellini with tuna sashimi, arugula, capers, and chili oil. Very simply prepared, all the products were really good. And a couple of beers.

Did some more surfing. Had dinner at Spice Temple with Neil Perry and his wife. It’s his newest restaurant over there - I couldn’t find the door on the outside. It’s below Rockpool Bar & Grill, and there’s this secret door that just says ‘Push’ on it that leads into this very low-lit, trendy, speakeasy type place. Lots of people, good energy. It could have been L.A. And Neil’s wife was saying how in Australia all the hot places to eat have a view, and dining rooms facing the water. And this restaurant they thought might be a challenge. But people really responded to the speakeasy feel. The menu is kind of fusion-y, with some REALLY spicy kind-of Thai food. The first thing I put in my mouth was this fried tofu with salted chilis, and you really wanted to eat more of it but it was SUPER spicy. They give you some pickled vegetables to cleanse your palate. We had these roasted duck steamed buns (they call them ‘pockets’ there) with raw scallions. And another really good dish was this seared rare beef with this spicy Szechuan peppercorn sesame oil poured over it. Also really really spicy.

Neil and his wife were on dry July, but I had a bottle of really well chilled, refreshing Australian Riesling with that meal and enjoyed myself. Most of the wines I had while I was there were really great and not like many Australian wines you get here - all really small producers I’d never heard of.

Friday, July 23
Woke up and had another of those paninis. I tend to become a creature of habit when I find something that I really like.

Tried to find a ferry to get to Manley but I got really turned around, wandering the streets. I found this little street market with vegetables, fruit, some street food - cupcakes, Chinese street food, coffee. I ended up getting another coffee and a croissant, and had some of the Chinese food - little dumplings with pork and vegetables and a ponzu sauce. Shrimp and vegetables with some spicy mustard. Really pretty good.

I finally made it over to Manley, went surfing, and came back to the hotel. Then I met up with my friend Phil Wood’s girlfriend for drinks - I’d never met her and we wanted to get to know each other before sitting down for this major meal at Phil’s restaurant. We went over to Rockpool for dinner, which was pretty insane. I must have tried over 20 different things. A huge meal. We started with a sunchoke panna cotta with a roasted vegetable gelée that had pieces of scallop tartare and shrimp scampi, sunchoke chips, and herbs.

There was a lobster with a cassoulet of beans that was reminiscent of the French Laundry and Phil’s time there. It was interpreted in a kind of different way and it was nice to see.

Then an Australian black truffle risotto with loads of truffles that was really good. One of the things I noticed they did over there which was kind of interesting - whenever they served a main course they would serve a tossed salad beside it — just a green salad. Even at a super fine dining place like Rockpool. I asked Phil about it and he just said it’s normal — it’s what the generation before them did, sort of taking after France.

I had a really crisp pork belly with cilantro that was done in a sort of Asian fashion. Really good. For dessert I had something that they’re really famous for: a date tart with a custard base in a tart shell. They bake it in the oven and it browns on top. Pretty incredible - just the tart on the plate like old school. I also had a bite of my friend’s girlfriend’s passion fruit

Saturday, July 24
Woke up the next day, went to the gym, and had a four-hour meal at Tetsuya. And then had to go to the gym again after that. I wasn’t very productive after the wine, but I felt I at least needed go there.

I went last minute, just by myself, and Phil got me in — he used to work there before he came to the Laundry. It’s a beautiful, Japanese sort of place, kind of removed from the city. It’s set back at the end of this alley, in a building that looks like it might have been a house at some point. Where I sat you look out at this peaceful little Japanese garden — you don’t really feel like you’re in the city anymore.

There were many courses. The highlights: oysters with ginger vinaigrette — my first time having that combination, with a whole lot of this somewhat sweet Asian dressing, and a lot of oyster juice. Really good. Then there was a similar Scampi dish to the previous night, scampi tartare with cauliflower and a light citrus-y vinagrette.

Then Petuna ocean trout (from Tasmania), with a nori crust, combu, celery, and apple sea trout — a very Tetsuya dish and really excellent. There were a few different kinds of fish over there I’d never had. King fish, and this ocean trout.

I had duck that was really simply prepared with parsnip and Swiss chard, extremely simple, with a light jus. Really good. Then grass-fed Tasmanian Angus beef this time not dry-aged, with a pomme puree and a light beef boullion. Then squab breast with king brown mushrooms. And then a braised oxtail with sea cucumber and yuzu.

One of the last courses were these strawberries grown by this Japanese family just outside the city. They’re just really perfect looking, served with a whipped, seasoned pastry cream. It seemed like it was a lot more special for Australians to see strawberries like that — we’re growing some in the garden at the Laundry, so they were good but maybe not as mindblowing for me. Then for dessert a savory pear sorbet with bread and butter pudding — the pudding was amazing.

Obviously I skipped dinner after that.

Sunday, July 25
My friends were off so I woke up and went surfing again. I tried to go get my sandwich but the place was closed, and it took 30 minutes to find another decent sandwich spot. I had an egg and bacon sandwich on kind of a griddled croissant. It was a good, almost American breakfast to wind down my trip.

Took the bus to Maroubra and went surfing there, then took the bus to Bondi and met a couple of French guys, friends of friends, and surfed there.

I got back around 1:30 or 2:00 and we went to a bar/restaurant in kind of an outskirt of Sydney. The chef is Irish and we had roast beef with coleslaw, roasted potatoes, and gravy. Really simple, hearty food with lots of beer.

Then I went back to the hotel, showered, and went to this place that was called House — a place that was recommended by Neil Perry. It was a Northeastern Thai street food place. They had ten cooks back there, but only 20 people eating. The food there was REALLY really spicy. Crazy spicy. The two French guys could barely eat most of the stuff. They just kept saying “oh it’s hot.” I don’t know really what I ate. I had a whole fried snapper with a spicy chili paste (pictured). And then this soup with lettuce, dried peppers, chili, and chicken embryo.

I went to go find a bathroom, and I stumbled into this gambling room and bar attached to the restaurant where they were playing kino and betting on sports and stuff. It was kind of crazy.

That night — really late, like around 1 in the morning — we went to this Chinese restaurant called Golden Century on Sussex Street in Chinatown that a couple of people had recommended. It was also really crazy. They had all these fish tanks framed out all along the outside of the restaurant with a ton of different kinds of fish swimming in them. We went inside and there was this really weird mix of people — like gangsters, a few white people, and lots of Asian people. They had this crazy wine list. Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1970, 1979, 1990… Chateau Latour 1979, 1980, 1987, 1992… Chateau Margaux 1966, etc. You’re in this random Chinese restaurant in Sydney and you can order a 1966 Chateau Margaux. Insane.

We had stir-fried pork, roasted Peking duck, fried rice, salt and pepper squid, and these fried Australian shrimp, kind of like baby shrimp. For dessert, the worst watermelon you’d ever seen.

Monday, July 26

Woke up and packed. Met Phil and his girlfriend for some dim sum. The place felt like Yank Sing, but I did have one thing that was interesting - kind of a warm, soft tofu with a sweet syrup over the top of it. The only thing I had that was similar to that was something I had in Japantown at this Japanese massage place where after your massage they’d give you this hot tea and a soft tofu custard like that with maple syrup over it. Then had roasted Peking duck, soup dumplings, pork fried rice. Nothing else really stood out.

The next meal was on the plane and on the way back it really wasn’t so bad — chicken thigh with roasted potato, peas, corn, baguette, iceberg salad, and brownie.

I arrived back in the afternoon. The first thing I had was an American drip coffee Ritual at Oxbow Market in Napa. All I’d been craving was some simple drip coffee and it was something you can only find at Starbucks in Australia. Then I got my hair cut and went for cocktails at Bardessono and had a Moscow mule.

For dinner I had a friend over and cooked roast chicken with rosemary, roasted potatoes, caramelized bitter lemon sauce, turnips, confit garlic.

Then it was back to work the next day, putting together everything we’d broken down the week before, and getting ready to host Julia Roberts and Billy Crudup and all them that week — they were all super nice, by the way, and really into the food… not like some Hollywood people who don’t eat.

Earlier: Chris Kronner Loves Sebo Almost as Much as Ryan Farr’s Burgers [Grub Street]
Where Didn’t Michael Bauer Eat This Week? [Grub Street]

Timothy Hollingsworth Ate Some *Really* Spicy Sh*t in Sydney