10 Best Meals of 2009

Posted on January 15, 2010 by Aun


photos courtesy of Spice Temple

As we start the new year, I’ve been looking back at 2009. It was a crazy year, one filled with tough challenges, new opportunities, lots of travel, and, of course, many exceptional meals. Which makes it hard to pick my ten favourite dining experiences of the year. Some fabulous meals, I should say, were had at home (yes, my darling wife S is that good a cook) and at the homes of friends. But for this post, I have decided to limit myself to restaurant experiences. So, what makes a great, truly memorable meal? Well, the food, naturally. But as I reflected back over the last 12 months, many of the meals that really stood out were because of the company at the table. Eating with good friends that also love food surely enhances any gustatory experience. Similarly, decor and good design goes a long way to enhancing the dining experience. And lastly, the uniqueness of the meal definitely played a part — some of my best meals of 2009 were great not just because of the food or the friends dining with us or the restaurant’s interiors, but because they were so different or novel or just plain fun.

So here are the ten best meals I had in 2009.


Chef Hadleigh Troy

10. Restaurant Amuse, Perth, Western Australia
Who would have thought that Perth could sustain a chic, degustation-menu-only, fine dining restaurant? If you had asked me that a few years ago, I would probably have burst out laughing. But not only have Chef Hadleigh Troy and his super-sweet wife Carolynne have been able to do it, they’ve done it riduculously well. And have earned every possible accolade along the way. Restaurant Amuse has been acknowledged by every possible guide, publication, and local foodie as, hands-down, the best high-end restaurant in Perth. The recognition is very well-deserved. Every dish we tasted from Chef Troy’s nine-course tasting menu was exquisitely prepared, very well-thought out, superbly well-seasoned, and full of life, flavour and wit. We found ourselves continuously surprised and thrilled by the food that was served to us, each plate paired perfectly with a different wine, as expertly chosen by Carolynne. Despite the boldness and sophistication of the food, Amuse is set in a welcoming and somewhat modest space. Diners are made to feel at home by the cool, relaxed and very polite staff. This was a really great meal in a really unique restaurant. And one which Perth has needed for a long time.

9. Bistro Filipino, Manila, The Philippines
S and I were an hour and a half late to dinner… not because of the traffic or any other excusable reason, but because S was caught up in the frenzy of exploring all the great local designers in Greenbelt 5. We had SMS’d our friend apologizing. She said not to worry. No one was ever on time in Manila anyway, she told us. By the time we arrived, we were starving and apologetic (S was also laden down with new purchases). Chef Roland Laudico, a friend of our friend, arranged for us to try what felt like a parade of his most exciting and popular dishes. The food, Modern Filipino is the only real way to describe it, was amazing. If I close my eyes, I can still almost taste the sinfully rich but oh so good Adobo Overload he made for us. For a full run-down of the meal, you can read about it here. I’m dying to revisit this very special restaurant. Or better yet, convince someone to open a branch here.


My all-time favourite pasta dish from Harry’s

8. Harry’s Bar, Venice, Italy
I know naysayers love bashing Arrigo Cirpriani’s restaurant. But I’m a fan and probably always will be. I’ve always had great meals at Harry’s Bar. And yes, it’s crazy-expensive, but so long as you know that before actually deciding to go, then that’s fine. I love the history of the place. Love the old-world mannerisms of the staff and that year after year, no matter how much the world may change, inside Harry’s, things have remained as they’ve been since I started going there almost two decades ago. I love how Arrigo will stop at every table in the upstairs dining room and actually say hello and, if you can engage him in something interesting, he’ll actually have a conversation with you. And I love the simple but refined Venetian food (despite the steep prices) and, of course, the bellinis. During our December 09 trip to Venice, we had a fabulous Sunday lunch with two close friends. We were given a magnificent table, right by the window in the main dining room upstairs. The service, food, drinks, and conversation were all perfect.

7. Spice Temple, Sydney, Australia
It’s funny. A couple days before I went to check out Neil Perry’s sexy Northern Chinese restaurant, two food writers I know, one Chinese-Singaporean and one Vietnamese-American, were poo-pooing it. They went on and on about how the food wasn’t authentic enough for them. Thing is, I think these two completely missed the point of this very cool, very urban, very special restaurant. To them (and other foodies like them), if anyone wants to say that his or her food is Asian or Asian-inspired, unless it is anything but super-authentic, they only see faults. They didn’t consider that truely authentic Northern Chinese flavours might not go over all that well with a Sydneysider audience. Nor did they give Perry or his team any credit for creating a dining room that is so cool and chic that even the most conservative bankers feel comfortable having their power lunches there. Nor did they care that the food actually tastes really, really good. I like Spice Temple tremendously. S and I had a fun, spicy meal there with a friend from the publishing world in October. All three of us were blown away by the quality of what we tried; both  the quality of the ingredients and the flavours of the finished dishes were lovely. My favourites that day were the tingling Crystal Bay prawns; the steamed eggplant with garlic, coriander and sweet pork; and the dry fried spiced lamb ribs. And I really loved the room. Honestly, I wish we had a restaurant like Spice Temple in Singapore, a place that serves good Northern Chinese fare in a really sexy and urban setting. Sadly, while we can get good Chinese food here, since Hu Cui closed down, there isn’t anywhere truly cool to eat it in.

6. Bo.lan, Bangkok, Thailand
Ever since S and I had dinner at Bo.lan in June last year, we’ve been telling every foodie we know that they have to try it, and been itching to head back. We first heard about the restaurant from friends within months of its opening. They raved about the really sensational Thai food being prepared by chefs Duanporn Songvisava (bo) and Dylan Jones. Both trained under the amazing David Thompson. While still a newbie, Bo.lan has nonetheless made its mark, earning top honors when we compiled last year’s Miele Guide rankings–it came out as the 2nd best restaurant in Thailand and 22nd best in Asia. The food is exquisite. The ever-changing menu celebrates lesser-known regional Thai dishes. No green curry chicken or chicken and cashew nuts here! When we visited, S and I had the tasting menu, which was a 9-course extravaganza. What was amazing was that we didn’t recognize many of the dishes we were served. But everything we tried was amazing. The meal was nothing short of an edible education in Thai food. This is a restaurant that, quite simply, gave me renewed confidence in the Thai restaurant scene.

5. Iggy’s, Singapore
What can I say about Iggy’s that hasn’t already been said? Iggy’s is not just one of the best restaurants in the world (hey, I’m not just saying that, these guys think so too), it’s also one of my favourite places in which to indulge or celebrate a special occasion. You’ll always have a great meal at Iggy’s. The very best of these (for me at least) last year was in October. We attended a lunch to celebrate a good friend’s 40th birthday. The gent in question is a true gourmand and a good friend of Ignatius’. The meal was stunning, each course better than the next, with great wines to wash down all the yummy food we were inhaling. After the meal, S turned to me and said, “wow, they’ve really gone up a notch!” She was right. And that’s what makes Ignatius such a good restaurateur, that he’s constantly pushing to make his restaurant and the food he’s sending out better and better. I can’t wait to see what he does in 2010.

4. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Paris, France
This meal was just a few weeks ago (I wrote about it here). I think what made it one of the most memorable and special meals of the year for me was the combination of occasion, the friends we shared it with, and, of course, the food, wine and service. Those latter three things have always been perfect at every L’Atelier we’ve eaten at, but S contends that the L’Atelier in Paris is hands-down her personal favourite. The fact that we were stranded in Paris for the day and were able to get reservations turned what could have been a crazy, miserable day into a fabulously decadent mini-vacation. And that we could share it with two good friends made it even more special.

3. Gyu Ho, Kyoto, Japan
Okay, so the food at Gyu Ho may not be the best I have ever eaten in Japan, but the experience of eating there was certainly one of the best I’ve had and easily one of the most fun, memorable meals of my life. S and I visited Gyu Ho in September during a really well-deserved vacation in Kyoto. This crazy, tiny beef specialist is one very special restaurant. The food is fabulous. The chef is chatty and completely kooky. And the space is charming, in all the right ways. And here’s something I realized. There are some restaurants that you go to once, and cross off your list of (culinary) must-do’s. A lot of fine-dining restaurants fall into this category. They might have been great and the food might have been super refined, but in retrospect, you say to yourself, “okay, been there, what’s next?” Then there are places that you put on your “must visit every time I am in town” list. Often these are cooler, more casual places. And the choices we make are highly personal. Gyu Ho is definitely on this latter list for me. I know that every time we visit Kyoto from now on, we’re definitely stopping there for a meal. And that’s why our first meal there was my third favourite meal of last year.


Chef Andre Chiang

2. Jaan par Andre, Singapore
Last year, during Chefs with Altitude, Swissotel Singapore did something it has never done before. Instead of flying in a guest chef to take over the kitchens at Jaan, its signature fine-dining restaurant, it invested in promoting Jaan’s (relatively) new, resident chef de cuisine, Andre Chiang. This was a smart and appropriate move by the hotel. Chef Andre, since taking over Jaan (and turning into Jaan par Andre, or JPA as I like to refer to it), has turned what was a horrendously ill-reputed tourist trap and transformed it into Singapore’s premier fine-dining restaurant. For Chefs with Altitude, Andre decided to build a special menu around seasonal Japanese produce–which meant (lucky him) that he had to fly up to Japan and spend a week scouring the country for the very best ingredients. I was fortunate enough to be invited by a friend to experience this special menu. It was amazing. Andre has since tried to play down the menu, saying to me, “Oh, but I just did really simple things with the products.” (Of course, what Andre consider simple in cooking are things I probably wouldn’t even try to attempt.) What I loved the most about that menu was that it demonstrated the perfect marriage of Andre’s very Asian roots, his French training, and the very best Asian ingredients. It was a really special menu and it is a direction that I hope Andre continues to move in as he brings JPA from strength to strength over the next year.


Antonio’s is well worth the trip

1. Antonio’s, Tagaytay, The Philippines
My favourite meal of 2009 took place in a charming, manor home 90 minutes south of Manila. Antonio’s is, to me, the French Laundry of The Philippines, a beautiful, culinary gem set in a charming rural environment that foodies flock to for long lunches, romantic dinners, and special occasions. S and I visited Antonio’s in August last year (read about the trip here) and we’ve been dying to return ever since. I just need to go on a diet first in order to prepare for my next meal there. Because while the food is fabulous and some dishes are charmingly sophisticated, it’s also heart-stoppingly rich. Antonio’s is one restaurant I’d be happy to travel to The Philippines to eat at every single year.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Emily January 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Your posts are always a good read! Cheers!

  2. andrew dean January 15, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Did Iggy happen to run an eco lodge in Cherating, Malaysia before this venture. It’s a wild call but there can’t be that many Ignatius names in Asia, can there?

  3. Chubby Hubby January 15, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks Emily.

    Andrew: No, Ignatius ran Les Amis.

  4. www.triportreats.com January 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    YAY! Two of your best meals happened in the Philippines and I’m soooo proud that your best meal was at Antonio’s, nonetheless. Doesn’t the ambiance just charm you? I am in love with our culinary ingenuity and that’s what keeps me from having a 4-pack. But it’s ok because it inspires me to find more culinary escapades. I’ve also tried the German White Asparagus in Balsamico. YAY! Please come visit soon and let me know, I would love to pick your brain!

    ToT

  5. Tangled Noodle January 16, 2010 at 1:22 am

    This is not only a scrumptious list of wonderful meals but also a vicarious, global tour of some great cities!

    I regret that we missed an opportunity to dine in Antonio’s again during our Philippine trip a few weeks ago – there were simply too many of us (a family reunion) and the fine food offered would’ve been overshadowed by a lot of family chatter. However, your description and my memories of our experience last year will hopefully tide me over until our next visit.

    Wishing you another year of marvelous dining!

  6. cheryl January 16, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Brilliant post as usual! makes me want to really really save up and try to target at the very least, one or two of these places a year (esp since alot of them require traveling!). been lapping up yours & S’s adventures in Australia, Paris and Venice! very enjoyable :) always lovely to read about what you guys are up to. Ooo, I’m heading to HK in Feb! 1st time – and I’m counting the days. I will be consulting your HK posts and of course the little red book ;p It’s a week long holiday. Should be enough time to explore enough good eats. Super excited.

    I do look forward to reading more of your culinary adventures in 2010! take care & a very very belated happy new year to you both!

  7. Norman January 16, 2010 at 2:45 am

    A great post! Glad Jaan is at last in form. Will definitely try it on my next visit from Oz. Perry’s Rockpool Bar & Grill is also doing well here in Sydney…and the newest wizz kid of pastry here is, of course, Adriano Zumbo in his magical little patissiere in Balmain, Sydney. Thanks for a splendid blog.

  8. csiki sandor January 19, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Beautiful photos! A really great post. Congratulations !

  9. 2-minute Noodle Cook January 20, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Perth got in top 10?? Wow, I didn’t think my home city can bit Melbourne or Sydney. The recipes that I read of from Spice Temple sound appealing, just like what I wanna try if I get the chance to go east

  10. Susan at Charm of the Carolines January 21, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Just discovered your blog and I love it! A little mental vacation here at the end of the day. thank you!

    Susan

  11. fourfoodies January 29, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Quite a year of dinning and travel. Thanks for letting us share in your lives.

  12. Digital Scales February 3, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Your pictures are amazing! I can’t wait to see what comes for next year’s top 10. All of these dishes look delicious.
    -Sylvia

  13. Veron March 14, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Wow, Philippines got 2 of your best eats of 2009. Nearly went to Bistro Filipino last February but we were so stuffed with afternoon snacks that eating there wouldn’t do the food justice. Going back to Phils. again in April and this time I’ll make sure I will taste that Adobo overload of Chef Laudico.

  14. Dave Brown May 28, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Very evaluative post and it provided me a peep on the 10 best meals in 2009. I may not go to all those places and taste the meal but it surely gave me food ideas.

  15. Rommel Jacob June 22, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Hi,

    Wanting to try Jaan Par Andre this weekend but i heard that Chef Andre Chiang has left!

    Is it true and do you think its still worth visiting?

  16. Pingback: 50 best restaurants in the World 2010 | Accidental Epicurean

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