‘French’, ‘gourmet’, ‘food’ and ‘safari’’. Put those four words into a sentence and what do you get? Only one of the most delectable, indulgent and tasty sensory adventures of your Sydney culinary life.
You may be familiar with Maeve O’Meara and her popular Food Safari TV franchise, but if not, rest assured you’re in expert hands on her Sydney French Safari on Wheels. You’ll discover the hidden Francophile gems that Sydney has to offer on this incredible day-trip into gastronomic heaven.
On this particular morning, everyone boards the bus to discover who’ll be guiding us on our adventure – it’s no less than Oliver Charkos, son of legendary La Renaissance founder, Cuisinier Pierre Charkos. He’s also a chef in his own right, and manages the new Baroque Bistro in The Rocks, Sydney.
Already excited about the top pedigree of our guide, we head off to our first stop – breakfast at Ganache Pâtisserie and Café in Castlecrag. What awaits us there are cheerful tables set with baskets filled with French baguettes, crusty croissants, pain au chocolat and brioche. Steaming bowls of coffee arrive to order as we marvel at the colourful display of confectioner’s masterpieces on offer and dig in, gluttonously slathering butter and jam onto our baked treats.
But Gourmet Safaris is not just about eating – it’s an education in the hows, whats and whys of the featured cuisine (in this instance, French). Ganache Pâtisserie owner and Chef Pâtissier, Didier Sockeel, invites us into his kitchen to demonstrate the making of French croissant pastry, almond croissant, chocolate bread and brioche. It’s a marvellously complicated affair and we gain a new respect for the effort that goes into making everything in house, including the speciality butter and fresh, live yeast sourced from overseas.
To top off the experience, Maeve O’Meara herself arrives to say hello and talk us through her French Safari on Wheels. This touch of celebrity doesn’t fail to lift our experience from fantastic to extraordinary, and we’re only at stop number one!
Next comes taste testing at Darling Point speciality produce store Gourmet Life. Dedicated to sourcing hard-to-find and unique products in partnership with leading chefs, the store is a Pandora’s box of wild mushrooms, black Perigord truffles from France and Australia, white Alba truffles from Italy, beluga caviar from Iran, hand-filleted anchovies from the coast of Spain, oils, vinegars, chocolates, chutneys, pastes and so on from obscure regions all around the world.
Oh help! To assist us in navigating our way through the fantastic array of products, we’re offered a buttery terrine of fois gras, zingy cornichons, flavoured mango and raspberry vinegars by A’ L’Olivier (manufactured in Provence), plump French sardines with fresh pistou (nut-free pesto), an incredibly sophisticated green salad dressed with walnut oil and toasted hazelnuts, and some subtle herbal infusion tea. But of course, everybody without exception can’t help loading up on fine products before we regretfully part.
The rest of the day follows in the same vein. We visit The Essential Ingredient cookware store and are educated on the iron, copper and hand tools of French master chefs as we sip champagne and nibble pink macaroons. Next is a French lunch overflowing with wine, baguettes and the requisite garlic snail tasters at La Grande Bouffe Rozelle.
Anyone still hungry? Somehow we find the space to sample delectable handmade chocolate delights at Belle Fleur Chocolates. Fourth-generation chocolatier Jan Ter Heerdt and his daughter Claire open our eyes and tastebuds to the origins, processes, and innovative uses of all things chocolat. Jan’s alchemic combinations of world flavours and Belgian know-how have led to some surprisingly tasty creations, including eucalyptus, saffron, Japanese citrus and even beetroot! Again, not a soul can leave without a gift box filled with goodies for those unfortunate others at home who missed the Safari.
Did someone mention cheese? Last stop today is Simon Johnson in Alexandria, where huge wedges of French Gruyère, Brie and Roquefort await. We only half listen to the origins and processes and regions as we fall on the platters, transported to cheese heaven.
Sated, slightly befuddled and laden with top-quality goodies, we roll off the bus at journey’s end, a day older, wiser and certainly fuller than before. Who knew exploring one’s own backyard could produce such wonders?
Gourmet Food Safaris run walking and bus tours of a variety of cuisines in Sydney, Melbourne and even overseas.
By Niyati Libotte
Gourmet Food Safaris t: (02) 8969 6555 e: firstname.lastname@example.org w: gourmetsafaris.com.au