As our hunger for food-focused experiences grows along with our awareness of the politics of food, canny purveyors are creating 360-degree destinations, drawing crowds from near and far, writes SHANNON HARLEY.
This week, we discover the places making food experiences the new bucket-list must
Back in 1900, French brothers André and Édouard Michelin launched a guide for travellers that included hotels and restaurants dotted across France.They weren’t interested in finding the country’s best gruyère soufflé; they hoped the guide would boost motoring and thus sales of their tyres.And just like that,fuelled by travel and an entrepreneurial spark, the Michelin Guide was born.
In Australia, after family, food is one of the major reasons we travel. Greater awareness of our responsibility as consumers – the significance of provenance and sustainability, ethical questions – and interest in connecting with a location through what we eat and drink complete the picture that has turned food into a destination drawcard. It’s no surprise, then, that food-centric destinations are on the rise, as well as restaurants that augment your food experience by offering more than dining.
One such venture is The Grounds in Sydney. It was something of a trailblazer when it first opened in Alexandria in 2012, comprising a café and lush courtyard, bakery, pâtisserie, coffee roaster, florist, kitchen garden, chooks and even a resident pig until Kevin Bacon retired just last week. It holds regular markets, occasional yoga events, and workshops covering everything from coffee cupping and cake decorating to indoor-plant styling.
The idea behind the destination was to build spaces for guests to interact and reconnect, say the owners, creating a multi-faceted venue so guests could take home ‘amazing memories’.The central café, meanwhile, was designed with the idea of Sunday family lunches in mind, but you’ll need to be prepared for some serious queueing the whole weekend.
Then there’s the point that somehow food just tastes better in context.This is most certainly the explanation for why baguettes always taste better in France. Shannon Bennett’s Burnham Beeches in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges offers this locavore experience in venues that go far beyond somewhere to lunch. Burnham Bakery and the adjoining Piggery Café in the restored stables and piggery are set on a sprawling estate dominated by an Art Moderne mansion and surrounded by greenhouses, organic vegetable gardens, a flock of egg-laying emus and a truffière. Bennett says plans to redevelop the property’s mansion into a six-star hotel complete with a spa and fine-diner, a microbrewery and Japanese steakhouse will complete the experience: “In terms of produce, our intent is to be entirely self-sufficient.”
It’s a similar story in northern New South Wales at The Farm Byron Bay, the work of Emma and Tom Lane and Sydney’s Three Blue Ducks crew.Their paddock-to-plate operation has been so well received it draws a crowd on par with the local Bluesfest.The restaurant, bakery and produce store are set on a 33-hectare working farm, complete with a macadamia orchard,700-odd Bond Brown chickens, pig pens and vegetable gardens. Lunch can be chased with a farming workshop or a horseback tour.
Further afield,Italy’s Eataly,a global network of massive marketplaces that feature retail food outlets and restaurants, recently launched perhaps the most ambitious food destination in the world. Fico opened late last year in Bologna with the lofty goal of being the ‘world’s largest agri-food park’,according to founder Oscar Farinetti. Eataly’s food halls have already exported the country’s greatest hits far beyond its shores, but Fico goes a step further, aiming to teach people where their food comes from. From how to make parmesan to understanding seasonality, the 10-hectare park shows the journey from farm to fork.The combination of working farms and fields, processing plants that cover everything from olive oil and craft beer to mozzarella and hands-on activities such as cooking classes and truffle hunts have the intention of offering a more realistic picture of la dolce vita than standing in line at The Uffizi ever could.
With perhaps more modest designs, Melbourne’s Prahran Market is a local favourite for good reason.The vibrant hub goes beyond stalls of top produce and specialty foods to eating experiences such as Maker & Monger, which dishes out cheese treats such as raclette and fondue from an antique cart, to the more upscale Wilson & Market. It rounds out the experiences with workshops on the likes of food styling, and dance classes and petting zoos for the kids.
So when did eating become such an adventure? The rise of food markets has seen them increasingly viewed as destinations and must-visits – think Tsukiji in Tokyo, La Boqueria in Barcelona and Budapest’s Great Market Hall (back home, David Jones also has ambitious plans for its food halls).When we’re on holiday,we don’t go to Tsukiji for grocery shopping; rather, markets are where you’ll find the locals.While the original flâneur sat in Paris’s cafés, today they’re more likely found at the fish market or over here, perhaps at the local emu farm.