The week that was (7 September 2017)

- The delightful Mr Bennie took a look at the state of play in the Australian wine industry. Those places where "... where vineyard expression trumps winery intervention.” It was an interesting retrospective of the industry – a look back in order to help the looking forward. "Australian wine has never been more exciting, diverse or looking to improve its own culture. While natural wines have their detractors, the life that it has breathed into a technicolour vision of Australian wine is potent. Importantly, natural wines are focussing the lens on vineyard and winemaking practices, from which better wines, more diverse wines and a new wine paradigm is emerging." You should read it. 
- Pete Wells wrote his restaurant wish list, it was thought provoking. “A few years ago I would look at these lists and, if a good number of projects were backed by big restaurant groups with a strong track record, I’d take it as a sign that an interesting season was in the wings. Now I’m less sure. What I see more and more is the way power accrues to chefs who are already powerful, while independent restaurants struggle to get going … I’d like the path to the top of the restaurant business to be cleared of the obstacles that make it difficult for women and minorities.” This is important. "A mix of backgrounds and points of view makes organizations smarter and more self-aware, as anybody in the human-resources department will tell you. For restaurants, it’s also one of the clearest ways to signal that everybody is welcome.”
- Eater also had a good article looking at the way in which food can be political, off the back of the #sheetcake carry on in the states. “Food is politics. It’s always difficult for me to say that without adding “of course” to the end of it: Food is politics, of course. Of course there are political forces pushing and pulling at it, the engine behind everything from the price of grain to the availability of labor to the potability of water to patio zoning to how much sawdust you can add before your processed dairy product is no longer allowed to be called cheese. How can you not understand that?”
- Richard Fiedler talked menu engineering - the ways you can change your menu to increase spend. I wish people would understand that good produce and good restaurants need to cost more, a cost that should in turn be passed on to the producers, staff and restaurateurs. For me, it's not about hiding, but rather about educating.
Postcards from Rayol:
Last week I returned to my second home, Le Rayol Canadel. It’s a tiny town on the Côte D'Azur, where Provence meets the Mediterranean. It is unlike most other towns on the coast because it remains a little wild and unscathed by the mass tourism that plagues Cannes, Nice and St Tropez. It is the locals that mob the cafe in the morning, not the tourists. The town consists of a butcher, two boulangeries (you are fiercely loyal to one or the other, but you do not go to both), a small supermarket and the cafe. I lived here many years ago and make the pilgrimage to return each year when I come to France.
The Massif des Maures, a small mountain range, runs behind the town and forms an amphitheatre to the Med. To one side is the sea, to the other is the mountains. It gives that feeling of infinite space with reassuring protection. It is a true paradis sur terre.
If I was to play Pete Wells, I would look to this part of the world for some of the restaurants I would like to see more of. Take, for example, the local beach club - it’s the restaurant you have always wanted to own. Even if you have never wanted to own a restaurant, you would want this one. There are no walls, instead a narrow garden of cacti separates the Tropicana Club from the beach. Everywhere feels the breeze and is part of the sea. The exposed blue rafters and white sails provide a feeling of solidarity and yet it feels lucid, like you could pack it all up at a moments notice.
During the day it offers relief from heat of the Mediterranean sun. There is coffee in the morning, drinks by night, lunch throughout the day, simple meals: salads, carpaccio, grilled fish and moules. But Tropicana is more than this, it’s a summer home. It feels as if the rooms and their uses have grown organically over the decades, like a family home that grows with the addition of more children. It is not unusual to see four generations of the same family eating together - there is a feeling of continuity. 
I have also eaten many meals outside in the shade of trees: the enormous plane trees with the cicadas singing from the branches, or the low fig trees with their leaves so close you can almost reach up and touch them. Why don't we have more outdoor restaurants in Oz? There is something so entirely delightful about the cool provided by the leaves of a tree, the way the wind and sunshine filter through in equal measure. Meals are served a la bonne franquette; you keep the same plate and the same cutlery as you work through the dishes. The vegetables are most often served separate to the meat. It’s a progression. A piece of baguette is used for cutlery, to help push your food onto your fork. Salad leaves are eaten with your fingers, cheese too. Dessert can be as simple as a piece of fruit.
This culture of dining is not just an indulgence for the adults. Children are not considered a burden, but rather are made to feel part of the conviviality. If we are drink an apero, Marilou (who is 5) is also offered a cordial. If the apero melts into a dinner the children eat with us, at the table, and they go to bed when we do – which is often late. There is much more fluidity to life and time is almost irrelevant. The experience at that moment is the most important.
It would also be fair to say the rosé is flowing through my veins, in French they say à fleur de peau – flowering on your skin. In the heat of the Med, I am drinking it à la piscine, “like a swimming pool” and thus full of ice. I am happy.