Flying to Australia, Qantas Food, The Sydney Airport, Hello Perth and Dinner at Lalla Rookh


I can’t believe I’m about to do what I’m about to do. After 26 hours of travel (with 20 hours of flying), I’m finally in my hotel room capable of going to bed–it’s 7:52 PM on Monday night in Perth, it’s 3:53 AM Sunday night/Monday morning in Los Angeles–and here I am editing pictures and writing a blog post about everything that’s happened so far. I must be mad! But no, readers, I do this for you…because I figure if I’m going to have an adventure to Australia, you should get to hear all about it. So let’s start with the lentil soup.

Remember I told you I was going to make Craig a big pot of lentil soup to eat while I’m gone? Well I did and here he is adding pepper.


That was Friday night. On Saturday, we had a whole day and evening to kill before taking me to L.A.X. at 9:30 for my 11:55 PM flight. We ended up walking around Atwater Village, walking around Los Feliz and eating dinner at Umami Burger. Then, at 9:30, it was “sayonara” and there I was at the international terminal:


There were tons of news crews outside Terminal 3 because of the shooting on Thursday. It was kind of surreal to be so close to that.

I found the Qantas counter and got in line:


Here’s where I started getting excited: I was really going to Australia. I was about to get my boarding pass.

My boarding pass procured, I made my way to the gate and discovered that the L.A.X. International terminal has all kinds of awesome places to eat at (including an Umami Burger which we’d just had for dinner). But look, Michael Voltaggio’s ink.sack:


There’s also a Border Grill on the way. I need to fly internationally more often.

Our flight boarded on time. The plane was humongous and every seat had its own entertainment center featuring an impressive assortment of movies to watch. Once we were in the air, I started watching “The Social Network,” though it jammed a few times and I had to restart it. Towards the end of the flight I watched “Julie and Julia” and really, really loved it, even more than when I saw it the first time. Made me really appreciate Nora Ephron’s artistry.

I’m debating whether to show you the airplane food. Does anyone ever really want to look at airplane food? The whole point of airplane food is that you eat it because you have to eat it but, just as quickly, you want to forget it. But Qantas made a pretty decent braised beef Provencal, so here it is:


I skipped the coleslaw (there was something weird about it) and had only one bite of the dessert. In case you’re keeping track, this was my second dinner but I ate it as a survival strategy.

Lots of dozing happened for me after that dinner (I made sure to have red wine, my version of a sleep aid) and that’s the best trick to a long, long flight: sleep as much as you can. Somewhere near Australia, this breakfast was served (I could have had a hot frittata, but eggs on a plane skeeves me out):


I ate the muffin, which was warm, and a few bites of pineapple but stopped there. I figured I could have food at the Sydney airport (oh, I was traveling to Perth via Sydney in case I didn’t make that clear).

And lo and behold: there I was at the Sydney airport. I was in Australia! I’d completed the first part of my journey.

Off the plane, I was surprised to find an elaborate customs process that involved filling out a form, having a woman stamp it, then–and this was the kicker–waiting for my big suitcase which I then had to wheel myself to a new check-in counter. My suitcase took forever to come out so, sadly, I missed my flight to Perth.

The old me would’ve freaked out about that but I knew I’d be fine: I figured there’d be another flight to Perth pretty soon after and there was at 1:45. This was 10:30 in the morning so that gave me a few hours to kill in the Sydney airport. I rode a shuttle to my terminal and then did some exploring.

First, places to eat. I got a kick out of the meat pies here:


I think Burger King needs to sue these people for stealing their design:


Ultimately, I decided to grab some food here because it looked the most decent:


I finally had a chance to order a Flat White which is what Australians drink instead of lattes. I think it has more milk in it? Not sure. But here’s mine and it was yummy:


I also had a smoked salmon sandwich on a baguette which didn’t change my life or anything but I enjoyed it which is saying something for airport food.


The book store was fascinating to poke around because I’d never heard of any of these bestsellers:


And I didn’t recognize any of this candy:


Or this guy on the cover of a cookbook:


Amazing how much you can soak in a new culture at an airport bookstore.

Pretty soon my flight to Perth boarded and on the plane I watched “Muriel’s Wedding” on my iPad and however on-the-nose that may have been, it made me insanely giddy to be spending time in Australia. And poof: the plane landed and I was here.

Why am I in Perth? In case you missed the memo, I’m speaking at a food blog conference this upcoming weekend but for the next few days the nice people of Perth are showing me all around. Tonight, though, I was on my own and I was grateful for that because I was so insanely pooped.

A driver drove me to my hotel and I took a quick shower. Then I re-read an e-mail from Matt The Abstract Gourmet (he’s the one who invited me to Perth for the conference in the first place; so thanks for bringing me here, Matt!) that suggested some places to eat near my hotel. The one that sounded the best had the weirdest name: Lalla Rookh. Matt promised that they had excellent pasta and Italian food and that sold me right away.

You may be thinking “Italian food for your first meal in Australia?” but turns out Italian food is huge here; in fact, according to several things I read, Italian food is bigger in Perth than anything else. My driver to the hotel even said something similar.

So I started my walk seeking out Lalla Rookh. It was a nice walk along St. George.


It feels so amazing to have your feet on the ground and to have real air to breath after so many hours in the air. Check out the Perth Concert Hall by day:


Here’s a Government House I passed:


And kangaroos! (Well, sculptures.)


I kept looking for a street called Barrack (that was easy to remember) but somehow I totally missed it and kept walking and walking. The sites were nice to see:


Retracing my steps, I kept looking for this restaurant and couldn’t find it. Thankfully, I logged on to Perth Free WiFi on my phone and got an actual address for the place (I was just going off a quick search on Google maps) and realized the restaurant was underground.


There it is, behind the escalator.

I arrived around 6 and the restaurant itself was totally empty (though the bar was pretty busy). A waitress curiously asked if I was just one and when I said yes she showed me to a table facing the kitchen.

The hunger inside me was pretty fierce because I ate that salmon sandwich at the equivalent of 9 in the morning Sydney time which is 3 hours later than Perth time so many hours had passed without food. Here’s the menu:


And here’s the glass of white wine I ordered (a Friulian blend):


The menu had this really sweet chef’s tasting menu for $55 a person on it that looked really great–a few appetizers, some pasta, an entree and dessert–but the waitress told me I couldn’t have it as just one person. She seemed really weirded out that I was eating alone (or maybe I was just projecting).

No matter. I knew what I wanted. I started with an asparagus salad with pickled artichokes, a poached egg and tonnato sauce underneath:


This was absolutely wonderful. So terrifically balanced and smart. Each component really sang out and the tonnato sauce was creamy and tangy and made everything even better. I was way impressed.

But the piece-de-resistance was the pasta that I ordered: spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fig sauce made with chicken stock, walnuts, montasio cheese and Parmesan grated in the center.


This was truly a masterpiece. I’ve never had anything quite like it. The best way to describe it is like a cheese plate in pasta form—think of the fig spread you might eat with a tangy white cheese and you get the idea. Though that doesn’t account for the spinach, which adds a great earthiness. Apparently, this dish is the chef’s signature dish (the waitress told me that and then the guy who served it to me said the same thing). Well, the chef should be very proud of this signature dish: it’s a real winner.

And speaking of real winners, I feel like a real winner right now because I actually completed this post without falling asleep. Here’s a pretty sculpture I saw on my walk back to the hotel:


And here’s the Perth Concert Hall all lit up at night.


My eyes can close at last. Tomorrow it’s off to the races at 8:30 AM, but for now, I’m off to the land of dreams.