Sydney spice master Christine Manfield takes her food – and her travel – very seriously. When she’s not at the stoves of Darlinghurst hotspot Universal, Christine leads gourmet tours through India, south-east Asia and Tunisia, and draws on her past life as a teacher to write pitch-perfect cookbooks (she’s currently polishing her sixth).
So who better to review for Mr & Mrs Smith? As a Smith tastemaker, Christine’s been holed up in a Paris boutique hotel and given full marks to fellow Australian foodie Stefano Manfredi after staying at his Central Coast hideaway, Pretty Beach House. Ms Manfield also found time to answer a few questions – typo-free, naturally.
What inspired the switch from school teacher to chef?
I left my teaching career in 1985 and the decision to cook professionally was made while I was living overseas in 1986. Travel and appreciation of other cultures opened up a whole new world of possibilities, offering a new direction for my future, a journey that is still in progress.
How would you describe your style of food?
My culinary philosophy centres on pure, clean flavours that are decisive and complex yet thoroughly refined. The food at my Sydney restaurant, Universal, is inspired by exotic destinations of the world. It’s best described as food without borders that crosses cultural boundaries with confidence, and shows respect for culinary heritage without being labelled fusion.
If you could cook any dish, anywhere in the world, what and where would it be?
That’s a hard one as I can never narrow anything down to just one choice when the world has so much to offer. It would be a toss up between biryani in Hyderabad, pad Thai in Bangkok, ceviche on the beach in Mexico, a perfect steak in Argentina or arroz caldosa in northern Spain.
Describe your ideal weekend away.
I’m a beach girl, so the coast is always my preference, regardless of which country. I like private villas with a swimming pool and easy access to the beach. It’s about chilling out, reading, walking, swimming and a little sun to feel nourished and refreshed. And, of course, simple dishes, such as grilled fish and salads, served with a glass or two of excellent wine.
Now that you’ve reviewed Pretty Beach House, we’ll assume it’s your NBF – care to sum up why? Any other favourite escapes?
Pretty Beach House at Killcare on the Central Coast is an easy escape from Sydney. It’s idyllic in its size, space and privacy, plus it offers fabulous food from chef Stefano Manfredi. If I wanted something further afield, I’d go to Bali for a four-day weekend and stay at Alila Villas Uluwatu: it does luxury escape to perfection and the food at Warung is the best on the island.
In a perfect world, who would be your ideal travel companion?
My partner Margie is, and has always been, my ideal travel companion: we have a great time wherever we are, as we both share the same spirit of adventure and love exploring new places together.
Where’s the most romantic place you’ve ever been with a partner?
I would nominate anywhere in Paris as it’s one of the most romantic cities imaginable; the Lake Palace in Udaipur, India; and Amansara in Siem Reap, Cambodia – where I stayed with Margie to celebrate her birthday. We started the day with a visit to Angkor Wat at dawn, then later we received a blessing from a Buddhist monk, and shared a beautiful Khmer dinner under the stars.
Where’s next on your holiday wish-list?
Bhutan, more of South America, Tanzania and Botswana, especially the Singita safari lodges.
Bhutan is fabulous – if you make it there, you should treat yourself to a stay at Uma Paro. It’s set in a gorgeous Himalayan lodge perched above Paro town. Tell us about your corner of the world: where do you live and what do you love most about it?
I live in Sydney, in the harbourside suburb of Elizabeth Bay, a dramatically beautiful city that’s surrounded by divine beaches, so it’s just as easy to relax as it is to go hard on the work front.
How would you introduce a new visitor to Sydney?
For people visiting Sydney for the first time, I’d take them on a water-taxi ride around the harbour or a chartered sea plane for an aerial view – both give a great sense of the city’s layout and charm.
What do you never leave home without?
My curiosity and sense of adventure.
What stands out most when you check into a hotel?
The first thing I notice is the efficiency and attitude of check-in service – it leaves a lasting impression and some places get it so wrong.
Do you have any hotel hates?
I have started a shame file of hotels that charge for WiFi – just like those who charge for breakfast – both should be included in the room rate. Surely it’s about hospitality and a sense of generosity should be the basic premise.
Tell us something we don’t know…
I have a new book (my sixth) being published in October – Tasting India – a comprehensive travel and food guide to modern India, from the Himalayas to the tip of Kerala. It’ll be a showcase of the regional diversity, its people and the beauty of this extraordinary land.
Visit Universal Restaurant at Republic 2 Courtyard, Palmer Street,
Darlinghurst, Australia; (+612) 9331 0709. Read Christine’s review of Pretty Beach House on the NSW Central Coast and Hotel Keppler in Paris.