Mr Smith and I thought we knew a thing or two about fine dining – we’re often first in the queue when a new eaterie opens its doors – but when we met Oliver Schwaner-Albright last week, we realised that we still had a hell of a lot to learn about gourmet gastronomy. It’s lucky he was around to teach us…
Oliver’s a freelance journalist who has written for some of the most prestigious publications on the news stand (the New York Times, Gourmet, Men’s Vogue, Travel + Leisure), but after five minutes with him, it became clear that his primary passion is food – and when I say passion, I mean all-consuming, laser-focused fanaticism – talking to him was eye-opening and mouthwatering in equal measure.
We had lunch with him and his wife Christine at the Bowery (if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll see we spent a lot of time here, and if you follow the link, you’ll see why), which has a fabulous Italian restaurant, Gemma. Oliver and Christine told about their globe-trotting lifestyle, shared a few foodie insights (where the best New York restaurants source their beef, who serves the tastiest ice cream and what exactly makes it so good), and enthused to us about Oliver’s other great love, coffee – he writes the excellent New York Times coffee blog.
In between star-spotting – we clocked Mischa Barton, Sex and the City costume guru Patricia Fields, Lou Doillon and Marco Pierre White – we managed to ask Oliver about his favourite hotels around the world and his top spots in New York.
Top of his hotel hotlist is Hotel Amtumalal, a Bauhaus bolt-hole by the sea in Pucon, Chile. The photos on the site are fairly good, but it’s a hundred times more beautiful in the flesh. Nearby, the Termas Geometricas – thermal pools spread across half a mile of river – are, Oliver says, ‘the closest I’ve been to paradise on this earth.’
At the other end of the globe, you can also find him at La Mare Aux Oiseaux, a hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant set atop a swamp in Brittany.
As for New York, however, Oliver had the following insider info:
Best hamburger The Spotted Pig – a West Village gastropub on Greenwich Street serving the best of British and Italian dishes.
Best noodles Soba Ya on East 9th Street (we went here during our stay and couldn’t agree more).
Best sushi Sushi Yasuda on East 43rd Street is renowned chef Naomichi Yasuda’s temple to fish-based fabulousness. There are seven types of eel alone…
Best bookshop Dashwood Books on Bond Street, ‘arguably the best photography bookshop in the world.’
Best clothing Project Number 8 on Division Street, a warehouse-like boutique in Chinatown, stocking pieces from dozens of innovative designers.
Best coffee in Manhattan Given that he’s the city’s authority on all things coffee, you can treat this as pretty much the word of God: 9th Street Espresso in Chelsea Market treats coffee with the kind of reverence usually reserved for fine wine.
Best cocktails One of the finest jazz joints in NYC, Pegu Club on West Houston Street is a haven of classic cocktail culture. Alternatively, the newly opened Clover Club on (appropriately named) Smith Street, mixes a mean Southside Fizz (gin, lime, cucumber, mint, sugar, soda), which Oliver plans to spend a fair chunk of summer enjoying.
Best ice cream The Van Leeuwen Ice Cream truck cruises the streets of Greenwich, spooning out all-organic, slow food-style ice cream to a horde of appreciate gastrophiles.
…and his favorite hotel in New York? The inimitable Hotel on Rivington.