Simon Leong is a passionate food blogger and international cuisine lover. His blog, Simon Food Favourites, offers his readers independent and comprehensive reviews of restaurants, cafés, bars, pubs, festivals and products that whet the appetite.
We chat with Simon about chilli crab in Singapore, pastrami on rye in New York, and his tips for how to excel in food photography.
Your blog is called Simon Food Favourites. What’s your favourite thing about it?
I love receiving recommendations from readers who know about great places to eat – places I haven’t visited or don’t even know about. Sharing local knowledge is the best way to find out what to add to my wish list and where to go for a good feed. I also appreciate the time readers take to make comments on my blog, and, as time permits, I endeavour to reply to all of them.
Reading Simon’s Wish List, you have an array of nibbles to look forward to. What have you heard about the Parramatta Leagues Club lobster that makes you want to try it?
Firstly, the lobster dish looks great in the food review by Eye Eat, and, secondly, it sounds like a delicious and tasty dish – that’s what made me want to add it to my wish list. I’m a passionate seafood lover, so I’m always looking for good places to find it.
Is chilli crab a must-try in Singapore? It appears twice on your international wish list.
I’ve had chilli crab once before, when I visited Singapore many years ago, which was delicious, albeit very messy, so I’ve kept a note of places which have been highly rated by locals if I ever get to visit again. I think it’s hard to find a good one in Sydney which matches what you’d find in Singapore, but that won’t stop me searching for it.
Your food tour of the USA included San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and Hawaii, yet somehow you only gained 1kg! If you had to pick one stand-out food experience from that trip, what would it be?
Thankfully, I think all the walking and sightseeing every day helped to keep the weight down. One food experience that I remember vividly is the pastrami on rye from Katz’s Delicatessen, which was in a scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally. It lived up to, and exceeded, my expectations – so tender, juicy and tasty, and I wish we had something just as good in Sydney. Hopefully, one day, there will be so I don’t have to go all the way to New York to satisfy my cravings … but I think it’s a very hard act to follow.
You’re passionate about your photography and have some tips for better food photos. What do you personally find the most challenging aspect of food photography?
Apart from having hungry friends and family (where the tough thing for them is wanting to eat while they wait for me to photograph the dishes), I think one of the most challenging aspects is finding available light in dimly lit restaurants. You need the light to take photos that will do justice to the dish without using a flash. Also, trying to be as discrete as possible so as to not disturb other diners when taking photos can be a fine balance to achieve. It’s hard to remember a time when I just ate my food, but now taking photos of food has become an obsession at the very least.
You label highly recommend dishes as a ‘SIMON FAVOURITE’. What criteria does food need to pass to become a Simon Favourite?
To achieve a ‘SIMON FAVOURITE’ label, a dish needs to impress me enough for me to want to have it again and again. Quality and taste are taken into account, and I also compare it to similar dishes I’ve tried. It could be a really cheap dish, like fries from Pommes Frites in New York, or a very expensive dish that I probably won’t be able to afford again. At the end of the year, it might then make it on my Top 10 list of dishes that I recommend readers to try, such as those on Simon’s Food Highlights 2010.
Easter is this weekend and a perfect excuse to indulge in Easter eggs. What other culinary delights can you recommend for those wanting to steer clear of chocolate?
I actually don’t have a big sweet tooth these days, so avoiding chocolate isn’t a big worry for me. For those wanting an alternative, I’d recommend fresh fruit. Make your own fruit salad or, if you can’t be bothered like me, check out David Jones Food Hall for some of the freshest fruit salad around town. Top with your favourite yoghurt to make it even better. If you can’t live without your chocolate, then perhaps a chocolate-coated strawberry will do the trick and still be at least a bit healthy as well.
Do you have any food resolutions for 2011?
Don’t eat any more and don’t eat any less. Also, I want to try and read the cooking books I’ve been given over the years. I generally prefer when other people do the cooking, so it’s hard for me to find the motivation to read them. I should also try and have some blog-free days when eating out, but I think the only way that’s going to happen is if I forget my camera or if I find myself eating in one of those restaurants that make you dine in complete darkness — although I’d still be tempted to try and take a photo somehow without blinding everyone.
What's your message to fellow foodies out there?
Eat as healthily as you can with hopefully a tick of sustainability for the environment. And, if you’re a food blogger, be sure to always carry a second camera battery.