■ The chef and presenter tells us about fermented skate in Reykjavik, Perth’s great beaches and staying overnight in a Greek brothel
What’s your favourite on-the-road moment?
Sometimes filming can be trickier than it appears on screen but I’ve had the same crew for 20 years and we’ve carved out our own way of working efficiently – we know how to work together to best resolve any hiccups and getting back on the bus at 5.30pm with a beer is how we relax. Generally, the only arguments we have are about what music to play.
What’s your favourite city?
Perth is just so far from anywhere and it may not have the same buzz as Sydney but it’s beautiful – sitting right on the Swan River – and has changed so much in the last few years. My chef friend David Thompson knows everything there is to know about Thai food and runs the Long Chim restaurant, located in the city’s historic State Buildings, which is a really funky place that serves larb, a northern Thai speciality of meat, chilli, lime and herbs. It’s the hottest dish I’ve ever come across (mains approx. £16.50, longchimperth.com). I have very fond memories of swimming in the sea off Cottesloe Beach and jumping on a ferry from Cottesloe to Rottnest Island, which is a protected nature reserve.
What keeps you sane on the road?
I’ve started listening to audiobooks and love getting into really lengthy, complex ones – they’re synonymous with travelling for me now. I really enjoyed Hilary Mantel’s A Place Of Greater Safety, which went on for hours but seemed a lot less daunting than a physical 1,000-page book.
When have you been most frightened while travelling?
In Lucknow, northern India, we were filming over a specific celebratory event during Eid and found ourselves among at least 250,000 local people. The crowd control consisted mainly of policemen armed with canes whacking at people’s legs. The climax of the event was the burning of a huge wicker man and was promptly followed by a tannoy announcement that we were filming for TV. Everyone crushed forward to see us and things got rapidly scary. We found a really stony, steep pathway to escape via but the feeling that one of us might well be crushed to death if we tripped was really prevalent.
What have you ever taken from a hotel room?
As I’ve now got hotels I don’t tend to take anything because I know what it feels like when things go missing – losing towels is honestly bloody irritating, so I apologise for any past towel-taking that may have occurred.
What is the best souvenir you’ve come home with?
When we’re filming in Australia, we’re driven by a wonderful, very local Australian called Nugget. He looks just like a nugget: very short, wide and muscly. I told him that as a teenager I worked on the Ghan railway line, which ran between Alice Springs and Adelaide. In those days, the sleepers were attached to the rails by long, really thick nails referred to as ‘dogs’ and I told Nugget once that I could remember how physical knocking dogs into hardwood sleepers was. After our conversation, he organised for a mate of his in Alice Springs to send me a bottle opener made from a dog, which I treasure and open all my beers with.
What’s the worst meal you’ve had abroad?
Fermented skate in Reykjavik, which is eaten widely across Iceland during the Mass of St Thorlac December celebrations and known locally as kæst skata. It’s matured and then fried in mutton fat and tastes of ammonia. I still can’t work out whether the locals really love it or whether it exists to take the piss out of tourists.
Where’s the strangest place you’ve spent the night?
My first wife, Jill, and I accidentally stayed in a brothel in Athens. We’d booked a cheap hotel because of its proximity to the ancient port of Piraeus. We were baffled by the incredible amount of distinctive noises and wondered why people were arriving so late and leaving so soon. In those days, I think a lot of cheap hotels just doubled up as brothels.
Best place you’ve spent the night?
The Hacienda San Angel in Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast (suites from £225, haciendasanangel.com). I stayed there with my wife Sas, as she’s obsessed with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who bought a home there in the 1960s. Richard Burton bought the Hacienda San Angel in 1977 as a Valentine’s gift for his then wife, Susan, and we stayed in what used to be his bedroom, which has incredible views across the Bay of Banderas.
Rick Stein headlines Western Australia’s Margaret River Gourmet Escape, Nov 16 to 18, gourmetescape.com.au