A politics free day. I’ve declared a politics free day and decided to think about lunch instead — and what to drink with it. Perhaps you would care to join me and fill in the little Crikey favourite restaurant survey form. You will find a link to it below.

It’s in the bubbles, stupid. No doubt some of you have often wondered what gives champagne its unique taste and probably agreed with the accepted wisdom that the carbon dioxide in the bubbles gives the wine an acidic bite and a little tingle on the tongue. Well wonder no more. A ground breaking example of international research collaboration by scientists working at Reims and Dijon in France, Munich in Germany and Ithaca in the USA has come up with the definitive answer. It is those rising and collapsing bubbles alright but they “act as a continuous paternoster lift for aromas in every glass of champagne”.

And if you think it was easy to prove that then go and read the article “Unraveling different chemical fingerprints between a champagne wine and its aerosols” published this week in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America . This champagne is a complex thing with the flavours contained in the wine itself becoming much more concentrated whean, as champagne or sparkling wine is poured into a glass, the myriad of ascending bubbles collapse and radiate a multitude of tiny droplets above the free surface into the form of very characteristic and refreshing aerosols.

The abstract of the article summarises the research thus:

Ultrahigh-resolution MS was used as a nontargeted approach to discriminate hundreds of surface active compounds that are preferentially partitioning in champagne aerosols; thus, unraveling different chemical fingerprints between the champagne bulk and its aerosols.

Based on accurate exact mass analysis and database search, tens of these compounds overconcentrating in champagne aerosols were unambiguously discriminated and assigned to compounds showing organoleptic interest or being aromas precursors.

By drawing a parallel between the fizz of the ocean and the fizz in Champagne wines, our results closely link bursting bubbles and flavor release; thus, supporting the idea that rising and collapsing bubbles act as a continuous paternoster lift for aromas in every glass of champagne.

The critics defend their ratings. John Lethlean and Necia Wilden clearly had plenty of criticism about the predominance of Sydney and Melbourne restaurants in their Top 50 List published in The Australian on 5 September. Hence the follow-up piece, with the headline “When it comes to superior cuisine, money counts”, that appeared this weekend to explain the choices. “The letters to the editor were predictable, if understandable, accusations of bias,” they concede. “In fact 25 of the restaurants in our A-list were in NSW and a further 13 in Victoria.”

The question they try and answer in this latest article is: But why is the lion’s share of this nation’s restaurant talent confined to a relatively small though populous corner of the continent?

Their conclusion is that it is all about money. Smaller cities simply do not have enough eaters prepared to pay $200 or more for a meal. They argue:

By our reckoning, a great restaurant, beyond delivering the obvious trifecta of first-rate food, atmosphere and service, is one with a strong and palpable sense of identity, where the good attitude of the owners and staff imbues every aspect of the experience and where a sense of fun and light-heartedness is not forgotten in the rush to create a serious gastronomic experience.

Is it that surprising, after all, that the lion’s share of great restaurants is in our most populous and affluent cities? When you visit the US, do you expect to find as good restaurants in Boise, Idaho, as in New York? In England, would you expect to find more Michelin-starred restaurants in Liverpool or London? It’s time to catch up with reality. Australia, like everywhere else, isn’t a level playing field. Or should that be dining table?

On the Lethlean/Wilden thesis, visitors to Europe would expect to find most of the 3 Star Michelin restaurants in the continent’s capitals but that is not, in fact, the case as these tables show:

On my count, of the 55 restaurants in Europe that have been awarded three stars by Michelin, only 12 are in capital cities. Quality thrives in the provinces in Europe but not, so our experts tell us, in Australia.

Favourite restaurants. The ratings of Australian restaurants by these so-called experts have recently been published in Crikey and aroused quite a bit of interest but we wondered how relevant you actually find those hats, stars and ratings from the new editions of the NSW and Victorian Good Food Guides, Gourmet magazine and The Weekend Australian. We are interested in knowing what are the favourite places that our readers actually eat at.

We are not trying to discover what are the “best” restaurants in the country like the critics are. We are trying to find the restaurants that people actually enjoy eating at rather than the ones that some expert reckon are the best.

By filling in this short survey you will help us do just that.