The Australian identity. What that is precisely is particularly difficult to define. We talk about the Australian dream, being the lucky country. This sports mad bunch who drink beer, swim with sharks, have pet kangaroos, live on acres of land each, smear Vegemite on everything and ironically for an island national, don’t like people on boats. Ok so WE don’t talk about all that, but you hear these little saying bandied around from time to time.
So what do we contribute to the rest of the world, aforementioned Vegemite aside?
Well for starters, we don’t even make cars any more (well pretty much) and we kept them pretty much for ourselves anyhow. So this leaves our greatest cultural exports as possibly Neighbours or Home and Away (sigh), Russell Crowe (who is a kiwi), Mel Gibson (who has decided he is American) and Kylie (who lost her surname in transit, and lives in London).
The hills hoist is from here though. And the wine cask aka goon bag. And Tim Tam’s.
When it comes to food we are unsurprisingly a mish-mash of other people’s influences. In the world scale we have been around for about 16 minutes, which is not long enough to really have forged our own way. We were a penal colony of course, which is not traditionally the foundation upon which great culinary traditions and culture is born. And yes, I know South Australia is different to this….free settlement etc etc… but that is not the point.
There has to be something though. Maybe the meat pie?? Hmmm….lamingtons? These are more items than any particular style, and I am not going to go anywhere near pavlova as we don’t need angry kiwis bashing away at their keyboards. We can argue about that later, ok bro?
The funny thing about all this is that we have so much in terms of bountiful produce. We have amazing natural resources around the country, wonderful seafood and local land based fauna to be munching on, and there are also so many native fruits and vegetables that we just ignore. The Aboriginal society is the oldest continuous civilisation in the world, so they had to be eating something, right?
Well to get a small sample of this, the Highway hotel have a short run over the next two weeks to showcase some uniquely Australian produce. It is estimated that there were up to 5000 native foods that were utilised by the Aboriginal people, and while they weren’t all readily available, it was still a challenge for the Highways head chef Elliot Hampton to select the ingredients for the 5 dishes on offer.
I can – spoiler alert – confirm for those concerned that there wasn’t a witchetty grub in sight.
Feed Me Adelaide was invited along to check out the launch of this clever and ambitious little menu, and as such this was all provided free of charge. However, as always, this doesn’t influence my opinion or words in any way.
Just to get it out of the way, you may have to google some of these things to find out what they are (no shame in that at all). Its all education, right?
The tasting kicked off beautifully with the Moreton Bay Bug Tails. This is pretty much a given, as bug tails are always delicious, but here they were paired with pickled riberry, white carrot and karkalla. The bugs were cooked and seasoned beautifully, and the sauce that was with it (assuming a mustard and garlic aioli) were sensational together. The karkalla, being a juicy seaside vegetable, provided some naturally salty and slightly spicy flavours. Delicious.
Next up was the kangaroo, which was seared to be medium rare and then sliced. This then shared the plate with muntries, beetroot, barilla leaves, sliced red onion and puffed grains. There was a lot going on here – many different colours, shapes, flavours and textures. Special mention to the puffed grains, which had a touch of spicy seasoning on it and really lifted this in an unexpected way. Each element was nice enough, but when you united them you could see why they were on the plate together. It just worked in a way that would take too many words to try and describe. Just trust me – this was very good.
The barramundi was next dished up and no messing about here – it was freaking amazing. Ok, so being a whole fish there were the annoying bones to deal with, which normally turns me instantly off persevering. Not this time though. No way. This was a baby barramundi baked on native ficinia nodosa rashes, with lemon myrtle, samphire and native thyme butter. Yes, there were potatoes and radish here amongst all these uniquely Australian products, but the star here was most certainly the fish – and it shone very brightly indeed. The samphire was an especially interesting and tasty ingredient, being a bit like an asparagus – something I shall definitely be investigating some more.
Next up, we got to sample the lamb rump. It was partnered up with creamed warrigal greens, saltbush and potato crisp salad. There was (actual) asparagus along for the ride too. Again, this was perfectly executed by the kitchen. The lamb was tender as could be, cooked to a pink medium to medium rare, and then with the green sauce and saltbush seasoning it just leapt onto my tastebuds quick smart. This was about as good as lamb rump gets. A deceptively simple dish, but devastatingly effective.
Finally, we got dessert. Rosella sorbet does not include any of our feathered friends either. It turns out that ‘rosella’ is also known more commonly as the wild hibiscus flower, and you may have seen these served up or sold for putting into champagne. “Ahhhh” I hear you thinking. Poached quandong, wattle seed tuile and violet sugar completed the ensemble, and it was easily the best sorbet I have had. The texture was creamy, there was a great balance of sweet to tartness which you want, and the other ingredients all contributed. I particularly enjoyed the tuile, with the great wattle seed flavour adding a nice semi savoury element to things, as well as being the perfect textural counterpoint to the soft sorbet. A very well constructed and considered dessert well worth your time and money.
All in all, this was a clever and well executed menu. There were many subtle and sophisticated touches there, and the native ingredients really shone through. Hopefully this can kick-start some interest more widly, as Australia deserves to be proud of such unique produce. It has certainly piqued my curiosity in sourcing and using some in my own cooking.
Thanks to the skill and creativity of Head Chef Elliot Hampton, and the willingness of The Highway to put such a menu in place, we all have the next couple of weeks to learn more about our own country. Educational and delicious – two things soap operas could never lay claim to be.
Native Creative is running from 16 – 31 May at The Highway. Visit www.thehighway.com.au for more information.