Wow, the food is fantastically good in Australia. I’ve just come back from a two week trip to promote my new book Grow Cook Nourish. A whistle-stop tour where I visited Sydney, Melbourne, Byron Bay and Tasmania. Lots of radio interviews, TV and a sell out Grow Cook Nourish dinner at Merricks General Wine Store on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula outside Melbourne. So what’s new on the Australian food scene? It’s been over a decade since I last visited, the food was already fantastic, creative and delicious but on this visit it was even more memorable. I should say that there was nothing random about my choice of restaurants, I can’t bear to waste even one eating slot so breakfast, lunch or brunch and dinner were all carefully plotted. This piece is too short to include and wax lyrical about all of them but here are some highlights.
The most notable change was many of the top cooks and chefs are proudly incorporating lots of native ingredients into their menu and are showcasing indigenous foods. Some attribute this to the ‘Rene Redzepi effect’, the acclaimed Danish chef who changed the image of the Nordic peninsula brought his whole team to Australia in 2016. He was intrigued by the wealth of indigenous foods and the knowledge and inherited wisdom of the Aboriginal people.
On my last visit over 15 years ago, I ate witchetty grubs, mountain pepper, marrans and several other tasty bites but now there is a far greater variety, understanding and pride. I won’t easily forget Kylie Kwong’s salt bush dumplings at Billy Kwong. She and Ben Shewry of Attica in Melbourne have been proudly serving native ingredients and herbs for many years. Ben showed me around his vegetable garden at Rippon Lea Estate. Ben Shewry pays tribute to the aboriginal tradition by wrapping fish in paper bark which imparts a delicious smoky aroma.
Lennox Hastie’s food at Firedoor in Sydney was truly creative and delicious, each element even dessert was cooked on the open fire over different woods.
I had an unforgettable evening sitting at the counter chatting and watching him cook.
Still in Sydney, loved the warm oysters with horseradish cream at Ester and Gnudi with brown butter, currants and almonds at Cumulus in Melbourne, beautiful simple food handmade with superb ingredients.
When I visited Melbourne, Stephanie Alexander took me to Auburn Primary School to see one of her Kitchen Garden projects, a seriously impressive school garden. They even had a wood burning oven in the centre and a brilliantly equipped kitchen so the children could learn how to cook the wide variety of fruit and vegetables they grew. The teachers baked a pumpkin cake in my honour and sweetly shared the recipe.
Little purple society garlic flowers were everywhere even on the new seasons’ asparagus. I enjoyed Fred’s in Sydney, where one of Alice Waters prodigies from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California has created one of the hottest tickets in town.
Always a surprise to find the seasons ‘upside down’. In Oz they are just enjoying the first of the early summer produce as we snuggle up around the fire and tuck into stews. Perhaps my most memorable meal was at Fleet in Brunswick Heads near Byron Bay. The tiny restaurant only seats 14 guests but I pleaded for a little space and Astrid , Rob and Josh squeezed me in at the counter – totally memorable food. The smoked mackerel fish pâte was inspired by a dish I enjoyed there and the radish dipped in honey and roasted sesame seed was also one of their moreish canapés.
Some say that the Aussies invented brunch, I’m not sure but they certainly do some of the most exciting and tasty brunch dishes ever. I loved Three Blue Ducks both in Roseberry and at the Farm at Byron Bay and schlepped the cookbook all the way home. I met several of our Australian students during the trip and loved the super chic Old Clare Hotel in Sydney with Jason Athertons, restaurant Kensington Social serving up some delicious food.
Hugely enjoyed my trip and Grow Cook Nourish was warmly received in Australia at t the beginning of their growing season – can’t wait to return, pity it’s sooooo far away.
Want to know more about Aboriginal culture, native and indigenous Australian foods? Seek out a copy of Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, unputdownable…..
Gnudi with Roasted Almonds, Currants and Parmesan
500g (18oz) buffalo ricotta
1 organic egg yolk
30g (1 1/4oz) ‘00’ flour
30g (1 1/4oz) freshly grated Parmesan
zest of 1 small lemon
2kg (4 1/2lbs) semolina flour, for dusting
salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g (1oz) currants
25g (1oz) unskinned almonds, quartered
25g (1oz/1/4 stick) butter
50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan
lots of freshly ground black pepper and flaky sea salt
First make the gnudi.
Mix the ricotta, egg yolk, ‘00’ flour and Parmesan together in a bowl, then add the lemon zest and salt, freshly ground black pepper and mix again.
In a wide, deep baking tray or plastic container, spread out a generous layer of semolina flour, about 5mm thick.
Roll the gnudi mixture into 30balls and then lay each one on the semolina flour in a single layer, making sure they do not touch each other.
When you have used up all the mixture, completely cover the gnudi with the remaining semolina flour and chill in the fridge for 24 hours. By then, the semolina will have formed a crust on the gnudi – this helps the dumplings to hold their shape.
Next Day – just before serving.
When you are ready to cook the gnudi, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil (1 level tablespoon of salt to 8 pints of water). Dust the excess semolina flour off the gnudi (any excess semolina flour can be kept in the fridge and used again). Cook in batches, a few gnudi at a time for about 3 minutes or until they rise to the top of the saucepan, remove with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper. Reserve some of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, melt a little butter in a saute or frying pan. Bring to the boil, allow to bubble for a minute or two until the colour changes to hazelnut, add some of the reserved cooking water. Add the raisins and almonds. Add the drained gnudi to the pan. Toss gently, season well with freshly ground black pepper and divide between the hot plates.
Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt, some freshly grated Parmesan and add a few rocket leaves.
Smoked Mackerel Pâté, Potato Crisps and Dill or Fennel Sprigs and Flowers
A fun and delicious way to serve a fish pâté.
Cooked fresh salmon, smoked salmon, mullet, mackerel, trout or herring can be substituted in the above recipe.
110g (4oz) undyed smoked mackerel or herring, free of skin and bone
50-75g (2-3oz/1/2-3/4 stick) softened butter
1/4 teaspoon finely snipped fennel
freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2-1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
salt and freshly ground pepper
Homemade Potato Crisps (see recipe)
sprigs of dill or fennel and flowers
First make the potato crisps (see recipe).
Next make the smoked mackerel pâté.
Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and garlic. It should be well seasoned and soft. Cover and chill until needed.
Put a generous tablespoon of smoked mackerel pâté on a small plate. Cover the entire surface with homemade potato crisps. Tuck tiny sprigs of dill (or fennel) in between the crisps and dill or fennel flowers.
Homemade Potato Crisps or Game Chips
Making chips at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce
a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers! When these are served with roast pheasant they are called game chips
450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes
extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying
Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.
In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180ºC/350ºF. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.
If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.
Carpaccio of Sea Bream or Haddock or Grey Sea Mullet with Salmon Eggs and Dill or Fennel Flowers
Haddock, Hake or Grey Sea Mullet are also delicious.
225-300g (8-10oz) very fresh sea bream, haddock or grey sea mullet, filleted
freshly squeezed organic lemon and orange juice
salmon eggs (cured salmon roe)
little sprigs of dill or fennel
dill or fennel flowers
extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
Slice the fish very thinly down onto the skin. Arrange the slices in an over-lapping line across each of the chilled plates. Squeeze some lemon and orange juice over the top. Arrange a line of salmon eggs along the centre of the fish slices. Garnish with tiny dill or fennel sprigs and flowers. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt. Serve immediately.
Warm Oysters with Horseradish Cream and Chervil
24 Gigas oysters
Horseradish Cream (see recipe)
sprigs of chervil
First make the horseradish cream (see recipe), cover and chill.
Preheat the oven to 250˚C/500˚F/Gas Mark 10.
Put the oysters into a baking tray on a bed of coarse salt. Pop into the oven and cook until the shells just pop open. Lift off the top shell. Spoon about a dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) of horseradish cream over the oyster. Top with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately. The oyster should be hot and the horseradish cream cold. Serve on a bed of seaweed or coarse salt.
Serves 8 – 10
3 – 6 tablespoons (4-7 1/2 American tablespoons + 3-6 teaspoons) freshly grated horseradish
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) softly whipped cream
Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not over mix or it will curdle. The sauce keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, covered, so that it doesn’t pick up other flavours.
Stephanie Alexander’s Spiced Pumpkin Cake
Serves 20 approximately
350 g (12 oz) pumpkin (skinned and de seeded)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
180 g (6¼ oz) dark soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150 ml (5 fl oz) olive oil
250 g (9 oz) self raising flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
250 g (9 oz) icing sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Fresh thyme sprigs, (to serve)
2 x 1 lb loaf tin
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Chop the pumpkin into 2 cm pieces. Place in a bowl with olive oil and cinnamon; give a good toss making sure all pieces are coated. Place on a lined baking tray and bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool, then blitz with a food stick blender or in a magimix.
Line the loaf pan with baking paper.
In a large bowl, whisk the brown sugar, eggs and vanilla until thick and combined. Pour in the olive oil and combine. Stir through the pureed pumpkin. Sieve over the flour and spices, stir together until all incorporated.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile make the icing. Sieve the icing sugar into a medium bowl; gradually add the lemon juice until you have a thick runny consistency. Pour over the cake and decorate with fresh thyme sprigs.