BEST OF THE BUSH

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - CONTENTS - WORDS S I MON WI LKINSON

Red Ochre is still a good bet for try­ing na­tive flora and fauna on your plate.

ITHE “NEXT BIG THING” HAS BEEN A STA­PLE AT RED OCHRE FOR MORE THAN A DECADE

f you took a straw poll among the coun­try’s best-known chefs and asked them to iden­tify the “next big thing”, na­tive in­gre­di­ents would fig­ure in al­most ev­ery re­sponse. They’ve watched the rise of global su­per­stars such as Rene Redzepi at Noma in Den­mark, and Alex Atala, from Brazil’s D.O.M. who send teams to search for the plants, seeds and fungi in their forests and jun­gles.

It makes sense. When so much em­pha­sis is be­ing placed on the prove­nance and prox­im­ity of food, the log­i­cal fol­low-up is to find the stuff that has been grow­ing there nat­u­rally all along.

And when land, wa­ter and other re­sources are at a pre­mium, the eth­i­cal ar­gu­ments are com­pelling.

In Aus­tralia, de­spite an in­dige­nous cul­ture that has sur­vived for mil­len­nia by find­ing what is ed­i­ble in all man­ner of ter­rain, the wider pro­mo­tion of th­ese in­gre­di­ents has been fraught with dif­fi­culty.

The aw­ful term “bush tucker” has been a hand­i­cap and too of­ten, through poor qual­ity con­trol or mis­un­der­stand­ing, what’s put up has failed the ba­sic test of tast­ing good.

In Ade­laide, Red Ochre restau­rants have long been work­ing to set things right, first with the pi­o­neer­ing An­drew Fielke in Gouger St, and since 1999 in a spec­tac­u­lar river­side set­ting on top of the Tor­rens weir.

From here, viewed across the wa­ter that shim­mers with re­flected light, the city sky­line is sur­pris­ingly beau­ti­ful, and it’s no sur­prise that tourists seem to take up a fair pro­por­tion of ta­bles on a Thurs­day night. The other at­trac­tion, of course, is the chance to try the na­tive flora and, par­tic­u­larly, fauna.

Here long-time head chef, and now owner, Ray Mauger plays it smart with a softly-softly ap­proach that uses un­fa­mil­iar ele­ments in mod­er­a­tion (a lit­tle lemon aspen béar­naise with your steak, sir?) and has enough es­cape routes if that isn’t your bag.

He may even over­turn some long-held prej­u­dices. The grilled kan­ga­roo fil­let, for in­stance, has con­vinced me to find a good sup­plier and start cook­ing roo at home again. A small sad­dle, cooked rare but ob­vi­ously well-rested, cut into five glis­ten­ing, ruby pink slices, is melt­ingly ten­der, with a flavour so pure you would al­most call it sweet. Sourced from Dew’s of Or­ro­roo in the Mid-North, it is some of the best red meat of any per­sua­sion I’ve had for a while. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing puy lentils, spiced pear, puree of car­rot and car­damom sauce all hang to­gether well, though would be bet­ter not smeared around such a large plate.

On the other side of the ledger, my view of croc­o­dile is un­changed by Red Ochre’s salt and pep­per ver­sion, which, de­spite clean fry­ing and a nicely zingy crumb coat­ing, tastes like strips of chicken – and not good chicken at that. The dish is saved by a salad of ap­ple discs, cu­cum­ber and herbs dressed in an ex­cel­lent nam jim made with na­tive lime (not that you’d pick it).

Lamb two ways – the back­strap coated in a crust of na­tive dukkah, the shoul­der shred­ded and pressed into a round mould – has a shop­ping list of com­po­nents in­clud­ing ras al hanout, peas, na­tive currant, pre­served cit­rus and yo­ghurt “snow” but the bush-meets­bazaar spic­ing works sur­pris­ingly well and that shoul­der meat is great eat­ing.

Desserts are cer­ti­fied show-stop­pers, plated with plenty of tof­fee shards and other eye-catch­ing whiz-bangery, and the flavour bal­ance tweaked just a smidge to the sweeter side.

A triple whammy tast­ing plate com­prises a sor­bet of Dav­i­son plum, with poached fruit hid­den in its midst; a lemon myr­tle panna cotta topped with rosella flower jelly; and a wat­tle­seed pavlova that is soft and fluffy but still has some undis­solved sugar gran­ules.

It’s the kind of crowd-pleas­ing cook­ing that Red Ochre pulls off very well. And if it helps in­tro­duce more peo­ple to the trea­sure-trove of re­mark­able flavours at their doorstep, all power to them.

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