This comes with the news that Australia’s most notable offbeat dish – the potato cooked in the earth it was grown at Melbourne’s Attica – will be off the menu by the end of the year, according to chef Ben Shewry. That’s why it kicks off our top five curious flavour combinations.
A simple dish of potato cooked in the earth in which it was grown
Before you ask, no, it’s not grainy in the slightest. In fact, it practically melts in your mouth. Through the ingenious use of muslin cloth, oven trays and yes, soil, Ben Shewry of Attica, currently the 20th best restaurant on the planet, manages to gently cook potatoes and infuse them with inimitably earthy flavours without putting off diners with even a single grain of dirt.
And though it might say simple on the tin, it’s really anything but. Ash made from coconut husk, deep fried saltbush leaves, smoked goat’s cheese and watercress round off this dish that is at once heavenly and oh so earthy. And did I mention Shewry’s team grow their potatoes on site? Top that.
Beetroot, Coffee and Cocoa
Restaurant Amusé, Perth
The world’s favourite pick-me-up, a root vegetable, chocolate, salad leaves, olive oil, Persian feta and red wine vinegar. No, it’s not what happens when you unleash an imaginative small child into a kitchen. It’s an unbelievably good entrée at one of Perth’s best fine diners.
You’d have to be mad to put these elements together, and a genius to make the combo work. Luckily, Hadleigh Troy of Restaurant Amusé can lay claim to being both. Beetroot is carefully cooked to tender perfection, coffee and cocoa are baked into a crumb, red wine vinegar is frozen into a granita and shaved, while the olive oil is turned into a fine powder thanks to some molecular wizardry. The result? A beauty of a dish with tightrope-walker balance and dazzling textures.
Smoked crocodile with spiced poached baby pears, nasturtium leaves and eggplant ribbons
They say never smile at a crocodile, but you’ll have a grin from ear to ear after you’ve sampled Tukka’s dazzling take on this famously unsociable reptile. Served alongside spiced poached baby pears (traditionally used in desserts), nasturtium leaves (a type of edible plant) and eggplant ribbons, it turns the tables on an animal that would happily devour you without blinking an eye, and the payoff is delicious.
Tukka specialises in native ingredients, and this is an outstanding example of what the team is all about. It’s no wonder they’ve racked up a swag of major culinary awards.
Abalone, celeriac and dashi
Abalone is an ingredient often overlooked by chefs, despite the fact that it’s easier to catch than the common cold on public transport, and has a beautiful, unique nuttiness.
Mark Best is a little nutty himself, but this combo is a stripped back masterpiece – art on a plate in terms of presentation, flavour and texture. Deceptively simple, it’s a fantastic demonstration of ingredients speaking for themselves, rather than hiding behind wizardry, with precisely cut ribbons of celeriac topped with a dashi powder, while thin slices of abalone grace the side of the bowl.
Korean green rice, seaweed, buckwheat and sesame
All too often, vegan dishes are seen as a realm exclusive to the hippy crowd. But with an open mind, you too can enjoy magical flavours that have less meat in them than the PETA staff room fridge, like Quay’s unbelievably inventive fusion.
Master chef Peter Gilmour may be best known for his exquisite Snow Egg due to… well, Masterchef Australia, but this obscure blend of grains and seaweed probably trumps it in terms of ingredient selection. With decade old soy sauce, toasted Nori, konbu and rice flour formed into a lace pattern all on display, you won’t find a more forward thinking vegetarian dish in this country.