Eat Your Veggies!—Delightful Meal At Botanic Gardens Restaurant M23 Umchun60
Adelaide may not appear to be the gourmet food hub of Australia, but it certainly has some of the best restaurants the country can offer! Within days of being here, I’ve had my share of scrumptious but artery-clogging meals—fish’n chips, the absolute classic; steaks when I don’t bother to read the menu; eggs and avocado sandwiches for those long, lazy mornings. A lunch at Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens Restaurant allowed me to turn over a new ‘leaf’ in my dietary habits, and at the same time, indulge in the freshness and diversity of the gardens’ produce. The Adelaide Botanic Gardens are free-for-all public parks with a vast array of local and exotic species. I love plants, and I love them even more when they are neatly arranged on my plates. What better way to familiarise yourselves with the content of the gardens than embarking on a gastronomical tour? Buried deep inside bushes and trees, the Botanic Gardens restaurant is an immaculately white rotunda with walls of glass. It looks just like another greenhouse in the park until you notice the spaciously arranged tables inside. The restaurant was nowhere near full when we walked in. Make no mistakes, it’s a much-acclaimed eatery that frequently makes itself to the top of some foodies’ lists, thanks to the acclaimed chef Paul Baker being at the helm. It was just that I had chosen a weekday in winter, which was not its most popular time. Despite the season though, the gardens still harvested nearly 50 species of edible plants from the gardens, from the commonplace fennel and rhubarb to the obscure lovage and sorrel. This abundance of raw materials manifested itself on the main menu as well. Not to boast, but I’ve always glided through the menus at local bistros with ease, for I've probably spent too much time on cookbooks and Masterchef when I should be making Gray's or Grant's acquaintance. To celebrate the restaurant’s relationship with botany, each course contained four to five kinds of herbs and vegetables, and half of them were alien to me, but with some serious Googling, I made up my mind. I ordered a four-course meal consisting of a starter, an entree, a main and a dessert. Before the first course was served, we started off with some sourdough, on which we could spread a generous amount of aromatic housemade onion butter. Then as a complimentary dish, we were all presented baby cos stuffed with a dollop of walnut pecorino mousse in the heart. The savouriness of the cheese and earthiness of walnuts complemented the crisp lettuce well. The staff were extremely knowledgeable about what they were serving and would always introduce to you every vegetable used on your dish, like your ecology lecturer, only more entertaining. I was starving when my starter arrived—120-day dry-aged Chianina beef layered on sweet onion, scattered with beef floss and drizzled with rocket oil. Dry-ageing beef allows the proteins within to naturally break down, resulting in unparalleled tenderness and intense gaminess. In my case, four month’s wait produced some of the best beef tartare I’ve ever had. Melt-in-the-mouth fattishness was further elevated with the crunch of beef floss and spiciness of rocket oil. Every morsel was a heaven. I guess everyone’s familiar with the Chinese proverb, “pulling the shoot to hasten its growth”. You can’t rush things through in gardening, and you certainly can’t in this restaurant either. It took on average twenty minutes before the next course was served, but it was just fine to me. The place was filled with the kind of harmonious tranquillity that permeated the whole Botanic Gardens, and I never grew tired admiring the fauna and flora outside the clear windows. For the entree, I had nomad farms chicken liver parfait covered with roast endive, gingerbread and seasoned with bergamot. Normally I shunned organs of any kind, but this combination intrigued me. One could easily associate the chemistry between the rich, creamy liver parfait and the tangy and bitter endive, while gingerbread seemed like the odd one out. But no, it was not. The crumbled biscuits were little pieces of zingy sugar bombs that refreshed my palate with every bite. The superb quality of the previous dishes had me worrying if the main, the most critical course of a meal, could live up to its peers. It did. Two slices of perfectly seared Mayura Station wagyu skirt accompanied by smoked oyster mushrooms, roasted celeriac and garlic purée pumped the dining mood to the climax. Unlike most other steaks I had had, this wagyu had a distinctively clean taste and would not leave your mouth stuck with tough meaty bits. Celeriac boosted of potato’s starchiness, but also possessed more depth than its bland counterpart. The lightly salted oyster mushrooms were florets of umami packets that amplified the beef’s flavours. While I was eagerly waiting for my dessert, I spotted Chef Baker and the sous chef taking a quick break at the balcony, chatting over a bottle of red wine. I had a sudden compulsion to dash out and tell him just how much I loved his work, but too soon he retreated to the kitchen again. And I was not going to trouble him when he might be preparing my last course. Botanic Gardens Restaurant was not big on plating. You know, those fancy places might spend a minute searing the cod and the next hour popping a flower petal there and piping a bit of froth here. To me, it’s outright superfluous. No doubts the dishes here were meticulously arranged as well, but in a way that looked comfortingly organic and natural. The dessert was no exception—a hearty lump of whitish peppermint geranium cream was slathered with crimson cranberry coulis and cranberry dust, scattered with dehydrated chocolate mousse. There was the contrast of colours, red, black and white, and contrast of textures as well between the ethereal cream and the crunchy dry mousse. The only flaw was that the peppermint geranium was so overpowered by the cranberry I could scarcely make out the former’s presence. The perfect way to end this terrific meal was of course to take a stroll at the Botanic Gardens, enjoying the fascinating plants outside while digesting those inside my gut. The Botanic Gardens Restaurant proved to me that while not everyone could be a botanist, we could all try being a gastronomist for once—by paying a visit there. Website: http://www.botanicgardensrestaurant.com.au/dining/ Location: Plane Tree Drive, Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, Adelaide SA 5000

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