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Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Chef and our Bellies

There aren't a huge number of really great cooking shows available to those of us Aussies restricted to free-to-air TV. One that I do like to watch, on the rare occasions I am home when it is on, is The Cook and the Chef on ABC. Sure, the voices of Maggie Beer (the cook) and Simon Bryant (the chef) may be a little irritating at first and heaven help you if you happen to not be a fan of verjuice, but they have an interesting dynamic, their enthusiasm for using local produce is contagious and they produce some great dishes.

Simon Bryant is also the Executive Chef at the Hilton in Adelaide, and after one look at his menu at The Brasserie restaurant I knew I had to have a meal there during my stay in Adelaide. The website and menu use the phrase "Seriously South Australian" and this really sums up their approach. The origins of major components of each dish are described, and The Brasserie seemed like the perfect place to explore many aspects of the local produce of South Australia at the one location.

After getting all excited over the menu, and checking with my fellow Adelaide visitor that he'd be happy to have a meal there, I contacted The Brasserie through their online form to organise booking a table for Wednesday night. I received quite a prompt reply saying "we regret to inform you that we are unable to accommodate your booking on this occasion due to high occupancy levels and the restaurant at full capacity". Not taking no for an answer, I then decided to ring to see if there were any time at all during our stay in Adelaide that a table could be available for us. After checking with the restaurant manager, the very friendly man who answered my call informed me that they could in fact give us a table on Wednesday night at the time I requested, despite the fact that the hotel was quite full and they like to reserve a certain number of tables specifically for guests of the hotel (which we were not). Success!

So on Wednesday night we followed the "smart-casual" dress code and wandered down to the Hilton, arriving a little early to allow us time to enjoy a cocktail in the lounge bar. Service here was a little too casual for my liking. It took over 10 minutes for our drinks to be made, and after this time one of them was brought over with the muttered claim "the other is coming", which proved to be true a few more minutes later. We chose similar cocktails, mine being the Champagne Smash ("fresh mint and pineapple lend this champagne cocktail a zesty and fresh finish. It's given a bit of punch with gin and Cointreau") whilst the other was the Kandaha Marmalade ("A base of gin, cointreau, lemon and lime makes a refreshing start for this short drink however it's the marmalade that really gives it a taste of its own").

Hilton Lounge - Kandaha Marmalade and Champagne Smash cocktails ($17 each)

The cocktails were very fresh and zesty, and I was glad not to have any spillage from my martini glass. I find martini glasses give lovely presentation to a cocktail, dessert or even a starter dish, but god they're impractical to drink out of. You find yourself drinking the first half far too quickly so that you can walk around safely with it, and next thing you know you've polished off 5 cosmopolitans and wondering why you feel a little pissy. I guess this particular cocktail avoided this issue by having a reasonable layer of top foam giving you some spillage buffering room.

Given how long our cocktails took to come out, we took them into the restaurant with us as we were concerned about arriving late to our table given the difficulty in securing the reservation. We needn't have worried, as the restaurant was barely a third full. In fact, during our time in there is barely reached half-capacity, so I guess they take the notion of reserving tables for potential hungry hotel guests a little too seriously.

We were disappointed to discover that The Brasserie, like The Grange (the other main Hilton restaurant, run by Chef Cheong Liew) is currently undergoing renovation work and thus the restaurant is currently in a temporary location (unlike The Grange, which is simply closed until 5 August). We were therefore unable to enjoy the "open kitchen and lively atmosphere" of the restaurant as promised on the website, and instead were sat in a restaurant that had more of an upmarket cafeteria style vibe to it.

Although I had already had a scan through the menu on their website, we both took a nice long while to consider our options before choosing our dishes. We eventually decided to share half a dozen oysters to start with ("Seafood Logistics Eyre & Yorke Peninsula pacific oysters with shallot vinegar and lemon wedge" $16) and then I chose the trout for my entrée ("Mt Barker Springs house cured lemon myrtle ocean trout, avocado mousse and Australian Caper berry" $18) and roo for my main ("Pepper berry & bush tomato rubbed Macro Meats roo saddle, bush banana salad, quandong & desert lime glaze, crispy saltbush" $30). I was interested and pleased to read that the bush tucker of my main dish was supplied by Outback Pride, which seems like a fantastic venture involving indigenous Australians and one that I am very happy to support.

My friend wanted to try the soufflé entrée ("Udder Delights twice baked Heyson blue cheese soufflé, Foster’s baby herbs, Harding’s almond paste, sour cherries" $16) but after being told that it was not available due to supplier issues he opted for the rabbit ("Bushmin braised rabbit, Haighs bittersweet chocolate & Nino proscuitto, soft white polenta" $17) and for his main dish chose the duck ("M.M Waechter confit duck leg & seared rare breast, Ingy’s orange, soubise, buttered quince" $31).

After taking these orders, our waiter asked if we would also like to order some salad or vegetables to go with our main dishes, as they did not come with anything other than what is described in the menu. Given the amount of food we had just ordered, we hesitated for a minute to order anything else, only to be interrupted from our thinking by the gentleman sitting at the table next to us. He very strongly recommended that we order salad or vegetables to accompany our mains, as he and his wife were very disappointed to see that their main meals came out with nothing. He actually said something like "We read the menu, and they told us when we ordered, but we didn't realise they wouldn't come with anything else at all". Now, I agree that it is not ideal to have to order additional dishes if you want to have vegetables or salad with your main dish, but it's not entirely uncommon and you can't really kick up a stink if this is made very clear to you when ordering. We decided to get some salad ("Dressed leaves, tomato, red onion & cucumber tossed with Coriole Barbera verjuice or Beerenberg grain mustard & Diana olive oil" $7), choosing the mustard dressing over the verjuice (sorry Maggie).

After our (friendly and somewhat sarcastic) waiter left, the vegetable deprived man and his wife had another go at the lack of sides and although we would have liked to say "Perhaps your wife would not still be hungry if she actually ate the beautiful duck breast she was served instead of screwing her nose up at it for not being 'her idea of well done' and perhaps you should have realised your waiter wasn't simply making conversation when he suggested you order vegetables or salad to accompany your main as it was not going to come with anything apart from the fish and chips written on the menu" but we simply politely smiled and nodded and had another sip of wine.

Olives, Lucilla EVOO and Murray River pink salt to go with our crusty bread (comp)

Complimentary bread, olives, olive oil and salt were brought to our table, and we were soon exclaiming over the aromatic Lucilla oil and the beautiful Murray River pink salt flakes. I'm not a huge fan of added salt, apart from seasoning dishes that really need it, and will very rarely add salt to a dish before eating it. I have to say though that this salt was surprisingly tasty and I found myself going back for quite a few dunks in the olive followed by a little dunk in the salt with my bread. My friend was also very pleased to see a restaurant proudly using Australian salt instead of fleur de sel.

Seafood Logistics Eyre & Yorke Peninsula pacific oysters with shallot vinegar and lemon wedge ($16)

A little time later our oysters arrived, and they certainly tasted like they were "shucked by our chefs" as claimed on the menu. Beautifully fresh, you could taste the Southern Ocean in them and they went down a treat with a little squeeze of the lemon and a splash of the shallot vinegar. My only complaint is that they were so nice and meaty that they were a little difficult to eat with elegance. I'm certainly not one to let elegance get in the way of enjoying food but perhaps these giant beauties aren't the best choice for those out there with small mouths or on first dates.

Bushmin braised rabbit, Haighs bittersweet chocolate & Nino proscuitto on a soft white polenta bed ($17)

After allowing us sufficient time to enjoy the oysters our entrees then arrived, and we both couldn't help but remark on the presentation and very generous size of the rabbit dish. It really could be served as a main ("make sure you order salad with it!" I can hear vegetable-deprived man crying). The rabbit had been braised until it had achieved a melt-in-the-mouth tenderness, but had more bite to it than the soft white polenta which in turn had more texture than the slightly sticky, creamy chocolate. The crunch of the fried sage leaves and proscuitto atop the dish contrasted well with this gradation in soft textures. I found the combination of flavours so interesting and unique, as I have little experience eating rabbit and savoury dishes with chocolate, and no experience eating white polenta. I did however find it as rich as it looks, and am not sure I could have finished such a large serving despite the enjoyment of the small amount I tried. I find the use of chocolate in savoury dishes really interesting, and something I'd like to explore in my own kitchen. I can't help but think that real chocoholics would be disappointed with it, as it is a surprise just how nicely it works in a savoury setting and doesn't have that real classic chocolate taste to it.

Mt Barker Springs house cured lemon myrtle ocean trout, avocado mousse and Australian Caper berry ($18)

My trout was fantastic, with a subtle smokiness and lovely soft texture. The avocado mousse, caper berry and finely diced Spanish onion were the perfect accompaniment and allowed the flavour of the trout to remain dominant. I was particularly taken with the little garnish that you can't really see very well in this photo - a tiny sliver of trout skin, curled like a little piggy's tail and fried until super crisp.

M.M Waechter confit duck leg and seared rare breast, Ingy’s orange, soubise, buttered quince ($31)

Again we were given a decent amount of digesting time before our next dishes were brought out. I can't comment a great deal on the duck dish given that I did not taste it and can't recall specific adjectives that were used to describe it apart from it being "fabulous". Let's just leave it at that, then.

Pepper berry & bush tomato rubbed Macro Meats roo saddle, bush banana salad, quandong & desert lime glaze, crispy saltbush ($30)

Wow, this was an impressively sized, deliciously flavoured and really interesting bush tucker dish! Such a generous amount of succulently cooked roo saddle, and whilst the meat was not overly rich, the richness that was apparent was cut nicely with the really tangy sauce. The crispy saltbush was great - our answer to the fried sage leaf - and is something I would like to do at home. In fact, this dish has really inspired me to seriously investigate the use of bush tucker in my home cooking and I'm determined to do so once I'm healthy and allowed back into the wider community (still holed up at home with flu).

I forgot to photograph the salad but it was nice and fresh, although a little difficult to serve and eat with very large salad leaves. We were happy that we chose the mustard dressing over Maggie's verjuice, it had a great bite.

After another nice digestion period we were asked if we wanted to peruse the dessert options, and although quite frankly we had eaten more than our fair share of dinner we couldn't help but at least have a look at the menu (knowing full well that this would almost guarantee we would order something). In addition to a number of dessert options ranging from $14-$17 there are also two "bite size" desserts - a $10 affogato ("White Russian affogato, Tierra fair trade coffee") and $5 panna cotta ("Beach Organics palm sugar panna cotta"). Whilst my friend chose the panna cotta, I was a little greedier and ordered from the non-bite size section, choosing the cake ("Willabrand Fig & walnut Greek syrup cake, KIS fennel liqueur, lemon mascarpone sherbet $16").

Beach Organics Palm sugar panna cotta ($5)

The panna cotta was indeed bite size, cute and creamy.

Willabrand fig & walnut Greek syrup cake, KIS fennel liqueur, lemon mascarpone sherbet ($16)

The cake was indeed not bite size, which turned out to be for the best as it was delicious. The cake itself was not overly sweet so the parts of it that were really syrupy reached an enjoyable sweetness level, particularly as it was offset by the light aniseed flavours of the fennel liqueur (coming from something who isn't an anise-lover). A lovely, if not entirely necessary, end to a wonderful meal.

So, I think it's pretty clear that we really enjoyed this entire meal. Improvements could certainly be made by having more attentive service (water glasses left low a little too long, a request for something having to be made twice) and obviously the experience is likely to be far superior in the renovated restaurant but with food this interesting and well executed you are willing to overlook certain things. Our visit to The Brasserie wasn't exactly a cheap night out, but this is due more to our gluttony and not so much to a particularly expensive menu. The most expensive main is the Coorong Black Angus T-bone for $36 which gives you an idea of the price range of the dishes.

I can really recommend The Brasserie for a great introduction to South Australian cuisine but don't get your hopes up about discussing the merits of seasonal, regional cooking with The Chef over a glass of muscat.

The Brasserie
Adelaide Hilton, 233 Victoria Square, Adelaide City
Phone: (08) 8237 0697
Website: http://www.thebrasserie.com.au/home
Hours: Breakfast 7 days from 6:30am
Buffet lunch Monday - Friday from 12:00 noon
Dinner 7 nights from 6:00pm


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