This dish sees a massive, hulking, butter-drenched pile of puffy roti served with smoked onion purée and sweet little Aussie muntries. A split yabby lands dressed in barley koji butter, fresh coconut, mint, chervil and sour, citrusy woodland sorrel. You get crunch from the bread, sweet from the yabby, freshness from the herbs and cool respite from the coconut. It’s not just the best dish here; it’s one of the best dishes in Sydney right now.
Under a blanket of compressed seaweed is tender steamed white hapuka fish, creamy cured roe emulsion (like a taramasalata) and little pops of native sea blight. Umami, cream, crunch.
The King George whiting dish at Bennelong lets the slightly salty, seriously tender fish speak for itself. The accompanying scallops are seared on one side only, so they keep their satiny feel in your mouth. Indigenous ice plant adds pleasing crunch, and pepper comes from native parsley.
The menu changes depending on the quality of produce available on the day. Moreton bay bug is served shelled, lightly smoked and barely cooked. It sits on a bed of puréed mullet roe, and thin wedges of sweet and sour apple add zing. It cuts like soft butter, and is so delicate you’ll have a hard time believing it escaped a furious fire moments before.
In Sydney, Bar H pretty much brought saltbush into the mainstream when we first tried their tempura saltbush many moons again. It’s still on the menu – they’d never be allowed to take it off, surely. The whole branch is deep fried and served with a lemon cheek for squeezing and a chilli-spiked mayo. And it’s bloody delicious.
The red-braised wallaby tail is a fail-safe bet at Billy Kwong. A big pile of sticky, nubbly, on-the-bone meat is piled high, dressed with a gingery, not-too-sweet black bean and chilli sauce. Chopsticks prove a hindrance for us, so we say pick each little piece up with your hands and nibble away at the tender meat. On the side, order the stir-fry of native greens. On the night we’re in, they comprise of tender saltbush and bower spinach alongside cooling ice plant and popping succulent, all tossed in a ginger-spiked, shiro shoyu sauce. It’s dishes like this – indigenous-focussed, Asian-inspired and banging with flavour – which tell you what Kwong is all about.
Like the rest of the menu, the pre-desserts vary, but the day we’re in it’s a Benn signature, known as ‘The Pearl’. Crack the top as you would a soft-boiled egg and watch the sugar-shell collapse dramatically as its filling explodes onto the plate. The centre is a combination of frozen finger lime pearls and ginger mousse that has been siphoned into liquid nitrogen and smashed up to a powder. It is exactly what a pre-dessert should be: invigorating, with an undertone of heat from the ginger, and is served with a yuzu-infused sake on the side, which brings the refreshment levels to new heights.
Even if you just have one dish at Bennelong’s Cured and Cultured bar, make it the yabbies. They sit in their shells upon a bed of saltbush (which, our chipper waitress tells us, is not to be eaten), though in actual fact, they’ve already been detached. Pick one up and place it upon one of the buckwheat pikelets in the accompanying basket. From the two pots in front of you, swipe on a lick of deeply fragrant lemon jam and another of cultured cream, fold the thing up and eat. This dish is practically a legend. The sweetness of the lemon enriches, rather than overwhelms, the flavour of the cool, crunchy yabby; the cream lightens the load, and the buttery crumb of the pikelet leads the whole thing to perfection.
Lemon myrtle isn’t just endemic to Australia, but to the particular rainforests of central and south-eastern Queensland. Black Star’s lemon myrtle chiffon cake is tinged with the citrusy tang of this fragrant herb, packing a punch in flavour, while remaining tender and light as a cloud.
This classic Sixpenny dish is a celebration of two of our greatest culinary gifts to the world: crab and native macadamia nuts. It’s a little pile of curled, shaved macadamia nuts disguising lightly cooked crab meat and macadamia nut cream beneath, all scented with the barest hint of chamomile. It’s a beautiful, tender dish that shows precision and sympathy for delicate ingredients.