FOOD FEATURE: Delights of Down Under are reimagined
It was the day of the EU referendum results, with half the country ready to jump ship and head to Australia.
How auspicious then, that we had been invited as guests to try the newest tasting menu experience at The Milestone in Kelham Island, featuring the finest foods from Down Under.
The events, separate to the restaurant’s Flavours of the Season tasting menu, aim to celebrate a different wine region each time, with the first focusing on Spain, and the second Oz.
Newish head chef Daniel Karreras is perfect for the job, being half Spanish, and half Australian.
“The first two have been easy for me”, laughed the Melbourne native.
“These tasting menus are something to work towards and to be able to concentrate on one cuisine is interesting too.
“We’ve been experimenting and developing the menu quite a bit as well.”
Indigenous Australian cuisine proved quite hard to imagine before we saw the menu: all that came to mind was barbecue. Or emu.
Given the close links between the two countries it’s a shame there are so few restaurants offering cuisine from our cousins on the warmer side of the world.
Of course in the end there was kangaroo - a flavoursome revelation, as it turned out - plenty of fish and a reimagined pavlova.
While Australians and Kiwis have argued for decades over who invented the meringue-based pudding, there was a shocking revelation last year that it actually evolved from America, via Germany.
Daniel added: “Quintissental Australian food is from all over, in Melbourne you can eat all over the world, and because we are so close to Asia we have lots of cuisine inspired by that and British cuisine as well.”
One of the best things about the night, apart from the copious amounts of wine poured by experts from South Australian winery Wakefield, was that it was the chefs served each dish to the intimate group of 20 diners.
It was a food reviewer’s dream - I could pepper them with endless questions, from ‘what’s this red bit’ to ‘how long did it take to plate the tuna belly?’.
(The answer was six minutes.)
The mysteries of the professional kitchen are also laid bare here, with a team of chefs carefully plating up directly in front of the tables.
“It’s great for us to be able to interact with with customers - in a kitchen you only get to talk to the customers through the waiters”, said Daniel.
“So it is nice for us to get out there and gauge the reaction and feedback.
“People also love to ask a lot of questions.”
We started with a small history of Australian wines (first unbearable sweet, now arguably the best in the world), an easy-drinking Chardonnay and what had been described as ‘Australian snacks’ on the menu.
The first bite was raw beef on toast: a sliver of crunch topped with the soft meat, and artfully arranged red onion with microherbs.
The accompanying potato crisp was just that, a delicate oblong of crispy dark golden potato, bearing creamy blobs of dill mayonnaise and red pepper sauce.
It made for a delightful mixture of tastes and textures: how we wished for a whole plate instead of one each.
The salt baked rainbow trout had been poached just to 40 degrees, with a vivid green pea puree and dainty herbs.
There was very little chewing required of the fresh, zingy, pink flesh parcels - a fine alternative to salmon.
On to the reds with a lighpinot noir for smoked lamb’s belly, a curl of rich meat, underneath miniscule diced tomatoes. Juniper essence livened it up, and creamy buttermilk toned it down in an interesting balance of flavours.
It had become clear that this was all about finesse rather than the hearty gastro meals The Milestone is known for.
In no dish was this more obvious that with the yellow fin tuna belly. It was a shame to ruin the presentation, but I’ll be honest, it didn’t last long. Bacon fat and capers added a salty tang to the smooth fish.
Now with the kangaroo steak I had been expecting quite a lean, almost tough meat. Far from it.
It was served rare and smokey, cut like butter and benefited from an aromatic, gel-like barbecue sauce as well as the spicy St Andrew’s Shiraz. This would do well as a permanent main course., please.
Watermelon vodka cruzer was less 18-30 holiday than it sounded - compressed grainy, fruit with lashing of the spirit, basil and fennel. As apalate cleanser - innovative and effective.
Ah, the pavlova. My favourite childhood dessert, with raspberries and ice cream, was all grown up now.
Cloud-like blobs of meringue clashed with bursts of kiwi, sharp, passion fruit syrup and a creamy rhubarb tart custard. A fizzy, almost prosecco like Reisling topped it off.
Australia - I am in, if you’ll have me.
We were guests of The Milestone, Green Lane. The next taster menu experience is on French cuisine, on August 19, priced £60 per person including wine flight.
Tel: 0114 272 8327