The Botanic Gardens Restaurant displays an almost seamless transition between garden and plate. One I’ll certainly visit again when the season changes.
A kitchen garden can be a chef’s secret weapon. Seasons set the tone of menus, which change as the last fruits fall or when new sprouts bloom, and the Botanic Gardens Restaurant’s garden takes fresh and local to another level. Paul Baker’s garden would make Stephanie Alexander mint-green with envy. The Botanic Gardens Restaurant’s Head Chef forages, helped by a team of gardeners and kitchen staff, from acres upon acres of our city’s wondrous Botanic Gardens. His new backyard is a forager’s dream and between the natural sweep of trees, shrubs and native sprigs are specially planted gardens of fruits and vegetables that accommodate the fare of his restaurant’s menu. On first look, the restaurant appears like an everyday garden rotunda; a forest-green exterior helps the structure blend in with its environment, and walls of glass reflect the surrounding foliage; a chameleon in the trees, if you will. Contrasting the greenery is a stark interior. Everything is white, complete with freshly painted columns and trellises that detail abstract high-tea settings from days gone by. But you won’t find any doilies or cucumber sandwiches here. The salty fresh-baked bread, with squid ink and a blackened leek crust, is toned-down with lashings of house-made cultured butter. More please. An amuse bouche showcases the kitchen garden, with freshly picked just-ripe tomatoes and candied radishes providing zing and crunch to get the tastebuds moving. One bite is hardly enough, but the main event is on its way. The menu’s entrée selection seems too much of a good thing. Though tempted by the prospects of seared hiramasa kingfish or Savannah Farm nomadic chicken galantine with shitake mushrooms, pistachios, cumquat and fennel, we settle on beetroot-cured salmon with flavour-packed dollops of fennel mousse. The dish’s height is provided by shards of salmon crackling, a sliver of radish and crispy fennel chips, alongside a pork terrine plate with an herbaceous taste, topped with fresh pea tendrils and devoured in minutes. A glass of Geoff Hardy K1 Grüner Veltliner is a match made in the Garden of Eden, with notes of orange and a fruity finish harmonising each mouthful of these divine little starters. Slow-cooked duck with slivers of citrus is a discreet adaption of a classic combination (with the nutty flavour of toasted pumpkin seeds and torn mint leaves on top). Strips of partially caramelised pumpkin, and a sweet dollop of carrot and nut-brown butter puree, has a pleasant equipoise against a sticky masterstock mixed in the base. Strips of Coorong Angus beef, cooked medium and served with inappropriately delicious short ribs in licorice root, are atop the creamiest of potato boulangere (literally translated as “potatoes from the Baker” – thanks, Chef), accompanied by beetroot emulsion, caramelised garlic and slices of hardly-cooked mushroom. There are only three desserts on the menu and picking just one is like choosing your favourite child – impossible. The pear tarte tatin, made with careme puff pastry, misses the cut on this visit, but the chocolate delice is a delectable substitute, with earl grey chocolate jelly and a slice of dehydrated orange (propped up by a splotch of mousse and a texturally bewildering freeze-dried mandarin segment). I rarely use the word ‘yum’ but there is no other word to describe the chocolate delice. A dessert of slightly tart rhubarb is poached in rosewater and forms beautifully in a pile of elements including whipped white chocolate, granola and delightfully chewy meringues. The lightly grilled petals make this the prettiest of desserts, as a papery texture contrasts the other elements and lessens the sweetness to an unimpeachable balance. The Botanic Gardens Restaurant displays an almost seamless transition between garden and plate. One I’ll certainly visit again when the season changes. Botanic Gardens Restaurant Lunch: Tuesday to Sunday from 12pm Breakfast: Saturday and Sunday, 8.30am to 11am botanicgardensrestaurant.com.au