Picture: Johan Lolos
Executive chef of London’s Lardo Restaurant and Pop-up Coppa Bar and BBQ, Rachel O’Sullivan visits Australia’s Northern Territory
As I relaxed around the camp fire with my new friends I felt a welcomed sense of contentment. We had spent the evening with Bob Taylor from RT Tours whose bushtucker experience just outside of Alice Springs is both engaging and informative as well as being a gourmet sensation.
Bob starts the evening with a stroll around the region pointing out various bush foods whilst explaining how they can be cooked. We then settle down with drinks and some fabulous roasted macadamia nuts with crushed wattleseed and bush tomato seasoning whilst Bob gets busy preparing a menu from the bush.
Homemade emu sausage
What is served up from a simple camp fire is sensational; homemade emu sausage with mustard and sundried tomato and grilled kangaroo fillet, wattleseed duka with olive oil make wonderfully exotic starters where as Outback beef hotpot, sweet potato fritters and saltbush served with steamed vegetables with soy and lemon myrtle feels like they are actually nourishing the soul.
Picture: Tourism NT
The pudding of steamed quandong pudding with apricot, wattleseed and white chocolate topped with caramel and coconut sauce was so light it literally bounced from the plate to melt in your mouth.
This experience encompasses what the food in the Northern Territory is all about; a wonderful selection of exotic flavours served in spectacular settings by warm and friendly locals.
The Northern Territory is often overlooked as a food destination with some of its glamorous neighbours taking the lime light with their Michelin stared restaurants and fine wineries; however for tourists looking for a foody adventure the Territory delivers.
Darwin – a laid back cosmopolitan city
My journey started in Darwin, a cosmopolitan city where its comparatively small size makes it easy to navigate. The hop on and off bus is a great way to see the local attractions; one of my favourite being the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory where I was lucky enough to see work from the finalists in the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art awards.
Picture: Peter Eve & Tourism NT
Darwin’s laid back vibe is wonderfully displayed at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. I would recommend going with a large appetite as you are spoilt for choice with dozens of food stalls selling a mixture of food including Malaysian, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Greek, Thai and healthy options including the vegan cake stand. I finally settled for delicious fried barramundi with chilli sauce. As the sun sets, locals and tourists alike settle in with coolers filled with drinks and enjoy local artists performing dance, song and spectacular fire displays.
Darwin’s close proximity to Asia has heavily influenced its food scene and one restaurant where this can be truly appreciated is Hanuman Restaurant. Pandan Chicken and Nanya Pork Rolls were followed by Meen Moolie Wild Barramundi fillets cooked in turmeric, fresh curry leaf and coconut and Pork Belly braised Teochew Chinese Style with cinnamon and Star Anise.
Something out of a Dickens novel
Picture: Peter Eve & Tourism NT
Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest National Park covering more than 20,000sq kms. The park’s World Heritage-listing for its cultural and natural values is not surprising given the spectacular wetlands and stunning waterfalls and waterholes and aboriginal rock art sites dating back some 50,000 years.
To experience nature at its most enchanting it is worth the early start for a Yellow Waters sunrise cruise. The beautiful wetlands, which can rise by over a metre in the rainy season, look like something out of a Dickens novel as the mist hovers menacingly over the water at dawn and then clears as the sun’s deep red colours infiltrate to reveal a magical wild landscape.
I don’t profess to be particularly interested in birds but the feathered species were stunning; from owls to eagles to brightly coloured smaller birds. We saw a number of crocs and were even lucky enough to witness one snap down on a less fortunate fish for breakfast.
I tried my own luck at fishing in the neighbouring Mary River region with a catch and cook programme at Wildman Wilderness Lodge. Unlike the crocodile I didn’t have quite the same level of success but was fortunately still rewarded with dinner. I felt like a little bit of a cheat as I tucked into beautifully grilled fresh Wild Baramundi, caught by a luckier fisherman.
A pilgrimage to Uluru
The size of the Northern Territory is epic and this occurred to me as I flew from the Top End south past the majestic MacDonnell mountain range and watched the colours shift to the famous reds of Australia’s centre. As an Australian I was filled with excitement about finally visiting Uluru (Ayers Rock), a pilgrimage most Australians aspire to make at least once in their lives. This was my time.
Uluru is magnificent. It induces a sense of spirituality but also makes you feel very humbled. What many people may not be aware of is Uluru’s equally impressive neighbour, Kata Tjuta (Olgas). When both impressive rock formations are in sight, it is difficult to decide on which colour changing rock kaleidoscope to focus on.
Picture: Sam Tinson
I addressed the conundrum on a Sunset journey with Uluru Camel Tours. I quickly bonded with my gentle camel as we journeyed through the dunes, watching the sun set on our magical surroundings before returning to the farm for cold beers and freshly baked beer bread damper.
A foody highlight
I stayed in the Sails of the Desert Hotel with its generous sized rooms decorated beautifully with aboriginal art and artefacts. The pool is a very welcome addition in the scorching red centre heat and the breakfast buffet makes you feel like a hungry child being let loose in a sweet shop.
One of the food highlights of my trip had to be the dinner at Tali Wiru. Diners are driven out to a stunning location atop one of the region’s higher sand dunes where sunset is admired with a glass of champagne and canapés before sitting down to four course diner matched with premium Australian wines.
The wattle seed rubbed kangaroo carpaccio with sour cherry jelly, fried capers, horseradish aioli, green apple and endive petit salad, rosemary grissini and aged balsamic was a flavour bomb.
The main course of gold band snapper with citrus potato rosettes, buttered cockles, asparagus and salsa verde presented soft flavours that combined beautifully. As dinner concluded all the guests gathered around a camp fire to listen to tales from a local aboriginal, whilst sipping on cognac and hot chocolate.
One of the key principles that I abide to at Lardo is to offer guests beautiful fresh ingredients carefully matched to create interesting combinations; a magpie way of eating where you get to try many different wonderful flavours. I felt that the Northern Territory reflected this attitude to cuisine. Every meal was a mini adventure into new taste sensation and a few surprising ingredients that rarely disappointed.
The Northern Territory: www.australiasoutback.co.uk.