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Eating down under

Australia is a wonderland of gourmet food and fine wine. From emu sausage to exquisite raisin bread, giant prawns to roasted quail, there is truly something memorable for everyone to taste in Perth and Adelaide...

by: Abigail Donelly | 13 Mar 2007

Perth-fect Perth | Adelaide, Park City
I've now made it as a foodie, I kept telling myself. I was off to where the East-meets-West fusion thing all happens; where quince paste and verjuice are produced; where thick slices of raisin toast are served with the best lattes ever, that are often presented in glasses with rough cubes of brown sugar.

Most of my time in Australia was spent in two cities, Perth and Adelaide, and the surrounding winelands. It didn't take long to get the feeling that Australians love food, and so they should, considering the variety and quality at their disposal. Chefs, producers and foodies are not only passionate about food but they also love to drink – and are very loyal to their local wines. Even the fine-dining restaurants have a relaxed way of combining tastes and textures and presenting food. But fusion is still the buzzword, and Australians combine flavours without being too silly about it.

Every dish was spectacular, whether it was a serving of spring lamb braised in Shiraz with Du Puy lentils or a slice of Cabernet-soaked toast topped with steamed purple asparagus. Trays of extra-large chocolate-coated lamingtons beam out at you from bakery windows, and chefs concoct sublime pavlovas. The kangaroo tail, slow-cooked in lots of red wine, became sticky and stewy, a little bit like oxtail.

The service, quality and consistency are always top class. It was quite interesting to see how seriously the restaurant staff took their jobs: A lot of respect is shown to each one, from the waitress to the sommelier. There is a widespread Mediterranean coffee and breakfast culture. The cafés are full early in the morning with people munching on piles of ricotta flapjacks, bowls of steaming porridge and fresh banana. Late at night, the restaurants filter out onto the pavements with the smell of wood-baked breads. It's quite obvious that people just love to cook, eat and drink wine. There is a food trail for you to discover around every corner.

Perth in Western Australia has a wonderfully relaxed atmos-phere, and although it is a big city, it has a very similar feel to Cape Town. I was quite surprised at the myriad of restaurants and shops. In fact, Perth boasts more restaurants than any other city in Australia.

Northbridge, the local Chinatown, bustles with energy on a Saturday morning. I left laden with bags of noodles and packets (some of which I picked up because I liked the packaging, but still don't know what's in them). The hot spots in the CBD have A an upbeat, big-city vibe. Only a few minutes away is East Perth, where trendy, elegant eateries overlook the water.

Must Winebar is a casual French bistro that cooks down-to-earth food, and offers a huge variety of Australian wine. Expect to see steak béarnaise and duck confit. There is also a special rotisserie at the back of the restaurant, which is in full view of the tables.

The Subiaco Hotel fondly dubbed 'the Subi', is surrounded by the buzzing business dis-trict. Expect to be treated to dishes like grilled west Australian dhu fish, pea purée and smoked tomatoes, or a light lunch of field mushrooms on toasted olive sourdough. As most families take their kids to eat out with them, the chefs take care to make special things to keep them happy, such as big cupcakes and A cookies.

Adelaide in South Australia is a city within a park. Laid out on a well-planned, square-mile grid with wide streets, it is really easy to get around. Just jump on a tram and head to one of the many cafés and restaurants.

Rundle Street in the East End is full of stylish and sophisti-cated bars and cafés. There are so many foods to choose from, including Asian fusion, traditional Chinese and indigenous Australian – I really enjoyed the latter.

The Central Market is the biggest food market in Australia and boasts more than 250 traders under one roof. There is a great buzz early in the morning as chefs are seen choosing the best scallops and quality veg. The stalls vary from butchers to traders peddling honey, flowers, cheese, sweets and nuts, alongside grocers offering plenty of fruit and vegetables.

In Chinatown near the central market in Gouger Street you can pick up great bargains. There's something else you must not miss: Known as Adelaide's famous pie floater, haute cuisine it certainly is not. The dish consists of a meat pie with tomato sauce sinking down into a bowl of green pea soup – it's a genuine legend.

The Barossa food trail (aka meeting Maggie Beer) An hour out of Adelaide are the world-renowned vineyards of the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley. Food is central to any winemaking culture, something that the Barossa holds close to its heart.

Look out for sourdough bread and lachschinken, the finest smoked ham to be found anywhere! I had read a lot about the Barossa and the wines but more specifically about Maggie Beer, who is deeply involved in the food culture of the area as a producer, a chef and one of Australia's favourite cooks. She loves to cook with seasonal, fresh produce and was the person responsible for bringing verjuice back into our kitchens.

On our trip, we were lucky enough to eat at one of her full-moon festive feasts – we dined on steamed yabbies, pan-roasted quail with sage and pancetta, milk-fed lamb with a stuffing of currant and lemon risotto, suckling pig with sour cherries, and ended off with parmigiano reggiano with truffled honey. It was truly the best food I have tasted, so if you ask me what the highlight of the trip was, I'd say it was this meal. And I actually got to meet Maggie!


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