Will we look back at 2019 and be amazed at how so few Australian chefs and restaurants had yet embraced uniquely Australian ingredients? Or will we be amazed at how many? What is happening right now, as Ben Shewry commits Attica in Melbourne to reconciliation through food, and Jock Zonfrillo moves Adelaide’s Orana to Sydney for a month to seek more converts, will decide the future for a truly Australian cuisine.
It’s the stuff you don’t see at Orana In Residence that is the mark of its greatness. The way Zonfrillo works with Indigenous communities, helping them commercialise the ingredients he sources from them. How his team finally cracked how to open 1.2 tonnes of bunya nuts to create the umami-rich, 12-month aged ferment that underpins several dishes (steel wire-cutters, apparently). How his not-for-profit Orana Foundation is documenting Indigenous ingredients as a resource for future generations.
But the stuff you do see is pretty great, too. Like the opening “smoking ceremony” of potato damper wrapped around sticks that comes to the table over hot coals, and the emu egg custard spiked with that bunya nut miso. Or the charred, caramelised cubes of Mayura Station wagyu, eaten in the hands. Or the Moreton Bay bug – beautifully, barely, cooked – grounded with green ants and Geraldton wax.
The 22-course meal is a series of small discoveries. Raw ama ebi scarlet prawns are rolled in crocodile fat lardo and dusted with boab powder; tart, rich and sweet. Fat and smoky quail is portioned at the table, with a kangaroo grass shoyu for dipping. Baby-soft fish cheeks are sandwiched in crisp roti pocket bread.
Technically, there were some oversights – a long-yam crisp that wrapped your teeth in gumminess; pretty little paperbark ice-cream yo-yo biscuits served frozen – that were fixed by the second visit.
I was expecting more on-message worthiness, but nobody gets whacked over the head with sermons. This is celebratory and fun, carried along by the genuine delight of Greta Wohlstadt and the front-of-house team, and Kyle Poole’s nomadic drinks list, with its Never Never negroni, McLaren Vale Roussanne and DRC La Tache.
Orana In Residence is the restaurant Sydney didn’t know it was missing. As a diner, you are shrouded in smoke and assaulted with citrusy bush scents, lips smeared with crocodile fat. If you had just landed from Dubai or Dresden to dine here, you would call it the taste of Australia. If you had just landed from the moon or Mars, you’d call it the taste of Planet Earth.
Orana in Residence runs until September 15 at 85 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills. Cost is $350 a head, plus drinks. See restaurantorana.com.