Orana – 12 December 2013

Orana is a relatively new restaurant with a bar serving street food underneath. The focus here is on Australian cuisine – using both the history as well as native ingredients. It’s alarming that the reactions I was getting from non-foodie people was along the lines of “oh are they going to feed you witchetty grubs?” when I was looking forward to ingredients such as lilly pillies, bush tomato, quandong and saltbush. The prices were also pretty extreme, but it doesn’t disappoint – I’ve hyped up this restaurant amongst my friends, mostly because I have an incredibly well connected barista. On top of that, I managed to stalk Heston Blumenthal as I’d been given a heads up that he was visiting, as well as having read an article by Terry Durack from his visit. All the big names! How could I not go? So I went!

 It’s a rather intimate setting, one of the smallest restaurants I’ve been to. Simple and refined, but showcases a very impressive set of decanters!

Another thing to note was that I dined here within the first month of opening, which means that the menu has changed dramatically since this visit (ants!! They didn’t have ants and I’m always hoping to be able to eat them somewhere). It also meant that they may have had teething issues, though I wasn’t aware of any at the time; some of the dishes are so unique it was hard to assess if the flavours were imbalanced, or if that’s how it was meant to be.

They had a wine pairing option as well as a juice pairing option, and here the juice was paired with each dish, compared to Momofuku which changed the pairing every two – three dishes.

House cured prosciutto, wild garlic

Half-cooked Spencer Gulf prawns, dill oil

Fried saltbush

Puffed beef tendons

Pearl meat

Slow roasted beetroot, goat curd

Urchin roe, mustard snow

Taro grilled with beef fat


Beef short rib, grass puree

… And they were ALL just the pre-dinner snacks that came out fairly quickly, but we never felt rushed. Wow. The prosciutto and garlic was really nice and the garlic wasn’t overpowering. The prawns were great with the dill oil. Puffed beef tendons??? They were on the menu of their downstairs bar; Street_ADL but I had never had the chance to try them, plus I had no concept of what they might be like. They were amazing! Salty crunchy puffed tasty things! Much like prawn crackers, they were perfectly forever-snackable snacks. The pearl meat was described as having a texture in between that of a scallop and an abalone, which was accurate. With enough resistance that it was fun to eat, but not tough at all. The beetroot was roasted in an underground oven for 36 hours if I recall correctly, and had an amazing look, almost like tree bark. It was so sweet and tender, and beetroot is always a winner with goat curd. The urchin roe was also nice, and the mustard had just that hint of heat to go with it. Thin sheets of taro tasted like beef which was kind of cool. And the beef short rib, super tender, fall apart meat with a grass puree. It was all delicious! Like all the recent degustations I’ve had, all of the above was served without cutlery for a hands on experience.

Also, for bread, we received sourdough with goat butter. The first unconventional butter I’ve had, it was superb, and I may have said, very lamely, “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” Well, it IS butter, just not the cow’s milk kind.

Celebration of peas

This was so pretty, my camera didn’t do any justice. The flowers were a rich, deep purplish-pink, and there were many types of peas in the mix. It was paired with a green apple, celery, lemon and pea tendril juice which went quite well with it.


Scallops and ice plant

Scallops. Need I say more? Okay, succulents. This was my first tasting of ice plant, and not only is it lovely to look at for its crystalline bulbs, but it’s also tasty with its bursts of tart, salty goodness! I absolutely love these plants. The scallops were perfect, and made even more so by the fact the sauce was made from smoked scallop skirt – which smelled and tasted like bacon! The juice pairing here was pear and lemon.

Coorong mulloway, wild cherries, parsley oil

What a pretty dish! Visually this reminds me a lot of Quay’s marron and grapefruit dish, but vastly different flavour-wise. We were advised that the wild cherries taste nothing like cherries, which was true! Perhaps it’s just my weird tastebuds, but I thought the whole thing together tasted like lychee – however all the flavours were very mild in this dish, and the juice pairing of cranberry, riberry and raspberry were required to give the dish the acidity I usually associate as an accompaniment with raw fish.

Confit kangaroo, wild vegetables

This kangaroo was amazing. Confit and pan seared, it was so tender and delicious, especially when had with the mountain bush pepper sauce. So good! This is the best kangaroo dish I’ve had. I’m not a kangaroo connoisseur, but I do sometimes cook it at home – and this was so much better than what happens to my kangaroo fillets. I believe the vegetables mostly consisted of weeds – but when I say weeds, I think of Billy Kwong’s fried weeds dish, which is a great use of… grass just growing. The only one I remember was thistle, but it was tasty! The juice pairing with this was beetroot, blueberry and native currant – the currant was meant to be high in tannins, however I believe there could have been a bit more as it tasted a little too sweet for the kangaroo – I would have preferred something a little more tart and astringent.

Marron

Look at this little guy. Just look at it and its adorableness. This was the first marron I’ve had in a long while that wasn’t totally drenched in butter (the butter is good!), but rather very light in flavour with a sprinkle of a native leaf that has the taste of kaffir lime leaf – which was very pleasant, especially as it matched the citrus from the juice pairing – nashi pear, lemon, lime. The pear was a great component and worked well. The sommelier mentioned he’d been trying to come up with a buttery taste in a juice, at which point I thought about banana, avocado, custard apple… but not being an expert I had no idea. So I’ll keep thinking about it without success.

South devon beef, mashed potato, karkalla

What the waitstaff mentioned here is that though there’s a lot of native Australian food that is rather unfamiliar, our history does include sheep and cattle. So of course, there had to be a steak and potato dish, and it was so good! That beef was amazing and tender, and that was some seriously buttery mashed potato – the best kind! I’ve really got a soft spot for succulents now and love the flavours that burst out of it. This was also a far better juice match compared to the kangaroo dish. This was mostly unfermented shiraz juice, and I can’t remember the rest. I really do need to improve my memory.

Gin sorbet, riberries, tea

Gin and tonic, and tea. The gin sorbet was sweet and had a great gin flavour to it, and worked with the riberries. The tea was a traditional Aboriginal tea that was calming, and I loved how that offset the punchy flavours in the bowl. A really nice, unique dessert – a much better use of gin than in the textures of watermelon at Cecconi’s Cantina.

Buttermilk panna cotta, strawberry

This was a really interesting dish as it was “strawberries and panna cotta” – the green oil was actually leaves from a tree that smells and tastes like strawberry!  The oil gave that extra mouthfeel to the dish, and again was paired with mainly shiraz juice.

Now, I’m the most terrible person ever because on the very last dish of Red currants, coconut ice cream, fresh coconut, coconut ash, I had totally forgotten to take a picture! The red currants were presented as puree with a few whole currants, some shredded coconut and a super creamy coconut ice cream. The red currants were soooo astringent it was impossible to have it on its own, but combined with the coconut ice cream it was quite nice. The juice pairing was watermelon and coconut, which was an odd combination, but I think it worked as the watermelon also countered the red currants.

Overall, a very unique take on some dishes (like the scallops) and taking a break from buttered marron made this experience memorable and more importantly, left me with very little comparison points with other degustations I’ve had – which is a good thing! It means it’s a restaurant with no equal! My favourite dishes were the scallops, kangaroo, and gin sorbet. And the marron. I was very glad to have tried out the food here and gained an even better understanding of the native ingredients available here. If you’re interested in having a degustation full of food that you’re unlikely to taste elsewhere, this is the place to go.

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