BOTANIC GARDENS RESTAURANT, Adelaide
Paul Baker’s originally a Sydney boy and at seventeen, after having worked a stint at an Italian restaurant, he scored an apprenticeship at the famous Aria and it was here, working for Matt Moran, where he developed his eye for detail and pursuit of perfection. After four years there he moved on to Pello where he later became head chef. He also worked overseas before working at Grace the Establishment in Adelaide. Lucky for us, he’s now married to an Adelaidian so he’s planning on staying put here for the time being.
When approached to be head chef at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant he was keen to be able to make use of what the gardens themselves had to offer, and that he does. His menu uses an abundance of fruits, vegetables and herbs sourced daily from the Botanic Gardens and hence, it’s a fresh, extremely local and seasonal menu.
The restaurant itself is a rotunda structure enclosed with glass so you can enjoy the green surrounds of the garden and people-watching. The décor is white – walls, ceiling, table cloths, chairs and the staff are aproned. Speaking of which, the attentive, professional wait staff leave you wanting for nothing – nothing’s a problem.
There’s a tasting menu for $85pp with matched wines for an additional $45, however on this occasion we decided to go a la carte. You can opt for 2 courses for $55 or 3 for $72 and, I was really pleased that you can have 3 savoury courses and skip the sweets. Now I’m not a big bread fan but the novelty factor of the black squid ink bread served with house-made butter was a pleasant change, and I quite enjoyed it, plus the pork rillette amuse bouche, while I sipped on my French Martini – how very civilised dahling!
Perusing the menu, everything sounds enticing and just screams ‘Order me!’ Our first entrees arrive – all looking beautiful. Two of us had the Smoked Tommy Ruff escabeche, mussel custard, smoked mussels, fennel and squid ink cracker, then there was the Cured ocean trout, buttermilk, kohlrabi, anise oil, bronze fennel pollen and vegetable ash, and our fourth diner had the Hiramasa kingfish crudo, avocado, compressed apple, native ginger, miso, wild rice and sea parsley. We were all extremely happy with our choices. The freshness, the flavours and the textures all in harmony on the plate.
Our second round of entrees consisted of the Paroo kangaroo pastrami, muntries, candy cane beetroots, air dried venison and walnuts. The meat was perfect and this dish was a textural delight. The Pork hock persillade, caramelised apple mousse, horseradish pears and fennel seek bark was delicious. I just loved the combination of the pork and the subtly flavoured light-as-air mousse plus the crunch of the bark.
Finally, for mains, two of us chose the Barramundi, prawn boudin, caramelised fennel, smoked beans, sea vegetables with boullabaisse dressing. Once again an excellent combining of elements. The boudin was quite salty, but it worked well with the rest of the dish. Others had the Sand whiting, caramelised octopus, warrigal greens, grilled baby leeks, centella leaves. The golden browned whiting looked gorgeous next to the rich deep colour of the warrigal greens sauce and the contrasting red octopus tentacle.
We all loved our Botanic Gardens Restaurant experience. Everything’s beautifully plated and colourful. It’s fresh, textural and balanced and it’s all about the produce. This is classy, elegant food and Paul certainly lets the fine ingredients speak for themselves. I’m looking forward to seeing what next season brings!