During our trip to Adelaide for Tasting Australia, Helen and I have some free time in our itinerary to do our own thing, but we thought why waste it when we can have lunch with Stephanie Alexander at The Manse, one of the finest dining restaurants in Adelaide?
The manse is a little bit further from the city on the opposite side of the river in North Adelaide. From the outside, it doesn’t look anything like a restaurant but more of a Victorian mansion belongs to some wealthy tycoon. Thankfully there is a big signage on the iron-barred fence with restaurant menu displayed behind a glass cabinet, we are assertive that we have arrived at the right place.
We admire the white colonial building for the outside for quite some time to build up enough confidence before stepping through the small iron gate and into a tranquil courtyard, snowing with fallen autumn leaves. The leafy path leads us to the arched doorway, we push through the front door and immediately the silence of the peaceful courtyard is broken with noises of glass clinking and diners chatting echoing from inside out.
A friendly waitress welcomes us to the restaurant and quickly leads us to our own table just before the lunch begins. Once seated, we immediately realised that we are a little under-dressed for this occasion with our cardigan, polo tshirt and jeans while everyone else is either in suits or frilly dresses. It is also a good indication that they know we are from the media for this event and dressing up is absolutely unnecessary.
The objective of the lunch today is to have Stephanie tells us more about her project, the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Foundation, an initiative set up to provide pleasurable food education for young children at government primary schools.
The Kitchen Garden Program teaches young children about the natural world, learn how to care for it and how best to use the resources we have, develop an appreciation for how easy it is to bring joy and well being into one’s life through growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing fresh, seasonal produce. The program is also the only school-based gardening program that is fully integrated into the learning curriculum.
There are already over 130 primary schools across Australia taking part in this program. The Australian Government has also committed $12.8 million to fund infrastructure in up to 190 primary schools across Australia. The grants provide funding for the development of a productive vegetable garden and the construction of a home-style kitchen on the school grounds. By 2012, around 20,000 Australian primary school children in Years 3 to 6 will be laying the foundations for a life time of positive food choices.
We are very lucky to have Stephanie herself to give us such heartfelt speech about the Kitchen Garden Program and our first course couldn’t be more appropriately designed and presented for this meaningful event. The amuse bouche is a tiny pot plant of sunflower seed mousse that is smooth and creamy with a hint of nuttiness, dark leek soil is sprinkled sparingly over the top adds texture. The mellow flavour of the mousse is suddenly burst with distinctive sharpness of Meredith chevre goat cheese hidden at the bottom.
Our second course is elegantly presented and not shy to flirt with layers of textures. Light as feather, the whipped foie gras is velvety smooth, it simply melts away leaving a trail of almond crumbs lingering in my mouth. A cloud of tarragon foam so subtle it hardly cuts through the fat and evaporates into nothingness before my palate gets to take a note of the flavour.
Another beautifully plated dish, the pink snapper sits elegantly on a bed of translucent glass noodles, cashew and green peas. The monotone of the dish is disturbed by a dramatic stripe of red cabbage syrup reduction across the immaculate white plate.
Once the dish is placed in front of us, a second waiter follows not far behind and offers to pour hot red cabbage consomme onto our dish at the table. The slick of pink reduction slowly dissolves away into a lake of purple hue. It is theatrically entertaining.
The pink snapper really stands out in the consomme with its snowy white flesh. Although the snapper is a little firmer than I’d prefer, the sweet consomme aids to rehydrate, the skin is seared to a delightful thin crisp, with the occasional crunch from the cashew. However, we find the soup spoon is too thick to retrieve the glass noodles at the bottom of the plate which resolves to an unglamourous plate tilting action that seems to do the trick.
We both find the last savoury dish is rather interesting with an acquired mix of components. The grade 5 sirloin from Rangers Valley is cooked to perfection, medium rare on the inside that is tender and juicy, but it is the brisket that wins me over. A rather “con”fusion pairing of peanut-butter-like sauce in onion rings seems out of place and a little overpowering with the beef.
Before the last dessert course, Head chef Lachlan Colwill and pastry chef Emma Shearer come out from the kitchen all shy and apologetic that the dessert has been changed from the original menu due to a busy week catering a few main events for Tasting Australia.
The initial dessert of ‘chocolate textures, liquorice with pedro ximenez sauce’ is sadly missed but replaced with a creamy lemon mousse on honeycomb crumbs, three quenelles of lemon gelato are refreshingly tangy, whereas the pink lemonade poprocks fizzes away in the background.
The Manse 142 Tynte Street, North Adelaide Adelaide, South Australia Tel: +61 (08) 8267 4636
[ ATFT dined at The Manse as a guest of South Australia Tourism. ]