Tasting Australia! Part 3

Part 3 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

One of the components of Tasting Australia involves getting out and seeing what makes the region so special. An overnight visit to Kangaroo Island exceeded any standard for a food festival I’ve ever experienced, and probably set the bench mark for what culinary tourism is all about.

Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island (after Tazmania and Melville) and is only 70 miles southwest of Adeliade. However, it’s not the easiest place to get to and requires a short plane or ferry ride which might as well be a million miles by the time you finally touch down in this nirvana. With a population of about 4,500 people, it’s mostly agriculture that sustains Kangaroo Island with the production of honey, wool, canola and wine. One thing to note is just how pure this place is, from the fresh water to the clean air.  And it’s this purity you can taste in everything from Kangaroo Island. Speaking of pure, Kangaroo Island is also home to the only pure strain of Ligurian Bees in the world, and great effort is made to preserve this as well as the island’s wildlife.

No visit would be complete without a visit to the Seal Bay Conservation Park, or as I like to call it So Freaking Amazing And Cute You’ll Explode National Park. And why? Well, look for yourself.

If by chance you’re not quite ready to give up your creature comforts, remember that this is Australia and you could always check into Southern Ocean Lodge. But be prepared to have your standards of island accommodations forever raised.

If I had a dime for every time I heard “Southern Ocean Lodge? Oh you lucky devil” as well as “You will love it, just wait” I’d probably be a rich man. I must admit that I kept my expectations small; I get to see some pretty stellar places to rest one’s head during my travels and most are generally nice but I try to not go into anything with expectations.

I’m glad I didn’t.

The grandeur of Southern Ocean Lodge can’t be explained without setting foot inside. There’s a sense of scale that spreads out across acres, and entering the lobby after walking through the entry corridor feels like a silent production — you swear you can hear a drumroll and orchestra swell inside your head. It’s magnificence in every sense of the word, and actually left me a bit dumbfounded.

The curved great room allows views of the coast, with a serpentlike-row of guestrooms immediately to the left. A suspended fireplace in the middle of the room and an open-access bar makes you wonder if you’ll ever even make it to your room, and with champagne being poured in the lobby I’m surprised I actually did.

But I am oh so glad I did.

Clear, sparse, comfortable, with just the right amount of thoughtful amenities make for beautiful rooms. Two happy Lamingtons waiting also make you smile, even if they do spoil your dinner just a little bit.

Speaking of dinner, the food program is equally as stellar as the architecture, featuring Kangaroo Island produce, cheese, honey, meat and seafood. We spent a few moments with SOL’s chef Tim Bourke learning to make a shellfish stock that is incorporated into vinaigrettes, sauces, and a variety of other dishes. This spectacular reduced stock is like nothing I have ever tasted before, with a pure distinct mellow ocean flavor. My friend Kay from Bon Appetit and I wanted to sneak off with the stuff, it’s that good.

The mornings are particularly serene at Southern Ocean Lodge, and a quick walk down a long wooden bridge is a perfect way to catch the sunrise.

After grabbing our bags and saying goodbye to Southern Ocean Lodge, we embarked on a tour of the island, ending up in the sand and rolling hills of Snellings Beach.

It was magical.

Our lunch began with a quick blessing from members of the island’s Ramindjeri clan. To be in the presence of these men who possess such history and knowledge of the island left me speechless as each one of us received a personal blessing delivered in song.

After our blessing we were greeted with glasses of bubbles (I sense a trend here) accompanied by tree branch skewers of possum and kangaroo that were grilled over an open fire. Cooked only so slightly, a sprinkle of salt finished the small rare bits of meat that were remarkably delicious.

I would like to share a story with you of getting separated from my group and being stranded on this beach but I don’t want to get any hosts in trouble. So I won’t.  But IF I was sharing it I’d tell you it was a) my fault and b) the most peaceful 9 minutes of my life spent here.

After being reunited with my group, we walked into what I can only called an Australian explosion of perfect rustic aesthetic and gobsmackingly phenomenal local food. In a shed. With a chandelier. And mixmatched place settings. And leaves and candles. You can see where I’m going with this, right? It was heaven.

There were roasts, prawns, bread, salad, wine, fantastic conversations with locals and visitors, and I didn’t want this afternoon to end. I really didn’t.

Luckily for us, our day wasn’t over as we headed to Island Pure Sheep Dairy to meet with general manager Justin Harman. We spent time talking about sheep, food production, working with ewe’s milk and tasting his cheeses and yogurts. And the flavor? Clean, distinct, delicious. I’ve always been a fan of anything sheep and Island Pure’s Kefalotiri, Haloumi and Manchego were perfect. How can I get some in Los Angeles? Sigh.

Our last stop was to Kangaroo Island Spirits, South Australia’s first boutique distillery. If you need any evidence to prove just how unique Australians can be then you’ll need to stop here. Sip liqueurs and spirits that have been infused with local ingredients like ligurian honey, native juniper berries and wild fennel while chatting with owner Jon Lark. And make sure to say hello to the friendly pooches out front.

Back to Kingscote for a flight back to Adelaide. Tomorrow? More wine!


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