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A meal that changed my life – a top Irish sommelier recalls dinner at a special destination


by Eoin Higgins
08th Oct 2020

Top Irish sommelier, Nisea Doddy, from Dublin’s grand Shelbourne Hotel recalls an amazing meal at a special restaurant at one of her favourite destinations.


 

I’ve enjoyed so many food moments and meals that changed me and are forever in my memory.

From a plate of new homegrown potatoes with butter and salt and nothing else, eaten outside in the sun at my grandparents’ house in Roscommon when I was about five, to the first time I tasted pesto in Pasta Fresca (long gone) – I was 17, it blew me away, a bit like the first time I ate wasabi thinking it was avocado … you can imagine!

I went travelling in my twenties, including to Australia. I fell so in love with the country that a planned three-month stay turned into 18 months.

 

Streaky Bay razorfish and gubinge, courtesy of Restaurant Orana

 

I had read Bruce Chatwin’s travel book The Songlines about Aboriginal outback nomadic culture and how everything is connected, including food.

I was excited to see this for myself. It was a shock, however, when I saw the hardship of native Australians’ daily existence – unemployment, addiction, sickness and disregard of their culture. This was in 1999.

So a full circle of life later, in late January, this year, I returned to Australia. This time not as a hippy backpacker but as a guest of Wine Australia.

The itinerary was packed with the best of the best but the first dinner was the one that raised my jet-lagged spirits more than I thought possible. We were dining at Restaurant Orana, in Adelaide …

 

Scarlet prawn, with crocodile lardo and boab; warrigal greens and eucalyptus, courtesy of Restaurant Orana

 

We were to have a tasting menu, but one with a difference. Chef/owner Jock Zonfrillo focuses on Australian native ingredients sourced through Aboriginal communities.

This was food I had never, EVER tasted before: think scarlet prawn, with crocodile lardo and boab, above; warrigal greens and eucalyptus.

The ingredients Jock uses are not to salve a social conscience … they work. They are breathtaking. Even the potato damper bread and lamb butter (whipped roast lamb fat) was fought over.

 

Jock Zonfrillo’s dining room where he uses indigenous ingredients to showcase Australia’s modern gastronomic identity, courtesy of Restaurant Orana

 

The bread was skewered on eucalyptus and cooked on coals at the table and then served with “soup soup”, featuring crocodile and Australian botanicals.

Then there was a dish combining Dorrigo pepper, toro with Davidson’s plum and wagyu beef … they were bites of tender, rich, meaty purity. Abalone and gubinge fruit was chewy (good chewy) and sweet.

The room we ate in was small – simple and elegant – with a huge wine island centerpiece laden with fabulous decanters, glassware and wines.

At the end of the 16 courses, jet-lag no longer mattered. Six people I had just met were now my friends. We laughed and told stories and felt comfortable.

And happily a lot had changed since 1999 … aboriginal culture and indigenous food has had a chance to become recognised and celebrated, and the supply chain more controlled.

And all of this made me deeply happy. I felt like that backpacking adventurer again.

 


 

Read more: A meal that changed my life – restaurateur Elaine Murphy recall a dining experience at a special destination

Read more: Expert View: Will the pandemic change Irish restaurants forever?

Read more: A meal that changed my life – chef JP McMahon recalls an incredible meal at a very special destination

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