Order a gin and tonic at Adelaide’s Blackwood and it won’t be garnished with a lime wedge. Instead, it’ll come with a hefty squeeze of finger lime. The bright, caviar-like pearls inside this native fruit swirl around the glass, giving bursts of citrus with every mouthful.
Australia is home to some of the world’s oldest foods, and their use in mainstream drinking and dining is becoming more common. Ten years ago there were few restaurants and fewer bars offering natives on their menus. Now they’re found in places such as Attica and Bad Frankie in Melbourne; Maker in Brisbane; Billy Kwong and Bar Brose in Sydney; and Adelaide’s Restaurant Orana and its bistro sibling, Blackwood.
“Over the past decade, in bars and restaurants all around the world, we’ve seen a growing focus on hyper-seasonal, locally sourced menus,” says Ed Loveday, co-owner of Bar Brose. “People want to eat food that has a sense of providence and they want to know as much as possible about the produce that goes into it.
“In Australia, the use of native ingredients is really just an extension of this. If we’re really so interested in using locally sourced produce, then what better ingredients to use than ones that come from our own backyard?”
Aaron Fenwick, general manager at Blackwood, started playing around with native ingredients about five years ago. He was working at South Australia’s Magill Estate with Jock Zonfrillo, now the chef-patron of Orana and Blackwood. “One of the first native ingredients we used were quandongs,” he says. “They taste similar to peach, although they’re much more astringent. We used them in a cocktail we called the Native Peach.”
Today, most of the cocktails at Blackwood are made with native ingredients. “We use lemon myrtle, aniseed myrtle and lemon aspen in our cocktails,” says Fenwick. “We’ve used Geraldton wax before too, which tastes like kaffir-lime. It’s awesome with gin, and seafood.”
He also tries to use each ingredient in multiple ways. Native currants and muntries (which are a bit like tiny apples) have been used whole, in syrups, or dehydrated and blitzed into a powder to rim the glass. Fenwick has also used crushed macadamias around the edge of a glass, to “add a nuttiness to cocktails”.
Bar Brose uses lemon myrtle, but in its house gin and tonic. “Lemon myrtle is insanely aromatic and adds a lemongrass or lemon-and lime-oil quality to the drink,” says Loveday. “It works really well with Tanqueray No. TEN gin and a twist of grapefruit peel.”
Loveday says quandongs and tart Illawarra plums work well in sours and other whisky-based drinks. Wattleseed, with its “hazelnut, chocolate and espresso vibes” can be used to infuse syrups or alcohols, and is great in Old Fashioneds.
Another native ingredient that works well in cocktails is the bush tomato. “They have a sun-dried-tomato-like flavour,” says Loveday. “Ground or powdered, they’re great in a Bloody Mary.” Cocktails made with bush tomatoes stand up well against heavier dishes, such as beef.
“Although these ingredients have been around for thousands of years, they are still new for a lot of people” Fenwick adds. “But people are really willing and happy to try them, to say, ‘Yes – I will have finger lime in my gin and tonic!’”
Blackwood’s Native Lady
Makes one. Approximately 1.9 standard drinks.
45ml Tanqueray gin
15ml orange liqueur
45ml pineapple juice
20ml native currant syrup
6 lilly pilllies
Muddle the lilly pilllies in a mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with dried lilly pilllies and native currants.
This article is presented in partnership with World Class.