"I’ve always had faith in it as a site,” says Sean Moran as he reflects on his now 18 months at Tomah Gardens Restaurant at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden.
It’s the sort of perfect match that is surprisingly rarely made – a governmentrun site such as the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens paired with a passionate local such as Moran. Moran may have made his name with Bondi icon Sean’s Panaroma, but these days he’s in Bondi just two nights a week. Moran has lived at Bilpin (10 minutes down the road from the gardens) for years and had a place at Mount Tomah for 20 years before that.
Feeding the bus tours and gardening enthusiasts that come to Tomah Gardens Restaurant is a change of pace compared with the established clientele at Sean’s. Moran admits, “People don’t know what to expect because this site has had a transient history as far as catering goes.” You almost wonder if the coach loads appreciate how lucky they are.
The words “local” and “seasonal” are pretty hackneyed terms on menus these days. Moran calls what he’s doing at Tomah Gardens, “more agrarian.” Being nowhere near the coast, Tomah Gardens doesn’t serve seafood, only freshwater fish. The restaurant brings in what it can from Farm Panaroma (Moran’s Bilpin property). Recently he’s been working with the Botanic Gardens setting up a kitchen garden. This is not without its own challenges – incorporating a working garden among the more formal landscaped gardens is not easy, and Moran would need to adapt to making decisions by committee in contrast to the total creative control he has at Sean’s. Nevertheless he’s excited about the project, “It’s about getting people to understand the supply and the growth times and what we can use [in the restaurant].”
We start talking about what will be on the menu in autumn; a friend of Moran’s has just announced her first haul of delicate, coralcoloured pine mushies. There’s a woman in the area who’s got some rabbits that are coming along nicely. He’s got to go and see a man about his yabbies. The figs on the farm are plumping up. And, of course, Bilpin’s famous apples are coming into season.
Moran’s also talking about introducing cooking classes at Farm Panorama next. “You can’t help but be enthusiastic about stuff up here,” he beams. “If only the days were a bit longer.”