In March of this year, my parents celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. It was also my family’s 14 year anniversary of moving to Australia. And so, to mark both occasions for my parents, I had grand plans of putting on a beautiful Australian themed romantic dinner for them.
Unfortunately business travel and social commitments interfered with the timing of my planned dinner for two. So one evening a few weeks later when my parents had dinner plans with friends, I sabotaged their evening, and instead of them going out to a restaurant, I cooked a three course meal for the four of them in my parents’ home. Luckily it was a beautiful evening and they were all happy to oblige my craziness.
My inspiration for this Australian themed meal came from a trip to Byron Bay. I was there with Daddy R, Little B and my parents (I’m eternally grateful for their generous babysitting offers), and we had some beautiful meals with interesting native botanical ingredients… lemon myrtle, wattleseed, lavender infused local honey in a savoury breakfast, locally grown macadamias, and lots of hipster style smashed avo varieties.
I wanted the guests to feel relaxed yet a little glamorous – just how you feel in Byron Bay. Native plants, flavours and sounds in a twilight setting looking out over the treetops, with soft glowing light. This was how I wanted to immerse their senses and stir emotions.
Sight: walking out onto the balcony where the table was set, the guests were greeted with a twinkling branch hanging on the glass balustrade – a hint at rustic glamour. Glass vases of various shapes and sizes were clustered on the table and filled with gorgeous native blooms in shades of deep red, green and white. Tea light holders in their metallic holders shimmered silver, gold and bronze. A simple native blossom resting on the plate greeted the guests at their place setting.
The table itself is black which was perfect for my black, grey and gold/metal colour scheme. I used felt grey and gold placemats with antique gold cutlery and matte black and porcelain grey plates. The colours of the food were showcased on the neutral coloured plates.
Smell: Sitting at the table adorned with natives flowers, there was a subtle aroma of being out in the Australian bush. This was all I was after and so only unscented candles were used. The fresh scent of lemon myrtle wafting from the food also enhanced native ambiance.
Sound: An intimate dinner party allows for good flowing conversation amongst friends and so the music I selected was purely for background ambience. I chose the “Australian Artists” playlist on Spotify and with musicians like Pete Murray, The Temper Trap and Boy & Bear, an authentically laid back Aussie vibe was established.
Touch: Rustic elegance came through again in the sense of touch. The smooth cool touch of the gold cutlery and matte serving ware against the roughness of the felt placemats was a tactile stimulant. I had planned on using my grey linen serviettes, but in all the hustle, half way through the entree, I realised I had left them at home, and so, my mum’s cotton ones came to the table. Not ideal aesthetically or from a tactile perspective, but at least something to wipe hands on… I guess you live and learn.
Entree: “smashed avo” – grilled avo with Meredith goat cheese, fresh tomato and herb salad drizzled with lavender honey.
This dish was not only inspired by the beautiful avo I had in Byron Bay, but also the hype around the smashed avo that has taken cafe menus by storm (following the much-hyped #avogate media frenzy just before our Byron trip). If you have never tried grilled avo, I highly recommend this recipe – not difficult to make and the texture and temperature combinations make the flavours really sing.
Main: Macadamia and lemon myrtle crusted salmon with green slaw and creamy celeriac and polenta mash.
This recipe has become a favourite in my home. The richness of the salmon and macadamia nuts are cut through by the zingy freshness of lemon myrtle. The golden crust locks in the moisture of the salmon, giving a beautiful contrast in texture. The fresh green slaw of cucumber, fennel and broccolini with an apple cider vinaigrette adds another element of freshness and tangy flavour. Celeriac and polenta mash is something new that I experimented with. It’s creamy texture but slightly bitter taste was the perfect accompaniment to the fish.
My mum’s friends generously brought a bottle of Hunter Valley Semillon, specifically Australian, which complemented the meal beautifully – thank you!
Dessert: Vanilla wattleseed ice cream with grilled peaches and lamington drizzle.
Roasted wattleseed has a rich warm flavour, sort of somewhere between dark chocolate and coffee. When ground and added to vanilla ice cream, it is heavenly, and addictive! I used fresh orange peaches which were in season, which added the right amount of tartness to this decadent dessert. Melted dark chocolate sprinkled with shredded coconut was the “lamington drizzle”. The chocolate turns hard when poured on top of the cold ice cream, which again creates a beautiful play with texture.
Not only was the sense of taste and sight addressed in all three courses, but also, the sense of “touch” with contrasting temperatures and textures within each dish. The surprisingly warm and creamy avo, the hot salmon with a crunchy coating, cool freshness of the slaw and creamy mash, and the warm peach, cool, velvety ice cream and crisp chocolate coconut topping. Paying attention to all senses plays a vital role in enhancing the guests’ whole dining experience.
Good: The guests absolutely loved the relaxed and personal dining experience. They were much happier in the home with someone cooking a carefully crafted meal for them than being out for dinner in a busy restaurant. Even the non “foodies” in the group appreciated the flavours of Australia and the peaceful, but elegant setting.
Not so good: I think I rushed through the courses a little – I will know for next time to allow more time for conversation and digestion which will also make my kitchen experience a little less stressful. I have also learned that when catering outside of my own home, I need a carefully planned checklist – I would have loved to have used my own serviettes!