Last week we decided it was time to acknowledge the season the English refer to as summer and introduce some new dishes onto the menu.
English people often ask me whether Lantana’s menu is Australian and I don’t really know how to answer them. I am Australian, our chef is Australian and the food on our menu is very typical of the food you find in cafes in Australia. But what is Australian cuisine?
In countries like Italy, France, India and China, cooking is a cultural institution where recipes are passed down from generation to generation and remain authentic and virtually unaltered for hundreds of years. This is not the case in Australia, or at least not in my family, where I was fed a varied diet of spaghetti bolognese, stir fries, and curries as my mother and father experimented with new recipes that they were learning from cookbooks and magazines rather than their mothers.
The Australian diet has constantly evolved in response to the arrival of different migrant groups: the British followed by the Chinese, Italians, Vietnamese, Greeks, Turkish, Indians, Thais and so on. The cuisines of our migrants met the same fate as the migrants themselves; thrown into the soup pot called Australian multiculturalism and confidently blended together. One of the legacies of this assimilation immigration policy is Australian cuisine.
Today, breakfast at a café in Australia could include miso porridge, a scrambled egg burrito, french toast with labne and orange blossom syrup or toasted pide with vegemite. Chefs and food writers created the label ‘fusion cuisine’ to describe this eclectic approach to cooking which, while well intended, can sometimes be more confused than fused.
The finest exemplar of Australia’s confusion cuisine is the chiko roll where we took a centuries old dish, the Chinese egg roll, and gave it the assimilation treatment. The result?
A greasy deep-fried chewy spring roll filled with mushy vegetables and mutton that has become a national icon; immortalized in the movie Puberty Blues where a surfer tells his girlfriend to “Get me a chiko roll…and don’t take any bites on the way back”.
Which brings me back to the summer menu at Lantana. I think the best way to describe it is Australian multicultural confusion cuisine at its most delicious.
Brioche french toast w caramelised plums and berries served w pistachio ricotta
Grilled haloumi, mushrooms with herb pesto, poached egg, sautéed spinach, and roast tomatoes served w sourdough toast
Thai beef salad
But perhaps the most quintessentially Australian item on the menu is the steak sandwich with sliced beetroot. I don’t know whether you’d call that fusion cuisine or just pure genius.