Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Cuisine & Country

For lovers of both food and art comes Cuisine and Country: A gastronomic venture in Australian art, opening at the Cairns Regional Gallery on August 1:

"Conceived and assembled by idependent curator Gavin Wilson, Cuisine & Country is the first major touring exhibition based on work inspired by food - related matters. Food is absolutely essential to our existence, and, as this exhibition demonstrates, its involvement with art is a serious and beautiful conjunction. Among the artists on display are: Margaret Preston; John Olsen; William Dobell; Herbert Badham; Brett Whiteley; Yirawala; Fred Williams; Emily Kngwarreye; Cressida Campbell; Jeff Carter, Yvonne Koolmatrie; Anne Zahalka; Kerry Trapnell; Ivan Durrant; Garry Shead; David Keeling; Euan MacLeod; Ben Quilty; Julie Poulsen and Ray Crooke.
In all, the exhibition consists of over 90 works by 50 artists – historic, modernist and contemporary, that includes paintings, graphics, photography and sculptural installations drawn from the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the State Library of New South Wales and other major collections. A diverse collection of indigenous works adds to the intriguing narrative that recognises the age-old engagement with country as a vital food resource in wild and remote regions.
The exhibition examines the long standing relationship of art to food in Australia, from prehistoric times to the present.
The cohesive element in Cuisine & Country is the fact that food is an almost boundless source of inspiration – relishing produce, preparing a meal, sharing a meal (or not), a picnic, a camp site, slow food, fast food, drinking and feasting. Along with this fine body of work comes an atmosphere of conviviality – an ideal catalyst for stimulating conversation."

Friday, 4 July 2008

Flaming Lamborghini...! Could somebody get me a decent martini!??

OK have been so jetlaggingly slack since return but 'So, wot's for dinner' has chimed in nicely to compensate for my torpor after a recent outing to the new Bushfire Grill. Read on to discover if the Brazilian inspired BBQ lives up to the hype...

LENDING heavily on the nostalgia of Dorothy McKellar’s classic poem “I love a sunburnt country”, the new Bushfire Flamegrill at the Pacific International on the Cairns Esplanade successfully combines the great barbecuing tradition of both Australia and Brazil.

I love a sunburnt country, too, but I also love a good bloody cocktail, preferably in a salubrious setting exuding sophistication and style. But sadly, our search for the elusive perfect cocktail bar continues after a fruitless outing to the Sugarcane Rhumbar which adjoins Bushfire.

There is no doubt the contemporary feel of the restaurant along with the novelty of its woodfired churrasco (Brazilian barbecue) is a welcome addition to the Cairns dining experience. Unfortunately, Sugarcane Rhumbar requires a complete re-think to avoid becoming the latest in a long line to sink without trace into cocktail bar oblivion.

In stark contrast to the marketing which promises “an Australian bar with personality”, Sugarcane Rhumbar is at risk of having no personality at all. The space is all wrong and looks more like a hotel lobby than a lounge (probably because it is). No music, no ambience... just a 32 inch widescreen television in the background playing Harvey Norman ads, mercifully with the volume turned down. We stood around at the bar (there were no stools) waiting... waiting... waiting for our pre-dinner drinks to be made. By the time that happened our group had been seated at a table in the restaurant. I admit their arrival did make an impression – the presentation in variously and oddly shaped glasses was unique if not a little impractical for the poor waitress.

At $12.50 each, the cocktails were reasonably priced. Of our selection, the Passionfruit Mojito was the best pick followed closely by the Brandy Alexander which my partner savoured, concluding “it could have been dessert”. But the Cosmopolitan was sickly sweet and more like raspberry cordial than an edgy cocktail and the so-called signature Brazilian cocktail Caipirinha also failed to meet expectations.

I applaud the adventurous use of locally and regionally inspired flavours such as Gagarra honey, fresh sugar cane, ginger, coffee and tropical fruit but these need to be displayed and sold more enthusiastically by a bartender with flare. I am not sure how many Japanese visitors to our city would know what a ‘quandong’ or ‘mangosteen’ actually was – let alone appreciate it in a drink. The same might be said for many locals.

Our disappointment at the cocktail bar was quickly overcome by the wafting aroma of barbecued meat and the visually pleasing aesthetics of the restaurant which gave us hope our evening could still be salvaged. After an inspection of the menu and an explanation from our waiter, the consensus was to try the Brazilian inspired churrasco – the house specialty. Judging from the number of other patrons in the fully-booked restaurant doing the same, it appeared to be a popular choice. No carnivore need go hungry at Bushfire, with other equally tempting barbecue options on offer.

A selection of ironbark woodfired steaks and ishiyaki steaks cooked on a volcanic hot rock in front of you (starting at $36 and increasing depending on accompaniments of prawns and Tasmanian salmon) offered the best cuts of perfectly aged beef from Queensland and the Northern Territory, for a price (costing around the $38 to $40 mark). Barramundi and Reef fish, line caught in our pristine North Queensland waters, demonstrated the restaurant’s commitment to serving the freshest seafood while supporting sustainable, local fisheries. If only more restaurants in this town shared the same refreshing philosophy.

For those who cannot resist the idea of a waiter coming to your table to carve off chunks of tender meat grilled to your specification, the churrasco really is a site to behold. Served “Rodizio” style, this cooking method and service emanates from 18th Century traditions of the Gauchos – South American cowboys. It has been adopted by Bushfire and served by Aussie-themed “Jackaroos” and “Jillaroos”, although our delightful “Jackaroo” had a distinctly Irish accent. We ate to our hearts content from the long swords of Australian beef, pork, lamb, ribs and chicken, all seasoned or marinated in their own individual style, basted and roasted over a pit of hot coals and served with bottomless pots of broccoli mornay, roast potatoes, salad and mussels, and tasty pesto and pepper sauces. Although I initially balked at the hefty prices, I must admit it was value for money, especially for those with a healthy appetite.

The evening concluded, unfortunately, with another ordinary round of drinks – not cocktails this time – from the bar which put a bit of a dampener on an otherwise interesting and enjoyable dining experience.

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