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Published May 22nd 2016
An exciting and extravagant native dining experience
For a progressive dinner with a difference you have to experience Dinner in the Secret Garden at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan.
Experience the Australian Botanic Garden at night (Image Credit: Australian Botanic Garden)
The event is billed as an extravagant native dining experience, which it certainly is, but it is also so much more. I joined the second ever Dinner in the Secret Garden this May and found it to be a unique, exciting and memorable experience.
We arrived at the Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan at 5.30pm and were invited to jump straight on the shuttle bus which transported us to the top of Sundial Hill. In daylight on a clear day there are spectacular 360 degree views of the surrounding area, of the city in the east and the Blue Mountains to the west. On this particular evening we were fortunate to have the light of a full moon, yet the city skyline was not visible at all due to smoke from back burning operations.
On the top of the hill champagne and canapés were served by moon and candlelight. Guests could gather around the gas heaters or sit at sweet candlelit tables decorated with native flower arrangements.
Our native dining experience began with champagne garnished with wild hibiscus flower. Not only do they look spectacular, the crimson flowers infuse the champagne with a sweet berry flavour.
There were plenty of wait staff offering drinks and serving a variety of canapés. The canapés featured mouth-watering morsels of roast beef, King Island cheese, smoked salmon and prawns all paired with native ingredients such as finger lime, lemon myrtle, quandong paste and warrigal spinach pesto. My favourites were the delicious roast beef with spinach pesto and the divine King Island cheese with quandong paste. This stylish welcome to the garden definitely set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Once all of the guests had arrived we were welcomed to the gardens by the Garden Manager, John Siemon, who offered a brief history of the garden and outlined some of the interesting challenges faced by the garden today.
It was then time to move on to the next experience, the Nocturnal Tour. Expert tour guide, Tom, had the unenviable task of directing 30 chattering dinner guests, some with champagne in hand, around the dark garden paths. Guided only by torchlight, Tom explained what types of animals we might usually see, and despite the noise of our group, tried to find some wildlife along the way. I'm no nature expert but I am aware that these conditions were not the most conducive for a successful nocturnal tour. Yet against all the odds we still managed to see some wallabies and bird life within the gardens. Yay Tom!
The walk down the hill, across the lake and to our dinner destination was not too far, but it is a good idea to wear comfortable shoes that you can walk easily in.
The setting for our dinner was the AGL Lakeside Pavilion which had been dressed to impress with fairy lights and a stunning table set for around 40 people.
We were offered red or white wine and beer in addition to the carafes of water on the table. The five course bush-inspired menu was outlined to us by Melaleuca House Chef Adam Williams and included some unusual ingredients, some of which have been grown on site in the native garden.
Our dining experience commenced with a taste of indigenous culture as we were introduced to Leon Burchill, actor, dancer and aboriginal tour guide at the Royal Botanic Garden . With two female dance companions he explained his background and story through music and dance. In another dance the female guests at dinner were invited to join in.
Story of a child becoming an eagle and learning to fly
With his impressive Ironbark didgeridoo Leon enthralled us all with his music and stories, drawing parallels between indigenous culture and modern day conservation in that indigenous people only took and used what was needed from the land.
After this entertaining cultural performance our first course arrived, a Roast Pumpkin and Akatjerra Bush Tomato Soup.
The soup was creamy and delicious and a fresh way to start our dinner. At this point it is necessary to point out that I do not consider myself particularly adventurous when it comes to food, so the next item on the menu did cause some concern. The second course was a Steamed Crocodile Gow-Gee with Wild Lime and Black Sesame.
I have never eaten crocodile before so I didn't really know what to expect from the Crocodile Gow-Gee. As it turns out there was nothing to worry about. We were served two delicate steamed dumplings with crocodile filling and a tangy wild lime sauce. They were amazing to look at and to taste.
The third course was a Seared Kangaroo Fillet with Pepperberry Crust and Bush Fruit Chutneys. The kangaroo was served on a sweet potato mash and the relishes - Bush Tomato, Davidson Plum and Tasmanian Pepper & Pear - complemented the kangaroo perfectly making this a very tasty dish.
While all of the courses were amazing I think the fourth course was my personal favourite. It was a Saltbush Lamb Pot Pie served with Mashed Potato, Mushy Peas and gravy. The flavour of the pie was rich and delicious.
By the end of the fourth course many guests were wondering how we were ever going to fit our dessert in. The serving sizes had all been quite generous and there had also been plenty of wine and beer refills throughout the evening. But once the dessert arrived in front of me there was no way I could refuse it.
Dessert was a Chocolate and Wattleseed Pudding with a Macadamia Ice cream. The serving size was huge and I only managed to get about half way through this delicious dessert, because I was so full from the previous courses. The pudding was warm and gooey and the macadamia ice cream was divine. After dinner we were offered tea or coffee.
For me Dinner in the Secret Garden was an exciting and elegant evening offering a unique experience of the Australian Botanic Garden at night. It gave me a taste of indigenous culture and an opportunity to sample some of the unique and unusual flavours of the Australian bush.
The cost for Dinner in the Secret Garden was $120 per person which included all food and drinks, the nocturnal tour and cultural entertainment.
To keep up to date with special events held in the Australian Botanic Garden, such as Dinner in the Secret Garden you can follow on Facebook.
The Australian Botanic Garden is open every day of the year and entry is free. For more information about visiting click here.
The Garden runs a number of regular and special events each month and offers free guided tours on most week days. Click here to find out more.
A lot of fascinating flavours in this meal. Shame they can't present them as small serves when there are so many. I really warm to restaurants that provide sensible portion sizes so food is not wasted and guests aren't tempted to over indulge.