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Hot new food trends 2008

Edible flowers
Flowers on food sounds like a throwback to the bad old days of glass bowls and square plates. But today's blooms are discreet and dazzling flourishes rather than blousy nosegays and, crucially, they're edible if not outright tasty. Already big in Spain, here they pop up everywhere from elderflowers on desserts at Claude's and ginger flowers at Tetsuya's to chrysanthemum petals on Pearl's Moondarra-beef take on sukiyaki. Consider Mark Best's carpaccio of octopus at Sydney's three-star Marque. After struggling for years to capture the octopus's texture and shape, Best finally hit on the right slow-cooking technique (47 degrees for 90 minutes). The occy is then rolled in plastic wrap, frozen and sliced before joining crisp leek, potatoes Maxim and Sicilian sea salt on the plate. The coup de grace? Marigolds. Best also likes borage and nasturtiums. "My grandmother used to have nasturtium sandwiches with bread and butter," he says. "We always thought she was completely nuts but perhaps she was just ahead of her time."

Tonka beans
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the spice rack: the tonka bean, the seed of the Dipteryx odorata, now pops up on menus around the country - despite being banned in the US because it contains coumarin, a compound that is lethal in large doses. But before you panic, we contacted Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and they assure us that tonka beans aren't on their list of prohibited botanicals: "It is a fermented bean used as a traditional flavouring," writes FSANZ's Lydia Buchtmann. "It can be toxic if consumed raw but so are a lot of other beans - and raw potato, for that matter." Brent Savage, of Sydney's Bentley, says the brown bean is typically used in small amounts instead of vanilla. "I think they're a good alternative to vanilla, even though the flavour's very different, very marzipan-like, a little bit clovey or cardamomy." Savage serves tonka bean mayo with marlin and jamón and saffron breadcrumbs, while other chefs (like E'cco's Philip Johnson) prefer to use the bean to flavour custards or panna cotta.

Food served on boards
You can't eat at a restaurant in Melbourne or Sydney these days without something coming to the table on a handsome timber presentation board. La Sala and The Press Club picked up on it at launch and, suddenly, any new restaurant is sending out its antipasti, terrines, charcuterie, breads - you name it - on a presentation board.

Wine by the carafe
At Bar Lourinhã, any bottle of wine on their list can be had in a 375ml carafe for half the price. It's such a sensible idea that others have followed suit. Albert Park's L'Oustal, offers about ten bottled wines by the 375ml carafe and similar options are available at Glebe Point Diner and The Burlington Bar & Dining Room in Sydney. But the real pioneer is Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons, the new Terzini/Marchetti enterprise at the Crown. There, a selection of four wines is being poured on draught, as it were, from barrels via taps into 500ml and one-litre carafes. It's good wine and it's inexpensive - sounds good to us.

It's been on the rise for a while now but 2008 is shaping up to be the year for our oily, slithery little friend. Smoked and ready to add a little something mysterious to a raft of different dishes, the eel has been bobbing up on menus constantly this year - with pasta at Trunk (see Dishes of the Moment); with barramundi, potato and pink grapefruit at Lord Cardigan; with apple and apple jelly at Church Street Enoteca; and, of course, at top Japanese restaurants like Hako. Jeremy Strode loves it at Bistrode and so does Assiette's Warren Turnbull. It also appears on the menu of sophisticated country restaurants, such as Sault, near Daylesford, where local eel stars in a generous amuse bouche.

The bar explosion
Victoria, you can stop reading. But for just about everyone else in the country, the question of small bars is one of keen interest. New legislation was introduced last year in both WA (in May) and NSW (December) with a view to breaking the big pubs' monopoly on the drinking scene and paving the way for an explosion of small, intimate bars offering imaginative wines and (in some instances) interesting, booze-friendly nibbles. Here, at last, was a welcome alternative to the mega-boozer. At the time of writing, nine small bars have been licensed in WA. They're ambient, intimate places serving okay-to-good food with commendable style and verve. In Sydney, most operators are waiting to see just how the new laws are going to be put into practice but optimism is running high. It's not all plain sailing, of course. Local councils have the final say on how the bars will operate. No matter, the small bar revolution has struck a chord with the public, and there's no going back now. Ya, boo sucks, and make ours a verdicchio, thanks.


This article appeared in the April 2008 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.


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