Dining out Austrailian

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In Hong Kong this summer, I had dinner in a very good restaurant that said it specialized in Australian cuisine.

With my guide, we found this eatery partly by dumb luck and partly by reading menus along Elgin Street in the SoHo District; the street is one of a number of restaurant rows in the area.

I never heard of Australian cuisine, but with the Olympics around the bend, Sydney's attractions, including dining, are getting lots of attention.

For example, the Aug. 6 New York Times travel section included reviews of four upscale restaurants. Some dishes featured Tasmanian or Australian fish, and one referred to local lamb, but the menus were not described as Australian.

AAA's Spiral Guide to Australia says a few restaurants specialize in bush food, but beyond that, "the only rule [in] Australian cooking is that if it tastes good, do it."

My best discussion of Aussie food came from a longtime friend in Sydney, Tony Keogh (whom I met while at the ASTA congress in 1971).

He said, "It's not true to say there is an Australian cuisine. We have 180 nationalities in Sydney, for example, so the influence of other cuisines is phenomenal."

Originally, he said, Aussie food was largely English/Irish, but "today, when we go out to eat, we decide which cuisine we fancy, for example, Chinese, Italian, Indian, Thai [very big in recent years].

"Seafood is big here. [At a barbecue], tuna is really nicely done in a honey and soy sauce ... delicious. We still have the traditional lamb roast, of course; lamb is so plentiful, with 80 million sheep!

"Some upmarket restaurants offer kangaroo and emu steak, particularly in five-star hotels. It's not widely eaten."

So, that's how an insider sees things.

Meanwhile, I offer a hopefully useful report on the "Australian" eatery cited above. Called Elgin Tastes, it is at 38 Elgin St., Central, Hong Kong. The telephone number, locally, is 2810-5183, though on a summer Thursday night, we did not need reservations.

My meal consisted of:

  • Kangaroo prosciutto with baked figs, mascarpone and balsamic vinegar, about $12.30. This was a little unusual, of course, but a tasty dish; one need not be very adventurous to try this.
  • Seven-spiced crust of lamb, studded with dates, served with cubed potatoes, broad beans and a ginger broth, about $24.70. This was incredibly delicious. I wish I knew what those spices were!
  • Strawberry soup with lemon panna cotta, about $9. This was a bit bland.
  • Rounded out by a red Australian wine, the total cost for two dinners was about $117.

    That included the 10% service charge, which is added to the bill; diners tip extra for special service.

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