It Sure Beats Vegemite
It Sure Beats Vegemite
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Photo Credit: Khalid Habib
Its reputation perhaps tarnished by an affinity for yeast extract, Australian fare is seldom exported. Al Bustan is here to prove our mates down under have more to offer than Weet-Bix and suspiciously tar-like spreads.
By: Ethar El-Katatney
Modern Australian food is a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian-influenced dishes, enhanced with ingredients native to the country such as Bush tomatoes and Quandongs (native peaches). Although the cuisine is still relatively unknown, its wide appeal and use of fresh, high-quality ingredients are expanding its popularity rapidly.
As part of the celebrations for Australia’s national holiday and an effort to introduce Australian food to Egypt, InterContinental CityStars, in conjunction with the Australian Embassy, hosted an Australian food festival. For one week at the start of February, the poolside Al Bustan restaurant at the InterContinental — a perfect setting for the typical outdoor and relaxed dining favored by Australians — scrapped its usual menu in lieu of that of renowned Australian Chef James Mussak, who was flown in by the embassy for the event. Author of “Great Chefs of Australia,” Mussak spent two weeks in Egypt training the hotel’s staff to prepare authentic Aussie food, which will soon be integrated into Al Bustan’s international menu.
The evening’s consumption began with jumbo barbie prawns (Aussie slang for barbequed shrimp) as an appetizer (LE 98). The natural Australian ingredients coalesced to form a medley of culinary splendor: Slightly spicy with a hint of tomato, with an aftertaste of sweet and sour sauce. It was exquisite. My dinner partner selected the prawn and salmon appetizer (LE 98); his only critique was that the order did not come with lemon. The standard bread and butter dish accompanying appetizers is not normally worth mentioning, but in this case it was superb. The Australian Allowrie butter was served at room temperature, melted over just-out-of-the-oven slices of soft white bread.
For the main course, my partner got stuck with the Black Stump Grill Master’s Steak (LE 320), 350 grams of prime wagyu beef with all the trimmings. Wagyu cattle, raised in Australia, are renowned worldwide for their exceptional flavor, tenderness and juiciness —all due to a genetic predisposition to produce a high percentage of fat. My dinner partner’s verdict? Delicious. The meat almost melted in his mouth. The mushroom sauce perfectly complemented the meat, although the mashed potatoes could have been better. While I was tempted to go for the Fair Dinkum Dog’s Eye just based on its name, I decided to stay on the safe side and try the Aussie Chef James’ Surf and Turf (LE 185), a typical Australian bar-meal consisting of a piece of steak, a jumbo prawn and a large portion of fish. The steak was juicy and tender and, although I’m not the biggest fan of fish, my serving was grilled and salted to perfection.
And what meal would be complete without dessert? Described as the ‘Icon Cake of a Nation,’ Australian Lamingtons (LE 28) turned out to be three biscuit-sized portions of coconut and chocolate sponge cake served with whipped cream and a side of kiwi sauce. Almost mousse-like and sprinkled with desiccated coconut, they were just sugary enough to finish the meal on a sweet note. On the other side of the table, my partner decided on Aussie Chef James’ Signature Frozen Ice Cream Cake. It certainly sounds ridiculous with the current cold weather, but reading the description — vanilla ice cream laced with marinated dried fruit, Outback Spirit Quandong and roasted nuts served with vanilla sauce — the temptation is obvious.
Though born in Switzerland, Mussak has lived in Australia for over 40 years. As well as being an accomplished chef, he is also an author, food magazine columnist and owner of a chef recruitment and employment agency. He stopped by our table to inquire about the food and give us a quick lesson in Aussie slang — which is as extensive as Egyptian. For those still wondering, Australian’s don’t actually eat their dogs: Dog’s Eye is slang for meat pie, a staple lunch in the land down under. et
Al Bustan Restaurant Intercontinental CityStars Heliopolis Tel: 2480-0100 Open from 12-5pm and 7pm-12am Extremely expensive.