A good restaurant is more than good food. Good food is a given, sure, but a great restaurant transports you into another world, and presents, just for the couple of hours while you’re there, relief from your everyday life. The team works together to create a little drama, a little theatre, and if done right, just a touch of magic.
So when we are greeted by a large smoke-clouded cloche that obscures a beautiful cocktail, we know we’re in for one hell of a ride.
Clockwise from top left: Gin and Tonic on tap, Nettle Gimlet, Strawberry Smack, Gunpowder Plot, Volcano Punch
With a name derived from the early origins of gin, you just know that the bar menu is well stocked with inventive cocktails that showcase just that. Grant Collins – expert mixologist and once named World’s Best Bartender – provides a unique perspective on these alcoholic beverages. Here, alcohol is not a short road to blinding drunkedness, but instead is meant to be savoured. The Gunpowder Plot is a heady mix of gunpowder tea spiked gin, syrup, dandelion and burdock bitters, and fresh citrus, with just a hint of smoke laced through the foam from the smouldering twigs. So full of flavour, and lacking that acrid burn of alcohol in the back of the throat from cheap gin. It was absolutely delicious.
Also surprisingly smooth and clean on the palette was their Gin and Tonic, ON TAP. Yes, this amazing concoction, so often maligned by cheap bars and inexperienced bartenders, is available on top. Mind blown.
Gin is also clearly an influence in the menu, put together by Chef Elijah Holland. What started as an interest in gardening and horticulture as child, soon blossomed into an expertise in foraging, and a creativity when it comes to cooking with the seasons. By beginning with the foraged fruit and veg, before moving on to the proteins, Chef EJ – as he is affectionately known – has crafted an earthy array of dishes that have strong Nordic and European influences.
These fresh oysters, topped with cucumber, Gin and Tonic Sorbet, and foraged violets is their most popular dish, and with the fresh ingredients cutting through the briny flavours, it’s easy to see why.
Even the deep fried bites have a certain lightness about them. The Duck Schitzel Lollipops, crumbed and fried, are balanced with pickled kohlrabi and tarragon mayo, and the Quail Scotch Egg carried the crunch of the crispy pancetta, and a mild tang of pickled shimeji mushrooms. The mushrooms, cooked lightly in a pickling liquid before being left to ‘do its thang’ for about a week, didn’t dissolve into mushiness like you would assume, and instead provided a fairly firm texture that more than held its own.
Speaking of mushrooms, we were also treated to this one off dish of Sauteed Foraged Pine and Slippery Jack Mushrooms. Wild mushrooms, garlic, butter? YES.
The mains for me weren’t quite as exciting as the bites. Maybe we were getting full at the time – we were very spoiled with LOTS of food – but the larger plates lacked some of the delicate balance that was present in everything else. The Roast Snapper had a beautiful garlic silverbeet condiment with a pickled cherry tomato, but it didn’t, for my taste, make up for the inherent dryness of snapper due to its lean meat. The Pastrami Pork Fillet was paired, rather impressively, with house-made black garlic – a testament to Chef EJ’s technical skill – but again, there was such leanness that it lacked the sense indulgence of the dishes that came before.
But this sense of opulence certainly came back with the presentation of not one, but two amazing desserts.
Sponge, lilly pilly jam, mascarpone, plum and ginger sorbet, and blueberry dust made from freeze dried blueberries
The Sponge, Lilly Pilly Jam, Mascarpone, Plum and Ginger Sorbet and Blueberry Dust shows a skilful mix of technical skill and creativity, and presented a riot of fruity, refreshing flavours and contrasting textures that kept you coming back for more. I must admit that even thought we were bursting to the brim, I still scraped the bottom of the plate in a rather unladylike way because it was just so delicious.
And it turns out that this passion for food that Chef EJ has doesn’t just start and stop with The Powder Keg. He reveals that spear fishing and barbecuing ranks amongst his favourite ways to eat at home, echoing the same approach to food and nature that he has brought to The Powder Keg.
Oh, and when I asked about a dish that didn’t make it to this amazing menu? “Yabbies, smoked yabbie consommé,charred fennel, pickled apples, pine oil”, he says, and I wish I hadn’t asked because now I just know what I’m missing out on.
Definitely worth a trip back to explore the rest of the menu, including the Butchers block – our board of in house made charcuteries, pickles, ferments, preserves, bread, which seems like an underrated dish, but comes as a recommendation from the chef himself.