Who needs a herb garden when you can enjoy the bounty of your own farm? These six restaurants give new meaning to homegrown.
Glance into the kitchen of the country’s top eateries and it’s likely you’ll see a chef stepping through the door with a box of dirt-encrusted vegetables and warm eggs.
Having a small herb garden behind the restaurant has long been a fine-dining trope but now there’s a trend toward venues creating or partnering with farming operations. The upshot is that many chefs now produce at least a portion of their ingredients.
We chatted to those pioneering the grow-your-own movement to find out what they’re producing, how much they harvest (and whether they could do more) and why they’re so passionate about getting their hands in the dirt.
Of all the things Dan Hunter plates up at Brae, ranked 44 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, the hand-churned butter made from locally sourced milk wins him the most compliments. “We serve up to 18 dishes as part of the Brae experience and at the end of the meal most people say how much they love the butter,” says Hunter. “If I can create an impact with something as basic as butter then I’m doing the right thing.”
The slightly tangy spread is just one of a long list of ingredients the chef produces onsite. His 12-hectare property (pictured above) in the Otway Ranges hinterland is the source of 90 per cent of the fruit and vegetables used by the restaurant – from eggs and honey to wheat and spelt for the cloud-soft bread, the perfect pairing for the butter.
Boon Luck Farm, Tyagarah, NSW
Among the dozens of crops that the 14-hectare Boon Luck Farm grows for Sydney restaurant chain Chat Thai’s aromatic curries, vibrant stir-fries and refreshing salads are five types of basil, 20 types of mustard greens, exotic eggplants and rare mango varieties that are picked green for piquancy. “We supply 30 per cent of what we [Chat Thai] use daily,” says Boon Luck Farm owner Palisa Anderson, who is the daughter of Chat Thai matriarch, Amy Chanta. “We’d love to get to 100 per cent.”
The ability to grow rare and unusual varieties with integrity was the driver. “Many of the small-scale farmers who grew for us were using pesticides and herbicides, which we didn’t feel comfortable eating ourselves,” says Anderson. With the area’s perennial growing climate, they now havea constant supply of sustainably cultivated South-East Asian ingredients.
Sage Dining Rooms
Scotch egg with truffle aïoli and truffle salt at Sage Dining Rooms
Carefully tended vegetables and herbs go into this Mod Oz restaurant’s intricate vegetarian dégustation menu, which features dishes such as a daikon tartare with buttermilk and parsley oil.
The 1.2-hectare garden produces about five per cent of the kitchen’s needs but general manager Andy Day says they have future plans to increase to at least 50 per cent of vegetables, fruit and herbs. “They just taste better,” he says. It doesn’t get more straightforward than that.
Three Blue Ducks
The Farm, Byron Bay, NSW
The Farm, a 35-hectare property on the outskirts of Byron Bay, provides free-range pork (and occasionally beef), honey and vegetables. And its 400 chickens lay the eggs that arrive at tables scrambled, poached and spun into omelettes at Three Blue Ducks’ restaurant and cafe at The Farm as well as the popular eatery’s three other eastern coast outposts.
“We have no ambitions towards 100 per cent,” says chef Darren Robertson. “It’s really important [to us] to support other growers, too.”
The appeal? “We get to see the vegetables at all stages of their life cycle, which opens up opportunities to use stalks, flowers, leaves and seeds in our food.”
Pocket City Farms, Sydney, NSW
Seasonal vegetables and herbs for this urban farm-cum-restaurant in Sydney’s Inner West are grown on 1200 square metres of converted bowling greens run for the eatery by Pocket City Farms. Order the Garden Plate for a selection of the day’s harvest, served pickled, cooked and raw in edible soil. “In summer, up to 70 per cent of our vegetables come from the garden,” says Acre chef Gareth Howard. “We’d never be able to source it all from there but we always consider the land-miles required to supply our produce.”
Why does he do it? “With seasonality comes flavour,” he explains. “There’s no substitute for produce that’s been grown with care.”
Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel
As well as rearing cows, sheep and chickens (for eggs) on 10,000 hectares, Robin Wickens, chef at this renowned gastropub in the state’s West, grows more than 700 types of vegetables, herbs, nuts and fruit (including more than 50 varieties of tomato) on another 2.4 hectares. He estimates the pastures and garden provide around 80 per cent of the kitchen’s needs but “we have achieved 100 per cent during summer and spring.”
His reasons are clear. “It’s about quality control, access to rare varieties and an opportunity to explore different types of produce.”