Take a leap of taste with Kangaroo Island’s mysterious new dining experience. On the menu? Large helpings of theatre and anticipation, writes Dilvin Yasa.
The inaugural Gastronomo wilderness dining experience is all about being pleasantly blindsided, transported back to a time and place where the Internet didn’t exist and every meal, every experience, was a surprise. It’s a dip back into your childhood and, the best part of it all, is the journey is only a quick ferry trip away from Cape Jervis (two hours’ south of Adelaide).
The concept of eating, barefoot, in a tree, or playing with pelicans on an otherwise deserted beach is the ultimate childhood dining fantasy.
In our memories, such daydreams always take place in the heart of summer, when the crickets were deafening and the wildlife so plentiful it put any Disney opening sequence to shame.
But what if we could go back to a time when ‘doing lunch’ wasn’t just a dressed-up meeting with colleagues or an opportunity to be seen and collect ‘likes’ on social media?
What if we could go back – just for a day – to enjoy a whimsical lunch in one of Australia’s most scenic locations, the sensory dining experience satisfying not only that childlike wonder, but a sophisticated palate?
The time machine portal we speak of has an unexpected name: Nick Hannaford. The vessel? Gastronomo.
It almost goes without saying that Hannaford is not ‘most of us’.
Best known as the South Australian identity behind Kangaroo Island’s luxury accommodation, Lifetime Private Retreats, Hannaford has taken his wealth of experience in designing and staging events (he has catered for everyone from Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall to princes and heads of state) and married it with his childhood home in Kangaroo Island.
The result is Gastronomo, an experiential dining adventure that takes elements of our country’s spectacular landscape, local culture and history and delivers a multi-course journey, served with a touch of theatre, mystery and an element of surprise.
Kicking off with Kangaroo Island’s The Enchanted Fig Tree in December to April, each year, the Gastronomo team will scout incredible dining sites and venues around the South Australian wilderness to treat guests to the ultimate gourmet journey.
That Hannaford has decided to kick off Gastronomo with The Enchanted Fig Tree in Kangaroo Island is telling of his investment in exploration. Having grown up on the island, where his mother would hold parties under the fabled, 120-year-old fig tree, he knows better than most that there’s no place better to whet both the imagination and the appetite.
“The island is gargantuan and spread out so that it invites exploration; you have to search and dig and feed your curiosity,” he says of the pristine wilderness where rugged cliffs soar above pounding waves and tranquil bays and endless red sand dunes are dotted with all manner of Australian wildlife.
So, what exactly is The Enchanted Fig Tree and why should you pay $135 to sign up for the culinary experience? A world away from urban life where restaurants wax lyrical about each ingredient in every dish – including the publishable back story of each animal on your plate – this is a place where the only certainty is a sense of intrigue.
Certainly, the location – one of Hannaford’s properties on Snellings Beach – as well as the various elements on the property such as The Enchanted Fig Tree itself, play an important role.
There will be an in-house chef, but also an SATC-supported visiting chefs program, where, each season, a select chef will take over. So far, SA’s Simon Bryant (The Cook and the Chef), Duncan Welgemoed (Africola) and chef Emma McCaskill (Chefs on Wheels) are on the list.
A cocktail by Kangaroo Island Spirits is included, but beverages (a selection of Kangaroo Island wines curated by Australia’s leading wine critic, Nick Stock) are additional. Transport and accommodation packages can also be taken care of thanks to SeaLink, a major supporter of Gastronomo.
As well as providing transfers to the event from your accommodation in Kangaroo Island, SeaLink has a range of tailored packages that includes accommodation, touring and The Enchanted Fig Tree dining experience.
For your multi-course meal, it could be canapes and a cocktail at the Mulberry Tree or entrees and entertainment at the property’s rustic shearing shed before shared platters are served under the gnarled limbs and sun-dappled chambers of The Enchanted Fig Tree.
A better way to describe things, adds Hannaford, is that the dining experience could be ‘any number from 1000-plus combinations’.
“What we present on the day will be determined by the weather gods, what kind of inspiration our chefs are drawing from the landscape that day and what Kangaroo Island produce is in season, and therefore, plentiful,” he says, explaining that while the hero produce – as well as many other ingredients will be local island produce, others not available on the island will be sourced from South Australia.
“The menu is best described as a fantastical feast encompassing sea, land and earth and whether you’ll be enjoying the courses seated, standing or upside down, is anyone’s guess.”
Hannaford, it must be said, speaks in cryptic riddles and code as though we are two spies on a mission rather than a journalist and a business owner.
“Sorry, I’m not trying to be difficult, but I’m a firm believer that it’s not about what a customer tastes, sees or shares on Instagram, it’s how coming here makes them feel or what they remember that counts,” he explains.
To that end, Hannaford is also requesting guests refrain from taking photos or posting images on social media.
“I’m inviting people to immerse themselves in the moment, connect with the land, the food, the scenery and each other and be present for the afternoon,” he says. “Social media is such a distraction and, of course, if you’re looking at a million images of what could be involved, the wonder is gone. “
The Enchanted Fig Tree is open for lunch bookings six days a week from December to April and opens for dinner bookings on Friday and Saturday nights in January.