As luck may have it, I was invited to the The Peninsula Manila’s Tasting Australia press launch on video duty. When I got there, I initially thought I was just going to be there for documentation purposes. I was extremely thrilled to find that I was actually there to partake in the three-course Australian lunch.
To start with, they served us this soft, crumbly sort of bread which I later learned was called damper. Damper is commonly known as campfire bread, because it’s usually cooked in campfire ashes. An online source says that “The bread is called damper because the fire is damped to allow the bread to be cooked over the ash covered hot coals.” There are many different variations of damper but what I tried had a cake-like consistency, being soft, moist and crumbly. It’s strongest point was the light blue cheese flavor it had. The crust was significantly harder but the blue cheesiness of it was more intense. To be honest, I’m not much of a bread person but damper of this sort is definitely something I can picture myself eating all the time. It was very, very good.
I was most wary about this dish not because it’s crocodile (which was actually the exciting part) but because it’s raw. We were served a Crocodile Ceviche with Mango, Pumpkin, Beet, Pomelo and Pepperberry Tartare. Now, if you look at the photo I have posted above, the thinly sliced white meat on the right is crocodile. How shall I describe this? Taste wise, it was great and all the elements blended together peacefully. It is notably salty though which is probably why they use fruits to balance it out. The croc meat reminded me of frog and jellyfish; it was chewy. The chef mentioned that croc meat had the tendency to be tough when cooked or sliced too thickly which is why he opted for the ceviche.
Mountain Pepper-seared Kangaroo Loin Quandong Jus, Down Under Dukkah-dusted Kumara with Asparagus and Yakajirri Hollandaise wins the award for longest food name on this blog or maybe ever. I didn’t know what to expect when I tried kangaroo meat. In fact, it was surprising to me that I was excited for this. There was this unspoken deal I made with myself years back when I had a bunny for a pet and I promised I wouldn’t eat cute things. Kangaroos, despite being kinda smelly, rank high on my list of cute, plus points for carrying their babies in their pockets. I don’t know though, it seems the carnivore in me has won.
The kangaroo meat was really tender. It also helped that it was seared and the core was pink and rare. In general, I’d say the flavor was beefy with a very slight aftertaste. When people ask me how it was, I tell them it’s between beef and lamb. I think the non-particular people could dismiss this as beef. Peppers they used along the crust of the loin were very fresh and flavorful, I don’t know when I’ll get to eat this again. When I asked them what the Kumara was, they said it was imported sweet potato. It’s not like the kamote we have here though. It’s soft, the way a regular potato is when you boil it, and it isn’t rough on the mouth. The Down Under Dukkah dust was something else because it was crazy good. The chef told me to do a Google search on it and I found that it stems from Middle Eastern influences, the Aussies merely adapted it to their cuisine. Sarap and very tasty. It suits the Pinoy palate which is particularly fond of sweet and savory tastes rolled into one. I don’t care much for the Yakkajiri and the asparagus on Hollandaise. I’m not big on Hollondaise in general so it’d be useless to write about.
For dessert, we were served Lemon Myrtle Cheesecake topped with Macadamia Caramel. Sounds like perfection in itself but when I first read this on the menu, I thought, “What on Earth is lemon myrtle?” Lemon myrtle’s a plant that’s native to Australia and can be used for many different purposes apart from culinary. For the cheesecake, they’ve managed to use it to infuse a particularly strong citrus flavor. Taste wise, it isn’t like regular lemons. There was a sort of bitterness to it that reminded me of biting into a lemon seed. I know lemon seeds don’t sound very appetizing but somehow it worked for this cheesecake. I’m particularly fond of both caramel and macadamia so I was happy to see them together. Somehow, the caramel on this cake had a smokey flavor and wasn’t as sweet as caramel usually is. I enjoyed this a lot. Edit: If you are wondering what those black stems are lying across the cake, they’re vanilla sticks! I think! Well, they are carriers of this wondrous thing called vanilla bean! They smelled awesome.
Tasting Australia is a week-long tie up with The Peninsula and the Australian embassy to promote Aussie food and culture here in the Philippines. Restaurants in The Pen like Old Manila and Escolta will feature native Australian dishes throughout the week. This started on Jan 27 and already ends on Feb 3, Friday so if you want to try any of these dishes, you have only two days!
The Peninsula Manila
Ayala Avenue Corner Makati Avenue,
1226 Makati City, Metro Manila