Australia: Traveller’s tales

Camel rides along the coast in Broome, Western Australia.
Camel rides along the coast in Broome, Western Australia.
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With Heston Blumenthal giving the thumbs up to the tucker, Peter Thompson takes a trip to Western Australia and tucks into an unusual kangaroo cut in the bush.

MY charismatic aboriginal host Neville, asks “How about we cook a kangaroo tail for afternoon tea,?” as I cast a fishing rod into the river and keep an eye out for crocodiles.

It seems a strange choice for a pastime usually associated with sandwiches and cakes, but having developed a taste for “roo burger” on a previous trip Down Under, this is one bush tucker trial I won’t be turning down.

As I continue trying to catch what proves to be an elusive barramundi, Neville sparks up a fire, wraps the kangaroo tail with river gum leaves, then buries it in the ground to cook. The results are fantastic, and it comes as no surprise to discover that some of Australia’s top chefs are now turning to indigenous dishes to spice up their menus.

The food scene here is exploding, and according to research conducted by Tourism Australia, British tourists rate the country as a top destination for food and drink. Keen to discover the culinary heritage for myself, I’ve come to Western Australia, home to some of the best restaurants, top wine producers, and an indigenous community whose traditional diet is arousing so much interest.

Aborigines are experts in foraging for survival, and have lived from natural resources for the past 70,000 years. Neville refers to his 3,000-acre property in the Kimberley outback as “my supermarket and pharmacy”. During a morning walk, he points out plants used as medicine to cure various illnesses and plucks tasty berries from the trees to snack on.

“My people never had saucepans and plates,” he laughs.

But it’s not only aborigines who are benefiting from the “fat of the land”; something I experience first-hand at Co-Op Dining in East Perth.

While bush tucker is by no means served up on all 10 courses of my delicious marathon meal, I am presented with the now familiar kangaroo tail, which tastes every bit as good with a glass of shiraz.

Chef and owner Kiren Mainwaring says a passion for foraging influences his menu, and his Welsh accent provides more proof that you don’t need to be native to appreciate the food in this part of the world.

Rainbow trout and rabbit liver parfait are a couple of the other tasty dishes served, along with wines from Margaret River and Bickley Valley.

On my previous trip to Perth, I had been underwhelmed by the city centre, which appeared soulless and lacking character, but I’m taken aback by how much it has changed five years on.

I take a leisurely stroll with my guide, Ryan, from Two Feet & A Heartbeat Walking Tours, visiting classy restaurants, noisy bars, pubs and coffee shops.Following an afternoon walk along the beach, I wander through the bustling markets and stop off at the Sail And Anchor pub, where I try Lark’s Foot and Monkey’s Fist ales.

As I set off for dinner later that evening, an enthusiastic nod of approval from the receptionist at the Hougoumont Hotel confirms Bread In Common is likely to live up to its hype.

The laid-back ambience makes an immediate impression as I walk through the door of the vibrant restaurant and discover what all the fuss is about.

I’m soon tucking into barramundi, pork shoulder, kangaroo (of course) and hogget loin – all good enough to give my own nod of approval to the chef.

Bread In Common proves to be a gem, but I unearth more jewels in the busy tourist town of Broome, a two-and-a-half hour flight from Perth.

Built on the back of the pearling industry, Broome has developed into a thriving destination, where Australians flock for winter sun.

I check into the classy Pinctada Cable Beach Resort & Spa, where lovely aromas emanating from the kitchen soon lure me into the restaurant.

I’m pleased to discover the spiced pearl meat starter tastes every bit as good as it smells; fine preparation for a main of grilled fillet of Kimberley beef.

Cable Beach looks idyllic as I take a morning walk in the glorious winter sun, with just a scattering of people on the white sand and even fewer enticed into the turquoise Indian Ocean.

Having worked up an appetite, I head to Zoo Bar, where sous chef Rocky McKenzie talks me through a tasting plate featuring crocodile and camel.

The environment is a world apart from the wild bush which Neville calls home, but some of the key ingredients served are essentially the same; it’s just that here, people eat with silverware, rather than using their hands.

While I can’t ever imagine developing mid-afternoon cravings for kangaroo tail, I do end my trip having developed a taste for the more unusual foods of Western Australia, whether prepared in restaurants or cooked in the ground.

• Peter Thompson was a guest of Tourism Australia (www.australia.com).

Etihad Airways (0845 608 1225, www.etihad.com) flies from London and Manchester, via Abu Dhabi, to Perth from £729. Fly from Perth to Broome from A$89 each way on Etihad’s Skypass (usual price A$269).

Stay at Neville Poelina’s bush camp (www.aboriginaladventures.com) at Udialla Springs, 120 miles from Broome, from A$420 (£235)pp, including a full day bush survival, two nights’ accommodation in safari tents, kitted out with king beds and an en suite, and all meals included.

Doubles at Pinctada Cable Beach (www.pinctadacablebeach.com.au) from A$306 per room per night. Doubles at The Sebel Residence East Perth (www.accorhotels.com) from A$179 per room, per night

For more information visit www.westernaustralia.com