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The wonders of Aussie
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A handful of Australian restaurants have recently sprung up in Shanghai. Let's go and
see how they are.

I smiled to myself when I learned that a handful of Australian restaurants have recently sprung up in Shanghai. Clearly my latest eating quest had been determined: to investigate, in a most earnest manner, the Aussie cuisine oeuvre. I started with Kakadu (Australian), a new restaurant featuring aboriginal ingredients from the Australian wilderness.

The influential gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin declared, "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star." And much like an amateur sky gazer, little did I imagine I would discover a new star in my first foray into the Outback. At Kakadu, every dish was filled with ingredients entirely new to me: new spices, new herbs, new fruits. It was like condensing into a single meal the explorations of my first months in China—the thrill of numbing Sichuan peppercorn, the satisfying rot of fermented fulu, the pucker-up kiss of green tangerines. In just one afternoon at Kakadu I had a dozen equally startling novel foods. I had crocodile, emu, kangaroo, lemon myrtle, the tart fruit quandong, the earthy cocoa and hazelnut-flavored wattleberry, the sour-sweet ryeberry, the paprika-like tomato berry, a candied wild hibiscus dropped into a flute of champagne and chambord. My lunch (yes, I ate all that for lunch) was stunning. I was wholly unprepared for it. After a softly dramatic close with a subtle "wattleccino" brewed using powdered wattleberry, I was vibrating from the barrage of new tastes.

Kakadu is a family business run by Australian James Sing and his friend of 15 years Eddie Cheung. Sing's 22-year-old nephew, Paul Sing, is the wunderkind in the kitchen (I joined him for a demo of grilled baramundi). James's mother is at Kakadu every day, too. The whole group has a contagious passion for the cuisine.

There were no more such culinary shockers on my Aussie journey, but several hearty and tasty meals. At Sasha's (Fusion), the upstairs dining room has been re-branded as Prime (Fusion). Not too much has changed—the menu is still modern Australian with imported fish, lamb and lots of premium steaks. Julian Robertshaw creates the menus. His previous work at luxe resorts shows in his dishes. There is caviar and foie gras, and a few forays into molecular gastronomy. Stand-outs include a big eye tuna starter and salmon, smoked in-house and topped with "a ton of caviar."

The final leg of my tour brought me to CBD (Australian) in Xintiandi which is whispering through the winter in an extended "soft opening." The clam and mussel chowder boasts a saline depth that comes from fresh fish stock. I rapidly devoured the New Zealand lambchop which is intensely rich and lacks that pungent gaminess which makes my tongue curl. The accompanying brown sauce with rosemary is lick-the-plate worthy. The house-baked bread, encrusted with sesame and sunflower seeds, is some of the finest I've had in Shanghai restaurants.

As my Australian travels wind down, I'd like to raise a a glass of "Kakadu Breeze," a spellbinding potion of lemon myrtle-infused vodka, cranberry juice and apple sours, to the cuisine of Oz.

Location: 8 Jianguo Zhong Lu near Chongqing Lu
Tel: 021-5468-0118

Location: 11 Dongping Lu near Hengshan Lu. Metro Line 1 Hengshan Lu Station
Tel: 021-6474-6628

Location: 101G-201, Bldg 5, Lane 123, Xingye Lu near Huangpi Nan Lu, Metro Line 1 Huangpi Nan Lu Station
Tel: 021-5306-6003

(City Weekend January 25, 2008)

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