What is Australia? Being asked to capture a country in just one meal is not an easy task, or one often done. However, this is what inspires Australia’s best and brightest chefs every year at the My Australia Lunch at The Unicorn Hotel.
This is The Unicorn’s seventh consecutive year hosting the My Australia Lunch, a winter affair that celebrates Australian produce, cuisine and the guest chef who interprets it. It’s an afternoon of gastronomy that explores technique, flavour pairings and a broad interpretation of Australian culture. Previous guests include Ben Sears from Paper Bird, Morgan McGlone of Belle’s Hot Chicken, and Victor Lion of Lee Ho Fook.
This year the star is Melbourne restauranteur and chef, Nick Stanton, of Ramblr and Leonard’s House of Love. Tai Tate from Mary’s in Newtown is also to thank for the swanky, curated wine list, that accompanies the meal.
Originally from Tweed Heads on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, Stanton began his career working in an RSL and a pizzeria at only 14 years old. He worked his way up, completing an apprenticeship in the Gold Coast and a three-year TAFE course, and is now an award-winning chef who has worked all over the world – including under Gordon Ramsay at the Devonshire Arms in London.
“Nick has been a friend of ours for a while now,” said Unicorn co-owner, Kenny Graham. “He’s enriched our recent trips to Melbourne with his delicious and smart food. Like every season of Masterchef, this could be the best one yet.”
“We make everything ourselves,” said Stanton when I spoke with him about running Ramblr. “In the morning it’s all about rolling fresh pita breads, fresh noodles and broths.”
Ramblr was not the first of Stanton’s establishments, and not the first where he’s made waves by standing out from the crowd. The South Yarra party bar, Leonard’s House of Love, came earlier, and garnered raised eyebrows from fellow chefs but delight by Victorian locals and burger enthusiasts alike.
Despite being trained in European-style cooking, Stanton is known for his adoption of Asian flavours, ingredients and techniques. When speaking of the cultures which inspire his cooking, Stanton speaks of the importance China and the varied flavours and techniques cultivated in the country with so many regional specialties: “It’s incredible, an incredible place for food.”
If Stanton is inspired by China, it’s America that he’s dedicated his love to.
“It’s a melting pot for cuisine…it’s kind of a culture which has always crossed over and it works.”
Stanton’s menu for the ‘My Australia’ Lunch comes from this attention to the smorgasboard of cuisines which have become embedded in our culture. He speaks of the role RSL and surf club menus have had on the development of an Australian food identity. These clubs are a clear example of how multiple influences are present in cooking, as they often have their own bistro which serves “a mixture of sweet and sour pork, roast meats, chicken kiev and prawn cocktails, and that is a very Australian thing.” The adoption of dishes from a variety of cuisines and their subsequent, engrained presence in pubs country-wide has meant they have been embraced into the Australian narrative. “There isn’t such thing as an Australian-style bistro,” Stanton says, “but that sort of became a thing in these RSL clubs.”
The vision for the My Australia meal is clear, with Aussie icons and adopted classics featuring heavily on the menu. The meal is comprised of share plates and starts with two entrees, Sweet N Sour Pork Nuggets and a Prawn Cocktail Sandwich. These are followed by the Marron Loaded Fries, and then the Chicken Kiev, Roast Beef, Mashed Potatoes and Veggie Stir-fry. The day ends with a Neapolitan ice cream.
As Stanton said, “I love all types of food, whether it’s making a terrine in a fancy restaurant or burgers. To me, food’s all the same: If it’s good, it’s good!”
The Unicorn is as appropriate a destination as Stanton is the chef, it’s quintessential Australia: a multi-story, art deco monolith, which has been around since the 1880s. It’s upmarket pub grub and good conversation – where better to host a meal celebrating all that is Aussie?
‘My Australia’ Lunch
12 - 5pm, August 26
The Unicorn Hotel
106 Oxford Street
Nick Stanton - @nickostanton
The Unicorn - @unicorn_hotel