As the tide of winter finally recedes into the distance and the first blooms of spring appear, it’s an incredible time of year to behold from any perspective, but perhaps none more so than for our chefs.
Great emphasis is placed on seasonality in the culinary world of 2017, with imported produce thoroughly out of vogue.
This trend emerges from a place of respect for the art of food, both from chefs and restaurant punters alike, but it can mean a dearth of vibrancy on the plate during the colder months.
It’s with great relief that Nic Watt, chef and founder of Madame Hanoi, welcomes spring into his French-Vietnamese North Terrace restaurant.
“Everything that spring blooms gives opportunities for a chef to bloom, because there’s just so much in season,” Watt says.
“It’s a really exciting time in that aspect, and one thing I think Adelaide has a really similar alignment to even Auckland [where Watt also runs Japanese robata restaurant, MASU] is that it’s a slightly more seasonal culinary climate.
“I’ve definitely, for a certain period of my career, operated outside of seasonality, no question, I’ve done that, but I think there’s far more awareness in the culinary world going back to seasonality, going back to foraging.”
Several items on Madame Hanoi’s redesigned menu make the most of the season’s abundant produce, from the light and textural banh bao, to what Watt describes as the epitome of what spring can bring to a plate, the nicoise salad.
“If you’re going to add some elements of French cuisine, I don’t think you can go past Provence, which celebrates spring beautifully with tomatoes, courgettes, eggplants, all those aspects, beans… so the nicoise salad is a key component, focussing on fresh spring vegetables going through with some beautiful South Australian yellow fin tuna,” he says.
“Even just the visual aspect, with the beautiful colours coming through, and as the season starts to go on further, we’ll look at getting courgette flowers onto the menu and some of those beautiful ingredients like that.”
Seasonality is not the only influence playing into Nic Watt’s evolving menus; running a restaurant based in Adelaide also presents its own challenges, with creativity around food being a big part of restaurant-goers expectations.
“One thing I’ve always enjoyed about coming over here is the fact it’s a super creative scene. You look at the guys at Africola, what they’re doing down there, Jock at Orana, I really think they push the boundaries of what is the norm. If you look at Adelaide against other cities, even the likes of Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, I think the creativity level is pushed higher,” Watt says.
“Madame Hanoi slots in by way of that we are French-Vietnamese, it’s a marriage of those two cuisines, and I think when you look at a lot of Vietnamese restaurants across Australia, a lot of them are quite small, ethnically-run and ethnically-focussed, whereas what we bring in is my aspect, the international aspect, and push the boundaries as far as that marriage, being the French and the Vietnamese.
“We bring a lot more attention to detail than what you’d find in some of the other more suburban Vietnamese restaurants. Hopefully with that, we can complement and be a strong fixture within the Adelaide food scene.”