Wed, 23 Feb 2000

Accent Australia at the Grand Hyatt

By David Eyerly

JAKARTA (JP): The Grand Hyatt Jakarta recently invited a dozen or so distinguished journalists from some of the finest publications in the capital to a special behind-the-scenes look at the hotel's Taste of Australia food promotion, which runs until March 5.

Our group of journalists-cum-gourmands was escorted into the Hyatt's spotless and well-appointed commissary, where executive chef Desmond Hill and his team were waiting to put on a culinary exhibition.

Hill, a native of Australia, is a recent arrival to the capital after delighting the palates of diners at the Grand Hyatt Bali for nine years.

While the virtuoso display of cooking was in itself worth the price of admission, the hook was that all the food being sliced and diced, filleted and fried was from Australia. The Hyatt has brought to Jakarta the finest Australian delicacies, which seems timely since many people in the capital have wanted a piece of Australia lately.

The team at the Hyatt responsible for the event -- Hill and his chefs and PT Bogacitra Nusapratama, which brings all the products straight from Australia to the hotel -- has assembled a tantalizing and intriguing selection of uniquely Australian food.

For the adventurous there is emu, done up inventively fajita- style, as well as crocodile and kangaroo. For the less daring there is the equally savory cold-water lobster, which is more tender than the lobster one finds in the tropics, oysters, a selection of Australian cheeses and desserts, including that quintessential Australian treat, pavlova. If that does not get you drooling, nothing will.

While the food, the cooking and the company left little to be desired, there was obvious disappointment upon learning that the live cooking display by Hill and his team would not actually involve live crocodiles and kangaroos.

In fact, to even greater disappointment at the missed opportunity, there was no kangaroo for us to sample. But not to worry, the kangaroo will be ready for the promotion.

There was, however, crocodile, which tasted like a satisfying mix of chicken and fish, and the capers with which the meat was cooked gave the crocodile a pleasing bite. And, as Hill says about eating crocodile, which has apparently become something of a trend in Australia, "Even if you only try it once, at least you can say you've eaten it".

The emu fajitas were a highlight of the meal -- a delicious mix of Tex-Mex and Australian that will have you coming back for seconds, which you can do without fear as emu is a lean meat.

The cold-water lobster is a treat for seafood lovers. Apparently living in chilly water makes the meat more tender, which is evident as the luscious morsels hit your tongue. Done up tempura-style, the lobster cannot fail to please. And those at the gathering who tried the oysters, both raw and fried, were unable to clam up about these delicacies.

Apart from the meat and potatoes of the promotion, there is also the selection of Australian cheeses, which Hill enthusiastically endorses as being as good as the cheeses found in Europe. From the Tarago River Cheese Company, the selection of lavender, light blue cheese and brie certainly could hold its own against any cheeses you are likely to come across.

For dessert there is a selection of chocolate, cakes and other treats, and diners will certainly not want to miss the pear tart, which is near to bursting with huge slices of fruit. And, of course, there is the pavlova to round out an exquisite taste of the wonders of Australian cuisine.

The Hyatt's Taste of Australia will end on March 5, so make plans now because you will not want to miss this unique dining experience. The promotion will be held at the Grand Cafe, where diners will enjoy a full buffet of Australian delights, and in the Sumire, where a selection of Australian lobsters and oysters will be specially prepared for you.