Southern Ocean Lodge, South Australia


Southern Ocean Lodge, South Australia

What a wonderful world we would live in if the food we ate came straight off the boat or from the paddock and onto our plate. Sound like a dream? Welcome to Southern Ocean Lodge (SOL), a foodie retreat for the quintessential produce-to-plate dining experience. Anji Bignell writes.

Stepping off the plane onto the little runway, surrounded by bush and red dirt, memories of the Australian ‘outback’ came flooding back – flies, mosquitos, kangaroos and, in my memory, awful, pre-packaged food as an afterthought to survival. However, this vision would pale in significance once I set eyes on the uniquely designed architecture of SOL; so eloquently mimicking the curves of the escarpment it sat on that, admittedly, it was almost impossible to see it even as we drove up to its front entrance. A superb innovation in sustainable design, I may very well have been ‘camping’, due to its deliberate sensitivity and connection to the land; albeit, more like ‘six-star camping’, if there were such a thing.

Kangaroo Island is a 30-minute flight from Adelaide or a 45-minute ferry ride from the mainland of South Australia. Since South Australia has long been touted for its exquisite wine and local cuisine, I wasn’t surprised to discover that Kangaroo Island boasts its own local produce that is sourced daily for Southern Ocean Lodge’s changing menu. The best local seafood comes direct from the fishermen – freshwater crayfish (or marron) are distributed live to its kitchen – and Redbank’s Nepean Bay oysters are fat and succulent and are shucked to order.

Head chef Tim Bourke hails from Sydney and spent a couple of years working on Lord Howe Island for SOL’s sister property, Capella Lodge, and was offered the opportunity to open the kitchen at SOL in 2008. Both James and Hayley Baillie of Baillie Lodges, who created both these internationally recognised luxury establishments in Australia, allowed Bourke to design and implement a menu that utilised the flavours of the rich, fertile land in which SOL resides.

“I have spent the last five or so years building and developing great relationships with the local growers and suppliers – to a point where they know exactly what we want and what we look for in our produce. To be honest, though, all of our producers have such high standards themselves – the lamb at Southrock, the early morning picked lettuces and herbs at Kangaroo Island (KI) Fresh, and the dedication to the best fish from Tina and Eddy at KI Fresh Seafoods” Bourke explains.

“My inspiration comes directly from Kangaroo Island – from the land, the sea and the producers that help make this place special. How can you not be inspired by free range geese, partridges, the freshest seafood, marron delivered to our back door, the cleanest honey you have ever tried and being able to pick wild fruits and leaves? I could go on for days about the island,” he says.

After a spa treatment and sunset drinks and canapes, I was taken back to the lodge to enjoy drinks and dinner with my charming and jovial hosts, John and Alison Hird, who greeted me in the incredible sunken ‘lounge’ on entering the building. Boasting 180-degree ‘big screen’ views overlooking the cliffs and coastline of Hanson Bay, which at the time was enshrouded in a mist of sea spray and rain, the intimacy and warmth of the lounge was only added to by its ‘open bar’ policy – filled with local South Australian and Kangaroo Island wines, beers, ciders and spirits, to help myself to at any time. John poured me a glass of Henschke Joseph Hill 2012 Gewurztraminer, from the Adelaide Hills, while animatedly explaining to me that he carefully chooses every beverage on hand and, with his formidable wine knowledge, pairs them perfectly with the daily changing menu that Bourke and his team prepare each day.

As we sat down to dinner, John chose a glass of South Australia’s The Lane Vineyard 2010 Pinot Grigio. Its rich pear and earthy notes mingled on the nose as I was served my first dish – tartare of sea-farmed atlantic salmon, ginger, soy, lime and cucumber granita, which cleansed the palate and welcomed in the second course of breast and leg of Gawler River quail, salted grapes, organic red leaves and vegetables – one of Bourke’s signature dishes, which as I write this, my taste buds still live in memoriam for its sweet/salty flavours.

Local pan-roasted yellowtail kingfish, native thyme and herb broth, dried black olive, with radish, was third in line to the throne for best dish, followed by the caramelised local honey cream, whipped South Australian organic carob and carob crumble, all smashed onto my plate like a Pro Hart masterpiece.

My hosts seemed bemused by my wide-open eyes and gaping beak in anticipation of every mouthful of food. If Bourke’s overall intention was to surprise his guest with every morsel of food that passes their lips, then he has been very successful in doing so.

Bourke emphasises the taste of Kangaroo Island and its pure, clean flavours. “I think the importance of simplicity and flavour seems to be coming through more and more in the food we eat, whether it is in a resort, a restaurant or at home, these are the most important things – food has to taste good.”

How we source our food and where it comes from is no longer an afterthought these days. Southern Ocean Lodge is forging the way in providing local sustainable, produce-to-plate food within their daily menu rather than relying on external food sources to influence what is served from the kitchen. It is a simple ideology that makes sense, and ensures that no food is wasted or unappreciated.

For the ultimate foodie escape and to experience Kangaroo Island’s unique landscape and native wildlife, Southern Ocean Lodge is a must-visit:

Photography by Southern Ocean Lodge

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