Mavis’s Kitchen – Where The MAGIC Happens
WORDS: Estelle & Steve Hunt PHOTOGRAPHY Brian Usher - [email protected]
There’s an understated subtlety when you take the right-hand turn off Kyogle Road into Mount Warning Road heading toward a place of deep tranquillity and culinary enchantment.
It’s hard to believe when you drive across a dilapidated bridge that has been crassly restored to working order following last year’s floods, that you are about to enter the domain of Australia’s premier tourism restaurant, Mavis’ Kitchen.
But what lies beyond the dilapidation is literally an oasis: a Garden of Eden of sorts, a lush, captivating retreat where a large, restored Colonial-style building becomes a place where the magic happens.
Where head chef Simon Liljeqvist turns his rich globally-inspired food fantasies and culinary creativity into edible works of art inspired by locally grown produce.
While the kitchen is the workshop for this art, it is the bountiful, sub-tropical ‘Garden of Eden’ outside that allows for the manifestation of these fantasies, that entice people from all over Australia to sample for themselves.
For example, where native bottlebrush flowers that are freshly plucked turn into granita – a semi-frozen dessert – that makes up part of the delicious menu that has made Mavis’ Kitchen one of the region’s dining institutions.
Where passionfruit marigold plants are used to make a liqueur, paired with local passionfruit juice in a passionfruit punch cocktail; and to make a syrup, paired with acerola cherry from the garden in the restaurant’s non-alcoholic kombucha spritz.
Where fresh cucumber from the garden is sliced, mixed with tulsi, mint and coriander, dressed with a vegan nam jim dressing to replace traditional fish sauce with a house-made one using smoked bunya nuts, shells and barley koji and finished with some savoury/sweet crispy peanuts.
Sunflowers, with the petals for garnish, use the sunflower seeds fermented with rice koji before being milled into a sauce. This sauce is paired with dry-aged Barramundi belly sashimi that is also served with preserved garden rhubarb and a dressing made with galangal (also from the garden) infused oil and kosho – a ferment made with a blend of citrus zests from the trees surrounding the restaurant.
And finally, a unique new addition to the bar – house sodas, using acerola cherry, rosella, achacha, pineapple scraps, lilly pilly, guava and various citrus fruits to make natural soft drinks as well as fermenting house ginger beer.
“The magic of what happens here is really due to what we are able to grow in our garden,” says Simon.
“It’s really quite special. Because of our sub-tropical climate, we are able to grow so many things that can’t grow elsewhere and this adds to the creativity of our menu. It also allows me and my team to extend our own creativity and learn what herbs and plants work with what foods.”
Mavis’ Kitchen, awarded the title of Australia’s Best Tourism Restaurant earlier this year, has been a much-loved destination for many years, but it continues to evolve its menu spearheaded by Simon’s creativity.
Beginning his gastronomic journey while working with earthquake recovery in a poor community in Peru, Simon learned to find and make use of what was available at the local market to satisfy up to a hundred hungry aid workers.
Confined to a limited budget in the most basic of kitchens, he devised ways to deliver surprising variety and meet popular requests – a philosophy infused into the Mavis’ Kitchen menu.
Simon’s creativity and resourcefulness then led him on an exploratory journey throughout North and South America, North Africa, India, Asia and Europe where he gained inspiration and skills from locals in a variety of cultures and worked with some of the top Michelin star chefs in London, Toronto, Sydney and Brisbane.
“In Toronto, working under acclaimed internationally renowned chef Rob Gentile, I explored new ways of incorporating unexpected ingredients through preserving and fermentation,” says Simon.
“I had the opportunity to learn the art of creating Amari and liqueurs and of wild-foraging in the region’s forests for uniquely local tastes. “
Returning to Australia, Simon was impressed by the local farming culture in the Northern Rivers and inspired to take up the challenge of Head Chef at Mavis’ Kitchen.
Here, his Scandinavian heritage and global culinary explorations blend seamlessly to deliver both surprising new flavours and textures as well as dishes with roots in the classics.
“Mavis’ organic gardens and commitment to creating delicious food using local fresh produce suits my preferences and skills,” he says.
Simon’s menu is accessible yet elegant, sometimes adventurous, and always exciting and is tailored for families and couples.
“There’s something here for everyone,” he says.
“We want the kids to come here and see things on the menu that will excite them as much as the adults.”
The a la carte menu also changes regularly due to the seasonality of fresh local produce but has a wide variety to suit all tastes.
Its entrees include fresh local grilled king prawns and barramundi ceviche, confit duck croquette, silken tofu and coal-grilled Urliup mushrooms.
Mains include but are not restricted to dry-aged barramundi, fire-roasted lamb, Drake Creek duck breast, or roast dug leg ragu fettuccine.
The dessert menu includes Mavis’ famous pavlova, coconut mousse, bottlebrush splice, and a Nimbin cheese trio.
Other food options include farm-to-plate banquets – both long and short – to suit all tastes.
And if the afternoons are too long and weary for the drive home, there’s a range of cabins and a farmhouse where you can relax and enjoy the countryside for a day or two.