Favourite summer ingredients
The best thing about Brisbane in summer is the produce says Aria Brisbane’s head chef, Ben Russell.
Among his favourite local ingredients are Moreton Bay oysters. These are the same species as Sydney rocks, but are farmed in the ocean rather than a river system and as a result are distinctively briny.
Spring marks the beginning of mud crab season in Queensland. “They are at their best from now until February as they are feeding and the meat/shell ratio is at its best,” says Ben. “We use the wild mud crabs from northern Queensland; we usually just poach them, then pick the meat and use it for a cold starter.”
Seafood is always a highlight at Aria Brisbane. It is supplied direct from the fishing fleet at Mooloolaba, but varies according to the daily catch. As a result fish is usually offered as changing specials. “Last week we had some coral bream that we gently steamed, then we smoked the bones and used them to make stock, which was the base for a parsley and watercress sauce. It had a beautiful intense flavour next to such a delicate piece of fish,” says Ben. Other favourites are sweetlip and mahi mahi, which Ben pan-fries and serves with clams, ginger and black pepper.
The tropical fruit season is also just around the corner and Aria Brisbane gets access to some of the best. “Right now we are working with the first mangoes of the season, rambutans and lychees,” says Ben. “Generally we do very little to such amazing produce. It’s something we use to finish a dish off.”
Bens’ favourite dish on the current menu – a starter of Octopus, nduja, tomato, zucchini - features the flavours of the Mediterranean, the grilled octopus matched with smoked spicy pork nduja, tomato sauce, fresh tomato and shaved zucchini. “As I lived and worked for several years on the Mediterranean coast it is always a source of inspiration for me,” says Ben. “It’s the cuisine that I am most passionate about.”