Australian bush black tie dinner at "Rover's Bush Restaurant"
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You may not be aware of this, but Sydney Land Rover Owners' Club is particularly renowned among the Land Rover community throughout Australia for one of its events: Rover's bush Restaurant.
We first heard about it through some Landy (*) owners in Western Australia who seemed very intrigued by the fact that Sydneysiders could not do things like everybody else and would go bush with suits, ties and evening dresses on. While traveling between Adelaide and Melbourne, heading to Tasmania, we received our invitation from Roger, whom we had not even met. Needless to say, we were thrilled to be part of this incredible happening scheduled for the end of March.
We wanted to see it all, including the early phases of preparation, so we came up to Borraluw Creek with him the evening before. We had to be there when the makeover of this picnic area would take place the next morning.
It all started to become real when we installed the wooden "gate" to the Rover's Restaurant, a circle of flat grassland enclosed by a picketed rope. The set was ready for props and actors to show up.
Backstage, four large grates were installed and fire began to blaze, while camp ovens were collected from early arrivals. These pots aligned together on the ground under the kitchen tarp, holding their promise of a delightful dinner, remain for us one of the icons of this special day.
While veggies and fruit were being peeled and chopped by our chef and his team of cooks, guests were setting up camp. One couple patiently installed a gigantic canopy under which we could all find refuge should the sun turn its back on us, while others were struggling with their own little tents, providing great entertainment for those around...
From a culinary standpoint, this was a very learning experience for us, and a typical Australian one at that! The whole idea of using a pot on a fire-pit and turning it into an actual oven is absolutely fascinating for a French person interested in cooking. For us, the most magical part of it all is the technique, artistically mastered by our chefs, of placing coals on a camp-oven lid in order to brown the dish inside. It will take years for us to get this one right, but at least we got a good start with the right teachers!
When we turned away from the pots and fire-pits, we found that the stage was being readied too. On white tablecloths, silverware, real glasses and dinner plates, and even candelabras had elegantly been laid out! Each table was being turned into a feast of colorful arrangements, festooned with lace, candles, flowers or garlands of leaves. We went from one table to the next, admiring each individual effort.
One couple had put their usual flair and sense of humor into it and instantly got our vote: would you believe they even had checker-plate placemats and a "Reserved" sign for the occasion?
We were both presented with a special "badge of honor", a polo shirt just like the ones worn for the occasion by the cooking team. As all the other guests, we also received a patch saying "Rover's bush Restaurant", which has since been proudly sewn onto our favorite polar fleece jacket, that of the Land Rover Owners' Club Australia, a present from a lovely couple from the group.
As the sun was setting, campers regrouped around their vehicles turned into change rooms, out of which evening costumes would appear soon after. I put on a black T-shirt printed with bow-tie and buttoned shirt front -- another gift from another lovely couple -- and Robert dressed with the real thing. For the first time since we left France two years ago, his suit was finally being put to some use!
Out there, it suddenly seemed as if an entirely new kind of clientele had elected the Rover's Restaurant as the newest place to be seen at. Even the governor and his wife were there! Well, we assumed so by their period costumes. Then there was a black-tied guest, regally holding by the arm his wife complete with white boa around her neck and a young friend in tow.
Our favorites were the garnet-clad princess and her pompous Maître D' adorned with a gigantic black tie the size of a tray, with real dishes on it!
A well-assorted pair gave a hilarious impersonation of top hat and tails. A friend and his wife were spiffy chic, dressed in pure black, her finishing touch in the form of a bright flower on her shoulder.
Some guests had even matched their elegant evening outfits to their table decorations of red roses and candles for a very romantic evening.
One member's classiness, in his white scarf and black-tie attire, was both timeless and ethereal, as was the distinguished young man in a Scottish kilt.
Even the kids put on a show: two young brothers wore stylish miniature vests on their little white shirts, getting attuned to turn some feminine heads at Rover's Restaurant 2017 edition.
We cannot mention them all, but nearly everyone had risen for the occasion to participate in this one and only performance.
The production began with an apéritif under a clear sky graced with a thousand stars. We were poured the most exotically sophisticated drink we have ever had in a flute: a sparkling wine turned bright pink by the presence of a hibiscus flower into it! "And you can eat it afterwards", was the recommendation, which we duly followed. We were touched that this couple had thought of bringing extra flutes for us, just in case we had not grasped the Australian concept of BYO (*)..., which we hadn't.
Obviously, our neighbors across the table had assumed as much as well and had packed plenty of red wine to keep up with an alleged reputation about the French, which by the way we vehemently refute. Aware that we did not carry anything but mugs in our gear, they even presented us with the perfect gift for the occasion, a pair of elegantly shaped wine glasses made of steel.
Happy Hour was kicked off with munchies of all shapes and flavors and a real appetizer, mushrooms in a delicious garlic-and-chives marinade.
When dinner time came soon after, we both fully enjoyed our entrees, a slice of roast pork delicately underlined by a touch of mango presented on a salad bed. I had a mouth-watering debut with my plate of osso bucco, interrupted when Robert "borrowed" it to try... and never gave it back! Needless to say, the bugger had already finished his own serving of Rover's Restaurant rump by then. I was so happy with the generous and varied servings of vegetables and potatoes and "kumera", that I really did not mind the ad-infinitum loan, though.
There was a short intermission before dessert, during which many guests added an extra layer of clothing. I, for one, put on a fur coat, courtesy of a guest friend who, with her red hat now on, looked so like a Russian princess, forever followed by her Maître D' now in his chapka.
We had already tried Roger's apple crumble in Tasmania, so we were not going to pass on sweets. No way. But this time, I made sure Robert was not around when I ate my dessert... and half of his, the baked bananas in rum butter. This was so good, I even forgot to have any guilt feeling about it!
A wise man often says that beyond food, it's the good company and a nice fire, which make a successful night out. Many French people might be tempted to beg to differ, food probably being written into our genetic code. But at the Rover's Restaurant, the French in us were blissfully content in all respects.
Still seated at our tables, we kept chatting in the darkness of the night, under the warm light provided by our candles which echoed that of the camp fires glowing in the distance.
The evening continued with drinks in hand, watching the stars and the full moon with our own eyes or through the telescope our friends had put up on our Defender's wing. Sinatra could have sung "Fly me to the moon and let me sing among the stars..."
As the coolness of a bright night settled in, friends gradually donned warmer clothes and dragged their chairs around a blazing fire, which at one point got wildly fed by an over-enthusiastic guest.
Talks and drinks were still going when we called it quite a night and retreated to our roof-tent.
The first thing we heard the next morning was not the kookaburras but the snoring of our immediate neighbor. He usually blames the nuisance on their two pugs... But this time, we knew it was not them, since they had had to stay home -- Rover's Restaurant being set in a National Park.
As the camp gradually woke up to a beautiful morning, people joined the early risers who already had the fire going and several billies merrily boiling. Breakfast was a slow affair for most, so Robert was happy to provide "crêpes" for those who did not feel like cooking.
We then joined a small group determined to have some more fun before heading home. Certainly, the group of little kids playing so well together and having a ball had triggered something in some of us! Our friends installed their mini pool table under the canopy and we took out our set of "mini-boules" for a game of "pétanque". Mixing teams of pure beginners with more experienced players made for a fair battle, which was indeed most enjoyable.
Before departure, we conducted a final clean-up of the picnic area to remove the last traces of our presence -- picking-up also some older litter while we were at it. Surely, it was a bit sad for us all to let old and new friends go and see the campsite progressively clear. Personally, we would have liked to retain the day forever and yet, we were filled with the profound happiness attached to moments of perfection.
Although our world tour is far from being over yet, we know for certain that this special event will remain one of the most exceptional and memorable experiences of our tour, and no doubt our most unexpected "Australiana"!
We can only thank the good company, leader, helpers and participants for this wonderful experience. Hats down to you, Roger!
Mini Aussie lexicum
Landy: Land Rover vehicle, such as Series I, II or III, Defender, Discovery...
BYO: Bring Your Own. Meaning your own drinks, when no further details are mentioned. Otherwise, you may read BYO chair, BYO food, BYO bait etc...
Kumera: sweet potato
Pétanque: traditional French game played with steel balls the size of oranges
A final note: Feeling that the rest of our trip could not possibly duplicate such a perfect opportunity to wear his suit again, Robert decided to ship it back to France after the Rover Restaurant event!