A sink full of smoke. Chef John Placko preps for some ice cream making. Ingredients from for dinner are displayed on the kitchen island.

Last Australia Day, I celebrated by having a really fun and playful meal presented in part by John Placko and Luke Hayes-Alexander. It was a great dinner, full of laughter and great food. This year, in conjunction with Tourism Australia and Wine Australia, Placko and Hayes-Alexander return to revisit and re-mix that dinner for the next two nights (January 25-26, 2013). I didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to their media event last night.

Interior of The Cathedral Centre, 2nd Floor

Now, I hadn’t known that St. James Cathedral only recently opened its event space back in October of 2012. So I was expecting old foundations, apses, stonework, and polished wood floors. And there was some of that. What surprised me, however, were the clean lines, glossy white surfaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Cathedral and its grounds in the second floor space we would be dining in. With the darkening blue of evening and the slow motion of snow falling, it really set the stage for a night of modern interpretations of traditional Australian ingredients and dishes.

Dukkah & Damper with a liquid roasted garlic interior and on roasted sesame. Pro-tip: eat it in one bite!

Salmon cured with lemon myrtle and wrapped around a pepperberry sponge. Topped with olive oil “dust” and dehydrated olives.

Beet It – Beet in textures, goat cheese, hazelnut powder. I liked the meringue a lot on this.

Coffee & Biscuits – Warm “coffee” with biscuit broth and garnishes. Very dessert-like.

Queensland Revisited – Barramundi (fish), cauliflower purée with dill (and a “secret” ingredient), apple horseradish jelly, and frozen cucumber cubes. The puffed rice gives the dish a great toasty taste and crunch. The skin of the fish has quite an interesting texture – a crunchy chew.

Blinman – lamb, beets (two ways), lemon myrtle, brown butter, wattle seed. Great lamb flavour and crunchy exterior. A dish I remember well from last year; now even better this year.

Red Centre – kangaroo, pepperberry, vegemite, akudjura, Buderim ginger, potato with macadamia, wild hibiscus gel, onion fluid gel. The meat was very tender and (very) mildly gamey.

Sydney (traditional) – a savoury and piping hot meat pie. The pastry was really nice.

Sydney (modern). Soft beef cheeks and deconstructed pie elements. Loved the little butter balls and the “pastry” the onion sat on.

Pavlova; Deconstructed – Mudgee honey, passion fruit, mango, banana strawberries. A landscape of fruit in textures. Tart, sweet, and effervescent. Lots of fun.

The Blue Mountains – orange, Granny Smith apple, eucalyptus olida, chocolate, jasmine, musk (a type of candy in Australia). A surprising and crazy combo of flavours and textures. The chocolate nuggets were these lovely little crumbly cookie bites of cocoa goodness.

A Tim Tam and a long black. Getting ready for the slam!

For those of you who had participated last year, many courses will be familiar or the same. Dishes seemed improved upon, either in taste or execution (or both). The only thing that could not be topped was John’s passionfruit pavlova from last year. I may have made him shed a tear when I told him that, but I do mean it only as the highest compliment that it is now the standard to which I compare all pavlova’s against. Even John’s other pavlovas.

If you’ve not had the opportunity to taste either John or Luke’s excellent cooking, this Australia Day dinner is a perfect opportunity to do so. The dinner itself is a great voyage of heritage and discovery as these chefs take you through the evening. Tickets may initially seem dear at $150, but for (more than) 8 courses, (free-flowing) pairings, tax, and tip… well, I was perfectly willing to snag my own ticket (shh… don’t tell them) at that price. I know some seats remain on both nights, but not many. There’s also a take home treat – love extending good meal into the next day(s)!