When Bondi small bar Isabel swung open its doors in July 2019, the team set out to create an experience that’s uniquely Australian while Japanese in execution. The influence of the latter is evident in the venue’s cocktail list, its large collection of Japanese whiskies and sake and its concise menu of small plates and kushiyaki. There’s even a cocktail kaiseki, allowing guests to enjoy five low-ABV drinks paired with matching kushiyaki and yakitori.
Now, the commitment to Australian produce is coming through, with the introduction of a ‘local sea plant salad’. It’s something that’s been on the cards since day one, says co-owner Geraint Coles who is one of the owners of Isabel Bondi in collaboration with Mitch Slattery (Panama House), Michael Riley (Milk Box and Sam I Am) and cocktail aficionado Kate McGraw (ex-Lotus Group).
The textural dish features plants foraged from Sydney’s Eastern coastline, with McGraw herself collecting ingredients such as Neptune’s necklace; dead man’s fingers; saltbush; crystal ice plant; slender ice plant; pennywort; and sea grass. According to Coles, it’s the genius of McGraw.
“Kate has always been a champion of sourcing local and native ingredients,” Coles tells Hospitality. “It was one of the reasons we were so keen to get her involved in the project.”
While the bar does source some foraged ingredients through suppliers, in this instance the majority of the produce is foraged by McGraw. A significant percentage comes from nearby Tamarama, with the rest found along the path from Bondi to Maroubra.
“I was pleasantly surprised when Kate told me half the salad is from Tamarama,” says Coles. “Kate is experience knows what’s safe. We do product testing before putting anything on the menu… and generally we get a positive response from consumers.
“I think people are willing to pay for the experience more than anything; there’s an understanding that it’s more labour intensive. “
What spurred the team to add salad of locally foraged sea plants to the repertoire?
“The overall profile of the venue is as much as we can do in house,” says Coles. “The drinks menu takes total ownership of that, so it’s something we’ve started to employ throughout the food menu.”
Given the nature of foraging, there is an issue of supply versus demand. It means dishes such as the local sea plant salad will most likely appear as specials rather than menu items. However, it’s something the venue plans to continuing researching and developing says Coles, with the aim to constantly find new ways to incorporate sustainably sourced local ingredients.