Words: John Emerson
In its short 20 months of operation, Restaurant Botanic has already has collected a string of the most prestigious awards.
It has just been awarded the coveted Three Hats by Good Food. That’s on the back of 5 out of 5 in The Australian, Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year 2023 and The Advertiser’s Number One Restaurant in SA in 2022.
Diners are coming from interstate just for dinner. Restaurant Botanic in its short time open is bringing people to Adelaide. What’s the secret?
According to Executive Chef Justin James, Restaurant Botanic is about the idea of time and place. The gastronomy experience is a story reflecting what he sees as he wanders the gardens. Maybe an ancient variety of plum, aromatic autumn leaves, a fallen bunya-bunya branch.
Anything with culinary potential will make its way onto a menu that changes not just with the seasons but with the gardens’ own internal cycles.
The culinary experience at Restaurant Botanic begins with a stunning walk from one of the Botanic Gardens’ gates. You find your way past giant gnarled figs, beds of marigolds or nasturtiums or herbs, finally to the heritage rotunda that houses the restaurant. Your senses of smell and taste build to peak anticipation.
Welcomed inside, you are treated to spectacular garden and lake views through the rotunda’s floor to ceiling windows, views that may be revealing some of the ingredients going directly on to your plate.
There is a choice of sequenced full-coursed menus matched to follow each other rather than the ad hoc nature of à la carte. Ethically farmed meats include crocodile, emu, kangaroo, marron or wagyu. Garden ingredients might include green ants, lemon myrtle or desert lime. All are carefully collected in limited numbers.
Courses might be served on rocks, under smouldering branches, or sipped through twigs. Justin mentioned that among 26 flavour combinations, only six might be served with cutlery. Be ready to use your fingers!
Justin grew up in Michigan, USA, and quickly rose to become a chef in some of America’s best restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park in New York and Blue Hill at Stones Barn. Always looking to push the boundaries of cuisine he headed across to Melbourne in 2014 and spent several years with Vue de Monde, including an interim year with noma in Denmark.
But how did he find Adelaide? Justin replies with a laugh, ‘Adelaide found me.’
In early 2020 Covid closed down the restaurants around the world, including the existing one in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens rotunda. The owners asked Justin if he would like to come over and take on the original space. He proposed a different angle of a whole new restaurant, ideas, offerings, renovations, staff, and so on.
He arrived and discovered 51 hectares of what he calls a ‘living museum of flora’. He saw how Restaurant Botanic could tell its own story of the gardens that surround it, and in a whole new immersive way. A new restaurant experience was born.
Paired wines go without saying, but the extensive wine menu includes expertly selected locals and well-known internationals. There is also a Temperance Pairing.
Within three months of being opened Restaurant Botanic won Gourmet Traveller’s Best Restaurant, and recently Restaurant of the Year of all of Australia.
Where: The Rotunda, Adelaide Botanic Gardens
When: Dinner Thursday to Saturday; Lunch Sunday
Price: $290-$330pp payable on reservation
For more information, and to book, click here.