Top Ten Pairings of the Top End

Top Ten Pairings of the Top End

Quite recently my associates Laverne, Miss Honey, Chippo and I attended a wine and cheese tasting at local boutique retailer Piper Collective in Woolner. The wines presented to our table (with the exception of the chardonnay which Laverne snobbishly declared ‘too young to be taken seriously’) were both varied and delightful. But what really turned the evening from a simple tasting into a foodies’ experience was the spot-on pairings of wine and food.
Our host Athena guided us through the sampling over two mouth-watering hours, from crisp whites and fruity rosés to dark, mysterious reds. While I found her assertion that a properly opened bottle of champagne should ‘sound like the gasp of a woman’ a trifle odd, it was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I did however feel a tad sorry for Athena, who was forced on more than one occasion to scold some of the more over-enthusiastic attendees for reaching for the cheeseboard out of turn.
The crux of this issue was that every morsel, whether a sharp, crumbly cheese, a bunch of plump purple grapes or smoky curls of cured meat had each been carefully selected to pair with a certain wine. As each variety was swirled, sniffed and observed, we were instructed to sip first, then have a nibble of this or that, then sip again and make a note of the change of flavour and perceived aroma.
But it got me thinking. Why stop with wine? Surely there’s a whole host of beverages, alcoholic and non, whose flavour can be enhanced through pairings with some of the more unique elements of Territorian cuisine?
1. Barra taco and a shot of tequila
Mitchell St on a weekend sometimes feels like the main drag of Playa Del Carmen in Mexico; it’s loud, boozy, backpackery and open all night, and if you really wanted one you’d have no trouble finding a cheap shot of house tequila. It’s worth noting though that proper tequila is named for the region in which it is produced (now known as the state of Jalisco). To be properly identified as tequila, it must be distilled in this region from the blue agave plant, and is meant to be savoured, not skolled. Mexico also happens to be the best place in the world to get fish tacos so fresh you can just about pluck them from the ocean fully assembled. So if you’re looking for the taste of Mexico with a Territory twist, choose an authentic tequila that you sip rather than slam and pair it with the second-best taco in the world, soft-shelled and stuffed to bursting with zesty local barra. No lick of the salt, suck of the lemon or next-day regret required.
2. Pie and a pint of porter

It doesn’t take much time to figure there’s a fairly strong Irish contingent in Darwin, which fortunately means you don’t have to go too far for a decent pint of Guinness. However, the beloved ‘meal in a glass’ may prove to be a tad too filling as an accompaniment to lunch … So why not try a lighter craft porter instead? Originating in England in the 1700s, porter is more of an ale and less bitter than a standard stout; it often comes with rich chocolate flavours and hints of molasses. I recently tried a Babooshka citrus ale which tasted so much like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange I thought I was being served by Dawn French. Find your fave porter and let it perfectly compliment a hearty beef pie with mash and peas and a golden, flaky crust.
3. Oysters and a glass of prosecco
If you’ve got a hen’s do coming up for which the organisation has fallen to you (because the maid of honour lives in Perth and has a really big work conference coming up, soz) you could do worse than treat the bride-to-be to a sunset cruise around Darwin Harbour on an old pearl lugger. Once you’ve sorted out the saucy games and penis-shaped drinking straws, all you need is a few dozen freshly shucked oysters, some grissini sticks and an esky full of bubbly. Prosecco (and champagne) offsets the natural saltiness of oysters while the carbonation compliments their smooth texture. Incidentally, the Italian tipple’s surge in popularity over recent years can be attributed to improving product quality but continued affordability… So chin chin ladies!
4. Sausage roll and a carton of Paul’s
In the most famous words never actually sung by Bon Scott, it’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll. Or it would be if you lived in a country that didn’t stock the classic Aussie pastry in every corner servo from here to Bruny Island. Match one with a Paul’s iced coffee and half a pack of durries and you have what should really be known as the Territory Tradie’s Brunch. Don’t take it for granted though, in January this year supplies of Paul’s ran short due to increased demand over the Chrissy break and we nearly found ourselves in the midst of a hi-vis riot.

5. Salty plums and a gin and tonic.

In 2012 ABC Darwin conducted an experiment testing non-Darwinites’ tolerance for salty plums. Predictably, it went about as well as telling a Vegemite novice to spread it like peanut butter. According to Chloe Truehl from Adelaide, the plums tasted like “dried fish mixed with sherbet and vinegar”. True, they’re an acquired taste, but Chloe really should have tried offsetting the sour, salty flavour with the tart and sweet overtones of a Hendricks G&T garnished with a crisp slice of cucumber. Even she may have judged it the perfect tipple for a dry season afternoon sitting in the shade of a banyan tree.

6. Avo toast and a bloody mary

Whether the Bloody Mary is named for the bloodthirsty former Queen of England Mary Tudor or not is a bone of contention for mixologist historians, but what is certain is that the first one (the drink, not the Queen) was mixed by Fernand Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. It was originally just equal parts tomato juice and vodka, but when he brought it back to the real New York the punters were looking for something with a bit more kick. He added lemon, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce and the classic BM was born. You may associate the bevy with epic Sunday hangovers and steaming piles of fried eggs and bacon, but the complex, spicy flavours balance perfectly with a simple serve of smooth, buttery avocado and crunchy sourdough toast.

7. Laksa and a fruit smoothie

Darwinites are one of the few peoples on the planet who think it appropriate to queue for 45 minutes at 9am to get a laksa for breakfast. Admittedly, it’s usually a Mary’s laksa which are so unbearably delicious I may faint just thinking about them, but it’s an odd practise nonetheless. But seeing as you’re there anyway, you might as well cut through all that coconut cream with a tangy fruit smoothie from one of the many Parap Market stalls that specialise in fructose and high-powered blenders. Go for the tropical and citrus fruits for the perfect laksa / fruit juice balance.

8. Lunchtime meal deal with a drink

There are some classic go-to combos to be had here, but it actually doesn’t matter if it’s a burger and a beer, a schnitty and a chardy or just a big bowl of pasta with a side of soda water you’re after, the $15 pub lunch special has been an Aussie weekday staple for nineto- fivers since time immemorial. The best bit about the meal deal is that most places know you’ve only got an hour or so before you have to be back at your desk, so make sure you’re fed and watered before your time is up. Sure, it might mean mash potato that began life as powder, or a chicken kiev that has more in common with a scatter cusion than actual poultry, but it’s quick and it’s filling.

9. Kebab and a
litre of Fanta
Don’t mock me with your hearty chuckle, you’ve gone here on at least two separate occasions, probably after that super-classy hen’s do on the pearl lugger around the bay… Every little noise sets your teeth on edge, natural light is your mortal enemy and your mouth feels like the inside of a horse’s feedbag: you’re gonna need something sweet enough to resurrect the dead. While it is universally accepted that Fanta contains enough sugar to melt concrete, did you know it only exists because of WWII? Due to a trade embargo on the Nazi’s, Coca-Cola Deutschland struggled to import enough Coke syrup to meet demand. In desperation they created a new product for the local market using whatever nasty, sugary little chemicals they could get their hands on. Incidentally, there are more than 100 flavours available world wide, including lychee, cashew and elderflower. Pair with a lamb kebab and garlic sauce and stand well back.

10. Potato cake and a schooner of Great Northern

The best potato cakes in the NT and possibly the entire universe come hot and crispy out of the Chippy at Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association. A Great Northern (distant relative of the now discontinued Cairns Draft and from whence its iconic marlin logo derives) matched with a Dinah Beach potato cake while overlooking the water is about as close to Nirvana as you’re going to get.
BONUS FACT According to a survey conducted by The Linguistics Roadshow in 2015, ‘potato cake’ is the term most used in Vic and the NT, ‘potato scallop’ is favoured in Queensland, a simple ‘scallop’ will do in NSW and in WA they really can’t make up their damn minds so probs don’t deserve one anyway.