Typically, a dining experience at a restaurant takes about an hour or two. At Restaurant Botanic, the venue within Adelaide Botanic Gardens, it’s recommended you allow for around four hours. The experience here has been designed to be savoured, both in what’s consumed and the surroundings.
“The setting is everything,” says Justin James, Executive Chef and owner. “It’s the reason I came to Adelaide and opened this restaurant. It sets the tone when you arrive. It sets the tone when you are dining. And it sets the tone when you depart. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind location in the world.”
The restaurant has earned Three Hats from Good Food so far, been named ‘Best Restaurant’ by The Advertiser and Gourmet Traveller and received acclaim from The Australian and London publication The Times. James came in at number 38 on The Advertiser’s Top 50 Most Influential People in South Australia in December 2022.
The setting inspired the restaurant’s dishes, with the venue having exclusive foraging rights to the entire grounds. The menu, James says, reflects Adelaide Botanic Gardens.
“That might sound quite simple, but as you discover the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, you unearth a truly unique ecosystem encompassing some of the rarest and most interesting flora and edible plants that would seldom be available to a restaurant,” he says.
“We use the ingredients found throughout this 52-hectare site, many of which are native to Australia, to create a menu that goes beyond taste, that delivers a multi-sensory experience.”
Even the way the food is served reflects the gardens, James continues. Food is served on rocks, and a broth dish should be sipped through a branch from a Bunya Bunya in the gardens. The result, he says, is an experience that’s quite visceral.
“This thinking sits within the DNA of our menu, so the dishes need to constantly evolve and change to reflect what’s available to us and what’s in season,” he says. “You’ll find foraged ingredients throughout each dish, which we bring together with other ingredients that celebrate flavours of Australia, including emu, kangaroo and marron.”
The ethos of incorporating the gardens, Australian flavours and what’s in season can also be seen in the beverage menu, where you’ll find a temperance pairing that harnesses syrups, ferments made with foraged flowers and fruit, and sparkling wine that encompasses notes of lemon aspen and mountain pepper, both foraged from the surrounding gardens.
As for James’ favourite dish to order, he says it’s impossible to choose, as the menu is a journey with each course complementing or augmenting the next. The perception of one dish is impacted by the previous dish or the following dish, he explains.
“Though, if I had to say what dish best explains Restaurant Botanic, that would probably be one of our desserts, where we forage the fallen branches of a Bunya Bunya, roast them and then create a frozen custard,” he says. “Once the custard is frozen to a clean Bunya Bunya branch, we brûlée sugar onto the custard and finish with wattle-seed miso and native thyme.”
James says he wants guests to leave feeling they had a world-class experience that encompasses something new and that they haven’t seen or tasted before. “I once had a customer say they were ‘enamoured’ by the experience, and that really resonated with me. It’s how I would like everyone to feel when they dine at Restaurant Botanic.