A Triumphant Exit The Great Cheong Moves On Hilton Lets Its Genius Go
by PHILIP WHITE - A version of this story first appeared in The Indepndent Weekly
While you were away, the Hilton military determinedly set about the closure of its restaurant strangely called The Grange. They had a farewell dinner for Cheong Liew, the singularly great chef they singularly failed to appreciate, respect, or support, with, well, funding. They wouldn’t even buy him a wall for his restaurant.
Many of the old hard-core trencherboard faces were at the trough that night, and a few pretenders. People who live off, not on, magazine food: stuff designed to be photographed, celebrated and discussed, but rarely eaten. The chow that feeds our booming gastroporn industry. Some of them even seem to think Cheong’s food fits that same bitter bill. Expecting an embarrassing and emotional night, I went in tidy.
I know I’ve said this before, but it deserves drumming in. Since he arrived here, a reffo, in 1969, Cheong has had a bigger effect on the lives of Australians than any politician. He changed the way we eat, with his invention-cum-liberation of our tucker. East-west fusion they called it, twenty-five years ago. Cheong, the ultimate Australian, now calls it “Australian food”. Perfect. You rarely hear the fusion word uttered now, wherever on Earth this cuisine appears and it appears all over the Earth. Most people simply think it’s food, shovel it in, and wash it down.
THE STUFF WE USED TO EAT
We’re very lucky the Australian name has not followed the fusion, for while the awkward sprogs of this cuisine are now served all over the world, most of it is half-hearted crap, disrespectfully ignorant of its pedigree of tireless, rigorous ingenuity.
Given the weight of the occasion, and hugely keen to see what they would pour at this feast, I was impressed to see the old faithful, utterly professional floor staff proudly serving Dom. For a naive instant, I thought the budget must surely eventually extend to the even greater Krug, but that was dumb.
We sat, and yes, out came wave after wave of utterly remarkable food. Brilliant, delicious inventions made triumphantly to be adored, savoured, and digested. Healthy food, for Bacchus’ sake! The gastronomic encapsulation of thirty years of relentless invention. But as the evening progressed, the quality of the wine took a determined dive. If they had made a serious attempt to raid what’s left of the cellar, pity help the future Hilton diner. I am not well known for leaving a table littered with half-full glasses, but there they were.
One of the suits made a speech about the complete set of Grange there in the big glass case being the only one on public view: a cool quarter of a million bucks worth, lying on their backs like dead marines. We were supposed to ooh and aahhh. Cheong followed this with a humble, statesmanly delivery in which he revealed a secret otherwise known only to the two of us. He never let on that the Hilton actually leases that set of Grange from Fosters, who dutifully add the new release each year, or that the restaurant pretty well had to close, as the cabinet’s full, and times being as they are, well, the Hilton budget wouldn’t stretch to a new one, and, Jeez, you know, Fosters certainly hasn’t any spare furniture cash lying around. But Cheong didn’t spill them beans.
Instead, he concluded: “Don’t worry about the set of Grange. Philip and I drank that years ago.”
The thing about a complete set of Grange is that nobody ever drinks one. So nobody will ever know whether that set was long ago kidney-filtered by Cheong and Whitey, who simply drank it, refilled it with Jacob’s Creek, recorked it, fudged the capsules from bits and pieces scavenged at Grange recorking clinics over the years, and locked the bottles back in the cabinet. Like gastroporn food, and The Grange, this Caucasian artefact has value only as long as it is never used for its original purpose.
Anyway, we ate our exquisite meal, and suddenly, there we were, the Liews and Whitey, out the front of the Hilton. A calm and dignified exit. Queuing for cabs like everyone else, in a city devoid of a winemaker who can match Cheong’s culinary revolution. A city which now has not one serious cutting edge restaurant. Of course you can go silver service and pay ridiculous amounts for the wine to keep the linen budget covered, but there’s not much food on that top-end napery that will beat the lovely, inexpensive stuff you can find in Wah Hing or Indian Village.
The Grange name can now go back safely to the 1844 farm at MacGill, where Dr. Penfold’s fierce winemaking wife, Mary, picked her first crop of grenache, and set this whole mighty ferment fizzing. And there in Victoria Square young Simon Bryant’s brasserie absorbs that sacred gastronomic battleground while he replaces Maggie Beer with a Quixotic campaign to stop the Chinese eating dogs. Woof woof.
The Grange Restaurant & Cheong Liew’s Last Long Table
Friday 18th December 2009
The Adelaide Hilton International Hotel
2000 Dom Perignon
Jellied Abalone Chicken and the Sea Dances
Drunken prawns, oysters
Olive fried octopus
Calamari turban with squid ink pasta
Tuna with soy-cured egg yolk pasta
Fried soft shell crab with salted duck egg yolk
Turnip in pastries
2008 Mountadam High Eden Riesling
2007 Cape Mentelle Wallcliffe Sauvignon blanc Semillon
Shark fin pouch in game consommé
Salt-baked ocean trout, grilled vegetables with fragrant rice
2005 Chandon Vintage Rosé
Roasted Muscovy duck with sour cherries
Spice-grilled Wagyu beef
2007 Mitolo G.A.M. Shiraz
Russian praline torte
Portuguese custard tart, chocolate sauce, durian cream
Black rice and palm sugar pudding
Flavoured fruit ice, sorbet fruits, agar agar, adzuki beans
Veuve Cliquot Demi Sec NV
CHEONG JUDGING AT KRIS LLOYD'S CHEESE FEST AT THE PENFOLD'S MAGILL ESTATE RESTAURANT LATE LAST YEAR. WILL THE GRANGE NAME NOW RETURN TO THE PLACE IT BELONGS? BRENT LIEDERITZ PHOTOGRAPH