NAOMI Lowry feels just as comfortable serving up dishes from her grandma’s recipe book as she is executing fine European cuisine.
The English-born, globe-trotting, Sydney resident is finally putting all the things she loves on a plate at Culina Et Vinum (Kitchen And Wine) in Sydney’s trendy Darlinghurst which opened late last year.
She is a bowerbird for recipes, not only her grandmother’s, lugging 80kg of books when she made the permanent move from London to Sydney in 2007, after several trips here since 2001.
From scones in her grandma’s kitchen in Wales and tours of London’s Borough Markets and Neal’s Yard, to working at James Viles’ Biota in Bowral and more recently Popolo in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, Lowry offers a range of dishes from her eclectic collection. It could range from the ramped up version of her own grandmother’s peppered mackerel on the launch menu to the Italian nonna-inspired Gnocchi alla Norma with eggplant, tomato and ricotta on the current menu.
“I do go a bit left of centre sometimes,” she says. “Like my pepper-cured mackerel with grapes and ajo bianco (a cold soup made with almonds, garlic and grape juice). Trust me! It works.”
“Is everyone going to put garlic, grapes and mackerel together, probably not, but hey! Give it a go.”
Much as she has done with her own family recipes, she is always picking up new grandma’s recipes from her international cast of staff.
“Why would you not want to increase your knowledge. I learnt to cook rice from a kitchen-hand and I haven’t messed up rice since,” she says. “They all have something they love and adore – so it will evolve from my family recipes to Culina ‘family’ recipes.”
That is translated into the current winter menu which features a Middle Eastern-influenced entree of grilled quail tweaked with cracked wheat, orange, herbs and pomegranate dressing with sumac yoghurt to a ramped up Carnaroli Risotto with spanner crab, herbs and prawn dust.
Just as she felt at her own grandmothers’ table, Naomi says winter dining should be like a warm embrace.
“And I hope they leave feeling full, there are never going to be small portions, there were never small portions in my family,” she says.