Before arriving at Ayers Rock most people have a fair idea of how they will fill their days. What surprised me was the highlight that a special Uluru dinner can add to your experience. These are our top picks.
Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it was previously known, has an almost magnetic pull on visitors drawing both local and international travellers into the Red Centre. The rock has stood here for 300 million years, it’s an iconic sight, peaceful, spiritual and as I and stood beneath it looking up, it’s more than a little awe-inspiring.
Having our most recognised natural landmark on your bucket list as an Australian is almost universal and for international visitors, the ‘travel triangle’ of Sydney, Uluru and Far North Queensland is one of the most popular itineraries.
While the main reason for visiting is undoubtedly Uluru itself, the foodie experiences here could be considered a very close second when deciding to add it to your travel plans. If you’d wondered what you were going to eat in the middle of the desert our experience was more creative, full of flavour and delicious than I could have imagined.
The introduction to local delicacies and discovering ways of preparing and incorporating a new ingredient are among the great joys of travelling for me and Uluru definitely pushed my thinking on Australian indigenous foods.
In Australian food culture the focus is on an abundance of fresh and delicious ingredients combined in a fusion of cooking styles and flavour profiles that reflect the diverse cultural background of Australians. The food at Ayers Rock Resort incorporates the best of modern Australian cuisine while using indigenous bush tucker to create something that is truly delicious, unique and Australian.
Bush tucker in Australia
Indigenous Australians are one of the oldest human cultures on the planet. Genetics has shown us that they arrived in Australia at least 40,000 years ago and over the generations have established not only what can and should be eaten from the local environment, but how to protect that land and food supply for later years and generations.
The diversity of indigenous foods came as quite a surprise. Vanessa Grace, Executive Chef at Ayers Rock Resort gave us our first introduction to the many special indigenous ingredients they regularly make use of in the menu. I found it interesting here that rather than use a strong ingredient almost as a garnish or overpowered it with other flavours as we’ve often experienced, the culinary team here spend time studying and experimenting with different preparations, figuring out what works together and tfrom that they create flavour profiles that draw out the unique attributes of each. It’s a gourmet food experience with a unique twist.
Sourcing the bush tucker ingredients is also given a lot of consideration, it’s done with a focus on supporting local communities, being sustainable over the long term while also being gentle on the environment. An unexpected addition to one dessert was green ants. As someone who heads rapidly in the other direction when I spot a green ant nest overhead, it took a bit to get my head around swallowing them. Anyone who has been bitten by one of the little blighters can tell you they sting and burn like the blazes when they nip you. These however were baked into a shard of sweet meringue and while I didn’t personally feel their slight citrus-like flavour justified the $700 a kilo price tag, they are perfectly safe to eat.
The price is a factor of scarcity and ensuring sustainability in supply. The ants are wild harvested in a traditional way, with a stick and personally, anyone who’s game to knock one of those nests out of a tree and hang around to collect it deserves all of that price and more.
The Sounds of Silence Experience
The Sounds of Silence experience is perhaps the best known of the Uluru dinner tours but the evening is about far more than just the food. You arrive out at the private dune location just before the sun begins to set. With live music playing, drinks and canapes are circulating and you can relax and enjoy the magic as the colour of the sky gradually changes and the sun sinks closer to the horizon.
Before it’s fully dark you head around the corner towards the seated area and notice, perhaps for the first time, that Uluru isn’t the only remarkable backdrop here. From the outdoor dining room you look across at Kata Tjuta, also known as The Olgas, in the distance. It truly is the most beautiful location.
Large round tables are set with white tablecloths and unless you are travelling with a big group you will be seated with other travellers as you dine. On our visit, the service was alternate plate drop but the normal format is buffet style where you go up to the assisted chef station and they’ll plate your choice. The menu changes each season but has a consistent focus on fresh, bush tucker inspired dishes.
A selection from the menu I enjoyed on our night here was warrigal green and mushroom rissoni, native thyme-scented lamb rack, saltbush potato pave, bush honey-roasted heirloom carrots, glazed greens and bush tomato jus. For dessert a whipped panna cotta, berry salad and rosella glass.
The whole setup is fabulous, it’s well away from the resort so everything is set up and managed on location and the staff are incredible, they really make the evening. It’s a large production, there’s a lot of guests but the staff manage to make everyone feel noticed.
Later as the meal progresses there is a presentation on the night sky which is really interesting and although I still struggle to make out the basic constellations that isn’t in any way a reflection on the presentation. I must admit that when I look up at the intensity of stars out there away from all the light pollution of the city or even the resort it always blows me away.
Something to think about when booking any of these dinner tour experiences is that you will be outdoors all evening and depending on the time of year it can be very cold at night in the desert so make sure you have enough layers with you to keep you warm. You are also walking in red sand, so flat shoes not heels are best and ideally ones that will wipe or brush clean.
Tali Wiru is a fine dining experience. Like the Sounds of Silence location, it is also well away from the resort in the seclusion of the desert. I couldn’t pick where we were in relation to the other venues, it’s really flat out here and I expected to be able to pick them out in the distance but it’s a massive space and there were no light or sound clues. It’s easy to see how you could get lost out here.
The site is prepared with a couple of terraced levels that are oriented with Uluru in front of you, around to the right and further into the distance is Kata Tjuta. As far as you can see in all directions, there is the simple beauty of nature. You start off on the lower level again with pre-dinner drinks and nibbles.
At the Sounds of Silence everything was on a big scale, at Tali Wiru it’s a more intimate experience. The attention is even more personalised and your glass doesn’t have a chance to be empty. The meal at Sounds of Silence was excellent but Tali Wiru is at another level, it’s a higher price point but while there are similarities in the structure of the evening they are quite different experiences.
This is the one to pick if you are after a romantic table for 2 or you are a small group sharing a meal to remember. While the image below shows tables set for our larger group of seven, they are configured based on the evenings bookings.
Again the menu changes for the new season but includes 4 courses plus canapes with wine pairing on point for each dish. For main I enjoyed waghu fillet, salt baked celeriac, paperbark smoked onion soubise, king brown mushroom and smoked bacon jus accompanied by a Yarra Valley Syrah. I was also unable to resist the textures of chocolate for dessert with quandong and Davidson plum and served with a Murray Valley Muscat.
During the course of the evening a didgeridoo is played, we learned about bush tucker ingredients and get to see and taste raw versions of what will be included later in the menu, we watch the sunset and soak up the serenity. There is an astronomy presentation, I still can’t pick the constellations until they are pointed out to me, but surely after this one, I will be able to. The storytelling is more detailed, the setting more intimate, a truly memorable evening.
Field of lights dinner
With only two nights in Uluru, we went on the pre-dawn field of lights experience tour which included breakfast up on the dune as the sun came up. There is however an alternative that may suit many visitors better where you can do the experience in reverse.
Arrive at the dune and enjoy the panoramic views as the sun go down over Uluru with a glass of chilled bubbles and canapes. There’s a three-course dinner, again featuring bush tucker ingredients and a presentation helping you navigate the milky way gleaming overhead. Then after enjoying the view from above, take a wander down through the field of lights at your own pace.
The Field of Lights dinner runs for around 4.5 hours including transfers from the front of the resort and time to wander at your own pace through the paths inside the light field. The attraction comprises 50,000 glass light orbs and was original designed by British artist Bruce Munro in 2016. It was intended to be a temporary art installation but after a couple of extensions it remains as popular as ever and I believe it has now been extended indefinitely.
Making bush tucker accessible
Ayers Rock Resort make an effort to ensure the bush tucker menu and experience is accessible to all visitors. While the dinner tour experiences aren’t in everyone’s budget there are elements included in the food and drinks menus at the venues across the resort and amongst their free daily activities on the agenda that are well worth looking into.
The Bush Food Experience gives guests the opportunity to see, taste and cook with the local ingredients. Another free activity well worth taking up is the Garden walk with an indigenous guide who will introduce you to the desert garden and how some of the plants grown there are used in both food and medicine.
As you shelter from the afternoon sun, a wild orange negroni in the hand contemplating the evening’s activities we hope you enjoy your dinners, sunsets and night skies in Uluru as much as we did whichever options you choose.
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