Dandenong Ranges, Victoria: Paperbark Café at Kuranga Native Nursery

By Michael Harden
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There are scones on the menu at the Paperbark Café but they’re unlike any other you’ll find in the Dandenong Ranges. Flavoured with the cinnamon/coffee flavour of wattleseed, the scones come served with jam made with native bush fruit, cream and a wonderfully sweet butter flecked with slices of macadamia nut. It’s a Devonshire tea, Jim, but not as we know it.

Paperbark café is part of the recently established Kuranga Native Nursery in Mount Evelyn, a nursery that not only stocks 3500 varieties of exclusively Australian native plants but has a fantastic produce store that includes an extensive range of jam, honey, chutney, pasta, infused olive oils and mustards that all contain flavours of the Australian bush.

Kuranga has recently moved to this larger site from its original home in Ringwood that owners Evan Lucas and Leanne Weston established in 1983. A fanatical following amongst local, national and international gardeners prompted the move to the Dandenong Ranges and Kuranga seems well situated to its new home  – away from the European tree areas that are higher up in the Ranges and amongst gum trees alive with the cackle of kookaburras.

The new site gives the nursery greater space for an even greater variety of plants and also allows the business to push another passion - the flavours of bush food. The nursery has a small section of bush food plants for sale at the moment - lemon myrtle, macadamia, mountain pepper, riberry (lilli pilli) – a range that will soon be expanded with other plants being grown both in the propagation area of the four acre nursery and at another propagation site in nearby Wandin. The plants are not just grown for sale, however. They are there to supply the Paperbark Café to help spread the word on how good these flavours are when they are used in the right way.

Faith Samuel heads the kitchen at Paperbark and uses the ingredients grown at the nursery in a skilled, interesting and subtle way. An open sandwich might include a bush chutney or chicken marinated with wild lime while, for breakfast you can get local fruit poached with lemon myrtle or porridge flavoured with wattleseed. There is nothing gimmicky about the cooking and you could easily eat many of the dishes in this light and airy place without being aware that you are eating in a bush food café.

Paperbark Café takes a refreshingly relaxed approach to the often-misunderstood flavours of the Australian bush, an attitude that should put it on the map of any food and wine foragers looking for something a little removed from the usual comfort zones.

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

Kuranga Native Nursery and Paperbark Café is located at 118 York Road, Mount Evelyn.

Regions

  • Yarra Valley, Dandenongs and the Ranges (VIC)

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