Aboriginal Bush Traders – Lyon’s Cottage

On the Darwin Esplanade is one of the oldest remaining heritage buildings in the main city area. Dating from the 1920s, Lyons Cottage was built in connection with the phone line that once linked Australia to Great Britain. It is wonderful building constructed from local porcellanite stone in the architectural style of so many British styled colonial dwellings found throughout the tropical regions of the once mighty empire.

I first came across the building in my youth while it was being reconstructed following damage sustained in Cyclone Tracy. Now a listed building and somewhat of a tourist attraction, these days I visit it whenever I can for the food served from the former servants quarters/kitchen area that is connected to the main building by a covered walkway. A serving hatch opens out onto the lawns of the cottage which becomes a generous seating area out in the open under shade umbrellas. The seating area itself overlooks the esplanade and the Darwin port. During the dry season, and most of the wet season, the view is comfortably admired from the park bench type seating, with the lightly fragrant from the evergreen frangipani flowers, and the birds hanging around humbugging you for a feed.

I wasn’t handling the day well in the office and so, as it was nearing lunch time, I picked up a pile of papers for proof reading and hiked over to Lyons Cottage and ordered a dish the counter staff simply referred to as ‘the dukkah’. It sounded interesting – all familiar ingredients in a way I had never thought to combine them in a meal. Placing my order with a skinny flat white coffee, I found myself a makeshift desk in the shade and carried on working. No number card for the table is required here – the staff know who you are and simply find you; wherever you’ve found a table.

The coffee came out first. I was so glad. This would have to one of the finest coffees of anywhere in the city. I have had their coffee several times before and it never fails to impress. This is seriously good coffee.

The menu here is inspired by bush produce – particularly spices, seeds, and berries. The menu is chalk boarded at the ordering / serving hatch and while there is a familiar core menu, there is also a large portion of it featuring bush tucker and turns over seasonally. Not being that familiar with bush tucker, I get the impression that the selections on the menu originate from central Australia. Further, the Aboriginal Bush Traders resembles to me artwork I have seen associated with the township of Papunya and their honey ant dreaming symbology (have a look at their township layout). I’m no authority on this and could be completely wrong.

Nonetheless, the ‘dukkah’ followed some minutes later while I had green markings happening all over a page of editing. The waitress chuckled as she worked out what I was doing at the table – the staff here are wonderfully warm and friendly and have always taken the time to work through the menu choices with me when I couldn’t decide what I wanted. But back to the dish…

This dish was amazing. How do I describe it – a fresh, light sourdough bun opened up and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a dukkah spice mix. On top of that was an avocado and feta smash with micro herbs and pepitas sprinkled on top. This was finished off with another drizzle of olive oil. There was a tremendous saltiness to dukkah mix (it wasn’t the feta) and I wouldn’t be surprised if the dukkah itself was made from a mixture of bush spices and fragrances. It was best eaten with a knife and fork, however the last half of each slice was eaten by hand.

The meal was deceiving – at first, when it was presented, I thought to myself that there was no way that it would satisfy my hunger pangs. But I was so wrong. I finished eating and discovered that it was just enough. Not too much, not too little – just right.

Was it a value for money dish? Most certainly. And here’s the thing, while familiar items on the menu (cakes, slices, coffees, etc) all seem reasonably priced and on par with the other cafes in town, the bush tucker dishes leave me baffled – only because they are so unique and I really don’t have a reference point to mentally compare notes with. Put it this way, did I pay what I would expect to pay for an open sandwich, or a ‘smashed avo’ somewhere else? Yes. Perhaps I paid a little less. On that basis I would have to say this was value for money.

Add to the delightful meal and amazing coffee the scenery, the friendly staff, the heritage of the location, and the fact that with a mobile phone I could just about work anywhere, it all adds up to a great office away from the office.

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