Easily Australia’s best-kept secret, fine dining takes on a whole new meaning at Queensland’s The Flackyard restaurant. Writer Ivy Carruth tucks into an Indigenous menu of cured crocodile and bush ants.
Nik Flack is a tall man. He stands ramrod straight on the shady church porch, perfectly framed in the narrow arched doorway. I’ve come here for sanctuary, indeed, but not that which has to concern itself with impending doom in the afterlife. The Flackyard would be an instant hit in any big city, packed to the beautifully bare rafters with well-heeled patrons, but Nik chooses to make his life and his home within the tiny Pioneer Valley ‘burgh of Pinnacle, Queensland, in the Mackay region. Population? About 250 people.
“I wanted to come home. I wanted to raise the boys here.”
Flack’s career spans continents, five-star kitchens and mercurial head chefs: this culinarian could write his own ticket, and he has. Using the lessons he learnt under Shannon Bennett’s flagship Vue de Monde in Melbourne, the three chef-hatted Wildflower in Perth and on ultra-luxury expedition cruising’s True North, he’s turned this cosy heritage-listed tabernacle into a whisper-worthy destination for indulgent Indigenous degustations.
Inside the intimate space, with room for just 12, creamy shiplap walls welcome guests into a fine dining experience that’s anything but stuffy. Nik’s partner, Em and one of their young sons, Hunter, created the tree bark “chandelier”, and the wall hanging that spells out LOVE is a nod to the nous of bush tucker ingenuity. Em is also the brains behind the beverage menu, which is equally as impressive and bush-tucker-based as the food. The Indigenous art that adorns the walls, gallery style, is available to buy, but the one I’d have gladly plunked down the lollies to take home with me is sadly spoken for.
“We showcase and honour awe-inspiring Australian native ingredients”
Words like extraordinary and exceptional are not to be used with wild abandon lest their meaning be corrupted by hyperbole, so with that in mind, the food and its presentation here are both extraordinary and exceptional. It’s almost too pretty to eat… almost; my dining partner and I find ourselves gawping at each dish presented to us before we can bring ourselves to disturb the exacting tweezer-placed perfection to eat it. Nik brings each dish to the table, “I very much enjoy working front of house,” he says. (Degustations are available in four, six, eight or 10 courses, with or without wine pairings.)
“What is Australian cuisine, really? This one is 65,000 years ahead of our time”
An Acknowledgement of Country begins every meal, setting the tone for what is to be placed before us. This is the food of the land, not lip service to sustainability. Much of it is foraged on-site around the 1.2-acre parcel where the Flackyard sits and where Nik and his family live in a “shed” on the property. There’s a worm farm, microbat houses, solar power, rainwater tanks and composting.
The boys, Hunter and his younger brother Iluka, enjoy pinching herbs from the kitchen garden and creating handmade cards that serve as gift vouchers. Everything has meaning. Ingredients are sourced locally or, when that proves impossible, from Indigenous providers. Nik particularly values the wisdom of Leila Nimbadja from Maningrida Wild Foods, senior traditional owner and Gurr-Goni woman.
“It’s a love affair with Indigenous food, methods and flavours. It’s sustainability and respect – a true honour”
The food is exacting and surprising and exactly what food should be. It’s a walk through the bush with your eyes closed and your mouth open; it’s a taste of Australia. The first course, the Bush Tucker Board, sets expectations high with preserved sugar cane anchoring a gelled dollop of bottlebrush and citrusy green ants dusted in Davidson plum, lemon myrtle and finger lime husk. Cured crocodile on a squid ink cracker with desert lime and crispy salty samphire might have you crying out with delight at its perfectly balanced piquancy, and the emu arranged on a basil fritter with rosella petal extract is unctuously decadent. You’ll want more.
“The food is seasonal; there are six Indigenous seasons”
And from there, it just gets better. Each course presented and interpreted by Nik is a masterclass in eating with your eyes first and in savouring the story of each delicious bite. My dining partner asks him if people ever just sit and giggle. Reserved in the way that many chefs are, he smiles and says, “sometimes.” There are seven more courses, and we keep changing our favourites like children do with new toys. In this church, I could make a religion of the paperbark baked carrot dish with flaxseed, native thyme, youlk (native radish) and feta, and the wild-caught coral trout with finger lime, sea grapes, purslane and fennel is without fault (and elegant enough to be hung as art).
Vegans will have zero issues here and are catered to with aplomb, as are those who choose not to imbibe alcohol. Em’s cocktails can be made with or without booze; the one that caught my eye? Espresso martini-style, The Happy Little, with non-alcoholic spicy spirit Seedlip 94, Wattleseed and Vegemite-infused agave. It sure beats communion wine. Hallelujah to that.
For bookings and menus, see theflackyard.com For more to see and do in Queensland, visit queensland.com/nz/en/home