What are they?
Fragrant wild hibiscus flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa) with a delicate raspberry- rhubarb flavour, preserved in a light cane-sugar syrup. Their most popular use is as an exotic champagne cocktail garnish, something Lee Etherington of the Wild Hibiscus Flower Company accidentally discovered at a dinner party in 1998. Now he exports to 52 countries, inspiring chefs from Pierre Herme to Alain Ducasse to use them in desserts, salads, ice-creams and with charcuterie. ''It's so versatile,'' he says. ''Basically it's a little flower that is hollow and firm, and doesn't change its brilliant colour when heated. I'd like to see more people playing with what they can do with that, as they do in Japan.''
Where are they?
The Ruby Red cocktail at Hurricane's Grill in Bondi teams both the hibiscus flower and syrup with vodka, pomegranate liqueur, muddled lime and muscat grapes. "People love the idea of the flower inside the glass," says bar manager Dusan Barczi. "We can sell up to 30 Ruby Reds in a single Saturday night.'' At the new Mejico restaurant on Pitt Street, executive chef Daniel Schai serves hibiscus flower in a milk chocolate shot with cinnamon-infused tequila and pecan nuts. In Kings Cross, Grant King uses the blood-red colour to good effect in a hibiscus ice-cream with mulled figs, mulled wine and an edible candle of rhubarb and hibiscus that features on a menu inspired by the television series Game of Thrones. In the Hunter Valley, George Francisco serves a pre-dessert of hibiscus sorbet at Robert's Restaurant . "We often pour sparkling wine over the sorbet at the table," he says. "Kind of like a hibiscus spider."
At the Paragon Cafe in Carlton North, the most popular breakfast order is for porridge with soy chai milk and hibiscus flower. ''People love it because the syrupy juices go through the porridge, and they get to eat the flower as well,'' owner Joe Mullen says.
Multitasking Circa chef Paul Wilson tops his native lemon aspen pavlova with hibiscus ripple ice-cream, while at North Melbourne's Libertine, chef-owner Nick Creswick generally saves hibiscus flowers for Valentine's Day and Christmas. ''I've done them as a sorbet with orange blossom pudding and lavender cream,'' he says. ''The flower and syrup also work well in a mocktail with iced tea.''
If you're travelling, stop by London's lovely The Bar at the Dorchester for a Hibiscus Royale cocktail of rose-flavoured vodka, cranberry juice, hibiscus syrup and champagne (if you have £17, that is).
Why do I care?
They make people go ''ooh, what's that?''
Can I do it at home?
Can you ever. Add a flower and a dash of syrup to champagne or prosecco, and watch it ''dance''. Or use the flowers on pavlova, cheesecake, goat's cheese salads and white chocolate desserts.
Wild hibiscus flowers in syrup, Dan Murphy's, David Jones, Coles Liquor Stores ($9.99), and online from bushtuckershop.com
Gastropark, 5-9 Roslyn Street, Kings Cross, 8068 1017
Roberts Restaurant, Corner of Halls and Broke Roads, Pokolbin, 4998 7330
Mejico, 105 Pitt Street, Sydney, 9230 0119
Hurricane's Grill, 130 Roscoe Street, Bondi Beach, 9130 7101
Paragon Cafe, 651 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North, 9347 7715.
Libertine, 500 Victoria Street, North Melbourne, 9329 5228.
Circa, 2 Acland Street, St Kilda, 9536 1122.
The Bar at the Dorchester, 53 Park Lane, London.
Hibiscus flower champagne jelly
You can either set a hibiscus flower in the jelly or serve one on top, or both.
600ml sparkling wine
100ml hibiscus flower syrup
100g castor sugar
5 titanium strength gelatine leaves
4 to 8 hibiscus flowers in syrup
200ml whipped cream or thick yoghurt
1. Chill four parfait or wine glasses. Combine 150ml of the sparkling wine with the syrup from the jar and castor sugar and gently heat, stirring, just until sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
2. Soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. Squeeze excess water from the gelatine and add to the warm syrup, whisking until dissolved.
3. Add remaining champagne, scoop off the froth and strain into each glass. Add a hibiscus flower to each glass (optional), then transfer to the fridge and leave overnight to set.
4. Top with whipped cream or yoghurt, a hibiscus flower and a final drizzle of syrup to serve.
TRENDING Lamb ribs (lamb breast with ribs attached) are the hot new cut. Spotted: Jow's sweet and-sour lamb ribs spotted at Ms.G's, Potts Point, and crispy lamb ribs with Sichuan eggplant sang choy bao at Circa, St Kilda.