Food with an Aussie touch is being served up to celebrate the day THERE ARE MANY Australian chefs in Hong Kong but hardly the proportional number of Australian restaurants. For one, it is hard to open such a venue as defining the food is a challenge in itself. Forty years ago, overcooked meat and soggy vegetables were the norm in Australia, and Chicken Maryland was considered gourmet. Blame the Brits for that. In the early days Australian cuisine was mostly based on English and Scottish traditions, imported by the country's first settlers. Then the gold rush brought in Asian immigrants and with them new cooking styles. Immigrants from Italy, Greece and Lebanon have also strongly influenced Australian dining. But ask the chefs what modern Australian cuisine is and you are likely to get a different answer every time. Australian Mark Percy, executive chef of M at the Fringe (2877 4000), thinks his country is too young to truly have a national cuisine. But he has witnessed how multiculturalism has slowly changed the way Australians eat. 'Our family is of British descent and when I was a child we ate a lot of roasts and grilled vegetables and seafood,' he said. 'Then we started getting into Asian-style food about 20 years ago and my mom would do stir-fries.' M at the Fringe is a Continental rather than an Australian restaurant but, as owner Michelle Garnaut is also from Down Under, some of the national character inevitably shows in dishes such as 'a pretty fish fry up' to the char-grilled veal. Then, of course, there is M's pavlova. Another Australian chef, Wade Watson of Lux (2868 9538), does not buy the notion of modern Australian cuisine, calling it 'Asian fusion' and 'a fad'. Watson usually cooks 'international fusion' but he is whipping up a special Australia Day menu of blue pumpkin soup, meat pie, oyster Kilpatrick, Morten Bay bugs and game (emu, ostrich and venison) - Australian old school. Others believe it is cultural diversity that makes Australian cuisine. Australians David Ball from Belvedere (Inter-Continental Grand Stanford 2731 2880) and Nicholas Blair of Yu (Hotel Inter-Continental 2721 1211), are in this clan. Their restaurants are among the few that position themselves as Australian. Ball took the helm of Belvedere seven months ago and has since revamped the menu to reflect his Australian background. New dishes include marinated grilled king prawn, and pea and corn risotto with chilli jam. Blair is launching a new menu today that consists of 'honest flavours', with signature dishes including pan-seared barramundi on batons of zucchini and Swiss chard, and shellfish curry velute. Other Australian restaurants are offering vastly different foods. Grill restaurant Wooloomooloo (2894 8010) celebrates today with a pint of Foster's and a meat pie for $38 or a five-course surf-and-turf dinner for $450. Crocodile filet kebabs also feature. Opia (JIA Boutique Hotel 3196 9100), which recently won an SCMP/Harper's Bazaar Style Award, serves 'Australian free-style' cuisine by Melbourne chef Teage Ezard. It is multicultural and 'anything goes'. His Japanese-inspired oyster shooters with mirin, wasabi tamari and seaweed green tea soba rolls are legendary. Peak Cafe Bar (2140 6877) offers 'Aussie grog + tucker' from now until Sunday, including dishes such as seafood skewer and roast Australian organic chicken breast with wilted spinach, mashed potato and pesto sauce. One thing is for sure. Australian cuisine, in its many forms, will become increasingly popular.