Archive for May, 2011

Darleys, Blue Mountains

May 29, 2011

My father has a rule in life to never eat in the restaurant at the hotel where he’s staying. It’s a good rule to ensure you always broaden your horizons beyond a sheltered environment.  I’m also slightly suspicious of hotel restaurants, since they cater for a trapped audience who seek comfort & convenience as much as decent food.

We had spent a few pleasant days at Lillianfels over Easter. The weather had turned on Saturday, reducing visibility to nothing in a place where it’s all about the views. So it was nice to be tucked up in a decent hotel with a well regarded restaurant. It made it OK to break this rule.

A martini set things up nicely for our meal. Cold and potent, just the way I like it:

A word to the menu which offered indulgent hotel cooking, and so it should for $120 for 3 courses.  We are on a par with Sydney fine dining, so there would be no room for excuses.

I remember things kicking off well with the Amuse, not that I can remember what it was….maybe a ceviche. I liked it though.

However any momentum, kick-started by the martini was dealt a blow by the lamest of bread – a true Gregg’s example, something you’d find in any high-street. If you paying this kind of money for a meal, there should be no shortcuts.

The entrees did do a little something to put the meal back on track. My wife had opted for home smoked Tasmanian salmon, crab salad, late season heirloom tomatoes, fresh wasabi crème fraiche.

Not exactly a lot of cooking going on, more a question of good arranging on a plate. But it tasted pretty pleasant. There was though no wow factor to speak of. Any cook could put these ingredients together…

I went for the ‘boys’ dish. Wagyu beef cheek lasagne, cauliflower, wilted tomato, crispy school prawns, prawn butter

The beef cheek lasagne was a fine bit of cooking, several layers of pasta interspersed with the delightfully stringy rich beef. It was cute. However the same could not be said for the other elements. It’s hard to put down a prawn, but it didn’t really belong and the rest of the veg just looked like padding. I think it’s a sign of sophistication in a male diner to resist the lure of a surf ‘n’ turf and maybe this was my moment. Liked the beef, but everything else was a little average.

Main courses, was where we expected hotel dining to come into its own and this was the best part of the meal. Vanessa had Riverina lamb, slow cooked rump, vol-au-vent of braised neck, baby beets, fennel and sorrel butter

Continuing the now common practice of cooking multiple cuts of the same meat, it was a good rendition and a fine example of winter cooking. the lamb was well elevated with some good technique in the vol-au-vent and the sorrel being a good under-rated vegetable.

My main was a killer dish: Red Gate Partridge, roasted, confit, en crepinette, savoy cabbage, celeriac, blackberry jus

A good rich dish with the partridge a fine gamey bird which makes me long for the darker tasting grouse. It had everything one could want on a plate – soft breast, tasty leg with another much overlooked veg – savoy cabbage. It all came together with an intense jus and sweet/woody celeriac. Excellent.

So the mains had rescued what was looking like a very average meal.

A pre-dessert was presented. I cannot recall what it was.

But the desserts were memorable in their own way. Vanessa had a text-book souffle: passionfruit with sour apple ice:

Good sweet gooey flavour with the apple providing good contrast.

Being a chocolate hater, I opted for the Chocolate Indulgence – warm chocolate fondant, blackcurrant sorbet, chocolate orange tart, chocolate milkshake w espresso cream

A bad-ass selection of chocolateness. All were good and competent. I particularly enjoyed the milkshake and chocolate orange tart. It really is a death-by-chocolate scenario, which means you end the meal in a mini-sugar induced food coma. It served to end the meal in a positive light and on a high, especially after the  pre-requisite double espresso.

So it was a good Saturday night ‘out’, but it always is with my wife and a bottle of wine (pretty much to myself). The food in places was a let-down, not really justifying the price and aspirations, especially the entrees. The mains as befitting the winter weather were the real winners and this in my mind is where hotel restaurants excel. But there’s not enough technique or indulgence to make this a must-eat restaurant. Happy to spend Easter there, but not sure I’d rush back for the food.


Lochiel House, Blue Mountains

May 22, 2011

1259 Bells Line Of Rd, Kurrajong Heights, NSW

A lack of foreward planning and impending fatherhood meant Easter was spent in the Blue Mountains. A dramatic part of the world, so it was hard to complain. It’s easy to be complacent about a place so close.

The proximity meant we were able to sample another regarded restaurant only a couple of hours from our door. So here we were for Friday lunch at the two-hat Lochiel House in the bright autumn sunshine,  a lovely petite heritage building with lots  of nooks and crannies:

Inside there are a couple of rooms with tables nicely laid out – cosey in winter, relaxing in summer. The room has an understated elegance and has been treated with a fair hand. It boded well for the meal ahead.


And I would have left happy having only had the bread and olive oil butter:

The sourdough bread was hot from the oven, crispy and just delightful, accompanied with the olive butter with a hint of rosemary. The kitchen were able to supply more when we wolfed it all down.

A special mention must also go to the  accompanying olives that were sweet and subtle, without the sledgehammer brine. After one too many olive based martinis, my faith was restored in these little blighters.

We made our choice from the eclectic menu and settled in for our entrees:

Vanessa opted for gnocchi, sauteed with chestnut mushrooms, jerusalem artichoke cream and asparagus

The gnocchi was the cliched soft pillows and the various flavours came together nicely. As a list of ingredients, they weren’t anything to get excited about, but the evident freshness and resulting sweetness were lovely and it was a knockout dish. It was even possible to overlook the foam. It was that good.

I followed a different tack, opting for steamed dashi custard, smoked eel, scallop & avruga tartare, goldern enoki, mushroom soy:

It was a dish to admire for a moment. A couple of Asian diners later mentioned the accompanying leaf symbolised ‘death’, but hey, it was pretty. Clearly the intention was to capture an essence of Japan and it did just that. It may have been a little on the salty side, but the luxury ingredients and the sensitive handling of were terrific and it was something to dwell over. It’s certainly one of the most enjoyable entrees I’ve had this year.

And so on to the main courses. I’d ordered seared duck breast with smokey eggplant puress, figs, amontillado jus, jersulam artichokes, pumpkin seed wafer:

It was a dish greater than the sum of its parts. Anybody can cook duck well, but the combination was again spot on -the rich duck with the earthiness of eggplant & artichoke with the sweet reduction of sherry. Very enjoyable.

Vanessa chose the ‘house speciality’ – spiced butter poached spatchcock, yabbies, okra, celery hearts, cashews and fenugreek sprouts:

Essentially a sophisticated curry, the cooking itself could not be faulted. It was a competent dish, especially with the lightness of touch attributed to the yabbie and squab. Yet, curries should always have a bit of unrefined aggression and of course this lacked the killer instinct, but there were no complaints.

And so on to desserts.

Vanessa went for soft meringue roulade, vanilla cream, rosè jelly, strawberries,  and shortbread pebbles

Again a perfectly composed dish – some gooeiness (sp) of the marshmallow meringue with a bit of freeze-dried action with the shortbread. It’s a modern take on a traditional Scottish dish. It went down very well.

My dessert was a chocolate and banana custard combination:

It was a dish that hardly excited on the page and when it  arrived. We had a light-weight cylinder of chocolate and some ‘soil’ with some elementary slices of banana (bold), but then you taste the 70% chocolate custard and wow it was sensational. Everything else on the plate paled into comparison. The custard was the suprise of the meal. Loved it.

We finished with a fine coffee and some cute petit fours.

It was overall an excellent lunch. We had dishes based in several different countries, but it wasn’t jarring or just schizophrenic cooking as it could easily have been. The dishes were all singular plates of skill and refinement with combinations that really satisfied. The service at times was a little flamboyant for a regional restaurant, playing up to the notion of fine dining, but everything that really mattered was on the plate and it proved highly enjoyable. We recommend.