Darleys, Blue Mountains

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.


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