Archive for September, 2011

A Colonial Antipodean Dinner, Vaucluse House

September 25, 2011

An impromptu night out with a twist. A friend of mine had told me Historic Houses Trust were running a food week. The opportunity was to experience what convicts ate 150+ years ago or what graced the dining tables of the landed gentry. It was an easy decision to choose the later. Obviously it came with a price tag, but it promised an unusual night out, so happy to take the plunge.

The dinner sort to emulate a dinner held in 1846 as reported by Godfrey Mundy in his diaries. It started with a tour round the grounds of Vaucluse House, one of these gorgeous colonial houses that dot the Sydney area. I’d yet to get round to visiting this fine example, so it offered a handy excuse.

We have a couple of guides to tour the beautiful grounds, describing the local fauna. It’s an opportunity to showcase their knowledge and there’s some lively debate regarding the origination of hibiscus…. (“when I was in Egypt I met a tribe….”). It was also novel to see the source of much of our impending dinner in the kitchen gardens. Farm to plate is just so in right now….

We’re also able to see the main house by candle-light. It’s nicely atmospheric and offers  a real sense of how the wealthy lived many years ago. It’s interesting to think about how living was so much more social then before TV, with a decent dinner the perfect conduit. I had been party to some gloriously wanky research a while ago that surmised that sofas had become the primary signifier of socio-cultural mobility in the 21st century. I suspect if this was the case it would have been in the 19th.

After a good hour we feel as though we’ve earnt a glass of champagne (hibiscus optional). The champagne is generous and we get a few glasses before we sit down for the dinner. We’re seated in tables of 8 and get to know our fellow diners. We’re the youngest by about 20 years. They settle in with a glass of wine. We get stuck into our first bottle at reasonable pricing.

The first course is wallaby tail broth with baby turnips, sauteed baby gem & garden herbs

Consomme like in style, served warm it’s a nicely balanced fresh soup. The wallably tails are gamey and tender. It’s not a hard eat. I love a bit of turnip for body and the whole is almost sweet. It’s very pleasant.

The next dish is a stand-out: escabeche poached snapper with smoked oyster relish & dill

The escabeche is subtle and adds real flavour to what I consider not the most exciting of fishes. However it’s a good textural fish that holds up well to the saltiness of the oyster, which comes through in a lengthy finish. It’s a dish to savour.

The ‘mains’ give an opportunity to crack open another bottle of red. First up is roasted squab with watercress, lemon & eschallot salad & bread sauce

The colonial palate is easy to spot here and nothing says ‘institution’ like bread sauce. It’s far better than it sounds – an oniony bechamel. Another pleasure is the baby pigeon which demands to be gnawed at. The eschallot salad completes the dish with a bit of freshness. It reminds me how much I love autumnal food in the UK. Would have loved seconds.

The final main is roasted kangaroo rump, white yam puree with native spinach, port jus & lilly pilly jelly

With so many kangaroos around at that time, of course this was going to be on the menu with the yams probably the only nod to indigenous culture that the guests presumeably cared so little about. It’s a good lean, flavoursome substitute for beef. Under-rated in my opinion. The yam is essentially sweet-potato and the port gives everything a bit of body. No real great shakes in terms of skill, but decent flavours, but we are talking about a period of time when “what can we eat?” was more prevalent than “where shall we have lunch?”

The dinner finished with: Tropical fruit plate with loquat, mandarin, pomegranate, custard apple & guava ice

The purpose of this was more to showcase the quality and variety of local fruits brought up-to-date with guava ice. Loquat & custard apple are an interesting discovery. It’s perfectly pleasant, but you’re no friend of mine if you can get excited about fruit salad.

It’s always good when food is an excuse to learn. Most of my motivation is based around decent eating, so it’s continuing a trend. It was a decent night out with surprisingly good food. I’ll be up for a repeat at another place and time (just don’t make it the 1980s….)

Il Perugino, Mosman

September 4, 2011

171 Avenue Road, Mosman, NSW

It’s been a while since the last post. We are now a family. A lovely baby girl. It will mean our dining out will be a little more sporadic, but I’ll be working hard in the coming years to cultivate a budding gourmand.

Our first meal out post baby was an early dinner in neighbouring Mosman. I can now understand why people eat out at 6pm, since we had a couple of hours to ourselves. We headed to this well regarded Italian. By all accounts it’s a bit of an institution run by a few generations of the same family.

On the surface there’s a certain arrogance here that could only be found in Mosman. No website, no menu on the window and once you do sit down, no indication of prices anywhere.

But it is a disarming place. Service is meaningful & attentive. They’re mostly catering for local and repeat visitors and it shows as the postcard menus are explained while the waiter is seated. The family feel is obvious.

Brownie points are quickly earned with decent bread.

A sourdough fresh from the oven with decent grassy olive oil. The first of two BYO wines are cracked open (no corkage).

It’s a good interesting menu with lots of Italian classics.

Vanessa opts to start for seared scallops with cacciatore

What it lacks in size, it makes up for in flavour. Lovely fresh scallops with the Italian sausage being the star of the show with a smack of porkiness. A decent salsa verde brings it all together.

My primi piatti is seafood lasagne:

It’s awesome. Packed full of seafood in several thin layers of pasta – prawns, white fish, maybe a scallop. But the element I can most recall is weirdly the bechamel. It’s wonderfully silky and a perfect seafood base. Easily one the best entrees I can remember. At this stage I have no idea what it costs, but it’s worth it.

The secondi are big bruising plates. Vanessa opted for roast snapper with fresh seasonal vegetables and garlic butter

It was well cooked, sweet and succulent. The vegetables were a bit of an after-thought, but no complaints.

I had the typical bloke order – a plate of meat – veal cutlet with rosemary, garlic and funghi sugo.

It was bad-ass and something to satisfy. I loved the token decoration. There were accompanying greens, but it was all about the veal. It was a decent cut, if not something that really wowed. In hindsight hardly the boldest order or something to get a feel of cooking ability.

And finally on to desserts, that we made short work of:

A chocolate mousse cake:

A tiramisu (of course)

As you can see they were terrible…. It was a good end to the meal.

So a decent neighbourhood place and worthy of its reputation. For the record I think the food was about $75 a head. Not the cheapest, but the entrees showed real quality and mains satisfied the appetite. As a family man, I can see it’s going to be important to have some dependable local places. Looks like Il Perugino will fit the bill.