July 24th, 2012

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

This Week's Column - Fine French Fare - Home-Grown

Published in the Inner West Independent and City News.

If your foodie heart belongs to France, here are three quick ways you can celebrate your inner Francophile without leaving the country or contributing to those pesky food miles…

In a move that must feel like coming full circle, Damien Pignolet is back at The Bellevue, a mere half kilometre away from his previous home, Bistro Moncur at The Woollahra Hotel. At a recent visit (review forthcoming) I was told by staff that as soon as it was announced he was on his way back, the old Moncur crowd started arriving, asking: “Is Damien here yet?

The menu has already had a gentle tweak, though local favourites, like the corned wagyu silverside, and the smoked duck and king brown mushroom carpaccio, have remained. Damien believes that “balance is the most important thing on a menu” so you’ll find rich, wintery gems like cassoulet alongside a selection of lighter dishes. Everything I tried was accessible, and immaculately cooked.

Damien, who was in the restaurant on the night I dined, tells me he is keen to feed “people who love to eat.” So if you’ve ever been a bit intimidated by the Moncur site or reputation, consider this your opportunity to enjoy the classics from one of the masters of the Australian food scene, in a room that you enter though an old fashioned pub.

Bellevue Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Pepe Saya’s Truffle Butter is made using truffles harvested by Duncan Garvey, the man whose knowledge and expertise really started Australia’s truffle industry off on the right track. Meaning, we can all benefit from Duncan's research trips to France.

The Southern Highlands truffles are mostly grown around hazelnut trees on private land. Pepe drives down to collect them; then combines them with his cultured single origin butter (each batch is made using milk from just one farm).

Duncan recommends you eat the butter on a steak, or on boiled potatoes. I had mine on an oven-roasted chicken breast – it was so good I wanted to lick the foil it came in (it’s there to protect the butter from oxidisation).

Get yours at Victor Churchill, or make a day trip down to the Moss Vale Farmers’ Market on Saturday 28th July. It’s a short season, so take advantage of the market to pick up this year’s truffle salt, truffle honey and of course Pepe’s truffle butter. As an extra incentive to make the trip, Pepe will also have his raspberry panna cotta, made with milk from members of Country Valley Milk and raspberries from Cuttaway Creek Raspberry Farm, to help with stamina for the long drive home.

Finally if you’re looking for a duck cassoulet companion, I had a chance to drink Nepenthe’s 2010 Pinnacle The Good Doctor Pinot Noir [RRP $35] recently. It’s a gorgeous crimson with big red fruits to smooth its passage. It has more body than most, but still tastes like it’s been made from whole bunches of grapes, with some herbaceous green notes in there too. I found it easy to drink now, though I suspect (if I had the patience) as someone who loves her reds soft and mellow, I would like it even more in a couple of years. Who has years though, when it’s cold and there’s cassoulet to be eaten?