The restaurant is BYO, so we selected our own wines, beginning the night with an organic Pinot Noir from Grandview in Tasmania (the makers of Grandvewe Cheeses). It was quite lovely, full of fruit and delicately oaked... as a result we had quaffed much of it before we began to eat, and needed to make a mercy dash for a second bottle. My partner in crime chose a Goose Island (McLaren Vale) Grenache/Sangiovese which tasted of strawberries, and was a perfect accompaniment to dessert. But I get ahead of myself...
We opted for the three course special, which gave you your choice of the menu in entrees, mains and desserts for $52 per head. The entrees were a little hit and miss - there were elements of exceptional, but they were disguised in what i would term bad matches. I chose the Braised Octopus, Olive Powder and Tomato, Goats Cheese Salad ($17) which had two stand out parts - the delicately cooked marinated octopus (served cold) and the lusciously creamy goat's cheese (probably a Woodside). The two were a surprisingly good combination together. However when you added in the quite tasty olive powder and the tomatoes, the octopus was totally lost.
My partner opted for the Cured Salmon, Corn Puree and Snowpea, Pink Onion Salad ($17), and again there were elements of the sublime, but overall I would term the dish a failure in terms of how the various elements combined. The house-cured salmon was divine. The curing was handled with a deft touch, and the natural flavours of the fish were enhanced and celebrated. When eaten in conjunction with the other parts of the dish, the predominant note to me seemed to be peanut butter (I assume from chopped peanuts in the salad in combination with the buttery corn puree). The salad of pink onions by itself was lovely, but when eaten with the salmon, it completely dominated it.
The main I chose was the triumph of the evening - Seared Venison, Pumpkin Puree and Chocolate Soil ($28). This was actually the first time I have ever ordered venison, and I was pretty much blown away. The searing method meant that the flesh was buttery and melted in your mouth. The combination with the pumpkin puree and pile of chocolate soil was what made the dish sublime. The sweetness of these two elements combined with the savoury flavour of the venison, and produced something that was greater than the sum of the ingredients. Wow! The only part of the dish that I did not like was the roasted beetroot, which is surprising because I am usually a beetroot fan. I think my dislike stemmed from two places - the first being that the beetroot was overcooked; and the second being that it simply distracted from the magic of the venison, pumpkin puree and chocolate - making it superfluous to the dish.
My partner's main selection was less sucessful - Roast Spatchcock, Onion Liquorice Puree and Pink Radish ($26). The mostly deboned spatchcock was pink around the remaining bones, and not particularly tasty. The dominant note in the dish was aniseed, but when you took a mouthful combining all the elements, I could see where the chef was going, and I quite liked the overall taste. The problem was, of course, the pink fowl - it just pushed the wrong buttons for me.
Now you'll have to excuse the dessert photos - we got over excited and started eating straight away before remembering I was documenting this for my own food porn. My dessert selection was a Milk Panna Cotta with fresh Mango and Coffee ($12) and the panna cotta was the second moment of sublime for me in the meal. It was the perfect texture, creamy, and decadently milky - almost like eating the essense of milk. I could eat it all day with no problems at all! The mango was nice - it had been slightly caramelised on the top. The coffee was clearly Toby's Estate, as it had a lovely familar flavour, and was 'foamed' with egg whites. The panna cotta and coffee combination was nice. I was unsure what the mango was doing there.
Braised Pineapple with Sorbet and Cherry, Violet Liquor ($12) was my partner's sweet selection. Apparently the pineapple had had four hours of braising, then was cooled. Unfortunately it tasted like Golden Circle to us, and we were thus a little disappointed. The sorbet was another story entirely. It was apple and passionfruit, and it packed a real zesty, palate-cleansing punch. When the pineapple was eaten in combination with the sorbet, it became less bland. The violet liquor was a creamy, flowery, heady experience. I found it hard to work out why it was there, as perhaps on a meringue I would have loved it, but in combination with the sharp sorbet, and the bland pineapple, I was bemused by it.
Perhaps as a restaurant this venue can be said to: oscillate wildly. That said, I had a lovely experience, I enjoyed the location, the warm, intelligent service, and the food. The chef clearly cares about the ingredients, and looks for interesting ways to combine them. Whether these always work is the only thing that is debatable... but that's half the fun of trying! I look forward to another visit once the menu changes again on the 28th January, 2007.