Monday, July 23, 2012

Majors Lane

"We're running out of wine."

That's all it took to start organising a half-impromptu Hunter Valley weekend. Low supplies of the bottled stuff at home.

And why not make it an overnight trip so we can fit more tastings in? Won't say no to that.

The only problem: where to eat dinner? Having had a mediocre experience at Redsalt, we weren't inclined to dine there again. Twitter friends replied with suggestions, but the masters of purse turned each and every proposal down, on the grounds of expense and disinclination to sit for three or more hours eating eight courses. One kept asking if the restaurants I proposed had steak.

Reasonably priced, a la carte, not too far from the hotel, has steak (or something along those lines). Major's Lane Restaurant fit the bill perfectly.

Forgive the fuzzy photos, it was dark and the photographer in question had a full afternoon of wine tasting beforehand.

Bread and butter

Grass fed fillet of beef wrapped in Lovedale Smokehouse bacon, bubble and squeak parcel, sauteed mushrooms and Majors Lane Shiraz jus, $36

Brussels sprouts with Lovedale Smokehouse bacon

Slow braised lamb shanks, warm quinoa salad with hand dried pepitas and tomatoes, $34

Confit of Hunter Valley duck leg, cassoulet of cannellini beans, tomato and chorizo with an orange and tamarind jus, snow pea shoots, $34
The confit of duck leg was fall off the bone tender, the tanginess of the jus cutting through the richness of the duck nicely. Gamey, but not overly so. The slow braised lamb shanks, I was told, was delicious too. But the star of the evening had to be the fillet of beef, cooked to absolute perfection. The bacon perfected the dish with just the right amount of saltiness and smokiness.
Portions were very, very generous. Our original plan of mains and dessert had to be scrapped as our bellies took in the mains.

The next day, we found ourselves back at Majors Lane. By day, the restaurant becomes the Lovedale Smokehouse Cafe, where you can create your own antipasti share plate for the table.
Garlic bread

The antipasti lunch

Clockwise from bottom left: prosciutto, pork chipolatas, beef and chorizo sausage

Clockwise from top left: beef and pork chorizo sausage, chicken terrine, beef and jalapeno chipolatas, smoked duck breast, pork and cheese kransky, chicken macadamia sausage, Swiss-German style air dried wagyu
Everything was lovely. The standouts, though, had to be the chicken sausage, pork and cheese kransky, and the smoked duck breast. Everything was helped with a bite of the freshly baked ciabatta rolls and crusty garlic bread.

For six, the table of food came to $129 in total. Not bad, for the quality that was presented.

And yes, we did replenish the cellar, with a good dozen Hunter wines.

Majors Lane Restaurant/Lovedale Smokehouse Cafe

Thursday, July 19, 2012


29th in the world, best in Australia. Three hats and three stars. Peter Gilmore.

It could only be one place: Quay.

The rest of this post is probably going to be a bit of a jumble of words, because dining at Quay has been a something of a dream. Something to be reserved for a special occasion.

In short: it did not fail to impress.

My memory has been looping the flavours and textures of every single bite of my 4-course lunch, and it will probably remain that way until my next meal at Quay. And honestly, words are starting to fail me at this point as I was that impressed by the whole experience. Everything was immaculate. Amazing.


Friends of friends had been trying to make a reservation for a while, but to no avail. So when I made the reservation request for lunch, I had every expectation that the reply would be that they were fully booked. The first surprise was the reply I received on the same day, saying that they could book us in for lunch the next week. I, er, dropped my iPad as a result. That night, my lunch date and I had clothes and shoes and bags all picked out.

Excited would be an understatement.

View from seat
Two graduations, one new job, and one farewell: we had rolled four reasons into one to justify splurging at Quay. Not that anyone needs a reason to visit Quay other than for one of the best dining experiences available in the country, of course. We relaxed into our seats and took our time looking through the menus.

Amuse bouche: sashimi of native marron, pomelo, roasted almond slivers, bergamot marmalade
Being impressed by the first bite happens a lot. Being continued to be impressed by subsequent bites doesn't happen often. Languishing every bite doesn't happen often. Frozen in liquid nitrogen, the pomelo presented the most interesting texture, with its hardish exterior and somewhat chewy yet soft-ish interior, somewhat changing and almost disguising the taste of pomelo. The marron was soft, tender,  slightly salty, and the bergamot enhanced each bite with its fresh, citrusy bursts.

Sashimi of Corner Inlet flathead, hiramasa kingfish, salt cured oyster cream, black lipped abalone, raw sea cabbage, nasturtiums, warrigals, periwinkles.
Lightest of light in terms of treatment, the flavours of each ingredient shone through. The contrast between the soft kingfish, slightly elastic flathead and chewy abalone was rounded off perfectly by the oyster cream. The vegetables enhanced the freshness of the fish, with the sea cabbage highlighting the natural saltiness of the ocean. The portion was more generous than it seemed, which was a big plus.

Jasmine and cassia scented poached chicken,  shaved hand dived scallops, ginger curd, white eggplant cream, smoked eel pearl
The taste was as clean as the presentation. Delicate, immaculate, beautiful, nothing was left on my lunch date's plate.

Roasted quail breast, steamed truffle brioche, confit egg yolk, new season white walnuts, fumet of Vin Jaune
Finally, a generous enough serve of truffle to satisfy my curiosity. Earthy, mushroomy and pungent, the truffle brought out the gamey umami-ness of the quail. The texture of the brioche was somewhere between bread and cake, it was very moist, very truffle-y and very, very soft.

Smoked and confit pig's cheek, shaved scallops, Jerusalem artichoke leaves, juniper, bay
So good it was, lunch date was rendered speechless - and that doesn't happen very often. The crispy Jerusalem artichoke leaves were paper thin and not at all greasy. Despite having next to no sauce there was enough moisture in the tender scallops and pig's cheek to carry through the flavour.

Roasted pink snapper, ginger scented milk curd, kabu turnips, young leeks, shaved abalone, fennel, radish, oyster and seaweed consomee
The lingering slight smokiness of the oyster and seaweed consomee permeated the dish with its umami taste. Perfectly balanced, perfectly seasoned, the only complaint was that the snapper was slightly overcooked and just a touch dry.

Poached wagyu beef, oxtail, morel, black chocolate pudding, farro, buckwheat, hazelnut, ezekiel
In one word: it was impressive. Rich, tender, juicy, the beef was perfectly cooked. The crust and pudding formed an interesting textural contrast, and it worked. Every bite was relished with delight, though it did get slightly salty towards the end.

Eight-textured chocolate cake 
Dessert was simply amazing. It was beyond our every expectation. The visual theatrics of the eight-textured chocolate cake, with the hot chocolate ganache melting the centre of the cake was surpassed by the delight of every bite. The crisp chocolate disc, the creamy mousses... every component was a delight in itself, and formed a harmony of chocolate eaten together. No other chocolate cake will ever come close.

Guava snow egg
 Yet another visual delight, and an absolute masterpiece. Cracking the snow-dusted toffee exterior, there was first a white layer of meringue before reaching the guava yolk custard centre. The contrast between the softness of meringue, cold refreshment of the guava granita was offset by the bottommost layer of cream. Nothing short of perfection.

The final surprise: petit fours. One of the waitstaff had found out that we were celebrating not one, but three special occasions, and brought this lovely plate out to congratulate us. One was a cocoa dusted, dark chocolate truffle covered in chocolate covered puffed rice, and the other was a caramel truffle with a roast hazelnut centre. These were the most delightful truffles I had tasted all year. So immaculate and beautiful the writing was, we had to be prompted by the waitstaff to smear it with our fingers.

Quay is truly worthy of all its accolades. I have never encountered lovelier staff, better service, amazing food and greater attention to detail. It is a dining experience that will remain as one of my fondest food memories, I am sure.


Quay Restaurant

The Grounds

Alexandria. Not somewhere I venture into very often. The last time I stopped there would have been over ten years ago, to look at real estate.

A lot can happen in ten years.

It has transformed into a vibrant, fresh neighbourhood with convenient access to the nearby business precinct. But lacking in parking, as we found out dropping by to try out the Grounds of Alexandria.

I've heard much about how crowded this place can be, particularly weekends. We arrived just before the end of breakfast, and luckily were seated immediately. Being a lovely sunny day we were happy to be outside, beneath the warmth of the sun. With five minutes to go, we managed to order before the end of breakfast service.

In the refurbished former Four'n Twenty pie factory, the Grounds is a cafe/restaurant, with a garden, veggie patch, chicken house and, according to the signpost, a dog house too. Unfortunately for us the garden was closed for maintenance that day. 

Drinks came first. The hot chocolate came on a board, with spiced chocolate ganache and a small bottle of steamed milk. Fun to pour, not so fun to drink - it had a pretty heavy cinnamon kick, and I'm not the biggest cinnamon lover.

Coffee took a while. Smelled great, and went down silky smooth, but didn't have enough of a coffee kick for me. I've had worse, but I've also had better.

The house-cured ocean trout with fennel and herb salad and scrambled eggs on sourdough was more generous than expected. The eggs were lovely and rich, contrasted nicely by the freshness and tanginess fennel and herb salad. The trout was silky, and perfectly seasoned. Even with a half portion it was substantial enough for one.
The bacon and egg roll was very, very generous with the crispy bacon. Loved the rustic look of the bread roll and its crunchy crustiness. Only complaints: bacon was too crispy. And too generous. 

Service was quick and brisk. We were greeted by smiles, but that seemed to fade away as time passed. Maybe that had something to do with too much sun outside... and the growing queue of people waiting to get in for lunch. 

Was it worth the trip? Perhaps, and if I'm in the area again I may consider stopping by again, considering my soft spot for refurbished industrial decor. But will I head out especially for the food or coffee? Not sure. There are plenty of other places in my own neighbourhood that can rival that standard. 

The Grounds of Alexandria