11.22pm, Wednesday 8th December, Toowoomba Motor Inn Room 10, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
Back on the road folks, and with 17 sleeps until Father Christmas brings presents to all of us who have been good kids this year. I’ve just been dropped back to the motel after another one night stand – with an amazing dinner – in Toowoomba, jewel of the Great Dividing Range. With our all-conquering rep for this area – Steele Retchless – we continue to win hearts and palates with our Rare & Fine wines, and tonight was no exception. The chefs at Fitzy’s on Church – the new dining room at the Fibber Magee’s pub in the middle of town – went right out on the edge with what would have been an ambitious wine and food exercise anywhere. And they really got it right!
Left to right – Mark (Kennedy), Chris (1st year apprentice) and Matt (Radke) stood around in the cold room a couple of weeks ago and literally tossed food ideas into the pot to come up with something a little bit special to feature with our Rare & Fine big gun wines, and truly christen the new private dining room at Fitzy’s. On paper it looked like a long list of ingredients – but on the plate they went together like Fred and Ginger on a polished dance floor! (For the younger folk – like Usher and a too tight pair of leather pants!)
Couldn’t pick a highlight, so I’ll put all four courses up and send photos through to Tony for him to slot into the words. And yep – by early next year I will have learned how to do that myself, tech kids – just proving you can teach an old dog new tricks. (Editor’s note: woo hoo!)
First up, on arrival, folks were met with a glass of the new Vintage 2005 Jansz sparkling and some discs of French triple cream brie topped with strawberries ripe enough that you could smell them before you saw them – definitely means summer is just about here! – topped with just enough cracked black pepper. Definitely no chance of stopping at one of those.
Now the first plate was on the menu as “Roast Garlic & Parmesan Custard with Crustacean Consomme, Braised Lettuce, Asparagus Tip & Radish Finished with Baked Long Tail Bug” Now in the bowl, this materialised as Chris’s supremely fluffy custard – not too much garlic that it was hot or bitter – surrounded by a moat of the light crustacean broth, with fresh crispy radish and asparagus tips floating about, and with a shelled bug tail on top. But somehow the boys in the kitchen managed to get that roast flavour and firm outside on the tail – with the flesh all cramy inside. Yum! is about the best description. How lucky are we to have fresh produce like this, and the lads to morph it into such magic flavours and textures! Up in Toowoomba folks – and people ask me why I go up there! The whole thing worked a treat with the 2008 Yalumba Virgilius, which was chilled and settled down nicely to cut through the bug and custard. After a start like that, you could be forgiven for thinking it wouldn’t get any better. Wrong.
Second plate was a “Crown Roast of Duck, Slow Cooked Pork, Pistachio Puree, Fig & Date Loaf , and Grapefruit Jelly.” I had a yarn with Mark (head chef) Kennedy before dinner and asked the question about what a “crown roast of duck” is. Apparently you trim the whole duck until there’s just the breast left on the ‘cage’ and roast that – the benefit being that the meat retains a bit more moisture and cooks a touch sweeter. Then the lads have removed the breast meat, and popped it on the pistachio puree – made with orange and garlic and strained to a mustard consistency – add to that the pork slow cooked for 7 hours then pressed down to chill and set in the fat, cut to sections and cooked a second time , with chunks of the compressed sweet gritty fig loaf topped with the cold sour grapefruit jelly alongside. Ta da! Again it all worked in together and we chose the 2007 Yalumba Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet to go with the dish – purely on the strength of the bright blackcurrant fruit and the way the Cabernet cut through the richness of both meats.
On a roll, we go to the Third Plate: “Tournedos of Beef, Beetroot Puree & Mushroom Ravioli bathed in Mushroom Broth completed with Parmesan Tuille”. Here we go with an eye fillet from one of the great beef regions of Australia – the Darling Downs, right on Toowoomba’s doorstep – with beetroot puree (definitely one of the unsung vegetable heroes that just goes so well with red meat) and an individual ravioli stuffed with shitake and porcini mushroom paste, topped with inoki mushrooms just for good measure, with the whole thing sitting in some mushroom broth. Not just any mushroom broth though – a big pot of homemade vegetable stock that the boys dumped a whole box of mushrooms into, then concentrated down twice into a lovely sticky earthy soup. And with this, we featured our two best Cabernet Shiraz blends of the moment – the 2005 Signature and the 2004 Reserve (which for the unititiated is a parcel of barrels from prize vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz that were destined for the 2004 Signature blend. We hold them in oak for an extra six months, bottle age the wine for four years, then release it as an aged red that will last in the bottle for an extended period). Yes! It was a memorable food and wine moment … a lovely way to finish up the travelling Rare & Fine Roadshow year.
So to Mark, Matt, Chris and everyone in the kitchen, to Fitzy, his wife, and his mum & dad who have Fibbers, and to Anita and Big Pete serving the wines – thanks a heap for having Yalumba in your house – and whenever you want to do it all again, we’re free that day! To Clint, the Skin Man, the Bankers, the Financial Whiz, all the girls, and our fans who came up from Brisbane – thanks for coming along and supporting the night – Happy Festives to you, and we’ll either see you in Toowoomba or The Barossa – we’ll be ready either way. To the lads starting GPO, the new hot cocktail bar and food spot in Toowoomba – good luck but I suspect you’ll get by on talent! Look forward to seeing that all happen. In short – Toowoomba, you’re very good to us, and I can sleep easy tonight amongst friends. (In my own bed folks – no funny business up here in Toowoomba!)