2.46pm, Thursday 16th June, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa
Howdy folks, eight days have flown by since I did the last blog post, and I have no excuses! Mind you, I am up to my ears in schedules for the remainder of the year, so we’ll probably be coming to a hot spot near you at some stage before Christmas 2011 … that’s if you live in or near one of the following towns:
- Port Lincoln
- Lake Maquarie
- Eleebana (yes it is a real town – in NSW!)
- Wagga Wagga
- Upper Ramsbottom (yes – also a real town, near Manchester in England)
- and even Aberdeen
as this is pretty much the run home to New Years from here.
Now before I go any further though, I just want to back track to something very special that we did in Grafton NSW a couple of weeks ago, working with Frosty – one of the infamous dancing Beefcake Brothers – in his territory. This runs from Coff’s Harbour right up to the Queensland border, so think lots of bananas, beaches and bistros of one sort or another.
This was my first visit to Grafton, the 150-year-old trading port town on the Clarence River. October is apparently the time to be in town, as the whole place becomes part of a ‘purple haze’ which has nothing at all to do with Jimi Hendrix or heavy metal music. Grafton is called The Jacaranda City, is absolutely overflowing with the trees, and October is when they go into full bloom, and the ‘Jacaranda Festival’ takes off. For the green thumb gardening types amongst you – you’ll be pleased to know that it’s the oldest floral festival in Australia – established 1859 – when Yalumba was doing its 10th vintage in the Barossa.
Now, Grafton is probably not the first place that pops into your mind when you think ‘fabulous food’, but trust me people, there is one of Australia’s best kept foodie secrets lurking right here – just off the end of the Clarence River bridge at ‘Georgie’s cafe’. The Cafe is actually part of the Regional Art Gallery, which is housed in the historical Prentice House (circa 1880) which is wrapped around a stone courtyard full of massive trees and the kitchen’s herb, vegetable and chilli garden. On the night that we were in town, the dining room was set up in the gallery showing the works of Joanne Thew (daughter) and Edna Garran – Brown (mother). In this photo, these are some of Joanne’s wildflowers – she’s well known for these and her outback landscapes and seascapes.
Georgie’s cafe is owned by Mark & Judy Hackett, whom I met at our trade lunch in Byron Bay last year. Small world, as it turns out that Judy’s cousin James is a good mate of mine – used to be second chef to Lew Kathreptis at Adelaide’s legendary temple of stunning food, Mezes, years ago. So we threw around the idea then of doing something special with the Yalumba Rare & Fine wines next tour, which is how we ended up in Georgie’s at Grafton a couple of weeks ago. The chef is also Adelaide connected – Geoff Platt has been all over the Australian foodie landscape – happily landing with the Hacketts and turning out the fabulous food that was paired up with our wines on the night. Which brings me back to where I started – pleasantly surprised to report that Grafton IS a stop on the fab food circuit across Australia … as long as you’re at Georgie’s Cafe!
So exactly what was on the menu?
Bear in mind that everything on the plates on the night was done in house from scratch, and here we go – the Georgie’s Cafe Grafton version of the six-course degustation extravaganza:
With the Jansz NV Rose was Geoff’s own gravalax of salmon – done with Szechuan pepper, fresh limes and ginger – on parmesan ‘chips’. I’m not usually one for the cured fish, but this just dissolved in your mouth – spot on with the light froth of the Jansz pink bubbles and just that bit salty parmesan chips. ***PS lucky there were any chips left really, as Frosty and I pinched a few before dinner. they’re addictive on their own!
On to the shellfish saffron & garlic baked custard with seared Yamba prawn and scallop, which was served with the 2008 Wild Ferment Chardonnay – making sure it was just chilly in the glass to cut through that little mountain of savoury cream custard so smooth and silky it was barely formed up – made by reducing the crab and prawn shells with fresh garlic to a sticky base to hold it together – finished in a water bath with NO gelatin! And guess what? No heavy hand with the garlic either – no hot or bitter bits hanging around, just the tangy creamy bisque cut with fresh prawn. Hard to tell where the soup finished and the Chardonnay started – apart from temperature! This combo set the “no clash between the food and the wine ” precedent for the night. This is what happens when you get to work with a chef that really knows his way around all the bits and pieces involved from the ground up.
On to the duck & pistachio terrine with grilled fresh fig stuffed with sweet & sour fig chutney” and the 2008 The Virgilius Viognier – barrel selection from an individual vineyard. As you can see in the photo, you’ve actually got the fresh fig stuffed with what essentially was a dried fig relish, wrapped in proscuito, then grilled, and sat on the terrine – which you can see is all meat and pistachio – not a lot of fatty bits. ***And PS – I am trying hard to improve my photos of the food – hope you like them! The fig was the star here, with the spicy relish and the warm soft fig centre combining with the salty proscuito to slide right into a sweet spot with the Virgilius’s own lemongrass, ginger and stonefruit – which we also kept a touch chilly.
Then we moved into solid red territory with the dish called “2 little pigs – Asian stock poached pork belly and sticky pork rib with star anise glaze” and the 2009 Yalumba The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. Sticky is the one word you need to remember with this dish – from start to finish! Geoff has used one whole pork belly and ribs here, where he’s braised the ribs for 2 hours, then strained and reduced the cooking juices for the glaze – and loaded it up with black rice vinegar, star anise and cinnamon. The belly itself was poached with sugar, ginger and lemongrass, then grilled for the crispy lid. All I can say is it tasted absolutely as good as it looks in the photo, and the shiny bits on the meat is the camera flash bouncing off the glaze! That’s a serious coating folks! Then it was just a matter of breaking up the pork into lovely sticky fibres and soaking up the sticky black saucy stuff underneath – clearing the palate decks with another mouthful of the berries, cassis and smoky flavours of The Cigar! That worked for all of us really!
And yes – just when you thought it was the top of the hill, there was more! Here’s where we come to my title for today’s blog: “Not your average rissole”.
Here’s the slow braised lamb shank confit wrapped in a kibbeh crust, served with spinach and eggplant relish – as you can see in the ‘before’ photo here – it looks just like a rissole!
But it’s not your average rissole folks. Here is what is hiding beneath the kibbeh crust (which is just a cracked wheat and cumin coating, really) In the ‘after’ photo, you can see the lovely slow cooked bits of lamb laced with rosemary, parsley and black pepper. The shanks were braised for 4 hours with a Lebanese spice mix in fat before the meat was stripped from the bone with a fork – no wonder everything in that red hot rissole was so tender! And this is all before I get to the WOW how did he make that! Eggplant relish. Soft chunks of spicy eggplant with a watermelon consistency in a thick and sticky sauce. Definitely no weightwatchers should apply here. Just the relish would have blown the points allowed for dinner! And I love it! The lamb and eggplant needed a grown up wine to hold hands with it – and the 2006 The Signature Cabernet Shiraz blend was just the operator needed! Enough oomph with the generous shiraz in the mid palate, but enough spice and backbone to cut through the lamb confit as well. Could just be the perfect couple!
And then folks. … the dessert. We kept the 2009 Yalumba FSW 8B Botrytis Viognier on ice till the very last minute, until Geoff’s apricot brulee tart was on the table. Then first the honey, then the apricot, then the luscious of the botrytis viognier could wrap itself around the tart’s crispy toffee top and the whole apricots rehydrated in botrytis wine with vanilla bean pods. How’s that for a foodie fireworks finish!
I loved our one night stand in Grafton, and you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be back to do it all again next year. It’s a hot stop on our Rare & Fine travelling roadshow circuit now. I am never surprised anymore by the wonderful things foodwise that we find happening out in regional Australia, and we just love working with people that are so passionate about what they’re doing.
Thanks a massive amount to Mark, Judy, Geoff, all the folks at Georgie’s, and all the Graftonites that came to dinner. Look after the Clarence River for us, and we’ll see you when it’s the same time next year … if not before!
And for the folks who live in Grafton, or might be travelling through when it’s Mud Crab Season – on Friday nights, Geoff does the whole chilli crab thing on the BBQ in the courtyard. You should make sure you don’t miss out on that! Hey Frosty, maybe we need to do some more work in the Grafton area … in the Mud Crab Season?