Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Eating out in the cold country – Grazing at Gundaroo

I can’t remember how many years I have been coming to this restaurant, in the tiny historic town of Gundaroo, just outside Canberra – it seems like forever. In the time I’ve been coming here Prime Ministers have risen and fallen, Governments have teetered, illusions have shattered.

On the ground here in the country, they’ve built extensions, poured wine by the bucket and served food by the platter – and burned a tonne or two of firewood as well. Too many of the people I’ve enjoyed meals with here are no longer around to remember them but, thankfully, there’s enough of us to be getting on with.

Removing layers of clothing and adding layers of food
After settling down and removing a few layers of clothing I started with a local beer. All the tap beers are brewed by Canberra brewer Christoph Zierholz, whose brewery has been producing beer in Canberra since 2005. I settled for a glass of the Hopmeister, which has a slightly darker colour than many and a full flavour. Others at the table settled for a good alternative – a few glasses of the Wily Trout Blanc de Blanc sparkling before moving onto a bottle of the 2016 Nick O’Leary Riesling, with a seriously dry demeanour.

The main entrance of the long-established Royal Hotel where Grazing Restaurant now resides.

On previous visits I’ve found it hard to tear myself away from their seafood pie, which used to be served a as a main course. It could be challenging because it’s quite rich. However, they have now wisely reinvented it as an entrée. It’s a seafood pithivier of scallops, mussels and snapper, with creamed leek and smoked oyster emulsion. I think it’s even better as an entrée. I particularly like the fact that, even with the entrée they don’t stint on the pastry – a pie covered in pastry on the top only is not a pie at all to my mind. Quite a few of us had the pie.

Another of our party had the fennel and sugar cured Spanish Mackerel, with duck prosciutto, almond and olive, and pronounced it very good. Probably the least satisfying was the breaded Crookwell lamb and kidney croquette, with apple slaw, Bredbo black garlic and hollandaise, with the comment that the kidney was not really identifiable. That would be a plus for me, since I’m not a big fan of kidney and thought the dish looked like a darker version of a fish finger, anyway.

A big day in the country

They must have already had a big day because the braised ox cheek, with walnut, Roquefort, carrot, anchovy and spinach had run out entirely. Instead they were offering a lamb Scotch fillet with fennel and various other things I can't remember. Several of our party opted for that – though they were disappointed because although it was very flavoursome, it was slightly stringy in texture.

There was one serving left of an intriguing dish, the pressing of duck, with parsnip toffee, pickled rhubarb and pork crackle but as interesting as it sounded, we had other fish to fry. Most of the rest of us chose the organic boned and rolled whole roast hen, with chestnuts, cabbage, bacon and parsnips, which though a little too salty, was a triumph. The fish pie followed by the chicken was a complete success, so I was happy.

A couple of us felt like red wine, so we shared a bottle of 2015 Pinot Noir from Lerida Estate at Lake George, which was excellent with the chicken.

Dessert and Muscat rounding out the day
I almost wasn’t going to have dessert but I was strong-armed into it so my dining companion could try my dish. I had the burnt honey cream, with ginger and orange blossom poached pear, Iron Bark honey jelly and candied pastry, which I found very enjoyable.

Others had the apple splice, which according to the menu was Granny Smith apple and tarragon sorbet, Earl Grey infused ice cream, apple ‘salsa’ and meringue wafers – except that the Earl Grey had disappeared and it had become strawberry ice cream instead and the tarragon sorbet had gone missing in action as well. Despite this it was also pronounced a success – though lingering sadness at the missed opportunity to try the distinctive flavour of Earl Grey was evident.

One lone adventurer had the caramel salted hazelnut, with frozen caramel custard, salted hazelnut praline, chocolate parfait, chocolate aero and cocoa fragments, and gave it the thumbs up.

With my dessert I had a glass of the Gundog Estate NV Muscat from Rutherglen in Victoria, while a fellow diner tried the Morris Tokay from the same region. Both were full of flavour and dark colour – quite different choices, but both enjoyable. I used to be very fond of Muscat when I lived in Adelaide many decades ago, but I haven’t had many since, so it was a memorable pleasure.

Gundog Estate has taken over the old building at the rear of Grazing, an annexe that has housed a string of smaller operations. We inspected it after lunch and it looked impressive, with a warm and cosy space for winter and a pleasing deck for warmer months.

Remembering and forgetting
One of the pitfalls of the food blogger is getting so caught up in enjoying the food and the fun of sitting around chatting with a lively group over fine food and drinks that you forget to take any photographs. It’s not embarrassment at taking photos of your food. I’ve long since got over that – after all, what better thing is there to photograph? The problem is just general neglect of photography – I think I’ve realised that you can’t be a part-time photographer, even at dinner.

In this case, some of the dishes, as well as being excellent, looked superb. The much enjoyed fish pie and rolled chicken shall, alas, forever remain invisible. However, the solution is to go there yourself, hunker down over an open fire or in a private room, savour the local beer and wine and see for yourself what the food tastes, smells, looks and feels like. It will make you happy.

See also

'tableland' on Facebook – life on the land and at the table
'Life on the land and at the table, the companion Facebook site to this blog, for brief and topical snippets and vignettes about land to table – the daily routine of living in the high country, on the edge of the vast Pacific, just up from Sydney, just down from Mount Kosciuszko', 'tableland' on Facebook.

Catching up in the kitchen – Pulp Kitchen delivers the goods
‘I have been here twice since it changed hands and the capable crew from Restaurant eightysix in Braddon took over this Ainslie favourite, tucked away down the side of the shops. Each time it has been very good and very enjoyable. I used to really like the previous incarnation of Pulp Kitchen and went there many times, but this is even better. I was catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen for many decades and it made for an excellent night in a buzzy, busy venue in the heart of the inner North’, Catching up in the kitchen – Pulp Kitchen delivers the goods.

Wine o’clock in downtown Moss Vale
‘I've always had a weak spot for Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands of NSW. I have been watching it slowly change over the decades since. The latest addition is a new and very funky bar, Wine Mosaic Lounge, combined with a wine vendor, Argyle Street Wine Merchant. Passing through, we stopped to sample it. We thought aloud ‘we must come back here soon’ – and we will’, Wine o’clock in downtown Moss Vale.

Big city myopia, regional cities and cool capitals – is Canberra cool and who really cares?
'I’ve been entertained by the heated discussion about whether Canberra is cool or not. The question of regional cities and cool capitals is one that won’t go away. Instead of endlessly comparing cities – Melbourne versus Sydney, Melbourne versus Canberra, Canberra versus Queanbeyan, Devonport versus East Devonport (as we did in my youth) – to gauge their degree of cool or of dismal, perhaps we’d be better seeking out the interesting places and features that lurk in every city, town and locality', Big city myopia, regional cities and cool capitals – is Canberra cool and who really cares?

Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country
‘The pay off for cold Canberra mornings is that with no cloud during the night the days are clear and blue and brilliant. That’s when Canberra comes into its own. That’s the time to enjoy a long luxurious lunch with friends. The ACT is so tiny that is doesn’t take long before you have to cross the border in your quest for food and drink and spectacular landscapes. These outings are the slices of life in between the restaurants and bars where you go out in public. This is where the farmers markets and the home-grown produce and the local vintages come together in the privacy of your own home. With moments like this, even winter starts to look attractive’, Travelling overseas in your own country ­– Austrian winter lunches in the high country.

Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back
‘I seem to spend a lot of time in the small Italian and Sons restaurant in hipster heaven in downtown Braddon, with its equally small bar annexe, Bacaro, at the rear. It’s so good and so pleasant that it’s easy to forget the other parts of the Italian empire. The flagship restaurant, Mezzalira, is across the the city, near the National University. It’s in the fabulous but somewhat neglected though stately Melbourne Building, with its Italianate arches and colonnades. I sometimes think that if suddenly the world was about to end (a bit like contemporary times) and I was offered the choice of only one cuisine until the crunch, I’d have to choose Italian. That way I could die happy,’ Mezzalira Ristorante – the Italian empire strikes back.

Ester – the sweet smell of success
‘Because the high country is adjacent to the low country, it takes only three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to the nation’s financial capital. In the early to mid 1990s Chippendale in Sydney was a suburb you travelled through to get somewhere else. All that is changing in a big way, with plenty there to explore. A sure sign of these times is eatery Ester, a restaurant that reflects the focus of its name on the science of food with some intrepid experiments in the culinary arts’, Ester – the sweet smell of success.

In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts
‘Tucked away in a corner at the Ainslie shops where it’s easy to miss entirely ­– in the heart of the suburb know as the Red Centre for it’s exceptionally high Labor vote – is an unexpected delight. The location has hosted a series of less than successful ventures but this most recent has been an unqualified success. Who would have thought that a cafe hailing from Brittany could attract such a crowd. The secret of success is that it focuses on what it does and it does it well. You can park yourself inside the small venue or outside if the weather is fine and pick from some unexpected sweet pastries, throw down the odd glass of French wine or eat buckwheat pancakes or baguettes. The cafe also runs to daily specials that can be very unexpected. Long may it reign over us – Rule Brittany rather than Rule Britannia’, In a corner with a cake (or two) – the hidden attraction of local hangouts.

We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii 
‘I realise I may have just become a statistic. I have a suspicion that I have eaten more sorbet, gelato and icecream since local Canberra icecream outlet Frugii opened in Canberra’s Braddon perimeter than I have eaten in my whole previous life. Tucked away in hipster heaven, it keeps churning out flavours, in an ever changing smorgasbord of coldness’, We all scream for icecream – cooling down in a cold climate with Frugii.

A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven
‘On a bustling Friday night in hipster heaven, I popped into my favourite Canberra restaurant, Italian and Sons, planning for little more than a quick bite to eat. I managed to get my favourite spot – when I’m not settled comfortably in Bacaro, the adjoining bar out the back, that is – sitting in the window, watching the action on the street. I headed straight for a real blast from my Adelaide past, part of my earliest discovery of Italian cuisine – saltimbocca. Then I beat a path down Lonsdale Street to Frugii, Canberra’s own dessert laboratory. What is happening to this city? It’s getting cooler by the minute and it’s not just the icecream or the approach of winter’, A bustling Friday night in hipster heaven.

Peas in a pod – food takes off
‘Pod Food is in the heart of the slightly ramshackle gardening and nursery hub of Canberra, Pialligo , adjacent to the burgeoning exercise in urban growth called Canberra Airport. It was always the place you went to get large pots and even larger apples. Pod Food was always good enough – but now it is something a whole lot more impressive. On a rainy Friday I entered through their marvellous cottage garden entrance way to sit on the covered and contained outside deck. The entrance to Pod Food, formerly part of an operating nursery, is the sort of garden I eventually want to have. It felt highly suitable sitting at the entrance to the Australian high country as the rain came down, drinking the fine product of another high region on the opposite side of the world’, Peas in a pod – food takes off.

Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven
‘It had been quite a week and I had been crushed by too many encounters with the crazy world of Centrelink as I fulfilled my long list of aged care responsibilities. I needed cheering up so last night ate out at the venerable Italian and Sons, the very first of the many funky venues which now enliven Braddon. My attention was drawn to the rare appearance of vitello tonnato. My imagination had been captured decades ago when I was a young boy by seeing the recipe for the dish in Margaret Fulton’s classic cookbook. I finally tried it in a tiny restaurant in Florence, during my first visit overseas, after a stint at the massive Frankfurt Book Fair in 1989. This most recent one was the best I have ever eaten outside my own home – well, perhaps the best anywhere. This is a favourite place, probably my most favourite in Canberra. Coming here always makes me feel happy and what more can you ask?’, Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven.

Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century
‘On a day and night which was bitterly cold – as cold as Canberra has been this year, with the hint of snow clouds overhead – I was reminded why I live here. As we wandered along after a full day of cultural institutions and design events, looking for somewhere to eat we impetuously popped into Restaurant Eightysix and even more impetuously were able to get a table. I had forgotten reading somewhere that famed long-former Adelaide chef, Christine Manfield was here for the month, cooking up an Asian-inspired menu. How much better could it get?’, Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century.

Smoking for broke beside the Molongolo
‘Where the market gardens that supplied Canberra as far back as the 1820s used to be a small fortune has been spent turning 86 acres overlooking the Eastern end of Lake Burley Griffin into a superb regional restaurant, Pialligo Estate Farmhouse Restaurant. It made for a tremendous birthday lunch in a spacious airy and light space, full of exciting food treated well. I couldn’t take my eyes off the copper guttering and downpipes. I thought all the loose copper in the world had already been stolen but clearly it’s still available. It’s quite clear that even though work is still being finalised, when it is finished it will be a spectacular addition to the nation’s capital and the region’, Smoking for broke beside the Molongolo.

In praise of the Berra
‘When I first moved to Canberra, almost as an accidental intersection of geography and employment after the Sydney Olympics, I used to say “if you had lived in Sydney and one day you woke up and discovered you were in Canberra, you would think you had died.” Then I changed my mind. It took ten years but it was inevitable. Berrans are a hardy bunch – they can withstand the hot winds of summer and of Australia’s Parliament, the chill flurries from the Snowy Mountains and the chilling news of budget cuts. The Berra is half-way between everywhere’, In praise of the Berra.

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