I wrestled with myself for days over whether or not to post this. It wasn't that I didn't have an extraordinary experience (I did), or that I thought it wouldn't be interesting (it is); the fact is, I'm disappointed with the photos and have considered scrapping them and not writing about the night at all.
You see, like the muddle-headed fool I am, I packed my camera (and even brought some extra batteries!) but completely forgot about my memory card, which was sitting snug at home inside my laptop. For some odd reason my camera has zero internal memory, so I was left with my trusty iPhone, which can take some pretty decent pictures depending on the lighting.
Except the whole frikking place was candle-lit.
With the universe conspiring against me, I decided to try to take some photos anyway and see what happened. I'm not known for amazing photography, but even I am a little embarrassed about these pictures. I've decided to soldier on though, because it truly was a singular experience and I wanted to share it with you all.
Last week Stephen and I were checking out the Merivale website's "March into Merivale" section to find an event we wanted to attend. Although we very nearly picked Epic Mealtime, we eventually chose the Colonial Gastronomy Dinner that was being held at est., because I'm a sucker for food and recipes from the past.
For $125pp we were treated to a 6 course dinner that had been designed by Peter Doyle and Alex Woolley, to rediscover "recipes from a bygone era". We entered the restaurant on the first floor to be greeted with a drummer dressed in the Colonial-military style, who welcomed us in with a drum-roll. We were offered the option of matching wines which I graciously accepted, of course, for another $55pp, and then we started our meal.
Damper is something that I'm pretty familiar with, as my dad and I used to make it almost every weekend when I was a teen. This little damper roll was indeed excellent, with just the right amount of salt and butter, and managing to have a good, dense texture without being too gluggy. Our tasting notes described damper as "the compromise between European bread-based culture and the new frontier".
A small sample of the shellfish native to Sydney were plated before us. The stewed clams were saucy and firm without being overcooked - they had a nice bite to them. They were overshadowed in my mind by the oysters, because this was my first time trying them! I figured I had paid enough that I wasn't going to leave anything untouched that evening, so down the hatch my first oyster went. It was interesting: the flavour was briny, the texture fleshy and slick, and I felt like I'd taken a big gulp of the ocean.
The 'Chancer" Golden Ale complimented the seafood perfectly - it had a gentle fizz that enlivened the palate, and a light, crisp flavour that didn't overpower the dish.
Wallaby Tail Consomme, Native Pepper Berry
This dish was an ode to kangaroo or wallaby tail soup of old, which replaced oxtail soup when Colonists made do with Australian ingredients. The consomme was crystal clear and meaty in flavour, the pepper berry spicing up the broth. Tender pieces of rare wallaby tail dotted the bowl, and vibrant peas added colour and freshness.
This was my first time trying sherry, but I found it really accentuated the pepper berry with it's mellow sweetness. It was quite strong though, and I only had a couple of sips before I started feeling it.
Jacqui Newling, a Colonial Gastronomer, gave a short speech at this point about Colonial food and what it was all about: namely, a compromise between European tastes and sensibilities, and Australian resources.
Collaring was a popular way of cooking and preserving meat in the 18th and 19th centuries. Spices of the time, including bay leaves, allspice, mace, cloves and cayenne, were carefully balanced to compliment the delicate, tender whiting.
The HVD Semillon was floral and lightly fruity. It was very smooth and easy to drink, accentuating the flavours of the fish perfectly.
The roast quail was one dish I had a problem with - it was so fussy to eat, and the knives they gave us were SO CRAP. They wouldn't cut butter! Luckily, in this case the butter was melted into a sauce, but it didn't really give a lot of flavour. The little quail I was able to try was perfectly cooked, pink in the breast, and tender.
This wine had a floral and lemony flavour, and a bright aroma. I enjoyed it much more than the accompanying quail.
Evenly seared and perfectly frenched lamb graced the plates of the next course, next to a sweet lilly pilly jelly that brought out its flavours. The sweetbreads were breaded and fried until crunchy and crispy, and the stewed cucumbers and turnips were much more appealing than they sound.
Finally, we got to the good stuff. I much prefer red over white, and this particular drop was a fine specimen, full of cherry and currant flavours. It was quite sweet, but with an alcoholic bite that would probably be improved with age.
We were told by our server that back in Colonial times, dessert would be served at the same time as the savoury dishes. Outrageous! This dessert was like a creme caramel in texture, luscious and creamy and a little bit wobbly. The light, delicate sauce was flavoured with almond and rum, lifting the humble boiled custard.
Although my tolerance for lemon has been built up a bit since I started this blog, this lemoncello punched me in the mouth - I could not drink it at all. Stephen tried some and thought it was really good, and went well with the dessert course.
Our penultimate course consisted of various savoury delicacies much loved in Colonial times: Crumbed and fried portions of Jerusalem artichokes, salty anchovy toasts, pickled onion, and a fresh watercress and radish salad.
Finally we came to the cheese course. Imported English cheeses could be found in Colonial Australia if you had the money, and this is what we were served. Quickes Cheddar, aged for a year in muslin, had a rich, well-rounded flavour and a crumbly finish. The Stilton went practically untouched - we just don't appreciate blue cheese yet. The rum biscuits were very dry and crumbly, but the flavour was addictive, with a slight spice to it.
This wine was a particularly attractive specimen, honey and malt on the nose and a luscious texture on the tongue. It was a bit dry, but well suited to the cheese.
This was an amazing experience, and I only wish I had better photos with which to do the night justice. I'll definitely be paying est. another visit, I was definitely impressed. Take a moment to visit the March into Merivale site, there are event going until 4th of April.
Level 1, Establishment
252 George St
Phone: 02 9240 3000