Tuesday, 22 October 2013

In good company: Bistrot Traditionnel at Hainault Winery

Shall I bug you with some etymology or shall I just get on with talking about food?

Etymology, you say? Your wish is my command.

I love the word ‘companion’ and I don’t mean in a ‘Firefly’ sense (though if you like it in that sense, no judgement, enjoy, be safe etc). When you have spent as much time as I have messing around with classical languages, the original meaning of words often strikes me seconds before the current meaning does. So for me, a companion is someone who you take bread (Latin: pane, panis) with (Latin: com), a breadfellow and NOT a bedfellow despite what 'Firefly' would have you believe. Some one you sit down to dine with.

I was lucky enough last week to have a truly companionable dining experience at Hainault Winery in Perth’s Bickley Valley. I had a seat at a table with eight other people only one of whom I knew. The table was on a deck overlooking the sweep of the vine-covered hillside – a hillside which we had only just managed to get the car up there having been a perilous moment went the wheels spun on the gravel and we thought we were going to drift backwards towards the main road. The Bickley Valley is cool and quiet but our little corner of the deck was warm and noisy.
There were a few extra 'companions' who were not at the table but under it.

We were there for the ‘Bistrot Traditionnel de Paris’ – an evening catered by Chef Lloyd of Grape Provisions and accompanied (there’s that word again!) by Hainault wines. Our table was a wonderful group of invited guests – gardeners, growers, butchers, photographers, psychologists and sustainablists (and just one blogger) – and the convivial (Latin: convivere – to carouse together) atmosphere grew out of this interesting mix, assisted by wine.

I started with a glass of the Hainault Sparkling Pinot Noir Brut (2008), slight on bubbles, strong on apple characteristics, every-so-delicately pink. The first course was a classic bistro-style French onion soup made from fire-roasted onions and chicken stock and served with slices of Roman (yes! fits with my Latin leitmotif!) flatbread. The flavours were intense, as robust as you would expect a peasant-style soup to be and the chunks of bread added to the rustic look. It was a good beginning on a chilly evening.

The main course was also traditional and warming – pot au feu which, if you are to believe Raymond Blanc is “the quintessence of French family cuisine, it is the most celebrated dish in France. It honours the tables of the rich and poor alike”. This version also honoured the cow that provided the meat. “Tongue to tail” (langue a la queue) cooking uses every part of the animal in an effort not to be wasteful. There were six different cuts of beef through the rich sauce. I was able to notice the difference in texture but could not have identified with parts were tongue or tail (or cheek or saddle…) but we were fortunate to be sitting with Pip from Sebastian Butchers in Kalamunda who, through his expertese, was able to make the subtle distinctions. I think there might have been a tongue-in-cheek – pun intended – remark about the ‘autopsy at the end of the table’ but it was very interesting to have that knowledge there, even if it might have been a little confronting for some.
I think this was my favourite part of the whole meal -pane, panis (bread).

There was a mixed salad to go with the pot au feu and fragrant fresh-baked sour-dough, soft beneath the golden crust. I broke bread with my breadfellows while we listened to stories of growing gardens, European travel without a valid passport, and hosting difficult foreign exchange students.
The Latin word for 'owl' is 'bubo' because that is the sound owls make...

If anyone had been intimidated about being seated with strangers at the beginning, this was no longer evident. We mopped up our stew with the sourdough and chased this with the deep berry-ness of the Hainault 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. I was put in mind of Breughel’s painting of a peasant wedding – simple food, done well and eaten in good company with much merriment.

The dessert was an interesting combination of pistachio ice-cream swirled with liquorice sauce and garnished with pickled strawberries. I personally would have liked more of the liquorice sauce, because I am a lifelong liquorice devotee, and fewer of the pickled strawberries which I found a little too intense for my taste, but which my companions enjoyed very much.

By the end of the meal, we had made seven new friends, had recommendations for an ice-cream shop in Kalamunda, had an invitation to visit an open garden, knew where to buy herbed sausages in the Bickley Valley, and had two bottles of the Cab Sauv to take home.

The last bottle of Cab Sauv was brought to the table by Chef Lloyd at the end of service. He deserved it more than we did, having successfully got out more than 50 covers, but it was nice of him to share. That extra glass was a lovely way to finish superb evening and I know that I for one was definitely content (Latin: contentus – satisfied, having all that one could desire).

Note: I dined as a guest of Grape Provisions/Hainault Winery but paid for my drinks.

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