Wednesday, 31 July 2013

There's truffles in them thar hills! Darlington Estate Truffle Degustation

Approaching the Darlington Estate winery is a romantic experience. As you come up the dark driveway through the avenue of twisted eucalyptus and banksia trees, the twinkle of the lights reflected in the glass walls of the restaurant is just like the glow of fireflies. The lights draw you in, as does the prospect of being indoors. It's winter, and truffle season, and it is cold.

The is the second year running that I have been lucky enough to get a place on the food blogger table for Darling Estate's truffle degustation and it is worth braving the crazy, dark winding roads of the Perth Hills in the wind and the rain (and the hail! - it was a cold, cold evening) to get to where the good food is.

A group of friendly food-bloggers and some patient plus ones. A well-lit table in the corner. And we were off! Nine courses of truffley goodness over the course of 3 hours plus a wine match is a great way to spend a Friday evening.

Amuse bouche: tarts with liver pate and smoked salmon blini

Rich yet delicate, just the way we like it. The liver pate tarts are a buttery wonder topped with bitter chocolate lattice. The blini have crème fraiche and a sweet morsel of cured salmon. I could have kept going just with these but this, of course, was just the beginning...
1. Celeriac and truffle soup shooter, parmesan tuille

Celeriac - not the nice green leafy celery that most people know but another variety with an ugly, nobby, root which actually tastes wonderful when it is roasted, mashed, or, in the case of this first course, blitzed into soup form. Any risk of blandness (and I have found that you need to season celeriac well to avoid this) has been removed by the addition of the truffle shavings on the top, and the parmesan tuille adds zing and alkalinity. 

This was the first taste of truffle that I'd had since I attended last year's Darlington Estate Truffle Dego. It was a welcome return to the truffle experience.
2. Roasted prawn, leek, and fennel compote, Champagne and truffle espuma


I should probably lead with the fact that I have never been a fan of espuma (foam). I get the idea behind it, lots of air to better allow you the experience the flavour molecules, but visually I don’t think it’s appealing. However, I allowed myself to be challenged this time, closed my eyes, put the spoon to my mouth, and honestly didn’t mind it. What worked best for me here was the prawn and fennel match. Of course, fennel complementing seafood is no surprise, but this prawn was particularly fresh and vigorous of flavour and texture. The fennel dominates here. The leek is nice but more about padding for the fennel than actual leek taste. The sardine tin was a cute serving idea.
4.       Chicken and truffle boudin blanc with enoki mushroom and thyme cream sauce

Boudin blanc is a traditional type of sausage. It’s best known in France and Belgium, but can be found in other countries around Europe as well. The casing of this boudin contained delicate chicken meat. There was a wealth of mushroom: truffle AND enoki! It was an unrelentingly rich dish especially with the thyme cream sauce but so very delicious.  What I liked best was the crispy chicken skin on the top and the pipette to dispense the cream sauce. That said, I've never been a fan of slate serving slabs when delicious sauce is involved. The potential for it to escape over the edge is always there and I did lose some to the tablecloth.

3.       Seared rare beef with marinated beetroot, sunflower sprouts and truffle horseradish snow

Beef and beetroot! The stuff of legend (or maybe of burgers?). The juicy pinkness of good meat lifted with the tang of the beetroot slices. The sprouts added a good crunch and the truffle horseradish snow brought it all home. Horseradish is so underrated and never as available as a foodie might like. I’d never thought about combining it with truffle. Now I’m not sure if I will ever manage to think of it without.
5.       Lychee and truffle sorbet

This palate cleanser reads more like something from a parfumier than from a restaurateur. High notes of classic Asian florals from the lychee, all tea and flowers and tropical gardens. Then the low notes of the truffle to pull you back down to earth from your floral cloud – pungent and loamy.  The cold wash of the sorbet was very necessary after the first few courses. Palate is cleansed! Bring on the pork!

6.       Pork loin with truffle and anchovy butter, baby carrot, pickled fennel with green pea and truffle puree

My favourite dish of the evening. The fennel makes a reappearance in the form of tart slivers. The puree that accompanies this dish is genius - I love peas particularly in a puree or mashed form, so this dish works well for me, especially when the truffle is added in. But what makes this particular dish so very special is the complexity of flavours in the truffle and anchovy butter. Fatty, salty, earthy, fishy in the most positive way possible and all of this over an excellent cut of pork. I was sad when I was finished and this is the best indication of a superb recipe.
7.       Chocolate and walnut fondant with homemade truffle and honey icecream

And we finally moved on to the sweets! I never thought I’d make it after the last course, and I was starting to get full. While the fondant was not quite as melty on the inside as I normally like, the walnut flavour was good and distinct - this made me happy, as did the popping candy sprinkles and the little chocolate spoon. The honey ice-cream was sweet and fresh without being cloying.
8.       Truffle baked brie with apricot and basil preserve crisp bread

I have been known to do the occasional baked cheese myself but it is always nicer when someone makes it for you.  The textures in this course were at opposite (though complementary) ends of the texture spectrum – creamy brie, crispy bread. The basil fragrance and apricot tang give a necessary lift to the truffle and cheese intensity.
9.       Chocolate truffles and raspberry meringue tarts

I was struggling, absolutely struggling, by this stage. Thank goodness the raspberry-filling was plentiful and sharp because I couldn't have managed another completely rich dish. A short and sweet way to finish the meal.
I should mention at this stage that I also did the wine-match with the meal but never feel as confident about describing wines as I feel about described food. I will say this one thing though - the Darlington Estate Cabernet Franc tasted fantastic and looked beautiful with the candlelight bringing out the colours of ruby and garnet.
It was an amazing evening, not only to experience all these intriguing dishes but also to sit with like-minded people. Having a blogger table is a stroke of genius and Michelle is to be congratulated for not only thinking of it last year, but also for this year's encore. Getting the chance to discuss the food with old and new friends while you eat, lighting each-other's photographs of the food, getting the insider version of the meal that is in front of you not only from the serving staff but also from the people at your table with more expert knowledge than you - it's a real sharing, learning gastronomic experience, and one I hope to make three for three in 2014.
NOTE: The food bloggers table had a discounted price for which I am grateful. However, both this year and last year, there has been no obligation to write a blog post on the experience.