February, it’s that time of the year again when I become one year older. This year I decided to continue last year’s birthday trend, which is to try a never-been-before hatted restaurant. Since we planned to have a retreat in Lilianfels Resort & Spa, its house restaurant – Darley’s Restaurant, a total of 14 Chef Hats to date, seemed to be a perfect choice.
Old World Surroundings Where Style Meets Comfort
It was raining cats and dogs. Kent and I had spent our entire afternoon doing a photoshoot in our hotel room, we were hungry and a little tired by the time we got ready for dinner. Darley’s was just down the hill on the hotel’s grounds. We stepped into this original homestead of Sir Frederick Darley, the sixth Chief Justice of NSW, and immediately entered a world that is calmer, slower, and designed for indulgence… just what we needed.
One of the things I really liked about this restaurant is its floor-to-ceiling windows. These huge windows allow dinners to enjoy the views across the formal English gardens; no doubt the valley beyond – on a clear day, and they invite plenty of natural light in. At six o’clock in late February, it was still bright, despite the rain. I chose a white shirt of layered sheer fabric for the occasion. Whereas Kent, although he forgot to pack any ties for this trip, did manage to look the part in a tweedy jacket and scarf.
Wine? Yes, a glass please. Though Kent who is either all or nothing, at the moment is abstaining. First the menu, then here comes my Riesling. Ordering our three-course meal was an easy decision. Although I was torn between the two dessert options, Kent told me which one he wanted, ‘So I’ll have the other one then!’ – problem solved!
Our small complimentary appetiser of the night was Duck Liver Parfait. Complimented with mulberry jam, onion cream, and crispy duck skin (in small broken pieces). I’m a fan of a rich pâté, and this parfait is like a pâté with a very smooth consistency. It’s a lot lighter too. I especially enjoyed the addition of the mulberry jam, the sweetness went so well with the parfait! Kent is not a big fan of duck liver, or any liver actually, but he seemed quite like this version, polishing off the lot.
We both partnered our Duck Liver Parfait with the oven-fresh Wattle Seed Sourdough Bread. After all, that’s how I like to have my parfait! So we ended up asking for more bread. The waitstaff here were efficient and friendly. Even though the restaurant was getting busy and the room was filling up fast, we still received our warm bread in no time. Service, tick!
Kent’s Entrée: Heirloom Carrots With Harissa, Yoghurt, Hay, Coriander, And Galangal
Apparently, the ancestral home of heirloom carrots is Afghanistan. Harissa sauce and yoghurt are wildly used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, I was not surprised to hear Kent’s comment about this dish…
‘It has strong Middle Eastern flavours that I’m acquainted with, I am amazed at the depth and richness of them in a vegetarian dish – It’s really tasty. Wow!’
My Entrée: Wood Fired Smoked Pork Belly With Mushroom, Green Garlic, Cabbage, And Kombu
My soupy starter was Chinese-inspired. All the flavours were very familiar to me. The mushroom was Chinese dried mushroom, which was very flavoursome and high in umami. I was pretty sure that the Kombu on the menu was replaced by wood-ear that night. I didn’t mind, I liked wood-ear… however, I do think that seaweed would give the soup a better seasoning, due to its briny taste and its natural MSG content.
Out of all four entrée choices, I simply couldn’t overlook pork belly as I loved it so much! It’s interesting to try a hatted restaurant’s interpretation of Chinese cooking, as fusion style has long been part (and popular) of what we call modern Australian cuisine. Thank you Chef, this dish took me home to my beloved grandmother’s dinner table.
My Main Dish: Glacier 51 Toothfish With Corn, Wakame, Dashi, And Togarashi
Before this meal, I had never heard of the Glacier 51 Toothfish. After doing some research online, I’ve learnt that this kind of fish is also known as Patagonian Toothfish, or Chilean Seabass. It ‘takes its name from the Fifty-one Glacier, which is one of the largest glaciers in the Australian Antarctic and can be found flowing southwards on the south side of Heard Island. It was named “The 1951 Glacier” by an ANARE party that made a traverse of Heard Island.’ Yes, quite a story.
‘Same as that codfish I had, this toothfish has a very delicate mouthfeel. The texture is flaky and silky. It is like biting into a piece of soft tofu actually.’ I shared my thoughts with Kent, and he sure knew how much I loved my codfish at Le 1217.
The chef enhanced the fish’s sweet note by pairing it with corns and baby corns. Miso-based sauce, Japanese chili pepper, and minimal use of seaweed… its oriental flavour profile seemed in line with my starter – perfect!
Kent’s Main Dish: Lamb Rump With Haricot Beans, Raisin Puree, Fermented Salsify, Zucchini, And Piquillo Pepper
Kent’s lamb rump looked meaty and juicy. Kent loves lamb and white beans, so it’s only natural to see him order this dish. From the look of it, I think the Zucchini on the menu had been replaced by the pumpkin that evening. Piquillo pepper, which is ‘little beak’ in Spanish, a variety of chili and capsicum annuum; sweet taste but not much heat. Fresh up by fermented salsify – the root of a Mediterranean plant.
‘How’s your main course?’ I asked Kent. ‘Terrific! At last, a lamb course where you still know it’s a cut of lamb and not just… some lovely tender but anonymous meat protein…’ Yes, he really said it just like that. ‘…and all working together in perfect harmony.’ He added.
Kent’s Dessert: Lavender Sorbet With 35% Ivory Chocolate Mousse, And Blueberries
I was torn between Lavender Sorbet and Poached Pear when I saw them on the menu. Well, since Kent chose the Lavender Sorbet, that solved my problem, as I would like to try something different. Having said that, I was quite envious of Kent’s Sydney Opera House look-alike dessert, especially violet and purple – my favourite colours! At first, Kent was worried the lavender taste might be too much for him, though it turned out to be quite mild, as he was advised by the waiter. He totally indulged in it and gave it a big thumbs up.
My Dessert: Poached Pear With Honey Crémeux, Spiced Crumble, And Pear Sorbet
Nearby was a group at a table celebrating a lady’s birthday. The table behind us had a young couple celebrating the woman’s birthday too. Yes, ‘happy birthday!’ – we could not miss them. How fun it was to spend my birthday evening with fellow birthday-ers! And it was finally my turn when the waitstaff delivered my dessert in a bowl – specially equipped with a candle and a chocolate ‘Happy Birthday’ disc!
Although I don’t recall making a wish when blowing out my candle, I did enjoy the texture and the sweetness of my poached pear. The additional honey custard, spiced crumble, and pear sorbet, none overpowered the pear itself; yet each added a different texture to compliment the dish. It was a lovely finish to my three-course meal. Another birthday celebration is done, intimately and in style.
Kent considered this dinner to be one of his most memorable dining experiences in Australia. ‘In fact, anywhere really!’ He said. Well, I knew he liked his lamb rump, but I didn’t expect he liked it this much! No pressure on me now to plan for Kent’s birthday gathering…