Waterside restaurant and accommodation Inn, located in a national park setting
(Editor’s note: at time of writing, I do not know how much this location has been affected by the late 2019 fires of New South Wales and travellers are advised to plan/seek advice through official park website pages and local news agencies.)
Roughly a 40-minute drive northwards from Sydney is the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park which holds this historic 1950s boathouse-come restaurant with the advent of a road opening to the venue in the 1970s. The head chef is here Kevin Solomon who spent his early years at Pied a Terre in its heyday when it held 2 Michelin stars. The meal here had a definite style and with some interesting dishes in amongst the different menus consisting of a three-course a la carte menu at $110 (£58), a four-course a la carte at $130 (£68) or a seven-course degustation menu at $150 (£79). Overall, this was a well-executed meal in the most alluring of waterside settings (most people landing in the bay by seaplane or coming by boat to get to this restaurant) and was a most delightful activity/afternoon all round.
In spite of the tasting menu clearly being the better value overall, we opted for the 4-course a la carte as it is always nice just having the dishes that you really want in comparison. This is an ongoing debate – tasting menu versus a la carte – to which I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, but mood, occasion, frequency of dining out and time available I find are usually the main factors in deciding which one is best for whichever occasion. There are benefits to both incidentally – the benefits for the tasting menu are usually value for money and less waste for the kitchen (as the table is guaranteed to have the prepared dishes and cannot choose anything else usually), but the negatives are that tasting menus can take a huge amount of time and harder to feel as though you have had a substantial meal (another factor) as the numerous mini plates are sometimes not what you wish. A brief conclusion on the topic is that where a tasting menu is excellent, or you are happy to gamble it will be very good, it is very worth it if you have the time.
Back to this a la carte meal and our meal began with canapes of pastry cones filled with tuna tartare with a citrus dressing which was soothing for the hot temperature with a glass of good, Australian Chardonnay. These were pleasant although the cones themselves were not at the delicate level of Per Se in New York, Bibendum in London and Moreston Hall in East Anglia as examples to put in perspective.
Starters included a Moreton Bay Bug (meaning prawn in Australian) tart and I couldn’t resist trying the kangaroo tartare. The tart was made with smoked sour cream, kumquat marmalade, koji and marmalade and a very pleasing combination (and was perhaps the knock out first course) and my kangaroo tartare had a very pleasing level of acidity in amongst the beetroot and pickled cabbage along with jobs tears (Oriental grass seed) for texture and fenugreek oil that gave it a pleasingly smokey quality. The kangaroo meat itself is a dense meat with a gamey quality not unlike venison and whilst game is a less fatty meat, the kangaroo put up well with the acidity and ultimately was a nice dish, but I don’t think you can beat the texture of tuna tartare or the simple richness of fillet beef tartare with the usual suspects of shallots, capers, egg yolk and add-ons of chive, cornichons and a well-chosen mustard.
The second courses included a roast leek dish and a quail dish. The roasted leeks came with the richness of a cheddar sauce and ember oil along with macadamia nuts. The quail was the knock out dish, though plain and simple. The quail was perfectly cooked with lovely skin, and the mix of fermented mushroom and XO sauce topped with crunchy oats was a brilliant combination. First-class on this second course. BBQ prawns came in a shell broth with wasabi, finger lime and roasted garlic.
Mains included Wagyu and swordfish dishes. The Tajima (as in Prefecture) wagyu came with a side of eggplant and sesame leaf and togarashi (a powder of mixed spices including chilli) and this was a pleasing beef to have with good flavour, although I had been supremely spoiled the weeks prior in Japan where I had Kobe, Matsuzaka and Tajima wagyu on numerous occasions and these are impossible acts to follow (see my recent reviews at Chateaux Joel Robuchon and Nanachome Kyoboshi in Tokyo, Kitcho and Mizai in Kyoto and Hajime and Koryu in Osaka to see why). However, this was nicely cooked to order and I liked the side components that came with it which worked well to pair. The swordfish (a tough fish in texture) came with sweet and sour radicchio, katsuobushi butter (a butter made with dried flakes of bonito, a relative of tuna) and salmon roe and this was reportedly a decent enough combination.
Desserts included a decent enough Valrhona (French brand) chocolate pudding served with marshmallow, macadamia (nut) crumble and blackcurrant which was a good thing to finish off with. The rest of the table enjoyed a strawberry granita and pistachio gateau, with cultured cream and salted strawberry which I had food envy over. This was intensely good and whilst the chocolate certainly was not bad, this held the crown for the desserts.
This was a lovely place no question. As always with the score grade, I need to remove the lovely setting and reasonable price tag and simply say where this slots in which, in this case, is at the slightly higher-end of the scale and perfectly fine for something well done. I liked the interesting ingredient choices and the choice of menus is another good aspect but ultimately was shy of true starred level which comes with a slightly greater level of refinement. The service was a little blasé on occasion, but as we were in no hurry at all, this did not matter and I would say you are paying more a premium for the location than the actual dishes overall. As another aside, if the restaurant cleared up the leaves in the restaurant more often and perhaps placed some more decent plants on the outside, I think these quick fixes would elevate the feel of the restaurant more so and very quickly.
Still, this is not bad at all in terms of an actual menu and an absolutely stunning location to enjoy a long afternoon of food overlooking the inlet of Cowan Creek, which I was lucky to be enjoying in the finest of company I was with, as a much-awaited occasion.
Food Grade: 71%
Location (Click google logo for directions)