I’m not usually one who enjoys expensive fine dining. While I can appreciate the aesthetic effect of it, I just cannot wrap my head around the joys of receiving tiny food on enormous plates. Not to mention that this concept usually results in an after-dinner dinner of fast food cheeseburgers and fries. And while I enjoy dolling myself up for such an occasion, the ambiance makes me uncomfortable, I’m usually squinting at my food and date through the minimal lighting, and I find myself wondering why we couldn’t just don jeans and hit up the latest Marvel film.
Last week, however, I put aside all my reservations about fine dining experiences and attended a Canberra Food Bloggers event at the new Farmhouse Restaurant at Pialligo Estate. Being relatively new to Canberra, I haven’t been able to make a lot of friends, so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to meet up with some fellow foodies in my area and chat about all things edible, photographical, and literary.
Opposite the airport and hidden away down a dusty road lies the picturesque Pialligo Estate. The Farmhouse Restaurant is just one small component of their 86 acres of land, which also include their own vineyard, garden, olive grove, multiple smokehouses, and fruit tree orchard. As I walked up, I was blown away by the fantastic views and gorgeous garden area. The restaurant itself is a work of art – its refurbished timber and slate rock structure is immediately appealing and pulls you into their little world. You truly feel as if you’ve entered another realm when you walk through the doors of the Farmhouse Restaurant.
I was warmly greeted by a couple staff members as soon as I approached the counter, and I was escorted to the area in which our little company would dine. As the meet n’ greet commenced, we were offered complimentary glasses of champagne and mocktails and helped ourselves to some delightful hors d’oeuvre. The staff showed a wonderful sense of humour as we all snapped several photos of the appetizers before we consumed them.
Before we took our seats for the main five-course meal, we were introduced to the Chef de Cuisine Brenden Walsh, who told us a little about the concept behind Pialligo Estate and the Farmhouse. The restaurant features the best of Canberra’s regional produce and “instils the paddock to plate concept” using only ingredients they grow and harvest themselves. Their menus are set in advance by Walsh, which means all the patron chooses is how many courses they would like to enjoy. I must note that I am a huge advocate of their decision to only use local, seasonal produce.
The first thing we were served was an intriguing amuse-bouche; I regret to say that I did not take down the name of this delicacy. However, the cold consommé had good, delicate flavours. It was quite creamy and had a hint of saltiness from the seaweed dust sprinkled on top.
Our first course was the Seaweed-Cured Bonito with Green Tomato, Crispy Chicken, Radish & Dashi of its own Bones. I must admit I was immediately confused when this dish was placed in front of me. I didn’t see any crispy chicken. Had they changed the menu? It was then that I realized the sashimi bonito was the star of the plate. I really enjoyed this course. The bonito was super fresh and tasted sublime with the dashi and radish. I felt as if I was consuming a Japanese-country-style hybrid which worked remarkably well. Pialligo Estate chose to pair this dish with a light Ravensworth “7 Months” White Blend from 2014.
The New-Season Cipollini Onions with Pialligo Farm Chorizo, Nashi Pear & Young Mustard was served to us next. Our wine paring was Pialligo Estate’s own 2009 Riesling which was nice and crisp. I was pleased with this course. The onions were cooked well but still held a slight crunch, and I was surprised at how well the chorizo and pear synthesized. (I’ll have to try that combo for myself at a later date!) It was another knock-out dish in my opinion.
Next we were given the Majura Valley Egg with Veal Sweetbread, Celeriac, and Brioche over which they poured a wonderful pine mushroom broth. As a disclaimer, I will note that this was my first time experiencing sweetbread of any dimension. My first impression was that it tasted very similar to pork loin, but with a sort of metallic aftertaste. Not a personal favourite. However, I thought the egg and mushroom broth tasted incredible together and they prepared the celeriac perfectly. A 10 year old Madeira from Henriques and Henriques was chosen as the wine pairing, which I thought was quite strong but could see how it would pair well with the richness of the sweetbread.
Our fourth course was a Muscovy Duck with Musquée de Provence Pumpkin, Red Onion, Chestnut & Licorice. This turned out to be my favourite course. I’m not usually a massive fan of duck; I find it can be quite oily and little too rich. This duck was prepared superbly. It was served medium rare, warm, and rendered beautifully. The pumpkin, onion, chestnut, and licorice were inspired accompaniments; this dish has changed my opinion of duck. It was truly autumn on a plate. The wine chosen for this dish was a phenomenal Rippon Gamay Noir from 2013, which turned out to be my favourite wine of the evening.
Finally, our dessert course arrived: Valrhona Jivara Chocolate, Buckwheat, Caramelised Banana & Malted Milk, served with a sweet Domaine des Bernardins Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from 2012. Aside from the duck, I believe everyone in the room enjoyed this course most. How could you not with all that chocolate? Mega chocolate overload! Delicious.
Our tea and coffee we were made extra special courtesy of some homemade mignardises (petit-fours) consisting of strawberry marshmallows, truffled chocolate truffles, and salted caramels. Unfortunately I couldn’t partake in the truffles due to an allergy, but the marshmallows and caramels were delightful and decadent.
While I still hold to my views on fine dining, I must admit that I very much enjoyed my experience at Pialligo Estate’s Farmhouse Restaurant. The service was friendly, efficient, and memorable, and I have to thank them for putting up with us food bloggers and our tendencies to take millions of photographs of our dinner. The dishes were quite superb and seasonal, each course embracing its own merits. And the company was simply stunning. I met a handful of wonderful, like-minded Canberrans who I look forward to sharing more foodie experiences with in future.
I recommend Pialligo Estate for your next fine dining experience. Whether you’re seeking a place that serves seasonal, locally grown produce with finesse and splendor or you’re looking for a nice evening out with a special someone, the Farmhouse Restaurant is a great destination. Their food, service, and ambience are all top notch.