“Respect for the land, the people and the produce”
From paddock to plate, Chef Ash Martin, head of Homage restaurant at Spicers Hidden Vale, knows his produce. Highly valuing the source of every ingredient, if his kitchen team doesn’t grow it, you can just about be guaranteed that they know personally who does. Each vegetable, fruit, fillet of fish and cut of meat has a story, and if you’re interested, any member of staff will passionately narrate it to you.
This is why we’re here! Chef Ash’ degustation menu. We delight in the celebration of local, and relish the menu map we’re given, which indicates where the primary components of each dish come from – all within 100km of the restaurant, some from Homage’s very backyard, close enough to pick ourselves.
Chef Ash Martin
The Veggie Patch
For the full experience, we begin with an aperitif in the lounge. An enormous studded leather couch holds audience to the wood fireplace. Antique sideboards and cabinets, upholstered sofas and wooden floors, boost the atmosphere of a homestead with an intriguing history. Soft period tunes from the 20s and 30s, featuring the likes of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, infuse the air with sultry rhythms.
We think we’ve chosen cocktails appropriate for the ambience: a French 76 ($16) and Thyme for a Break! ($16). Vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice and Champagne fill a flute in the former, while gin, lime juice, Angostura bitters, a sprig of thyme and ginger are muddled in the second. Both are well executed, not overly sweet, and serve their purpose of whetting our appetites for the menu to come.
Cocktails: Just in Thyme! French 76
A Bianca Vigna Prosecco is a surprise, not listed on the bill of fare. It’s given to all guests with the goal of cleansing the palate and readying the mind for the new tastes ahead. Its full fizz does indeed rid the mouth of any traces of the day’s indulgences and its refreshing fruity character makes us classify it as a ‘happy’ opening.
Map Menu and Bubbly
House baked bread with smoked butter is thick and fluffy. It’s reminiscent of a damper, but more refined. The smoky butter however sends thoughts of a campfire to the brain and notions of the bush bread again resurface. Yummy! An amuse bouche is pretty on the plate, with a salted Murray cod sandwich, and a beetroot macaron immediately capturing our attention. Salty fish is wedged between dehydrated tears of rye bread reminding us to sip more wine. The macaron parades produce from the garden and it is faintly sweet, showcasing full flavours unique to home grown crops.
Bread and Amuse Bouche
Beetroot Kingfish Ceviche, Charred Octopus, Cucumber and Garden Radish kick off the official line-up. The fish is wonderfully light and quickly deliquesces in the mouth, while the octopus brandishes a smashing smokiness from the chargrill. Lettuce and radishes are picked just hours before dinner and actually have flavour, very much unlike their tasteless supermarket counterparts. Compressed rockmelon and honeydue melons are infused with vodka, intensifying the taste and providing additional oomph. You need to eat this one quickly before the cucumber espuma melts away (or your other half – hubby – takes your share).
Beetroot Kingfish Ceviche, Charred Octopus, Cucumber and Garden Radish
A 2013 Catina Pra Soave Classico from Veneto Italy pairs this plate. The dry white wafts stone fruits and flower petals to the nose. A fruity medium body and some minerals swirl in the mouth, and the palate is left with a nutty aftertaste. Its gentle temperament sides the delicate fish without overpowering it.
Friendly and knowledgeable wait staff have been explaining dishes and wines as they arrive. The chef himself however, delivers the next plate. He’s obviously excited about this one and we can’t help but be swept up in his enthusiasm. He talks of his kitchen team going out to harvest the Murray cod, filleting it and serving it on the same day. Freshwater cod populations have lessoned over the years because of the introduction of carp, a pest that outcompetes in the cod’s natural habitat. A sustainable supplier however is nearby and chef is tickled to be able to serve this delicious species.
Flagstone Creek Murray Cod comes from waters just down the road, and Tarome Freshwater Crayfish are from a dam not too far away either. The fish brandishes the taste of the river, and the yabby is superb – firm to the bite and full of flavour. Heirloom tomatoes are like none you’ll ever find in any supermarket ever: they’re bursting with savour and taste like a ‘real’ tomato should do. Hubby is moaning emphatic, “mmms,” so much so that I feel obliged to give him ‘the eye’ to become a little more aware that we’re not the only ones dining here. Toasted flaxseeds give a nutty texture and crunch to the already crisp fish skin. It’s a perfect dish on all accounts.
Flagstone Creek Murray Cod
A 2013 Dalwhinnie ‘The Hut’ Chardonnay from Pyrenees Victoria couples the fish. Fruit, spice and a suggestion of vanilla tickle the nose. In the palate it’s crisp, dry and medium bodied, performing admirably with the plate. With this drop we note the pattern of a gradual increase in intensity, building up in tandem with each course.
The Hut Chardonnay
Assiette of Barnyard Quail, Pumpkin and Heirloom Carrots brings a bird from neighbouring Pittsworth, and the vegetables from the Hidden Vale’s own garden. The breast of the poultry is rolled with rosemary, and the leg made confit style. Who would think that such tiny limbs are worth confit-ing? But oh, they are, yes they are. Petite morsels of intense flavour fill the mouth, which develops even further with a sip of the pinot noir. Pumpkin emulsion, heirloom carrot puree and dukkah finish the dish with a bevy of appeal.
Assiette of Barnyard Quail, Pumpkin and Heirloom Carrots & Yarra Valley Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir
Victoria again brings us a wine mate in the 2013 Yarra Valley Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir. Juicy and earthy in the mouth, with a multi-layered body, it finishes crisp with soft tannins, marrying delightfully with the gamey meat.
Hailing from Homage’s doorstep is the Spicers Station Yearling with Panzanella (an Italian inspired bread salad). The kitchen takes the whole beast, serving it cut by cut before butchering another. Tonight we’ve got meat from the ribs, chef’s favourite part. It’s pink in the centre, superbly soft and intensified in flavour by the clever accompaniments of balsamic pearls, dehydrated tomatoes, compressed celery and olive breadcrumbs.
Spicers Station Yearling with Panzanella
The olives are sourced from an elderly couple who own a piece of land bordering Hidden Vale. They planned their retirement years ago by planting manzanilla and kalamata trees. Now retired, they sell their limited produce at the local farmers’ market once a month. Lucky for diners, chef Ash has made friends with the couple, so has access to their boutique supply. The product is seen in this dish with the dried olive bread gifting the plate a warm savoury seasoning, circumventing the need for salt.
We’ve enjoyed the Aussie wines so far, but are enthused to see something even more local, native to the Granite Belt Queensland in the 2014 Ravens Croft Tempranillo. Performing well for a young wine, we get hints of leather and dark berries in the mouth with a smooth lingering finish. While following the sequence of a boost in power from the previous wine, it’s still graceful enough to allow the delicateness of the veal space to wander in the mouth, and still offer a contribution of its own.
Foraged Wild Lemon Tart Curd with Mascarpone is enlivened with the juice of lemons found on the property. A cigar pastry casing holds the creamy lemon curd and a lemon thyme mascarpone ice cream complements the side. Textures are broken with short crust pastry crumbs and a lemon thyme snow. The wild lemons are tricky to pick as the stems bear large sharp thorns. The season is ending, so we’re tasting pretty much the last batch for this year. Chef points out the mango tree heavy with fruit in the yard: looks like tropical fruit will be the next dessert inspiration.
Foraged Wild Lemon Tart Curd with Mascarpone
Another Queenslander from South Burnett completes the meal with a 2010 Barambah Rack Dried Semillon. With the potency of dried fruit, this wine is full-bodied and syrupy, see-sawing with the tartness of the dessert but matching in its sweetness.
Reasons to visit: exceptional local produce, superb wine pairings, stunning views, attentive service, passionate chefs and staff, complete degustation menu.