Yellow tail sashimi tuna loin
IMAGES MAGGIE BUFE
If you’ve found your way to Oakdene, chances are it’s because of the hype surrounding chef Marty Chichester – the ambitious Welshman who swept into the area, and Oakdene kitchen, nine years ago and transformed local seasonal produce into tricked-up pan-Euro-Asian fare with flourishes of molecular gastronomy and solid technical know-how. All I can say is, believe the hype.
Chichester’s drive is wielded on a menu that pairs flashy buzzwords – the likes of horseradish snow, dehydrated tomato vinaigrette, and chilli praline – with understated regional produce such as Curlewis figs, goat curd, and octopus. The tripping point on a menu like this is not knowing when to leave well enough alone. Chichester balances that with aplomb.
An entrée of yellow tail sashimi tuna loin made that statement from the outset. A swipe of green pea and wasabi puree provided a lingering heat underneath two lightly seared and glistening fat tuna disks. Crowning three barbecued octopus rounds were puffed sushi rice that had been cooked, dehydrated and then deep-fried to resemble miniature popcorn. It was a welcomed textural distraction against the softness of a dish simply finished with cubes of tender daikon.
Curlewis figs, a simple seasonal star, replaced fancy cookery in the second entrée. Teamed with butter-soft ribbons of Serrano ham, crumbled Bleu de Laqueuille (a delicate French cow’s milk blue cheese) and bitey aged apple balsamic, the figs’ sweetness jostled and won enough elbow room to shine.
Curlewis Figs & Serrano Ham
There are myriad dining options at Oakdene: the chef’s six-course menu with matching wines, two courses, a lighter café-style menu, and a newly launched à la carte menu. Two courses come with a reasonable $59 price tag, so we opt for that. If you’re leaning towards the grill (steak) page of the menu be prepared to add a further $20. That’s an average of $55 for any one of the three wagyu steer grain-fed steaks on offer.
“If it were up to Bernard (owner), Oakdene would be a steak restaurant,” Chichester says, laughing, when I query the price over the phone a few days later. “So I decided if we were going to do steak, it would be the best bloody steak you could get.”
Needless to say, we ordered a steak. A 400-day grain-fed porterhouse sourced from Diamantina wagyu farm in Queensland. Was it the best I’ve had? It came close. Wonderfully plump, supple and relaxed, the steak sat prettily on a mound of crunchy green beans with spicy café de paris butter atop, oozing herb, garlic and anchovy punch across the char-grilled exterior.
A Malaysian-spiced pork rib proved a more adventurous main. The tender rib was blanketed by a bright mixture of ginger, turmeric, garlic and galangal, and placed alongside a lick of carrot puree and sweet caramalised red cabbage. Delightful.
Wagyu porterhouse steak
The food isn’t the only highlight at Oakdene. Front-of-house manager Michael Davis is one of those brilliant quiet achievers, with disarming culinary and wine knowledge and an ability to disperse that to his youthful staff. The wine list acknowledges the need for variety in any restaurant and has a good mix of Australian and international wines alongside Oakdene’s own inventory.
The décor took time to adjust to. Owners Elizabeth and Bernard Hooley enjoy art, wine and food, so created an adventure playground for all three categories. The cellar door is akin to a giant doll’s house that’s toppled over. Each room of the restaurant’s rambling country house is filled with large canvas artwork, blown-glass sculptures and unorthodox furniture. In the garden area, rubber thong mobiles dangle from giant eucalypts, a vintage wooden cart peeks out underneath shiny pottery snails and Australian flags combine well with synthetic grass. It’s quirky and eccentric and strangely inviting by the time I leave.
Chichester’s lemon dessert proves why he could easily omit some of the menu’s safer options and explore his experimental streak further. It’s a dessert of many components – lemon syrup-soaked lemon cake, pistachio powder, lemon confit, lemon curd and slow-baked marshmallow – all thoughtfully plated to deliver a tart dessert that lingers long after. Much like Oakdene itself. Eat this
Oakdene Vineyards Restaurant, 255 Grubb Road, Wallington Cuisine
Contemporary Chef Marty Chichester Owner
Bernard and Elizabeth Hooley Prices
Two courses $59; degustation $105; desserts $15 Open
Wednesday-Sunday noon-2.30pm; Wednesday-Saturday 6.30-10pm Phone
5255 1255 The Verdict
Put on your list
It’s a busy, crazy collision of creativity and colour all neatly wrapped in the brick and timber bones of a grand country cottage. Large artworks, sculptures and wicker furniture dress up three intimate rooms off a snaking central hallway. Towering cathedral ceilings and burnt-orange walls dominate the main dining room and light-flooded enclosed terrace. There are views across the garden of brilliant green artificial turf, Australian flags and masses of pottery snails jolt against majestic eucalypts. Inside, a sense of elegance befitting the food comes via high-backed leather chairs, dark tables, fine glassware and linen napkins.