This little 1-hatter in Traralgon has a rather unusual setting in a converted house, complete with fireplaces. The separation of rooms gives it a cosy and intimate feel, which is further enhanced by the fact that most of the other diners know each other as well as all the wait staff; such is country life.
An adventurous, modern menu tempts us with influences from Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Naturally we gravitate towards the chef’s 5 course tasting menu ($90) so we can sample a bit of everything.
I’m very much a fan of the bonus appetizer concept (read: I like free food). The creamy truffled cauliflower soup was topped with an aromatic house-made curry oil and presented in a cute double-wall espresso glass. We were also served well-salted parsnip chips with a silky pumpkin puree for dipping. Who would have thought chips and dip could be this posh?
This umami-rich oyster shooter with sake, mirin, wasabi and bonito flakes was a nice change to the au naturel oysters I’m used to. Full of rich, punchy flavours, it was chased down well with the nori-wrapped toasted mochi, topped with black roe. I loved the Japanese plate too: it definitely gave a sense of authenticity to the dish.
Soft cubes of vodka cured salmon, smokey beetroot, sour cream, crispy fish crackle and spanner crab meat were punctuated by pops of caviar and finger lime. I’d never had fish skin crackle before but it’s definitely something I’d like to eat again.
Onions were presented in three ways: pickled and sharp, soft and caramelised, fried and crisp. Hay-baked potatoes with a mild grassy aroma, goat’s cheese cream and thick confit egg yolk were perfect for the trio of onions.
Grilled rump was served pink with fork-tender beef cheek, parsnip puree, truffled mash and porcini soil. Unfortunately this was where I found my first trip-up in the otherwise smooth experience. One of my rump slices was quite tough and chewy; perhaps I had caught an end piece with a bit of remaining gristle? Bob’s rump was perfect, so I’ll consider this an anomaly.
The baby-sized spoon of house made passionfruit sorbet was sweet and refreshing: perfect for getting us in the mood for dessert.
This was an experimental dish which they hadn’t put on the main menu yet. Described to us as ‘summer meets winter’, it consisted of honey marinated mandarin segments, paper-thin beetroot shavings, chunks of frozen sour cream and sorrel sorbet. I’d never had sorrel before, but to me it had a bitterness reminiscent of rocket; while I am not a rocket fan, here the flavour was complementary to the surprisingly sweet beetroot and juicy mandarin. The frozen sour cream melted on the tongue and helped break up the stronger flavours quite well. An inspiring dessert.
I’m often wary of writing overly positive reviews. The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, I feel like I run the risk of sounding like I’ve been paid or bribed with food by the restaurant; secondly, I worry about being unfairly lumped in with that mass of decidedly uncritical food bloggers whose ‘reviews’ are so cloying they are in fact painful to read. I think, I analyse, I over-analyse; I try hard to find some aspect of the dining experience that I can justify not giving a perfect score to, just ensure that readers are aware that I am capable of critical thinking.
However, I just could not find fault here. Every ingredient had been so thoughtfully chosen, each dish so meticulously planned, to create the optimum balance of flavours, textures and temperatures. The incredible skill of the chef shines through with the attention to fine detail, from the tiny morsels of pickled onion accompanying the beef, to the dusting of olive ash over the trio of onions. Nothing is accidental.
I would even go as far as to say that this experience was very nearly on par with that of Quay: that is, some of the best food I have ever eaten. Oh, and did I mention that Neilsons is in Traralgon? I’m starting to think that my blog needs a name change…Neilsons 13 Seymour St Traralgon