Chef’s Table at Old Parliament House*

11 Apr

Reading back on my review of the Starlight Dinner at Old Parliament House as part of Enlighten earlier this year, you can hear the disbelief in my (writing) voice. The night appeared to have little connection to Enlighten, and we found the use of the venue, and the food, underwhelming.

It’s not very often I get a response to a poor review. But this time, within a matter of days, our group’s been contacted by the people behind the food: Restaurant Associates. They want to really show us exactly what their kitchen – and chef Sebastien Lutaud – are capable of, and we agree to attend a Chef’s Table experience.

Truth be told, we’ve no idea what we’re in for. We arrive at the back of Old Parliament House on a rainy Thursday evening, and are met by our maitre d’, who escorts our group to the Members’ Bar. It’s just us, when at the Starlight Dinner there were too many people to fit it. The feel of the room surprises me – despite its size and the amount of people it can fit, tonight it feels small, intimate.

Welcome martinis

Welcome martinis

We’re introduced to the evening with an elderflower martini and olives, and for me, all is forgiven – but then chef Sebastien emerges from the kitchen to welcome us. We think he says, “And we’ll be dining in the kitchen tonight – we haven’t done that before so we’ll see how it goes” but we can’t be sure. Could it be?

Yes, yes it is. Martinis in hand, we’re escorted through to the biggest kitchen I’ve ever seen, where amongst the ovens and freezers and stainless steels is a delicate white table, with six evenly spaced seats.

Interesting table decorations... or not?

Interesting table decorations… or not?

In centre position are a few odd table decorations – some wilted leaves and a big rock… or not. With still half-filled martinis we’re poured glasses of Tattinger champagne.

Those wilted leaves? It’s salt bush and nori. And it’s edible. And yes, it’s delicious.

Salt bush and nori

Salt bush and nori

Next is salt and vinegar fish skin. I’m dubious. But it’s brilliant: perfectly matched salt and tang, crunchy and slightly chewy. Even though the rest of the dishes more than satisfy (you’ll see why…) we later ask for the fish skin chips to make another appearance because they’re that moreish.

Salt and vinegar fish skin

Salt and vinegar fish skin

Crispy peking duck

Crispy peking duck

The final course of our canapes – yep, we’re still just on the canapes – was crispy peking duck and tea. The wafer is incredibly delicate – a little too delicate – so delicate that you can’t manhandle it for too long before it collapses, so it’s best to just pop in my mouth. I feel a little clumsy with it.

It’s from here that things ramp up as we head into our main courses. I guess I should show you the menu, right?

2014-04-03 19.03

It's not a degustation without bread... this was unnecessary (but so very good)

It’s not a degustation without bread… this was unnecessary (but so very good)

We’re up to the sea urchin. It’s clear this is no ordinary dinner, and this cements it. The dish contains plenty of crab and a delicate portion of sea urchin with a ginger sauce. It’s sophisticated, and the subtle sweetness of the crab and sea urchin emerge through the ginger. The sake bites through and balances the sweetness.

Sea urchin with crab and ginger

Sea urchin with crab and ginger

2014-04-03 192

Next comes one of my favourite dishes of the night. Scallops, a tofu and foie gras marriage, and shiso is always going to be a special dish and this is no exception; the delicate flavours are lifted with a West Australian Fiano.

Scallops and foie gras and tofu

Scallops and foie gras and tofu

Sebastien instructs us to get the foie gras and tofu together in one mouthful, and he’s right, but – rebel that I am! – I try them separately, and they each stand alone. Gorgeous.

The chefs are busy around us, and what emerges next is celeriac baked in a salt crust for two hours. Sebastien breaks it open in front of us – he’s a great showman, and the theatre of it is fun.

Breaking open the salt crust

Breaking open the salt crust

Infusion!

Infusion of rosemary and tarragon

We’re served a glass of Vinea Marson Grazia from western Victoria as the celeriac is plated up on a bed of truffle and hazelnut, and dressed with apple.

Celeriac with truffle, hazelnut and apple

Celeriac with truffle, hazelnut and apple

I know I sound like a broken record, but the flavours again are outstanding. This isn’t an easy dish, but I love that despite the complexity there are just a few elements on the plate; without distraction of other ingredients, it’s easy to see just how well these work together. That truffle sauce? To die for. I could lick the plate.

Clearly I compose myself enough to take another shot!

Beautifully cooked

My love affair with the truffle sauce lasts so long that I forget to take a photo of the next dish: marron, artichoke, grapes and liquorice, with a Mt Pleasant B-Side – winemaker Paul Harvey visits different vineyards and asks for their best or unusual wines to blend into this ‘B Side’, which is then given to select venues only in Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT. Sebastien flags that marron is a consistent protein, unlike lobster, and while the dish isn’t pretty, we should just dig in. This is another great match between all the flavours on the plate, and the wine, and one of the group’s favourite dishes of the night… (I feel I have failed you all with no photo!).

We’re next up for a little more theatre, as we watch wild mushrooms bake on hot coals.

2014-04-03 199

What’s ahead is light Margaret River tempranillo is lamb rack which has been seared and finished in the oven, and topped with fermented black beans, and goats curd and wood sorrel.

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

Really gorgeous

Really gorgeous

Really, really gorgeous

Really, really gorgeous

The textures are superb; you don’t need me to tell you – you can see for yourself that the lamb is beautifully cooked. The fermented black beans add a new texture and slightly salty taste which draws out the flavours of the lamb even more. Probably my favourite dish.

And then we hit dessert. Some of you may recall that a few months back I was raving about the Mac Forbes RS16 and RS45 that we got to try at Parlour Wine Room… since then I’ve been on the hunt, and ordered a few bottles. You can imagine my face when – by absolute coincidence – our maitre d’ brings out the RS45 to match with our baked cheese.

As good as it looks

As good as it looks

The baked cheese is as good as it looks and resets our palates for the final dishes of the evening.

The first is sheeps milk yoghurt, rhubarb compote and fennel granita in a jar, with dried rhubarb on top. I have some flashbacks to the infamous Campari dessert of the previous Starlight Dinner, but this is in a world of its own – a good world! Sebastien instructs us to make sure we get all layers on our spoon to get the full flavour and texture experience. It’s sweet, tangy, creamy.

Rhubarb, fennel and yoghurt

Rhubarb, fennel and yoghurt

2014-04-03 206

We end our dessert(s) with chocolate ganache (64% cocoa), sea salt and olive oil, mandarin sorbet, and crispy milk – dried out milk, essentially. I’m no fan of mandarins but you can be assured I loved this dessert, too. Amidst all this, we’ve been served our final wine – a 2010 Fusta Nova moscatel.

Chocolate, mandarin and milk

Chocolate, mandarin and milk

And then… those strange rock centrepieces? They’re out petit fours. Chisels come out and the rock features are destroyed in front of us – because in fact they’re a hybrid meringue/macaron with squid ink, and we can eat it.

Time to get crushed...

Time to get crushed…

And just when it can’t get any better, we’re invited downstairs to the original kitchen… a surprisingly big space with ancient, powerful equipment, and teeming with history.

This is a brilliant experience, there’s no doubt about it. We’re very, very lucky to have a dinner hosted by the chef of Old Parliament House right in the kitchen, let alone the amazing meal we were able to enjoy. This is a gushing review, but there’s a lot to gush about – you only need to compare it to my other two favourite experiences at Brooks and The Boathouse to see it’s on par. Yes, some things aren’t perfect – the evening is rushed, and we end up with a bit of a pile up of wine glasses as we quickly move from dish to dish, but – given the huge menu – it’s necessary. What’s not clear here is just how nervous we all were (it’s not often you are face to face with the kitchen you criticised, and vice versa), how many questions we asked and how obliging everyone in the kitchen was to explain to us the dishes and techniques, as well as answer questions we had about the original Starlight dinner. I’m sorry that our Starlight experience was the experience it was, but am grateful to have had the opportunity to appreciate the full talents of the kitchen, and to learn that our Starlight experience is not the norm.

I can only echo Rachi’s sentiments – every element of the response to our concerns was professional, and above and beyond.

The Chef’s Table evening was an absolute privilege.

* We received this experience free of charge. There was no expectation from our hosts that we would write reviews.

(And yes, my DSLR died after the first photo. Sorry for the photo quality!)

Date: Thursday, 3 April 2014

Want more? Check out Rachi’s beautiful review and stunning photos (plus, she’s got a photo of the marron dish!).

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4 Responses to “Chef’s Table at Old Parliament House*”

  1. ladyjodie April 11, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    That looks amazing. Certainly making up for the other experience indeed.

  2. cbrfoodie April 11, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Reblogged this on CBRFoodie and commented:
    Wow, this review sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience. Grey venue, company, chefs and food all in a few too-short hours. Great story Tara!

  3. armorgames.com August 11, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    Admiring the dedication you put into your site and detailed information you present.
    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed information. Great read!
    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my
    Google account.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2014 – a year for eating all the things (until I lost 90% of my stomach) | Mouthless Mutters - December 31, 2014

    […] was innovative and a joy to watch. I didn’t write a review on this one (no idea why) – but both Tara and Rachi did (it’s good to go out with Blogger […]

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