There are only a few rooms available in Inverleigh to stay in at a local bed and breakfast. This charming town is becoming a destination for food lovers due to the rise of Gladioli and there is no doubt in years to come there will be more rooms becoming available to stay.
It is a thirty minute drive from Geelong where we are staying and with the benefit of hindsight on the wine matching, we are glad to have taken a reasonably expensive taxi to and from the restaurant. The charming little town translates into the restaurant. Set in an old house, it has been lovingly transformed into a small fine dining operation.
Wednesday night before Easter was never going to be busy and three tables are booked, all for anniversary celebrations. This means we have a situation where we have at least one-third of the attention of the lone waitperson. Unsurprisingly he does an excellent job. However, it is his intense interest in fine dining that sets him apart from many others just happening to work in great establishments. It seems the whole Gladioli staff have been to some top Michelin restaurants across the US and Europe.
We have the choice of a la carte, and five or eight course tasting menus. We go for the latter along with matching wines. While there were plenty of highlights, the standout dish of my night was the ‘potato, eel, wild roquette’. Saying the potatoes were perfect is a dramatic understatement for this versatile and much loved vegetable. Combined with the sauce, and the strong flavour of the eel (akin to using bacon in a potato salad), you have a familiar combination, with outstanding taste and texture, focussing on the sous vide potatoes. Matched with the 2014 Austin’s Chardonnay, there is balance between the earthiness of the dish, and this elegant wine that spends less time in new French Oak (6 months) than many of its peers.
While the meatier mains were my next favoured dishes, the completely vegetarian first course showed off some great ingredients. Grilled zucchini is lightly cooked, and when combined with fresh ricotta you have an absolutely gorgeous starter. This had closely followed some amuses that included a beef cracker (the tendon), trout skin with julienne daikon, and best of all, a delicious raw fresh radish. The local olives from down the road were a nice touch to begin with as well.
Back to the favourites, and the final main course could not have been better prepared. Incredibly beautiful duck is combined with a blackberry sauce, and stunningly touched beetroot, and the presentation matches the taste. There is a lot of interest here, but it also fits the brief of providing a more wholesome finish to the savoury courses. Just prior came a delicious disk of pork mainly from the cheek but also including jowl. Put next to bitter greens it is a familiar combination, perfectly seasoned, with an elevated taste.
The desserts are quality. The first was the sweeter of the two with macerated strawberries, alongside almond ice cream. There is a lot of technique here, but most important is the balance of sweetness between both elements. The crumble, which provides sweetness with that crunchy texture, will live in Catherine’s memory for a long time to come. Even more complicated, but far more on the savoury dessert front, is the last course of layered apple, chestnut cream, and rosemary. Here it is all about a terrific and inventive combination of tastes and textures, and it is somewhat addictive, especially when washed down with the dessert style sauvignon blanc by Mitchell Harris. Every bite is brilliant. The previous dessert was with pedro and that can never be bad at dessert time!
There were no average dishes but two in particular could have been improved. The kingfish itself was immaculate; easily the best seared kingfish I have eaten, but the plum was inconsistent with some firm and some soft. Similarly, the prawns were perfectly cooked, but had their tract intact, which particularly put Catherine off. It was a pity because the dish is beautifully presented.
The wine matching is magnificent, balancing between intrigue and familiarity, and leveraging on the locals, which are known Australia wide. As an example, the use of the 2008 Bannockburn Vineyards ‘Gladioli’ Shiraz which is grown close by is intelligent. Bannockburn is a stunning winery, and Gladioli must reduce cost by having a portion grown just for them.
There are a couple of wines that don’t hit those same heights, such as the Best’s House Block Riesling with residual sugar, but they still work well enough, in this case with the kingfish. One slant that I enjoy is the use of some Italian varieties in local wines (vermentino by Bellwether from Heathcote with the zucchini), or even Italian wines produced by Australian nationals (Fletcher Langhe Rosso with the pork). Naturally many of these varieties are good with food. It was the most I’ve enjoyed the wine matching for some time.
Gladioli has real heart. It took me back to past experiences, even reminding me of Poland when the potato and eel was served (which was a lot like their bacon and cubed potatoes, only much better quality!). The service was informed and conversational, and the food and wine glorious. There is not much further to go, but I’m keen to follow the journey, knowing how amazing the last step could be.