Sunday, July 02, 2006

a long lunch

My appetite is returning.

It’s a long story – so if for some odd reason tales of misfortune regarding health and renovating interests you, read the extended version of this post at my non-food blog.

Here we can skip to the chase and talk of celebrations and great food.

My partner’s family has been visiting and for a belated birthday treat we headed to the country for a lunch at our favourite winter restaurant – the Healesville Hotel. Healesville is a small town, nestled in the hills, about 75 minutes drive from the city. The dinning room is warmed by a roaring fire, which makes it such an appealing spot on a chilly day.

The food is not country fare. This is the best of Melbourne dining transplanted to the rural fringe. I’d hazard a guess that every one of the avid guests came from out of town. However almost all the produce is local .

The lunch began with drinks. A robust dark beer and some aperitifs. Some had entrees. There was a creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup, Tasmanian oysters and Yarra Valley salmon, cured then slightly grilled. The salmon came up as a favourite on the table. It tasted of fennel and lemon.

The menu* is quite small, a handful of dishes and a couple of specials. Always a vegetarian and a fish meal. The meat ranged through rabbit, duck, chicken and 2 beef dishes. Although the food is not simple, it seems to combine original ingredients without being too rich. Though the blue cheese polenta that accompanied the huge chunk of roasted rib eye was pronounced too over powering by those who tried it. I settled for kingfish, which was grilled, a little more cooked than I would have liked, but still very tasty. It was the most modestly sized of the mains, 2 small pieces of fish with a little pan fried silverbeet and some crispy chunks of potato. This serving size just right for someone facing a real meal for the first time in a week. The vegetarian risotto and carnivorous dishes were generous. The steaks looked a good 3 times larger than a recommended serve of protein.

Having eaten so conservatively, I found there was just enough room in my “dessert stomach” to contemplate sweets. I am not big on puddings, but have a weakness for fruit and pastry and as always, the Healesville Hotel didn’t let me down. I wish I had the recipe for the baked apples. Sadly I can’t remember what they were stuffed with, marinated dried fruits of some kind. A new twist on a classic home cooked dish. It was spectacular and perfect with a little calvados as the menu suggested. There was a crispy fried citron ravioli that I was disappointed no one tried, or the pear tart that sounded wonderful. The others munched Yarra cheeses, a fig linzertorte and a chocolate crème brulee.

There was nothing left on the plates.

A slow, 3 hour lunch with good company is a special thing. We live in such a busy world where too often eating is done hastily. Such a meal at night often begins too late, when my palate is jaded by a long day and a multi-coursed meal is too large to digest. I’m not a night creature, sadly. But it means I am someone who enjoys breakfast (how I pity those who skip one of the best meals of the day) but will fast in the morning to truly enjoy such a spectacular lunch.

So, here’s to what I dearly hope is the return of my appetite, a speedy completion of the last 2 spaces to be painted and to a long lunch with friends in my new kitchen at the end of it all.

Now, I am going to scurry off and search baked apple recipes, something I hadn’t eaten since childhood. I look forward to beginning a winter romance with baked, poached and other warm fruit dishes.


*if you want to drool over the menu it is downloadable at the Hotels website.

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