Capital grazing in front of the fire
Canberra's Fireside Festival is a seasonal celebration that takes the edge off a long, cold winter.
When I was growing up, everyone used to marvel at how wonderful it was to be able to get all sorts of produce all year round. Supermarkets were said to be such wonderful time savers and seasonality was a thing that was all but forgotten for most people that didn’t grow their own. Now, the opposite seems to be true and every season we all look forward to the season’s best items. And for winter, truffles are one of the most anticipated. Should you want to make the most of the truffle season, you can either buy them or take advantage of many restaurant’s truffle menus as part of the region’s Fireplace Festival from throughout August. Which is what Mr NQN and I are doing in Canberra this weekend...
We check into Country Guesthouse Schonegg (Swiss German for "pretty corner”, pronounced shoen-eck) where we are greeted by owner Evelyn who along with her husband Richard owns and runs the guesthouse. Part of the Poacher’s Way trail – a collective of restaurants, accommodation and artisans in the area – it’s a popular choice for locals wanting a break as well as interstate travellers and the welcome is warm and genuine. We check into our room, the Shiraz Room, a top tier room. It’s spacious with king-sized bed, comfortable furnishings and a balcony that looks north to a countryside vista (although at these temperatures it’s unlikely that we will sit outside).
The bathroom is spacious with a two person spa bath and separate shower. The only thing I could ask for is more toiletries with only a pump bottle of nice smelling liquid soap on offer (toiletry packages are available for purchase). Also the internet does not work from our room and the floor is cold as it is a tiled floor throughout the room and bathroom but a quick search of the cupboards show that they have plush robes and slippers.
We unpack and before we know it, it is canape and wine time! We take a seat in the comfortable lounge in front of the fireplace where we meet the fellow guests at Schonegg who are all very friendly.
There is a warm canape platter including a serrano ham and blue cheese stuffed mushroom, a sun-dried tomato and mushroom puff pastry square, which is my favourite, as well as a rosemary and sage scone with camembert and feijoa paste. Evelyn offers us a choice of wines and we try a local rose. And just as we are about to settle in we realise that we have a date with Grazing!
Grazing, at Gundaroo, is the kind of place that I’d like to open. Supportive of the local community, housed in a renovated pub, and with fireplaces a plenty it serves what many say is among the region’s best food. New owners Kurt and Tanya Neumann have taken over Grazing from chef Tom Moore. Kurt is the chef and the menu remains seasonal with much of the hallmarks that have made Grazing so well-loved.
We start with warm bread with local olive oil and La Barre blood plum finishing vinegar. If ever you need a gift to bring back to people, La Barre’s blood plum finishing vinegar is an item I’ve bought many a time. I’ve given it as gifts to friends who love the stuff. Its sweetness reminds me of a beautifully aged balsamic, sweet and tangy and just right.
The split pea and smoked pork hock soup with freshly shaved Braidwood truffle featured soft pieces of smoked hock among the smooth pea soup. The truffle with that very intoxicating aroma sits thinly sliced on the top.
The scallop ravioli was created for us but a similar version is on the menu made with prawns. This ravioli has a light scallop mousse filling, hazelnut pesto, verjus, croutons and is topped with salmon pearls and a beurre blanc which lends a richness to the delicious ravioli.
Our next course was a three part tasting platter. The quail is a house smoke portion of quail leg, plump with just the right amount of smoke to it. It sits on a thinly sliced celeriac salad.