Hayman's decadent desserts

As part of the Whitsundays, Hayman Island is renowned for its beauty, but its food is also a major drawcard thanks to some experimental desserts.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, visits Rotorua and discovers an intriguing variation on a famous dessert.

Out of the Whitsundays’ 74 islands, a mere eight are inhabited and the northern most is Hayman Island, the third and final stop on our Whitsundays tour. Made famous recently by the devastation by two cyclones, the island had to be revamped, replanted, replenished and rebuffed. Enter the likes of Jamie Durie who was called in to tend to the gardens (and apparently he has expensive taste and required the buying up of thousands of exotic plants and clearing out exotic plant nurseries). Reopened, slick and glowing at the beginning of August this year, we were curious to see what it was like.

On our first night we are to dine at the chef’s table, adjacent to the kitchen. Hayman Island is known for its food with a focus on fine dining eschewing resort style buffets that bloat with the best intentions. Here chef Glenn Bacon (yes with a name like that he really did have to become a chef) turns out exquisite portions in a kitchen that is apparently the second largest in the southern hemisphere, only smaller than Crown Casino.

We make our way to the kitchen via a small entrance clearly not made for guests. It feels a little bit hidden and exciting and we walk through the Fontaine kitchen, named after the hotel’s main restaurant. There are chandeliers sparkling in the distance and an enormous table is set up for us. We are dining in the area of the Grand Manger room and the butchery, although Glenn points out that, "not all butchers have a grand piano.”

The menu has a little description of the concept for the evening. It tells us that the chef’s table originated in Europe in the 18th century when chefs would serve patrons dishes not normally available on the menu. And on tonight’s menu there are some dishes that are only available through the chef’s table (including a sublime strawberry dessert, but I’m getting ahead of myself there).

The chef’s table experience happens once a week and needs to be booked ahead of time but for more spur of the moment requests there is also the chef’s bench experience, which is a fourteen course dinner that can accommodate two people.

Our dishes come out quickly and I noticed that the first set of cutlery had a pair of culinary tweezers which are meant to be like chopsticks. Our first dish is compressed kingfish marinated in sea salt and extra virgin olive oil and then vacuum sealed. It is served on a combed stripe of avruga caviar yogurt with little cubes of green apple and chilli and some slippery fall apart tangy green apple noodles. I normally love raw kingfish but I felt like there was something missing in this.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, visits Rotorua and discovers an intriguing variation on a famous dessert.

Out of the Whitsundays’ 74 islands, a mere eight are inhabited and the northern most is Hayman Island, the third and final stop on our Whitsundays tour. Made famous recently by the devastation by two cyclones, the island had to be revamped, replanted, replenished and rebuffed. Enter the likes of Jamie Durie who was called in to tend to the gardens (and apparently he has expensive taste and required the buying up of thousands of exotic plants and clearing out exotic plant nurseries). Reopened, slick and glowing at the beginning of August this year, we were curious to see what it was like.

On our first night we are to dine at the chef’s table, adjacent to the kitchen. Hayman Island is known for its food with a focus on fine dining eschewing resort style buffets that bloat with the best intentions. Here chef Glenn Bacon (yes with a name like that he really did have to become a chef) turns out exquisite portions in a kitchen that is apparently the second largest in the southern hemisphere, only smaller than Crown Casino.

We make our way to the kitchen via a small entrance clearly not made for guests. It feels a little bit hidden and exciting and we walk through the Fontaine kitchen, named after the hotel’s main restaurant. There are chandeliers sparkling in the distance and an enormous table is set up for us. We are dining in the area of the Grand Manger room and the butchery, although Glenn points out that, "not all butchers have a grand piano.”

The menu has a little description of the concept for the evening. It tells us that the chef’s table originated in Europe in the 18th century when chefs would serve patrons dishes not normally available on the menu. And on tonight’s menu there are some dishes that are only available through the chef’s table (including a sublime strawberry dessert, but I’m getting ahead of myself there).

The chef’s table experience happens once a week and needs to be booked ahead of time but for more spur of the moment requests there is also the chef’s bench experience, which is a fourteen course dinner that can accommodate two people.

Our dishes come out quickly and I noticed that the first set of cutlery had a pair of culinary tweezers which are meant to be like chopsticks. Our first dish is compressed kingfish marinated in sea salt and extra virgin olive oil and then vacuum sealed. It is served on a combed stripe of avruga caviar yogurt with little cubes of green apple and chilli and some slippery fall apart tangy green apple noodles. I normally love raw kingfish but I felt like there was something missing in this.

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The dish above instantly reminded me of the sea pearls at Quay and I loved this tasty morsel with crab-infused tapioca surrounding a mound of crab and lime. Glenn introduces every course and he explains the black slick as squid ink is mixed with mayonnaise as "everything tastes better with mayonnaise” (I love the stuff so I couldn’t agree more). It is then finished off with a bit of 24 carat gold leaf. I immediately wanted a dozen more.

This dish used the last of the Manjimup truffles from WA for this year and the sweetness of the pumpkin and truffle bavarois tube, as well as the pumpkin puree dots went well with the pieces of draped crab and crunchy pork scratchings. It was heady and sweet. I do love black truffles with sweet flavour and this delivered in spades.

Presented under a canopy of glass revealing smoke that faded away to clear, the lamb shoulder was gorgeously, unctuously soft and Glenn explains that it was cooked for 24 hours at 62 degrees to give it that desirably soft quality. The quinoa is flavoured with butter, rosemary and parsley and lamb jus. And it disappeared in about four bites it was so good.

It’s funny how a full tummy can make room for more food when your will to eat it surpasses the sensation of fullness (and that’s without activating the emergency dessert stomach). The steak was wrapped in jamon iberico and then split in half and filled with a native Angassi oyster aka carpet bagged. The steak itself was cooked medium rare as ordered. It sat on a sweet onion velvet puree and came with a sweet shredded beetroot tart which complemented the salty oyster and steak with its inherent sweetness.

Now you could either serve sorbet in a shot glass or… you could serve it in an ice sculpture! And I think doing it in the latter fashion is likely to win friends and influence people a lot better. I’ve seen this done at Wolgan Valley and on TV where it was made in a balloon, but chef Glenn remains mysterious about how the ice sculpture was made (with a balloon?). There is a scoop of 24 carat gold leaf on top of a frightfully good and superbly refreshing Chambord and pineapple gin martini.

The dish above instantly reminded me of the sea pearls at Quay and I loved this tasty morsel with crab-infused tapioca surrounding a mound of crab and lime. Glenn introduces every course and he explains the black slick as squid ink is mixed with mayonnaise as "everything tastes better with mayonnaise” (I love the stuff so I couldn’t agree more). It is then finished off with a bit of 24 carat gold leaf. I immediately wanted a dozen more.

This dish used the last of the Manjimup truffles from WA for this year and the sweetness of the pumpkin and truffle bavarois tube, as well as the pumpkin puree dots went well with the pieces of draped crab and crunchy pork scratchings. It was heady and sweet. I do love black truffles with sweet flavour and this delivered in spades.

Presented under a canopy of glass revealing smoke that faded away to clear, the lamb shoulder was gorgeously, unctuously soft and Glenn explains that it was cooked for 24 hours at 62 degrees to give it that desirably soft quality. The quinoa is flavoured with butter, rosemary and parsley and lamb jus. And it disappeared in about four bites it was so good.

It’s funny how a full tummy can make room for more food when your will to eat it surpasses the sensation of fullness (and that’s without activating the emergency dessert stomach). The steak was wrapped in jamon iberico and then split in half and filled with a native Angassi oyster aka carpet bagged. The steak itself was cooked medium rare as ordered. It sat on a sweet onion velvet puree and came with a sweet shredded beetroot tart which complemented the salty oyster and steak with its inherent sweetness.

Now you could either serve sorbet in a shot glass or… you could serve it in an ice sculpture! And I think doing it in the latter fashion is likely to win friends and influence people a lot better. I’ve seen this done at Wolgan Valley and on TV where it was made in a balloon, but chef Glenn remains mysterious about how the ice sculpture was made (with a balloon?). There is a scoop of 24 carat gold leaf on top of a frightfully good and superbly refreshing Chambord and pineapple gin martini.

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I’m all for a bit of theatre at the table and on each plate was a sphere of white chocolate. Glenn brought around a teapot of hot strawberry coulis which he poured over each paper thin sphere which then melted to reveal a disc of soft cheesecake coated in crumbs and a scoop of strawberry ice cream, some dehydrated strawberries and pop rocks. I loved this dessert and even though I usually take a couple of bites of dessert and move on, I have to finish it as I am a sucker for strawberries and cream…

Dinner is not quite done yet. After all there’s no dinner without some petit fours which we get boxed up ready to take back home with us. And we are offered a tour from one of the chefs. He shows us the various kitchens – including those where staff meals are prepared, which need to feed 400 employees for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We take a look at the chocolate room where Valrhona, Callebaut and Cocoa Barry chocolates sit alongside chocolate sculptures.

And we conclude the tour with a visit to the Fontaine cellar where sommelier Alex pours us all a nightcap and shows us some rather precious bottles including a Chteau Haut-Brion from 1926 priced at $11,000. There is a Penfolds Grange from 1965 and an Armand de Brignac champagne at $1,600 a bottle.

When we return to our rooms there is a boxed chocolate on our beds, a bottle of water and a pair of slippers waiting for us by the bedside table.

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