The first year of marriage is really strange. As I came closer to April 28, 2013 I felt equally “What, it’s been a year already?!” and “Only a year? It feels like we’ve been married fooorrreeeevvvuuuhhhhhh“.
In some kind of time warp, the months went by really really quickly but we both changed and aged so much faster than we would in the span of one, normal year. It’s a very steep curve – learning how to be someone’s wife or husband and how to be an adult with actual responsibilities at the same time. Ben Affleck is totally right: it’s work, but it’s the best work there is.
So making it to the one year mark without killing each other, I felt very strongly that our anniversary was worthy of proper celebration. This was not an occasion for the Tollgate Hotel or Top Taste Chinese Restaurant, it was time for a fine dining revival. To relive the heyday of our honeymoon and just forget about the mortgage and the bills and the groceries for one night.
We already had weekend accommodation booked in the Blue Mountains so after a bit of research on restaurants in the area, I decided on nineteen23 in Wentworth Falls. There are plenty of lovely restaurants in the Blue Mountains area, but I couldn’t go past nineteen23’s $70 7 course menu (okay, so I didn’t completely forget about the mortgage). One of the reasons why I love regional fine dining: beautiful food without the Sydney price tag.
Nineteen23 is part of Silvermere Guesthouse, a heritage listed Spanish villa surrounded by gardens. The restaurant is found in the house’s intimate 30-seat dining room and is decorated with simple, art deco charm.
The night was freezing but we warmed up quickly with a table right next to the fire place.
Nineteen23’s menu is for sharing, and though there are a few “A or B” choices listed on the menu, the chef makes the decision about what each table gets for each course. So diners don’t get to choose, but it does introduce an element of surprise.
The menu is simply printed on a piece of paper that is left on the table – which is nice because eating is actually a lot more enjoyable when you know exactly what you’re meant to be tasting. And who actually listens to the waiter when they recite the 10 elements of each dish as it comes out?
As tempting as it was to go for the full matching wines (only $105!), we still had an hour of driving left before we reached our accommodation, so we resisted. I wasn’t driving but would probably pass out face-on-plate before dessert with that much wine – and that’s not the way to make an anniversary weekend memorable.
We opted for a glass of fruity white to sip with our house-marinated olives.
Philip shaw ‘the dreamer’ viognier 2011, orange
Most of the wine and ingredients featured here are sourced locally – and by local, I mean within a few hour’s drive of the restaurant. The wines are mainly from Mudgee and Orange and the menu features award winning produce from the Blue Mountains and NSW Central Tablelands. I really liked this concept of why bother looking elsewhere, when your own backyard has so much goodness to offer.
Lemon thyme and gruyere arancini with macadamia pesto
Started off with golden arancini balls, with a subtle lemony zing.
King fish ceviche, avocado puree, ruby grapefruit, fried capers, chilli and mint
Each dish had at least one element that really stood out – here it was the fried capers. Who would think of frying capers? But it works – they’re crispy little bursts of saltiness.
Heirloom tomato salad, white anchovies, Jannei goat’s curd, Pangratta, basil oil, garnished with nasturtiums from the garden.
Rarely is the salad course the hero of a meal, but tonight it was. This was my favourite dish – which says a lot since I hold a general disdain for all things salad. This took the basic elements of an everyday salad (fresh veg + dressing + cheese + croutons + protein) and elevated it to the highest level – especially with the tomatoes and white anchovies.
It’s hard to understand exactly what heirloom tomatoes are, even with Google’s help. But I think I’ve figured it out. If the round, bright red, thick-skinned tomatoes we see in the supermarket are “modern” and “mainstream”, heirloom tomatoes are “vintage” and “indie”. They’re older, sweeter, unique varieties of tomatoes that families been preserved by passing down the seeds through generations. And they’re freaking delicious.
Confit pork belly, blue puy lentils, baby English spinach, caramelized apple, crisp apple chips, jus
A classic pork & apple main course – perfectly cooked, tender pork belly.
Cowra lamb rump, ratatouille vegetables, roast tomato, broccoli, garlic aioli
Look at that juicy pink lamb! The aioli added a nice kick to this otherwise simple dish.
Choc pavlova Millefeuille, rum and raisin ice cream, blackberry compote and vanilla pashmache
The theatrics were saved for dessert – we saw a few of these go buy and hoped (very loudly) that the chef would make the right choice for our table. Layers of meringue with drunken ice cream, tart blackberry sauce, topped with persian fairy floss. This came in as a close runner up after the heirloom tomato salad.
Le delice de bourgogne cheese, home grown rhubarb compote, home made lavash
A cheese course!! A cheese course included in the tasting menu, and not as a $$ optional extra! But just one type of cheese? You’ve gotta be pretty confident in a cheese to serve just one slice of it as the final course.
Le delice de bourgogne (literally, “the delight of Burgundy”) is a triple-cream cow’s milk cheese. Unlike brie, the cheese is ivory-white so I was expecting a mild, fresh flavour – but it was surprisingly strong and tasted more like a blue. Which I LOVED. I like my cheeses sharp and strong, but I’m a bit too wimpy for full-on blue vein stinky cheese. This is the perfect middle ground between brie and blue. And the texture was so soft, creamy and spreadable ! It was a pretty big chunk as you can see, but we demolished it. The home-made lavash and slightly sweet rhubarb compote were perfect accompaniments. Le delice de bourgogne has now made my list of top three most loved cheeses, along with the French brie from Quatrehomme in Paris and Hunter Valley Cheese Co’s Grape Vine Ashed Brie.
I think nineteen23 is the perfect restaurant for those who want a fine dining experience, without all the negatives associated with fine dining:
- prohibitive cost (I challenge you to find better value tasting menu);
- pretentious service (our waitress made us feel like we had been invited over for dinner at her place);
- food that’s obscure or confusing (this is simple and honest dining, and each element on the plate makes sense and plays its part); and
- waiting ages between courses and being left hungry at the end (there was no fooling around here, the courses came out in quick succession and our tummies were fully satisfied by the end of it).
So if you feel like making your next trip to the Blue Mountains a little bit fancy, I can’t recommend nineteen23 highly enough. Go on a hike, admire the autumnal colours and end your day with a glass of viogner and some le delice de bourgogne.