Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dining with the Skamp - Wills Domain

I love a good degustation.  It can be so much more playful and inventive than the entrée/main combo. My husband and I often order a bunch of entrees, rather than a main each when we dine because the entrée is where a chef often shines. They can be a bit more experimental, more bold, more fun. Because if you don’t like it, it’s only a small dish, and you have a main coming to fill you up. Generally that’ll be a much safer meat + vegetable + sauce scenario and is rarely the stand-out of a whole dinner out. Good and dependable, but nothing groundbreaking. A degustation takes the playfulness of an entrée and runs with it. I’ve had a few degustations over the years, and so far, Wills Domain has probably been my favourite.

The lunch is 7 courses, with two additional courses available at an extra cost – all with the option of matching Wills Domain wines. Well, what’s the point in half-arsing a fabulous food experience? Lance and I went the whole hog and did both additional courses. In fact, we even went the wholer hog and added an additional course, making it a 10 course lunch. I have to stress though, that it wasn’t added because we needed the extra food! Lance had eaten the degustation at Wills Domain back in November and ever since, wanted to take me down there for the experience, and for one dish in particular – the carrot and quinoa salad with smoked yoghurt. You might recall that he is currently obsessed with smoking foods, so this smoked yoghurt dish blew him away. It was swapped out for a different “Garden” dish on the dego menu, but still available ala carte, so he asked them to add it in for us, which they happily did. Our service that lunch was top-notch from all staff. They were friendly, attentive and so knowledgeable of the dishes and wines they were bringing us . We were told that that day, there was a review lambasting the service in the paper and so everyone was on their best behaviour – but Lance had mainly the same staff on his last visit, and had already remarked how good his service was. In fact, a lot of the staff remembered him from his last visit and welcomed him back before we even started.


We started with a sourdough bun with cultured butter, a glass of their NV sparkling and the three ‘snacks’. The snacks on our day were crispy kale with wattleseed, mini herring tacos and fish bladder with a creamy fish sauce. The herring tacos were more of a tostada – with the corn tortillas crisped up and the perfect textural counterpoint to the oily fish. The fish bladder was something of a revelation. The texture was similar to a prawn cracker, slightly oily and that crispy/tingly/stick to your tongue awesomeness. It had quite a fishy taste, and slid through the accompanying creamy fish sauce, it was so unique and delicious. It was rich and salty and went perfectly with the sparkling. Lance said that last time they had beef tendon, which was the same prawn cracker texture but meaty, rather than fishy.


The next dish was cured Kingfish. Kingfish is my favourite sashimi fish, and cured it was just as good. The cucumber mousse and lemon curd were the perfect accompaniment to the fish. This was paired with their 2013 Rose. A lovely bright rose made from Shiraz grapes, which is also one of their cheaper wines, which makes it perfect to take to summer lunches! It treads that line between sweet and dry very well, making it easy drinking and well suited to seafood.

The extra dish Lance ordered for us and my favourite dish of the original degustation were both the “Garden” course. And both were mind-blowingly good, worth going to Wills Domain for by themselves. The current summer menu pairs various heirloom tomatoes with various types of basil from their own garden. The flavours of each basil leaf are vastly different, whilst still maintaining the basic basil flavour that goes so well with tomatoes. This was then paired with a crispy savoury pine nut granola which was delightful and one of my favourite things ever – mozzarella ice cream. My goat’s cheese ice cream is one of my favourite ice creams ever, and this blew it out of the water. It has a strong mozzarella punch that made the tomatoes sing. The ice cream is intensely cheesy and very savoury, whilst still being unmistakeably ice cream. It’s perfect in this dish, but could also make an amazing dessert – maybe with grilled figs! I am a much more savoury person than sweet person and this ice crean the perfect combination of salty and sweet. I would curl up on the couch with a whole tub of this ice cream and a whole bottle of the accompanying Semillon by myself. Who needs a cheese platter, when you have a cheese bowl?

From here we went to the broth supplement. This was a very simple, but very delicious dish. A small marron, a few native fruits in the quandong and bunya bunya nuts, as well as sea spinach and then a lovely jamon broth poured over at the table. Theatrics is always fun! Whilst eating it, I couldn’t help but quote some Arrested Development – the jamon broth was essentially “Hot Ham Water” – but delicious hot ham water. Hot ham water that was so delicious that in a fancy establishment, I uncouthly but discretely picked up the bowl to drink the last little bit that my spoon couldn’t reach!


The ocean dish was a piece of dhufish (although this changes depending on the market that day), with a piece of silken cuttlefish draped over the top and a lovely crunchy potato stack. The cuttlefish was a beautiful shiny black ribbon, slightly chewy in texture and fairly mild in flavour. Definitely a way of presenting cuttlefish I’ve never had before. And the matching Cuve d’Elevage Chardonnay was my favourite wine of the lunch. We were told that this vintage doesn’t use malolactic fermentation, but still had a wonderful creamy/butteriness in the mouthfeel. It was such a smooth Chardonnay, and so good, we left with a bottle. It’s a little pricier as it’s on their reserve list, but it was well worth it in my opinion!

Paddock then brought us a melt-in-your-mouth-tender piece of rump with a caramelly-charred baby onion. This and the fish both showcase how good the local meat and seafood are down south. Very simply cooked and presented – the flavour is in the produce itself. This was paired with their 2010 Reserve Shiraz, that we also bought a bottle of, as it was Lance’s favourite wine of the meal. We’ve since drunk that one with smoked chicken and smoke-roasted potatoes and it also paired wonderfully with that. The smokiness loving the boldness of the wine.


After Paddock, we had our extra Garden dish – the carrot and quinoa salad with smoked yoghurt. It was everything Lance had talked it up to be and more. Beautiful multi-coloured carrots, roasted to a tender, sweet but still fresh crunch, or peeled in long strips decorated a salad made of quinoa and various nuts and seeds dressed simply, and a few small dollops of strongly smokey yoghurt dabbed around the plate. It was a perfectly realised dish. Each texture and flavour element bringing out the best in every item. If you don’t go the whole hog and do the dego at Wills Domain, I strongly urge you to order this dish. It’s filling enough for a light lunch and is just so full of flavour. As Lance put it, it’s rare that he’ll order a vegetarian dish, but this was so flavoursome, so ‘complete’, that he didn’t feel like he was missing out on anything by not having any meat.


If you couldn’t tell from my gushing over the mozzarella ice cream, I am a big fan of cheese. I must admit, I don’t know a huge array of cheeses, so I love finding any opportunity to try more. So of course we were going to order the cheese supplement. This cheese was the Heidi Raclette, which is a Swiss style cheese, nutty and ripe flavoured. A fairly plain buckwheat cracker, a long, thin strip of apple and drops of intense almost burnt onion jam brought out the cheese flavours perfectly. It was served with a German style of grape in the Scheurebe wine.

The first dessert was served with a 2008 Shiraz. The aging of this wine making a wonderfully mellow accompaniment to the first chocolate dessert. Lance and I will often have a couch movie date with a bottle of Shiraz and a block of Bahenand Co Chilli Chocolate, so the Shiraz-chocolate pairing is one that we were excited about. Being a summer menu, instead of having a rich and heavy chocolate dessert, this was a rich and light dessert. The dish consisted of 3 different flavoured and textured balls, one a ganache, one an ice cream, one I can’t remember what (possibly a sorbet?), topped with a ribbon of beetroot. The flavours of beetroot and chocolate are fairly classic. The flavours of beetroot and caraway are fairly classic. The combination  of all 3 was extremely good. The caraway was very subtle, not overwhelmingly aniseedy, and the whole dish refreshing, despite it’s richness.

The final dish was an elderflower cheesecake with an oaty cookie base and strawberries, served with a dessert wine. This was a lovely, but I guess ultimately forgettable dish as I can’t really remember all the details of it, like I can every other dish. But I guess out of 10 dishes, that’s not bad. I did enjoy it at the time, but nothing about it stood out enough to gush about it like I have every other dish. The dessert wine was enjoyably sweet, and not cloying like some tend to be. It had a nice floral tone to match the cheesecake.

Oh, and I’ve forgotten to mention the palate cleansers! The first was an ‘apple sour’ and it was truly one of the most delicious drinks I’ve ever had. It was zingy and vinegary and refreshing. It was like a combination of apple cider with a dash of apple cider vinegar and such a novel take on palate cleansers. Apparently they have had people complain it’s a little too sour, but I thought it was absolutely delicious. Add some rum and it would make an epic cocktail! The second was a herby sorbet. Flavours of basil, coriander and mint all mingled in your mouth in a fun way, each flavour taking precedent at times as we tried to pick the herbs used.
Not wanting our epic meal to be over quite yet, Lance and I both ordered coffees while our taxi for the day and friend checked out the gallery and cellar door. And they came with peanut butter salted caramel truffles. Just in case we weren’t blown away enough already, these little bites were a perfect full stop to the day. There is nothing not to love about peanut butter, salted caramel and chocolate, and nothing about these disappointed, with just the right level of each component.