Rydges Port Macquarie
1 Hay Street
Port Macquarie NSW 2444
Husband and I are at the Rydges Hotel Port Macquarie for the 4th Annual “Six Degrees of Degustation Charity Dinner” The evening is part of the schedule of events for the 8th Annual “Tastings of the Hastings” local food and wine festival, which is held over a three weeks period.
The evening was to be a night of 6’s. 6 chefs, 6 courses, and 6 matching wines.
The Rydges Hotel has opened its kitchen for the visiting chefs. Each of the chefs had donated their time for the event, with a portion of the proceeds raised, being donated to the Salvation Army.
We were welcomed with our choice of either a glass of Cassegrain Stone Circle Sparkling Cuvee or a beer from “The Little Brewing Co” Wicked Elf range. Mr GG started with the Wicked Elf Pilsner and was immediately impressed. Over the course of the evening he sampled each of the three beers in the range and enjoyed them all, the Pilsner and Witbier being his favourite. I have always enjoyed the Cassegrain Sparkling Cuvee so that was my drink of choice to kick off the evenings festivities.
We were chatting to a few of the other guests when platters of cheese from Comboyne Culture Cheeses and Smoked Macadamias from Lorne Valley were brought around and placed on each of the table in the bar area. We continued to snack on the delicious ash cheese and creamy brie, all the while being very aware that there was a feast of fine food still to come.
Also enjoying the cheese and macadamia with us were the owners of “Little Fish Café” and Lake Innes Vineyard, Gino and Maria, and their friends Alberto & Michelle. I was very excited to hear their chef would be cooking the fourth course of the evening a “Shredded Gaian Organic Duck” and the meal was to be accompanied by the 2006 Innes Lake Cabernet Sauvignon.
All the guests were then ushered into the dining room and seated. The introductions began with Kate from the Rydges welcoming guests and introducing the chefs for the evening. Each of the chef had been chosen from leading restaurants in the region, and they would each be responsible for one of the six courses. Steve Foye from Cassegrain Wines was the next to speak, he ended his address by suggesting we should all “loosen our belts and book a taxi” very good advice I am sure.
The entrées began to arrive, and we were served a Tartare of Bluefin Tuna, pickled cucumber, wasabi flying fish roe and a sweet ginger and shallot dressing. The entrée was accompanied by a glass of 2009 Cassegrain Edition Noir Gewurztraminer. The chef for this course was the Rydges very own chef Martin King.
The entrée was beautiful, the tuna just melted in my mouth, it was a perfect fresh, light start to the meal. The black sesame seeds and Japanese flavours of wasabi and fish roe combined so well with Vietnamese style, sweet lime and chili dressing, it was a sensational fusion of flavours with a lovely fresh tang.
The beginning of the next course was signaled by the pouring of the next wine, a 2009 Long Point Fronti-Verdelho. It was such a treat to be revisiting the wines of the “North Coast Wine Trail” throughout the meal. I thoroughly enjoyed the vineyards last month and the matching wines being served throughout the courses confirmed my opinion of the excellent quality of wines the area produces.
Up to this point I had been ignoring the bun at my place setting. I make it a habit not to be tempted by these traps, not matter how good they look or smell. I notice hubby eyeing it off, I ask him “Are you going to eat my bun sweetie?” to which he replies, “Good chance of it!” “Beginners mistake my darl” I say as I push it towards him. He laughs, and I know he will have no trouble with the six courses.
The next course is served, a Seafood Assiette of “Zucchini flowers stuffed with Goats curd and Crab” “Prawn with Crisp Salad and Betel Leaf” and a “Seared Scallop with Chilli Jam and Proscuitto served on a slice of Chorizo”. I had barely begun to contemplate the dish when hubby started moaning in delight over the seared scallop.
I decided to leave my scallop until last, carefully guarded of course, and I tried the zucchini flower. It was a lovely delicate creamy flavour with a light tangy filling. Next was the Prawn, it was a bit of a surprise package. It appeared to be just a prawn on a leaf with a few pieces of julienne salad but it was so much more than it appeared. The salad was dressed with a crunchy, spicy satay sauce and the flavours combined in the leaf beautifully as a Thai style crunchy seafood wrap. Delicious.
Finally I tried the scallop, and I totally agreed with Mr GG, it was a great flavour combination, the heat of the chilli, was perfect with the salty proscuitto, the meaty chorizo and the light scallop. The dish had been prepared to perfection by the executive chef of Rydges Hotel, Michael Schubert.
In between courses I took the opportunity to speak with the chefs in the kitchen. Stan White, the Chef from Bliss Restaurant was plating up the next course, so I spoke with Eric Robinson from “The Other Chef Fine Foods.” He is a former Coffs Harbour Chef and was the owner of Passionfish Restaurant. He is now teaching commercial cooking at the North Coast Institute of TAFE and has his own line of Gourmet Condiments which are available at a wide range of gourmet providores throughout the country.
I asked Eric if there was any rivalry in the kitchen tonight, given these are all top chefs from leading restaurants. He just laughed and said, “none at all, we are all in the same game, which is to prepare the best of what the area has to offer.” There was such a refreshing lack of ego in the kitchen. The kitchen was running like clock work as the next dish came together before me, under the expertise of the chef.
I decided to finish my chat and get back to the table before hubby has a chance to eye off my plate. I told Mr GG about the dish we were about to have presented. It was to be “Chicken wrapped in proscuitto with caramalised onion jam and Comboyne blueberry jus dusted with Barbushco macadamia bush dukka”. The only way I could describe what I had seen to him was that “it is all the most delicious flavours you can imagine on one plate.” Right on queue our next course was delivered and it was every bit a gorgeous as it looked. The matching wine was a 2010 Roses’ Vineyard Oaked Chardonnay.
I commented to Mr GG at what a superb job the chefs were doing, they were showcasing the area to absolute perfection.
After having started the evening speaking to Gino and Maria from “Little Fish Café” and “Innes Lake Wines” I was looking forward to the dish that chef Shivaneel Nath would be preparing. A Shredded Gaian Organic Duck on a salad of Mescalin, beetroot wedges and Hasting Valley fetta, garnished with Lorne macadamias and sherry vinegar dressing. This course also brought with it the start of the red wines.
We were served a glass of 2006 Innes Lake Cabernet Sauvignon and I am in love from the first drop. It has a full flavour but is lovely and mellow at the same time. I instantly regretted not sampling the Innes Lake range whilst visiting the vineyards of the “North Coast Wine Trail.”
I had mentioned to Mr GG on the drive to Port Macquarie that I would like to have lunch at “Little Fish Café for my upcoming birthday and sample Innes Lake Wines at the same time. He had agreed, so I was very pleased we would be getting a preview tonight of both the wine, and the delicious food.
The shredded duck was perfectly moist and gamey and complimented beautifully the sweet beetroot and fetta. The dish was exactly the style of dish I would choose for myself. Like the dishes which had preceded this course it is fresh and healthy and flavoursome and such a refreshing dish.
The menu throughout the evening has struck me as being very well conceived. The chefs from each of the restaurants have put together dishes which compliment the preceding and following courses. Not only have the individual dishes been outstanding, but each course has had a role to play in building a compete picture of the Hastings Valleys produce and talent.
The event was held as a fundraiser for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Appeal, so raffle tickets had been sold throughout the evening to raise money for the cause. Prizes had been donated by the vineyards, restaurants, local producers and other sponsors. The time had come to give our four previous courses time to digest, with the drawing of the raffle. To my absolute surprise we held the winning ticket for a bottle of Cassegrain wine and a $100 dining voucher at Flying Fish Café. What a lovely coincidence. My birthday wish will be coming true!
The next course was a local fillet of Hokubee Beef served with a confit of golden and crimson beetroot and a Cassegrain Shiraz jelly. I have never tasted anything as succulent and flavoursome as the beef. The Rydges chefs Martin King and Michael Schubert had cooked the steak to perfection. I am so fussy about my steak that when hubby said it wasn’t rare, quite frankly I was concerned, but I needn’t have given it a second thought, I have not had something so tender and smoky and lush. I promise it was beyond description and the pairing with Shiraz jelly was divine. A match made in heaven.
The matching wine for this course was 2007 Cassegrain Reserve Shiraz. This is one of my favourite red wines and it complimented the beef perfectly.
By the time we arrived at the final “official” course I was starting to have appetite issues. The spacing between courses has been perfect to allow a time for a leisurely chat between indulgences but I was going to struggle. On the menu was a tart of Ricardo’s strawberries, The Company Farm lemon curd and rhubarb confiture finished with The Other Chef toffee apple syrup and saffron fairy floss.
I had recently been to the Company Farm for a cooking class, and taken the children to Ricardos to pick our own strawberries, so I was really looking forward to trying the dessert Eric from “The Other Chef had created. Of course it was stunning, and tasted so citrusy, sweet, tart, tangy, zesty and fresh all at once. The shortcrust pastry was rich and crisp and the dessert was a lovely fruity reminder to me that we are now in spring.
The matching wine was another of my personal favourites, the Cassegrain NV Noble Cuvee. A late harvest Semillon which has benefited from botrytis to create a syrupy sweet nectar perfect for enjoying with dessert or cheese.
Looking around the room it was clear to see that everyone had enjoyed the evening. We have been presented with the loveliest local food by the area’s most talent chefs. So how do you finish such a decadent evening?
Perhaps a Peak Afogatto Coffee with Pedrozimenez and an assortment of chocolate coated Lorne Valley Macadamia. Presented before us were two glasses, the first contained a rich lush port topped with vanilla ice-cream and the second, the most aromatic short black coffee. The macadamia nuts were coated in a creamy white, milk and dark chocolate. I must apologise for my lack of photograph, suffice to say it was the perfect finish to the evening.
It has been an evening of pure indulgence enjoying the best of “The Tastings of the Hastings” I would thoroughly recommend attending the event next year.
In the meantime check out the evening chefs at their usual venue:
Martin King – Rydges Waterfront Restaurant
Michael Schubert – Exec Chef Rydges Waterfront Restaurant
Stan White – Bliss Restaurant & Bar
Shivaneel Nath – Little Fish Cafe
Eric Robinson – The Other Chef Finer Foods
Jeff Walsh – The Other Chef Fine Foods