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make yourself at home…

January 25, 2011

[You may actually want to grab a glass of wine for this one. I go on for aaages…]

There are some dinners which are simply divine on all levels. Often they’re with old friends, or very-new ones. You find yourself seamlessly participating in several conversations – some verbal, others just an eyebrow raised now and then. More often than not, these kinds of dinners are at home, where you’re all comfortable, you can drop your guard, the food is delicious, the wine keeps flowing, no-one so much as glances at a watch and everyone’s just a little disappointed when it’s time to go. Farewells are genuine and warm. The house empties and you’re wondering how you could create that again.

The other night I had an unusual experience, friends old and new, conversation flowing, but at a restaurant, and on a school night. It was one of those events where (and I don’t for a minute imagine it was by accident) everything fell into line. The Medhurst Wine Dinner at The Provincial exceeded expectations. I won’t name names (although considering the hosts and chef it’s not difficult to deduce) but it takes a certain knowledge of the industry to make a dining room for 80 feel like a dinner party for six. It permeates every presentation, the service, the settings and I’m sure quite a few other things which were designed to be innocuous. The Provincial perhaps doesn’t spring to mind as your Fitzroy fine dining destination, especially not if you’re used to hitting the dance floor there on a Saturday night, but that, it seems, is quickly changing.

In a somewhat unusual twist, as you cross the threshold into The Salon at The Provincial you are almost guaranteed to trip. Just a little bit. I’d say there’s a drop of perhaps 17mm. It’s an old building. You land in the room with a dash of schadenfreude and if you’re not careful, a giggle. As a design feature it’s questionable, but certainly it takes the edge off any attempted power-entrance, and perhaps contributes just a tad to the convivial nature of the gathering. The first course is served standing, with the the 2010 I-don’t-usually-like-Rose-but-this-is-lovely Medhurst Rose in one hand and a bite-sized flag of Red radish, buerre noisette cream, agave jelly and strawberry in the other. At the table the calamari and prawn burger with lemon and yabby veloute and sweet corn custard arrives. Although each dish resembles a particularly delicious Halley’s comet, it’s not so uniform as to look like a mirror image of your neighbour’s. There’s something charming in that. I’m not mad for the word burger, but as far as a collection of seafood mounded together goes, ‘burger’ sure beats the hell out of ‘rissole’ and ‘pattie’. It’s delicious and sidles up chummily to the 2009 Medhurst Sauvignon Blanc.

Between courses host Erez Gordon and winemaker Matt Steel address the room. We find out that Matt’s wine career journey included driving a rent-a-wreck to Adelaide to secure a place in a course (there was actually no question that he was going to get in, as it turned out). After that he spent some more time in Adelaide, working his way up, in his words, as, “a cellar hand shit kicker – drag hoses. clean things and have a lot of fun doing it.” He returned to Victoria a winemaker and as excited as he was about Adelaide, he loves Healesville. “I guess the real reason is, you’ve got this – I’m going to drive home to Healesville tonight and I’ve been in the hub of Melbourne. For a wine and food person that’s great.” It’s almost impossible to hear Matt talk about the plans for the Medhurst cellar door and food offering and not want to hire your own rent a wreck to get there. “The cellar door building sits above the winery and has the most stunning view that’s really beautifully framed by the trees. And this is I guess one of the classy things about we’ve got at Medhurst. it would be tempting to remove the trees and have a broader vista, but it’s the special view that you get from the cellar door, the ambience that’s created by peering through this beautiful remnant vegetation from the Warramate Hills, which is part of a state park and hasn’t really changed through European settlement. It frames the valley, the space is open and warm and I mean that in both the sense of warmth because of the way it’s been designed by the architect and also by the welcome that you get. We’re matching foods to wines, similar to what you’ve seen today. in that the flavours are not too dominant. Our wine is quite elegant and restrained.”

The next course arrives, Marinated Yellowtail Kingfish, avocado, charred carrots, sesame, lime and filo pastry seduces a 2008 Medhurst Chardonnay and for once in the night conversation winds down, apart from the odd sigh of appreciation. Admittedly I’m not exactly sure of the chronology of the following parts of the speeches (the wines were matched extremely well) but around this point Matt turns the tables on our host and asks, “Who is Erez Gordon?” Once the laughter subsides our host replies, “I’ve spent the last 43 years trying to work it out. I have no idea.” He’s described by many as ‘a legend of the hospitality industry’ but his assessment is simpler, “I guess what you’re trying to say is what am I doing? It’s really simple I used to be in this game from an operational point of view, running venues, you might have heard of a couple of them, I won’t tell you now. You get to a certain stage where you’re too old. Too old, too slow, too grey and so you either slink away quietly, or you turn your hand at using your experience in another way. Essentially I help people out, I work as a consultant. I work with The Provincial as a restaurant consultant and one of the things that I do is create a profile and a market niche for the venue. Doing dinners like this is part of what we do to let people know that we’re a serious food and wine operation.”

If you weren’t already convinced of that, the main course certainly brought the message home. Slow cooked Hopkins River beef rump, proper corned beef, dried fruit and nut crumble and chimmi churri met what was for me, the standout wine of the evening, the 2005 Medhurst Shiraz and they danced. The Cheddar and Date Millefeuille met the 2005 Medhurst Cabernet Sauvignon and they certainly made a handsome couple. Next to the floor was chef Paul Cooper who fielded a range of compliments before answering a guest’s question, “My mum cooks corned beef – what’s proper corned beef?” It’s true the pieces of corned beef scattered on the beef main seemed to bear little resemblance to the corned beef I’d come across in my youth (and avoided thereafter). Having done the obligatory European adventure, Paul very tactfully explains, “What I’ve noticed in Australia is that what we call corned beef is throwing some beef in a pot with some vinegar and salt and boiling it up. Corned beef is traditionally brined for three or four days in a salt, sugar and water mixture with spices and then poached.” The next question soon followed, “How long did you marinate the Kingfish for?” “About six minutes.” And then the last statement, from a softly spoken mature man, “I have to say the main course was absolutely magnificent. It was a hell of a surprise. I’ve never tasted anything like that before – congratulations.”

Congratulations indeed.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 30, 2011 9:39 am

    Wowee- what an experience indeed! I’ve been thinking about getting back into degustations and your post has quite convinced me to do so, starting with The Provincial. I’m very hungry now, thanks pardipardi!

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