Ah, so where were in the Mudgee Chronicles? That’s right – a crummy lunch at Blue Wren. Nevermind, the view was gorgeous, the company sublime, and the boot of the Prickmobile was by then filled with boxes and boxes of the local produce. With our palates pretty much deadened by the day’s tasting, it was time to head out into the country – the real country, none of this twee weekend warrior wine-tasting nonsense – and that could only mean one thing: the Lue Hotel, a fantastic old pub next to what is billed as “Australia’s Premier Off-Road Motorbike Playground”. The beer is cold, the service is friendly; it’s like going back to another time. Specifically, to a time before the internet, when humorous cat-memes and dirty jokes were shared on public bulletin boards instead of the internet:
Gold. Palates cleansed, and pottery bought (lovely stuff, well done Mrs Prick!), it was back to town, where we learned the hard way that Mudgee is not a sleepy little burg and businesses aren’t just hanging out waiting for tourist dollars from the Big Smoke to drop into their lap. Quite the opposite: It is quite busy after dark on a Saturday, even a cold one in late June. Getting a table at one of the several decent diners in town is not as easy as you’d think – though what seems to be a local habit of not formally acknowledging the possibility of two seatings for dinner makes things worse.
We were, however, lucky enough to get seated as walk-ins in the front lounge at Sajo’s, where a new chef has been making waves: every local we looked to for a dinner recommendation put the place at the top of their list, so no wonder we couldn’t get a table over the phone. They’ve done a good job with the fit-out, keeping a great tile floor in the front bar where fresh-faced local youth were teeing off a Mudgee Saturday night, and splashing lots of rich colours and lush fabrics around the place generally. Very un-middle of NSW, if you know what I mean, though there would continue to be little reminders of geography throughout the night: A gin martini, for example, is not a half-gin, half-Martini & Rossi vermouth. Fortunately I was restrained from going behind the bar to show them how it’s done by Mrs Prick and her folks who joined us for the weekend, which is just as well as before we knew it a table had freed up in the dining room and we were sitting with the grown-ups by 8pm.
What to eat? Good question: Sajo’s dinner menu is a happy exercise in city food at country prices. With three courses for $55 (!!!) we decided to put together our own little degustations, and though they’d never heard of anyone ordering two starters and a main before, what the hell? Some highlights:
This was good stuff, and it’s clear the chef knows what he’s doing. There are no molecular flourishes or modernist foams (though I did spot a “soil” on the menu), just big, happy flavours, nice presentations (if a little sloppy on some of the mains), served by a bright and friendly staff. Even washing it all down with plenty of local wine and tacking a few desserts on to the bill, we got away for well under $500 bucks for the four of us. It was such a good night out that I almost hesitate to mention this, but it’s too good not to share and we’ve been chuckling about it for weeks. At one point, topping up our wines, the waitress rhapsodised about the chef, his cooking, and what he’s done for the menu. The mother-in-law, making conversation, queried his working style.
“Is he a yeller?”, she asked, wondering if he was a fly-off-the-handle shouty type.
“No,” replied the earnest young server, thinking for a moment. “Actually, I think he’s of Italian extraction.”
Oh, rats. I thought the rejoinder was going to be “he’s more of a grunter” or “he just has a little cry at the end”.
I’m off to Bistro Ortolan in The Cross for a birthday dinner with family. It’s being paid for from the inheritance. Know anything about this place? Mother has eaten at the Leichhardt restaurant, but it’s closed now and there’s only the Kings Cross one.
Kae, never been — yet. I understand there are two parts, which are you going to try? It’s in the old Bayswater Brasserie space, however, which was wodnerful and which had a fantastic bar out the back in its day … let us know how it goes.
The Ortolan, as it’s now known, was great. Mum had eaten at the Leichhardt Bistro Ortolan so was familiar with their reputation and their excellent food.
I’m not a regular of fine-dining, but I enjoyed the experience. You don’t think the meals are large, and they aren’t, but you enjoy the taste of every fork full and eat very slowly.
We settled for the $70 two course option. None of us much like crustaceans and many of the entrees were crab or oyster based. (My brother is a fussy eater, I’m slightly less fussy!)
Before our main courses arrived we received a complementary entree which appears to have come from the Degustation menu, Cauliflower custard with roasted crab consomme and Rock oyster Beignet…. eeewwww, it had oyster in it? It was different for me – not a fan of crab, I think becuase it’s so sweet. Brother, the fussy eater, couldn’t eat it, SIL and mum enjoyed it.
Mother and brother had venison (Spice-roasted loin of Raukumara wild red venison with game pie and Lyonnaise vegetables), SIL (sister in law) and I had veal (Twice-cooked tenderloin and sirloin of biodynamic Wildes Meadow veal with sarladaise potato, wood mushrooms and bearnaise sauce). Wonderful. We had a side dish of mash (Herbed pommes puree).
For dessert, mum and SIL had bombe Alaska (White chocolate and hazelnut bombe Alaska), brother had sorbet (Terrine of raspberry and lemon verbena sorbet with elderflower ice cream and fresh berries), I had souffle (Spiced souffle with almond milk ice cream and black figs).
Prix-fix menu: http://theortolanonbayswater.com.au/pdfs/bist_menu.pdf
I can’t remember the wine we had, it was inexpensive and smooooooth, a red. I’ll find out whether Mum remembers which one it was and get back to you.
As I said, I’m not a usual visitor to this kind of restaurant and it was all new to me and very, very tasty!
Oh, we mentioned that it was a celebration for Mum’s birthday coming up on Tuesday (today), and asked whether they could pop a candle in the dessert for Mum.
They were happy to oblige and out came the bombe with a candle on the side and the plate piped with “Happy Birthday, Grace”. Mum was tickled pink.
Parking was $50 across the road, owch!