With apologies in advance for coming across all Elizabeth Farrelly, it is safe to say that preserving our built heritage is not something we do particularly well in Australia and certainly barely at all in New South Wales. Much of Sydney’s CBD is an eyesore: George Street south of Park is a slum, Harry Seidler’s wavy balconies are a cliché in concrete, and of course this is the city that almost tore down the Queen Victoria Building to put up a car park.
And the harbour? That magnificent feature is about to absorb its latest insult in the form of a “high rollers” casino built by the notorious vulgarian James Packer for his just as vulgar clients, ex-Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army cadres-turned-baccarat addicted tycoons flown in by the private planeload.
Which is why it is so wonderful to find structures that manage to survive the march of “progress” while remaining relevant in this post-modern world.
Take Lochiel House, a vintage 1825 farmhouse on the side of Bell’s Line of Road in the foothills of the Blue Mountains which has somehow survived the wrecking ball for nearly two centuries. We Pricks took a drive out there on a recent soggy Saturday afternoon: A long way to go for lunch, perhaps, but word on the place has been good since the husband-and-wife team of Wayne and Jess Jenkins took it over a year or so ago. Happy welcomes, a table by the fire, and a glass of wine were immediately preferable to sitting around Stately Prick Manor for what seemed like the 37th consecutive day of rain, obsessively checking for leaks and waiting for a dove to come back with an olive branch.
First off, scallops: elegant, perfectly cooked, with a bit of pork for oomph, a little salmon roe for pop, and some chorizo sand and apple to make the whole thing soignée. A beautiful plate, almost too restrained despite its many elements but in the context of a bigger meal with building flavours it hits just the right note. Mrs Prick meanwhile had her heart set on a cauliflower soufflé but it was not to be, settling – but not really, because it hit the spot – for a butternut soup, poured at the table over a bowl of garnishes.
Then, an interregnum. Having ordered nose-to-tail pork platters we are hit with a tinge of menu envy watching our neighbours polish off the cleverest beef-three-ways we have seen in a while (a matte black plate carrying a cottage pie, what looks to be some very precious morsels of hangar steak, and a beef marrow bone, it looks like a bit of Flintstones by way of Heston Blumenthal and we briefly consider asking the kitchen to get one on for our dessert).
Which would have been a mistake as the kitchen sends out a plate of what the menu describes (slightly burying the lead) as “local pine mushrooms, brioche, herb oil and duck hearts and eggs”. Well then, what a clever dish: On their own the egg, bread, and mushrooms almost make it a country breakfast, but the hearts – little numbers on rosemary skewers – take things to another level. The yolk creates a bit of sauce, the herb oil kicks that sauce practically into béarnaise territory, the dense hearts turn out to be immensely flavourful, it’s a bit much for Mrs Prick (who, as previously discussed, is not a huge offal fan, but gamely gave it a go) but for the Prick’s money it was dish of the day.
And the pork? Great, fun, four or five dishes in one, we have a hard time deciding which is our favourite bit – the explosive croquette of pork trotter, the slices of tete de cochon, and so on, before deciding that the humble hash of tail and potato hash is send-us-home-with-a-bowl good. Even the carrots are good, especially the little shredded ones, lightly pickled to cut through the richness on the plate.
All up a helluva satisfying meal (a real, not beefy dessert, was also involved), and with enough else on the menu to have the Pricks already planning a return visit. The farmhouse setting with Jess playing hostess and Wayne serving up the food is gemutlich and warm in all good senses of the word, it’s visiting mates with a cosy place in the country without the awkwardness of lying in bed Sunday morning needing to pee and wondering what time the rest of the house gets up.
It is also a fine example of how things don’t need to be wrecked to stay up to date. Lochiel House has lived through a number of owners and incarnations as a restaurant. Mrs Prick grew up down the road and remembers celebration dinners there under its old regime when the menu was all steaks and Wellingtons and “important” pastas, which were the fashion of the time. Today it is turning out what might be called country-mod-Oz, not super-high-end fine dining with lots of foams and spheres and gratuitous discs of radishes, but not the lobotomised burger-and-burrito nonsense that keeps too much of Sydney in thrall either. It’s technique, flavour, humour, everything but the squeal and not much time for vegetarians and if city folk need a reference point and an elevator pitch it’s a bit Colin Fassnidge’s 4Fourteen by way of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.