I’ve already set the scene in my previous blog entry regarding Ruben Koopman and the Frogmore Team, but now it’s time to focus on the food!
Before we get there though (I can hear the groans already…more waffle…), it’s interesting to note that ten years ago, this lunch at Frogmore Creek would have been a most unlikely event.
It was with some scepticism that I first signed up for a Facebook account back in 2007*, yet the opportunities to reconnect with old friends, collaborate with fellow artists and experience the indescribable joy of lolcats has made it more than worthwhile! However, more pertinent to this review is the recent growth in food-related ‘Groups’, enabling both consumers and providers the opportunity to share, learn and grow from their experiences in food. It was through Hobart’s largest Facebook forum “Eating Out in Tassie” that I received an open invitation to join their group of ‘Daring Diners’ in a lunch at Frogmore Creek, with the venue having been selected through a public vote (yes, I voted for Frogmore!).
Ten years ago if a total stranger approached you on the street and asked you to have lunch with them, would you have replied in the affirmative?! I’m pretty sure I would have fobbed them off with a firm, “Sorry buddy, but whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested!”. This time around, after some initial reluctance and encouragement from Karen (who due to calorific constraints is currently living out her food dreams through me!), I decided to give it a try. From previous experience I knew the meal was likely to be better than decent, I was very interested in meeting some of my fellow Facebookers (including ‘Rita’, the author of Hobart’s very own Rita’s Bite blog!), but perhaps more importantly, I was fascinated as to whether Frogmore was still serving up meals of a similar quality to that experienced 12 months ago, particularly considering that there had been a recent change in head chef.
The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect if we tried! Blue skies on a crisp autumn day, sun streaming in through the floor to ceiling windows, presenting sweeping views across the vines and up the fertile Coal River Valley. Introductions were made and before long we were all perusing our menus.
Despite the fact we were all strangers, it was fascinating how quickly we all started comparing our first and second preferences in an effort to get as wide a range of dishes on the table as possible, with the intent being that we share each other’s meals and get a broader experience than would otherwise be possible!
After placing our orders with the friendly and effervescent maître d’ Stephen (ex-owner of Gondwana, one of Tasmania’s finest restaurants that sadly closed its doors some years ago), we were all pleasantly surprised to see the wait staff circle our table and commence the presentation of a complimentary amuse bouche each!
Unexpected, yet delightful. Some may argue that the dusting of salt was a little heavy handed, but for me I thought it balanced out the creamy salmon quite nicely. Together with a glass of NV 42 Degrees South sparkling, recommended by Stephen, it was an uplifting start to our meal. It’s important to note that a lack of wine recommendations was my most significant criticism of Frogmore Creek at the time of our last visit, so it was with great pleasure that I found Stephen to be extremely forthcoming in his recommendations for matched wines with each course that I tried.
To say that our entrees were immaculately presented would be an understatement…
By far and away the best of these entrees was the cured salmon. The ice cold chill and sweetness of the cucumber granita was the perfect foil to both the fatty undertones of the salmon and the ginger tang. Forget the glass, I could have demolished a bowlful! So refreshing on the palate, it would make for the perfect summer refreshment.
Those interested in a unique taste sensation should try the chicken terrine, containing the unusual combination of both bacon dust and, of all things, a green curry foam! Perhaps pushing the limits by one ingredient too many, nonetheless it was an extraordinary dish to which you couldn’t help but sit up and take notice, not only for the clean flavours but for the sheer creativity and audacity on display!
After a momentary interlude involving one over-excited camera-carrying clown in a kitchen, I returned to the table to find that our main courses were no less spectacular!
My dish was the venison, yet I was lucky enough to find that one of my fellow diners was unable to completely finish their pork belly, so I got the best of both worlds!
Traditional ingredients cooked with respect can trump the fanciest and most complicated of dishes, and so it was with the venison. Cooked with care and precision, the centre of the fillet remained tender, juicy and flavoursome. Paired with the sweet beetroots, creamy potato puree and rich jus it was classic and delicious. For me, I didn’t feel that the venison stack was an entirely necessary component of the dish. While it was tasty, it did feel ever so slightly overdone. Honestly though, it was only the fact the other dishes were of such an exceptional standard that this minor issue became noticeable. On its own in almost any other Tasmanian restaurant you would leave the table extremely satisfied.
Regarding the pork, I couldn’t fault it at all. I didn’t try the piccalilli so I can’t comment on that aspect of the dish, but when it came to the generous cubes of pork belly it was the perfect combination of crunchy, crackly pillows on a bed of softly striated pork. Even the funky boudin noir (blood sausage), so scary to some, was an exercise in balance and earthy, wholesome restraint.
Expecting to be served our desserts as ordered, we were again surprised to be offered not one, but two small dishes, neither of which were on the menu AND a small glass of Frogmore Creek’s own dessert wine!
The exclamations of surprise from around the table were plentiful and resounding!
The Lemon LEGO was absolutely divine! Flawlessly smooth panna cotta, subtle hints of yuzu citrus dancing on the tongue and a totally unique form of presentation. New head chef Ruben Koopman has been in the job four months now, and slowly but surely he is stamping the dishes that emerge from his kitchen with his own personality and ethos… “challenging expectations”…”what did you love as a child?”…”playing with ingredients”… A hint of things to come with Frogmore Creek’s new menu, launching this week!
Together with the Lemon LEGO we were served a spoonful of froth. Looking suspiciously like bath suds, this was anything but!
After the first mouthful the warm, rich whiskey flavours were immediately apparent. I’m not a fan of whiskey, yet this strange ‘dish’ successfully presented the essence of whiskey, without the harshness. Very, very clever!
And finally, one of the most extraordinary desserts I’ve ever encountered…
Eating this dessert was like being a kid in a toy shop and being told to choose your own birthday present…I didn’t know where to start! Unlike the whiskey air that lingered on the tongue, the basil air completely evaporated inside the mouth, yet still managed to deliver a delightful hint of basil. Partnering the basil with the mango was an interesting choice, and is one flavour combination I can comfortably say I’ve never tried previously! The mango sorbet was sensational and just the way I like it…tart and smooth (stop your chuckling!).
The pea meringues were another fantastic little touch, and while the flavours weren’t strong, points have to be awarded for innovation! In combination with the unique flavours of the clove icecream and the fruity base (fig?) it was a fantastic way to finish the meal.
It looked spectacular and the individual ingredients were amazing, yet overall I felt the dish lacked a certain coherency, and that some experimentation was still underway behind the scenes. Regardless, it was a progressive dish and further evidence of the future direction of Frogmore Creek under Ruben Koopman’s guidance.
One coffee and 10 minutes of chaotic bill splitting later and we were finished! A resounding success evidenced by not only the intimate moments and incredible array of dishes, but in the translation of friendships from the virtual to the real world.
Honestly, I’ve run out of superlatives. This lunch at Frogmore Creek is quite simply the best I’ve had. Ever!
Taste – 5/5
Menu – 5/5
Atmosphere – 5/5
Service – 5/5
Value – 5/5
Overall – 5/5
* My first Facebook status update…? “Andrew Strikis is in pain after a hard fought win over Northern Suburbs-DOSA.” Sounds like nothing’s changed in the seven years since…