Saturday, 23 March 2013

Monty's Dining - Fine Dining in Tamworth

Tamworth.....  There are not many reasons to go to Tamworth, sure, there is the country music awards, but I am not a fan of country music.  When SC first raised the idea of me joining her for her cousin's wedding in Tamworth, I was pretty reluctant to go.  She had been down a couple of other times for family get togethers, but I had always escaped going down.  In what I can only assume was a moment of temporary insanity, I agreed to share the 7 hour drive with SC to keep her company and attend the wedding.

To lessen the blow SC did a little research and discovered that there was a fine dining restaurant in Tamworth that was hatted, had a great reputation and was even attached to the hotel that we were staying at.  Now I suspect that she did this research to use as an incentive if I had declined to come down to the wedding, but as I had already agreed it was more of a sweetener to the deal.

Monty's is the restaurant and it has been awarded an Australian Good Food Guide chefs hat, which is generally a really good sign of a quality restaurant.  I was intrigued about this and did some research on the Executive Chef Ben Davies.  Chef Davies is a English lad who grew up just outside Bath in Somerset and has been a chef since he was 17 years of age.  Working his way through different restaurants if France and England, Ben moved to the hotel 'Les Bories' as a head chef, where he obtained his first Michelin Star at the age of 23.  Ben also obtained a Michelin Star while working at Llangoed Hall in Wales and while at Llangoed Hall was able to cook for world leaders as part of a G8 summit.  In 2006, Ben moved to Tamworth and has been the Executive Chef at Monty's ever since.

There was some serious pedigree here and I was pretty excited to be heading down to Tamworth to check it out...... oh, and to go to the wedding!  SC and I booked into Monty's on the Friday night and thought it would be a great reward for a hard day's driving.  Once we had parked, checked into the hotel and rested for a bit, we headed over to Monty's and were immediately impressed with the regal setting, quite a contrast from the rest of the hotel.  There was an old world charm to the restaurant and settings that left you in no doubt that this was a serious restaurant.

Looking at the menu, I could see the influence of Chef Davies UK heritage, with a set price menu and not individual prices for entrees and mains.  You simply decide if you are going to have two courses or three and the price reflects that number.  In this case $79 for two courses and $89 for three.  There was also a five course degustation on offer for $139.  My first thought when I saw the menu was that it was pretty expensive for a restaurant in rural Australia and my expectation level for the night went up significantly.

We opted for the three courses and settled in for what we hoped would be a memorable meal.  While we were waiting for our entrees, we had some fresh bread and an amuse bouche delivered.  The small bite was an interesting looking dish of kipper (small herrings) and raspberry caviar with micro herbs.  The kipper was very fresh and had a lovely salty taste of the sea, which was contrasted well by the raspberry caviar.  I asked about the caviar and was informed that they were little balls of raspberry that had gone through some kitchen wizardry (spherification).  They were really nice, but I was disappointed to learn that they were not made on site by the chef but purchased in bulk from a store.....

After a very short wait our entrees arrived.  SC loves carpaccio but loves venison even more, so when she saw the Carpaccio of Venison with pickled tomatoes and bacon, she had to have it.  The carpaccio was a lovely looking dish that delivered on the flavour front too.  The combination of flavours worked really well, with the tartness of the pickled tomatoes contrasting the sweet venison.  There was some crunchy bacon on top to add some contrasting textures to the dish.  The only fault with the carpaccio was the thickness of the meat.  A carpaccio should be sliced paper thin, so it's almost translucent, but this one was very thick and very inconsistent, some of it was three times thicker in places.  That said, SC loved the combination of flavours and enjoyed the dish.

I am in two minds about my entree, on one hand the Chargrilled Queensland Tuna with watermelon seaweed and balsamic was inventive and tasty, but on the other, it was lacking something.  The tuna was lightly seared on all sides and was very fresh (no mean feat getting Queensland Tuna to outback Australia), but it was lacking in flavour due to seasoning.  The addition of watermelon and more of the raspberry caviar balls was interesting and added a real freshness to the dish.  I liked the dish, but was not blown away by it and there was definitely room for improvement.

On of the tastiest parts of the parts of the meal was the palate cleanser that came out between entrees and mains.  We were served a raspberry gazpacho sorbet, which had a lovely combination of tomato and raspberry flavour.  The fact that it was icy cold and you needed a spoon to eat only added to its refreshing qualities.  So simple, yet so full of flavour.

Palates well and truly cleansed, it was time for mains and SC's Trio of New England Lamb with pea puree and mint pesto was delivered.  We were curious as to how the lamb would come but were surprised with the trio of lamb bites that eventually arrived on the plate.  We were right about one of the three, which was a lamb cutlet, but wrong with the lamb patty and the lamb slider.  The lamb cutlet was cooked a perfect medium rare and we delicious, it looked really cool too with a very long thin rib bone used for presentation.  The lamb patty was probably a bit disappointing, it didn't really give the lamb a chance to shine and was a little bland.  SC made a mistake in eating the slider last, it was so delicate that it went cold.  It was an interesting concept but again, did not give the lamb a chance to shine.  There was some nice flavours through the peas and pesto which mainly worked well with the cutlet.

I had high hopes for my main of Saffron poached Monkfish served with a shellfish nage but once I had taken my first sip of the nage knew that the dish was flat.  There was a real problem in the seasoning of the fish and nage, I couldn't detect any!  Monkfish had the right texture and should have been delicious, but had little flavour.  The prawns in the nage were well cooked and were the highlight from a taste perspective, but the nage itself looked and tasted bland.  After building such high hopes for the main, I was left feeling a bit deflated.

After the main, I was hoping the dessert would help redeem the meal and lift my spirits.  I had taken a bit of a risk in ordering soufflé of the day, which happened to be blueberry.  When a soufflé is done well it is a miracle of gastronomy but when done poorly can be a disaster.  I am not going to say that the soufflé from Monty's was a disaster, not quite, but it was not good either.  Something must have gone wrong in the cooking process, the soufflé had split and crust on top was soggy!  You could not cut through it with a spoon, there was a film on the top that was hard to break through.  The soufflé was not cooked well either, it didn't have that light and fluffy centre, it was dense and moist.  The blueberry flavour was nice, but technically it just didn't rate.  The ice cream that came along with the dessert didn't taste home made, it actually tasted like store bought.  Yeah, thinking about this dessert, it was a complete letdown and it should not have come out of the kitchen.

SC fared a little better with her Mille Feuille of white chocolate pistachio honey and lemon, but only a little.  With a traditional mille feuille, there are three layers of beautiful pastry and lashings of delicious cream.  This one only had the two layers of pastry, which was well over cooked and hard to cut through (in fact SC had to use her spoon like a knife to cut through).  Its redeeming factor was that it was still delicious, with the combination of chocolate, pistachio, honey and lemon working together in harmony.

Overall, the meal at Monty's sat more in the miss column than hit, which is a shame.  The wait staff were professional and very attentive, but with only two couples in the restaurant you would expect nothing less.  The setting was really quite amazing, with a refined and classy restaurant area that could have been in any Michelin Starred restaurant in Europe.

I don't think I would have rated the visit as poorly if the pricing was more reflective of a good quality menu in any good quality restaurant.  The main issue is that Monty's is charging Michelin Starred prices for a meal and it's not living up to the Michelin Starred quality.  Some of the dishes served would not get by the pass of a Michelin Starred restaurant, so with a Chef of this calibre  why did they here in Monty's in Tamworth?  It's a long way to go to Tamworth and it's unlikely I will ever be back, but I sure would have loved a better food memory.

At least I had a great time at the wedding!

The fresh bread was a little doughy, not quite perfect
Monty's is a very refined looking restaurant.  It could be anywhere in Europe
The grand entrance to Monty's

Monty’s Restaurant on Urbanspoon Monty's


  1. Well, well, well...very interesting review. I'm curious about its 'chef's hat' too. Do you think it would have been hatted in Sydney or Brisbane or do you think AGFG have a lesser standard in rural Aus? The dishes sound tasty but there's an awful lot of British menu influence(kipper starter, (over)use of raspberries). Sounds a little retro. Like you said, I'm sure if the pricing was more reasonable, you could have enjoyed the meal more and let the little problems go through to the keepr.

  2. Thanks, I am pretty sure it would not get a Chef's hat in a major city, but who knows, it may have been a bad night in the kitchen. It's funny really, there is an interview with the Chef at the AGFG site where he talks about using the best local produce, but much of the menu had non local food. The lamb was local but not much else..... Yeah, a bit of a retro menu, I would think that Tamworth is not a place where you would keep your skills sharp, not much competition!

    I would have been happy paying about 120 for the meal. When you work it out, it was $40 mains, $30 entrees and $19 dessert, and that is Aria type of prices....


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