Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Long Apron - Regional perfection

I'm pretty well versed with the dining scene in Brisbane and it's surrounds and feel extremely lucky that I have some of the best restaurants in the country just a short distance from my front door.  I guess you could say I'm very comfortable knowing that at any time I can quite easily hit a fine dining restaurant for a meal.  I have to admit that lately I've been getting a little restless with my dining choices, sure, there are some amazing dining options, but sometimes there is a little 'sameness' about them.  To 'spice' it up a little bit, I've been going further and further afield from my CBD base and I've been discovering some amazing restaurants and meals.

My best mate the Big Boy, who lives overseas now and I only get to see a couple of times a year, was recently back for a week.  It's been our custom to book into as many nice restaurants as possible when he's back so he can get a reminder about how great Australian food can be.  We generally take him to our favourite restaurants, which this time included Hatch & Co, Gerard's, Rogue Bar and Bistro and  of course Esquire.  There is no doubt that these are all amazing restaurants and the Big Boy loved them all, but there was still that notion that there was a bit of 'sameness' about the experiences.  We thought it would be time to 'spice' it up.

The idea actually came from SC and it was a beauty.  We'd been hearing for a long time that there was an amazing restaurant up at Spicers Resort at Montville called The Long Apron.  Our plan was to make a day of it, drive up to Montville mid-morning and arrive in time for lunch, then drive home through Maleny and stop off for some gelato.  We'd been toying with the idea of doing a day trip to visit the Long Apron for years but given my propensity against driving long distances, I've always avoided going.

We saddled up and jumped in the car for the drive, which took us about one and a half hours, not too bad but a lot longer than my usual driving tolerance would allow.  Our plan with these types of events is that SC drives up, and I drive back.  This simply allows SC to enjoy a glass of wine or two and leaves me as the designated driver home, sweet deal for her.  I'm glad we had SatNav in the car because the Spicers Resort was well off the beaten track and by the time we pulled down the driveway to the lovely looking Clovelly Estate, I was well lost!

As we made our way to the dining area, I was taken aback by the beauty of the estate and it's rolling green hills.  The Long Apron is in a lovely old building that forms part of the estate and we were seated outside with views of the garden that makes the Clovelly Estate one of the most popular spots for weddings... It was beautiful.  We were handed our menus and our super impressive waitress for the day explained the options, which included a seven course degustation and an a la cart menu that had five courses with three wonderful looking options per course.  There was no doubt that the degustation was tempting but there were just too many delectable looking options available on the a la carte, so that's the direction we took.

Normally when you go to a nice restaurant, you'll often get an amuse bouche to start off the meal, at The Long Apron, there was a whole lot of goodies that came out to begin with, each bite more amazing than the last.  I started off with the pork slices, which were salty and wonderfully chewy, then moved onto the incredibly fresh watermelon sashimi.  I was intrigued by the unusual mixing of pork and blueberry rilletes, which had a wonderfully creamy texture and interesting flavour profile that lingered on the palate.  My favourite was the parmesan donuts, which were light and fluffy and packed a punch of cheesy flavour at the same time.  It was a wonderful way to start any meal.

After the incredibly diverse flavours of our amuse bouche, our levels of anticipation had risen significantly by the time the first course arrived.  To start SC had opted for a simple sounding dish of Mooloolaba spanner crab with cottage cheese, lemon puree and fresh peas.  The dish that was presented was full of vibrant colours and looked beautiful.  There was a generous helping of crab that was mixed with the cottage cheese and lemon puree which both added texture and flavour to the dish, the lemon puree working particularly well with the spanner crab.  The dish was incredibly light and fresh, yet completely satisfying.  It was definitely a wow moment.

It wouldn't be the only wow moment throughout our meal with my starter of lightly cured king trout with egg yolk, grilled green onion and cos with a gravalax sauce also providing a wow moment.  The trout was wrapped in the green onion and cos and then presented on the plate like a crescent moon wrapping around a 'sun'.  In this instance the sun was a perfectly slow cooked egg that was so well cooked that when sliced with a knife it maintained its shape, yet was still soft and gooey.  The dish not only looked spectacular but tasted wonderful too, with a balance of flavours that is often strived for but rarely achieved.  The trout was subtle but not overpowered by the green onion and the egg yolk simply enhanced the flavours while adding a beautifully creamy texture.

Onto the second course and we all decided to go for the Hervey Bay scallop with fermented cabbage, green apple and bay leaf oil.  We certainly were not expecting the dish that was presented!  The ingredients were diced and placed around a stark black plate to provide a visually appealing contrast but also a question about how best to eat it.  My approach was to section off the cabbage, apple and scallops into three groups of three, then mix each pile together to try to get the best balance.  In my initial attempt, I was a little heavy handed with the fermented cabbage, which had a sharp bite and slightly overpowered the subtle scallop.  My next attempt was much more successful and I achieved a perfect balance of the jube like and slightly bitter apple and the sweet scallop flesh.  SC and the Big Boy both ate their version unique ways and also loved the dish.

Never one to pass up a chance to eat raw meat, SC decided that the aged wagyu tartare with charred pepper, olive, quail egg and cured ox was a slightly better option than the duck.  It's hard to present a tartare beautifully but the Long Apron version was indeed visually appealing, with a large charred pepper looking much like a blackened stick next to the bright red of the wagyu.  The tartare itself was lovely and full of flavour but the magic really happened when the meat was combined with the charred pepper.  The sweetness and slightly sweet heat from the pepper was an inspired choice for the robust flavour of the aged wagyu.

While SC almost decided on the duck, the Big Boy and I both committed and went for the roasted duck breast with beetroot, cherries, cocoa and fennel.  We were both stunned by the presentation, which was almost too beautiful to disturb on the plate, but the aroma emanating from the plate soon overrode our visual pause.  The duck was perfectly cooked with a lovely crispy skin with the fat rendered just right and a wonderful pink hue.  All the right notes were on the plate with cherry and beetroot always working well with duck, but there were some interesting additional flavours with the cocoa and fennel.  The dish achieved a wonderful balance between the key ingredients and there was a little bit of additional texture that was provided by the cocoa, which was presented in a 'noodle' on top of the dish.  It was close to my favourite dish of the day.

It was time for our main dishes to arrive and SC's steamed reef fish with radish, squid, pickled leek, leek oil and buttermilk was delivered.  Unfortunately we can't remember what the fish was, but it was quite a full bodied white fish that worked nicely with the sweet buttermilk.  Of all the dishes we had at the Long Apron, this one was the most subtle and least visually appealing.  Sure there was a certain charm to the presentation but the star of the show, the fish, was completely covered by pasta and somehow detracted.  The flavours were probably the most subtle on the day as well and although the dish was enjoyable, it lacked the punch of the rest of the menu.

Main for the Big Boy and I was the wagyu rump cap with aligot, confit vegetables, horseradish cream and an onion jus.  This was without doubt the best dish of the day and has possibly crept its way into my top ten plates of food.  Looking visually stunning and presented as a number six on the plate, the wagyu was simply delicious.  It wasn't just that it was super high quality and cooked to perfection, but there was the addition of a sauce that was 'to-die-for'.  The sauce was a combination of horseradish cream and onion jus that had a richness of flavour that can only be achieved by a chef who is at the peak of his abilities.  The wagyu was beautiful and tender and delicious on it's own, but wow, with that sauce it was something special.  

Every now and then I make a tactical error when ordering a dessert, I knew I should have ordered the duck egg sabayon with ginger glacé artichoke, sugar cured yolk, raspberry and hazelnut, but I didn't.  When the Big Boy and SC had the visually stunning dessert presented, I started to kick myself.  I knew, just knew that the sabayon would be one of the greatest desserts of all time and after sampling a little of SC's had my fears confirmed, I'd missed the boat on a glorious and perfect finish to a meal.  I could tell by the look on my companions' faces that they were in heaven with each bite and tried my best to be happy for them, but secretly I was completely envious.  The duck egg sabayon was sweet and creamy and absolutely decadent and married wonderfully with the raspberry sorbet and subtle hints of ginger from the glacé artichoke.  Texture came from the different layers of creaminess as well as fresh raspberries and crunch from some hazelnuts.  <Sigh>

There was nothing at all wrong with my white chocolate with tarragon, lemon curd, burnt lemon meringue and crème fraiche, in fact if I'd never set eyes on the sabayon it would have been a masterpiece.  But the fact was, I had food envy for the sabayon and everything else from there was second place.  There were some interesting textures from the burnt lemon meringue, which sandwiched the lemon curd and tarragon jelly and the combination of lemon and tarragon was fresh tasty.  I even enjoyed the the ice cream like texture from the crème fraiche but I'd seen heaven and everything else palled in comparison <Sigh>

Our meal at the Long Apron was without doubt one of the highlights in dining for some time.  Head Chef and clearly culinary genius Cameron Matthews has put together a menu that would find a home in any of the top restaurants in the world.  Under Cameron, the Long Apron has a string of accolades that puts the restaurant in rarified territory including two hats from the Australian Good Food Guide, a Gourmet Traveller Star and a ranking of 79 in the list of top 100 restaurants in the country.

Not only was the food befitting the Long Apron's standing but the service was superb, with our waitress for the day being highly engaging and completely knowledgeable about the food and had an intimate understanding of the restaurant's cellar options.  Both SC and the Big Boy were provided wine matching recommendations that were just perfect.

There was a calmness and refinement that you don't often get in a city restaurant for our visit to the Long Apron.  Sitting out under the stately old Queenslander's veranda was amazing, especially on the slightly overcast but wonderfully warm Autumn day and we all had a sense of calm and satisfaction by the time the meal was over.  Not only a sense of calm but an understanding that we'd just had an experience that may never be repeated.  It was also mixed with a sense of loss and melancholy with the knowledge that my mate was heading back overseas all to soon.

The Big Boy has gone home now and I still remember the Long Apron meal fondly - I'm already planning a return visit but I think I'll wait until the Big Boy's back...  I think he'd kill me if we went without him.....


Instead of just butter we were given a thick and viscous olive oil to use as a spread - what a great idea.  There were kale chips too - why kale??
The spanner crab was light and delicious
I loved the contrast of the colours of the food and the plating - in fact all of the plates worked in a symbiotic relationship with the food
That duck was wonderful with its crispy skin and pink hue
Soft, tender and tasty, what more could you want from the wagyu
The kitchen where the magic happens
Oh, there was an inside section too
The Long Apron on UrbanspoonThe Long Apron

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