Earlier in the year GG and I went along to Sittella’s annual long lunch. Amazing day and while we were there we were lucky enough to meet a lovely couple called Jodi and Alon, who were the owners and wine maker from Bella Ridge Estate (http://www.bellaridge.com.au/ ). I hadn’t tried any Bella Ridge wines before that day, but the two I did get to sample (the Chenin and the GSM) on that occasion made me keen to give others a go. Such an opportunity presented when we were told that Bella Ridge was holding a wine night in conjunction with The Crowded House restaurant in South Fremantle. So definitely not close to home for us, but we turned it into a bit of an adventure, with a train ride to Freo and then a quick cab ride to the restaurant. Not really too much trouble at all.
We were one of the first couples of arrive and it really gave us a good opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of the main room were they had all the guests seated. It really is a very well presented restaurant. Rich wooden floorboards, candlelight dancing about. They’ve done a lovely job of making it very warm and inviting. Initially we were sat in a corner and almost immediately had our water glasses filled and were presented with the first of the Bella Ridge offerings. Their sparkling, the Bella Ridge Bella Blanc 2008. It was a very nice glass of bubbles, quite a nice dryness to it.
Alon and Jodi had arrived by this time so did the rounds of the tables introducing themselves to all the guests. It is handy having a wine maker on hand if you have queries about their vinos. He outlined how they didn’t make too much sparkling at Bella Ridge because it was quite time intensive. Throughout the evening he provided a bit of a commentary on the wines, which I thought was very interesting. More so than just reading a label to find out about a wine :)
So we then did a quick table shift so we were more right in the thick of things. The first course was an amuse – sardines, toast, beetroot, snow pea tendril. It did look very pretty; the silvery fish with the brightness of the beetroot. Now I’m not the hugest fish fan so I was always going to be a hard sell on this course. As far as fish go, Freo Sardines do seem to have a particularly fish flavour. It was reasonably well offset by the other ingredients, particularly the beetroot. So flavourwise, only because I’m not a huge fan of a fishy flavour, it wasn’t my favourite, but presentation wise it set the scene for some beautiful courses ahead. And the Bella Ridge Bella Blanc was well matched to this course, very refreshing.
The second course was a salad – tongue, beef bacon, mushroom, broccoli, smoked almonds, horseradish. It definitely sounded liked an interesting combination when described. And again it looked lovely. All the ingredients looked fabulously fresh. And whilst I had been daunted by the idea of tongue before I tried it, it was actually delicious! The beef bacon too was tasty, but it had almost a prosciutto consistency and I over committed on one particularly large mouthful of it and found myself chewing for a fair while. My own fault really though and now I know it’s best eaten in dainty, lady like pieces. Once I learnt this and combined it with some of the other additions on the plate the flavours did marry up well. And the wine from this course definitely deserves a mention. This was the Bella Ridge Bella Fino 06. I’ve never tried a Fino before and it’s probably not something you’d find yourself quaffing with your feet up on the couch on a Friday night. It had a very bold flavour and I would assume a high alcohol content. Tasted to me more like a grappa or similar style aperitif. So something different that’s for sure. Its boldness worked well with the bold meat selections that had in this course.
From salad we went to fish – confit de cod, cod & fois gras sausage, brandade, le di vin. Again I had my concerns about this course, just given my stance on fish. However it wasn’t as confronting as the sardine. I actually particularly enjoyed the cod and fois gras sausage. It was really tasty. The fishy flavour of the confit de cod was also a lot milder and it was perfectly cooked fish. Delightfully moist. Plus the red wine sauce definitely enhanced this course further, all the more so because of the two glasses of red that were served along with it. Both the Bella Ridge Estate Tempranillo 08 and Viognier 06 were a delight. The style of wine of each meant that they didn’t over power the fish.
For mains they served Lamb, truffled cabbage roll, chestnuts and the premium Bella Ridge Beau Pere 06. The lamb was cooked very pink but I didn’t mind. You don’t want overcooked lamb after all! And it did just melt in your mouth. I thought the truffled cabbage roll was delicious – a real taste sensation. And to make sure you didn’t miss out on any of the delicious sauce they brought out slices of their homemade bread. I so heart good bread! Couldn’t get enough. So when the waitress bought GG and I a second helping I could have hugged her! The richness of this course was further highlighted by the heady red that Bella Ridge had on show.
Before moving along to the cheese and dessert courses they brought out an entirely delicious palate cleanser, an indulgent Hulbert honey granita with bay. Just like icy honey. Loved it! Suspect I could have eaten a tubful given the opportunity.
The cheese course was a very rich affair. Mainly because of the fluffy brie icing that came on top of the carrot and fennel cake. I love cheese but this was a pretty intense course and as much as I tried to get my cake to icing ratio worked out I still had to leave some of the icing behind. It was a challenge that bested even me. I thought it was a really creative cheese course though. More so that just a piece of cheese and a few crackers on a plate. And it was a welcome reintroduction to the Bella Ridge Chenin Blanc 09. Really fabulous drop! Loved it at Sittella, loved it at The Crowded House. Probably one of my favourites of theirs.
Finally, dessert was described as a Parisian Breakfast – pain au chocolat, tobacco poached pear, coffee cream, milk foam. Again, couldn’t fault presentation, something different and to be ending a dinner with something akin to breakfast can’t help but make you smile. The chocolate croissant had perfect flakey pastry, the coffee cream and milk foam was a creamy wonder and it was probably only the pears that I couldn’t get through. I found the tobacco flavour probably a little too smokey was all. The Bella Ridge Estate Port 08 was a wonderful way to round out their collection and you could argue it would work well at breakfast time I suppose :)
So was it worth the trek? I think so. We definitely didn’t leave hungry that’s for sure and we’d been able to sample some really different and interesting wines from one of Western Australia’s premier producers. And $120 per head seemed reasonable to me given the high quality of the meal. The staff at The Crowded House did a wonderful job in what was their first degustation dinner – very attentive and friendly throughout. The only comment would perhaps be that the timing of the first course could have perhaps been slightly earlier, just given the generosity with the sparkling. However I am hard pressed to fault such generosity on that front :)
So yes, it’s a long drive for some but if you are in the area it is a place that’s worth a visit.