I have always been a big fan of Sandalford. Easily one of my top three spots in the Swan Valley. Amazing place that has never failed to impress me with their food and let’s face it their wines aren’t half bad either J
They hold an annual degustation dinner and as chance would have it, for the past few years GG and I have always had something on the same night so had never been able to get along. This was our lucky year though. The stars aligned, we were free and managed to line up some tickets – happy days!
The demand for tickets was actually so high that Sandalford decided to hold two dinners, one of the Friday and one of the Saturday. We were booked in for the Saturday night, so we la-di-dahed ourselves up and headed towards the Valley. I’m not surprised that people were keen to head along, the menu, put together by new Executive Chef Fred Kirby, looked seriously sensational!
It was the first time I’ve been to Sandalford at night (have yet to make it along to one of their summer concerts, and they aren’t often open for dinner). They had set up small tea light candles in white paper bags to light the footpath into the restaurant. It looked magic.
And once inside we were presented with a very choice glass of sparkling and wandered around the cellar door area, enjoying the tasty canapés that were being handed out. From there we were ushered into the main restaurant. Again, what a beautiful setting! They had large candelabras set up everywhere, which were clearly well loved and well used, given the snowlike pattern of white wax on the floor. The fire place was also glowing and warm and it gave a really intimate feel to the room.
The first order of business when we sat down, after our water glasses were filled and our napkins placed carefully on our laps, was to turn our attention to chief winemaker Paul Boulden, who gave us a brief welcome and outlined some of the wines that we would be having with our first few courses. He was entirely charming and entertaining and set the scene for a more than enjoyable night ahead.
Fresh bread and butter was bought to the table, then soon after, the first course, an amuse, was served in a shot glass. Cappucino of Baby Califlower, Gorgonzola and Pancetta. The combination of the creamy cauliflower with the added richness from the gorgonzola, with the contrasting crunch from the pancetta set the taste buds racing. They indeed were amuse’d J The wine with this course was well matched, 2009 Sandalford Estate Reseve Chardonnay. The creaminess of the Chardonnay ideal for the creamy soup and reaffirmed my new found love for all things Chardy. Loved it!
The next course was one that I was a little familiar with. Coconut Marinated Exmouth Prawns, Mango and Buttermilk Risotto, Carrot, Ginger and White Chocolate Foam. I’d attended a cooking class at The Cooking Professor (www.thecookingprofessor.com.au) earlier in the year, which was taken by none other than Sandalford’s own Chef Fred. And he’s taught us how to market his amazing risotto. We’d also made a carrot, ginger and white chocolate sauce, but I have to say it was all the more indulgent fluffed up into foam. Our recipe had also had chicken, but I thought it worked equally well, if not better with the perfectly cooked prawns. Completely adored this course and am so glad I have the risotto recipe at home! The 2010 Sandalford Wines Reserve Verdhelothat was matched to this course had a wonderful freshness to it.
As mentioned in previous blogs, 2011 is proving to be year of the duck and I was plenty pleased seeing duck on this menu. Confit Duck Leg, Truffled Parsnip, Sweet Potato, Puy Lentil and Winter Vegetable Stew. And…. Wow. This may well have been the best duck I have eaten all year – huge call I know. The crispiness of the skin and the melt in your mouth meat – I just couldn’t get enough. I also liked the wintery vegetables that came along with the meal. The parsnip mash in particular worked a treat and it’s the first time I’ve ever tried puy lentils. I quite liked them and I also think that puy is a cool word to say. That’s a random aside though. This was the first of the evening’s red wines and it was a wonder. 2005 Sandalford Wines ‘Prendiville’ Cabernet Sauvignon. Whilst full of flavour, its richness didn’t overpower the food.
Time to refresh our palette at this point, so enter the Mulled Wine Sorbet. So good! It had this amazing cinnamon spiciness to it. And with my palette suitably refreshed I eagerly anticipated the next course.
Venison, it’s a fairly strong flavoured meat I have found and definitely not one that you want to chance overcooking. Need not have worried that this was going to have here. Peppered Loin of Margaret River Venison, Fondant Potato, Pickled Red Cabbage, Juniper and Cranberry Glaze. Another beautifully presented plate, with perfectly pink meat in the delicious cranberry and juniper sauce. All the flavours worked in perfect harmony. The tasty potato, the beetroot – yum. And the full bodied 2009 Sandalford Wines ‘Prendiville’ Shiraz that came with this course (one of Ray Jordan’s favourites for the year we were told) was just ideal.
Cheese was next and there was a slight change to the menu from truffled brie to a triple cream brie with a dainty piece of truffle placed on top. Triple Cream Brie with Truffle Shavings with Fruit Toast, Mascarpone, Walnut and Celery Paste. Cheese is one of life’s many joys and triple cream brie is high on the list of the most indulgent varieties. With a little of the cheese on the fruit toast, with a swirl of the celery and mascarpone, topped with some of the crunchy walnuts – delish! I pondered whether I could eat a whole wheel of this brie…. I suspected I would give it a go, but perhaps would not feel so flash afterwards. Best eaten and savoured in small slices I concluded. The Sandalford Wines Botrytis Semillion was a fruity delight, with bursts of passionfruit and other tropical fruit flavours.
Then onto dessert. Baked Apple, Rhubarb and Cinnamon Crumble, Vanilla Bean Icecream, Sandalera Sabayon. The warm apple and rhubarb with a little of the vanilla bean ice cream was delicious together and entirely suited to the chilled weather outside. And it felt very special to be able to sample some of the Sandalford Wines Tawny Shiraz from the winemakers’ collection. It had a decadent warmness to it when you drank it. Fabulous drop.
To round off what had been an incredible meal we were offered tea or coffee and given some elegant petit fours. I went for a peppermint tea, while GG enjoyed a flat white.
And we sat back and reflected. Time and time again on our visits to Sandalford we have been really impressed by their high level of service. Always friendly, always attentive… especially when clumsy people (such as myself) loudly clatter cutlery to the floor. They have the delivery and timing of their degustation dinner down to a fine art. The pace doesn’t feel rushed and the portion sizes means you leave feeling comfortable but not like they need to roll you out the door. And it really was a brilliant menu – cheers to Chef Fred and his team. Fabulous fresh produce in tasty flavour combinations. The wines were clearly top shelf and carefully selected to accompany each course.
If this visit proved one thing to me, it’s that Sandalford is one of my favourite places in the Valley for a reason. Can’t wait to do it all again next year!