Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Much Lauded Magill Estate Dinner : The highs and the lows and the cold pasta

If you are one of my long suffering friends or work around the History department at Melbourne Uni you might have heard me rabbit on and on about Magill Estate, how my parents were taking me there when I went back to Adelaide, in a celebration of getting through my two year review (a-hem.) Despite the debacle that was my non-existant meeting, the dinner still went ahead. Magill Estate is not a place to take the family every week. It is pricey (even by Melbourne standards it is pricey and this is an Adelaide restuarant) and the food tips towards the experiemental. From what I can tell Melbourne went through a phase of Molecular Gastronomy, filled with foams and gels and soils until everyone had a bit of a backlash. Then came the terroir movement and pressing of the issue of provenance, knowing where your food came from and making damn sure it was a local as possible. Adelaide, as is sometimes claimed, is a little behind Melbourne. Stepsys's menu is not without its nods to local produce but it does have the foams and gels scattered here and there, albeit in a well thought out and metered manner. There were some dizzying highs with this meal, and some valley-style lows that are still getting discussed around our dinner table and told to any of my parents' friends that will listen.

The view was, well, what can you expect from a foothills winery location - spectacular! The service too was impeccable. Our main waitress Kirsty was attentive and sparkly. I hope she goes well in her masters. As this is a wine focussed restaurant, Penfolds wines to be exact, the sommelier (and sommeliers in training) were of course knowledgable and attentive. Although Mum was miffed when the waiter poured more wine into Dad's glass at the end of the night than hers (noticeably so) and he was, in fact, the designated driver. Even though Dad swapped glasses when Mum wasn't looking, none of us were too impressed at this slight look back at old world partiarchy. But maybe that is what goes with a swanky Adelaide restaurant, who knows?!? I indulged in a sparkling white from Tasmania, Yummy! And the folks drank both Riesling and a bottle of red (I wish I could remember more details). Apart from the gender imbalance in wine pouring this aspect of the meal was well above par.

We started with an amuse bouche - indescribably delicious. Tomatoey (so of course I was over the moon) smokey, and foamily light. But it was the entrees that blew us all away. You can find the menu here, but suffice to say the Venison was the highlight of the evening. I could have eaten several plates of it happily - and this is coming from a girl who says death to all capsicum (peppers for the American readers.) Dad had the duck with red curry icecream and it was, again, amazing. Mum had the bresaola and marron with black garlic which she loved. So entrees are something Magill Estate excels at. Perfect portions, and sublime, complex, flavour combinations. It set me in a great mood and I was in mad anticipation for the mains.

The anticipation, I am afraid, may have ruined it, or maybe it was the meal itself. In any case the mains were not such a dizzying high and in my case were a very low point of the evening. I opted for the vegetarian dish which was listed as such: Jerusalem Artichoke, low temperature egg yolk, truffle, peas and French Mushrooms. It ended up being ravioli, which I guess was fine, but why not list this fact in the menu? The description could lend itself to anything and here was me thinking it might be some form of galette. If you go to the trouble to list all the ingredients, why not list the fact this is a pasta? I know this is a 'trust the chef' restaurant wherein any cut or meal should be worthy, but sometimes diners don't want secrecy. Mum had the same trouble, she ordered the pork, which was simply listed as pork, not the cut, and ended up with pork belly. She was quite miffed but luckily enjoyed it yet still rued the fact she hadn't asked. However, the misrepresentation in my dish went beyond the cut of meat - quite hard to get a cut of jerusalem artichoke wrong! But the ravioli was cold around the edges, had no seasoning and thus no taste, and what's more there was no truffle! I repeat NO TRUFFLE. I was too embarassed to ask, mostly because of that stupid channel 7 television show during the week which had shown two Melbourne boys make the unforgivable mistake of using truffle oil (a chemical concoction) instead of real white truffles. And boys, for that matter white truffles are incredibly hard to source in Melbourne at this time, Black ones easier, but you have to know where to go. My culinary background means I know the difference between truffle oil and truffles, and I also knew that no truffle oil was used in this dish either. The main was simply sans truffle. Mum tried to convince me the shards from a mushroom might be flecks of truffle but I had to shoot her down. I get more truffle in my truffle cheese from the markets. If I was a vegetarian I would be unamused that my $42 main was so unenlightened. Now I should have sent it back, but I was just too scared, or too polite, or too nervous, or too something to complain in that way. I will learn one day to be stronger in restuarants but this time I just ate it and grumbled to the parents. And wrote this blog. I should have given the news to the chef on the night, to fix or to explain, but I didn't. I won't ever be swayed by truffles again, and will, in future learn to speak up. Incidentally the waiters picked up on Mum's issues with the pig, but not mine with my sup par main. Dad's main of beef and quinoa was delicious but none compared to the wonderfully created entrees. Sadly it is the lows one remembers almost as much as the highs.

I was the only one to opt for dessert, mostly so I could leave the meal on a high and not simply with the non-taste of my main in my mouth. The salted caramel and chocolate dish was divine, as was the dessert amuse bouche for the table. The coffees and petit fours were also tasty. Oddly enough despite the terrible main I would certainly go back to Magill Estate (if I had the cash!!!) Maybe it was a bad meal choice, maybe it was just a bad night for the chef preparing the vegetarian dish, maybe the menu needs to be a little more clearly defined, who knows? The quality of cooking in the other areas and the general loveliness of the service and the atmosphere seems to have outweighed my dismay at the lack of truffley goodness (and the lack of seasoning or heat in places.) I would recommend going to Magill Estate for a special meal, but if you do, don't hesistate to ask questions and don't hesistate to send a plate back if it isn't up to scratch. You are paying good money, and they are at the top of their game so they should want to make the dining experience perfect. The menu is a little lean on information, which can lead one to consider that some meals were misrepresented in the written word. And next time, truffles??? Please truffles!


Kalena Michele said...

I like this story. It's nice to get a refreshing perspective on eating out. I have noticed that men always get more wine than women at "fancier" establishments. Also...truffles...oh my. lol

prue said...

Kalena Michele - Glad you enjoyed it. I did realise after posting that I really did rant on about no truffles for awfully long, I felt quite posh and whiney. Wonder why the wine inequity exists worldwide?!? Also turns out the chef here is moving on to greener pastures, not, I am sure, off the back of this review though hehehehe. I say lets stick to eateries where you can pour your own wine :)