The Beltree Hunter Valley

An Italian feast at The Beltree Trattoria, Hunter Valley
Well it’s a Monday public holiday and incredibly Jess and I are both off work. So we’re heading into the happy Hunter Valley to visit Guy and Jess Parkinson at their newest venture The Beltree on Hermitage road.
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We could not have picked a nicer spot for lunch. A beautiful warm welcome and we are quickly whisked away to our table. Chef Parkinson and his team work diligently in the background as the girls in chef aprons seem to glide around the bustling dining room. Water is brought out in carafes filled with fresh citrus from local growers and ciabatta is sliced warm with house marinated olives.

imageThe menu is an homage to all that is wonderful Italy. A crudo of swordfish with fresh citrus and fennel makes a light but delicious start. Paired with a plate of beef carpaccio with aioli, capers and wild rocket leaves, Parkinson makes plates that pack a punch. We have only just begun and Jess and I are demolishing plates eagerly awaiting what is next.

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Peering over the pass I get a quick wink from Guy before he sends us out some delicious tastes of his choice. A dish of rich, buttery sautéed mushrooms with a slow cooked egg and potato aioli. We are in winter heaven. A slow cooked egg is a modern technique where an egg is placed in a water bath at 60 degrees. The result is a semi set egg with a custard like yolk. This combined with earthy mushrooms created something truly heavenly and unique. This is food cooked with love and is paired with a drinks list that reminds you of sitting at home, enjoying family. For me a beer and for Jess a house made lemonade, with gin! Warm, family atmosphere drips from the walls here at The Beltree. The waitresses are kind, relaxed and very welcoming.

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Ok in true Italian style it is now time for our pasta course. First a dish of pork tortellini in an autumnal duck broth with scallop and hazelnut. Now the broth alone was enough to make me weak at the knee but combined this dish was incredible. Beautiful, silky hand rolled tortellini bob in the pristinely clear broth finished with tiny marigold flowers which add a pepper note as well as looking very pretty. I loved this dish. Plain and simple. I wanted to bathe in the duck broth and the rich little bites of pork were like a hug from nonna.

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Along with this dish we had a squid ink linguine with fresh seafood and a shellfish butter. The prawns, the garlic, the chilli. This is winter on the coast of Venice. I can practically hear the gondola men singing and cheering. Fresh cherry and grape tomatoes burst in each bite and the pasta courses are cleaned up.

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Next is what is becoming a signature of The Beltree. Suckling pork with house made sausages, apple, mustard fruits and prunes. With a side of Brussel sprouts just in case we weren’t already full to bursting point. Now this is quality cooking. There is care here. Respect for ingredient. It is all cooked with love. The pig is slightly smokey and fall apart delicious. The crackle pops in the mouth like prawn crackers and the prunes add lovely sweetness. My stomach is about to burst but I must keep eating. Must persevere. Dessert is near.

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And here it is. Dessert. For Jess a warm chocolate pudding with pistachio and anise ice cream, for me a buttermilk pannacotta with fresh berries. The pudding is practically brooding it’s so dark. Chocolate flows like molten lava and the pistachio is forest green. It is a dessert for chocolate lovers and Jess has not said a word since she has started digging in.

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My panna cotta has the sexy wobble of a woman in heels and tastes like silk. The texture is wonderful with the berries adding bursts of acid and sweetness. Even though we are full our dessert stomach cries out for more, more, more! We close this fantastic three hour lunch with a limoncello, of course!

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The food at The Beltree is about love. The menu is inviting and in no way intimidating. The waitresses are fantastic and attend to your every whim without ever hovering or crowding you. Jess runs her team fantastically and Guys steady hand in the kitchen means that they can pump out fine quality fare with the best of them. I think Jess and Guy have put a lot of themselves into this place and it really does feel as though they are welcoming you into their home.

Go and check them out. Let them cook for you. Let the bells ring!

Cheers
Josh & Jess

Dined June 2013
266 Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320

Cooking from Noma

Cooking from Noma
Time and place in Nordic cuisine
Rene Redzepi

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So what does a Chef do with his night off. Why not pull out the cookbook from the worlds San Pellegrino number one restaurant and have a whack at one of the recipes inside. I also figured this would be a nice time to give you all a little review of this beautiful cookery book by culinary mastermind Rene Redzepi.

Tonight I’m cooking for you poached duck egg and oysters, raw and cooked vegetables. It’s raining here but I’ve been down to my local grocer and taken a large selection of vegetables. The duck eggs are straight from Nulkaba Hatchery just outside of Cessnock and the oysters are Sydney rock.

This book combines not only an incredible selection of recipes from Noma but also the story of the creation of the restaurant. This combined with beautiful photography and the philosophy of Chef Redzepi’s natural cuisine makes Noma a great read for the chef or avid home cook.

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Now I am incredibly biased as I have been obsessed with Noma since I became a chef. So cooking one of these dishes tonight kind of makes me feel closer to the dream of working with the Noma team.

First I’ve prepped my vegetables, I’ve blanched the Dutch carrots and spring onions in a very light vegetable stock for around two minutes, cooked but with a little crunch. I’ve also pickled the turnips and some of the radish in champagne vinegar. The raw veg I have just kept sliced thin and as natural as possible. The duck egg I poached off at the restaurant in a water bath set at 65 degrees for twenty minutes. The inside is custardy and thick.

My only criticism with the Noma book is the constant need to find the recipes in the back of the book. The first two thirds contain all the photos and the back contains all the recipes. So if you’re forgetful like me and need to go back and forth, the wrist can get a little sore.  The photography by Ditte Isager is nothing short of phenomenal so it is easy to lose yourself in the Nordic culture.

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Now in the rush to plate up I’ve almost forgotten the damn oyster vinaigrette. This is made by sautéing off shallots, smoked bacon (I’ve used a little smoked speck from local pig breeders at Krinklewood), once these are nicely sweated off I add a little lemon juice, the liquid from the oysters and finally the oysters themselves. Finish with a little dill and dress the veg. Dinner is served!

imageNoma4Now you should know going in that you may never cook from this cookbook. First of all I don’t expect many of you readers keep your freezer stocked with skyre, Alaskan king crab or verbena leaves. The ingredients list and plating can look a little intense!  However there are numerous recipes that many home cooks should try.

A beautiful dish of yoghurt, whey, mint and peas or an incredible dish of mackerel and grilled cucumber is nothing that cooks should be afraid of. Redzepi’s touch with food is so light and delicate that even his most complex dishes never seem overworked. I encourage all of you to have a read and then sit back and cook to your hearts content.

So grab yourself a copy and take a walk through the beautiful natural mind of Rene Redzepi and the Noma team. The dish I cooked for you today is absolutely delicious and I’m sure it is nowhere near Chef Redzepi’s standards so while away a rainy afternoon and get lost somewhere in time and place.

Josh