Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pulp Kitchen Valentines Day degustation

Valentine’s Day Feast at Pulp Kitchen, Ainslie ACT

  Photos by Steve Shanahan 
Owner Daniel Giordani works the floor

To  mark Valentine’s Day as a special occasion we always make sure we seek out a really special food and wine experience.  Last year, we found just that at Mezzalira, on London Circuit, part of the Trimboli Brothers growing stable of fine food outlets which includes Italian & Sons and other soon to arrive ventures in the burgeoning food precinct of Braddon.

This year, we decided to stay closer to home. Based on a couple of great meals over the course of last year, and advice from friends that it was doing degustations, we duly signed up for Ainslie’s
Pulp Kitchen Valentine’s Day degustation special.

Daniel Giordani and team have really made Pulp Kitchen into something special.  It rarely disappoints and always surprises.  Chef Keaton McDonnell is inventive, turning out a range of complex and attractive dishes that balance sweet and savoury perfectly.  You might raise your eyebrows as you contemplate the latest dish to land in front of you, but you are left licking your lips and singing its praises as the clean plate is whisked away.

The evening began with a glass of The Duchess sparkling cuvee, a pleasant NV from the Hunter Valley, and with an appropriately appetite stimulating crusty Italian style bread with a delicious and subtle lemon and fennel butter.

This was followed at a respectful distance by succulent Sydney rock oysters with a brisk and refreshing champagne granita.  We’re not usually overly attracted to such a combination of seafood and sweetness, but it just worked and you were left slightly challenged but undeniably better for the tasting experience.

Before the next course, we started on a 2007 Burgundy from Nuits-St Georges, and this fine expression of pinot noir, with its lively fruit and fine but firm tannins, proved a perfect foil for the dishes to come.

The next of these was, in my view, the pick of the night.  The menu calls it Duck Liver Parfait with pickled plums and fine slivers of rye toast, but mousse would be a better description of this light, buttery, creamy quenelle.  Balanced by the cut-though acidity of the pickled plum, our taste buds were feeling pretty smug and self-satisfied at this point in the proceedings, and rightly so!

The next course, a beautifully presented Beetroot Cured Salmon, served with roasted beetroot and pickled cucumber. This was a delicate and refreshing appetizer with enough zing to get the juices flowing.

Beetroot Cured Salmon
Next was a pick between fish or beef for the next course, I chose the pan fried south Coast gurnard fillets (a fish I hadn’t heard of before) accompanied by green olive risotto and braised mussels. The small buttery fillets of fish had a strong and assertive flavour that proved a good match to the brothy mussels and back flavours of the just al dente risotto.

South Coast Gurnard Fillets 

Steve opted for the duo of beef  - delightful small portions of fillet and rib, served with carrot and blue cheese puree with baby roast onions.  This was a beautifully conceived and executed dish, with the two cuts of beef prepared in a way which accentuated subtly the difference in taste and texture and balanced beautifully by the sweet and savoury accompaniments of puree, jus and veggies.  Yummmm.

Duo of Beef Fillet

The European farm house cheeses which followed were modestly proportioned, a great thing at this stage in the proceedings, but packed with flavour.  The brie and ashed goat’s cheese delightful, but the nutty, intense aged Dutch cheese was the hero.  Served with a deliciously fried herbed flat bread, it perfectly rounded out the pre-dessert selection of the degustation.

Vanilla Yoghurt Panna Cotta with Poached Strawberries and Meringue

Although there was a Dark Chocolate Terrine with Hazelnut Cremeux and Bitter Orange Gel on offer, we both opted for the Vanilla and Yoghurt Panna Cotta with Poached Strawberries and Meringue.  I guess I’m just not a jaffa fan. Again, we were rewarded with gorgeous presentation and didn’t disappoint with its rosy, comforting creaminess balanced by the sherbet sharpness of the dried and poached strawberries and the dry, crisp meringue shards.

The other important aspect of any restaurant is, of course, the service.  While we watched with respect the military precision of the crew delivering a six course degustation to a packed room, the balance of casual friendliness and attentiveness of the staff was never compromised.  It was clear to us that all staff were keenly interested in what we thought of the food, and that is a long way from the smugness and hauteur that you sometimes get in restaurants who manage to convey a sense that customers are a regrettable but necessary inconvenience.

Daniel is constantly circulating, having a friendly word here and there, delivering a dish or occasionally clearing away, but watching to make sure all is running smoothly.  His friendly presence, the attentiveness of the rest of the crew and the superb food, made this a truly memorable experience.

We believe that further degustations – one  game-themed and another in truffle season - are planned for later in the year.  We’ll be there!