It’s almost 12 months to the day since I last ate at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant. I don’t normally visit the same restaurant twice, but if my past experience was favourable, I don’t mind coming back and ordering something else. Of course, this is the second year in a row that we’ve come here with the Festival of Food voucher and it was unlikely the dishes would be the same. The cost of the Festival of Food deal was a bit more expensive this year coming in at $37.50 per person. As with previous years, you get an entree, a main of your choice, and a small dessert.
As a person, punctuality has always been one of my strong points. Whatever appointments or bookings that I make, I always ensure that I’m there early or on time. Today was no different. Our group was given the option of two lunch sessions, one at noon and the other at 2pm. We chose noon and I was there at 11:45am. There was lovely Spring weather today and I could have waited outside, unfortunately, the mosquitoes were out in force and I was being eaten alive. I then decided to enter the restaurant with the hope that I could be seated while I waited for the group to arrive. To my surprise, I was told I needed to come back at noon when the breakfast session was complete. From what I could see, there was only one other table in the restaurant being occupied and being 15 minutes early wasn’t too ridiculous.
As a starter we were all given a plate of Red Hog Pork Boulette (according to the waiter) as compliments from the chef. The pork was well marinated and tender, and was complemented by the natural sweetness of the softened apple and pear.
The entree consisted of three entrees from the menu; Citrus Cured Salmon, Woodside Chevre Cigar, and Smoked Pork Hock & Parsley Terrine.
The Citrus Cured Salmon came with pickled baby cucumbers, anise, radishes and rye. The salmon had a silky smooth texture with a slight tartness. This was balanced by the tangy flavour of the pickled cucumbers and the crunchiness of the rye.
The Woodside Chevre Cigar came with heirloom beetroots, radish sprouts, orange and hazelnuts. The goats cheese was smooth and velvety, and was encased in a delicate crisp shell. This was complemented by the natural sweetness of the beetroot and orange, and the crunchiness of the sprouts and hazelnuts.
The Smoked Pork Hock & Parsley Terrine came with gribiche (may0nnaise style cold egg sauce), pork scratching and toasted sourdough. The terrine was soft and delicate, and worked well with the crunchiness of the pork scratching and sourdough.
For my main, I had the Berkshire Pork Belly which was wrapped in brik pastry. It also came with savoy cabbage, guanciale (Italian cured meat), apple and black chorizo.
When I think of pork belly, I think of crunchy skin. For this dish, they removed the skin and fat from the pork belly and then wrapped it in pastry. It kind of reminded me of a pork spring roll. The pork was a little salty, and the meat was tender and succulent. The pastry was a substitute for the crunchy skin, although the experience wasn’t the same.
The black chorizo looked a bit charred and had the sweetness of Chinese sausage. This combined well with the sweetness of the apple sauce, the saltiness of the guanciale and the crunchiness of the cabbage.
The Braised Lamb Shoulder came with eggplant, pickled vegetables, kale and garden herbs. I was informed the lamb was well marinated, tender and succulent, however it didn’t go with the pickled vegetables.
The Barramundi Fillet came with artichokes, barigoule vegetables, confit leek, oyster and parsley puree. The fish was perfectly cooked with nice crispy skin.
The Angus Porterhouse came with potatoes boulangerie, king brown mushroom, charred onions, beetroot emulsion, whipped bone marrow and horseradish butter. I was told the steak was perfectly cooked and all the ingredients worked well together.
For dessert, the Petit Four consisted of Pistachio Shortbread, Rosewater Marshmallow, Frangipani Tart and Violet Meringue.
The Pistachio Shortbread was dry and bland. Although there were real pistachio pieces in the shortbread, you could tell pistachio flavouring was added because it tasted slightly medicinal.
The Rosewater Marshmallow had a typical soft spongey texture and wasn’t as sweet as I’m used to.
The Frangipani Tart was delicate and moist with subtle notes of almond extract. The top layer of the tart was a bit firmer and added a nice crunchy texture.
The Violet Meringue was light, airy and sweet with blue and red food dye added to give that violet colour.
While my initial reception was a bit cold, it did get better as the day went on. Cloth napkins were placed on our laps, drinks were constantly poured and plates were cleared as we finished. They even went as far as opening the door for us as we left.
If I were to do a comparison with last year, I’d have to say last year was better. The Lamb Rump I had last year was better than the Pork Belly I had today. I also thought there was more variety than there was this year. With all other things considered, it wasn’t quite the dining experience that I had expected.
WHERE: Lot 1, Hackney Rd, Hackney