Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Vulcan's, Blackheath


Vulcan's is one of the iconic Australian restaurants. Tucked away in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, a good two hour train ride from central Sydney and housed in a former bakery, chef Philip Searle has built a really uncompromising restaurant with a big reputation.

The service is reputed to be brusque, locals are preferred and a serious bottle of wine is supposed to be one of the few things that will get the wait staff to crack a smile. The restaurant itself is quite easy to miss, next door to a serial killer's idea of a garden-centre that only seemed to sell dead plants and nails.

The menu is short and to the point with a 3,4,4 configuration and more signature dishes than anything. Searle runs this as a bit of a labour of love, so I guess there's little need to innovate. Vulcan's is such an institution that there's no way he can take the duck sausages, pot roast beef and chequerboard ice-cream off the menu. I wonder to myself if this limits return visits as I nibble on some exceptional bread and watch the sun streaming in through the large plate glass windows. I'm enjoying myself so much at this point I'm not sure I care...

First up was a steaming dish of thai-style soup with tofu and octopus. This is real big balls cooking from a man who's totally in control of what he's doing. Chunks of slithery, wobbly tofu and a tangle of baby octopus compete with a spicy fish broth with amazing depth of flavour. It's like eating essence of ocean. Not the best match for my wine, but the perfect dish for a freezing cold day. Having not chosen the signature dish starter I went for the pot roasted beef, wanting to try the dish that Searle thinks sums up the restaurant's ethos. "It’s back to the hearth, to the shared table and people love it...We don’t divide dishes into portions. We do the whole thing and everyone shares in it and enjoys that experience. They know that they are getting a bit of what everyone else is having." As a regular solo diner I love the way this dish makes me feel. I am sharing in the food that everyone else is having, even though I am only earwigging on their conversations.
I was not disappointed, although it's fair to say that I could cook this at home. So, best I have desert, and try something I couldn't make, right?
The famous chequerboard icecream. I'd read a lot about this dish. Today the sorbet was pineapple and the icecream was vanilla, although I have seen a version with a couple of squares of lemon sorbet in there too. There's a subtle star anise flavour caramel holding everything together, that just ties everything together perfectly. I'm thrilled that the person who serves pot roast also takes the time to craft something as intricate as this.

I'd go back. This is probably one of the best places for a sunday lunch I've tried. It's not fine dining, it's one man's vision. And you can't say fairer than that.


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