Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. A former Gold Plate judge, he is a self-confessed food addict - 'I'm up to three meals a day'
He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years.
Published April 29th 2012
Darlington Estate in the Hills is a paradox. Not so much a contradiction as two entirely opposite points of view both contained in one.
For example, the dining area is entirely inside, but the perception is that one is dining outdoors, or although the menu and food is intensely formal and classic, but the restaurant has an informal, even casual, atmosphere.
The wait staff are perfectly correct and highly efficient but entirely lack any pretension or have that air of condescension so beloved of the bogus eatery. They are in formal black and white and the diners are comfortable, even in jeans - not a tie to be seen.
Chef Jacob is a mere twenty-three years old - from my perspective a callow youth - but his food is sophisticated to a degree, worthy of a much older and more experienced chef.
These paradoxes do not in any way detract form the experience of dining there - rather do they heighten the whole enjoyment of the evening.
And a thoroughly enjoyable evening it was.
Angela gets her fish peppered
We dined, Angela and I, on a busy Friday evening amid the bustle and happy chatter of contented diners. I always think you can divine the success of a restaurant simply by listening. Rapid chat and laughter, such as we saw at the Darlington Estate is good - silence as diners prod distrustfully at their food less so.
I spoke earlier of the formality of the menu - let me justify that opinion.
Entrées, for example, include Vodka cured salmon, potato parsley and seeded mustard timbale and a lemon and caper vinaigrette ($20) as well as Herb infused boned quail, fennel and orange salad with orange vinaigrette ($22) as well as Angela's own selection of Crispy Thai beef salad with Asian vegetables, glass noodles, mint, coriander, nam jim with a sweet chilli dressing ($20).
I myself chose the Roasted pumpkin and gorgonzola tart, pear and candied walnut salad ($18). It was absolutely wonderful.
The tart case was very light puff pastry with the pumpkin and cheese perfectly balanced. Gorgonzola is a strong and sometimes savage cheese, and should be used with caution. Chef Jacob has judged the proportions to a nicety.
Generally I loath nuts but the candied walnuts (a generous helping) were extremely good - just sweet enough and tasty tender.
Main course is a selection of eight - all tempting - the agony of choice indeed.
I eventually settled on the 'Duo of Beef' ($42) and a wise choice it proved.
Duo of Beef
The other offerings included Duo of duck ($42) - confit duck leg, porcini mushroom risotto, five spiced duck breast salad, sweet potato chips and crispy parmesan, which was what a friend of ours at another table had and pronounced excellent.
Angela, who has a peculiar fondness for fish, chose the 'Fish of the Day', a grilled Snapper served with herbed scallops and grilled asparagus.
Scallops are very risky as a dish - even a second or two on the wrong side of perfection when cooking can make the difference between sublime succulence and small white rubbery hockey pucks - Chef Jacob knows what he's about - they were superb. Angela didn't know what she missed.
We accompanied our mains with a side dish of vegetables - potatoes are a vegetable, aren't they? Chef's hand cut chips with a bowl of the most delectable saffron aioli (garlic mayonnaise) ($12).
These were fantastic, quite the best I've had, and beautifully hot, something all the dishes were, and is one of those small details that matter. The plates were hot, the food was hot and the service was swift. We lingered a bit, but if one were in a hurry and mentioned it - I'm sure one could be in and out in an hour.
But far better to savour and enjoy, as I did with my main - the duo of beef. This was a miniature filet mignon and a round of beef cheek, braised, sitting like jewels on the plate.
The filet was topped with wilted spinach and béarnaise sauce. Filet mignon means 'dainty filet' in French and this was certainly that - but incredibly tender and flavourful - a small serving that, by the hugeness of it's compressed flavours, seemed so much bigger and more satisfying that it's actual size would lead one to believe.
The beef cheek had been braised to the point of falling to pieces tender and again was rich in flavour - the taste in perfect counter-poise to the filet. It was on a dollop of horseradish-flavoured mash and in a puddle of red wine jus that was just magnificent.
Kalua Cheesecake and Spun Sugar
Presentation was impressive, a trifle fussy perhaps, but good-natured and slightly tongue in the cheek I fancy. Not exactly a parody, but a slightly satirical accent, perhaps.
Angela had a pallet-cleansing sorbet ($9) between entree and main of a sparkling wine shooter and a jar of sorbet, flavoured at Chef's whim - raspberry this night, I fancy. Very nice and just the right amount.
Which led us into contemplation of the sweet course. Angela's 'No, I won't - I had the sorbet' carried absolutely no conviction and she ended up having an individual Kahlua and chocolate cheesecake topped with popping candy and spun sugar shining like spun gold. ($16)
I chose something I have only recently been introduced to - the Churro - a Spanish doughnut served in fingers and with a dark chocolate sauce of great integrity and fresh strawberries for dipping into it, dripping onto one's shirt front and all over the table and generally wallowing in - very tasty. ($14).
To wash all this down we tried a couple of glasses of house wine - house wine in a winery tends to be very pleasant and this was no exception.
We tried the Late Harvest Darlington Estate ($7.50 a glass) and I had a glass of the Darlington Estate Shiraz ($8 a glass) with the beef and the two married well.
It's not a cheap place to dine ($215 for two) but it represents excellent value for money. I'd rather pay that and be satisfied and happy that pay half the amount and feel ripped off.
Darlington Estate is a bit tricky to classify, if that's a passion of yours - it's not exactly purely a winery as it serves a wide range of local Perth Hills and Swan Valley wines as well as it's own creations.
It's certainly not purely a restaurant, not in the middle of a working vineyard, and offering an excellent venue for weddings and such-like events.
Churros and Hot Chocolate Sauce
It's not a formal restaurant despite the formality of the menu and service, it's not a casual diner, not at that quality and those prices -perhaps it would be best to not try to label it at all other than to say it's an enjoyable approach to eating and is more a state of mind than a commercial venture, since it is so much a part of the local community that they host Craft Fairs from time to time and have a very close relationship to the village of which they are so important a part.
Andy and Michelle Osborne, the owners and operators, should be very proud of their efforts indeed. Very highly recommended.
Visit now before Chef goes off to Europe to earn his Michelin star.