Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published October 9th 2011
The great Dr Sam Johnson felt that few things in life were better than a brisk ride in a chaise with a pretty woman.
Well, each to his own, but I reckon a good lunch in Western Australian sunshine in an excellent restaurant with a charming woman has got bouncing along behind a horse's arse beat all ways to Sunday. That's only a private opinion, please don't write to me about the beauty, charm, loyalty, intelligence and friendliness of horses - I was brought up with them.
I shared this thought with Angela the other day while we were taking luncheon at Carilley Estate, which has a breathtaking charm all of its own. The restaurant, which is highly professional, is obviously geared mostly towards the weddings and other functions for which it is justly famous.
The wrought iron gazebo in the rose garden for the actual ceremony; the red carpet, the spacious dining hall, the excellent acoustics and the sweeping vistas with Flame trees all point to that. But the by-product of these is that casual lunchers get the very best available for themselves when the restaurant is not host to some hopeful couple setting out together on life's highway.
The menu is not vast, but it is remarkably chic and I say that with no sarcasm intended. We visited in the cusp of a menu change so some of what we ate may not be available, but I imagine that, based on what we did have, it's all pretty amazing.
Angela began with 'Warm Turkish Bread' and a selection of dips and spreads ($13.50). One of these was Macadamia oil, which was just delicious. I have not had it before and the surprise was equalled only by its superb nutty flavour. The Turkish bread was warm and easily the best I've ever eaten.
I myself had a very generous portion of 'Smoked Salmon Salad' (including hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, lettuces and a wonderfully light, slightly sharp dressing). A dish which wasn't then on the menu, but now is, would have been my choice - 'Terrine of Venison' with pistachio nuts and juniper, with cranberry and cumquat compote ($15).
Speaking of which the portions were uniformly generous - a plateful of lamb shanks that went past to some lucky diner was a small alp of fragrant meat.
Main course for Angela was that most tricky of dishes to get exactly right - a risotto (a 'Pumpkin Risotto' with asparagus, sage, cherry tomatoes, fresh spinach, aged parmesan and water chestnuts - $22). It was splendid - if you think I'm picky you should hear Angela when things are below par and she was full of praise for this dish, which I have to agree was of the very best quality.
Risotto is difficult because of the need to stir it constantly and nicely judge that short time when the Aborio rice has started to break down, but before it gets mushy. Even good cooks can get Risotto wrong, but Chef at Carilley really knows what he's doing - it was superb.
My own, rather easier, meal was 'Grilled Beef Fillet with Broccollini and Sautéed Mushrooms and Preserved Truffle Galette of Potato' ($36). Strictly a galette is a baked cake, so something of a misnomer, but the usage is now so wide that it encompasses almost every baked dish - I would have called it dauphinois rather than galette, but, really, who cares what it's called - it tasted wonderful.
The meat was meltingly tender, the sauce amazingly good and rich without being heavy or cloying - if one could have such a thing as a fresh jus, this was it. A meal to remember and savour in quiet reflection later. I spoke earlier of the small, but varied, range of the menu; Risotto, Penne Pasta, Squid, Fish, Beef Fillet, Lamb and Chicken - what's missing? Nothing, for a limited menu it is the most complete I think I've ever seen.
To accompany our meal we tried the Carilley Estate wines - the 'Estate' part of the name is real, and the wines are exceptional. The Late Picked white ($8 by the glass) is simply delicious - crisp, lightly fruity and entirely bottled sunshine. A more ideal lunchtime wine would be hard to imagine. Dessert was another treat, too. Debate between 'Cointreau infused Crème Brulée' ($12.50), 'Rich Chocolate Fudge Cake' with warm white chocolate sauce ($10.50) and 'Lemon and Lime Tart' with cumquat marmalade and double cream was brisk and enjoyable, but in the end we settled on the mysteriously named 'Sweet Treat Plate' ($8)
This proved to be a large cupcake and two small cupcakes and so ideal for two of us - a small one each and a heated argument over the large. No, not really - we divided it amicably, although if the portions hadn't been as large I could have polished the whole off on my own. The coulis was absolutely magnificent.
Costs at Carilley are what my late Mum would have called 'a bit pricey', basing her values on what things cost in the 1940s, but I say that at $115 for two, three course meals of that quality with wine, Carilley Estate represents outstanding value for money.
If Dr Johnson had the opportunity to lunch at Carilley I'm sure horses wouldn't feature in his 'best bits of life'.