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 April 10th 2013
Fine dining in a recycled fruit packing shed
I recall vividly going to the opening of Chester's of Heafod's restaurant way back in the early part of this century, when siblings, Duncan and Anna, converted a fruit drying shed into a large rustic and open eatery.
The energy, imagination and sheer determination that Duncan displayed made me say then 'This is a restaurant that will succeed', and so it has proved.
Today the surroundings are slightly more sophisticated, the lawns neater and greener, a new wine-tasting cellar has been built, the shrubs bigger and flossier, but the essence remains unchanged and has thrived.
Chesters is devoted to re-cycling and re-using. The tables, most of the woodwork and the reception desk are lovingly made from timbers preserved from the original 1880's packing shed, as are the huge Marri timber roof props.
Consequently, the wood has a deep glossy quality of age and substance, as indeed, so does the whole restaurant.
Angela and I took luncheon there on a warm and sunny Sunday, arriving early to get a jump on the crowds.
The luncheon menu is similar to the dinner one, but with special dishes at the chef's whim or as unusual foods become available. For example, Angela's main course was the 'fish of the day'. ($37.50)
'Fish of the Day' - Red Throat Emperor
This turned out to be Red Throat Emperor, a delicious fish from Northern Australia with sweet, white moist flesh, simply cooked, allowing the flavour to speak for itself and served with a timbale of wild rice. Not called 'Emperor' in error.
For entrée, Angela, who has a perverse passion for vegetables I've never been able to fathom, chose the 'Soup of the day' ($12) - a rich, creamy vegetable that looked awful and tasted superb.
The soup bowl was presented, complete with croutons and a swirl of sauce and then the soup was poured in, piping hot. Both practical and impressive.
My entrée was the simply named 'Duck Rillette' ($23). If you're not familiar with the dish, let me expand for a minute, otherwise skip this next paragraph.
It's French, obviously, pronounced 'ree-yet' and is more usually made with pork, although duck and even goose is becoming popular. The meat is slow cooked, shredded and blended with fat into a rough paste, rather like paté, but rougher.
It's also delicious, particularly so the way Chester's chef makes it and serves it with a small salad of grapes, cucumber and pistachio nuts - really supremely good. It also comes with some croutes of sourdough.
For my main, I chose the 'Rump of Venison' ($40), although I debated long and hard with myself over the relative merits of beef cheek Wellington ($39); Lamb Ménage a Trois ($42, and which sounds pretty saucy) and Honey Sesame Duck Breast ($39) which would have been my choice if not for the entrée.
'Rump of Venison'
The venison was spectacular, beautifully pink inside and served with red cabbage a la Flamande, which usually means 'braised in beer'.
Venison is tender when young, but lacks depth of flavour, while older meat is very flavourful but needs to be hung for a while before cooking. This used not to be done in Australia, but this venison was rich in flavour, tender to the point of melting and exceedingly good.
The red cabbage and port-wine jus was perfect as a counter-point and just delicious together. A tiny cavil - I would have liked some potato with it and there wasn't any, even as a side dish. Never-the-less, a magnificent dish in all.
Dessert for me was a spare spoon, but Angela tried the 'Sorbet Trio' of mango, green apple and passionfruit sorbets ($11). Pleasant, but not as impressive as my final treat, Colston Bassett Stilton ($12)
Served on a slate tile with a selection of nuts and crackers with glace fruit and pear confit, this delicious delicacy is a treat for all lovers of the stinky king of cheese, Stilton.
Stilton was first made in the village of Stilton, Cambridgeshire and the name is now protected by trademark and limited to the shires of Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, which leaves poor old Stilton, birthplace of the stuff out in the cold. Cheese made in Stilton has to be called 'Village Blue'. Such are the vagaries of the law.
Colston Bassett Stilton
One of the better makers of Blue Stilton is the dairy of Colston Bassett in Nottingham and of the relatively small output, Chesters has managed to secure a supply.
For a cheese lover this is roughly the equivalent of having Mozart come round to yours and play the piano for you if you're a music lover.
It was magnificent, rich, creamy and wonderful, with that indefinable bite that really good Stilton has. For a cheese-lover, it would be worth going there just for the Colston Bassett and a glass of wine.
Chesters is, of course, licensed as it's also a winery and offers tastings as well as a good wine list. This visit we didn't try the wines, preferring to make a separate and special trip for that, of which, more at another time.
We finished with excellent coffee and left replete and happy.
Chesters is not by any means a cheap restaurant ($75 a head, roughly) but more important than price, it represents great value for money.
If you think you're worth a treat, something special or just love great cheese, Chesters is well worth consideration for your next meal out.