I'm an experienced corporate communicator and editor with an eye for interesting events and an attachment to my trusty Oxford dictionary.
Published May 22nd 2012
I've never understood the whole degustation thing. Why be confined by a set menu when you can choose dishes to suit yourself? Well, thanks to the wonders of One One One Cafe Restaurant's "Paddock to Plate" tasting menu, I am now an enthusiastic convert to the delights of degustation.
One One One presents a stylish but unassuming shopfront to the world, positioned between a laneway and another restaurant. We had made the 2 hour trip from Brisbane specifically to review the restaurant, and were raring to go after checking into our accommodation and making a pleasant late-afternoon reconnoitre of vibrant and bustling downtown Byron Bay.
They had me at "hello" with the ambience. The modern urban decor includes comfortable banquette seating, polished aggregate concrete floors, tongue and groove-lined walls and ceilings, an open kitchen and a glossy black-framed glass extension overlooking a basalt-bricked wall with trickling water.
After an unhurried perusal of the menu, both my husband (aka Comedy Relief) and I decided to dive right out of our foodie comfort zones and go for the degustation where each course is served with wines to match. Sourdough bread served with olive oil, sea salt and chilli oil that packed a pungent cardamom kick, was delivered and we settled back with pleasant anticipation of the courses to come.
The first course was pumpkin and ginger soup served in a shot glass, accompanied by Jerusalem artichokes and spiced chickpeas. The soup was smooth, delicately flavoured and not too sweet, the artichokes had bite and a subtle tang, while the chickpeas were delightfully crunchy. This course was served with an aperitif rather than wine. Our waitress, Nadine explained that "Stoned Lemon" is made from ginger wine, home-made lemonade with a turmeric infusion, and lime juice, and I want the recipe.
Course number two offered a choice between two dishes, and our friendly waiter, Rhys, encouraged us to swap and share. Comedy Relief began with pickled cuttlefish served on smashed tomatoes and olives, while I savoured sauteed swiss brown mushrooms on a bed of white bean puree. Both were served in wide, shallow bowls.
Now cuttlefish is something I usually associate with bird cages, so I approached this one with some trepidation, but it was pleasantly tart and well balanced by the sweetness of the tomatoes. The white bean puree was a real surprise. Smooth, flavoursome and hearty, it was one of the meal's highlights and a perfect match for the richly-flavoured mushrooms and the Greek Petra dry white wine that accompanied this course.
Although my French is basically non-existent, even I could tell from the menu that our next course included eggs. "Oeuf en cocotte with kefalograviera crisps and truffled dwarf peach" sounded interesting and it did not disappoint. The truffled peach did not add much to the flavour but the soft whites and runny yolks were topped with rich, salty sheep's milk cheese baked to form a crunchy wafer. This took the meaning of "hard cheese" to a whole new level. The 42 Degrees South Tasmanian pinot noir was a soft and fruity accompaniment.
The next course still has Comedy Relief salivating in remembrance. Pink, juicy, tender lamb cutlets were served with potatoes and lemon and a sweet, yet tangy sauce that just begged you to mop up every last drop. My sweet potato and gorgonzola ravioli was also superb. Sweet potato is one of my favourite vegetables, and was excellent wrapped in large pasta pillows atop buttery cavolo nero, and not at all overpowered by the strong, creamy gorgonzola taste. The wines - Cullen Dry Red for the lamb and Neagles Rock Shiraz Cabernet for the ravioli - were both perfect matches for the food. I'm ashamed to admit that we were so carried away with these dishes that we totally forgot to take photos of them - a measure of their quality.
Our dessert course was warm, baked apple with currants and treacle served with whipped vanilla mascarpone that was as light as air. I don't even like currants, but overall this dish was a sweet, spicy and aromatic flavour explosion, and with the Golden Mist Botrytis Semillon, provided a perfect finish to the meal.
By the end of the meal we were feeling like IOC delegates on a "fact-finding" junket, being treated to the best of everything. Now you're probably thinking that since I was invited to review this restaurant, then obviously the food and service were always going to be excellent for us. While this may be true, you can't deliver what you don't produce, and the quality of food and service was impeccable throughout. I paid very close attention to the service that was provided to other patrons, and it was invariably that often elusive mix of attentive and relaxed. I don't usually eavesdrop, but I made an exception to gauge other diners' reactions to the food and comments I heard included "superb" and "awesome".
Chef Jade should be congratulated for creating such an interesting and satisfying dining experience. I wholly recommend The Paddock to Plate Tasting Menu. It's good value at $59 for five courses, or $79 with wines to match. The really amazing thing is that very few of these dishes are ones we would normally choose from an à la carte menu (cuttlefish anyone?), so it pays to be brave and be guided by the experts.
One One One Cafe Restaurant also has an excellent à la carte dinner menu and is open for breakfast and lunch or just coffee. If you're a Byron Bay local, a holiday-maker or just passing through, stop in for a first rate dining experience.