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 December 13th 2014
Fine dining at its finest
Regular readers of these pieces will recall that I reported on the High Tea I enjoyed at Padbury's in Guildford. That was so good that I immediately began plans for dinner there.
I was convinced that it would be something a bit special as the high tea was both imaginative and very well executed.
High Tea at Padbury's (Photograph courtesy of Padbury's)
The menu also reflects the restaurant's concern that all diners have a good experience.
Pushed to find a label I think Classic Fine Dining would do admirably. The decor is olde worlde, which blends seamlessly with the 1864 building with its high pressed tin ceilings and Jarrah floorboards worn and polished to a deep patina.
Padbury's Prawn Avocado Salad (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
The napery is crisp white linen, as are the napkins, the glasses large and polished to perfection. Attention to detail is important to diners, and even more so to Padbury's.
One of the ways you can easily test any kitchen or chef's competence is to order a simple dish that is easy to get wrong. My personal favourites are French Onion Soup (which almost no one has on the menu any more) or Caesar Salad.
The classic Caesar Salad is made with Cos lettuce, anchovies, coddled egg, olive oil, fresh crushed garlic, salt, fresh-ground black pepper and lemon juice - freshly squeezed, Worcestershire sauce, croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese.
Padbury's Ceasar Salad - unopened egg (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
The trick is the freshness and careful balance between the various ingredients. There are many variations, including chicken or smoked salmon. I have seen strips of steak and other more robust flavours, but I think that destroys the original conception of the dish by Ceasar Cardini.
Anyway, that's my test - which Padbury's passed to with absolutely flying colours - a poached egg, still warm with a glorious runny yoke replaced the coddled egg (which I can't stand anyway) the anchovies providing a subtle but definite note to the whole symphony of elegance and deliciousness ($18.50).
Padbury's Ceasar Salad - opened egg (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
A very handsome portion as an entreé James had to help me finish it, as well as his own excellent Bruschetta ($14.50), which he hoovered off the plate in short order.
Padbury's Bruchetta (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
The Bruchetta consisted of marinated diced tomato, red onion, capers and basil with a balsamic vinegar reduction and garlic olive oil on grilled Ciabatta bread, beautifully presented.
I'm ignoring Angela's Prawn Avocado salad ($21.50) of grilled tiger prawns, avocado, mixed salad leaves, balsamic infused mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, julienned beetroot, spanish onion, with crispy wonton skin and sweet chilli lemon lime dressing and Jess' vegetarian grilled local field mushrooms, pesto, garlic bread with a small pear and Parmesan cheese salad, called Big Field ($16.50) not because they weren't great - they were - but because I want to talk about my lamb.
Angela had for her main the Chilli Garlic Prawns which comes in three degrees - mild, medium or hot. You can have the dish either as an entreé ($21.50) or main ($28.50). Angela had it mild, and rich and delicious it was, too.
Padbury's Rack of Lamb (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
BUT, my rack of lamb, described on the menu as 'herb-crusted flame grilled lamb racks served with carrot puree, potato mash, grilled vegetables, crispy sweet potato and a red wine jus.' ($38.50). To me, this was the perfect dish, encompassing everything every dish should be. Simple, top quality ingredients cooked to perfection and allowed to speak for themselves, the flavours enhanced, not hidden, by the herbs and jus.
The vegetables, an unusual variety were delicious and the mashed potato, deeply garlicy, a perfect accompaniment.
James had the Barramundi ($35) - crispy skin local Barramundi served with spiced coleslaw, asparagus, micro herb salad, honey mustard seed and herb vinaigrette - delicious, light and poached in the classic French style in court-boullion.
Padbury's Barramundi (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
We all had dessert, which was probably a very bad idea as we were all pretty well stuffed with beautiful food, but it was hard to resist Sticky Date Pudding and Chocolate Fondant.
Padbury's Fondant Pudding (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
Padbury's is now one of my absolute favourite five top restaurants.
Decor - Excellent (chairs slightly uncomfortable after three hours).
Wine List - Excellent.
Service - Beyond excellent. Swift, courteous and efficient.
Food - Outstanding.
Presentation - Outstanding.
Price - on the higher side, but outstanding value for money.