As I weave the car through golden hills, toward Poacher's Pantry, I imagine I'm driving through Tuscany with Frances Mayes. In my imagined conversation, we excitedly anticipate the food to come. Truffles are in season, their earthy pungence filling the air and just begging us to indulge.
I drive on past gnarled pines and paddocks of sheep backed by a brilliant, clear blue sky. It's hard to believe this is all only twenty minutes from Canberra city - it feels a world away. An avenue lined with trees makes for a grand entrance to Poachers Pantry, a restaurant and smokehouse set on farmland which includes the vineyard producing the Wily Trout wine.
I open the wooden gate and wander along the winding path lined with fragrant lavender and bush roses feeling more like I'm visiting my grandmother than an acclaimed restaurant. Even after being seated, the crackling fire and garden views create a mood just begging you to settle in, sit back and eat like you would in your own kitchen.
The menu at Poacher's Pantry is updated seasonally and features many of the meats smoked on-site in sophisticated combinations, are vegetarian and seafood options and share plates. The winter offerings also include a truffle tasting menu and since these nuggets of 'black gold' are fast becoming a Canberra specialty, I this option is impossible to resist!
Cauliflower soup, Poachers Pantry Restaurant, Hall
In contrast to the rustic softness of the buildings and garden, the food at Poacher's Pantry is slick, modern and truly world-class. The tasting menu starts with a smooth and creamy cauliflower soup laced with truffle and topped with a brilliantly contrasting texture of crispy pancetta. It's the perfect start to a meal: creative, divine and just enough to leave you impatient to see what's coming next.
The second course, a quail egg pasta topped with a pert yolk to burst through the perfectly cooked pasta and salmon roe offers pops of saltiness, but a hint more seasoning could have elevated this dish to perfection.
The third course is the signature house-smoked chicken topped with duck parfait and truffle on potato puree with black garlic sauce. This dish is pure indulgence from the first bite to the last - I shamelessly mop up the last drops of sweet garlic sauce with the back of my fork so as not to leave anything behind.
Chocolate fondant and truffle ice cream, Poachers Pantry, Hall
The shock of the day is dessert, usually my least preferred course. The chocolate fondant with truffle ice cream and honeycomb is nothing short of heaven. The fondant oozes perfection across the plate, the truffle ice cream is the strangest but most delicious surprise, the perfect end to the most wonderful lunch.
As the last bite disappears and the fire crackles on merrily, I settle back for a few more minutes to sip the last of my wine. Gazing across the vegetable beds, I watch a boy climbing a tree. He looks as joyful as I feel. Poachers Pantry has made a meal into an experience, filling my tummy and warming my heart. Best of all, it gives guests permission to relax and dream - of love, hope and the many adventures and meals yet to be experienced. As the shadows lengthen, my car winds back toward home. As I drive, I smile and think that Frances would really love it here.