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 March 10th 2012
Given my age and background it would be no surprise to my readers that if you say 'Riverbank' to me my first thought has visions of Ratty, Mole, Mr Toad and Badger in an idyllic world.
Having now taken lunch at Riverbank Restaurant, I have a new vision of an idyllic world - this one including food.
Riverbank Estate is a winery tucked off the beaten track on Hamersley Road in Caversham. It is set in wide fields of grape vines reaching down to the Swan, among tall trees casting shade over the immaculate lawns that surround the restaurant cum cellar doors.
Inside all is clean glass, crisp pine and light. The building positively glows with sun, glinting off the bottles, white napery and cutlery.
The whole of the dining area overlooks the fields and vines as next-door's geese forage proudly among the long grass at the edges. All of this serves as backdrop for one of the most polished, professional restaurants it has been my pleasure to dine at.
Chef describes the menu as 'Modern Australian' and it's as good a description as any other but Chef, who has been classically trained, creates excellent food, whatever classification you care to award it.
We began our luncheon, James and I on a warm summer's day, with the wind ruffling the light summer dresses of a group of light-hearted women diners playing bocce on the lawns between courses, with a RiverBank Plate.
This tasting plate of Frittata, chicken liver pate, Thai fish cakes, a small salad of fresh off the trees in the yard figs, walnuts and blue cheese, cacciatore sausage of startling strength, smoked salmon, arancini, sun dried tomato and olives was absolutely on the button as an entree.
It was uniformly excellent, although I personally didn't care for the fish cakes, but the salad was outstanding - the dressing light and savoury and the figs wonderfully fresh and perfectly ripe.
For my main course I had a grilled sirloin of beef, pan fried potatoes, and smoked ham hock with cannellini and red onion salad and a red wine jus. ($38).
The meat was wonderfully tender, cooked to exactly medium rare and rich with flavour. But the real taste sensation was the glorious diced sautéed potato - super good.
As a side dish I had a Tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad with fresh basil and balsamic vinaigrette. ($12). I chose this because the waiter told me the 'buffalo mozzarella' was made from milk from actual buffalos - and I imagine it takes a brave and agile milkmaid and quite a big stool to milk a buffalo.
She said one would be able to taste the difference, and it was so, very rich and creamy cheese and the salad beautifully fresh.
James chose the chicken breast marinated in garlic and thyme, panko breadcrumbed, served with onion rings and mustard cream. ($38).
If you don't know the difference between penko breadcrumbs and the ordinary kind, they are Japanese and come as white (loaf only) or tan (the whole loaf, including crusts) and are more like flakes than actual crumbs - also they taste better.
The chicken was perfection, succulent and moist and with a great deal more flavour than is usual in chicken.
Just a short aside, I don't know if you've noticed but the descriptions of the dishes are simple and unaffected - the words 'drizzled' and 'nestled in a bed of' just don't appear. See, professional and letting the food speak for itself.
Presentation of the dishes was as superb as any I've seen outside of The Loose Box, where Chef Darren worked and trained before spending eight years at the C Restaurant just prior to coming to the RiverBank Estate in 2008.
Sweet course for me was a 'mixed berry and ice cream sandwich served with RiverBank Verjuice poached pear.' ($15). This is known to me and all former RSA residents as an 'Eskimo Pie' and was delicious - light enough to fill and sweet enough to round off as damn near a perfect meal as I've had.
James had his all-time favourite, a 'Saffron and honey crème brulee with homemade honey and almond brittle'. ($15.)
The restaurant at RiverBank estate is not a cheap eatery, but if we're talking value for money, it's a very safe bet. Price is never a reliable guide to quality. Expensive is not always good, but exceptional is seldom cheap.