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 September 9th 2018
Everything old is new again and delicious
Sad though it was to see the Valencia Winery close all those years ago in 1982, the fabric of the place has been in constant use ever since - a wonderful example of heritage up-cycling.
The collection of buildings sheltered under a huge, venerable, spreading, Port Jackson fig tree have been used to house restaurants, craft centres, community ventures, Ironbark Brewery, a motor car museum and many more.
The Old Fig Tree Restaurant (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
The Vineyard Restaurant was there for many years spreading cheer and good food via owners Mike and Marjie Hurst. But time passes, people move on and retire and the restaurant, built by Mike from recycled timbers stood empty for a while before new owners and operators Ryan and Kathleen Van Biljon took it over and extensively expanded, refurbished and re-imagined it.
It had been some years since I was last there so I was intrigued to see the improvements, in particular the dining hall, painted as a Tuscan Villa, with trompe-l'il murals of views of the Tuscan country-side.
The Dining Hall at The Old Fig Tree (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
There is also an extensive al fresco area, some undercover and some under vines. The tables and chairs, all of good sturdy timber, are comfortable, cushioned and festooned with fairy lights at night and warmed by vast outdoor heaters.
The Van Biljons have extensive hospitality experience overseas and have brought all of it to bear to create a charming, family restaurant of excellent, modestly priced, homey food. The menu, which is quite extensive, has few surprises - you won't find marron in lime and avocado mousse, but you will be offered lots of much-loved favourites.
The al fresco area at night (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
We have eaten at The Old Fig Tree Restaurant twice recently, the first time as a dinner to celebrate our forty-fifth wedding anniversary (and they said it wouldn't last) as a family and secondly as a family lunch with friends just to check that it was really that good (and it is) so I can give you a pretty good overview of most of the menu.
Firstly, it's important to remember that the portions are considerably generous, so pace yourself. Two entrees are not a bad idea if you're devoted to dessert - and you should be at The Old Fig Tree.
Soup in a Bun at The Old Fig Tree (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
Entrees run along familiar lines, but I have no cavil with that, I particularly like simple foods cooked well from fresh ingredients. For example, I had the Soup in a Bun ($15.50) which changes daily depending on what's fresh - this particular Tuesday it was butternut pumpkin, served in a baked fresh cob loaf, hot, delicious and good to the last drop, then you can eat the bowl - what a great idea.
The others tried a variety from Chilli Mussels ($17.50) of fresh black mussels cooked in a mild chilli Napolitano sauce and a timbale of steamed rice. The mussels were small, but tasty and fresh and the sauce was perfection to the Peking Duck Salad ($17.50) of strips of duck breast and salad of Cherry tomatoes, green leaves, pickled ginger and cashews - totally gluten-free for those to whom that's important.
Chili Mussels at The Old Fig Tree (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
In addition, the Garlic Sour Dough Bread ($9.50) was just amazing and as an added benefit vampires will give you a wide berth.
Main Course menu is much bigger, offering Butter Chicken Curry ($31.50), which was Angela's selection and was rich, succulent and served with Naan bread and a small dish of Riata (that yoghurt and mint mix designed to put out any curry fires). It lived up to the server's promises.
Butter Chicken Curry (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
On that subject, service was swift, helpful and polite, provided by young people neatly clad in black and white.
If you are of a vegetarian persuasion you might like to consider the Honey Glazed Pumpkin Panzerotti ($29.50)
of fresh Buffalo cheese, spring onions and roasted capsicum spiced with basil and served with a creamy rosé wine sauce.
I don't know why this dish, so popular in Puglia in Italy, is so little known in Australia where we go mad for the similar calzone, but it's well worth trying.
For my main, I chose the Hickory Smoked Beef Brisket ($36.50) which, as I'm sure you know, has to be cooked very long and low to reach its full flavour potential, as indeed it was here.
James is very fond of ribs as a meal, (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, after all) and he ordered one of the Fig trees most popular and iconic dishes - the American Baby Back Ribs ($45.50), a full rack of pork ribs, served with chips, a small salad, in a rich, sticky BBQ sauce made on the premises.
American Baby Back Ribs (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
Now, I have eaten the best ribs in the world, those made by Jack at the now-defunct American Ribs and Grill, and I have to say these were damn near as good, which I suppose, as you can't get Jack's any more, promotes them into top place. Certainly, James polished his off with a good deal of zeal and gusto.
If The Fig Tree Restaurant has a signature dish it would have to be their Slow-Roasted Pork, crisp crackling that sounds like gunfire when you eat it, roast potatoes, seasonable vegetables and a particularly delicious shiraz-based jus. This is usually $31.50 but is offered as a special on Sundays at $20 - given the price and the taste, it's amazingly popular, of course.
Slow-roasted Pork and crackling (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
These in addition to the usual Steak sandwiches, burgers and Scotch Fillet steaks with optional sauces.
Dessert remains the temptation is always was and the choice, though small, lived up to Blackadder's words - 'the agony of choice'. We've now tried them all and I can tell you the best, by a margin, although they're all pretty spectacular, such as the Peppermint Crisp Tart ($10.50) based around a South African chocolate bar and being caramel mint mousse, sandwiched in butter biscuits and topped with the actual Peppermint Crisp bar.
Sticky Fig Pudding (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
Or the Cheesecake of the Day ($6.50) or the Orange and Cointreau Creme Brulee ($10.50). All good, even exceptional, but compared to the Sticky Fig Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce they were as dust and ashes. Now I love Sticky Toffee Pudding, Sticky Date Pudding and in fact puddings of all kinds and this is the absolute best I've ever had, it's just that good.
We rounded off our excellent meal with coffee and waddled away beaming, replete and slightly sticky.
We ate off the a la carte menu, naturally, but there are regular mid-week and weekend specials I'd be happy to try, not forgetting a special Kids Menu and the popular High Teas.
Coffee and digestion (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)