Monday, August 31, 2015

Woodland House

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant 

I love socialising, meeting people, eating out, doing things; but there’s always a limit. A point in the night or the day where I’ll start watching the time, and be aware of how long it’s dragging out. 

So when I was invited to the Woodland House for a long lunch…I think I underestimated how long of a lunch it would be…and how much I would enjoy it!

Perhaps it’s the mix of good company, and plenty of social lubricant…alcohol of course! Reflecting on this meal afterwards, I felt like that if it had just been Brad and I, despite how much I do love him, our conversation might have dried up half way through the courses. Long lunches are surely best enjoyed with at least two couples…if not 20 people, which is basically what our table was!

But let me take a step back and tell you a bit more about the gorgeous Woodland House.

Located in a gorgeous house in Prahran, Woodland House was once Jaques Reymond, the only western restaurant my dad admitted to really enjoy, so I was very excited to see 

With Melbourne’s food scene moving ever faster to shared plates, and a smart casual dining scene; where the beats are loud and lines ever prominent, fine dining is getting to be more scarce these days. However, despite that, when we do get fine dining in Melbourne, in particular, I think our restaurants do a fantastic job or elevating it from the stuffiness that fine dining used to imply, to fun yet still beautiful experiences. 

Woodland House was definitely an example of this.

Located in a gorgeous house in Prahran, Woodland House was once Jaques Reymond, the only western restaurant my dad admitted to really enjoy, so I was very excited when I had the opportunity to visit and see how the space had changed. 

It’s an absolutely gorgeous property, the space feels like someone’s beautiful home, with gorgeous installations and art and since the house is split up into quite a number of rooms, there’s a sense of intimacy and cosiness in each space. 

Woodland House is owned by chefs Thomas Woods and Hayden McFarland (who were both trained by Jaques Reymond), and we were gathered to experience their Sunday lunch menu, which let me tell you, goes far faster than you think it does, and is definitely best with plenty of company…as we had! I definitely felt like I was in a bit of a timewarp by the time we finished!

Edible snack, or art piece? Perhaps a bit of both? These paper thin sweet potato crisps were just mesmerising, with their astonishing colour and ever so thin texture. 

Throughout our lunch, we were treated to two types of bread, and our side plate was never left without one. And despite just being bread, both varieties were just delicious and served so that they were lovely and warm in the hands. I particularly enjoyed the danish with a little cream cheese and sumac salt, there was a density, but a lightness to it as well, and I simply adored the saltiness of it. 

Our first dish was a beautifully elegant plate of rockling, crab emulsion and almond. Oh what a treat this was to the senses, the crab emulsion was delightfully aromatic, smelling of the ocean. The scent was a bit stronger than the flavour, which was a lot more delicate, but I enjoyed the texture of the rockling, which was a bit firmer and muscly than I anticipated. Surprisingly textural. 

This was served with a 2011 Tarrawarra ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay from Yarra Valley, which was much lighter than many other Chardonnay’s I’ve had before. Less savouriness and oak, and a touch more sweetness. Devastatingly easy to drink.

Second course was a John Dory with sheep’s whey, bottarga and dill. What a contrast in texture the John Dory had, tender, melting in the mouth; it was simply cooked to perfection. I loved the greens it was served with, although I cannot name them all, draped with a light bit of crisp foliage over the top, with these lovely textural and slightly crunchy greens underneath. I’m tempted to say seaweed as I recall a touch of oceanic flavour, but I could be mistaken!

I was quite pleased that Melissa next to me was not so excited by the next dish, as I certainly was, a lovely mix of snails and pig tails (it could almost be a nursery rhyme!), topped with a couple of such thin an crisp lotus roots. The snails were quite muscly and textural, earthy too with a nice herbaceous sauce or dressing over them. The meatiness of the pig tails complemented nicely. 

Course four, of spatchcock, jerusalem artichoke and black garlic was possibly one of my favourites. I absolutely adore jerusalem artichoke, and the puree was sublime, sweet, yet earthy, taking the edge of the gaminess of the spatchcock, which was just so tender. Definitely wanted more of this please!

Our shortrib, sweetbreads and kohlrabi course also hit the mark, the meat just gently falling apart with a butter knife, but still keeping it’s structure, the fat and the muscle beautifully balanced for a tender piece of meat. The thick caramel-esque sauce certainly didn’t hurt either. Springy sweetbreads always make my day. 

The cheese course was certainly out to steal my heart. Beginning to gently melt on the warmed plate, the cheese made with a combination of cow and sheep milk, was topped with a black pudding crumble and crisps. Swoon. If there’s one thing better than cheese…it’s warm cheese, with the punch of the black pudding. It’s rich, a little oily on the lips, salty from the crisps, with a meatiness and touch of iron from the black pudding, all equating to heaven. 

To finish, an ever so little (couldn’t it have been just a wee bit bigger guys?) dessert of a celeriac friand, with macadamia milk sorbet and fermented pineapple. I was definitely sceptical of celeriac in my baked goods, but am no longer a sceptic, there’s a lovely natural sweetness that celeriac does have and I was surprised how prominently that flavour appeared, despite being baked. It was also surprisingly delicious and like I said…I only wish our portion was a bit bigger (or if we could have had another)!

And to surprise us at the end, a couple of petit fours, delicious jelly jubes and chocolate coated nuts (think they were hazelnut, but don’t hold me to my word!). 

By the time we wrapped up our meal, four hours had passed. Four! How did I not even notice? It had only felt like I had been there for two. The staff at Woodland House are so professional, but so friendly and approachable, and paced out the meal so well, bringing wine in at the appropriate time to fill the gaps, topping up our bread and so on, so that there was always something happening. As said as well, I think long lunches are definitely best enjoyed with multiple people; I feel like after 3 hours I may have struggled for conversation if it was just Brad and I! 

Fortunately, these long lunches are saved for Sunday, as the amount of wine one consumes during these things is also quite surprising and I didn’t quite realise how much I had drunk until I stood up and started walking a bit. I literally got home, jumped into my PJ’s and prompted to sleep for a solid hour in a drunken stupor/food coma. Blessed Sundays. 

I think what I enjoyed most about this experience though, was that this didn’t really have to be a special occasion meal. It was just a relaxed Sunday, over four hours, with food that is beautifully executed, but also refreshingly approachable in a sublime environment. Why wait for an anniversary? 

78 Williams Street
Prahran 3181 VIC

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