Sun 20 Jan 2008
In January 1997, in the Barossa Valley, I discovered a little treasure of a restaurant called Pear Tree Cottage. Here chef Mark McNamara was creating a wonderful regional cuisine using products sourced mainly from the surrounding area. For the next five or six years Pear Tree Cottage was our destination for all sorts of celebrations and occasions, and the whole family was bereft when Mark reluctantly closed its doors.
We followed Mark’s career keenly thereafter and were delighted when he returned to the Barossa as Executive Chef of Appellation in 2005. Finally, David and I made it! We even arranged to stay in the Barossa overnight so that we could totally indulge, and indulge we certainly did.
Appellation is part of the Peppers The Louise vineyard retreat at Marananga, a very sophisticated five star complex. My fears for the occasion (that it might be a huge impersonal noisy restaurant and that Mark might not be cooking) were dispelled as we walked in the door. It is small and quiet, so low key that you don’t at first realise how impeccably designed it is. And we were greeted with the news that Mark was in the kitchen. Our pre-dinner drinks were scarcely in hand before he came out to welcome us. The warmth of that unexpected and personal welcome set the scene for one of our most memorable dining experiences.
We could choose between a tasting menu matched to local Barossa wines, or an à la carte menu which doesn’t discriminate between entrées and main courses. The dishes at the top of the list are lighter, while those at the bottom tend to be a little more substantial. We decided to go for the flexibility of the à la carte which allowed us to choose our wine from the formidable wine list (Appellation was 2007 winner of the Best Wine List in
While we were waiting for the first course (by this time getting very hungry), we speculated on the amuse bouche. Not one, but two arrived! The first was an exquisite triangle of avocado terrine encased in tomato and red pepper jelly with coriander oil – a miniature work of art that tasted as good as it looked. This was followed by a shot of tomato consommé with parsley, cucumber and coriander topped with olive oil foam. By now, our taste buds were well and truly amused.
For first course David had a tartlet of baby Williamstown yabbies and roasted peppers with a shellfish glaze and I had roasted spiced sweet potato with toasted pepitas, almonds and roasted cumin. These dishes represented such a contrast, the delicacy of the yabbies in their unctuous glaze against the spicy warmth and crunch of the sweet potato, but both were brilliant. Our second courses of grilled fillet of prosciutto wrapped snapper with baby caper butter gravy (“I had forgotten how brilliant snapper could be!” D) and twice-cooked belly of pork and spicy soya glaze (so rich but not at all cloying), were preceded by a cranberry and chinotto sorbet. We couldn’t believe it but things just seemed to be getting better.
At this point we decided to share the duck tasting plate. It consisted of liver parfait, rillettes and three slices of the most delicious red gum smoked duck breast with little toasts. It was too good to miss, and worked really well at this point of the meal.
All of this was accompanied by a 2004 Western Australian Cape Mentelle Zinfandel, which managed brilliantly to harmonise with the delicacy of the fish dishes, while standing up to the pork and duck. This was followed, preparing us for cheese and dessert, by a lovely red wine frappe – red wine granita topped with sparkling
We finished off with cheese accompanied by Two Hands Gnarly Dudes 2005
We could not fault one aspect of our dining experience. All of the staff were knowledgeable and discreetly helpful, and the attention to detail was carried through to the expertly made coffee and the exquisite petit fours which I watched the waiter assembling while we had our pre-dinner drinks. During the course of our meal Mark paid two visits to the dining room and chatted with all his guests, a habit I am pleased to see he has carried with him from his Pear Tree Cottage days. He has lost none of his touch, just honed it to produce a menu based on fresh seasonal regional produce, which balances subtlety with surprises.1. Appellation, Seppeltsfield Road, Marananga SA 5355, phone: +61 (0)8 8562 4144
tagged with: appellation, barossa valley, south australia, mark mcnamara Stumble It!