I recently watched the end of a game show on TV and the $600,000 question was which country is the world’s largest meat producer A) Australia B) China C) New Zealand or D) India. There’s a reason I’m not a gambler, had I sunk my money on A) Australia I would have been a very sore loser. The correct answer is in fact C) China. What’s that got to do with the price of eggs? Nothing. It’s to do with lamb and a bit of trivia to get you thinking about where your food has come from when you sit down to dinner tonight.
A date with Tom Cruise or a lamb dinner with Matt Kemp? At least the dinner with Chef and Owner of Restaurant Balzac would be locally sourced. I’m also guessing he’d be the choice of guests who attended last night’s six course lamb degustation, now infamously known as Lamb-A-Thon.
Arriving at the heritage-listed restaurant in the heart of Randwick guests were greeted with a specially designed cocktail called Autumn Sunset. Using seasonal fruits with a strong pear influence it had the warmth of an autumn style drink but was light and refreshing.
We had the upstairs private dining room all to ourselves with a gorgeous long table set with fresh warm bread and crisp white linen in the middle of sandstone walls with soft lighting. The first dish was pumpkin veloute with crisp tongue, a light and delicious way to start the meal. The sheeps milk yoghurt, beets and figs was a great combination and the presentation with the single yellow petal on top was intricate and appreciated.
The salad of roast lamb and confit potatoes was one of my favourite dishes. It sounds so simple ‘meat and spuds’ but sometimes the simple dishes are the hardest to execute and this was faultless. Sommelier Guy matched this with a 2009 Galli ‘La Famiglia’ Chardonnay from Sunbury, Victoria. It challenged my belief that ALL Australian chardonnays are oaky. Apparently you just need to know which ones to drink.
Matt Kemp has contagious enthusiasm when it comes to food. He’s a chef with charisma and no bullshit, ‘this is who I am’ manner. His Essex accent, still strong despite half a life spent down under captivates a room full of foodies. But it’s Matt’s food philosophy that I think really gets peoples attention. He is unconventional and has a real focus on locally sourced produce and sustainability. He uses cuts from an animal that most restaurants would throw away and challenges himself to create dishes not readily seen on menus. If everyone uses the same popular cuts and not the whole animal we end up with a lot of wasted produce and it’s not sustainable.
Lamb-A-Thon was a perfect reflection of Matt’s cooking style. Even he admits “anyone can cook a roast lamb at home so why dine out? When you go to a restaurant you want to see something you can’t do at home or wouldn’t think to cook”. The epigramme of hogget and aubergine with peas is not a dish I’d try at home. Neither is the seven-hour forequarter of mutton with Jerusalem artichokes matched with a 2009 Torbreck ‘The Juveniles’ wine from the Barossa Valley. I can’t remember the last time I cooked anything for 7 hours so I naturally appreciated this dish it was a definite favourite.
How do you finish a six-course lamb degustation? A platter of sheeps milk cheese, crackers and fruit and a glass of ‘2009 Longview ‘Epitome’ late harvest riesling from the Adelaide Hills. I could easily spend a night with that platter and a bottle of wine you can keep Tom Cruise.
Restaurant Balzac opened in 2000. Having satisfied Sydney appetites for over a decade Matt recently opened a new restaurant called The Devonshire with his long time sous-chef Jeremy Bentley in January of this year. Located in Surry Hills it has already been given the tick of approval by influential foodies about town. You’ll still find Matt in the kitchen at Balzac and the menu changes regularly according to seasonality and availability.