With the truffle hunt booked in the next piece of the puzzle was accommodation as we really didn’t feel like driving to Oberon and back in one day. With Katoomba being half way between home and Oberon it seemed sensible to book a hotel there and use it as a stepping stone to Oberon giving us a short drive to and from the truffle hunt.
Lex had her heart set on Lilianfels, the historic house built in 1889 overlooking the valley and just a few minutes’ walk from Echo Point and the Three Sisters. But what really sealed the deal was the award-winning Darley’s Restaurant, named after the original owner. We were lucky to book an ‘Epicurean Expeditions Package’ that included two nights’ accommodation, breakfast daily, dinner for two at Darley’s Restaurant on one evening and a personal note from the Chef.
The restaurant is just a short walk through the property and as we opened the door the first thing we noticed was how cosy and warm it was; the sweet smell of an open wood fireplace adding to the comforting feel of the place.
Amuse bouche – Goats curd, eggplant and tabouleh.
Our first sampling of the night was the amuse bouche of goats curd, eggplant and tabouleh served in a tall and slender glass, visually it was quite a treat. I found it a little difficult to get a spoonful of all three elements at the same time due to the layering but when I did it was worth it. Loads of sharp goats curd, a thin layer of bitter earthy eggplant and a fresh and herbaceous topping of tabouleh.
‘Green eggs and ham’ sixty-two degree cooked duck egg, pea puree, Jamon Iberico de Paletilla, black truffle, red wine reduction.
Lex surprised me by choosing the pork belly before I had even made my way through the menu. So to maximise our experience I knew I needed to pick a different entree. I was curious about the duck egg and the Jamon and black truffle sealed the deal. The moment the dish arrived I knew this would be a ‘Lex’ dish and after I had cut through the glorious egg to reveal the perfect yolk I dug in trying to get a little taste of each element on my spoon. The aroma of the fresh black truffle commanded my attention and as I took it all in the Jamon punctuated the earthy sweet truffle with its rich salty tones. I was amazed at the smooth and calming textures at play, the yolk was gorgeous and the pea puree so silky it was incredible. Everything came together so well and even though it was a dish I wouldn’t normally consider ordering I was very happy I got to experience it.
Twelve hour cooked crisp pork belly, cauliflower puree, sour Pedro Ximinez apples and braised pork cheek cannelloni.
I am not sure how it happened, or even why, but Lex chose the pork belly. My guess would be the as soon as she spotted the cauliflower puree her decision was made. Watching Lex tap the crackling I was quite envious, it just cracked so easily and looked ever so tasty. Lucky for me we were sharing and right away I was so happy to get that pork belly and crackling in my mouth. It was utterly sensational, crispy skin and the softest pork belly I have experienced. Add a few little pieces of the sour Pedro Ximinez apples and it was heaven. Cauliflower puree is a favourite of Lex’s and after this dish it is climbing up my list of preferred accompaniments, though it was the braised pork cheek cannelloni that ultimately stole the show in that department. So rich I couldn’t believe it, the flavour just kept on going, so much depth, I loved it.
Grain and grass-Gippsland, grass fed, Black Angus beef tenderloin, salsify, calvo nero, Blue Mountains grain fed Wagyu braised brisket, smoked bone marrow and red wine sauce.
Knowing well that Darley’s use Blue Mountains grain fed Wagyu, I was getting the beef no matter what dish it was in. My decision was made without needing to know the fine details. When ordering a choice was given for the tenderloin – grass fed Black Angus or grain feed Wagyu – I naturally chose the latter. When it arrived I was in awe, so much Wagyu on my plate I almost did not know where to start. I barely needed to use my knife on the tenderloin; it was so insanely soft and just came away with little effort. It was phenomenal, it took just one mouthful for me to know this was the best steak I had experienced in a VERY long time. Adding to the sense of wonder was the richness of the addictive red wine sauce and the very subtly smoked bone marrow. I was so caught up in the tenderloin I had forgotten about the braised brisket, but as soon as I had my first bite I knew I would forget it no more. It was braised so brilliantly it melted in the mouth. I was in beef heaven at this stage and I did not want to leave. By the end I was smiling ear to ear which does not happen all too often (I’m a grumpy semi-old man you see).
Fennel and cumin spiced venison loin, pavé of Yukon gold potatoes and wild mushrooms with Madeira sauce, rosemary and honey vinaigrette.
While Lex had considered the beef our rules of trying different dishes meant she needed to stay away from the beef. There was Murray cod, Glenoth pheasant breast or venison loin left to choose from and in the end Lex opted for the venison as it sounded quite different to other venison dishes we have had. Fennel and cumin are not spices I would associate with venison but as soon as I sampled the perfectly cooked slice I realised how well the spices paired with the meat. The pavé was super soft, the potatoes and mushroom cooked wonderfully giving it such a great texture. The roasted garlic was mellow enough not to overtake other flavours and the sweet vinaigrette blended it all together nicely.
Paris mash with crispy eshallots.
We knew there would be enough food but still we insisted on ordering some mash. Of course it was no ordinary mash, it was Paris mash and it was spectacular. So stupidly rich and creamy and accentuated well by the crispy fried eshallots that imparted a nice smoky element to the potatoes. It was exactly the side to go with the beef and venison; though sadly we were unable to finish the whole thing.
Before we knew it and even before we had selected our desserts, by accident a little plate of petits fours were placed on the table. It took quite some restraint to not just jump in and gobble them up before dessert. Simple raspberry jellies were suitably soft and gave a bit of a sour raspberry hit, and the “macaroon like pastries” (that was the description given to us) were just like friands with a slightly softer centre.
Layers of Zokoko chocolate, salted peanut praline, prune and Armagnac ice cream.
Lex loves chocolate desserts but was unsure if she could handle something so rich after such a beautiful meal. Nevertheless we knew we had to try it. Right away I could tell it was a rich dessert. The first thing that got my attention was the alcoholic hit of Armagnac, though that was soon an afterthought as the intensity of the chocolate took over. The chocolate sorbet was super soft and creamy but with all of the other big flavours going it could perhaps have been replaced by some double cream or crème fraîche just to break up the dish. Though this dessert would satisfy any chocolate lover who can handle oodles of big chocolaty flavour.
Spiced pear fool with macaroon crumble, pear granita and Poire Williams sorbet.
With a completely opposite approach to the big hitting chocolate dessert, the pear dessert was right up my alley. The spiced pear fool (mix of puréed fruit, whipped cream & sugar) was just the right level of sweetness and had a lovely undertone of vanilla to make it taste quite like a custard but not exactly as such. The crumbs of macaroon were great and the granita was soft and refreshing. Poire Williams is such a stunning drink and even more amazing is that each bottle has an entire Williams pear inside it (this is done by placing the empty bottle over the budding fruit and allowing it to mature inside). The sorbet was so light and clean, great pear flavours and a perfect match to the vanilla and pear combination in the fool. It reminded me somewhat of the white pear snow egg from Quay I had a few years ago which is quite impressive.
After dessert we were suitably content, the meal was outstanding from start to finish, there was nothing we could fault. The restaurant is such a lovely place to have a meal and we were lucky enough to be sat near one of the open wood fireplaces. The staff were wonderful, always attentive and helpful with any questions we had. It was nice to have Darley’s new Head Chef, Lee Kwiez, come out after our entrees to see how it was all going (part of the Epicurean package). Even though he had only been in the job for two weeks it appears that Lee has been able to take the reins and allow Darley’s to continue to deliver great food with great service.
Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa
Katoomba NSW 2780
(02) 4780 1200