Have you ever travelled a long distance just to visit a particular restaurant? Since I’ve started to dabble in the world of food, the thought has started to play on my mind. Perhaps a whirlwind visit to Attica in Melbourne to experience Ben Shewry’s creations, or even a tour of Tasmania sampling the finest produce in all of Australia. And what about the rest of the world? Well that’s the dream anyway.
Lochiel House – in Kurrajong Heights at the bottom of the Blue Mountains – has long been on my list. In food blogger circles, I’ve heard about this restaurant, which specialises in pig and its nose-to-tail cooking that is present in almost all of its dishes.
The drive past Windsor and Richmond is uninspiring at best; I’m guessing the more interesting parts are leading up to Kurrajong and beyond. Feel free to leave a comment if I’m being blinded by my ignorance. But the food makes the trip to Lochiel House worthwhile.
The restaurant is located in a historic home built in 1825 by a former convict. When you walk inside, the realisation of this hits you. This place is nearly 200 years old and I’ve come to stuff my face with all sorts of delicious. Although the old girl is nearing her double century, the owners have kept it in pristine condition. We arrive for lunch and before we even went inside, I could see there was a chef in the garden picking herbs and vegetables – a sign of things to come.
For lunch, there’s a day menu (breakfast and brunch-type offerings) and also an a la carte one to choose from. The first dish that grabbed my eye was the duck with hearts, egg, mixed mushrooms, brioche and herb oil ($16). Before it came to our table, I didn’t know what to expect. How big was a duck’s heart? Would it just be one? It turns out, there were six duck hearts for me to try; two skewers of three hearts each nestled in between sprigs of rosemary. The other side of the plate is what I’d call an organised mess. A mountain of mixed mushrooms covered the brioche, which is all drizzled in herb oil. I really think I had an epiphany when I was eating this. Why don’t we eat more offal? Meat isn’t all about chicken breast and sirloin steak. And yes the duck hearts were delicious: firm but not too chewy, and it had the right amount of seasoning. When you combined all the mushroom, brioche, duck egg yolk and hearts, I couldn’t stop the speed of my knife and fork.
Shannon had the pulled pork sandwich with apple and carrot coleslaw and Lochiel BBQ sauce. There was also potato chips drizzled in pork fat and chicharrons, which are fried pork rinds. I had a taste of everything and you can see why Lochiel House should be renamed Haus of Pig.
Pulled pork has ridden a wave of popularity and now it’s really common in Sydney. I don’t enjoy pulled pork when it’s too moist and has too much liquid. This dish’s pulled pork was the right density for me; tender but still springy with a hint of the pork skin. I never had chicharrons before Lochiel House but I can see why so many people sing its praises. Call it my Chinese heritage, but they remind me of prawn crackers. They crunchy but still retain a firmness that sets it apart from crackling. I could eat a whole bowl of these washed down with a few ales.
For my main course, I had the nose-to-tail pork ($36), which included belly, trotter croquettes, terrine, pig’s head ballotine, chicharron and apple puree with carrots four ways. Where to begin? I love the presentation of this dish.
It’s almost like it’s giving the finger to every vegetarian there ever was. It may sound stupid, but I genuinely was in a euphoric state when I was eating this. I loved the soft pork belly, the richness of the croquette and the wafer thin pig’s head that melted away to nothing in your mouth. If there’s one dish you must try if you go to Lochiel House, this is it.
Although we were stuffed, dessert just had to be ordered. We couldn’t look past the lemon and meringue dessert with cheesecake, lemon curd and lemon verbena ice cream. Beautiful dollops of soft and hard meringue are circled on the three scoops of ice cream, which live under towers of more meringue shaped like a tepee. I used to think lemon ice cream just tasted like an Icy Pole but there are sure many twists on the dessert favourite. This was a wonderful way to end our meal and experience at Lochiel House.
After we ordered our entrees, the waitress collected our plates and remarked that the chef was pleased with the dishes we chose. Maybe most people don’t want to eat ducks’ hearts or nose-to-tail pork? Perhaps they need to live a little. I love the philosophy at Lochiel House. Each dish has a theme, which gives direction in the food and also for the diner. I have a sneaking suspicion the restaurant will return to its former glory, hats and all.