Warning: a long post and photo heavy!
I was invited to dine and review Peppercress restaurant for the Terra Felix wine dinner held on Thursday. I must admit, I had never heard of Peppercress before (it opened up about 9 years ago), probably because it’s located inside the Canberra Southern Cross Club in Tuggeranong.
Head Chef Anurag Gautam is the recipient of 2 Michelin stars. The first question most people would ask is, ‘what is he doing in a club?’ I was curious to learn more on the night. He lived in London and worked at one of Marco Pierre White’s restaurants (aka the Godfather of modern cooking) where he received one star. He later worked at the Manor House where he received another star. He has cooked for the likes of Marco Pierre White himself, Gordon Ramsey, Posh and Becks and more. I also heard how he chatted with former Prime Minister Bob Hawke where he learnt how nice Aussies were, and decided to move to Australia with his family for the great cricket and sporting culture (as well as other factors I’m sure).
I’d like to say a big thank you to the Club for hosting my partner and me. I couldn’t have any of the wines but was happy to sample the food. It was pretty packed when we got there. The manager of the club mentioned there were over 100 people in attendance that night, most of whom were loyal regulars. The restaurant has a warm feel to it with red and green painted walls, red lanterns overheard and cosy lighting.
Wait staff were circulating with the first course of citrus cured sea trout canapés. I love sashimi and thought the trout was fresh and interesting paired with the pesto.
Course 2 – Thai inspired shrimp salad. This dish was inspired from the chef’s travels to Asia where he noticed children making a similar dish. At first I thought it was a pile of thin noodles, however, they were thin slices of raw mango. This was covered in a spicy Thai dressing with coriander and chilli as key herbs, and sprinkled with crushed up peanuts. The first bite provides quite a sour and spicy hit to the senses. The prawns weren’t the best I’ve had but the overall dish was fresh and powerful.
Course 3 – Sage and thyme poached olde spotted pork fillet. The chef mentioned the olde spotted pork is becoming a rare species. I’m in two minds about this, 1) I feel bad but 2) it was tasty. The pork was still slightly pink and I found it very easy to cut through and eat. The peach puree and apple and raisin chutney were deliciously sweet and light on the tongue. An update to the usual apple sauce and a great accompaniment to the pork.
Course 4 – the lamp rump was the best dish of the night. The lamb was cooked about medium rare , perfect for me, not completely bloody but still soft and red. The jus was perfection and probably the best I’ve ever had. Thick, a little sweet but not overpowering and packed with flavour. The table next to us (who are regulars) were asking for more bread as they couldn’t let the jus go to waste. Good idea! My partner and I also grabbed the girl with the bread basket to mop up any last trace of jus on our plates. The smoked kumara (sweet potato) puree deserves a special mention – basically sweet potato that had been smoked (on site) and then mashed into a light puree. It was something I’d never had before and I was delighted to have tried it. In order to balance out the sweetness of the jus and honey glazed carrot, the chef had to bring down the level of sweetness in the sweet potato. Fantastic.
This was definitely the dish of the night. During the Q&A session with the chef, many people commented on the wonderful jus. One diner asked for tips for making it. Chef Gautam mentioned it took 80kg of lamb bones to make about 12 litres of jus. Probably easier to just go to the restaurant instead.
Course 5 – goats cheese with crispy bread, grapes and olives. The goats cheese was smooth and very different. Again, something else that tasted unique. I really enjoyed it.
Course 6 – dessert of berry mousse, puree and jelly. This was visually pleasing and tasted just as good. The mousse was like a fresh berry smoothie – I could taste the blended up berries (which got stuck in my teeth but hey, they’re real berries). I loved the different textures, berry flavours and vibrant colours on the plate. A great refreshing end to the night.
The Terra Felix wine dinner was a fun night. It is broken up with the owner of Terra Felix wines talking about the wines served that night, guessing a mystery wine (wrapped in aluminium foil), a raffle and a game to win a case of wines. Chef Gautam chooses the wines himself and then designs a menu to go with them. The Terra Felix wine dinner is held approximately every 2 months and the Chef changes it up every time. He does this to stay innovative on top of the regular menu at the restaurant.
Speaking of the regular menu, I actually sussed out Peppercress a few weeks ahead of this dinner to do more edible research and paid for this myself. I dined with three of my foodie friends and we were only one of four tables of diners in the restaurant.
For the entrée, I chose the egg and soldier ($16). I loved the simplicity in presentation when this came out. It consisted of slow cooked duck egg, asparagus wrapped in puff pastry and prosciutto. The egg was still very wobbly and runny, a bit too raw for me but my friend who also ordered this dish absolutely loved the consistency. I thought the asparagus and prosciutto worked really well with the slightly stronger taste of duck egg. Considering this was my first time at Peppercress, my food adventure was off to a great start.
Food porn of my friend’s entrée – the soup of the day ($8.40) that I think was mushroom and bacon (and is also gluten free).
I chose the 48hr braised Tajima Wagyu beef cheek ($28.50) as my main. Again, presentation was simple but elegant. For some reason I wasn’t given a knife with this meal. However, as soon as my fork touched the beef, I realised it wasn’t needed. The beef cheek was so tender and juicy that it fell apart. All I can say is WOW. One of the best beef dishes I’ve had in a long time. I don’t think the small chunks of speck were necessary as the beef was so good on its own. My friend ordered the gluten free version of this dish.
All desserts are $11. I chose the house specialty – warm chocolate pudding served with vanilla ice cream rolled in crushed pistachios. The pudding was fluffy but gooey in the centre. Mmmm chocolate heaven. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
My friend had the gluten free version of the Granny Smith mousse with crunchy toffee, jelly and sweet paste crumbs. This initially didn’t sound pleasing to me as Granny Smith apples are quite sour so I wasn’t interested. But I got to try some and was really surprised at how light it was. There was only a slight hint of sourness but the mousse was absolutely lovely and sweet.
Everyone including me were extremely satisfied, happy and slightly surprised at how good the food is here. It was sad to see that there were only a few customers dining.
Peppercress is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Prices are reasonable, the food is well thought out and presentation is lovely. They have a set menu where you can choose from a selection of dishes – 2 courses for $40, or 3 courses for $45. Definitely a worthy restaurant to try out and I will be going back for more.
Things to note: As it is located within a club, you must be a member or be signed in as a guest. This is a bit of a pain, but $10 gets you a one-year membership and (I think) $12 gets you a 2-year membership.