I think I may have mentioned once or twice about where my love of the humble swine made its beginnings. It was the 70’s when my family lived in suburban Wollongong amongst a variety of other young families with different cultural backgrounds. We were the Yugoslav’s that lived in a house with a relatively-small backyard that always seemed to contain a multitude of animals. Aside from Dad’s psycho dog that would bite your arm off if you touched it, we had cute rabbits hopping about with chickens and a rooster, the occasional goat would be brought home with its kids, pheasants and quails were cooped up in cages and I remember a big sow with its piglet that Dad introduced to our family. All the animals came and went over time, and what I mean by went … well … I think you get the picture. Except for Jack the phycho dog that was eventually put down. I always hated watching Dad kill an animal when it was time and the screams of a pig just before slaughter is a sound I’ll never forget (god knows what the neighbours were thinking), although it taught me where food such as this comes from and somehow made it taste better. Some of the most delicious pork I’ve had came from the whole animal that was spitted and cooked over coals for almost 10 hours. Heaven on a spit.
You can imagine my excitement when I recieved an invitation to Chophouse for a special preview menu put on for a bunch of food bloggers. Pig and Pinot. Just hearing the words is enough to give you tingles. I was the first to arrive so I had a quick chat with Adam Heathcote from the Pacific Restaurant Group and soon learnt about the philosophy of Chophouse and its exciting new upstairs carvery that is still under development and scheduled for opening in about 2 months. The carvery will have a sense of 1930’s New York and will feature a different meat every Monday. It could be beef, goat, a lamb or delicious suckling pig such as the one we were about to savour. Did you know that Chophouse goes through 40 tonne of beef every year? That’s a lot of hungry mouths!
As the other bloggers arrive we’re seated at a long table and poured a lovely Ostler Pinot Gris from southeastern New Zealand. I’ve mainly just had the sauvignon blanc from NZ so this was a nice change from the norm. Our starters arrived soon after, the first of which is a deliciously salty shaved jamon that is nestled in with two buffalo milk mozzarella balls. The cheese is silky and creamy and rests on a soft wedge of roasted fennel, a perfect marriage with a light splodge of balsamic, extra virgin olive oil and toasted almonds & micro herbs. The wine is an ideal match.
Immediately after we’re given two gorgeous citrus cured scallops on shells topped with strips of apple, Avruga caviar and shaved Mt Lowe truffle. This has to be the mildest truffle I’ve ever tasted, unlike the musty Umbrian stuff I gorged myself on in Italy last year. I loved this dish as well and could have easily gone with four more!
Our white wine glasses were replaced with red wine glasses which only meant one thing. Pinot Noir and pig! The four-year-old Ostler Caroline’s Pinot is velvety and spicy and goes down way too easily for me. I definitely kept our waitress Michelle busy with topping up my glass.
Executive chef David Clarke appears pushing a trolley with our prize of the evening. An 11.4 kg, 3 month old organic swine from Macleay Valley up on the Central Coast. Not only were there audible ooh’s and aah’s coming from our table, but other diners were spellbound by the theatrical procedure of carving up this baby. A pile of crackling here, chunks and slices of meat there, and ears and tail to those that wanted it. The snout initially ends up in my hands but after a few obligatory poses with it I cut it into four and give three of the pieces away to those that are willing.
Chef David explained that it was a relatively simple exercise roasting this suckling pig up. Just two hours at 140°C in the roasting pan in a light rub of Alto extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, a method that gently melts the fat beneath the skin. This method moistens the flesh and makes for very tender and delicious roasted pork. Following the two hours the oven is cranked up to 240°C for 15 minutes to get that skin nice and crisp. End result – unadulterated suckling pig that will have you going back repeatedly.
I could have easily just sat there eating the meat and crackling with sips of pinot but the three sides that came to the table were a lovely addition to the meal. Green beans tossed in herbed butter, cauliflower gratin and the wedge salad that echoed the flavours and ingredients of a traditional caesar. The runny egg yolk was perfection!
Just in case we had any more room in our stomachs we each get a plate of caramelised banana cheesecake sprinkled with peanut brittle and a streak of butterscotch. It’s surprisingly light and I loving the crunch of the nuts and butterscotch. The famous wooden paddle of Chophouse Swiss Milk Chocolate was also delivered and hacked up with a cleaver. Laced with caramelised hazelnuts, it is a chocolate lovers dream.
Finally, with coffee, a bottle of Berta Grappa Nebbiolo Tre Soli Tre is poured to those that are game. It’s just like the rakija my father used to make by distilling fermented fruit and the flavour is sharp and powerful and an aquired taste due to the 50-60% alcohol content. Xo Hennessy Cognac was also offered though I’m not a fan so I declined.
hnf dined at Chophouse courtesy of the Pacific Restaurant Group