Campervans, backpackers and hop-on-hop-off buses. It’s difficult to ignore what congests the streets of Katoomba. Is it like this every day? That I’m not sure of, but it does make me wonder how the locals tolerate so many tourists descending upon their mountain village day after day.
To add to the congestion, this pair from the city decided to head up to the mountains to find somewhere for lunch. No place in mind, really, just a leisurely walk up and down the main street to see what jumped out.
Over the road from the train station is Bistro Niagara, a casually stylish eatery that got our attention immediately. It’s difficult to miss the wood-fired kiln at the back of the restaurant, guarded by two wooden carvings nicknamed Thelma and Louise.
The surroundings are easy on the eye. Both walls are coloured-up with a long mural of depicting “kitchen chaos” and overhead is a slatted arch ceiling that, I’m sure, helps with buffering those loud voices many of us love to hate.
What made us walk straight into the bistro was the menu displayed outside. A modern Australian menu that read like a delicious short story, with a French accent thrown in. I kind of wanted to try everything.
A double baked cheese & onion soufflé (14.5) is delivered fresh from the kiln, still bubbling and topped with apple and toasted almonds. I queried the cheese and am told it’s Barber’s 1833 Reserve Vintage Cheddar, lovingly worked into the soufflé with veal stock to give it more pow. And pow, it did.
The goat cheese gnocchi (22.9) present as airy pan-seared pillows over sweet cubes of roast pumpkin, garnished with a dressed tuft of baby rocket and scattering of white mulberries.
There are times when I change my mind as soon as I’m asked what I’d like to order, and this was one of them. It was going to be cherrywood-smoked baby barramundi, but my gut said it really wanted the beef cheek “Wellington” (28.9).
A golden pillow of buttery pastry sits on top of blanched English spinach, with baby carrots and a disc of porcini butter melting into mashed potato. Cutting through the pastry reveals the golden prize; a sexy chunk of tender cheek deliciously marbled with collagen. For a moment, nothing else mattered in the world.
With savouries this good it was a given that we sample a dessert, or two. Buttermilk panna cotta (13) is served as a long strip topped with poached peaches set in gelatine. To the side is a billowy smear of whipped cream and chocolate ice cream; and what should have been pashmak was replaced with chunky praline.
The apple & quince tarte tatin (13) comes straight from the kiln, presented in the pan rather than inverted onto a plate. It’s more akin to poached fruit in thin syrup topped with pastry, as opposed to a traditional tarte. Technicalities aside, it’s a very tasty dessert to round off a smashing lunch.
Friends have since informed us the kiln-roasted suckling pig – featured on the specials – is quite something; an item that wasn’t available on this particular visit, so I can only hope it will be next time we drop in.