It's been a long time since I've been to Grazing. There's always been an air of special occasion about it, anniversaries, significant birthdays, little rooms that are just perfect for intimate dinners. And the 35 minute drive means there has to be some sense of planning about it all, unless you're lucky enough to live within walking distance of the 150-year-old hotel.
The last time I was there it was mid-winter, perhaps it even was an anniversary dinner, the fires were crackling, the old stone building welcoming, the food hearty and comforting.
But we're after something else today. A spring lunch, we sit outside, it's warm, butterflies flit around the garden, it's all very pleasant indeed.
The long lunch is underrated so we go for three courses for $69 a person. There's the option of two courses $54 or a four course set tasting menu for $79 (plus an extra $25 for matching wines). This applies for both lunch and dinner.
The menu reflects the change of seasons, there's a real spring mood about it all. We start with the steamed zucchini blossom, prawn mousse, sweetcorn and crustacean bisque and the pork belly honey glazed with spices, barbecued carrot and pickled lettuce.
The zucchini blossom is a glorious looking dish. A plump flower and a prawn dusted with dill, I think it is, sit in a bright pool of crustacean bisque atop of bed of bright yellow sweet corn. I should have paid more attention to the menu because I'm surprised by the prawn mousse, expecting it to be ricotta or something, such is the usual way with zucchini blossoms, but it's perfect. A little salty, smooth, it offsets the sweetness of the corn just right.
The pork is encrusted with a spicy mix of sichuan pepper, coriander seeds and cumin, which helps cut through the richness of the fat, it's tender and the pickled lettuce is a nice accompaniment.
I try the confit free-range hen's thigh and roast breast with chickpea, pumpkin and Dijon jus for my main, intrigued by what the difference between "hen" and chicken might be. But I'm so busy eating it, I forget to ask. If you know the answer let me know, but either way it's a nice dish.
Three little portions of well-cooked meat done a couple of different ways. I'm a sucker too for crispy skin, chefs, please use more of this, and the chickpeas also add some texture. (Later when we did ask some questions, the knowledgeable wait staff were happy to answer.)
The ash-rolled kangaroo loin with beetroot flavours and wattle seed milk makes an impression. The ash has been made from roasting up all the leftover beetroot bits, we're told, the leaves and stalks etc, and then the loin is rolled in it to give it a coating which adds both flavour and a little resistance. The kangaroo is rare, firm but not too much so. The flavour is rich, but not gamey, and we like it and vow not to hit any on the way home.
Ah, the way home. I'm the designated driver today, my companion was deserving of a nice afternoon in the sun, so I study the wine list hard, if I'm giving myself one glass only I want it to be a good one.
I go for a Collector rose, while my dining companion heads straight to the Clonakilla Hilltops shiraz to accompany her kangaroo. I love that the wine menu here is primarily local wines, there's a couple from further afield but why bother. More Canberra restaurants should do this, such is the quality of the local wine.
I always like to try something on the menu that I'd like to attempt in some way at home and today that's a tarte tatin. Can't be too hard to cook, a little fruit in some pastry and turn it upside down.
I might not get it as right as this one, caramelised honey-braised pineapple with raisin ice-cream and rum custard. My mother's favourite ice cream flavour was always rum and raisin and this little dish evokes some memories alongside the delicate pastry and sweet pineapple.
The strawberry splice too is perhaps reminiscent of Splice iceblocks. Sharp and tangy but creamy all at the same time. It's a great dish, layers of strawberry and chamomile sorbet, white chocolate ice-cream, with meringue wafers slipped in between, and pickled strawberry dices to serve. The ice cream is smooth, there's no sign of ice chunks in the sorbet, it's a pretty little dish and a great way to end a perfect Sunday afternoon.
There's nothing overstated about the Grazing menu, there's something delicate about it even. Can you achieve that with an extra serve of generosity? I think you can and Grazing does. Grazing is a showcase of our region, and there's something to be said about that. It's also a showcase of head chef Kurt Neumann's love of local produce and finesse. It's well worth the drive at any time of the day.
Address: The Royal Hotel, corner Cork and Harp Streets, Gundaroo, NSW
Hours: Lunch, Friday to Sunday and most public holidays; Dinner Thursday to Saturday
Owner: Kurt Neumann
Chef: Kurt Neumann
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian: Good options
Noise: No problem