Our road trip didn’t start well. The first big name restaurant we have on our schedule, Stefano’s in Mildura, could not move our booking from the Friday to the Saturday. Kristen had to work on Thursday, so initially we were facing no option but to attempt the 1000km drive from Sydney to Mildura in one exhausting day. Then a brainwave: Kristen could finish work in Bankstown at 3pm on Thursday, allowing us to leave early and avoid peak hour traffic. Every kilometre we could knock off on Thursday was one less to do on Friday, and suddenly the longest drive didn’t seem so tough anymore.
And as it happens, there is a rather nice restaurant in the tiny town of Gundaroo, about half an hour north of Canberra and only a short detour from the Hume Highway. Grazing has been established here for several years and has become a key drawcard for the town, attracting hungry diners from miles around seeking classy food made from quality ingredients. They make a virtue of using local products, and even have a chef’s garden to provide the kitchen with its own source of heirloom vegetables, eggs, herbs and salad ingredients. Grazing at Grazing was a natural fit into the road trip’s theme of top quality country restaurants, so we booked dinner and accommodation at a nearby pub for the Thursday night.
What’s that they say about best-laid plans? On Thursday morning Kristen was advised that she would have to stay later to finish an urgent project. Even worse, she had to work in Glebe rather than Bankstown. Instead of quickly slipping on the M5 mid-afternoon we now had to leave from the centre of Sydney. Crap. In peak hour. Double crap.
We left just on 5pm and made surprisingly good time through the suburbs. Even the M5 – which is usually a parking lot at this time – was gentle to us and we made it to Liverpool in an hour. But there was still no chance we’d make it to Gundaroo in time for our 8pm reservation. I rang Grazing and Explained The Situation. The hostess was very understanding and offered to check with the chefs, but they were reluctant to stay back late on a quiet Thursday evening. Could we come for lunch the next day instead? I gently played the trump card, truthfully saying we were only coming to Gundaroo because of Grazing, and that we were hitting the road early the next day. She was surprised (and pleased, I expect) at this, re-checked with the chefs, and then said come along. They’d still be there doing prep anyway, and they’d fit us in.
A promise they delivered on, for which we are grateful! We didn’t show up until 8.50pm but were cheerfully shown to our table on arrival, and we didn’t slip out until 10pm. The service was exceptional, their willingness to accommodate us extremely welcome. And the food? Definitely worth the journey. From a modest selection of entrees and mains (and a whole page of vegetarian entrees, which I didn’t notice until later) each titled after the principal ingredient we grazed upon:
“Charcuterie” – handmade sopresa, locally-produced Poacher’s Pantry proscuitto, duck liver parfait, and truffled rabbit rillettes, served with crackers and guerkins. Every part was excellent, with Kristen preferring the proscuitto and me the rabbit rillettes. Though we both the loved the parfait. A very generous serve too for just $16.
“Scallops” – five sautéed scallops marinated in Szechuan pepper with cold green tea noodles, baby summer herbs and fois gras dressing. Seriously good, the scallops well-cooked and the noodles delicate. This was the top dish of the night for me.
“Kangaroo” – kangaroo marinated with garlic and herbs on caramelised beetroot and onion tart, lemon yoghurt and chilli jam. I didn’t try this but the moans from across the table suggested it was very good.
“Cod” – oven roasted cod with chorizo sausage, poached green garlic sprouts, tomato broth and green olive aioli. Meaty texture yet moist and flavoursome, the garlic sprouts like small asparagus spears. Served on a rich mash, a very generous dish.
We didn’t want desserts – too late and too stuffed – and we had time to enjoy the atmosphere of the heritage-listed 1865 hotel building we dined in. Food was washed down with a local merlot by the glass (Kristen) and a local pinot gris (me). Grazing does not currently wear any Good Food Guide hats, but I would not be at all surprised if that changes in future editions.
A quick note about accommodation: The Gundaroo Colonial Inn, almost across the road from Grazing, had just closed when we arrived at 10pm. A great shame, as it had a good vibe when we dropped in for directions earlier and we were both looking forward to a post-dinner drink there. The manager knew we’d be late so was quietly waiting for us while sipping a beer, and he was happy to get us a few drinks even though they’d shut up for the night. More country friendliness. The rooms here, though expensive for the area, are new and very comfortable with flat-screen digital TV and an enormous king-size bed. I wish we could stay and enjoy it more, but it’s time to hit the road for the longest leg of the trip to Mildura!