Margan Estate: Chef Josh Davidson
In a quest to explore areas of the Hunter Valley besides Pokolbin, my Mum and I headed off on a road trip last week to Broke, population 540. Word on the street was Margan Estate have marvelous wines and an exceptional restaurant that benefits from a one-acre kitchen garden and free-range chooks, earning it the title of Sustainable Restaurant of the Year, in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide for 2011. So we hopped in the car and headed up the New England Highway for a catch-up over a long lunch.
The vines of Margan Estate || Chef Josh Davidson
What we weren’t expecting was the unseasonably warm weather the day we visited. It certainly brought a spring to the step as we wandered past men tending to the vines on the way to the restaurant. Too lovely a day to sit inside, we took a table on the verandah and sat back to soak in the surrounding views. The winery sits at the foothills of the surrounding Broke-Fordwich mountains and the kitchen garden is only a stone’s throw from where we were sitting.
We are offered a choice of filtered rainwater or sparking water and I was instantly reminded of holidays at my Nana’s house, when we would take our cups out to the rainwater tank in the backyard to fill up before lunch and dinner.
While the gardener is busy feeding the chickens and planting strawberries, we tuck into two tasters (I love it when the kitchen sends out little samples from the menu) – seared scallops on cauliflower puree and a bowl of pappardelle with rabbit ragu, peas, Brussels sprouts, speck & Pecorino. I can’t remember if I’ve ever eaten rabbit before, but begin to wonder if I should start – it’s lovely. My mother tells me how when her and dad were first married they ate rabbit at least once a week because it was so cheap and as an added bonus it was actually very tasty. As we clear our plates she wonders aloud why they ever stopped eating it.
Since I’ve tasted the rabbit, the dish I was originally going to order, I opt for the braised Wagyu shin with baby vegetables from the garden and horseradish and cauliflower cream. Mum goes for the slow braised lamb shoulder, Parmesan cavelo nero, eggplant & oregano. Each main is accompanied by a complimenting glass of wine. In my case it is a Margan 2009 Shiraz, for mum a Margan 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. The beef is the best kind of slow-cooked-fall-apart-melt-in-the-mouth consistency. It’s gratifying to see the vegetables on the plate and look over to where they resided not more than a day ago. Mum and I happily sip, eat and share our way through a heavenly lunch.
For dessert, we decided to apportion a serve to save our bellies and go with mum’s pick – a chocolate marquise with caramel and salted hazelnuts. Oh my! We both push aside any queries of calories and thoroughly enjoy the moment, before deciding the check out the garden.
The kitchen garden is the business – it’s huge with everything from fennel to oranges, celeriac to cime di rappa. There are beehives and a chicken palace where the hens are housed at night to protect them from local foxes. Right now though they are fossicking around the olive trees for pumpkin seeds and worms. With lunch service over for the day, I spy the crew heading over from the kitchen to chat with Pat the gardener about what’s coming up to harvest. I marvel at what an exceptional set-up this restaurant has. I want to ask the head chef all about it, so I introduce myself.
A short stroll from the kitchen garden
Strawberries on the menu in a month or so
It turns out that Josh Davidson has been working here for four months, having relocated from Sydney where he was working most recently at Café Sydney and previous to that at Coast with Stefano Manfredi (who you may remember has a wonderful kitchen garden of his own at Bell’s on the Central Coast). We talk about the contrast from city living to being in the country, like having a mob of bounding kangaroos wake you up at sunrise instead of garbage trucks. Of course he misses friends and family, but the slower pace and the eerie quiet and darkness at night are a novelty.
The ladies meeting || The chef & the gardener
So. Much. Garden.
I’m no chef, but I am so envious of Josh’s proximity to a kitchen garden and ask him about having such a great resource within walking distance of his kitchen bench. It’s a no-brainer – Josh agrees he’s in an enviable position and loves making the most of it. It suits his style of cooking, which is influenced by Mediterranean flavours and when I ask which Chef he looks to most for inspiration, he tells me the main person would be Georgio Locatelli . But he’s quick to add that more directly the biggest influence is the people he works with – from Pat the gardener, to his kitchen team that includes a Kitchen-hand, Apprentice and Sous Chef. Everyone has input into developing a menu that changes weekly, depending on what’s available in the kitchen garden, to what line-caught fish is brought in from the boats at Port Stephens that morning (which the Sous Chef collects on the way to work).
Fennel and more strawberries || The ladies peck around the orchard
Not only did I get to enjoy a superb lunch, I have the added bonus of sitting within eyeshot of where many of the ingredients on my plate come from. The owners are committed to a sustainable restaurant experience and that the people cooking are taking full advantage of the seasonality and variety of ingredients on offer. Margan Estate is doing great things and I look forward to going back in Spring to see what’s on offer.
Braised Wagyu Shin with Baby Vegetables from the Garden, Horseradish & Cauliflower Cream
You will need to begin this recipe the day before. In fact, the beef will keep rolled in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
4 juniper berries
6 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2kg Wagyu beef shin
2 bay leaves
4 litres beef stock
8 baby heirloom carrots
4 baby leeks
4 baby turnips
8 breakfast radishes
100g baby peas
10ml chicken stock
2 tsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh horseradish, finely grated
Micro herbs, to decorate
1 head cauliflower, cut down to florets
3 eschallots, sliced finely
500ml pouring cream
100g unsalted butter
Cover the beef with rock salt and leave to sit, covered in plastic wrap for two hours. When the two hours is up, add the beef stock to a large pot and bring to a simmer over a medium-low heat.
Wash the salt from the beef under a tap and pat try with paper towel. Heat a fry pan over high heat and seal all sides of the beef. Remove the beef from pan and add to the simmering beef stock along with the spices. Leave to simmer over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 hours or until the meat is soft enough that it falls apart easily. Remove the beef from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Reserve any remaining liquid.
Lie lengths of plastic wrap on a clean and dry bench and place the beef along one end. Roll into a 4-5cm thick logs, wrapping tightly, and leave to set in the refrigerator for at least overnight.
The next day begin the other components. To make the cauliflower cream, cut the cauliflower head into small florets. Slice eschallots finely. Please the cauliflower and eschallots with the cream into a medium saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer. Cook until just soft, about 10 minutes. Strain the cauliflower mixture, reserving the cream. Place cauliflower in a food processor and blend with the butter and salt until smooth. Add a touch of cream as needed for consistency (like custard).
For the jus, simmer down the reserved beef stock liquid by a third. Strain and set aside.
Clean and trim the root vegetable. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and blanch each vegetable type individually. Place a pan over medium-high heat and melt the butter. When the butter starts to foam add the chicken stock. Sauté the vegetables in the butter and stock and finish with the parsley and horseradish.
Smear the cauliflower puree equally over each plate. Cut the beef logs to make three pieces per serve, so 12 pieces in total. Unwrap from plastic and place the three portions on each plate. Scatter over the vegetables and spoon the jus around the beef and cauliflower puree. Serve immediately.Share this on: