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A Dinosaur’s Osso Bucco?

Check out this monster! The size of it is way beyond belief! Even my dining companion volunteers to hold my iPhone next to it as a comparison while I take a photo of this ginormous osso bucco placed right in front of me. I found this utterly impressive humongous prehistoric piece of meat in a little town in South Australia called Robe. But more on that later.

During our trip to Adelaide for Tasting Australia, South Australia Tourism has also organised regional tours for both Helen and I but we are going to split up and heading to different destinations. While I secretly envy Helen’s itinerary including a scrumptious lunch with Maggie Beer at her Barossa Valley’s Farm Shop, I am sent to catch de Bruin Air private charter at the break of dawn, along with a media contingent of journalists and writers to spend an overnight at the pristine Limestone Coast down south.

The flight takes just a little over an hour from Adelaide to Mount Gambier airport. The aerial view of the region especially the Blue Lake upon arrival at Mount Gambier is simply breathtaking. The limestone surrounding has turned the lake to an intense sombre blue during the winter months, but we’ve been told that the lake is more impressive during summer time when it turns into a vibrant turquoise blue.

We have a quick drive through the 3.6km track around the circumference of the crater cum lake before heading out of town to our first pit stop for some very tasty meat, the wagyu beef.

Mayura Station

It is only 9.00AM when we arrived at Mayura Station, Wagyu beef for breakfast? Why not. When our entourage pulls up at the carpark outside the station, the de Bruin family is already standing outside waiting for us. Having a Deja vu moment? Yes, you’ve guessed it right. The de Bruin family who owns Mayura Station is also the pioneer behind de Bruin Air. We meet Adrian and his son Scott de Bruin, this father and son team are passionately committed to the future growth and development of the entire Limestone Coast, from property development, a travel agency, charter flight to luxury gourmet Wagyu beef production which we are going to sample today.

We are very lucky to visit their newly built Tasting Room which housed a brand new stainless steel function kitchen where visitors get to try some of their top quality full-blood wagyu beef prepared by the in-house chef, Chef Kirby.

They have been importing full-blood Japanese black-haired Wagyu since 1998, world renowned as the highest quality beef producing cattle. Mayura Station, a 5000 acre property is now home to more than 1500 full-blood Wagyu cattle. A quick brief by Scott de Bruin about their business, the history and the cattle, we are then treated with a tasty demonstration.

First we try some sous-vide beef tongue. The tongue is sealed in plastic bag and had been cooked in water bath at around 6o degree Celcius for over 2 hours. Kirby slices the tongue effortlessly, it still hold a nice firm texture but not tough like old boots. He then grills up some flanks, which is the abdominal muscles of the cow, a relatively long and flat cut of meat that is lean and flavourful. The flank has more texture to it from all the muscle fibres.

Next is the wagyu bresaola, thinly sliced silverside which has been brined for 30 days. It is like eating edible silk, simply melts in the mouth. It is almost similar to jamon but less intense, with a sweeter, cheese-like musty flavour. And finally we get to try some really good wagyu beef. First is the 2 weeks old tenderloin, which had been sous vide for 7 mins and then a quick sear on the grill.

During the whole period of the demonstration, chef Kirby doesn’t even need to use any oil at all and simply scorches the beef on its own fat. The tenderloin is scorched no longer than a few minutes and the whole room is already smokey. The tenderloin is still perfectly pink and juicy inside, very tender and sweet. Then Scott also asks chef Kirby to keep one tenderloin on the grill for up to 5 minutes longer so that we can compare the difference. “I am going to be in big trouble by totally ruining the beef now,” he swears he has never done this experiment before. The overcooked tenderloin has definitely more texture to it but surprisingly quite edible and none of us would complain if is served in a restaurant.

The final wagyu beef we are going to try which is also the best of the best is the wagyu striploin Golden label with a marble score of 7 whereas 9 is the highest in Australia (12 in Japan). At $100/kg, I don’t think I am going to complain at all and just feed me please. Surprisingly the wagyu striploin doesnt have as much of the marbling effect on the meat as I’d hoped for, but boy, it is incredible! I can’t stop smiling while chewing effortlessly on that orgasmic piece of meat. I am in heaven. Again, we leave one striploin on the grill a little longer and surprisingly the flavour changes to become more salty from the caramelisation of the fat, and the meat is still considerably tender.

We are not just rewarded with some of the most beautiful wagyu beef in Australia, chef Kirby fries up some pretty damn good beer-battered onion rings to go with the beef too! As much as we’d like to stay at Mayura Station a little longer, unfortunately we are on a tight schedule and still have a long list of things to do in our itinerary, so is time to head to our next destination for some wine and the most memorable lunch I’ve ever had throughout the whole trip.

Cape Jaffa Wines

“We are self sustain using our own cow manure for the soil. Here, sniff it,” Winemaker and General Manager, Derek Hooper kindly offers a clump of soil in his hands to the big cities’ journalists. The brave ones stuck their noses in and declare it is odourless and smell just like dirt.

Cow horn spray and clays to strengthen grapevine against Mildew disease; harvest the grapes according to moon phases; all these biodynamic practice might seem a little far fetch for some on how to run a winery. But at Cape Jaffa Wines, they have tons of data collected from their vineyard to prove that this holistic approach does yield a better balanced wine by measuring the acid to sugar level, seed colour and falvour. They believe earth links to fruit, and water links to leaves, so they have a 40 pages thick calendar to tell them when is the best time to grow and to harvest food crop. And they are one of the only four fully certified biodynamic vineyard in South Australia.

I am sure there is a lot more we can talk about biodynamic farming, but best to leave it at that and walk back to the cellar door as they have installed an extravagant lunch for us back at the cellar door.

We are ushered into Cape Jaffa’s barrel halls, an impressive barrel room that had been dugged into the side of a limestone ridge which creates a perfect space to control the temperature and humidity to store the wine barrels. Then there is our lunch table right in the middle of the hall, covered in immaculate white table linen, surrounded by barrels on both sides. They obviously have spent so much effort into creating such grand yet elegant setting, I can’t help but feel special dining in it.

Our lunch is specially crafted by Jason Van Leuven, a chocolatier who has worked in some of the world’s top establishments and now back to his hometown and launched his own chocolate and catering services. The flamboyant Jason has prepared a classic French feast by using fresh produce all sourced from the Limestone Coast region. Oh boy, we are in a treat or what! The amount of food spread across the table is astounding! Most of us just stand there for a good ten minutes admiring all the food and rustic decorations, the attention to details are simply just incredible!

A barrel had been hacked off and is now the perfect center piece to house a good selection of freshly baked breads. The display is simply too beautiful and no one really wants to touch and destroy the perfect picture. Besides, there are a lot more other delicious food on the table than stuffing ourselves with carbs.

I already have my eyes on the caramelised sweet onion tartlet as soon as I walk in. The short crust pastry simply crumbles and melts away in the mouth, leaving a sweet sensation of the soft onion and a sharp tingle of goat cheese. I loved it so much and recreated it at my Christmas in July dinner party.

Jason’s chicken pate is a revelation. He calls it “My Oma’s Chicken Pate“, a recipe he learned from his grandmother that never fail he declares. The liver pate is incredibly smooth and creamy, it is also not too strong with the metallic taste but a sweet boozy flavour.

“When I was young, I asked my Oma what’s her secret to make such a beautiful and smooth pate. Then she took off her shoe, and said to me, ‘I used my stocking!‘ I couldn’t believe it! So I always use stocking for my pate, but don’t worry, is a brand new stocking I used.” Jason has one of the most contagious laughs I’ve ever heard, we simply can’t help and laughing along.

When I thought there’s all the food on the table, Jason emerges from the kitchen with a hot pan and starts serving a smoked duck leg confit to everyone! Oh my god, I am so not worthy. The confit is so tender it simply falls off the bone.

And then, there is the beautiful log of meatloaf terrine. It looks almost like a snapshot out of a 1980s cookbook but in 3D! (Okay, you can tell I was really that excited about this whole lunch by the number of exclamation marks I’ve used). I actually haven’t had a baked terrine like this before and to taste it for the first time is like falling in love with classic country home baked dishes all over again! The buttery puff pastry, the sweet pork jelly with the fatty, tender terrine inside, I swear I’ve gone to heaven and back.

Before dessert, Jason sits down and have a chat with us. He tells us that he doesn’t care much about gastronomy fancy food, the chef hats and what other people are doing in the restaurants, he just likes to cook unpretentious good food and share with friends. His food today speaks volume and I couldn’t agree more, I nod wholeheartedly because my mouth is still full.

“Grab a few more to take with you!” Jason welcomes us to take as many as we like while we are being rushed to finish our lunch quickly because the cars are already waiting outside and we are late for our next destination. The dessert is a simple affair of miniature tarts with the choice of apple or muntries. This is also the first time I have muntries, a native plant South Australia and Victoria. This native plant was always a favourite to the Aboriginal folk and the early settlers will used the berries in pies. The muntries taste just like an apple but not as sweet and with some juniper essence.

We simply cant just leave without tasting Jason’s chocolate which is his expertise after all. We are totally spoiled and grab the chocolate truffles, and cocoa coated almonds by the handful. I leave Cape Jaffa Wines well fed and truly inspired, it is simply the most memorable lunch I’ve ever had for a long long time.

Our next stop is in Robe, a little seaside town where we are going to stay for the night. Full stomach and feeling sleepy from over indulging and not to mention we had a very early start this morning to catch the flight, a nap would be the ideal.

Coastal Cruise

But alas, someone thought is a good idea to put us all into a private charter boat and go for a coaster cruise to check out the seal colony. Full stomach and rough waves don’t mix, but the first glimpse of the seals frolicking on a tiny island immediately perks us up and all excited again.

The inquisitive seals see us coming and instantly jump into the water and swim closer to our boat. Those cheeky buggers are fast, and very difficult to take photos of them especially on a rocking boat. I do have some video footage, will post that on the blog eventually. It is a refreshing little cruise, break away from all the gluttony but not for long, we’ve been told we have a cooking demonstration waiting for us once we get back on land.

Cooking Demonstration

Initially I thought we are heading to a restaurant for the cooking demonstration, but only then realised we are arriving at a stunning beach house not far from the wharf at all. As soon as I walk inside the house, I immediately fall in love with the kitchen with a 270 degree unobstructed sea view! My dream kitchen… This evening, they have invited local chef Adam Brooks who owns a cafe in Robe to demonstrate what he can do by using local produce including mullet fish, muntries berries, emu and also a shark!

Adam’s dad apparently is a fisherman and the whole family knows seafood pretty well. Sharks are very common in this part of water, especially with the seal colonies nearby but they don’t go and hunt them. Usually the baby sharks are accidentally caught in the fishing net. Someone once told me that the fish fillets used for fish n chips are usually shark meat, I believe is a myth but not today.

Adam demonstrates how to fillet a baby shark (not that I will ever to) effortlessly, he yanks the skin like an old boot, then puts the knife just above the bone and slowly slices through the whole length of the fish and the fillet comes out neat and clean.

Time is money, Adam only able to show us two dishes, a pan fried mullet stuffed with preserved olives and lemons, then served with muntries. And the shark is crumbed with dukkah then deep fried, served with a refreshing salad. The shark meat is surprisingly soft and tender as I was skeptical that it will be tough. The Limestone Coast Tourism Board has really packed a full itinerary for us today. We stay less than an hour here and is already time for us to get ready for the dinner!

Caledonian Inn

Tonight we are having dinner at Caledonian Inn, a popular local watering hole which has so much history behind it. With most of the original features remain, this charming 1858 building is the perfect venue for us to wind down after an eventful day, with a special Italian meal prepared by chef Mathew Di Lorenzo.

For entree, my dining companions go for the local octopus Carpaccio, served with organic green lentil and white anchovy salad. As soon as I pull my camera out and start snapping away, my dining companion automatically offers me to have a taste of his dish which I can’t decline. The thinly sliced octopus however is a little overcooked, but the acidity of the lentil and lime juice in the salad does soften it a bit.

I have my eyes on the lobster and opt for the Southern Rock Lobster ravioli. The ravioli is cooked to al dante and a pocket of fresh rock lobster meat inside is sweet and moist. The ravioli is served with a simple roasted tomato sauce and basil oil which is so comforting and I can’t help but mopping it all up with the accompanied bread roll.

Usually I will go for seafood if I am in a seaside town, but not this time as I know the Limestone Coast offers top quality beef that is just as good. So I let my dining companions go for the seared Yellow Fin Tuna served on onion frittata, topped with warm green capsicum, chilli, cherry tomato and pancetta salsa. It looks overcooked from the outside until you cut through the fish to reveal a nice juicy pink flesh inside. My dining companions assure me that it is fantastic.

Then,  here’s my ‘bigger-than-yo-momma’s-hips’ Osso Bucco! This Osso Bucco is Coorong Black Angus Beef and is cooked in Abruzzese style. The monster is simply amazing, braised in a hearty stock of tomato, carrot, and also red chilli pepper which is the flavour from the Abruzzo’s kitchen. The meat is so tender and it simply falls off the massive hollow bone. I only wish I have a bigger appetite to finish it all but I didn’t do too bad and finished most of it only a few mouthfuls left behind. I feel sorry for the ladies who only managed to finish half of their Osso Buccos.

No doubt, the size of the OB has become the talk of the town, and we all joke about whoever can finish the whole damn thing should keep the hollow bone as a souvenir and wear it around the neck as a sign of Victory, for glory!

I am glad that the dessert is small otherwise I would have struggled to finish it. The dessert platter is a trio of baked local fig which is soft and warm, a slice of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and apple slices, and lastly a slice of Mark’s Chocolate Nougat.

Who is Mark?

By the time we finish our dinner, it is almost midnight. It has been a long day, I am exhausted but totally enjoyed it. Especially with the amount of food we ate, I feel like I belong to the seal colony. But perhaps next time, because the bed at the beach house we are staying is too inviting and I dosed off al..mos..t ins….tan..t….zzz.z.zzzzzzz

[A Table For Two attended Tasting Australia as media guest of the festival, courtesy of Tasting Australia and South Australia Tourism. Thanks to all the nice people at Limestone Coast who really looked after us throughout the whole trip. My deepest gratitude goes out to your friendly hospitality.]

Places and restaurants I have visited in Limestone Coast region

Mayura Station
Mayura Road
South Australia 5280
P: 08 8721 3000

Cape Jaffa Wines
Limestone Coast Road
Mount Benson via Robe 5275
Phone  +61 8 8768 5053 or +61 8 8768 5053

Caledonian Inn
1 Victoria Street, Robe. 5276
P: 08 8768 2029

Van Leuvan Culinare
P.O. Box 1359,
Naracoorte, 5271