Housed within one of Australia’s grandest heritage listed buildings – the former Lands Administration Building (which was erected in 1905) – is the Treasury Hotel. Although part of the Treasury Hotel & Casino, the Hotel itself is separated from the bustling crowds and gaming rooms housed in the Treasury Building by the Queens Gardens (I should know…I ended up in the wrong building and had to ask for directions).
Credit: The Buchan Group
Within this beautiful piece of early twentieth century architecture (where no two rooms are alike) is the lab bar + restaurant, which I was fortunate to be invited to last Thursday evening to try their latest menu. With a reputation for food innovation, unique flavour combinations and a flair for molecular gastronomy, to say I was a little excited would be an understatement (I even wore my Silver Fox fur jacket for the occasion).
Walking through the old wooden brass handled doors to the hotel I immediately felt transported back to another time. The old world charm (a steel cage elevator and wooden balustrades lining the staircase) and opulent décor and furnishings (leather armchairs and red flocked carpets) gave me an immediate sense of distinguished glamour and stature. Walking into the restaurant itself and we were greeted with high ceilings, a lavish mahogany saloon style bar and light 20’s style music to fully envelope the senses and transport you back in time.
We were seated at a large bay window with pristine white table clothes and velveteen chairs and swiftly served drinks. Whilst the Barossa Shiraz being poured out for the other guests at the table smelt heavenly, I opted for a mocktail of the maître d’s choice, which was an incredibly luscious combination of strawberry and lime finished with fresh raspberries.
To start our evening’s food experience we were served an amuse bouche of lamb on pumpkin puree and a puffed grain crumb. Served cold it was refreshing and light and wet our appetites for what was to come…
Our lovely host had already selected a range of entrees to share and shortly after receiving our drinks the plates arrived. We were lucky enough to have the talented Lauren Curmi (one of the three female Sous Chefs at The Treasury with Linda Swanson at Market Buffet and 2GO Snack Bar and Sarah Ghim at Fat Noodle) looking after us that evening and she came out to our table to introduce herself and present the dishes. It’s apparently a rare thing to find females working in such a high-pressure positions in the kitchen (particularly at one like the lab) and so it was wonderful to see. Lauren is clearly passionate about what she creates having spent the previous three years in pastries for the Treasury and is now excited to be working the finer details into savoury dishes using local and sustainable produce.
The first dish of Scallops with lentils, cauliflower, speck and onion vinaigrette was simply divine. The scallops themselves (from Hervey Bay as local scallops aren’t able to be sourced sustainably) were like butter. Creamy and perfectly pan fried with that slight caramelisation on top they were superbly complimented by the French style Puy lentils (which are soaked overnight and made the traditional way), creamy cauliflower and tangy dressing.
Moving onto the Risotto with pea, double smoked speck, spinach and Parmesan and I kid you not it has to be the best I have ever tasted in a restaurant. Tangy acidic notes from the crème fraiche that was mixed into it at the end and finished with butter made this dish highly indulgent but well worth every calorie. Smokey bacon bits and bursts of fresh pea flavours as well as the sharpness of the Parmesan all mingled in the mouth with the just al dente risotto rice.
Finally, the Quail Ballantine wrapped in prosciutto with parsnip, sweet corn and cavolo nero was juicy and succulent and was certainly the prettiest of the entrees. Presented with edible flowers and in such a way so that you could see the precise technique that went into its construction. Although I felt the quail was slightly overpowered by the flavour of the prosciutto I wasn’t about to complain because the prosciutto itself was superb – crispy and salty as it should be. But it was the sweet corn purée that it was served with that was the standout element on the plate. Made with a hint of vanilla bean it was the perfect accompaniment to counter balance the saltiness of the prosciutto.
After a palate cleanser of mango sorbet, our Sous Chef Lauren again came out with our mains to take us through the preparation and cooking methods. I, together with our host, settled on the Venison with celeriac, baby beets, edamame and cacao jus, whilst out companions chose the Lamb backstrap with soubise, pesto, labna and rosti potato and the House made beetroot ravioli with confit tomato, crumbled feta, fried basil.
The dish that we all immediately zeroed in on was the Beetroot ravioli – wow. The ravioli pasta itself is actually made with beetroot, which has been dehydrated and ground down to a powder before combining into the pasta mixture, thus making the pasta itself a rich deep maroon red. It was truly impressive with a wonderfully salty sweet beetroot and feta filling inside.
The Lamb backstrap was equally good – perfectly pink it was elevated by the mint pesto and precision layered rosti with its crispy outer layers.
However, (and I may be bias), the standout for me was definitely my order of the Venison with celeriac, edamame and cacao jus. Each bite was complete and utter food bliss. I can still close my eyes and recall the sensory overload of scents and flavours. Served medium rare as game meat should be, the meat itself was silky and rich – but when combined with the cacao jus? I’m at a loss for words. It was like a sweet gravy mixed with gamey meat juices that had notes of dark chocolate…and it was heavenly. Complimented by the light flavours of the celeriac puree and bursts of fresh green al dente edamame it certainly was a dish to remember.
Finally for dessert (because of course we couldn’t come without trying dessert) we took Lauren’s recommendations of the Espresso Japonaise layered with butter cream mirror glaze finish, the chai crème brulée with lychee & orange compote and citrus macaron (which was her baby when it came convincing the kitchen to combine lychees with brulée) and the Chocolate Tart with 70% cacao, raspberry marshmallow, boysenberry ice cream.
The Espresso Japonaise was first and this is where the molecular gastronomy techniques shone. The opera style cake with layers of light spongy meringue, chocolate ganache and espresso butter cream (which according to Lauren had too many layers but we certainly weren’t taking off any points!) was served with what could best be described as a crème anglaise egg. Lauren explained that once they prepare the crème anglaise they allow it to cool before putting it in the freezer to become rock solid. Once frozen they take it out and dip it repeatedly into a ‘special lab solution’ until a yolk like layer forms around it. Our host did the honour of cracking it open and watching the anglaise ooze out like a perfectly poached egg. It was truly a visual delight! Oh and it tasted phenomenal as well, especially when it was smothered onto the opera cake with some vanilla bean ice cream.
Next the chocolate tart on a sable base literally tasted like a gourmet Jaffa truffle and had big hits of orange flavour throughout the dense chocolate layer. My favourite element on the plate, however, was the creamy boysenberry ice-cream (for which I am an absolute sucker).
Finally, it was I who had the honour to ‘knack’ the brulée with my spoon. And ‘knack’ it certainly did. Light and fluffy it was everything a brulée should be with that quintessentially custard-egg like texture and taste but was elevated by the orange and lychee syrup once drizzled on top.
And just to share the desserts aftermath…I somehow ended up with three spoons and a fork on my plate!
Overall, the evening was outstanding with impeccably executed inventive food that excited the taste buds as well as genuine and attentive service throughout. Many thanks again Treasury Heritage Hotel and the lab bar + restaurant for an evening I will savour for a long time to come!
What has your Treasury experience been?