Sunday, 13 January 2013

One Last Hurrah for Annie Smithers Bistro

There are a lot of things in rural Victoria. Fields. Trees. Flannel shirts. And sheep...lots and lots of sheep. But perhaps something that not too many of us would expect to find are fine dinning restaurants. Very quietly, a fine food movement, focusing on fresh produce and slow food, has been brewing in these somewhat lesser-known places, resulting in the opening of some culinary food gems. One chef that seems ahead of the eight ball is Annie Smithers, who opened her self titled bistro (Annie Smithers...obvs), located in Kyneton Victoria, in 2005. Upon hearing the news that she was selling up to focus on her newly opened cafe, Du Fermier in Trentham, I knew I would tackle bulls and rough my way through Aussie bush just to eat there...though being only an hour and a half (and mostly freeway) drive from Melbourne, my expert orienteering skills were not required. Actually, that's probably a good thing...we may have ended up in Queensland otherwise. For this particular occasion I chose to wear a pretty, appropriately country-seeming frock by Australian brand Fabled and True, paired with simple pastel earrings from Frou Frou.

The Annie Smithers bistro, located on the historic Piper Street in Kyneton, has a seasonally driven menu where much of the produce is grown fresh from Annie's kitchen garden in the close by town of Malmsbury. The result is a small but succinct French bistro-style menu, which has an offering of four entrées, five mains and four desserts, along with side dishes and the option of a cheese course. Even though choice was somewhat limited, it still took me a long time to decide on what to order (this may however have something to do with my indecisive tendencies...just the other day it took me 40 minutes to decide what shoes to wear with my outfit...though this may have something to do with my shoe fetish), but eventually I felt as though I'd frustrated the waiter enough and we made our choices. For me it would be the quail with sage, lemon and prochiutto and for my Country Bumpkin Companion it was the scollops with chorizo, tomato and aioli. My quail was perfectly cooked; tender and juicy with the crispy prochiutto adding that necessary crunch. Though not a big meat eater at all, it's deliciousness made me forget that it once had a face and feathers. I'm sure it was glad to die for the sake of my taste buds, right? We perfectly paired our entrès with a light, crisp and delicately acidic Sauvignon Blanc...though I think it's appropriateness had less to do with my wine knowledge (which mostly comes from picking the bottles that are either A) the cheapest or B) have the prettiest labels) and more to do with luck.

 Scollops with chorizo

 My dead-for-a-great-cause quail

I was just as impressed with my main course as I was with the entrée. The pan roasted Sea Bass was cooked wonderfully, though somehow, it was the simple broth along with the potatoes, broad beans, peppers and mussels that had the biggest flavour. It seems that organic and freshly grown vegetables, just taste, well, more vegetabley. Unless Annie is feeding them some kind of flavour enhancing drug...though this seems unlikely. Dessert was a gooey, alcoholicy, creamy concoction of a trifle with baked rhubarb, savioardi biscuits soaked in Pedro Ximenez (a Spanish liqueur...mmm foreign alcohol) covered in a vanilla-spiked custard and topped with cream. I promise, it was just as good as it sounds. The flavour of the alcohol cut cleanly through the cream and the slightly tart rhubarb perfectly balanced out the sweetness of the dish.

 Pan roasted Sea Bass

 Pork with potatoe, spinich and grilled stone fruits

I had no trifles what so ever with this trifle

It'll be sad to say goodbye to such an iconic regional restaurant, and there really is something special about the food at Annie Smithers. It's not swanky or complicated and the menu isn't about this fandangled sharing plate business (and it's even recommended that you book a reservation-good God, could it really be!). It's about real, honest, tasty food, brought to you fresh from your surrounds. If you ask me, it can't really get better than that. Even all the sheep agree with me...and they make up a good 86% of rural Victoria's population.

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