McCubbin-like bush setting: Berowra Waters Inn.
What is it that makes a chef take on a restaurant such as Berowra Waters Inn? It's not exactly easy to get to, being on a stretch of the Hawkesbury River an hour out of town. Comparisons with its roll-call of high-profile chefs, from Tony Bilson, Gay Bilson and Janni Kyritsis to Dietmar Sawyere, are inevitable. Staff must be difficult to procure. And can you really run a business and make a living out of just three lunches and two dinners a week? Surely there are easier gigs around Sydney.
Owner-chef Brian Geraghty, who trained at London's Pied a Terre and Sydney's Quay, puts it down to ''youthful foolishness'' (he has just turned 30).
"We wanted to do justice to the inn's history," he says. "Guests make a massive effort to come here, so we need to show that same effort back two-fold, or we won't survive."
Bacon and egg is a standout for lovers of the all-day breakfast.
The undeniably Australian building reflects architect Glenn Murcutt's philosophy of ''touching the earth lightly'', its handsome wall of louvred windows seemingly floating above the green-gold river. It's worth the trip in its own right, especially when you tootle across the river on a little punt. The relative calm of the McCubbin-like bush setting is broken as three successive seaplanes taxi up to the restaurant's pontoon.
Clearly, people are still willing to make a massive effort to come here.
And yes, the same effort is coming back two-fold from the kitchen, given the eye-catching, artfully arranged dishes that come in orchestrated waves to the double-clothed tables.
Goat cheese bavarois coated with beetroot gel. Photo: Ben Rushton
The slip of a menu - degustation only, $175 a person - gives little away. Scallops, brandade and cauliflower. Sweetbread and pumpkin. Apple and doughnut. Seven in all, a reminder that you are not here for a quick bite to eat but a luxurious, time-is-no-object experience. It kicks off with a punchy, refreshing appetiser of tomato, in gel, leaf and sorbet form; clean and balanced. Next up, seafood. Lightly blowtorched Hokkaido scallops with a creamy brandade, crisped ocean trout skin, and an intense, roasted cauliflower puree. Soft, satiny confit ocean trout with lemon foam, smoked milk and dashi-flavoured crisps is all cream, crunch and class.
Each dish bears different elements while belonging to the same family. One, of bacon and egg, is a standout for lovers of the all-day breakfast. The bacon is sauteed with shallots and bacon fat, then blended in a high-tech Pacojet to a micro-puree. The egg is permeated with Perigord truffles for a week, then slowly poached at 66C and placed on top.
A fine tangle of crisp potato strings form the ''chips'', and a pool of roast potato consomme sends out earthy campfire potato aromas.
Neither a baton of slow-cooked duck breast with a mini duck-filled cabbage roll, nor an overly honeyed savoury course of sweetbreads, pumpkin and pistachios particularly rock my boat, but elegance, delicacy and precision are maintained throughout.
Sommelier Victoria Zwierzynski, Geraghty's partner, offers intriguing off-the-radar wine matches (for an extra $75 per person) from a thoughtful, wide-ranging list that includes a fresh and fragrant 2012 Sierra Cantabria Rosado (rosé) from Rioja ($52/$17).
A final flurry of sweet dishes begins with goat cheese bavarois coated with beetroot gel, served with a beetroot sorbet and a soil of licorice, almond, muscovado and olive. The grand finale plays with the elements of an apple crumble, paired with a bewitching little sugar-dusted doughnut.
Now into their second year at the inn, Geraghty and Zwierzynski and their sweet, slightly formal service team are deeply invested in making it worth the "massive" effort to get there. It is.
Best bit: The river, the bush, the building.
Worst bit: You can't go fishing between courses.
Go-to dish: Bacon and egg.
- 02 9456 1027
- Cuisine - Modern Australian
- Prices - Seven-course degustation menu, $175 a person.
- Features - Accepts bookings, Private dining, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Brian Geraghty
- Owners - Brian Geraghty
- Opening Hours - Lunch Fri-Sun; Dinner Fri-Sat.
- Author - Terry Durack