The Argyle Inn review

Roast chicken with corn and leeks from the bistro menu.
Roast chicken with corn and leeks from the bistro menu. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

80 Orchard St Taralga, NSW 2580

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Features Licensed
Phone 02 4840 2003

It's dark, it's cold, I've been driving for hours, and I'm really, really hungry. Things couldn't be more perfect.

To fully appreciate the changes that Holmbrae Chicken's Hugh Wennerbom and Bannaby Angus beef farmer Keith Kerridge have made to this once run-down, 143-year-old country inn, there is no point arriving all well fed and toasty.

You want to push that front door open and be hit in the face with a warm hubbub of humanity. And that's exactly what happens. Locals stand around the front bar (all nooks and crannies, snugs and stools), where Wennerbom's son Henry is pouring schooners of crisp, clean Coast Ale from Canberra's Capital Brewing Co.

The must-have dish of gnocchi with kangaroo ragu.
The must-have dish of gnocchi with kangaroo ragu. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Can-do young waitstaff ferry auntie's floral china into the dining rooms and stack more wood onto the fire. Out back, there are pumpkins for the apocalypse.

I've booked into the dining room for the special six-course set menu, but – as ever – everything I want to eat is on the bistro menu. Roast chicken. Lamb shank and lentils. Beef cheeks and beans. Talk about Dark FOMO.

On Saturday nights, the main dining room – all gilt mirrors, crystal chandeliers, freshly cut flowers and mahogany chairs – spills into the more casual "poster" room, its walls lined with old '50s Qantas posters.

Smoked duck with beetroot and red cabbage and with winey, grapey juices.
Smoked duck with beetroot and red cabbage and with winey, grapey juices. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

I'm among a happy mix of city people trying to look like country people, and country people who wouldn't want to look like city people anyway.

And it's the same with the food, which isn't trying to be anything other than what it is: carefully sourced, super-seasonal, home-grown and thoughtfully cooked.

Head chef Brenden Gradidge grew up locally and spread his wings at Sydney's Bentley and Brisbane's Urbane and Esquire. Now he's back, working with former Iggy's baker Hunter Carlburg in the vast kitchen overlooking the kitchen garden and terraced courtyard complete with pizza oven.

The dining room at the Argyle Inn has old-fashioned charm.
The dining room at the Argyle Inn has old-fashioned charm.  Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Chunks of just-warmed Iggy's bread hit the table, with a first course of panko-crumbed fresh Meredith Dairy goat's cheese. The clean, lactic tang is balanced by a chop of red peppers; simple and fresh.

Then things turn wintry – and more local – with a come-hither dish of velvety potato gnocchi sauced with a beautifully judged kangaroo ragu under a shower of parmigiano.

By now, I'd be happy to go and sit by the fire with the Torbreckian rich roundness of a Canberran Four Willows Shiraz, the Inn's biggest seller at $60. But then I'd miss the crisp-skinned, pink-hued Goulburn River trout, autumnally served with fruity, ruby-red cabbage and beetroot. There's good synergy with the next course, too – sliced, lightly smoky duck with winey, grapey juices, paired with fat, squishy potatoes, slow-roasted in duck fat until they taste wonderfully feudal.

The crumbed goat's cheese and red peppers is simple and fresh.
The crumbed goat's cheese and red peppers is simple and fresh. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Next, an old-school baked custard that's like creme brulee without the brulee, paired with a dollop of stewy rhubarb and strawberries. Then a cheesy book-end of D'Argental double-cream Lingot with crisp house-made lavash. Nice, but it bursts the locavore bubble.

The reality of running a restaurant in the country – no daily deliveries, more 'roo found on the side of the road than in the butcher, no cheese-maker within cooee – keeps intruding on my middle-class fantasy, and no doubt on theirs, too.

But hey, whatever it takes. They'll get there. This is such a great idea, and it's so good already, that I'm in. Which is lot better, right now, than being out.

The low-down

The Argyle Inn

Vegetarian Not a massive choice. Best to let them know when booking.

Drinks Canberra Brewing Co beer on tap at the bar, plus a new-school, natural-leaning wine list that's strong on Canberra locals.

Go-to dish Gnocchi with kangaroo, as part of set dinner menu.

Pro tip Stay overnight in one of six comfortable guest rooms, from $220 a double.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

https://theargyleinn.com.au/