Buttered up for a long lunch

Name: Loam
Address: 650 Andersons Rd Drysdale, Victoria, Australia
Ph: (03) 5251 1101
Web: http://www.loam.com.au
Owners/Chefs: Aaron and Astrid Turner
Hours: Wed-Sun noon-3pm; Fri-Sat 6.30pm-late

People who have read my previous posts will know that I have a thing about places getting the bread at the start of the meal right. As one of the first things you encounter when you get the restaurant, it is important to not turn people off with poor quality butter and a bland loaf. It should, quite literally, be part of their bread and butter. So I strongly believe that when there is a place that serves with dinner unlimited amounts good quality sourdough and twice whipped butter than tastes like fudge, it is well worth travelling hours to get there.

Thankfully, Loam is only an hour and a half from Melbourne (admittedly, quite a bit further if you start from Canberra). Located on an olive grove down a sometime gravel track on the Bellarine Peninsular, Loam is the relatively new and highly acclaimed restaurant from Aaron and Astrid Turner. With Aaron in the kitchen after returning from stints at Europe’s top restaurants, including Noma, and Astrid running the floor, this is one of the most talked about places to eat in Australia at the moment.

The room is set up beautifully. The substantial space is only set up for about 30 diners, so everyone has room to move. In the centre of the room was a long bench, covered with examples of the wonderful fresh, seasonal produce that they use. The full-length windows overlooked the olive trees, with a vista stretching out to the storms over Queenscliff. It’s designed to make you feel comfortable.

Comfort is, in truth, the order of the day, which is important for a four hour meal. The service is near faultless, being friendly, informative and engaging, not to mention and willing to do whatever to accommodate you. On our table, only one wanted a full wine matching, with the other three only looking for half that amount. Our waiter was happy to acquiesce, providing one and three half rounds of matching wines. That is the level of service you get, and really it is what you need over a meal this long.

Much has been said elsewhere about the ordering, or more correctly the lack of it, so I will not go into it much. Except to say that, for me, the real appeal came from having obscure ingredients explained, with the aid of the actual item. For a trivia buff like me, it was fascinating to learn what jicama is.

But back to the butter. This Tartra butter that has been whipped once, then whipped again with a little burnt butter. Light, creamy, and given a caramel flavour from that touch of burnt butter, this is what most butter dreams to be. If I ever learn how to make that it will probably lead me to an early, but oh so happy, grave.

The rest of the food, from the crisp radish to begin through to the end, was fresh, innovative and interesting. The flavours were universally excellent, if often quite subtle.

A ‘cous cous’ made of broccoflower (a cross between broccoli and cauliflower) is piled over horseradish custard, fresh sand crab and balls of nashi, creating an unexpectedly layered combination of flavours. A plate of different mushrooms and pine needle yoghurt helped me start to overcome my aversion to fungus. Beetroot and kingfish was liftded by a seawater emulsion, while a sous vide piece of veal rump was made more exciting by the addition of squid ink and milk skin. As for the only cheese course I’ve ever eaten with a spoon, the spiced loaf really worked with the Cabot’s Cheddar from the US.

But for me the real unexpected delight came from a dish of wagyu beef tartar. The subtle meatiness of the scraped rump was served with a spread of earthy slow cooked egg yolk, some quid, and a dust of juniper and squid wings, all of which added complexity to the dish. However, the thing that really made this dish was the addition of wild garlic flowers. I have had made dishes with flowers, and not all of them really add anything. That was not the case here, with the wild garlic giving the meat a punchiness that, when softened by that egg yolk, made an excellent dish.

The other highlight was the dessert of mandarin sorbet with almond meal and coconut cream foam. A deceptively simple dish, the excitement here came from the fact that the sorbet was made not with just the sweet flesh of the mandarin, but also with the bitter peel. The flavour was more like that smell that comes when you first break the skin of the fruit. Different, and brilliant.

I was slightly sad that we didn’t get the chance to try the famed and award winning pork dish. The dining group I was with was a real pig loving group. Unfortunately that’s just a risk you take when there is no menu. It just means that I will need to go back for another seven (or more) courses.

The wine matching was excellent, with interesting local and international selections. Each glass came with a brief history about the wine or winery, which added to the experience. Favourites included a 2009 Sorrenberg Gamay that played on the savouriness of the beef tartar, and a light, zesty 2009 McAdam’s Lane Zinfandel that helped the cheese course really ping.

Some at the table felt that, while the meal was excellent, but that it lacked that final punch that makes a meal truly memorable. I say, who needs a knockout blow when the full 12 rounds are this good.

Loam really understands the way to do a long lunch, and they deliver brilliantly. When you go, and I strongly suggest you do, make sure you take the time, and get into the experience. Ask questions, be adventurous, and take in what they tell you.

And make sure to enjoy that butter.


About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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