It’s deceptively simple in appearance yet there are delicately nuanced flavours that take me by surprise – it’s a rare delight. This is my first little tasting plate at Botanic Wine Garden, Port Macquarie; it will be one of a pleasurable many. The dish is presented in an elegant shallow bowl that’s painted with ingredients: sashimi kingfish, buttermilk, apple, basil oil, green chilli and fennel – it looks beautiful and the wine match is stellar.
On pour is a small batch Chardonnay all the way from the granitic soils of Beechworth Victoria, label name, Two Cells. Its palate is flinty and layered with gentle touches of seasoned oak combined with other more complex wild yeast elements. These tastes play well with the fresh seafood and buttermilk; the latter is gently smoked and balanced with a topping of sweet and sharp-tasting bright green basil oil. Finely diced green chilli adds just the right amount of heat and the fennel adds an aromatic aniseed finishing lift. The dish and the wine prove a taste sensation.
Proprietor Joel Murdoch is a a super smooth operator. During service he calmly manages the bar/eatery with a razor sharp focus attending to customers and directing staff – all of this seems second nature. But his foremost focus is customer service. A willing conversationalist, he talks passionately about his rare and hard to source premium wines and high-quality food ingredients, and of our nation’s great winemakers and their up and coming, young-gun winemaker sons and daughters. It’s a bit of a lesson in history and geography, but I’m all ears.
While delivering plates of food, another story unfolds, as he elaborates on the origins of the ingredients and the creative cooking methods, which others might not have dared tackle. If you’re looking to discover something new in Australian dining, then Botanic Wine Garden is the place.
As the name suggests, a host of Australian botanicals work their way into the drinks and dishes, including of course, select tonics served with gins – but also in blended non-alcoholic house made options like a water-based passionfruit kefir made by Joel’s parter Eline. ‘The passionfruit are pinched from our neighbour’s vines – they grow like weeds up here’, she says. The kefir is refreshing and slightly tart, carrying a naturally fermented sparkling bubble. It’s sometimes used as an alternate drink mixer explains Joel; however I enjoy it straight up, and it goes well with the next plate of aromatic gin-cured ocean trout, crème fraîche, apple, dill oil and croutes.
It’s at this time my mind connects with the venue’s music playlist, a series of well chosen rock gems that elevate my mood. And the goods keep on coming: Roxanne, Barracuda and Stairway to Heaven have set the scene; then Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run kicks in with energy and power as Joel places in front of me a charcoal grilled chicken yakitori, seasoned with an in-house ‘botanic tōgarashi’. Joel’s yakitori features an Australian bush version of the Japanese spice mix shichimi tōgarashi. It has some decent chilli kick, but also a range of more subtle Australian bush pepper flavours. Served with garlic confit, the grilled, spiced flesh is quickly consumed; each bite now accompanied with The Clash’s Joe Strummer belting out the words: ‘I fought the Law and the Law Won.’ A song about nonconforming, which seems fitting considering Joel’s approach to keeping diners on the edge of their seats. He delivers a continued list of unexpected, yet fantastic taste sensations, like the charred W.A. baby octopus with bullhorn pepper rouille and charred leeks. I could be in Catalonia tasting this, with the blackened tender tentacles crunchy, smokey and nice; and the charred leek skins peeling back to reveal sweet and juicy flesh inside.
Many of the wines at Botanic can be dispensed by Coravin and are guaranteed to impress. I’m lucky enough to score a vertical tasting of three Joshua Cooper pinot noirs; each showcasing fruit from differing cool climate regions of Victoria: a Macedon Ranges and Romsey blended, a Mount Macedon single vineyard, and a South Gisborne and Port Phillip/Gippsland blended. While each offer differing complexities, amongst them forest floor, cherry and other more earthy aromas, I’m floored by the Mount Macedon with its unbelievably clean and super delicate perfumes of strawberries and musk that announce themselves perfectly.
Via Joel’s Coravin device – a wine preservation system that draws wine through a needle without removing the cork – means that I, along with other guests, are able to sample rare wines without their lifespan being limited, as effectively the bottle is never uncorked. I’m deeply grateful for the Coravin’s invention and for the opportunity of tasting these incredible wines. The Victorian pinot noirs are just a small selection of what’s on offer, as Botanic Wine Bar features a 49-bottle highly recognised list. Having each year scoring ‘2 Glasses’ in the Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards: ‘hopefully we’re a hot contender for 3 Glasses in 2019,’ Joel explains with cheeky, yet confident smile.
My meal concludes with hand rolled gnocchi, spinach, melted manchego cheese oozing (how did they know I love it), and charred leek. The gnocchi are like tiny pillows of fluffy air; the cheese and spinach mix is rich, creamy, nutty, earthy. The dish is just the right size and is lightly filling. Loads of umami goodness tantalises the palate until last bite and last wine sip.
Eating and drinking at Botanic Wine Garden delivered me continuous feelings of glee born of delicate flavours paired with skill and care. It’s a hero of Port Macquarie’s energetic food scene and a new standout leader in modern Australian dining.
Botanic Wine Garden
Glasshouse Forecourt, Shop 3/26 Clarence St,
Port Macquarie, NSW
Tel 02 6584 3685