I grew up with Geoff Jansz on the telly. Didn't we all? What's Cooking at 11am on Channel 9 was a daily ritual during those halcyon days of university. His laugh. His charm. That hair. I still remember the time he looked straight down the barrel of the camera and said "I always get comments about my hair. It's not a wig. Trust me. It's real, " and then pulled at it to prove his hair wasn't going anywhere.
Geoff Jansz at the Campsie Food Festival in 2006
When What's Cooking ended, he moved onto Burke's Backyard, presenting a food segment for ten years until that too, ceased production. Now he's back, off the television and behind the pans at the Geoff Jansz Farm Table restaurant in Mittagong in the Southern Highlands.
Geoff isn't new to the restaurant business. Before his TV gigs he ran two restaurants: the first in Picton, the second one - Aviemore - in Wilton. He closed Aviemore to concentrate on a career in television. Fun fact: Geoff is also a qualified pharmacist, graduating from the University of Sydney in 1984.
The garden behind Geoff Jansz Farm Table
Geoff's farm in the Southern Highlands has been the source of several pickling products that he sells online and at markets and stores around Bowral. The restaurant is the realisation of a long held dream of his to get back into the kitchen. When we bumped into him at the Burrawang Easter Markets a few months ago, his eyes shone as he told us about how much he missed working in a restaurant.
The Farm Table opened in May this year with a soft launch, taking over the former restaurant space at the Fitzroy Inn, a hotel retreat and restaurant set-up that reminds me of Biota Dining. Out the back is a kitchen garden complete with citrus orchard [edit: the kitchen gardens are not used or linked to the Farm Table]. The accommodation rooms overlook a sweeping garden complete with pond and a family of ducks that waddle past us as we make our way up to the restaurant.
The dining room at Geoff Jansz Farm Table
The restaurant is large and inviting, splashed with natural light from the skylights above. The rustic charm of exposed sandstone, pockets of moss, raw timber and weathered shutter board windows is elevated with crisp linen and gleaming stemware. There's plenty of space between tables too.
Home grown pickled chillies
Wines by the glass are all an affordable $8 - two whites and two reds from South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand.
Pork hock terrine $18
Sweet mustard dressing, butter lettuce and pickles
We kick off with the pork hock terrine, three slices of soft and tender pork chunks set in a wobble of aspic. It's one of my favourite dishes of the day, simple but hearty, served on a salad of greens from the garden and a sweet mustard dressing that we want to lick clean.
Steamed ricotta, parmesan and spinach gnocchi $18
Heirloom tomato sugo and basil oil
The steamed ricotta, parmesan and spinach gnocchi are more like giant steamed dumplings, so delicate and light that a fork slips through them with ease. The heirloom tomato sugo and basil oil make one big Italian flag on the plate.
The Farm Plate $12
Pickles, dips, house cured or Salumi Australia charcuterie
We also spring for the Farm Plate, a selection of pickles, dips and charcuterie. The salamis are tasty but it's the quenelle of carrot that blows our mind, so smooth and nutty and sweet without being cloying. The grated beetroot and the pickled cucumbers are also highlights.
Complimentary house made milk buns
House made milk buns are perfect pillows of springy softness. They're sweet enough that butter isn't necessary, but we slather it on greedily anyway.
Rich and flavoursome cotechino sausage $38
Cotechino is an Italian sausage that combines pork meat with pork skin and spices. It's made by Geoff himself, something that Harry wasn't even aware of until we ask him to check. After initially telling us the sausage comes from a local supplier, Harry comes back from the kitchen and confesses that "Dad made it", a newly acquired skill after a recent trip to Italy.
The sausage is lush and succulent, complemented by a side serve of cauliflower cooked with anchovies and raisins that adds a Middle Eastern riff.
Slow cooked Moroccan lamb with raisin, onion and tomato relish $38
The Moroccan lamb is another dish borne from an overseas trip. "We went to Morocco together," says Harry, "and we're still working on the flavours of this dish." They needn't worry. It's a masterful blend of aromatic spices, with a deboned lamb shank that falls apart with a nudge of a fork. The accompanying couscous is almost tasty enough to eat on its own, each grain fluffy and separate, and bright yellow in hue.
Duo of beef - dry aged Hunter Valley striploin and Cowra eye fillet $42
with wilted rocket and garlic and red wine reduction
The duo of beef is the most expensive main but all is forgiven once you hit the Cowra eye fillet. The prized medallion is as soft as butter. The dry aged Hunter Valley striploin has a satisfying chew but it's the Madeira sauce that I'd happily drown in, a glossy demi-glace that hugs every tastebud.
Burnt hazelnut and Frangelico parfait $18
on a toffee, apple and date soil
We're torn over the choice of four desserts, eventually passing up the spiced quince galette and the fruits in blueberry and Cointreau syrup for the burnt hazelnut and Frangelico parfait. It's a visually striking dish, especially with the shards of toffee that sparkle like diamonds against the apple and date soil.
The two fat wedges of parfait are rich and creamy, studded with bits of hazelnut praline and only a faint whiff of Frangelico. Together it eats a little bit too sweet - the parfait with the caramel sauce, date soil and toffee - but the parfait on its own is an easy crowd pleaser.
Gingered oranges with cardamom anglaise and rich flourless chocolate cake $18
And in the name of research we have the rich flourless chocolate cake too. The slightly undercooked fudgy consistency is offset by the warm spiciness of the cardamom anglaise and the citrus zing of gingered orange segments.
There's no handshake tour of the dining room by Geoff today, but we do spot him in the kitchen, a rare reassurance that the chef's name on the door is the same person cooking your meal. I reckon Geoff wouldn't want it any other way.
Geoff Jansz Farm Table at the Fitzroy Inn
1 Ferguson Crescent, Mittagong
Tel: +61 (02) 4858 0770
Lunch Saturday and Sunday from 12pm
Dinner Thursday to Saturday from 6.30pm
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
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Southern Highlands - Biota Dining, Bowral
Southern Highlands - Brigadoon at Bundanoon
Southern Highlands - Mittagong tunnel mushroom tour
Southern Highlands - Mushroom picking at Belanglo State Forest
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6/28/2015 02:13:00 a.m.