Beer and Barossa: A Heavenly Match
Beer and Barossa: A Heavenly Match
5 November 2016
Saskia Beer has worked magic at a Barossa resort, writes Tatyana Leonov.
Ihaven’t yet worked out if shared menus are better or worse. Sure, you get to try more food, but you might end up eating way more.
It could just be the quality of the dishes zipping out. Plump potatoes drizzled in olive oil topped with rosemary sprigs, a silky lentil salad, mouth-watering chicken jazzed up with orange zest, fork- tender slow-roasted lamb . . . it’s impossible to stop when it all tastes this good.
It’s fresh, seasonal and real.
I’m indulging at the revamped The Cellar Kitchen restaurant at Novotel Barossa Valley Resort.
The space was freshened up with features such as larger windows, stone benches, elegant timber furnishings and exposed steel. The result generates a calm, yet rugged ambience – reminding me somehow of a soft hug from a shearer.
The biggest change, however, has been the food. Before the makeover diners perused a la carte menus that featured a strong French theme. Now, shared dishes take precedence and there’s nothing French about them. And that’s thanks to Saskia Beer.
Beer joins us midway through lunch to chat about her collaboration with Novotel Barossa Valley Resort, which she says began as an idea thrown around a few years back with Sarah Henderson, general manager of the hotel.
‘‘Like most good Barossa ideas, it flourished over a bottle of riesling,’’ she says.
The Barossa Valley is renowned for its food and wine, so Beer went to work overhauling the menu to reflect the area. ‘‘We talk to the growers and farmers about what they are going to be producing and plan our menus around that.’’
Most of the food we are tasting today has come from a local garden or farm (exceptions include seafood or beetroot but, where possible, products that can’t be sourced from the Barossa are sourced from elsewhere in South Australia), and I start to understand what terms like ‘‘produce-driven’’ really mean.
‘‘In order to have the supplier relationship that we have, we can’t just say we are going to take the loin or the breast only. We have to take whole animal carcasses,’’ Beer says. ‘‘It works because we are not just doing a la carte. We have conferencing and buffet lunches, so the whole animal will always be used. For example, the loin might be used in the restaurant, the shoulder and legs might be used in buffets or made into hams and prosciuttos.’’
Today the kitchen team know how to bone and break down carcasses; they are starting to document what ingredients are growing on the property grounds (so that guests can be taken out on foraging tours); soon they’ll be pickling and curing – so that in the coming years the restaurant will be able to serve its own produce. ‘‘The idea is that after the first year, as each season rolls through, we will preserve a portion of our own harvest – so that we can use our own jams, preserves, pickles and vinegars in the kitchen,’’ Beer says.
It’s obvious that the revamp hasn’t just resulted in another seasonal-driven menu in the Barossa. Beer’s wealth of experience in farming means that she knows how to raise a premium- quality chook, so it starts way before the cooking. Consequently, her menu picks are about showing off the products. ‘‘My cooking style is simple. I let the protein or vegetables do the talking and use mainly citrus fruits, verjuice and fresh herbs to highlight the flavours,’’ she explains.
We sit and taste and taste and when we are so full that we can’t taste any more, Beer tells us there’s more food tomorrow and cautions us to go light on brekkie.
I do go light on brekkie the next day. Our first stop is the Barossa Farmers’ Market, and having been here before I know the producers love to share around samples.
Held every Saturday morning in the historic Vintners Sheds, this is where everyone comes to stock up on tasty local fare.
The resort has launched several new culinary experiences in partnership with Beer and one of the most popular excursions is a market visit, conducted by Beer and colleagues. Sure, you can explore on your own, but going with someone who knows who’s-who opens up more doors (and yes, that means more tasters). Beer is cooking us lunch later so we split up to shop for ingredients. We have lists with must-buy ingredients, such as fresh herbs, vegies and focaccia, but Beer also stresses we should buy whatever looks tasty and fresh.
Lunch, at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop, is casually elegant. First, Beer prepares mini toasts topped with mushrooms, bacon, Brie and parsley. The cheese is a perfect consistency – partially melted so the rest of the melting process takes place inside your mouth, bringing out the earthy taste of the mushrooms.
Beer serves chicken (one of her own, of course) for the main course, and before roasting it she demonstrates how to debone it. Beer makes it look easy and for a millisecond I even consider doing the same at home.
True to her philosophy, Beer prepares the poultry simply and deliciously, using fresh herbs, lemon juice and verjuice to bring out the flavours. Interestingly, she only roasts it for 20 minutes or so and lets the chook sit out of the oven for another 20. ‘‘Australians tend to overcook chicken because they are afraid of what might happen,’’ she says. ‘‘But you’ll notice when you try the chicken that it is cooked through, but also very succulent.’’
The chook is everything Beer claims it will be – tender and flavoursome. There’s an heirloom tomato and red onion medley peppered with olive oil and herbs, a gutsy terrine, fresh bread and butter . . . so we eat and chat and undo the top buttons of our jeans. But that’s the Barossa for you. You can easily eat healthy food, but it’s not as easy to stick to healthy portion sizes. My excuse is that next time I’m here the seasons will have changed and the produce will be different, so it’s best to try as much as possible right now.
Where to next?
Qantas flies to Adelaide from many of Australia’s cities; from there the Barossa is an easy one-hour drive. See qantas.com
Overlooking a valley, Novotel Barossa Valley Resort has 140 commodious rooms, each one with a kitchenette, workstation and balcony. There is also a heated outdoor swimming pool, a spa, tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course and a gymnasium. See novotelbarossa.com.
Pack loose pants, as you’ll want to try everything on the menu at The Cellar Kitchen. See novotelbarossa.com
Tatyana Leonov was a guest of Accor Hotels.