"Can you smell that?"
stops short and looks at me, her eyes wide with excitement. I can only nod in reassurance as I breathe in deeply.
"It's definitely the smell of suckling pig," I say. "I can smell the fat and the crackling", and we both fall silent as we enter a Homer Simpson-like reverie.
David Clarke, Executive Chef, in the kitchen
We are are a group of eleven pork
-loving food bloggers
this evening, invited by Chophouse to experience a Pig and Pinot
dinner. The star of the show will be the suckling pig, slow-roasted and carved at our table.
Modelled on a traditional New York steakhouse, Chophouse has a moody heavy feel to the place. Dark timber, leather chairs and iron fittings will appeal to blokes. Cow print walls and wooden stall partitions between booths add a touch of the Wild West.
In fact Adam Heathcote, Operations Manager for the Pacific Restaurant Group (Kingsleys and Chophouse) admits that the current male:female ratio of customers is 80:20. This changes during summer when Chophouse salads appear on the menu. He also notes that the introduction of live music on Thursday nights has seen a huge swing in clientele so the male:female ratio is equal.
Jamon and Italian buffalo mozzarella
with roasted fennel, spring onion and almonds
We start with jamon and Italian buffalo mozzarella, soft balls of velvety cheese that have been drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Delicate shavings of jamon add saltiness and toasted almonds give a pleasing crunch. Roasted fennel is sweet and tender but it's the spring onion that I love best, slow cooked until it has become caramelised on the edges.
Our starters are paired with a 2008 Ostler Pinot Gris from the Waitaki Valley, New Zealand, a light wine which is ripe on the palate with notes of pear.
Adam Heathcote, Operations Manager, Pacific Restaurant Group
Ceviche of Hervey Bay sea scallops
with Mt Lowe truffle, avruga and apple
A ceviche of Hervey Bay sea scallops arrives next, garnished with decadent slices of fresh truffle sourced from Oberon only the day before. Executive Chef, David Clarke says he prefers Southern Highlands truffles as they have left distance to travel, and usually take less than a day to arrive.
Despite the shorter travel time, I find that the truffles don't have as intense a flavour as the ones I've tried in Canberra
nor the Perigord Truffles of Tasmania
. David thinks this may have to do with the age of the truffle plantations.
The sophistication of the dish gives an indication of David's career cv which included five years at Quay, working with Peter Gilmore.
The arrival of the suckling pig on a trolley creates a ripple of excitement at our table. Like a swarm of paparazzi, we must have looked quite a sight, a gaggle of lens pointed at the reclining beast as shutters were released with unrepentant urgency.
I was mesmerised. Weighing in a 11kg, the three month-old female is at the upper end of the suckling pig scale, an organic pig sourced from the Macleay Valley near Coffs Harbour. David says the thinness of the skin and the ratio of flesh to fat is unbeatable.
Suckling pig head
The pig, David explains, has been rubbed only with extra virgin olive oil and salt before slow roasting at 140C for two hours. This long and gentle cooking time enables the fat to render under the skin, and gently cooks the denser parts of the animal like the leg and shoulders.
After two hours, the temperature is increased to 240C for 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin into glorious crackling.
Suckling pig butt shot Suckling pig butt and tail David Clarke carving the suckling pig Cutting off the back legs Removing the crackling as one sheet Cauliflower gratin with sourdough and gruyere $7.90
Seasonal green beans with herb butter $7.90
The Wedge $9.90
Crisp iceberg, slow cooked egg, white anchovies, parmesan and speck Suckling pig flesh
Suckling pig crackling
Fresh from the oven, the pork has been cooked to perfection. The flesh is soft, sweet and succulent, surrounded by melting layers of fat. The crackling is thin and earth-shatteringly crisp, shards that snap in two with ease.
Sides of cauliflower gratin and Caesar salad seem a little rich and heavy beside the pork, but the beans offer some cleansing vitamin-rich revival.
I'd called dibs on the cheek earlier on in the evening, and David deposits the jowl on my plate with glee. The jowl is 80% fat but it's the crackling I'm after. We also tuck into the pig's ear as well as the snout - both are mainly mouthfuls of crunch although the snout has a small amount of edible cartilage in the centre.
The pork is paired with a 2006 Ostler Pinot Noir from the Waitaki Valley in New Zealand, smooth with hints of cherry and plum.
Caramelised banana cheesecake with butterscotch and peanut brittle $8
Caramelised banana cheesecake is sweet but not cloying. A sweet biscuit base is covered with thin slices of banana and then a light tangy cheesecake. Shards of peanut brittle are addictive and a splodge of butterscotch is scraped clean.
We're quite surprised to learn that David emphatically prices all desserts at $8-$9. He maintains that desserts do not have to subjected to high profit margins, although he also admits that the lower price point means they tend to sell more, as people will weight up a $15 dessert but are much more carefree when desserts are a mere $8.
Berta Grappa Nebbiolo Tre Soli Tre 2001
To accompany our desserts, we're offered XO Henessy Cognac as well as the distinctly different Berta Grappa Nebbiolo Tre Soli Tre. This is a vintage grappa that is aged for 24 months in old cognac barrels. Unlike the harsh grappas one normally encounters, this version has a beautiful honey colour and a complex range of flavours. We find almond and peach notes that give way to a secondary aftertaste of caramel.
, who happened to be dining at the restaurant that evening, described is as being like "stollen [the German fruitcake with marizpan icing] in a glass".
Chophouse Swiss milk chocolate block $16.50
with caramelised hazelnuts (150g)
Second dessert is a block of Chophouse Swiss milk chocolate set with chunks of caramelised hazelnuts inside. The miniature cleaver and chopping board is perfect for channelling your frustrations.
Chocolate tart $9
with sugared salted macadamias and creme fraiche
And to prove that loitering does have its reward, Suze, John and I find ourselves facing a third dessert to share, a chocolate tart. The shortcrust base is extremely buttery and flaky, the chocolate filling almost mousse-like in lightness, and reassuringly bitter.
Sugared salted macadamias are made by agitating a sugar syrup at high heat until it crystallises and turns white. Creme fraiche is the ideal counterbalance for the richness of the dessert.
Chophouse is planning to open a new carvery section upstairs in the next two months or so. A different meat will be available each night and will be carved to order.
Grab Your Fork dined as a guest of Chophouse.
25 Bligh Street, Sydney
Tel: 1300 CHOP IT or 1300 246 748
Monday to Friday 12pm til late
Saturday 6pm til late
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