There are forty black chickens at Grazing, a picturesque restaurant housed in the quaintly rustic Royal Hotel in Gundaroo, about 30 minutes from Canberra. The hens provide eggs for the kitchen, and fertiliser for the garden beds. Two roosters, Leonard Cohen and Tiny Tim, are either in an enviable position, or quite probably hen-pecked!
Grazing at Gundaroo
It's only a short detour to Gundaroo if you're travelling between Sydney and Canberra, a welcome pit-stop to plan around, especially after the closure of Lynwood Cafe in Collector in 2009.
Garden beds and the Royal Hen House down the back
The emphasis here is local produce, and you can't get fresher than the restaurant back garden. After placing our order for lunch, Mr and Mrs Pig Flyin' and I wander the gardens while our meals are being prepared. It's a wonderful way to work up an appetite, soaking up the sun's warmth and pottering about with keen interest as we examine all the produce.
I always feel a childlike entrancement when I see vegetables growing, but then anyone who has a green thumb always gets my admiration. But seeing the work that goes into a working garden: the watering, the weeding, the fertilising and tending, it's hard not to feel a renewed level of respect and appreciation for food, and the effort that goes into every mouthful.
Mizuna lettuce, radicchio and salad leaves
We have to tear ourselves away from the gardens and back to our waiting meals. The restored hotel offers a maze of small dining rooms, a series of cosy nooks with stone walls, open fire places, sturdy timber furniture and squeaking floorboards.
Twice cooked Jerusalem artichoke souffle $17
with fresh fig salad, chestnut cream and brick pastry cigar
The menu has a simplified price structure where all entrees are $17, mains $33 and desserts $16. There are six options in each section. Vegetarians score a separate dedicated page, with two entrees and two mains. Each dish has a suggested wine matching, many of which have been sourced from the Canberra region. I'm also impressed by the Little People's section ($15) which lists macc and cheese, fish and ships or a mini chicken pie, and includes a toy (okay, yes, I was really intrigued by the toy).
We start with one of the vegetarian options, a twice cooked Jerusalem artichoke souffle which is impressively light and fluffy. The brick pastry cigar piped with chestnut cream adds sophistication but it's the souffle we keep returning to with gusto.
Olive oil poached mackerel $17
with confit potato, caramelised onion, raisins and prosciutto crumbs
Mackerel is characteristically strong in flavour but here its fishiness is offset by a bed of caramelised onions, sweet raisins and a trail of salty prosciutto crumbs. Poached in olive oil, the fish has an almost buttery texture.
Caper and lemon crusted lamb brains $17
with shaved fennel, citrus segments and parmesan custard
My choice is the lamb brains, crumbed and deep-fried until a deep golden brown. The brains are lusciously soft and tender, their creamy middles contrasted with the crunchy shell seasoned with crushed capers and lemon zest. It's my favourite dish of the day.
Three rosettes of parmesan custard offer a pleasing cheesiness, but I'm distracted by the refreshing aniseed zing of fresh shavings of fennel mixed with peppery greens.
Ballotine of chicken $33
with truffled salami, spiced pumpkin and herbed quinoa
A ballotine of chicken is impressively moist, wrapped up with a slice of truffled salami that adds richness. The nuttiness of the quinoa is matched well with the spiced pumpkin, diced into delicate cubes.
White Jindabyne rabbit, deboned and wrapped in garden cos $33
with roast onion stuffed with pear and walnuts, Jolly Miller pear cider buerre blanc and watercress
There's much work evident in the Jindabyne rabbit, deboned and shredded before being bundled into a cos lettuce cup and roasted. The roast onion is also a treat, cooked until the layers become deliciously sweet and translucent, stuffed with morsels of pear and walnuts smithereens.
Beer battered thick cut chips with smoked paprika aioli $8
Mesclun grown lovingly in the Chef's garden: organic seasonal lettuce and leaves $8
A side of beer battered chips aren't as heavy, or sadly as crunchy as we'd expected, but we can't help but smile at the description of the mesclun "grown lovingly in the Chef's garden".
The 'Grazing Pie' $33
Cod, scallop, mussel and riesling pie with root vegetables, creamed leek and potato mash
The signature Grazing Pie is the epitomy of comfort food, layers of buttery flaky pastry giving way to a fragrant creamy filling packed with cod, scallop and mussels. Creamed leek, mashed potato and root vegetables give heartiness although it's such a rich dish, I'm glad I'm sharing.
Quince crumble $16
Garden grown quince crumble with candied fresh fig and cinnamon custard
We're all struggling by this point but agree to share one dessert between three, electing for the quince crumble made with quince grown in the garden. The tartness of the quince is helped by the generous heap of oat and hazelnut crumble on top. And the fig is also a treat, the soft flesh protected by a thin armour of caramelised toffee.
Peaceful surrounds and a considered approach to food, we'd be happy to graze here all day.
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The Royal Hotel
Cork Street, Gundaroo, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 6236 8777
Lunch Friday to Sunday 11.30am-3pm and most public holidays
Dinner Thursday to Saturday 6pm-9.30pm
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10/08/2012 12:11:00 a.m.