Now that the rumours are true - that Stefano Manfredi is officially on the high calibre list of celebrity chefs opening a restaurant in the new Star City development, does it mean there'll be a little less sparkle at central coast gem Bell's at Killcare? Not likely, if this closely knit team have anything to do with it.
There are pros and cons to working in food, and receiving invitations to fantastic food-related experiences are definitely a perk of the job. So when one arrived a few weeks ago, inviting me to check out what's happening at this secluded central coast gem, who's complaining, really?
|Polpettine di melanzana|
This past weekend, a handful of unfortunate food peeps, including Inside Cuisine's Rebecca Varidel, Good Living's Carli Ratcliff, Gourmet Rabbit's Denea Buckingham, Open House's Ylla Wright, Gosstronomy's Michael Shafran, the guys from Tasted By Two and myself journeyed to the central coast to check out what Stefano and his team have been up to in Killcare.
|Pomodorino primavera, carciofi, crema di cannellini|
2 hours, a car crash on the F3, a few newspapers and a very patient driver later, we arrive in the lush coastal surrounds of the Bell's property and greeted by gracious host Julie Manfredi-Hughs. We're told that a tour of the grounds with Mr Manfredi is in order, but not without sampling the menu and some spectacular Italian wines first.
|Calamaretti insaccati, polenta di Storo|
8 acres of property means that unlike urban restaurants, Bell's can grow a large proportion of the produce that ends up on the table right there on the grounds, thanks to plenty of sunshine, lush soil and a group of dedicated gardeners and chefs who gather fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs within steps of the kitchen's back door.
We start with polpettine de melanzana - tiny, crisp-crumbed globes of eggplant and melty pecorino, served with salsa verde, and pomadoro primavera, carciofi, crema di cannelini - a dish of fragrant spring tomatoes, braised artichokes and cannellini cream, all a testament to the beauty of fresh produce and the fact that vegetarian dishes can be substantial, flavoursome and entirely whole without meat.
|Petto d'anitra arrosto, rapa all'agro, cime in padella|
Next, a little frutti di mare - calamaretti insaccati, polenta di Storo - soft calamari tubes stuffed with minced prawns, fresh tomato and creamy polenta, sacchetti d'agnello - parcels of tender lamb, encased in pasta, as well as roasted duck breast with pickled turnips and braised turnip tops, the latter extolling that the nose-to-tail philosophy can (and should) extend to vegetables.
|Torta di ciliegie, gelao di pioli e rosmarino|
Before we head to the garden, the baked cherry custard tart with pine nut and rosemary gelato tops off our seasonal Italian meal - the richness of the custard tart, offset by new season cherries and praline crumbs topped with the herbal tones of rosemary in the gelato.
|Steve shares some gardening tips|
|A spare set of chef whites, for safe keeping in the garden|
Stefano's keen to show us what's happening outside of the restaurant though - plans for the kitchen gardens are in action, with everything from onions, asparagus, garlic, rainbow chard, radishes, zucchini and other Australian and Italian varietal crops grown from seed and harvested in view of hotel guests each morning. We're told a new greenhouse is in development to nurture seedlings, as well as a series of new guest houses down by the new garden site.
|The ducks by the dam were not harmed in the cooking of our lunch|
|Ladies in the hen house|
The Bell's chicken coop is slightly larger than your average studio apartment back in Sydney, so it's no surprise to hear it provides the kitchen with over a dozen eggs daily, and with a protein-rich diet including the vegetable garden's resident snails, they ought to be pretty good.
|Italian garlic, rudely awoken by our mid-afternoon harvesting effort|