A restaurant at a resort is a curious beast, not always ideal as a dinner-only venue, more like a dining room for residents.
But the Peppers chain has a reputation for fine dining. Of course, the view over Port Stephens is a definite draw but you can’t eat the view; we are here to find out if the restaurant lives up to the reputation. There’s a chef who has cooked his way around the world but also has a passion for local produce, and changes the menu regularly to display it adequately.
An amuse bouche of house-cured salmon with a cool diced cucumber and toasted crumb topping wakes the palate with its smoky, salty flavours.
With Nelson Bay’s Fishermen’s Co-op just down the road you have to expect the freshest fish and seafood, especially oysters. But Redgate Farm isn’t far away and its excellent quail makes a satisfying entree, served as a deconstructed North African classic, pastilla. A melange of chopped apricots and pistachios fill cigars of filo pastry which sit beside a crisp-skinned half quail perching on a bed of tiny Puy-style green lentils married, not completely successfully, with a truffle-infused sauce.
‘‘Kromeski’’ seems to be the new name for croquette or fish cake. Here they do a crab one. A good handful of sweet crab meat is enveloped in a breadcrumb coating, deep-fried then placed neatly on a scattering of green peas, lettuce and crisp, cubed bacon surrounded by dots of rosemary milk. Almost the best thing about this dish is the jug of velvety fluoro-green pea velouté that you pour around as you desire. I can’t resist asking for a spoon to finish every drop.
There are two fish dishes; one is the ‘‘game’’ fish of the day, the other, just the fish of the day. Today’s game fish is marlin, a lovely meaty but substantial fish; I find the serving just a bit too large but that is a personal quibble. The texture is firm but moist; it is paired with some very Sicilian components; orange and fennel salad, sweet confit tomato and punchy salsa verde. The potato blini seems a little out of place but OK.
The other fish is king fish and this has a papery skin hiding white, moist flesh. Sweet corn salsa and a fondant sweet potato work well with the avocado puree and coriander yoghurt, Mexican undertones which reflect the chef’s international experience.
Panna cotta is a deceptively simple dessert that can easily go so wrong. If it has been refrigerated too long or there is just a little too much gelatine it will bounce like a ball. Too little gelatine and you will never get it out of the mould in one piece. But, just right and it is a textural delight and this one is just right. Its creamy texture is well-balanced with crumbled amaretti, chunks of red ripe strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and a pond of fruity strawberry consommé.
Don’t discount a restaurant in a resort. You might even be pleasantly surprised.