What: The Beltree
Where: 266 Hermitage Road, Pokolbin
Prices: Primi (starters), $12 to $28; Pasta and gnocchi, $19/$29 (starter and main size); secondi (mains), $32 to $45 per person; dolci (desserts), $14
Chef: Guy Parkinson
Wines: Local KV wines from Kurrajong vineyard
Hours: Lunch Thursday-Sunday, 12pm to 3pm; Dinner Friday and Saturday, 6.30pm-9.30pm
Vegetarian: Gnocchi, pasta, salad
Bottom line: Entree, main, dessert about $130 for two without drinks
Wheelchair access: Good
Substitute a row of cypress for the gum trees lining the creek at the end of the lawn and ignore distant glimpses of passing kangaroos and you could be in Tuscany. There’s even a small vineyard. The charming French provincial style building with its shady terrace and wrought iron furniture has seen restaurants come and go. Margans winery and restaurant used to be there and Robert and Sally Molinès enjoyed a brief but successful tenancy before their move to Bistro Molinès. Guy and Jess took over with La Trattoria but felt the pull of the rolling hills of Tuscany in order to hone their knowledge and skills, and a Mexican restaurant filled the void. But there’s no place like home.
Guy and Jess have come full circle. And everyone who mourns the closure of their popular La Vespa in Charlestown can still enjoy their simple, honest, Italian food even if it’s only at lunch on the weekend.
Guy has brought some of his favourites from La Vespa, so expect their house-made sausages, gnocchi, slow cooked lamb shoulder and suckling pig, among others.
We are regretting not booking on this chilly Sunday. It’s full inside the cosy dining room with its open fire but there’s a table on the terrace in the sun and out of the wind which is actually not too bad and the food should warm us up.
I almost regret a decision to share; I want all the pillow soft gnocchi in its gorgonzola rich, pistachio and sage flecked sauce to myself. But there are more dishes to come (and maybe dessert) so I give in.
Super tender, crisply coated, salty squiggles of fried calamari come next. Finely shaved fennel lends a good texture contrast and a pot of appropriately garlicky aioli is there for the dipping.
Now for someone who isn’t a big fan of brawn, ‘‘pig’s head scallopine’’ is a bit of a challenge. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. The slow cooked head has been stripped of its meat which is then reformed into a patty and given the full flour, egg and breadcrumb coating before being fried to golden perfection. Caramelised apple, cornichons, apple julienne and balsamic reduction provide ideal accompaniments.
The polenta with the grilled quail is no ordinary polenta and illustrates Guy’s respect of produce and place. Polenta di Storo is from an old variety of maize grown around the town of Storo in northern Italy. Its coarse texture and creamy flavour goes so well with the tender quail, its wine-rich and sticky sauce, and prosciutto and grape garnish.
Cinnamon risotto studded with just cooked apple and shards of tart rhubarb is comfort food with a capital C and nothing like the stewed apple stretched with rhubarb from the garden and served with gluggy creamed rice of my childhood. The risotto has a good al dente bite; the cubes of apple and shards of tart rhubarb hold their shape and provide the right texture and flavour contrast and even better, it all comes with a scoop of house-made vanilla gelato and a drizzle of honey.
If you can’t have La Vespa, why not try The Beltree.