WE take a drive across Throsby Creek and head to the peninsula suburb of Carrington. The main street, Young, is reminiscent of a country town: wide, parallel parking, tree-lined and no rushing.
Carrington Place is the grand hotel on the corner. A place to sit and watch the world go by. It has a bar area, courtyard, accommodation and a more formal dining room with an attached private dining room.
We start with a drink in the bar: there is a great selection of craft beers and well-loved brews, plus an extensive wine list with an admirable focus on Hunter drops, plus smatterings from interstate and overseas.
It's time for our dinner booking but we haven't yet finished our drinks from the bar. No worry, we are told we can take them through to our table.
Dark wood tables and white napery set the scene. It's a quiet dining room, but with the smells from the kitchen in one corner, a green courtyard in another, the private dining room on one side and the open stone hearth ovens with the crackle of flames on the other, there's plenty of action happening around the periphery.
You could try a flatbread to start, with garlic and mozzarella, sundried tomato and olive tapenade, pesto, or ham and olive oil options.
While the semolina gnocchi with spanner crab and burnt sage butter is tempting, grilled Spencer Gulf king prawns with carrot cream, raisins, a crusty ham wafer and tuna dust intrigue.
Two (really) big, plump prawns arrive on a sea of creamy carrot, dotted with sweet raisins and micro herbs. The prawns have plenty of flavour and aren't salty; that's what the crisped prosciutto wafer provides. The tails are crispy enough to eat too. I'm not sure where the tuna dust was, but there were enough great flavours happening on the plate already for it not to be missed.
A veal, pork, pistachio and duck liver terrine is meaty and has firmness and bite. A surprise egg was cooked in the middle, while a quenelle of tomato tapenade provided tang, as did the cornichons, carrots and radish decorating the plate. Another piece of bread would have been most welcome for this moreish slab. Despite its meaty centrepiece, the dish was fresh and fairly light, with contrast coming from the vegetables.
Mains are a hearty affair with fish, spatchcock, duck, pork, lamb and beef on offer. There is also the option of a meal cooked in the hearth grill - a range of beef steaks or lamb chops - served with a baked potato and sour cream. They are all substantial dishes but there are plenty of tantilising sides such as zucchini with parmesan jalapenos and buttered green beans with almonds (juicy, crunchy and deliciously buttery) which lure me away.
The Berkshire pork fillet with apple rings, broccoli and a sweet prune cream is pink and tender. It's very satisfying in size but fairly plain to look at and, with the plate contents hidden under the prune cream, a bit difficult to see what you're eating until you dig in.
The magret duck maryland has delicious crispy skin and succulent moist flesh, but is a touch on the salty side. A ginger and orange marmalade counterbalances with sweetness and an earthy mushroom spring roll adds flair. Mash, cabbage and orange provides colour, comfort and volume.
From first drink to last bite, it's a lovely experience. The staff are attentive and the food is tasty. Carrington Place is a one-stop shop: casual eating, formal dining, a top selection of beer and wine and a great atmosphere for all who stop by.
What: Carrington Place.
Where: 132 Young Street, Carrington; phone 49611116; carringtonplace.com.au
Owner: Jennifer and Scott Webster.
Chef: Scott McLean.
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, lunch and dinner from 11.30am.
Drinks: Extensive wine list, $7-9 by the glass, $30-135 by the bottle.
Vegetarian: Breads, two entrees, sides.
Bottom line: About $140 for two entrees, two mains, two desserts, excluding drinks.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Do try: The veal terrine and save room for the hot chocolate soup.