Zaih’s, a cosy and surprising dining experience in Lovedale, has had a busy life in a short amount of time.
Executive chef Michael Robinson, formerly of Margan Restaurant, The Landing and Becasse in Sydney, took over the Lovedale Store site on Lovedale Road in November 2015. Shortly after moving into the premises, the store was renamed and rebranded to Zaih’s. Since late October 2016, they have relocated to the dining room at Emma’s Cottage, where they have been happily cooking away ever since.
It’s a small dining room with polished concrete floors, amply-sized wooden tables and an assortment of wooden chairs. Downlights and artwork add some warmth to the space, but the real delight lies in the view outside. As the summer sun sets over the paddocks, a kangaroo bounces into sight, stops for a nibble of grass and then moves along. Water hens pick and wander around the dam and under the gums looking for last minute bites before they bunker down for the night. It’s idyllic, to say the least.
As the light fades and the evening arrives, we discover the food is just as beautiful, both visually and in construct.
There’s a focus on fresh, local produce, as well as a strong display of sophistication towards meat. Jamon, Wagyu bresaola, nduja (a spiced pork paste) and tartare all feature. A chicken liver parfait is smooth, velvety and meaty. A big slick of it sits on the plate next to a chunky toasted slice of rich, buttery brioche which is big enough to handle the whole serving of parfait. The sweet Pedro Ximenez permeates and sweetens the aspic sitting atop the pate.
A perfect panacea for a steamy summer night is the gazpacho: in this incarnation it is creamy thick unctuous tomato. Slivers of bright green zucchini, acidic bursts of fresh tomato, salty bursts of crispy jamon and hidden depths of submerged labneh make for a mouth-wateringly refreshing cold dish. My only suggestion would be to lose the spoon – the angle of the curve meant I could never get my mouth to the bottom of each spoonful. I want it all in one mouthful.
The wines are predominantly from Emma’s vineyard – the Ruby cab franc merlot is bubbly and spicy, while the semillon verdelho is dexterous enough to move between tomato gazpacho and a main of salmon belly.
The fish – three pieces – is boiled in an Asian broth of tamari and miso. The fish is soft, and almost gelatinous, not the dry fatty version you often receive. It’s served with charred cos, caperberries, as well as boiled and roasted beetroot. There’s prettiness and complexity all rolled into one.
While a Wagyu backstrap is on the menu, a local Wagyu scotch fillet special is too tempting. Served with a glowing white potato foam, fermented chili and luminous broccoli, the round medallion is cooked to perfection and respectful in its simplicity.
There are three options for dessert but I opt for the dark chocolate Cremeux. After a sneaky Google at the dining table, I learned that it is basically a thick cream – it sits somewhere between cream and mousse in texture, so it’s just lovely. Paired with poached stone fruit, shaved toasted coconut and creme fraiche, it’s rich without being sickening, with hits of lightness due to the acidity of the fruit.
For real zest, a kaffir lime pannacotta with ginger and green mango is the best way to finish the meal, although it is all hidden – presented under a slab of meringue. A pop here and there of strawberry and the flavours are uncovered.
It is pretty quiet for a Saturday night, but the lone waitress works the room with loveliness. No doubt word will spread about this hidden little gem with its seasonal menu, attention to detail and picturesque setting.
- What: Zaih’s Restaurant
- Where: 438 Wilderness Road, Lovedale.
- Contact: 0427 666 526, zaihsdining.com.au
- Hours: Friday and Saturday - 12pm to 9pm; Sunday - Breakfast 9am to 11am; Lunch 12pm to 3pm
- Executive chef: Michael Robinson
- Drinks: Local wines $10-15 a glass, $40-80 a bottle.
- Vegetarian: Bread, olives, 3 small dishes, desserts.
- Wheelchair: Yes
- Bottom line: It was $200 for two entrees, two mains, two desserts, 2 glasses of wine each, tea and coffee.
- Do Try: The gazpacho of the day and save room for dessert.