The Pom is going back to Pommieland for 2 weeks for his mum's birthday and decided to fly back unannounced to give her a big surprise. I would have loved to go along with him, but since I've just got back from New Zealand for Wellington On a Plate, and it would also be difficult to find a caretaker to look after Amelie, not to mention my ever growing pile of work and backlogs, hence staying back is the only option.
Best we can do is to have a great meal together before he leaves the country. Without having to travel far, a table for two is booked for a Sunday lunch at Bells at Killcare, just a short 30 minutes drive from our place in Central Coast.
Bells at Killcare is actually a luxury coastal retreat situated high on the tip of the Bouddi Peninsula National Park. We have drove past the Bells numerous times on the way to the whale watching lookout closeby and always curious what's hidden behind those tall trees and where the gravel path leads to. I am rather excited when we finally get to drive through the front gate onto the bushy path and soon find ourselves in a marvelous European country house boutique hotel.
The Bells restaurant and bar is set inside the grand Manor House, overlooking the lush country gardens, a showcase vegie patch, and a pristine swimming pool for the house guests who chose to stay in one of their luxurious cottages or villas. Under the direction of Sydney restaurateur Stefano Manfredi, Bells is renowned for its authentic regional restaurant with an Italian-inspired and seasonal menu that has claimed its first chefs hat back in 2008. Stefano is a keen user on twitter and I always eager to know what he is up to whether in the kitchen or out in the garden.
Stefano comes to say hi to us as soon as we sat down. He explains to us that the small vegie patch at the front is just for show, the real sustainable garden actually stretches few acres to the other side of the hill, covers with olive, fig and citrus trees. He even also has 33 chooks that provide him with free-range eggs for the menu and manure that recycled back to make the perfect compost for the garden. The menu changes daily to reflect the harvest they collected from the garden each morning. Everything is seasonal and freshly made daily from bread, pasta to even gelato.
We settle with parmesan and caper biscottini and Sicilian and Ligurian olives while admiring the decor inside the restaurant. Inspired by the colours of Killcare beach, decorator Chrissie Jeffery has revamped the Manor House with the nautical feel by using blue and beige colour combination on walls, seating and even the glassware.
The waitress comes back with a plate of freshly baked bread, then drizzle some Sicilian extra virgin olive oil onto a saucer straight from the bottle. They really take their olive oil very seriously here, I only then realised almost every waitress will take turns to cradle that 1 litre bottle of Frantoi Cutrera Cuor d'Ulivo extra virgin olive oil around the dining room like an infant, offering to pour at the table without hesitation. We tear off a small bit of the bread studded with cumin, coriander seeds and hazelnuts, and happily dip into the olive oil that has a beautiful artichoke and oregano undertone.
On Sunday, we are presented with two menus - the a la carte menu and also the Sunday family feast menu for $65 per person. We are feeling indecisive today and best to settle on set menu which gives us a few more varieties of dishes to try.
An extensive spread of starters are soon fully covered our little table for two. We start from the most delicate, the freshly shucked oyster from Hawkesbury is a small morsel of flavour of the sea. The Vitello tonnato which we first thought is rabbit meat, but after some searching on google, it is actually a classic summer cold dish with sliced veal in tuna sauce that is as creamy as mayonnaise. The veal is so sweet and tender while the tuna sauce is creamy and tangy from the lemon and capers.
We adore the potato and taleggio polpettine, the little golden snitch of potato is deep fried until nice and crispy while inside is still soft with a subtle flavour of the taleggio cheese, served with a spicy tomato salsa for the extra heat. The spinach gnocchi is a signature dish at the Bells, the moreish little potato ball is perfectly cooked, happily soaked up all the burnt butter poured over the top while is still hot and frothy before serve. It is deliciously simple; simply delicious.
The grilled King Prawn unfortunately is a little overcooked and rubbery, served with caponata, the Sicilian vegetable dish with chopped aubergine and celery is packed with intense flavour makes the prawns much more delectable. The grilled spiced quail with pickled cucumber is one of my favourites, the quail is perfectly cooked and still slightly pink on the inside, the flesh is tender and moist, the subtle gameness is succumbed by the pickled cucumber. A bowl of Giardiniera takes longer to finish, the vegetable is picked in house, the tartness of the vinegar makes the vegetable rather addictive but gets a little too strong after few mouthfuls. We save the rest to pair with our main later.
Stefano tells us that the Sunday family feast also changes weekly, "Sometimes will be pork belly or roast chicken." Today we are having roast duck with pickled cabbage. Four thick slices of duck breast meat and a leg chopped into three pieces are served on a bed of pickled cabbage, all done in-house of course.
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The duck is beautifully seasoned with spices and cooked just right, while the breast meat is lot more succulent and tender than the leg, but it is the incredibly crispy skin on the leg makes it all worthwhile. The Pom doesn't like his meat with bones, so I am happily accepted the offer and gnawing down all three pieces with satisfaction.
While the pickled cabbage cutting through the fat, the roast is incomplete without the sides of roast rosemary potatoes and some green beans with parsley and garlic.
For dessert, we are treated with a beautifully presented almond, pear and mascarpone torte. The little tian of almond sponge cake is dense and rich, balanced with a quenelle of mascarpone cream cheese, diced pears are poached in vanilla sauce which helps to cut through the richness. And the paper thin layer of pear crisp on top is just fun to look at, and also adds texture to the masterpiece. After reading Stefano's tweet, I only then realised the cake is actually the handiwork of Shady Wasef,
a caterer from Kirrawee the talented sous-chef at Bells, I stand corrected by Stefano himself, how embarrassing.
As we are about to finish our meal, I then spotted the waitress bringing out a tri-colour wobblylicious fruit jelly dessert for the diners at the next table. Envious is understatement, but all I could do is take a picture of it to remind myself to come back for it next time.
Throughout the lunch, I also noticed Stefano is indeed the master of the house. He doesn't hide behind the kitchen, but instead he is taking charge at the front of the pass and occasionally will also bring the dishes to the tables and chat with the guests. That's the Italian hospitality that makes dining experience a lot more memorable.
We thank Stefano for a great Sunday lunch with simple but good food. As he shakes our hand to bid us farewell, I notice he is already cradling that bottle of olive oil in his arm. I think someone is about to get baptised with it.
Bells at KillcareBoutique Hotel Restaurant and Bar
107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Beach
Central Coast, NSW 2257
P: (02) 4360 2411
Dinner Mon - Sun
Lunch Fri - Sun