Sunday, October 11, 2009

Review: Vulcans - CLOSED

33 Govetts Leap Rd,

Open Lunch-dinner Fri-Sun; March-Nov

"Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be" sang Andy Williams in the theme from 'Love Story'....he could have easily been singing about Buggles & Squeaks' love affair with Vulcans.

Buggles & Squeak have been making the pilgrimage to Vulcans for many years now, in fact we used to visit at least 4 to 5 times a year, however, life being what it is the last two years have afforded us only two visits. While technically Vulcans does not belong on a site that chronicles the adventures of Buggles and Squeak "as they eat their way around Sydney"... our site would not be complete without it.

Returning to Vulcans today was just like 'coming home', just like slipping into a pair of comfy old slippers. We were greeted warmly on arrival by Barry who along with Phillip Searle, owns & runs Vulcans.

Vulcans is not a large restaurant, housed in a former bakery (with the original baker's oven still in place), it probably seats only 40 guests at its 15 tables. The cosy, rust coloured room however, is perfect for a long leisurely lunch. The walls are adorned with Phillip's art, clearly demonstrating that his creativity isn't limited to his cooking.

We settled at our 'usual' table, excited by what lay ahead.

The handwritten menu comprises 4 entrees, 4 mains & 4 desserts.
This may not seem like a lot, but we always have trouble trying to decide on just one dish from each course.

We start by ordering two thick slices of the house baked organic sourdough. It arrives warm, soft & slightly chewy...just minutes out of the oven, we then proceed to lather it in rich, creamy butter. This is seriously the best bread we have EVER eaten....carbs be damned, I could eat an entire loaf & still beg for more!

Phillip Searle used to own & run the 'Infinity Bakery' in Darlinghurst. Phillip Searle baking bread can be likened to Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.

Today I begin with the 'Salad of Caramelized Pumpkin, Goats Cheese, Blood Orange & Olives'.
The two thick, perfectly roasted portions of pumpkin are charred around the edges, giving them a chewy, caramelized edge. Topping the pumpkin is a fine dice of spanish onion & sweetly, salty olives. The crowning glory is a mild goats curd sprinkled with parmesan. All this surrounded by juicy, red segments of blood orange....& then coriander, I loathe coriander normally, but somehow Phillip Searle makes me not only love it, but crave it. The combination of sweet, sour, salty in one mouthful is perfection, I need to slow myself down to savour each divine morsel. It is over all to quickly.

Buggles orders the 'Noodles, Smoked Eggplant, Crab & Aromatic Sauce'. The menu descriptions read so simply, but each spoonful reveals the cacophony of flavours that go into creating such cohesive ties within your mouth. Finely sliced cucumber shards, sliced shallots, chunks of crab, soft noodles all swimming in a seafood broth that has a mild chilli heat to it. It is a perfect start to the meal...delicious.

For my main I order 'Pot Roasted Oyster Blade of Beef with Lemongrass & Kaffir Lime'.
Slow roasted in the woodfired baker's oven, the dish arrives & I am almost bowled over by the heady scent of lime & lemongrass. The meat is pull-apart tender, yet is still so moist & succulent. There is a seam of unctuous fat running through the centre that melts in the mouth. The surrounding broth is a delicate combination of Kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, chilli & spice. I take my time with this one....savouring every mouthful. I am in awe of how anyone can bring a dish like this together.

Buggles opts for 'Pot Roasted Forequarter of Lamb with Chickpeas & Herb Sauce'. The lamb has been had before, and has impressed, therefore the choice was quite easy. If these two dishes demonstrate nothing else, they demonstrate just how delicious slow cooked meat is. This lamb, like the beef, barely needs a knife. It just falls apart as it sees the knife coming. The chickpeas add a creamy earthiness to the sweet lamb and the herb sauce - which did seem more like another broth - adds another world of flavours again.

There are always two options for accompaniments: vegetables or salad. As always, we choose the vegies. The vegetables are always a mixture of roasted potatoes and snow peas or green beans. Both are great, but we do have a preference for the snow peas. Once again, this is a case of simplicity transcending the ordinary. These potatoes are by far the best roasted potatoes we've had, and when topped with a little flaked salt and ground pepper - they are perfection. The snow peas are so sweet and crisp and buttery that you wonder why you don't eat them every day. We are certainly struggling by the time we near the end... but this food is compelling... and we are not deterred. Experience has taught us that we just need to have a breather before embarking upon the final stage of this remarkable culinary journey. Dessert is something that you would be a fool to miss here at Vulcans.

Dessert is always tricky at Vulcans it is near impossible to decide on what to order. Our choices this visit were:
Phillip Searle's signature 'Chequerboard Ice cream'; 'Vanilla & Yoghurt Creme with Intense Orange & Preserved Figs'; 'Coffee, Praline & Honeycomb Bombe' & 'Rich Chocolate Wedge with Quince & Candied Orange'.

I decide on the 'Rich Chocolate Wedge', not so much because I love chocolate, but more because I adore candied peel & past experience has taught me that Philip Searle does it very well. The wedge does not disappoint, the chocolate is rich, dark, intense & velvety like a thickish mousse. The candied peel & quince cut the richness of the wedge with their subtle sweetness. The base of the wedge seems to consist of crushed, toffeed nuts. The chocolate, orange & nuts combine beautifully together.

Buggles finally settles on the 'Bombe' - well I say 'finally', but really where Buggles is concerned there is no decision process needed, even though she persists in maintaining the farce that there is. Buggles always orders the bombe. In fact it has cemented its position in her 'Top 5 desserts of all time', (yes...we have lists!) Each time you come to Vulcans you can be sure to find a 'bombe' of some sort on the menu - and frankly you do not even need to look at what the combination of flavours are - you just blindly order - secure in the knowledge that Phillip Searle will weave his magic with it. It's a dessert that looks innocent enough, but once you taste it.... that's when you know you're in the hands of a master. On this delectable occasion however it is Coffee, Praline and Honeycomb. What this man does with honeycomb is truly out of this world. It is chewy, crunchy and creamy all at the same time. There is a seam of ground coffee beans at one end of the bombe, and the honeycomb goodness at the other - all surrounded by creamy icecream. No words really can describe how good it is. I know - I made sure I scored some for myself.

We finish our meals with two perfectly brewed coffees.
Vulcans consistently receives accolades in the SMH Good Food Guide, although not at the levels of such establishments as Quay, or even Bentley Restaurant & Bar, but as Buggles and I lazily reminisce about the meal we just had over our coffees, we come to the conclusion that as much as we love both Quay and Bentley (and believe us - we do!) if we could only ever eat at one restaurant for the term of our natural lives.... we would both choose Vulcans. It is the food of a man who has the confidence to present complicated flavours simply. And we could not ask for more. (Well... we could do with a take away container for the long trek home... but you get the idea.)

Four years ago we were given quite a scare when Vulcans was put on the market. Phillip & Barry were contemplating retirement. Thankfully, they changed their minds & we have been able to enjoy Vulcans for four more years. Still, we know it is just a matter of time before Vulcans finally closes its doors, taking with it one of Australia's culinary geniuses. We know we can't leave it another year before we visit Vulcans again, so as we settle our bill we make a reservation for 6 weeks time.....we can hardly wait!

Buggles & Squeak

** No money exchanged hands for the use of terms like 'genius' and 'master'. Buggles and Squeak are simply unashamed fans.

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