The restaurant for the second night in the Hunter Valley is conveniently on the site of the accommodation, which means the lead up to dinner comprises a nap and decision of whether trackies are appropriate dinner attire given you’re only going down the verandah to the next building.
I’m not entirely sure where to start in describing Shakey Tables – perhaps the room setting. It’s colourful; but not in a clashing, my-eyes-hurt kind of way. Rather, it’s a kind of controlled chaos with ample brushes of quirky artistic flair – and not a wobbly table in sight. Actually, the mismatched solid wooden tables are a little lust-worthy, especially a six-seater oval one.
The small perfectly shaped blocks of bread are surprisingly heavy when picked up, dense with not-quite fluffy white innards. While not a light start, the truffle butter tasted relatively light – or perhaps that’s just indication as to how much of Tetsuya’s truffle salsa I put to my butter. In any case, the truffle is restrained, as if just paving the palate way for the amuse bouche.
And as if the setting didn’t quite fit with the idea of an amuse bouche, or perhaps I don’t generally expect one in the vicinity of where I’m sleeping, it’s a pleasant and pretty surprise that comes in a shallow round bowl.
The two slices of salmon are light in flavour and fresh in texture, though I’m not sure they complemented the sorbet, which I accordingly had separately. In fact, I think the smokiness of the sorbet paired with its iciness would possibly be better as a palate cleanser as I found it a bit confronting with the subtlety of the salmon.
Interest and anticipation piqued, it was a warm and cosy wait for the mains – in some part due to the décor and in some part the increasingly distant memory of the freezing cold outside.
All three parts of my main appealed to me on the menu, but I hadn’t expected them to come as essentially three separate components – each well executed on their lonesome, but not really team players. The pork belly was indeed sticky with a golden brown caramelly sauce; layers of fat alternating with flesh and topped with skin more chewy than crunchy.
The salad was much like your standard sushi train wakame seaweed salad, spruced up with fresh coriander leaves and toasted sesame seeds. The nicely deep-pink slices of tuna were seared with a sesame seed crust, but could have used a lot more in the way of accompanying flavours. Everything was definitely fresh, and satisfying for that reason, but flavours were a little shy or lost.
The Scottish heritage of the chef shined through the menu on a few instances; none more obvious than the haggis entrée. Presumably house made, its appearance is shaded by the delightful looking potato straws – much like those Smith’s packet French Fries, but looking a little pale and fair.
I stay far away from the haggis, but am told it’s dry and crumbly relative to black pudding and other such blood sausages. The figs are at least pretty, and I hope the madeira sauce goes some way in masking the taste of minced and mashed hearts, lungs and liver.
Herb stuffed ballotine of corn fed chicken, sweetcorn puree, crisp pancetta, potato & leek croquettes
Perhaps due to a day of much richness and consumption, my choice of main meal tended to the safety of home comfort – a little more, even, than I expected. Good old chicken is not something I tend to order in a restaurant, but I suppose I’ve never tried (nor intend) to make a ballotine.
The herb stuffing and well cooked chicken was a little too reminiscent of the BBQ chicken shop, although the corn puree was divine. The golden potato and leek cylinders looked promising, fluffy but not overly potato-ey, but they were unfortunately so over-seasoned that even flicking off the salt flakes from their tops couldn’t save them.
With the arrival of the salmon, we conclude that Shakey Tables’ presentation gets top marks. We want to eat the food, but also not as it looks so good in an unpretentious way. The cylinder of poached salmon is delicate in taste and texture, accompanied with a big-hitting dashi stock with plenty of floating seaweed. I was very much looking forward to the ravioli of foie gras, although the experience was ruined by undercooked pasta; surprisingly thick sheets too for a ravioli.
The saviour for the mains was undoubtedly the chips. Oh, the chips. Not really French fries as per the menu, but thick (some amazingly long) potato chips that were impossibly crunchy – by far the crunchiest I’ve ever had. They had a slightly bubbly surface, as if they were coated in a thin batter – perhaps the key to the super crunch. Even cold at the end of the meal, they retained an audible crunch and probably an ingrained memory for many serves of chips to come.
I suppose I was sufficiently full to forgo dessert, except for some images I’d seen on the restaurant’s website. There was one I just had to have, or share.
This is showground snacks gone overdrive: ice cream, Turkish delight and fairy floss – this is my kind of dessert. The triangular terrine is stunning, with a centre circle of rose ice cream surrounded by a lychee ice and pistachio ice cream. The combination of flavours is so harmonious and so satisfying that one forgets about the wintery weather momentarily. The rose jus is none too sweet, with a halo of pistachios, rose petals and tiny cubes of Turkish delight, quite the perfect size actually.
The crazy green wig on top is the pistachio fairy floss – delightful in so many ways. It’s of a light green hue and the texture of Persian fairy floss, as opposed to the showground stuff. It has just a slight nutty taste and almost rather floury texture, but much fun to tear and eat with the ice cream as it wasn’t overly sweet.
On that sugar high note, we end the Shakey Tables experience – indeed wobbly in parts but if you just wait a little bit (till desserts, perhaps), it doesn’t end too badly.