August 2018 | Wai Lin Coultas
FINE FOOD, wine and hospitality are in Nathan and Lauren Johnston’s blood.
Former Stillwater head chef, Nathan has been whipping up four course set dinners at Hazelbrae House in Hagley since October last year.
Inspiration from local produce is at the heart of Nathan’s Italian-influenced dinners, drawing from his years working with Gordon Ramsay and Angela Hartnett at Michelin-starred Murano and at Texture with Agnar Sverrisson in London. On the first and third Friday each month, dinners befitting the seasons are served in a refurbished 1890’s shearing shed set against the backdrop of the Western Tiers.
Rustic linen-covered tables provide a warm and friendly style of service drawing on Lauren Johnston’s experience at Murano, managing events at Hamilton Court on Park Lane and Madame Tussauds in London, and at Launceston’s Natural History Museum.
At TasTAFE Drysdale, Lauren teaches and manages hospitality service for the Great Chefs Series, where acclaimed chefs such as Tetsuya Wakuda, Alain Passard, Dominique Crenn and Guilliume Brahimi are invited to mentor students. Nathan also teaches in the Great Chefs Series.
The first courses for the June dinners at Hazelbrae were a light ricotta al Forno with a subtle yet distinctive hazelnut flavour, beautifully accompanied by savoury yet gently dressed Yorktown leaves and a warming ‘Brodino’ chicken broth with risoni and Grana Padano, heartily welcomed on a chilly evening.
Risoni with Spring Bay mussels in a lemon and white wine-laced tomato sugo was second. Feedback that it was a tad lemony was taken most seriously. The next time we dined there the risoni had just the right hint of lemon, perfected with an equally fitting note of spiced sausage.
The mains were faultless. Scottsdale pork belly with crispy crackling and melt-in-your- mouth Cape Grim beef brisket with hints of fennel demonstrated that expensive cuts are not needed to work culinary magic.
Accompanying sides included celeriac to die for, baked or roasted. The simplicity of shallots roasted in garlic and thyme was only overshadowed by the gutsy flavours of grilled Brussel sprouts with confit shallots and capers.
Pastry Chef, Karen Johnston, capped it off with a deconstructed lemon tart and hazelnut icecream, crunchy salted roast hazelnuts under a citrus tang of soft ‘creamed custard’ paired with feathery shards of crispy baked buttered filo.
On the second occasion, Nathan’s mum demonstrated her intuitive feel and practice for baking with icecream and a hazelnut brownie, delivering an added layer of light spongy sweetness gently toning down the nuts’ saltiness.
With Nathan’s forte for delicious vegetables, there are also vegetarian options for the dinners. First courses were handmade fettucine laced with lemon, parsley and Grana Padano and mushroom risotto. Toasted cauliflower steaks with mushrooms and spiced hazelnut crumb were replacement mains.
Dinners at Hazelbrae House are $55.00 per head, with wine pairings an additional $30.00.
Hazelbrae House is also open for lunch and cake daily at 127 Hagley Station Lane in Hagley. Weekend brunches, weddings, private events, offsite catering and hazelnut farm tours offer plenty of opportunity to savour the welcoming service and wickedly delicious food.