***NOTE: THIS RESTAURANT CLOSED DOWN JUNE 2017***
City fare, Blue Mountains feel… this Blackheath restaurant offers the best of both worlds.
When Vesta opened a few years ago I was so relieved. Here was a restaurant that tasted like we were eating in Sydney but felt like we were eating in the Blue Mountains. There’s that sophistication to the food and wine list that you expect from a Darlinghurst bar, then there’s the down-to-earth, rustic atmosphere of Blackheath, generated by the open kitchen and fuelled by the 120-year-old scotch oven.
That oven is where chefs Misha Laurent and Alfie Elwell create many of the dishes, some of which haven’t left the menu since the restaurant opened (and which are the reason we keep going back).
The focus is on seasonal, local and regional produce – quality, not quantity – and the philosophy is ‘slow’ – it’s a place to take your time, enjoy several courses and sip on fine wine. While the food menu is small, the list of international whites and reds is positively huge, with a few half-bottles available, or house wines by the glass, half litre and litre.
The restaurant is cosy and it can get loud inside, but this keeps the atmosphere casual. There’s also a courtyard, where we choose to sit and which on this occasion we have entirely to ourselves. It’s fully covered and there are plenty of heaters to keep us warm on this chilly spring day (we’re dining at lunchtime). We’ve even boldly brought our nearly-two-year-old who keeps busy running about at our feet, though if you have the option I’d suggest leaving the kiddies at home. Vesta doesn’t provide high chairs and there’s certainly no room inside for little ones. Plus – no one can deny good food is best enjoyed with your full attention.
The first treat to appear from the scotch oven is a complimentary basket of housemade bread served with olive oil dips. See what I mean about feeling like you’re away from the city? Complimentary appetisers don’t exist anymore in Sydney. It’s just the thing to take the edge off our appetites and get us into the slow-food mood.
The lunch menu is slightly different to diner. I’m sorry to see the ‘lamb shoulder for two’ isn’t immediately visible. Available at dinner, it’s such a spectacular feast, served on a wooden board with a tumble of roasted vegetables, baked potatoes and red wine jus. Thankfully there’s a lunchtime version though: an individual serve of either lamb, pork belly or – and who could go past this option? – both. With vegetables, of course.
But before we get to that, there’s an entrée to be had. There are just three on the menu – a dill ravioli with brandade (salt cod), radishes and parmesan; a charcuterie board and one dish that beckons us every time: the goats cheese soufflé. On this day ours is made with silverbeet and spirulina, and it comes out bright pinky-red and scalding hot in its stone saucepan. It’s lovely and fluffy and perfectly soaks up the surrounding moat of cheesey sauce. The theme of the soufflé changes with the seasons. I’m slightly devastated I didn’t get here during autumn/winter to try the truffle mushroom soufflé – mark it on the calendar for next year.
Once upon a time the soufflé at Vesta was big enough for a main meal. They obviously cottoned on that it was too much of a good thing and the daintier portion now does what it’s meant to do – leaves you wanting more.
Which is good, because there’s plenty more to come, including the famous roast.
The roast lunch is nearly as much of a spectacle as the wooden board version – two towers of 12-hour slow-roasted meat cradle sprigs of broccolini, baby carrots, roast potatoes and black-around-the-edges onion in a grand display that makes Grandma’s Sunday roast look like a TV dinner. The crackling is crisp, the lamb tender, the jus a mediator, bringing everything together.
If roasts aren’t your thing there are just two other options on the menu – usually a seafood and a vegetarian dish. Today a vegetarian tagine with chickpeas, quinoa, housemade ricotta and crispy corn, and fish baked in paperbark with a macadamia crumb and wild rice each vied for our attention. Evidently the roast won.
Dessert is again a limited offering but covers the key categories of pudding, ice-cream and custard. I’m drawn to the bread and butter pudding made with Hominy croissant (Hominy is a renowned bakery in Katoomba), almonds, chocolate, Frangelico cream and rhubarb jam, but we decide instead to share the signature ‘bombe’. It comes out as a slice of layered, multi-textured ices – dark chocolate parfait, lemon sorbet, cardamom parfait and hazelnut praline, topped with a nutty sprinkle. The lemon is a little too tart for this particular combination but the layers change regularly in this menu stalwart.
The ‘bombe’ pays homage to a dessert at Vulcans, the fine-dining restaurant previously occupying the space at Vesta. Vesta co-owner Sham Ward worked there under the head chef Phillip Searle, whose checkerboard ice-cream – an artwork of ice-cream cubes – was the stuff of legend.
As well as the food, I love that Vesta gets involved in events outside the day-to-day running of a restaurant. Its monthly Vesta Social gathering featuring themed street food, cocktails and DJs is something I’ve been meaning to get to for some time (keep updated on the next event via the Facebook page).
Inevitably we’ll be visiting Vesta again soon for a hit of Sydney dining, close to home.
- Address: 33 Govetts Leap Road, Blackheath NSW 2785
- Phone: (02) 4787 6899
- Web: www.vestablackheath.com.au
- Opening hours: Lunch: Sat–Sun from 12 noon; Dinner: Mon–Sun 5pm–10pm
- Prices: Entrees <$25, mains <$40
- Cuisine: ‘Rustic mountain food’ – modern Australian/Italian
- Licensed: Yes, no BYO Fri–Sat
- Bookings: Recommended
- Views: No
- Wheelchair access: Yes
Image of restaurant interior supplied.