“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





17 November 2011


While I’ve struggled with my review of Tony Bilson’s amazing memoir, Insatiable – My Life In The Kitchen -- my review’s as long as the book, and I’m barely halfway through -- the Godfather of Australian Cuisine put his Sydney restaurants into voluntary receivership, they were consequently shut, and the most committed gastronomers in Australia sat back and wished it wasn’t happening.

As do, of course, all those who are owed money. Friends. Enemy. Staff. Mates. True believers.

When you’re at the pointiest, most glorious, spendiest end of the nation’s cuisine, your restaurant’s generally full of stockbrokers, bankers and suits, their wives and husbands and rivals and lovers, and you see the world’s financial systems go into major organ collapse, you suddenly learn about vertigo. Or you learn it again. Business folks who one day sit in your three-star buying Burgundy and Bordeaux like there was no tomorrow will be arguing about the price of cleanskins in your wine bar next day. If you're lucky.

While he struggles to retrieve the most humble and funky of his enterprises, Bilson’s Number One Wine Bar on Circular Key, the man has lived a shattered but determined life as the forensic counters dissect every speck and your regular industry bitches and critics gnaw and hiss. In his role at Cordon Bleu Australia, he rounded up some expert assistance from its staff and students at the Adelaide campus, and kept his appointment to present a degustation dinner at O’Leary Walker’s stunning new sales and tasting rooms at Watervale, in the North Mount Lofty Ranges at Clare last weekend.

The canapés were scallop tartelet, grissini with prosciutto, salmon crouton and potato and leek soup. These were served on the hill overlooking the O’Leary Walker vineyard, facing straight across the vale to the famous calcrete slope of Watervale. It is like a priceless slice of Burgundy. As Nick Walker followed his father Norm into fizzmastery, who’d followed his Dad, Hurtle, who’d learnt from the great Burgundian, Edmund Mazure, who made a Kanmantoo red judged the best wine in the world at the great 1889 Paris Expo wine show, held to celebrate the opening of the Eiffel Tower, it was essential that we opened with the Hurtle Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay 2004.

Guests sat to an amuse bouche of jellied lobster consommé with cucumber. An entrée of carpaccio of swordfish with caviar followed, as the angels poured two exquisite Rieslings, the O’Leary-Walker Polish Hill River 2010 and 2004. The Polish Hill River vineyard usually grows wines with more wholesome umami flavours, more Germanic maybe; more ly-chee, so this intercourse, which is what it was, was a spark of genius. The swordfish looked like a Picasso.

Second entrée was a Bilson standard, and a masterpiece: quenelles of King George Whiting with a warm salad of Spanner Crab, with two Rieslings from the chalky slope opposite: the O’Leary Walker Watervale Rieslings 2010 and 2006. This more austere drinking was as sexy a match as the Polish Hill affair. Most people were dribbling by this stage.

Three reds came before the main. O’Leary-Walker Clare Valley-McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 and 2002 (swoon: hyper-intelligent blending, the softer, soulful Vales with the austere Clare), and the brash and curt O’Leary-Walker Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 as a sort of nerdy counterpoint. These musketeers made a terrible mess of the aiguillette of duck with creamed spinach and baby turnips. The tip-toe dance of acids and fats was spellbinding. We knew we were in very deep.

The Grangey O'Leary-Walker Claire Reserve Shiraz 2006 was hum-dinging with Brie de Nangis and Comte and bread of red wine, walnut and fig; the tarte frangipene pathologically swervy with the O'Leary-Walker Wyatt Earp Vintage Port 2010.

I think I retired at three. I felt like I was three.


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