A fiery afternoon at the Watervale Hotel Political Roast
In the year of a pandemic when many of us have spent months in lockdown, it’s a pleasure to spend a few days in South Australia’s beautiful Clare Valley. September is an exciting month in the region, heralding the inaugural Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb. The Watervale Hotel Political Roast degustation is celebrating spring with its innovative ‘nose to tail’ menu. Ethically grown lamb is from Martindale Farm in Mintaro and Clare Valley wine pairings are from Farrell Wines and Kirrihill Wines.
It’s a glorious, sunny day in the Clare Valley and wonderful to be back at the Watervale Hotel to see it up and running since its redevelopment, having officially opened on 1st September. A sense of community is evident as the Watervale Hotel welcomes a mixed crowd of locals, visitors and distinguished guests – and a few political heavyweights who soon take to the microphone and heat up the afternoon!
Guests are greeted with a fresh and zesty Ruddenklau ‘The Quarrel’ Single Vineyard Sparkling Riesling, aptly named given the anticipated political roasting. With a warm welcome extended by Watervale Hotel co-owner Warrick Duthy (also managing director of Kilikanoon Wines) our first course quickly follows. A charcuterie of three types of lamb canapés is delicious and thoughtful in its balance and flavours.
The Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb is a collaborative effort. Festival coordinator Simon Millcock, also partner in the international cultural chef exchange program Chef Outta Water invited their associate Michael Brine from North Queensland’s A Touch of Salt Restaurant to assist with the festival’s epicurean events. Michael has been on several international chef exchanges with Chef Outta Water and is a welcome visitor to the Clare Valley. He’s assisting the Watervale Hotel’s co-owner and head chef Nicola Palmer in the kitchen, and with their ‘Fires of Hell’ Argentinian asado style barbecue for this ‘nose to tail’ lamb event. Canadian sous chef Sheldon Guindon’s hands are also on deck – he and Nicola were up at 3.30 am stoking the fires for the asado’s first official event.
Second course is a lamb tenderloin tartare with crispy sunchokes and saltbush leaves. Incredibly tasty, it’s a winner of a dish. Warrick introduces Travis Fuller, our wine MC for the day. A judge with sixteen years experience at the German Mundus Vini international wine awards, he is also the new general manager of Clare Valley’s esteemed Kilikanoon Wines. Travis speaks about the freshness of the acidity profile unique to Clare Valley Rieslings and their ‘kaffir lime complexity’ .
Long time Clare resident and former Liberal Senator Sean Edwards takes to the microphone. He tells us, ‘I’ve had to fight for Clare – aren’t we so lucky that Nicola and Warrick had their vision for the Watervale Hotel? It was a leap of faith’. Sean (also founding owner of Kirrihill Wines) stirs the pot and says that, in his opinion, Labor Senator Don Farrell’s (also owner of Farrell Wines) political party is always focused on ‘process’ while his party is focused on ‘outcome’ and cites the NBN fiasco as the perfect example …
Our third course is a succulent seared and smoked lamb loin wrapped in caul fat. Accompaniments are neck lambcetta, lamb bacon, mint and broad beans. Popping with colour on the plate, it’s a reminder that lamb is not the only hero ingredient on the menu. Watervale Hotel’s biodynamic Penobscot Farm, where the most fresh and vibrant produce imaginable is lovingly sourced for the restaurant, is a star in its own right.
The seared and smoked lamb is paired with the bold and expressive notes of a 2017 Farrell Cabernet ‘The Godfather Too’ and a 2016 Kirrihill Cabernet. These reds are a match made in heaven with the lamb.
Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey throws his hat in the ring and keeps the conversation flowing. Guests are equally informed and amused in-between courses by the political roasting shenanigans. Warrick points out that Premier Steven Marshall was an earlier visitor on the day, ‘He’s always ahead of the game’. Wayne Thomas, the Mayor of Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council is also in attendance, and the Hon Geoff Brock state MP adds to the political quota for the day.
Warning for vegetarians, you may wish to quickly scroll past the next image … The Watervale Hotel’s new Argentian asado style barbecue is being well and truly road tested today, and imparts a flavoursome but not overly smoky taste to the meats and vegetables.
Our fourth course is the delicious asado barbecued lamb with chimichurri sauce and quince jelly. Accompaniments are the giant pumpkins we’ve been watching roast on the asado with minted yoghurt (made in-house), Penobscot Farm salad and lamb fat potatoes with lemon, salt and rosemary. Our asado lamb course is served with another two fine reds, a 2017 Farrell Shiraz and a 2018 Kirrihill Shiraz. Both reds are bold and intense, and the Kirrihill Shiraz expresses a distinct smokiness on the palate – a thoughtful pairing with the asado lamb, sourced from Graeme and Dianne Johnson’s historic sheep property at Martindale Farm.
The vegetables are next level in freshness and taste – a clear sign that Penobscot Farm’s biodynamic produce is no wallflower, it always takes front and centre. Warrick points out that the potatoes are cooked under the lamb on the asado which creates more depth of flavour – they are delicious.
The Penobscot Farm Salad is a treasure trove of organic salad leaves, edible flowers, various types of kale, young cabbage stems and so much more! The huge, organic pumpkins roasted on the asado are just as sublime – the kitchen team make their own yoghurt and herbs are freshly picked from their Kitchen Gardens.
Course number five is a heavenly pear and red wine panna cotta, served with poached paradise pear, nut praline and lemon sorbet. Not only does it look evocative but it also dances on my palate with the tang from the lemon sorbet.
All in all, this was an afternoon jam packed full of camaraderie with fabulous food and wine. Warrick, Nicola and their team go above and beyond to bring you a true farm to plate experience at the Watervale Hotel, and do the produce justice. Expressive flavours with a great balance of native ingredients, overseen by intelligent cooking together with lots of love in the kitchen, ensure the produce sings.
* Special thanks to the Watervale Hotel for inviting me to attend this event
Where: The Watervale Hotel, 37 Main North Road, Watervale SA 5452
When: Open: 11 am – 9 pm daily
Contact: 08 8843 0229 or via website Watervale Hotel