Located in the centre of town, Ashcrofts offers a two course ($78) or three course ($88) menu. We went for the three course menu as we always like to try a bit of everything. The menu is well thought out and interesting with dishes such as chilled goose liver and cognac mousse and macadamia and herb encrusted barramundi. It's a foodies delight with a chance to try something completely out of the comfort zone. Aschrofts is vegetarian friendly with three entrees and one main to choose from and many of the dishes are suitable for coeliac sufferers.
The host, Mary-Jane, provided a warm welcome as we were seated in the intimate and cosy dining area. The restaurant also doubles as a gallery space with regional artwork adorning the walls and an artspace also upstairs. Even the toilet has artwork to admire.
From the extensive wine list, we ordered a bottle of Mudgee 2006 Huntington Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot as we had just visited the region in the past few days and wanted the wonderful memories to linger on. For starters we went for the organic silken tofu done three ways and the butterflied Cambodian spiced quail. As a vegetarian it is rare to be served anything interesting, we are usually an afterthought, but Ashcrofts, and specifically Corinne the chef, has set the bar pretty high. Each piece of tofu had contrasting flavours and textures - rolled in sumac with preserved lemon dressing, in a jungle curry with coconut cream and green peppercorns, and a za'atar crust with tzatziki. Mary-Jane instructed me on the order I should eat them in - sumac, za'atar and juggle curry. My tastebuds were tingling with the mixture of all the herbs and spices. I'm glad someone has shown that tofu doesn't have to be boring and I made a note to self to try and recreate this dish at home. Kevin's quail was served on a bed of pickled cucumber and white radish slaw with lime-pepper dressing. Again the combination of the Cambodian spices with the acidity and Asian flavours of the slaw was a wonderful accompaniment to the perfectly cooked quail.
One course down, two to go. For mains we ordered the shiitake, fennel and broccolini ragout and the rare beef tenderloin. All mains come with layered potatoes, green beans in tarragon, scorched almonds and organic baby tomatoes. The ragout was served on a white onion soubise with haloumi, Sicilian olives and pistachio crumbs. Again I'm amazed at the thoughtfulness put into the dishes. When I think ragout my immediate thought is something heavy and hearty however my dish had subtle flavours and again interesting textures provided by the haloumi and pistachio crumbs. Kevin asked for his steak to be cooked medium rare and was slightly disappointed as he expected the knife to slice through the beef effortlessly but had to tear it apart. Maybe rare would have been a wiser option, although that would have been a step into the unknown for somebody who normally asks for a medium steak. The oxtail jus with slow roasted field mushrooms and chorizo pesto which accompanied the beef was a hit, Kevin is still raving about the pesto. Great winter fare.
We took a bit of a breather before ordering desserts. The portion size for a fine dining restaurant is quite ample but there is a long enough pause between each dish as to not feel rushed.
As a vegetarian the dessert course is always my favourite as I can generally choose anything on the menu. All the desserts at Ashcrofts sounded amazing so it was hard to choose. We went for the pecan praline and lemon curd meringue with pomegranate seeds and mascarpone cream and the house made profiteroles with grand marnier creme patissiere and dark chocolate fudge sauce. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the meringue, the colours and aromas were a treat for the senses. The tartness of the lemon curd worked well with the melt in your mouth meringue and the not too sweet mascarpone creme. The pomegranate seeds offering a lovely crunchy texture - who would have thought pomegranate seeds could be used in a dessert! Kevin's profiteroles were smothered in the dark chocolate sauce, cutting through the light choux pastry to the creme patissiere with the spoon was a delight. Even though there was a lot of chocolate it wasn't too sweet - the flavours balanced out.
Feeling quite rotund, we took our time to finish off the wine before getting the bill. We both remarked what a wonderful meal it was, thank you Ashcrofts for preparing such imaginative dishes.
So if you find yourself up the Blue Mountains make sure you book a table at Ashcrofts. Providing a seasonal menu will ensure we keep coming back time and time again.
What is the best meal you've ever had?