Its no secret that the extensive 2017 redevelopment of Rutherglen Estates’ cellar door, featuring the newly established Aboriginal Exhibitions Gallery within the same historic 1880s Seppelts Cellars building, has in recent years seen a marked increase in visitation; however its Tuileries Restaurant – within the same complex – at the time perhaps had not stepped up to the mark, that is until the much needed recent arrival of French-born head chef Christoph Niklaus; who’s culinary genius is rapidly transforming the business and elevating the restaurant’s reputation. Essentials checked in to sample his plates, sip some wines and tour the art gallery; all of a which proved a destination that far exceeded expectations.

Christoph Niklaus intimately understands the value of regional country cooking and the use of fresh-daily harvested produce. He trained within his family’s countryside hotel/restaurant Le Râtelier (roughly translating to hay rack), a quaint regional guest house situated in Montaigut-sur-Save, 20km north west of Toulouse, France. Christoph says he considers the food at Le Râtelier as being ‘the backbone of cooking’. It serves hearty regional classics like Cassoulet maison au confit de canard (homemade cassoulet with confit duck) and Beef Bourguignon; however unlike Le Râtelier, at Tuileries Christoph plates up dishes in a style that’s unmistakably reminiscent of European Michelin-star-level cuisine: food perfectly presented, with form, colour and a level of delicacy not often seen in regional Victoria. Christoph explains that he learned to present his food from studying the work of top Michelin-awarded chefs including the flavour pairings of French heavyweight Pascal Aussignac and British brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin of the highly respected Galvin Bistrot de Luxe and Galvin at Windows, within London’s Hilton Hotel. Christoph further explains that the plated designs of BritishMichelin Star-awarded chef Marcello Tully best represents the visual direction in what he today serves at Tuileries. Relatively new to cooking with only a decade of work under his belt, Christoph’s work surprises as he seemingly effortlessly manages to deliver food with impeccable visual style and wonderful balance in flavour. To discover such fine balance across the large range of dishes  is exceedingly rare for a chef with limited time behind the range; but don’t let that deter you – when you dine at Tuileries you’re sure to be impressed.

Scallop carpaccio, pickled beetroot tomato salsa & yuzu dressing

The scallop carpaccio with softly pickled beetroot, tomato salsa and yuzu dressing is a luxuriously textured, fresh and softly fragrant tasting starter. Chervil leaf and llilliput capers add subtle floral touches that pair brilliantly with winemaker Marc Scalzo’s gently aromatic 2018 Rutherglen Estates Arneis.

Quail terrine with rhubarb textures, figs & pistachio

The wow factor continues with the quail terrine brightly painted in rhubarb pink textures: poached (baton), purée, jelly and syrup that accompanies the dish. It’s a class-leading entree that’s also a feature of café lunch menu. Softly flavoured with Chinese five spice and generously laced with figs and fresh bright lime green pistachio nuts, its a lightly-filling choice that makes a perfect summer lunch paired with the wonderfully textured, wild ferment VRM (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne) Shelley’s Block blended wine.

Tuileries’ French-born head chef Christoph Niklaus; Melon fruit salad, cucumber sorbet & chia seeds

Perhaps one of Christoph’s finest dishes is the bouillabaisse featuring Murray River cod, scallop, prawns, clams and sprouts. The choice of the local cod, with its firm flesh and soft, earthy yet sweet taste connects the restaurant with its river-land surroundings. It’s also a logical progression to sample the same fish as featured within the storytelling and educational messages of Victorian-born Aboriginal artist Craig Charles – one of two Victorians featured as a part of the onsite Aboriginal Exhibitions Gallery (within cellar door); the other being Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown, a multi-award winning artist who’s animal paintings are also collected by the National Gallery of Victoria.

While Craig engages with his Country through his depiction of the Murray River, historic themes and sacred sites – often painted as aerial maps with sacred sites marked as areas of gold, silver and copper leaf applied to the work – it’s the whimsical and powerful recreations of animal life that Turbo is most famous for.

Rutherglen Estates ‘White’ (foreground) with Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown’s work:
Eagle Catching Fish and Taking it to the Nest (Sea Eagle), 2009

Estranged from his family as a young boy due to his intellectual disability, he lived on the banks of the Murray for some time. During this time he formed an intimate understanding and as Turbo once stated, a ‘friendship’ with the animals. Currently hanging in the gallery, as a part of the Collections Highlights exhibition, Blue Wren Culture Warrior, 2008, is a painting that showcases the bird as a bold totem-like hero – a great survivor of the landscape. It’s this sort of appreciation of animals through witnessing behaviour that brings such power to his work.

The Collections Highlights Exhibition features more than 50 contemporary aboriginal paintings plus more than 60 additional artefacts including: hand carved and painted coolamons, Tiwi Island sculptures, swords, boomerangs and didgeridoos. While partly curated in a museum style, the exhibition has also been put together in a more commercial context, as all works are offered for sale. It’s all about a balance between exhibiting the very small, and very large-scale works.

FROM LEFT: Michelle Possum Nungurrayi, Tilmouth Lake (Where the Bushtucker Grows Near), 2005; Kudditji Kngwarreyi, My Country, 2009 (group of three works); Russell Butler, Giman, 2007

With several 50m long walls and high ceilings, the gallery also has scope to display massive paintings. Included are a collection of Kudditji Kngwarreye colour field paintings. Similar in feel to the American master modernist painter Mark Rothko, Kudditji was the first Indigenous artist to paint in colour fields; he did so beginning in 1993. At the time, he didn’t take his inspiration from Rothko’s paintings, in fact he’d never seen any. While collectors soon appreciated his work, seeing mastery in his paint-handling technique, he was just painting his country, his Dreamings, his way. The style is in part austere, yet manages to achieve a great sense of warmth with its balance of richly mixed primary and pastel tones.

‘The most meaningful works within the current show are the exhibits that were shown in Dreamtime: Lo Spirito Dell’Arte Aborigena,’ says Gallery Director Hans Sip – a two-part exhibition held in 2011 at the MAN Museo d’Arte Provincia in Nuoro (Sardinia), Italy. ‘We’re offering a very rare opportunity to buy works which have been internationally shown in a landmark exhibition. The works also carry undoubted provenance.’

Billy Doolan, The Kanatgurk and the Crow (Fire Dreaming), 2009

Queensland artist Billy Doolan, who is internationally famous for exhibiting in Hong Kong as well as within the Sardinia Dreamtime exhibition, has recently visited the gallery to sign a set of limited edition prints of his work: The Kanatgurk and the Crow (Fire Dreaming), 2009. Painted following Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009, the painting depicts a fire dreaming and details the role of animals – those associated with the element of water that hide or destroy fire such as the fresh water crocodile and pythons; or the element of air the habitat of birds like the crow. Within the painting crows are shown as circling the sky looking for embers to collect. Within dreamtime stories, crows are considered the makers and keepers of fire. $200 from the sale of each print is donated to the local community foundation Into Our Hands, which plays a great role in much needed regional development and community-focused socially responsible activities.

Rutherglen Estates cellar door, cafe and Aboriginal Exhibitions Gallery is open 10am to 5:30pm daily, entry is free. Tuileries Restaurant is open every evening from 6.30pm, bookings recommended.

Tuileries Restaurant & Aboriginal Exhibitions Gallery at Rutherglen Estates
13-35 Drummond St
Tel 02 6032 9033

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