Briony Bradford, Head Chef at Rutherglen’s famed Jones Winery Restaurant has an artist’s eye. She paints impeccably presented plates that incorporate delicate flavour pairings and a range of intriguing textures. Given their beauty, it’s easy to think of the dishes as items that might have popped out of a renaissance painting. But her expressions of the seasons are not mere table arrangements of draped grape bunches and stacked stone fruits. There is another skill at hand, in our view making the contents of some celebrated paintings appear as unachieved in potential in comparison and lacking in detail.
However Briony seems to craft her plates cheerfully unaware of her own natural talents, instead focusing on the wonderfulness of the ingredients at hand. She suggests presenting to our camera fresh oysters from a close family friend’s lease in Wapengo (a remote region of southern NSW where the Bega River meets the Pacific Ocean) excited by its natural beauty and glistening silver perfection. However winemaker Mandy Jones immediately points out to her that that her talents as a young chef are far greater than oyster shucking. We can only agree.
Featuring the best of spring, we’re served an asparagus and goat’s cheese panna cotta, dressed with a salad garnish of tiny snow pea tendrils, baby asparagus heads, butterflied snow peas, and opposing sweet and sour flavour elements: candied walnuts and pickled onion. The base panna cotta has a mousse-like ultra smooth consistency and manages a perfect balance between the fresh in-season asparagus and the slightly sharper bite of goat’s cheese. This entrée clearly adds to the reasons why dining at Jones Winery Restaurant is so special: all the the senses are catered for.
Briony also makes an asparagus tart using an ultra short, half butter, half flour, shortcrust pastry. Its naughty smooth lardo base filling is topped with radish, finely grated cured egg yolk and radish flowers. We catch her finishing its final flourishes on the parse, a task that requires an almost microscopic precision.
One of the recommended wine pairings for the panna cotta is the new release J6 Jones Winery and Vineyards Six Generations 2018 Marsanne SC (skin contact wine); the other is Mandy’s wonderfully balanced Ugni Blanc, a lighter style wine made from Trebbiano grapes. The J6 wine is fermented on skins, a method that extracts more colour, depth of fruit flavour and tannins from the grapes, aiding in the wine’s pleasing creamy texture. Mandy calls this a half yellow wine, due to its bright gold appearance. Made in partnership with sixth generation winemaker nephew Ben Jones, it’s a bold and very exciting wine to try. Its rich citrus aromas have a full and almost candied depth – a little like an aged Riesling. On tasting the palate is dry, yet flavour packed and lengthy. Toasty notes are also evident, no doubt also due to the skin contact influence. Delicate enough to pair with lighter dishes and complex enough to impress the fussiest of wine lovers: it’s a fantastic wine.
Briony’s Dijon and pink peppercorn crusted sirloin is a more robust offering. Grass-fed, the ultra tender yet well textured local sirloin is perfectly seasoned and cooked. The sweet aromatic pink peppercorns work well with the mustard. In foundation the dish appears classic French, although served without the frites which we simply don’t miss. Briony’s sides are garden and orchard fresh, flavoursome and clever. There’s grilled zucchini topped with pickled pear and watercress – the combination making a surprisingly delicious, structured warm side salad. A purée of watercress and zucchini, bright green coloured, and another of yogurt and roasted garlic: white, are painted as bold plate splashes with the back of a spoon. They offer choice in texture and flavour that lightens the richness of the additional slow cooked golden shallot and red wine jus – poured to your liking.
The must-have wine pairing to the sirloin is Mandy Jones’ flagship 2017 L.J. Shiraz – a wine that’s testament to both Mandy’s winemaking knowledge and to consistency of the vines. First planted in 1905 the Shiraz block has a small amount of Grenache vines mixed within it, making the L.J. a single vineyard, ‘field blend’ wine. Its palate is medium to full bodied, and features lovely complex fragrances of mulberry, tobacco, chocolate and cherry. The mouthfeel is as expected, silky – with ultra fine chalky tannins. A generously lengthy finish suggests a further investment in several bottles, or a case purchase might be wise. It’s the kind of wine to lay down for your child’s graduation, or similar special future occasion.
Fermented in timber vats that date from the end of the 1800s, the fruit is hand plunged to encourage a gentle extraction of tannins and colour in the wine. Matured in 70% new French oak for 15 months, Mandy explains that the fruit is ‘so rich that it can handle such treatment, integrating beautifully.’ Barrels supplied by a range of different coopers provide further variation and wine complexity. And if by chance that the wine in one individual barrel doesn’t perfectly integrate with the fruit, lacking any sign of balance, it won’t be included in the final L.J. blend. Altogether it’s a winemaking process that ultimately respects the quality of fruit produced by the 1905 vineyard block.
The meal is concluded with rhubarb parfait profiteroles – Briony’s deluxe take on a humble ice cream sandwich. Her pink parfait is topped with a crumble of candied pistachio nuts, poached rhubarb and slithers of liquorice. The flavour pairings might sound a touch unusual, but integrate perfectly, with the aniseed flavour of the liquorice warming the sharp acidic bite of the rhubarb and the pistachio nuts adding texture. The profiterole itself is masterful in design – its thin crunchy outer layer and super fluffy interior is an exercise in dedication and skill. To finish, Mandy Jones’ Correll Blanc citrus aperitif is served as a spritz. Presenting with gentle musk and orange peel notes, it’s a class-leading drop that makes an ideal mixer, or aperitif served straight up on ice. It proves a delightful way to refresh the body, thus crowning a perfected modern provincial French inspired spring season lunch.
Jones Winery Restaurant is open for lunch 12pm – 2.30pm Thursday to Sunday.