Zest, Nelson Bay

8 November 2011
by Phuoc

On a recent getaway to Nelson Bay, it was my duty to research activities to do and of course places to eat; more than half of the things I had listed were food-related. Actually, one of the main reasons why we came to Nelson Bay was because there was a particular restaurant I wanted to dine at (but more about that for a later post). Zest is the only restaurant in the Port Stephens region to be awarded one chefs hat. As we were on holidays, we decided to indulge and treat ourselves to some good food. There are only two menu options to choose from; 2 courses for $65 and 3 courses for $75. You can guess what we chose; with a difference of $10 how could one not?!

We started the night with warm sourdough with hand churned truffle infused cultured butter ($5) with warm nicoise olives and Parmesan ($5 extra) for the two of us. Now let me start on that butter. Light and silky smooth, with a slight touch of saltiness and delicate aroma of truffle; this butter was heavenly. I wished I had more bread to slather it on but instead I had to pile it on the bread; there was no wasting here. I cleaned out the entire butter pot. The olives were quite meaty given their small size. We found the bread, butter and olives to be enough to get us started and we weren’t too keen with starting with some cheese, I only had a nibble of it though.

The night before I had envisaged having a potato salad of some sort so when I saw warm salad of smoked eel and kipflers, cress, grain mustard dressing and slow cooked duck egg, I knew I just had to have it; it was a sign! When the dish was brought out to me, I noticed the smokey, sweet aroma immediately and during my meal, the pleasant smokiness was prominent on the palate as well. The eel was succulent and smokey. Runny egg yolk oozes out as a pierce to the perfectly cooked duck egg was made, further coating the firm, waxy potatoes and the seeded mustard dressing provided a burst of flavour.

Ant had the seared scallops with pork torchon, truffle mayonnaise and apple puree. Two small discs of compact pork were topped with perfectly cooked and juicy scallops and surrounded by droplets of spiced apple puree. A smidgen of creamy truffle mayonnaise smeared across the plate brings the dish together. In comparison to my dish, this entree was quite small and after a few bites he was done.

My eyes light up at the sight of pork belly on the menu. The salt baked Byron Bay pork belly with brussels sprouts, pancetta, mint and spiced pear puree was simply too tempting to pass up. Three chunks of pork belly goodness laid over a bed of shredded pan-fried brussels sprouts and pancetta. Besides being cooked to perfection, I was a little disappointed that not all of the pork belly pieces had ear shattering crackling; only two out of three pieces had slightly chewy crackling which would annoyingly stick to the teeth. I’d never thought I’d say this but I wanted more of that brussels sprout and pancetta salad as I felt there wasn’t enough vegetables for the dish. The spiced pear puree was sweet and predominantly tasted of vanilla. Overall, not a bad dish, I just wished all the crackling was crunchy.

Whilst it was easy for me to decide on a main, it took Ant a little longer as there were a few options on the menu that were tantalising. In the end, he choose the Mandagery Creek venison with pickled cabbage, walnuts and chocolate ganache. Tender pieces of venison simply melts in the mouth and if anything should go with venison, it’s definitely chocolate. However, the chocolate ganache that accompanied this dish was just that, a ganache; which was a little weird as it was slightly sweet, thick and smooth. (Perhaps a thinner sauce would do the trick?) The warm pickled red cabbage was like the braised red cabbage you would get at typical German restaurants, which went well with the rich, gamey venison.

Normally Ant orders the chocolate dessert but as soon as I saw chocolate gianduja delice with popcorn ice cream and salted caramel sauce I knew I had to claim it, and quickly too. This dessert was screaming out pure awesomeness from the description. Serve anything with salted caramel and you’re off with a winning dessert, but to then top it off with popcorn ice cream sends this dessert to epic status immediately. The chocolate delice was rich and decadent; the smooth chocolate mousse was offset by the crunchy and crumbly chocolate biscuit layer. The only disappointing thing about this dessert was that there needed to be more of that velvety and delectable salted caramel sauce to balance out the richness of the delice and of course more of that awesome ice cream (an overload of salted caramel and ice cream won’t hurt). That ice cream seriously needs to be packed and sold to the general public (you heard it here first people, I’ll take royalties in batches of popcorn ice cream :p)

Ant ended up having the passionfruit souffle with raspberry sorbet. The souffle was light anf fluffy as a cloud, it wasn’t too sweet nor tangy and the sorbet was refreshing. However, I question having two tangy elements to this dessert because at times it did seem a bit too much.

Overall we had a pleasant dinner at Zest, we left the restaurant happy and content.

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  1. Tina @ bitemeshowme

    It’s good to see one venture out of Sydney and see what else is on offer! That dessert looks perfect! Check out that souffle!

  2. Angie

    Mmm looks like a wondeful meal πŸ™‚ Nothing more saddening than non crackly crackling on pork belly. And I would have gone for the souffle and asked if I could have a side of popcorn ice cream with it instead πŸ˜‰

  3. Rita (mademoiselle dΓ©licieuse)

    Wow, very impressive food for a one-hatter? Was the table service equally good to match?

    I’m marvelling at the popcorn ice-cream and salted caramel sauce – reckon I could just go those two and ignore the actual chocolate dessert!

  4. Jacq

    I want some of the popcorn ice cream now!

  5. Lex

    Nice! I dined there a few years ago before I had my blog and really enjoyed it, glad to see they’re still doing well πŸ™‚

  6. excusemewaiter

    ooh i will be heading to the area in a week! wonder if i can convince my holiday buddies to splurge on a nice dinner one of the nights here…looks amazing for a restaurant in a small town.

  7. nic@diningwithastud

    Non crackly pork makes me sad πŸ™

  8. Jan Littlehales

    Amazing photography Phuoc – great to meet you at the Food Conference on Saturday πŸ™‚ Jan

  9. Phuoc

    Tina: Yes, I love weekend getaways to escape Sydney. That dessert was heavenly..

    Angie: HAHA nice thinking Angie!

    Rita: Table service was friendly and helpful. I totally agree! I think I’ll have to attempt to make it at home one day… πŸ™‚

    Jacq: Oh me too!

    Lex: That’s good to hear πŸ™‚

    Excuse me waiter: Nice! I hope they agree to it. It is a nice restaurant for a small town, definitely worth checking out.

    Nic: Me too.. πŸ™

    Jan: Thanks!

  10. Christy

    What a lovely place! The ambience is good, the food looks great and everything is just perfect:)
    The seared scallops are definitely my favorites; I have always loved scallops! The souffle with raspberry looks amazing πŸ˜€

  11. Sara (Belly Rumbles)

    All looks fantastic, really wonderful looking dishes, even the not so crisp pork crackling (I too hate it when it sticks to your teeth).

    I think you should have a go at making it, infusion method!

  12. Chopinand @ ChopinandMysaucepan

    Pork and scallops seem to be such a lethal combo! The venison looks really good but probably a bit too lean for my liking tho I intrigued by your suggestion of a chocolate pairing.

  13. muppy

    the food all looks really good, you could tell that crackling was going to be compromised with all that foam around it! i want the chocolate dessert AND the souffle πŸ˜‰

  14. Amanda

    I’d crawl over broken glass for good pork belly – so long as the meat is soft and unctuous I can live with not-quite-perfect crackling.
    And salted caramel sauce would make me very happy indeed.

  15. Phuoc

    Christy: Indeed, it is a lovely place. Who would’ve thought a restaurant like this would exist in a small town

    Sara: I think I should make it indeed. My mouth is drooling just thinking about it!

    Chopinand: I’ve had venison and kangaroo with chocolate before and they work, it was just a little weird this time around.

    Muppy: Actually, the foam had nothing to do with gluggy crackling; the piece with the crispy crackling was the one with all of it piled on (the centre one), it was the two on either sides that were gluggy.

    Amanda: Oh yes! Salted caramel everything is great.

  16. Cooking Gallery

    The foods look great! I am drooling over the venison and the chocolate gianduja…!!

  17. Vivian - vxdollface

    This place sounds great! Haha your entree seems much more filling in comparison to Ant’s!
    Not a huge fan of chocolate but the dessert does look/sound intriguing, hehe can never have enough salted caramel ^^

  18. Phuoc

    Cooking Gallery: Both were good dishes

    Vivian: HAHA Yes it was.. Possibly for the first time, I had better choices for dishes in comparison to Ant. But yes, salted caramel FTW! πŸ™‚

  19. SuperfoodAnita

    Awesome review Phuoc. Your dessert looks legend-ary!!! I’m going to check out their menu online to see if they have no red meat options. Thanks for the recommendations πŸ™‚

  20. Jenny

    Mmm yum! I love scallops, apple and pork together.. they go so well!

  21. Phuoc

    SuperfoodAnita: I’m sure there are no red meat options. Hope you like it! πŸ™‚

    Jenny: Yes indeed πŸ™‚

  22. Hotly Spiced

    That food is so well presented and it looks delicious. I would just love to try that pork belly.

  23. Phuoc

    Hotly Spiced: Who would have thought you’d be able to find a restaurant like this in a small town like Nelsons Bay?

  24. Selina @Suburbaneatz

    Major food envy! I was actually just up there, and we alllmooost decided to try it after one of the locals said it was the best restaurant in town. We were only there for 1 night though..next time! Great to see some good food places opening in Nelson Bay.

  25. Phuoc

    Selina: Most definitely! You should try it out when you get a chance to go back.

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