February 20, 2011

The single conundrum...

In a bid to address the eternal single conundrum - is it worse to do something alone that you know would be better done in company, or to not experience that thing at all? - I am going to do something about which I've previously been hesitant.

The intent of Team Pretty Bake has always been to show you what we do. While a love of food and writing certainly lends itself to review, I feel the internet is already graced with food blogs to the point of malignancy, so rather than add my two cents about any favoured dining establishments, I try to offer something a little different. Occasionally, however, there is cause to make an exception, and since a seaside sojourn had me out of the kitchen anyway, I feel there's an experience I need to share.

To help set the scene, a well-placed conference and generously offered coastal getaway had me out of town for the weekend and enjoying a brief respite complete with sand, sun and surf (the weather, of course, had something different in mind, but we'll leave that bemoaning for another day). 

Not surprisingly a hastily thrown-together itinerary included a few foodie-focussed delights to compliment the beachside dabblings, and so the weekend kicked-off with supplies being collected en route from the well-regarded baking artisans at La Madre...

Saturday saw a long beach walk happily interrupted by a superb lunch at the delightful Yering Station venture of 360Q...

But what I was really looking forward to was Sunday lunch. 

While completing my conference registration, a quick cartographic consultation confirmed I'd be travelling within a hair's breath of Drysdale, and when fortune carries you that close to the 2011 best new country restaurant, you pick up the phone and book lunch, dining companions or no.

Loam is a delightful little establishment run by Aaron and Astrid Turner nestled in a gorgeous country aspect and surrounded by olive groves and a view to die for. While I don't wish to provide a comprehensive review, what I will say is this: there is nothing not to love about Loam.

Everything from ethos to execution is perfect, and the epitome of what I want a dining experience to be - fun, informative, adventurous, aesthetically humbling and sublimely delicious. Their knowledge and passion is infectious, and attention to detail simply exquisite. One thing I enjoy most about places like Loam is their ability to provide fuss without seeming fussy. You are their guest - royalty without the fanfare - quietly offered perfection without expectation. All they want is to share doing what they love, and simply hope that you'll enjoy it too.

There is no menu - just a list of what's in season. "Tell me what you can't or won't eat and how hungry you are, and I'll feed you until you say stop." It was at this point, before I'd even consumed a single morsel, that I was besotted. When I eat out I don't want to tell someone what to cook, I want them to tell me what to eat. I want someone to say "this is the produce we're enjoying, and this is how I believe it should be prepared", and it's just so refreshing to find somewhere that is prepared to embrace that.

The aesthetics of each course were exquisite and brought me within a whisker of breaking my second rule (I'm rather averse to in-restaurant photography), but quite frankly I was having too much fun to think about anyone else. The delivery of each course was impeccably timed, and the enjoyment of trying to guess what would come next as each new set of cutlery was laid out was bordering on childish. By the sixth course, when they left me to guess at the dish itself, I was at risk of indecent proposal. These are people who understand the need to be tactical when it comes to the sourdough (although providing two types of butter makes this particularly challenging), and who would be positively mortified if you found yourself breadless when there were delectable juices to be mopped.

As I neared the penultimate course the temptation to continue was almost overwhelming, but being aware of the dangers of spoiling an experience by pushing ones limits, in the end I stuck with this...

Everything was a highlight - from the cold-smoked miso butter, and garden peas in tomato consomme to the ewes milk granita, and fennel pollen ice cream - a more delectable lunch you could not have. Gorgeous. Simple. Divine.

My visit to Loam is definitely up there on the list of most enjoyable life experiences. Yes it was weird eating alone, and yes, it would have been better in certain company, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. However, when I say that the food was exquisite, I don't want for you to believe me. I want you to go and see for yourself, because this is an experience worth having. And if you find yourself a little short on company let me know, I'd be more than happy to oblige...

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