For my birthday a month ago bf and I booked a lovely romantic dinner for two at the Loose Box ran by Alain Fabregues. We've been meaning to try the Loose Box out for years but never managed to get around to it because 1) Booking takes a few months 2) It's about a 30-40 minutes drive from the city. The distance opposing more of a problem then the booking troubles. After all having a degustation meal means that it's at least 3 hours of eating and then having to drive all the way back. Booking the chalet that resides within the Loose Box grounds and ran by the restaurant is a huge problem because there is only 3-4 chalets and it's always booked out if you don't get in early and there isn't any accomodation nearby that really entice us to stay for the night, with high price tag and not worthy of the type of accommodation and service you get (you may disagree with me on that one).
Anyway apart from those troubles we found ourselves looking at the rather cute cottage turned restaurant, located beneath the canopies of native Australian trees and overlooks their vegetable patch. So quaint so cute so Australian and yet with an essence of French.
We were promptly welcomed and shown to our seats, which was once a patio/veranda with simple chairs and tables laid out with white tablecloths and an occasional wooden antique furnishings on the sides for the waitstaff to place what water and what nots. Cosy.
Loose Box is a little different in the way they set their degustation menu. It's flexible unlike other places. It's a 7 course degustation and there are three menus where you can mix and match and swap between courses. There is a vegatarian menu, their classic menu and their seasonal menu. So for courses 2-5 and the dessert you can either chose from course 2 of vegatarain or classic or seasonal etc. A great concept and allows you and your partner to try at least two of the menus if you wished! The other great thing about Loose Box is that unlike other degustation places the "servings" of the courses is decent sized (note worthy for those who have the appetite and are not used to tasting sizes of degustations!) - it's almost entree like sizings.
Freshly baked bread was served to us with creamy butter. This was again offered after another batch of fresh bread came out of the oven! It was warm and fluffy and flaked so much that I made too much of a mess. But it was just lovely to have freshly baked yummy bread.
To start off the night there was the beautiful, creamy coconut and prawn broth with decent amount of prawns in the soup and lovely smell of kaffiir limes and coconut which cut through the smell of prawns. A not too rich and yet the perfect way to awaken the appetite.
Coconut and prawn broth
The second course was a choice of 3 (from vegetarian, from the classic and from the seasonal menu). Both bf and I decided to chose from the seasonal menu and opted for the oysters served three ways with three different sauces/seasonings and a lovely lime granita.
Oysters cooked three ways with lime granita
The oysters were very fresh and the sauces placed into each oysters complemented the taste of the ocean that occurs with oyster and removes that "slimey" texture without overpowering it that you can no longer taste the oyster itself. There was a salsa flavoured one, a lime/lemon/mint one and one which was almost kilpatrick like. The lime granita was the perfect refreshing finish between each of the oyster and to cleanse the palate afterwards.
The next course saw bf and I part our ways with our choice. I opted for the venison carpaccio with mushrooms and he went for the crispy skin salmon.
I'm rather surprised the venison carpaccio was so tender and the creamy nutty taste and texture of the mushrooms gave this dish the little kick it needed to make it taste not so "slightly seared/cooked meat" taste that can sometimes occur with low quailty (or badly done) carpaccio (whether it's venison or beef!).
Venison Carpaccio with mushrooms
I had a pleasure of taste-testing out bf's salmon dish - it was perfectly cooked salmon that melted in your mouth with this lovely broth sauce, which unfortunately found a little salty (you know my very senstive taste buds to salt!). But overall a very nice course indeed.
Crispy skinned salmon
The third course also saw us divided. Bf opted for the pig trotters and I on the other hand went for the duck foie gras.
I don't usually like foie gras because I find them to be really overpowering and the texture never really took to me. This however, was beautiful and the fresh fruits really complemented and sweetened the deal. It actually makes me change my mind and makes me understand and appreciate why the French likes foie gras so much! I figure if a chef can do I don't think I need to say anything else do I?
Duck foie gras with fresh fruits
Bf's pig trotters were enclosed in something we couldn't remember and it definitely wasn't presented the way we were expecting. Nonetheless, it was tender and moist mixed with mushrooms and vegetables which I couldn't figure out. It was enjoyable but I think the foie gras was better.
The next course also the main course. Bf opted for the crumbed lamb, while I went for my usual favourite - duck confit. Bf's crumbed lamb whilst the crumbs were delicious lacked a bit of crunch. The lamb however was very well cooked and the sauce was lovely addition to the dish.
The duck however, was the favourite out of the two main dishes for both of us. It was so tender it fell off the bone. The sauce was this divine broth of goodness (which I can't fathom what's in it!). It was just a perfectly well executed duck confit!
The palate cleanser or the sorbet is probably the best sorbet/palate cleanser I have ever had. It was this rich intense flavour of strawberries. So dense in flavour and so creamy smooth I wanted more of it and even asked the waitress if I can have some to take home! Unfortunately it was a no, but on the plus side I found out that thermomix was used! (I new I had to get the thermomix after I went to the demostration! Just a little longer until I get my own place..).
The palate cleanser - Strawberry Sorbet
Then as bf puts it.. the best part of the night.. the dessert course. Bf went for the Loose Box infamous majestic swan with vanilla bean ice cream and tuille buscuit, while I went for this very creamy and extremely nutty pistachio and almond nougat. Both were amazing but the nougat ice cream was so big and jam packed with nuts I was actually surprised as to how nutty it was (as strange as that sounds - but you know how people say it's a pistachio ice cream or whatever and it barely has pistachio apart from a few flakes? well this was the opposite of that!)
The desserts - the infamous swan on the left and the very nutty nougat ice cream on the right.
I was also surprised by the restaurant and was given a little dove/bird with their yummy and very intense vanilla ice cream topped with a tuille happy birthday sign. How sweet.
After our desserts we were so stuffed that we were unable to finish or even remotely ask for our petite fours and coffee/teas so instead the lovely staff at Loose Box packed it into a clear container. The petite fours consisted of a very delicious and perfect almond macaroon in the middle, a chocolatey dark chocolate truffle topped with a macadamia nut for me and a white chocolate drop for bf and then there lovely toffee custard donut. This was a great dessert to our lunch the next day.
The Petite Fours
The waitstaff we had at Loose Box was absolutely lovely. She was warm friendly and happy who explained everything to us was accommodating and wasn't too invasive. It was a wonderful night out even if it was a trek to get there. I'm glad Loose Box was far better than my experience at Alain Le Bistro Des Artistes.
I will hopefully be back one day.