Highway Hotel - Game season, game on!

The Highway Hotel invited four members from The Chopping Board to the Game Season preview dinner to be introduced in the month of May (1-15). All meals and drinks were provided free of charge by The Highway Hotel.

This was another rare occasion where all four members of the Chopping Board were able to meet up and review together. (Late cancellation by Jess meant our good friend and regular guest blogger Hazemo was able to join us).

On arrival, Head Chef, Nick Finn provided a detailed run down the menu, produce, how it was sourced, prepared and presented, along with a few of their craft beers for tasting to entice us to stay for the night! As the name suggests, the Game menu focuses on game related meats (think venison, rabbit, duck).  We were advised that tasting dishes were to be served first, and once complete, we would have the opportunity to go to the dining area and select a sample item to be then provided as a main serving.  

Given we were provided with tastings as well as mains, this review will cover both items (where a tasting and main were provided).  As each of the reviewers got a chance to taste the food provided, you will see (where possible) the opinions of all reviewers. 

OK, so now to the food!

Rabbit Cacciatore
A cacciatore style of dish which makes the hero of the dish, rabbit, seem less daunting
First on the menu was the Rabbit Cacciatore wtih tomato, olive, speck & pugliese ciabatta served as both a tasting and main.

Hayes – I had this as a tasting option, the rabbit presented was very soft and without mentioning that it was rabbit one could not tell that this was the case.  The mash on the side was creamy and smooth and was a great combination with the tomato sauce.  A very hearty dish for cold winter nights.

Nathan - I loved this as a taster, loved the depth that the olives provided and the slow cooked tomato sauce was spot on. These key flavours were still there in the main, however, I was a little disappointed that the rabbit was not the same. It was a lot drier and chewier. Not sure if this was just the bit of meat in the main, or maybe an outlier to the whole process.

Hazemo (Guest blogger)- The rabbit was soft and tasty, and not quite as 'gamey' as you could expect from the dish. The olives slow cooked in the sauce brought through a strong taste throughout the dish, and the mash throughout all the dishes was creamy and delicious. Definitely a fan.

Mirko - As a result of the little taster that was provided to us (and how much I liked it), I decided that I would have this as a main.  The rabbit was served on the bone with the creamy mash and ciabatta.  For me, the main was a little bit of a let down.  Whilst the flavours were there - nice tomato base with a little saltiness from the olive, my rabbit was very dry - not tender and falling off the bone like I would have hoped.  The mash was creamy and smooth.  The ciabatta was also nice but a little too oily for my liking.

Kangaroo Burger
Head Chef, Nick Finn worked with his suppliers to create these burgers

Second to grace our plates was the Kangaroo Burger w bush chutney & chips.  Whilst we all had this dish, we will let the resident expert, Nathan, make comments on his thoughts. 

Nathan - This was served to us as an entrĂ©e slider size.  As you may or may not know, I am a bit OCD when it comes to burgers and how they are set up, cooked and served. When I read the menu the prior night, my first hope was the the patty was minced kangaroo meat. When the chef was informing us about the dish, he described the level of detail that went into getting the right mix of kangaroo cuts and fat content when mincing the patty - BOOM! I'm excited.

Creating the humble burger but mixing it up from the standard chicken or beef patty was exciting for me so I could not wait to try this burger.  To my surprise, it was really good.  In my opinion, Kangaroo has a distinctive flavour which can be strong, with an almost smoky quality.  This was definitely maintained in the patty, and these flavours stayed the hero of the burger. It wasn't over sauced, it was presented with a good dollop of sweet chutney and a dash of aoili. It all worked really well together, and gave me a great taste of kangaroo via a different medium. This is definitely a dish I would have again, but potentially as part of a trio of different sliders. My only question was if it would get overwhelming if it was in a larger size burger.

Fries with seasoning
Crocodile Skewers
Meat is harvested from the tail of the animal. Being a subtle flavoured meats, it is spiced using Asian flavours

Third on the tasting menu were the Crocodile Skewers w Asian salad & chilli jam

Hayes and Mirko – The skewers were a little dry and tough for our liking.  When questioned, the Head Chef mentioned the skewers are made from the tail of the crocodile resulting in its texture.  The chilli jam was delicious, very hot and went very well with the salted fries on the side.

Nathan - I have had crocodile before, so I knew what to expect. It's a little chewy, but, when you have an amazing chilli jam, I forgot about the crocodile. Other than being a little chewy, the crocodile was nice, not too strong in flavour.  So all in all, a good dish. I think that the chilli jam should be a permanent addition to The Highway menu!

Hazemo (Guest blogger) - The chilli jam was the star of this dish. Reflecting on the dishes, I'm yet to be convinced that crocodile is worth trying to work with - as the flavour wasn't particularly strong, and the texture was similar to eating something akin to salt and pepper squid. It should be noted that I feel this was more of a reflection on the meat itself rather than the cooking process or the skills of the chef, but honestly anything with this chilli jam was worthwhile having a go. Those sensitive to spice should be warned, be prepared for some heat with the sweetness.

Denver Venison
The venison is cooked for three hours. Being a tougher meat, braising it allows the meat to breakdown and soften

Last on the tasting menu was the Denver Venison with gnocchi, fennel & parsnip chips.

Hayes – I had this as both a taster and the main as I loved it so much!  This was the winning dish for the night.  I fell in love with the gnocchi, each piece was soft and slightly chewy, but never soggy or too moist.  Each piece was uniform in its size and texture and were pure delights.  The venison was soft and plentiful.  I could eat buckets of this dish...Amazing. 

Mirko - Definitely the winner of the night for me, by far.  The venison was soft and swimming in that gravy.  It was so appealing that I would have loved some fresh bread to dip straight into it!  As for the gnocchi, they were slightly pan fried fluffy pillows of deliciousness swimming in pools of gravy in my mouth *drools*.

Nathan - A great dish. Classic flavours from the gravy, balancing out the strong meatiness of the Venison. Plus some great little pillows of gnocchi goodness. Definitely the dish of the night for me too, something I would have expected to see at an upmarket restaurant, this is the second item of the night that I would return for if it was permanently on the menu.

Hazemo (Guest Blogger)- The gnocchi were superb, fried to perfection with a firm casing on the outside and a soft inside. The venison was tasty and without any unexpected flavours. If you're a fan of gravy-based dishes, grab this in a heartbeat.

Crisp skin Duck Breast
Duck is often a dish that is overlooked when it comes to game meat, for Game Season, the Chef opted to use the breast.

At the completion of the tasting, we were directed to the dining room where we tried the Crispy Skin Duck Breast with braised lentils, tomato, sugo & witlof hearts as a main. 

Mirko  - The menu touts this as a 'crispy' skin duck dish, so when I see that key word, I expect it to be on the dish.  The duck was flavoursome but I was a little disappointed that the duck skin was not crispy at all however this was only a small issue in what was a great dish.

Nathan - I chose this as my main, as I don't often eat a lot of duck, other than down Gouger St. The duck was really well cooked, just past medium rare and still soft and juicy. Some might like it a little rarer, but this definitely catered to the majority.  The skin was almost crispy, but, didn't quite have the crunch to meet the brief. The other parts of the dish were a great compliment to the strong flavours of the duck. Braised lentils had great smooth texture, the sugo slightly sweet and was great with the duck breast, and the witlof hearts provided some necessary crunch. A great dish only let down by some missing crispiness.

Crocodile Sausages
These sausages are a play on a classic pub dish.

Hazemo had the Crocodile Sausages with sweet relish mash potatoes & glaze as his main.  This dish was unfortunately the most disappointing of the night.  The sausages weren't particularly flavourful, and really reminded me of herbed chicken sausages in terms of flavour. The texture of the snags themselves were a tad pasty, with a bit of unexpected stickiness to the filling. The chef has obviously gone to significant lengths to make a tasty crocodile sausage, and to his credit, I think they've probably produced the best possible representation of this dish, but I do wonder though whether crocodile as a meat suits this sort of meal? Again, the accompaniments were great, with pickled cabbage and a wonderful creamy mash coming alongside the snags.

Dessert Platter

Dessert platter 

The Chopping Board - We thought this was a great representation of what spending some time as a patisserie chef can do for your dessert offerings.  There were lots of options on the plate with the Creme Catalan being a favourite for all particularly when in combination with the basil and blood orange sauces.  The combination definitely tickled our taste-buds and Nathan mentioned that he would go back just for this. There was nothing wrong with any of the other options on the platter, they were all great too, but the Catalan was definitely the fave! 

Overall, we believe that the Chef has presented a good variety of game dishes which in some instances are different to the norm whilst not scaring off the typical diner.  Many of the dishes had rich game flavours and were executed well, however the dry rabbit (as a main) and croc skewers along with a non-crispy skin duck are areas that may need improvement.   Another factor to consider would be the price of such dishes under a typical dinner setting.

If you are in for something a little different, The Chopping Board definitely recommends that you give the Game menu, especially the Venison with Gnocchi a go whilst it is available (May 1-15).

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  1. Great review guys, man that venison looks delish

    1. Thanks for the kind comments Bec - yes, the Venison was really an amazing dish. definitely worth a try before the 15th

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