The manager of this cleared-plateau six star accommodation was amazing. Nothing was too difficult as she parked my car, returning my valuables and luggage to our swanky, large room (one of ten) without a blink.
Clearly one must drop down a gear or two, drink the view across the Main Range National Park as part of south-east Queensland’s Great Dividing Range, a choice of Croser (90) or Jansz NV, the former quite exquisite in subtle yeast complexity when one stares at shimmering peaks and picture-blue skies.
Champagne by-the-glass was not offered, though this writer has a regular diet of the stuff, but it would be nice to be offered original bubbles.
Lunch could not come quick enough, appetites run riot when one relaxes a little more than usual, and the thought of pressed livers on the menu had me salivating.
A Kiwi Sauvignon blanc was offered as the complement, and quickly declined, while a little more prompting of the pourer found Schlumberger Pinot Blanc 2007 (92), unctuous from wild yeast ferment, textured and razor-like acidity to temper the fatty duck livers (described as foie gras) in a tropical setting with caramelised smooth-leaf pineapple.
With time to let my mind wander, as a strident locovore I mused how delighted I would have been to be offered the widely-popular Symphony Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc made 100 kilometres down the road instead of “across the ditch wine-NZ”.
A better complement for livers which our pourer acknowledged was a half dry table wine dessert style which was not offered or unavailable.
The kingfish, beautifully-browned was tried with two pinots, one Mornington, the other Marlborough which turned out to be forgettable, second tier level drinks (over-oaked, chewy tannins) without the suppleness of fully-ripe grapes.
Spicers Peak makes a feature of its degustation menus, so dinner was high on the anticipation list in an environment which encourages eating, drinking and exercise (if one has the mind power) in that order.
Friday April 30′s running list was demitasse (asparagus), buffalo mozzarella wrapped in Spanish cured ham (serrano) plus wonderful tomato essence in sorbet form, cleverly-seared scallops (Queensland origin, no roe) over sweet corn, partly-Frenched lamb duet ribs, rosemary jus, Shropshire stilton (orange blue) and mud cake.
Wines started well; Plantagenet Riesling 2008 (88) being hard to pair with two stocky-thick mouthfuls, better off with amontillado sherry, or at least a choice of such an accompaniment; Te Mata Chardonnay 2008 (86), austere, highly-acidic, unyielding for subtle scallops (dozens of Aussie chardonnays fit the bill), Bosworth Cabernet 2008 (89) McLaren Vale styles being far too full-bodied for sweet lamb where pinot would suit, and carried over with the cheese where blue mould and dry red mismatched (serve the terrific dessert wine in advance of the dessert); Mitchell Noble Semillon 2009 (90).
Lunch next day was a classy bread roll picnic during our 10 kilometre bushwalk; Spicers Lodge is a 3600 hectare cattle property (Angus beef) of which 2500 hectares are a private fauna and flora reserve, abutting the Main Range National Park.
We took the Brumby Track which is recommended for a really good four hour workout and pleasant look at the scrub in this high country (1100 metres).
Spicers Peak sits aside Spicers Gap, a second entry way between the then penal colony of Moreton Bay (Brisbane) and the higher agriculture-rich Darling Downs. Aborigines had used the passage for millions of years.
Although explorer Alan Cunningham tried to pass these imposing mountains from the Moreton colony side in June 1827, he fell short, and only discovered the main thoroughfare, Cunninghams Gap via the Darling Downs a year later. A fellow called Henry Alpen discovered the second gap, Spicers, in 1847.
May 1 dinner; another demitasse (sweet corn), a pernod-flamed prawn over white polenta, wagyu with béarnaise, Victorian goats brie and crème brulee.
As expected, wine for non-thinkers and the sheep-like drinkers, Kiwi sauvignon was offered and declined in favour of Mitchell Semillon 2007 (90), lanolin fruit yet racy, then brilliant Barossa, Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2008 (94), but incompatible with goat, then Hollick Botrytis Riesling 2008 (87).
Verdict: Restaurant 17.5/20 in Australian standards, even more; chef Mark Jensen, sous chef Dylan Kemp (though heavy with salt-demitasses) are rattling the pans superbly with instructions towards old-style European and less contemporary Australian or original out-there dishes to knock our eyes out.
This appears to deny close sourcing of some the special ingredients, even if Palazzo Versace seek it from further afield – wild goat, venison, rabbit, western fish, crustaceans, other rare game – and the chefs stay with top-named ingredients (Red Emperor, Ocean Trout, Wagyu etc), and may have little inclination to nominate origin or seek inclusivity.
And extend the local, regional and Australian soft cheese choices to the detriment of Europeans (salty stilton can be boring).
The wine list did not nominate the responsible sommelier on the property, nor were there six star standards with degustation wines. New Iberian and Italian styles of textural shape ideal for small group tastings were missing in action (fiano, vermentino, pinot gris, barbera, tempranillo, etc).
A sense of wine places (Granite Belt / Greater South East / Coastal Queensland) has yet to materialise with one tired (2002) local merlot from a producer who never hit his straps with reds until 2005; no Boireann (who sell out annually in eight weeks – 5 stars Halliday five years running), Tobin, Ravenscroft, Hidden Creek, Channon, Lucas, Ridgemill, Clovely nor Heritage (Winestate Wine of the Year 2008 among 11,000 Australian and Kiwi finalist wines).
Summary: an outstanding property (own power is generated on the guests’ garage roof), stunning design for a handful of guests, bushfire-free (hill-top position), chilly for seasonal experiences, platinum service from the staff, yet still developing its personality in sync with the region, international yes, but the experience is diluted by the slim thought that Kiwi bits in the menu must be better (even mineral water). Starts from AUD $1200 (US $1110) approx per night www.spicerspeaklodge.com.au.
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