As the first buds of the new season appear on the vines at Lake George Winery, near the town of Collector, a new lifecycle has also begun in the vineyard’s Westering restaurant.
James Titheradge, former sous chef at award-winning Biota Dining restaurant in Bowral, has taken over the reins as head chef and is quickly getting the lie of the organic land.
James was snapped up by Westering, which is set high above the rolling paddocks and vineyards of this pretty winery northwest of Lake George, after finding himself out of a job when the two-hatted Bowral restaurant went into liquidation in early 2020.
His arrival at one of the oldest vineyards in the Canberra region marks something of a homecoming – another 30km southwest and he’d be right back in Canberra, where he served his apprenticeship with Janet Jeffs at Juniperberry and Dean Sammut at Artespresso.
Since then, James has chalked up experience in the kitchens of London’s La Trompette and the Dorchester Hotel; spent three years as executive sous chef with Shannon Bennett’s Vue de Monde group in Melbourne; worked with Teage Ezard and George Calombaris in Melbourne; and worked at Sydney’s Astral – with stints at Courgette, Aubergine and Water’s Edge back in Canberra for good measure.
In between, there was a brief sojourn setting up restaurants for a client in China.
Despite his impressive pedigree, there’s no ego in sight when James pops out of the kitchen for a chat after finishing his first Sunday lunch service at Westering. The new head chef is continuing with the restaurant’s popular winter menu before introducing his own spring line-up next month.
A silky smooth and creamy cauliflower veloute, and a plate of Korean sticky chicken with pickled daikon, kale and lemon aioli are two very well received starters. Mains include pan-fried barramundi with potato puree, baby caper butter and lemon, and the best beef cheek dish I’ve ever eaten, glazed overnight with shiraz and served with creamed potatoes and a sprinkling of fried leek. It’s so tender that no knife is needed.
A side dish of sauteed spring vegetables with hazelnuts and brown butter rounds things out perfectly (things are looking decidedly more rounded once we make our way through a coconut panna cotta with golden tamarillo and almond shortbread crumble, and a white chocolate fondant with vanilla ice-cream and seasonal fruit).
It’s simple, beautifully executed comfort food, making the most of seasonal and local fare. James says that’s exactly the way it should be.
“We’re not looking to get chefs’ hats,” he says. “I just want to do tasty, honest, good food. I’m certainly not going to branch out into anything molecular. I don’t think that fits here. I’ll be keeping it quite seasonal, and now that I’m back in the area I need to find my feet again with local suppliers, trialling ingredients, seeing what’s good. It’s a great region for produce.”
Lake George Winery owners Sarah and Anthony McDougall are thrilled with James’s arrival at the vineyard they bought two years ago after a six-year stint running Summerhill Road Vineyard.
The energetic pair – who between them have five kids, two sheep, a couple of horses and a smattering of dogs and cats – are not ones to rest on their laurels and they are constantly dreaming up ideas to add value for visitors to their 300-acre winery home.
In January, they plonked an ecofriendly tiny house – “Little George” – on the peak of a hill at the rear of the property, offering sweeping district views from its open fire pit and cosy chairs where guests can chill out, wine glass in hand.
Such has been the response – bookings are solid for weeks ahead – they are now considering putting a tree house or two houses further up the ridge for the ultimate wilderness and winery escape.
For those who fancy getting back to nature – albeit with all mod cons – Sarah and Anthony have arranged for 10 glamping tents to be installed in the vineyard’s grounds for the October long weekend (3-5 October). Guests taking part in the A Night Under the Stars event will have the chance to learn from a professional photographer how to shoot the night sky, or chat about the cosmic universe with astronomers from the Australian National University.
Tents will feature queen-size beds, tables and chairs, kitchenware and, naturally, wine coolers. A welcome hamper and complimentary wine tasting at the cellar door will complete the experience.
However, you don’t have to stay overnight to take in the long weekend festivities at Lake George Winery. Saturday morning yoga, live music on the Saturday afternoon, opportunities to feed the resident menagerie, or simply booking in for a lunch served by a chef who certainly knows what side of a Microplane is up are other agreeable excuses to head for the hills.
“The October long weekend has traditionally been one of our busiest times,” says Sarah. “After the bushfires and COVID-19, it would be nice to know there is still that local support.”
To book lunch at Westering, or to nab your overnight glamping spot for the October long weekend, go to Lake George Winery.