It is a glorious Saturday morning at Piallago Estate. The Estate’s olive grove, gardens and buildings all thankfully escaped any damage from the recent Beard fires and it is business as usual. Guests arriving for a wedding reception walk past the packed Pavilion restaurant and Pialligo’s newest offering, Market Grill.
Head chef David Harrington welcomes me into the Market Grill kitchen and he is soon demonstrating the versatility of his Argentinian style grill (parrilla) with its adjustable grate. Every day, he wields this simple looking piece of equipment to create much of the magic that comes out on the plates at Market Grill.
“Market Grill’s concept is cooking on the grill and a focus on seafood,” he says. “Originally we had a much larger grill here.”
Harrington discovered the parrilla in storage and had it brought into the kitchen. Grilling over an open flame and glowing embers is second nature to him due in part to his Columbian heritage and having lived and worked in Ecuador and Peru.
Harrington relishes the challenge of developing dishes that hero the fresh produce they source daily.
“We work like a provedore, where it’s all about the products. Getting only the best in and treating it with utmost respect. That’s what we are doing here. The garden, the ocean, the paddock. Those are the three pillars. The beef is from just down the road, the seafood is from close by and most of our fruit and vegetables come straight from the Estate’s gardens. It is seafood and good meat, responsibly sourced. And I just go with what happens in the garden. The stuff coming out of the garden, the leeks, the beetroot and the herbs makes everything else shine.”
Harrington‘s garden gazpacho is a prime example of how the garden inspires him.
“This Gazpacho is tomatoes … and peaches. I added a bit of ripe peach to give it a touch of the orchard as well. It is a real talking point on the menu.”
When it comes to the fish and seafood, what gets written up on the large blackboard menu depends entirely on what the boats down the South Coast have caught that morning.
One look at Market Grill’s menu and you immediately notice the continued thread of supporting local and supporting Australian that is across all of Pialligo Estate’s restaurants. Both the produce locale and the farmer’s name sit under each dish. Pialligo is mindful of the importance of this support more than ever since bushfires ravaged our nation this summer, impacting their oyster provider.
Set apart as its own identity within The Pavilion’s space, Market Grill takes the sophistication up a couple of notches, offering a seven-course tasting menu alongside its à la carte options. It is premium produce, flame-kissed and served simply to allow the flavours to shine through unadorned.
Canberra couple Dennis and Georgina are on their third course of the tasting menu as I walk in, and after we get chatting they call me over to delight over each new dish as they journey through the seven courses.
I sample dishes at my table as well.
The oysters taste sweet and creamy with a hint of the sea.
“We source our oysters from Appellation Oyster farms who have 13 estuaries along the South East Coast,” Harrington says. ‘They bring us the best of the best from two-three estuaries daily. With oysters, the tidal variation is key. The bigger the tidal variation, the more the oysters open and close. The more they work their adductor muscles to open and close, the more results we see in its sweetness. Within the estuaries, there are certain producers looking after those oysters who are the very best in the industry.”
Piquant and fresh with gardens herbs, the ceviche is a standout dish and a visual feast too. With the sweet zing of fresh lime, the delicate burn of chili, the kingfish offers only slight resistance when you bite into it. This is chef Harrington’s take on a traditional Peruvian ceviche.
Harrington’s tartare? Where do I start? With my eyes. Featuring Piallago Estate garden beetroot three ways, this plate is another work of art. A smattering of beetroot ash brings earthen peppery notes while thin crispy beetroot chips gild the tartare like exquisite rose petals.
Topped with cured egg yolk, the tartare sits on a bed of smoked beetroot. Made from dry-aged beef fillet, pungent earthy flavours shine through. Pialligo Estate is renowned for its dry-aged beef. The term conjures up ‘chewy’ for me, but the process of dry-aging actually tenderises the meat, adding some funk and accentuating the meaty flavour. It is DIVINE.
Dennis, the diner, once had a bad experience with tartare and swore off it. But now he is telling the chef that this tartare has totally converted him.
Harrington tells me later, “This dish has a lot of meaning, because of the beetroot and the meat and the egg. It’s inspired by an Aussie burger; it feels right.”
Served alongside wild mushrooms and enhanced by a dreamy bordelaise sauce that takes David three to four days to make, the rib-eye Scotch fillet is a celebration of simple flavours that go hand in hand. The mushrooms add a nutty smoke and the char from the grill infuses the whole dish.
The seven-course menu is a perfect introduction to Market Grill but Harrington wants it known that he has crafted a special Valentine’s Day menu.
“It’s going to turn heads. I can’t wait to see the couples enjoying it – it’s beautiful produce, it’s freshness and it’s next-level flavours. I’m building some special little extras in amongst the four courses too, so it’s really going to be a treat.”
Market Grill is located at 18 Kallaroo Rd in Pialligo.
It is open on Thursday and Friday from 12 pm until late. On Saturday it is open from 11 am until late. On Sunday it is open from 11 am until 3 pm.