Review: Tomah Gardens, Blue Mountains

On our drive home from our recent trip to Mudgee and Orange, K and I stopped by the Tomah Gardens Cafe, situated within the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens. We’ve got a case of the three o’clock munchies, and I’m on the hunt for some piping hot scones!

tomahgardens-01We’re seated outside on the verandah, under a beautiful leafy canopy. We’re looking out straight over the Botanic Gardens, and into the untamed beautiful ranges of the Blue Mountains. It’s quiet and peaceful – the type of place where you could easily kick back with a cup of tea and watch the day pass.

Rodney's blueberry scones with honey butter, $13.50
Rodney’s blueberry scones with honey butter, $13.50

I order “Rodney’s blueberry scones” to satiate my craving for scones – though I find myself secretly disappointed that they don’t have plain scones on the menu. I was really looking forward to normal scones with jam! I find these blueberry scones a bit denser than regular scones, and the blueberry is very subtle as well. With just a dab of the honey butter, it becomes a nice afternoon snack, but not the simpler Devonshire Tea that I was looking for.

Chook liver pate, onion jam and toasts, $23
Chook liver pate, onion jam and toasts, $23

K is after something slightly more substantial, and orders the chook liver pate with onion jam and toasts. What comes out isn’t exactly what we expected – a giant ball of pate, a mere handful of hard mini-toasts and some caramelised red onions is put down in front of us. The toasts are hard and frankly unappetising, not to mention completely insufficient for the fist-sized ball of pate that’s on the plate. Even after spreading a thick layer of pate at least 5mm thick on each toast, we still find ourselves with half the pate left on the plate.

The pate was lovely – don’t get me wrong. However, the accompaniments were disappointing, and it would have been better served with a variety of crackers more edible than these toasts.

Fresh lemonade, $5 a glass
Fresh lemonade, $5 a glass

We both have glasses of the ‘fresh’ house-made lemonade and found it quite unremarkable. Despite the heat of the day, there’s no ice, and the lemonade almost seems as though it’s been sitting at room temperature for a while. It’s on the sour side as well, without quite enough sugar to make it entirely palatable.

Overall, we were quite disappointed with our impromptu stop at Tomah Gardens Cafe, and would rate it a 5 out of 10. The view is second to none – however the food is incredibly overpriced and quite frankly not worth the money. If you’re after the experience of being surrounded by nature, you’re better off bringing a picnic and finding a picnic location within the Botanic Gardens – perhaps picking up a freshly baked apple pie at nearby Bilpin along the way.

Review: Common Ground Cafe, Katoomba

“When you go up there, you have to visit this fabulous cafe right at the bottom of the main street in Katoomba. It’s just lovely inside and so full of atmosphere, and very natural and cozy”.¬†

Armed with this description from my not quite mother-in-law, K and I went in search of this cafe for a late lunch after returning from a morning trip to the Jenolan Caves. On a side note, the Caves are absolutely spectacular and simply other-worldly, and I highly recommend the experience to anyone visiting the Blue Mountains.

We found the Common Ground Cafe and with one look inside, knew that it was the same place described to us. It’s not unlike what you might expect to see if you were to walk into a pub in Hobbiton in Middle Earth. All the tables and benches were carved out of timber and finished by hand. All the wait and kitchen staff are what you would call hippies, with long-hair, hand-woven shirts and closely cropped facial hair.

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After being shown to a table upstairs, I slowly began to realise that K and I were on very unfamiliar territory. As staunch atheists, we had unwittingly wandered into a cafe run by the Twelve Tribes Christian organisation – they weren’t just laid back artsy bohemians of the Blue Mountains. The brochures I saw around us were proclaiming The Glory of God, and other such messaging. This was no Middle Earth.

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However, we were starving by this point so stayed and ordered. I ordered a classic Reuben sandwich, served with crisps on the side and a dill pickle too. K ordered a Deli Rose sandwich, similar to the Reuben but with roast beef and onions. For drinks, we ordered a Lemon Mate (strange, the flavour wasn’t quite to my taste) and a Mango Smoothie (delicious!).

This was hands down, the absolute¬†best¬†Reuben sandwich I’ve eaten outside of America. I’d even go as far as to say that it was better than those I had overseas because it was more manageable. I got used to my American Reubens being stacked with about twenty layers of silverside – this had a manageable five layers, and perfectly melted gooey cheese and flavourful saeurkraut. Wonderfully filling and satisfying as a late lunch.

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Overall, I rate Common Ground Cafe an 8 out of 10. Service was a little slow when we were there (though, it was three in the afternoon), but the food was simple and hearty enough to make up for it. I think next time I return, I’m going to have to try some of the desserts which I saw a few other tables enjoying!

Common Ground Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review: Pins on Lurline, Katoomba

Our hosts at Lurline House in Katoomba spent some time introducing us to the area, providing guidance on local sightseeing and dining options. One of their top recommendations for a good dinner was Pins on Lurline, conveniently located only a few doors down the road.

When I looked up their website, I was a little bit hesitant to visit for a meal as it sounded like the restaurant didn’t quite know what their niche was. Judge for yourself:

Run by owners – Japanese Wife/Scottish husband, the food is an eclectic menu of Italian pastas, rice dishes and Japanese noodles, with a few contemporary Australian dishes thrown in for good measure.

Italian, Japanese and Australian fusion? I’m all for diversifying and bringing two seemingly diverse cuisines together and creating a new menu of taste explosion, but surely one has to draw the line somewhere? Wrong!

I’m glad I quieted that dissenting voice in my head though, as K and I had a thoroughly enjoyable meal at Pins, and were really looked after by our waiter on the night.

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Avocado cured ocean trout sushi salad with a wasabi yoghurt dressing, $13

We shared an entree to start – a fresh sushi salad with a healthy dose of avocado and trout. I’m not normally a fan of wasabi as I find the taste quite overpowering without the tingling delight of a proper chilli sauce, however, the wasabi in the yoghurt salad dressing was quite subtle and actually quite enjoyable. Perhaps I need to experiment with more subtle uses of wasabi in future dishes?

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Tsukimi noodle soup with chicken, shallots and poached egg, $17 main

K ordered a udon noodle soup for his main, and enjoyed his choice. I tried some of the soup, and found it light, flavourful and refreshing, with just the slightest lingering tang at the end. The udon noodles had a great texture as well, and were the real highlight of the dish. The restaurant reportedly make a fresh batch of noodles everyday as their specialty, so it’s well worth trying the noodles if you end up visiting.

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Healthy Asian risotto with Japanese mushrooms, miso, bean curd and wakame seaweed, $17

I was determined to try the most eclectic fusion dish I could find on the menu, and a Japanese interpretation of a traditional Italian risotto fit the bill best. While I enjoyed the dish, I did find the blend of textures and flavours quite strange – if not for the risotto, the vegetables and stock would have made an ideal Asian style soup. At the same time, if not for the tofu and Japanese mushrooms, the arborio rice would have made a fantastic Italian risotto. Perhaps I’m close-minded, but I think I would need to experiment with this particular blend of ingredients and flavours in my own kitchen until I found a blend that makes sense to my palate.

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White chocolate creme brulee infused with lime and fresh ginger, served with home-made honeycomb ice-cream, $12

When K saw this on the dessert menu, he left the restaurant and ran up the street to our B&B so that he could grab his Lacteeze tablets, which allow him to consume dairy products despite his general intolerance to lactose. His all-time favourite sweet dish is creme brulee, and this modified version with hints of lime threw him into an ecstasy of amazing desserts. I have to give points to this dish as well, as both the creme brulee and ice-cream were smooth, creamy, and delicious.

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Bombe Alaska – Home-made nougat ice-cream on macaroon base topped with baked Italian meringue, orange caramel and thick cream, $12

Just as K finds it hard to look past creme brulee, I can rarely walk past a good meringue without drooling slightly. This baked meringue was perfectly proportioned, and beautifully presented with the flavoursome nougat ice-cream that went incredibly well with the orange caramel. My hat comes off to the chef for creating a dessert that’s as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate.

Overall, I rate Pins on Lurline an 8 out of 10. They have a very unique menu, and can offer a dining experience that can be hard to find in Katoomba. Do book ahead if you get a chance, as they can get quite busy – we went on a Tuesday night, and the restaurant was still packed full.