Ma Hor , Sticky Pork, Pineapple and Betel Leaves
Last week I had a couple of days break from work and I went to visit my friends, the King and Queen of Pomona, (Pomona is a hinterland town near Noosa, on The Sunshine Coast — there is such a place–of Queensland, Australia). On a whim I asked them if they wanted to go to Spirit House Restaurant. It is usually quite hard to get a booking and to my disappointment they said it was unlikely we would get in. There is however, no point in knowing people in high places if they cant take advantage and so, with many years working in the Noosa area, they came up a solid contact and a booking. I bow to you King and Queen of Pomona.
Why do people so want to go?. Well, to have this Crispy Pork Belly with Citrus (orange, lime, tangerine skin) Caramel, chilli, coriander, lemon grass and crushed roasted rice.
The restaurant and cooking school are set in lush grounds and are a highlight of a visit to the Sunshine Coast for many who love food legend. It is like walking through the gates and arriving in Thailand. A pavilion housing the restaurant is overlooking a small lake, with a Spirit House . Incense burns on pedestals adjoining Buddha’s and the green bamboo canopy sways in the breeze. Annette Fear, who was the original chef in 1995 set the food standard for all to follow and prolific cookbook author, teacher and traveller was in the kitchen at the cooking school and in the middle of a sold out class. The food style is Thai but has influences from all over South East Asia and the corners of each chefs mind. It can be reached easily from Noosa , Coolum or Maroochydore in about 20 minutes drive for lunch or dinner.
There are several areas that diners are accommodated. The U shaped design allows for a different experience on each visit. The bottom of the U where the kitchen is situated, and tables set across the landing, on a high platform overlooking the pond. The other two sides are in the garden and there is one larger area to one side of this plan. It is an outdoor restaurant, with a thatched roof and clear sides that lower because here, like in Asia, it is prone to a shower at certain times of the year. There are of course other authentic garden features such as mosquitoes and the over friendly Water Dragons. Here are a couple of snaps before the food.
We start off with a long island iced tea before our lunch. It is very tart but has sweet pineapple ice blocks floating with slices of ginger and the kick of 3 types of alcohol. A fair $15.oo each. We follow this with an Italian Pinot Grigio, (Antonutti) $52.00, that matches perfectly with this food. All of our food is slightly more expensive as there are 3 of us and the starters are usually for 2. We follow the Pork and Citrus Caramel above, with Ma Hor of Sticky Pork with Pineapple, Chilli and Peanuts in Betel leaves. $13.00. (2)We also feast on Harvey Bay Scallops on the Half shell with Nahm Jim Jelly $14.00 (2)
Ma Hor , Sticky Pork, Pineapple and Betel Leaves
Harvey Bay Scallop with Nahm Jim Jelly
This is followed by a Chargrilled Calamari Salad. The Calamari is nicely charred and very tender but I find that the King and Queen and I are clashing forks while digging for the very scarce pieces hidden beneath a tangle of nashi pears, mango, Vietnamese mint and herbs. (and this is one of the larger dishes). Although fresh and crisp it is a little unexciting because it has virtually no dressing, that would carry the herbs and flavours through the dish, $29.00. Next, a Penang Curry with Confit duck fried lime leaves and pickled ginger. Penang Curry is a complex mixture of spices and coconut cream , finished with crushed peanuts and is most commonly cooked with Beef but Chicken or Duck (in this case) is a great companion. The Duck is tender and falls from the bone and is not at all salty as confit generally is. The sauce is rich and complex and this is in fact where most of the salt is, crushed peanuts finish the dish $39. The Duck feels like in needs a little longer simmering in the sauce to make it take on more of the curry flavour and soften it, but this may be just us.
A Yellow Curry of Roasted Sweet Potato with Apple Eggplants , Spinach and Pickled Cucumber is delivered to us, and I suddenly have to think…..did I order this?. There is a misunderstanding here. I think I have ordered a Yellow ( bean) Curry with Sticky Shin of Beef and the waiter has heard “Yellow Curry” (Sweet Potato) and we are stuck with this dish. At $34.00 it is a tiny side dish of sweet potato.
Theres Spinach and spices with a side of pickled cucumber. It is sweet and lightly pickled with rice or coconut vinegar delivered in a shot glass, the crunch of cucumbers is refreshing and there is a nice hint of chilli, I begin to wish I had not eaten the Calamari Salad before dressing it with this delicious liquid. The waiter although fabulous, has a no intention of taking this dish back to the kitchen and it is a disappointment.
Rice is served like an expensive jewel, in a finger bowl sized coup for three and we have to flag down a waiter to get another. Perhaps they are hoping we will save room for dessert by eating less rice, and we, although gluttonous on two bowls, still choose a couple of desserts to share.
The Lime Posset is a little like a Panna cotta set on the bottom of the glass and has fine slices of mango then balanced on top is a soft ball of creamy ice cream with a smashed ginger flavoured honeycomb as a crown. The Passionfruit Parfait has a creamy zesty passionfruit feel between layers of lemongrass jelly set in the Asian way with agar agar a very distinct texture. The clever tumeric glass caramel on the top is an inspired touch. We polish them off and have no regrets and are then rewarded with a $298.00 bill.
There is no doubt at all that this is a very special experience. The food is still innovative while the service is extremely professional but relaxed. Prices are quite high. When Spirit House was established there were no equivalents in style or quality, but there is now, and customers can’t help but compare. Still I loved every minute.