Leura Garage

What a happy surprise. I guess it’s been just over a year since I had a little getaway to the Blue Mountains. Not long after that visit the Leura Garage was transformed from a working mechanics shop to a cafe/restaurant. The process of renovating the space, responsibly and creating a low carbon footprint cafe is well documented on their website. So successful were their efforts that they have won 2 MBA Excellence in Construction awards.

The place is light and airy, the furnishings are comfortable with touches of the industrial, in keeping with the buildings prior function. There are tyres stacked high above one wall, reproduction industrial light shades, concrete floors, old mufflers above the bar and a wall dedicated to look like rust.  I also noticed some knee blankets tucked away for those chilly days when diners may be keen to sit outside.

Owner James Howarth and chef Misha Laurent have definitely thought carefully about their menu, keeping it relatively simple. Breakfast is only available on the weekends, there is a limited lunch menu available til 3pm and an all day menu available 1130am until 6pm. They are also open late most nights, details of which can be found on their website here. The owners have been clever in servicing a huge gap in the lunch time dining options which exist around Leura and Katoomba. There are some interesting cafes around but most seem to be stuck in the 90’s serving quiche with side salads of chopped lettuce, grated carrot and alfalfa, sorry, but that’s what I ate for lunch on my last visit. I mean it was fine but a little boring.

It looked like I had arrived just in time before the lunchtime onslaught. I couldn’t believe how busy they became, even turning people away. I guess it was the week after Easter and there was still a holiday crowd lulling around, or maybe that’s a normal Tuesday for them.

Still the menu is interesting and I thought I’d ask the waiter for some recommendations. He thought the bruchetta was a good choice but I wanted something more substantial, paella. Water came to the table quickly upon being seated, follows by a glass of Canobolas-Smith Chardonnay. I love that they support wines from Orange and Mudgee. I’m crazy about the wines coming out of there at the moment. Great new discoveries, I can’t remember trying one I haven’t liked yet, seriously. And if anyone knows me, I can be a pain when it comes to choosing wine. I don’t think it went with the paella but a great wine never the less.

The paella was full of flavour and the seafood soft and perfectly cooked. The dish was elegantly portioned, which was fabulous because I could easily fit dessert in.

Baked stone fruit, meringue, gelato (your choice of 4) and pistachios. Just look at that dessert, beautiful and it tasted just as good. The meringue was both crunchy and chewy, great.

A few people around me seemed to be getting frustrated with the slow service and inability to get the waiters attention. All I can say is chill people, your in the mountains, it’s relaxed here and you might need to relax too!

Did I mention that you can also get takeaway coffee as well! There is a little window to the outside world, near the coffee machine, where the barista can take orders.

As you can probably tell I was pretty happy to stumble upon this place. I can imagine it would be great for a relaxed evening meal too. If your walking up the main street in Leura, take a right when you get to the roundabout at the top and your there. Enjoy.

Lilianfels, Darley’s Restaurant and Earth Hour

Escape and luxury relaxation, that’s what I was after. I needed a quite, beautiful getaway, not too far from Sydney.
That’s just what I found at Lilianfels nestled in the Blue Mountains. The boutique resort sits close to the edge of the Three Sisters Lookout in Katoomba. Katoomba and it’s surrounding villages are home to a few vintage curiosity shops which will keep me busy over the weekend.
Lilianfels has been around for a long time. It was built by Mr Frederick Darley the sixth Chief Governer of New South Wales in 1889 as a summer retreat for his family. When his daughter Lilian was 22 she died of tuberculosis and it is her Mr Darley named the original residence after. That building went on to host many international and royal visitors to Australia and is now home to Darley’s Restaurant while the later addition of the main resort is called Lilianfels.

I had tried to book a table at Darley’s on the day I arrived in Katoomba, yes I left it kind of late. It’s a popular restaurant and of course it was fully booked, but on checking into Lilianfels the front of house kindly arranged for me to have a table after 830pm. Now that’s the kind of service I like. They did warn me that they were participating in Earth Hour from 830-930pm and that my way to the restaurant would be lit by candles. If I wanted to eat to Darley’s I really had no other choice as they are only open for dinner and not on a Sunday (the only other night I was staying).

The staff at Darley’s are perfectly attentive, friendly and know their menu. They dressed a table on the enclosed verandah for me rather than sit me inside next to couples enjoying an intimate dinner. The tables had been set with large candles and I was brought another so I could easily read the menu.

I really didn’t know what to choose. The tasting menu is always great to sample what a restaurant can do but after a late lunch I opted for the three courses. The amuse bouche was a simple crispy shredded duck, beetroot cubes, cauliflower puree and boudin blanc. My entree (above) was a home cured Tasmanian salmon, with heirloom tomatoes, tomato sorbet, crab salad, tomato jelly and wasabi creme fraiche. I’m not a big fan of the whole savoury sorbet thing but it seemed to work well in this dish, providing a cooling relief for the punchy wasabi. On my waiters suggestion the dish was perfectly matched with a glass of 2008 Eagle Vale Semillon Sauvignon Blanc ($16).

As you can see taking photos by candlelight did play havoc with the point and shoot. Red Gate partridge confit, celeriac puree, en crepinette, and a blackberry jus was a strong autumn main. Darley’s certainly don’t skimp on the wine and I was wading my way through a large glass of  2009 Hewitson “Baby Bush” Mourvedre ($15).

A pre dessert amuse bouche of organic raspberry jelly, chocolate squares, hazelnut cream and toffee shards was completely delicious.

I decided to ignore the popular rhubarb/pannacotta dessert  for the passionfruit souffle and sour apple granita for dessert. The souffle was fluffy and softly scented with passionfruit. I liked the sour apple granita and the flavours worked well together but I wasn’t keen on jumping between the hot souffle and icy cold granita.

Staying at Lilianfels is like escaping to a place of soft down lined beds, white fluffy robes, foggy mornings and elegant dinners. Lilianfels also hosts afternoon tea in the beautiful lounge area of the main resort. I’m definitely planning my winter escape there, to sit by their fireplace sipping tea and eating cake. Oh and not to mention the vintage shopping fix I will require by then too.

(Dinner was $125 for three course, not including drinks.)