Offal is possibly one of the food world’s most divisive menu items. Most people either love it or loathe it. If it’s the latter, there’s a harbourside dining dock that might change your mind…
Offal is never going to be the gourmet world’s red carpet glamourpuss. Not for brains, tripe or liver the look-at-me Valentino or the assertive Comme des Garçon ruffles.
No, those edible internal organs have long been regarded as the ugly sisters of the food world. The “not until hell freezes over” menu selection.
But if one person can change that perception it’ll be Damien Pignolet, executive chef at Sydney’s Rose Bay fine diner, Regatta, whose French-dining lineage includes Claude’s in Paddington and Bistro Moncur in Woollahra. The idea of an offal degustation came about at the suggestion of formidable foodie Lyndey Milan after lunching on a particularly triumphant tripe dish. There’s usually a nod to offal on the menu, like the tripe and calves’ liver, but why not go the whole hog….
As Pignolet tells Excess All Areas: “Offal teases the palate with deeply developed or immediate flavours and textural satisfaction beyond the prime cuts.”
On a pristine autumn day, with Rose Bay Marina’s pleasure craft smiling for the cameras, Pignolet’s head chef Michael Morrison executes the cutest offal degustation you’ve ever seen.
Duck liver foie gras is parfait silky with a pile of crisp cornichons the arm candy.
An alpha raviolo is stuffed with finely blended lamb’s brain, spinach and ricotta, its saucy co-star an oxtail ragoŭt sprinkled with pangrattato.
Cue the charcuterie: blood sausage, or boudin noir, with inspired caramelised apple slices, mustard vinaigrette and supporting roles for smoked paprika and candied orange peel. On a bed of polenta.
No offal degustation can bypass liver. Here is a calf’s contribution, with a svelte bacon rasher, pickled red cabbage and Regatta’s devil sauce.
And, okay, tripe. Pretty as a picture with its designer honeycomb, Michael Morrison braises it with smoked ham hocks and hot smoked paprika, serving it up with peas, mint, crusty fried potatoes and a dollop of rich aioli.
The challenge, says Morrison, is to turn something less sought after into a unique menu item equally as flavoursome as its non-offal cousins, something “that resonates long after it has been consumed … and brings back memories.” For all the right reasons.
The reward for perseverance on the day? Statuesque raspberry soufflé. And a dish of quince sorbet and vanilla ice-cream with two dinky little meringues on the side.
Nothing offal about that.
Photos by Stephanie Clifford-Smith & Susan Skelly