Game degustation at Restaurant Balzac, Randwick

by Forager on July 11, 2010

Foraging is in my blood. The thrill of gathering wild plants and capturing wild animals has been a long obsession of mine,  inspired by plenty of Chinese period dramas showing heroic ancient warriors hunting down they prey with bows and arrows and roasting the delicious morsels over a camp fire.

I was so obsessed that I whinged and whined until my brother set up a elaborate trap in our backyard and caught a fat piegon. We had no idea what to do next but relying on our memory of movie scenes, he then plucked and cleaned it and we roasted it in our backyard on a makeshift spit roast contraption made from twigs whilst I bounced around excitedly in the background. I was 4, he was 10. Yes, we were enterprising little kids; and yes, my parents were mortified (but I suspect secretly a bit morbidly fascinated) when they found out.

No, I am not ignoring the fact that I’ve eaten a feral pigeon. BUT, I’ll be the one left laughing when bird flu re-emerges with a vengeance and I’m the only one with immunity through the residual avian anitbodies! So if not foraging, well, something is in my blood.

So when I heard about Restaurant Balzac’s special game dinner through my friend, FineDiner, I immediately jumped at the opportunity and booked myself in.A host of delicious game animals featured on the menu from the (ahem) very familiar squab (pigeon) to the animal I am most bloodthirsty for – wild boar. Years of poring over my beloved Asterix and Obelix comic books has given me an unhealthy obsession with wild boars. The image of Obelix voraciously attacking the side of a succulent spit-roasted boar is seared permanently onto my brain (possibly onto the hypothalamus which is responsible for regulating hunger). Evidence to this is my pavlovian response to the thought of wild boar and I’d love nothing more than to plunge face first into a spit roasted boar to re-create Obelix’s ravenous feasts for myself!

Restaurant Balzac’s game dinner was so popular that the initial date booked out immediately and we were put on the waitlist for a second night. Thankfully, luck was on our side and we were the last table to be booked for the subsequent night. With my booking secured, I then had to find friends who wanted to indulge in a game dinner. Vegetarian friends were cast aside (sorry Katie & Alex!) and their meat-loving boyfriends DanW and Angus invited instead.

After a month of waiting, the night was finally here and we arrived at Restaurant Balzac hungry for our game dinner.

Restaurant Balzac bar

Wine glasses at the ready at Restaurant Balzac's bar

Restaurant Balzac

When we are seated in the snug dining room it is obvious the event was popular as they’ve squeezed all the vying diners in so we’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with barely enough room to sneeze.

Once all the diners have arrived and squished in, owner and chef, Matthew Kemp, emerges from the kitchen to welcome us and speak about the inspiration for the night. He gives a humorous, animated and graphic speech about how some of the game animals are sourced and it’s just as well our vegetarian friends aren’t present tonight. He introduces the first course of canapes which he is amused to present as our coat of arms as it contains kangaroo and emu and then explains how the dish was created and assembled. His speech is followed by the game supplier, Anthony Puharich, whose father, Victor Puharich set up Vic’s Meats. Anthony tells us about the source of, background and prevalence of the game in the Australian diet. Last in the lineup of speakers is Guy Collins, the sommelier for Restaurant Balzac, and he gives us insight into the choice of wine for each course, the winery and the tasting notes we can expect.

This is the format that ensues for all the dishes presented that night so diners can really be informed about and appreciate what they’re about to tuck into. I tried to scribble my notes as fast as I could so hopefully, there aren’t (m)any mistakes and the dishes are described as Matthew Kemp intended.

Matthew Kemp

Matthew Kemp gives a short introduction before each course

Without further ado, the canapés start rolling out of the kitchen and we’re holding our breath as the first of the game dishes arrive.

Both were worth holding our breath for. I’m a great fan of good tartare and the kangaroo tartare was so moreish with fine slivers of kangaroo mixed with caramelised onion and capers. It was creamy, rich, tart, piquant and it was cruel there was no more than the the tiny morsel which I hoovered away with a quick lick of the lips. I could’ve eaten ten times more than the allocated portion of that tartare.

When the emu dish was being introduced, Matthew Kemp described the emu as a robust creature, about 1.5m tall and 50kg in weight, and on cue, the Co-pilot started chortling and pointing at me as those are roughly my measurements. Ignoring his jibes, I sampled the emu prosciutto canapé with game chutney and found it was surprisingly good – more tender than expected, salty and slightly smoky on a cripsy sourdough crostini. I couldn’t help noticing though that when I compared my pictures with those taken by FineDiner who supped here at the same event a week earlier, her portions for this canapé were much more generous. Robbed!

Kangaroo tartare

Kangaroo tartare

Emu prosciutto

Emu prosciutto served on crispy crostini

The next course was the terrine of duck and squab. Matthew explains that he’d roasted the breast of the squab (pigeon), confited the leg of the duck and prepared sous-vide baby vegetables for the terrine. The accompany salad was comprised of pickled globe artichokes, candied walnuts on a bed of pureed carrot.

The terrine was very tasty – the squab and duck were both tender and simply seasoned to allow the squab and duck flavours to take centre stage. Robust flakes came away easily with gentle prodding. I enjoyed it, but our friend DanW wrinkled his nose at the dish. “Whiskas” he whispered vehemently. I’m not sure what he feeds his cats, but they’re sure gourmets if this is comparable to cat food! But, I concede that the texture of terrines are not to everyone’s liking.

The paired Chardonnay is citrusy with buttery lychee flavours and complements the light, subtle flavours in the terrine.

Squab duck terrine

Squab and duck terrine with pickled Globe artichoke salad. Paired with 2006 Dixon Creek Estate Chardonnay, Yarra Valley Victoria.

The next course of venison made a lasting impression on all of our dining party that night. We’re told that the venison is sourced from New Zealand – simply because that’s where the best venison is, and is it hung for 4 days before before seared ever so gently and finished with black pepper and juniper. It is accompanied by spiced quince which is cooked in wine for 12 hours, cooled for a further 8 hours then converted into a terrine. This is served with caramelised parsnip and venison jus.

And it is so indescribably good! The venison is so buttery, tender and sweet it seems to dissolve on contact with my tongue. It was so moreish I wanted more with every bite! At this point I could’ve have eaten the entire animal, Bear Grylls unnecessary-tearin- of-anima- flesh-for-the-camera style. There is silence punctuated by loud moans of appreciation amongst our group as we savour every bite. This dish was voted the favourite for most of our party that night and it painted venison in a whole new light for me. As DanW is half-seriously considering starting his own organic farm, we enthusiastically add deer to our wishlist of farmed goods we’d like him to produce, bringing our grand total to, oh, about 100 different types of produce.

The paired Pinot Noir is sweet, fruity and dry on the palate with dark chocolate notes, it was a nice wine but I wasn’t convinced of the pairing. On paper, it sounded like it should have been a good match, but it wasn’t doing much for me.

Rare roasted venison

Rare roasted venison with a delice of spiced quince. Paired with a 2008 Toolangi Estate Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley.

With a couple of wines under our belt, and perhaps an extra cheeky pre-dinner drink or two for some of the guests, the dining room was well lubricated and we could barely hear ourselves over the happy but noisy din of laughter and the clatter of cutlery.

Happy diners

A small enclosed space and a few glasses of wine makes for a noisy crowd

The next game animal on the chopping block is the hare. We’re told by Matthew that he loves cooking with hare, but it’s too unreliable in supply to have a regular place on his menu. Anthony seconds this and adds that the particular hare we’ll enjoy in this dish is sourced from “a crazy old guy with a shotgun in the McClaren Valley”. Excellent – food with a story! To prepare the hare, it is braised in 15L of red wine and cooked until it has reduced right down then, to seal the juices in, the wine is set alight! For extra richness, lardons of bacon are fried up and then chestnuts, mushrooms and bitter chocolate are also added to give the hare different dimensions of flavour.

The flavour of the hare is full, rich and gamey with a really distinct flavour. Although the hare is lean and sinewy, it is not at all tough or dry but creamy without being heavy. It was tasty and DanW declared it his favourite dish of the night.

Braised hare

Braised hare with chestnuts and bitter chocolate. Paired with a 2004 Medhurst Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarra Valley.

The last course before dessert was the boar. Oh, be still my beating heart. Like the hare, Matthew tells us that the boar is hard to source and thus will never be a regular feature on his menus. It is usually sourced from rural areas in north western NSW and southwest QLD. For this dish, Matthew has used the rack and neck of the boar. A confit was made using the neck and duck fat and rested for 8 hours until set. The confit neck was then folded into a cassoulet and stuffed into the core of caramelised onions. Matthew described his inspiration for the other elements on the dish – he envisioned the boar, happily snuffling along somewhere in Tuscany, finding a delicious tuber and being distracted by his find when the hunter spots him. Accordingly, we have Tuscan-inspired cavolo nero, mashed swede and caramelised onion foam accompanying the boar cutlet and caramelised onion stuffed with confit neck cassoulet.

The sight of the pink cutlet confronts me and disturbingly, my cutlet seems pinker, nay, redder than those of my neighbours. Is boar a darker meat than the domesticated swine we’re used to? My dining companions look at me as though I’ve spoken in another language and question when I’ve ever been squeamish or intimidated by pinkish meat. I nod, brush caution aside and take a bite of the cutlet – it’s rich, tasty and the caramelised onion flavour subtly enhances the taste, but I detect the disturbing chewy texture of raw meat. If I were to get anything from eating raw pork, of course knowing my luck, I’d get the feral one with all the wild parasites unknown to science. Well, at least the avian parasites from my childhood now have friends to play with. Drama queen? Me?! No.

But I concede that my mind may be playing tricks on me now so I dutifully eat the whole cutlet anyway and texture aside, it’s very tasty. The confit neck cassoulet is also delicious – wonderfully buttery and rich as expected.

But the boar of my dreams is Gallic. And he’s spit roasted, succulent and gleaming from basting juices and served whole with an apple in it’s mouth tempting me to eat it from the side.

Roast Boar

Roast rack of wild boar with a cassoulet of confit neck. Paired with a 2008 Yarraloch Shiraz Viognier, Yarra Valley.

The final course was the duck egg and truffled honey brulee and it came with a translucent shard of toffee balanced on top. The game part of this course comes from the rich duck egg. It is infused with truffle honey with a layer of kumquat compote on the bottom to provide contrast and lift to the richness.

From the first velvety spoonful, the richness of the egg is inescapable, then the heady strong scent and flavour of truffles caresses the other flavours. It’s delicious and I dig my spoon in for more. The kumquat compote does slice through the richness, but I actually prefer the undampened, richer flavour. The paired Punt Road botrytis semillon is sinfully nectar-like and completes the sugar assault on my tongue.

Duck egg creme brulee

Duck egg and truffled honey brulee. Paired with a 2008 Punt Road botrytis semillon, Yarra Valley, Victoria

Toffee close-up

A close-up of the shard of toffee with bubbles suspended in motion

The night winds down with teas and coffees being offered with a tempting plate of single malt truffles. As with most of those of female persuasion, I’m not a fan of dark spirits and I loathe the idea of diluting the lingering flavour of the dessert with it. But the Co-pilot tries one and motions for me to do so. They’re rich, chocolaty and thankfully the flavour of whiskey is well masked.

Single malt truffles

Single malt truffles to finish

Whilst we waited for the bill with satisfied smiles on our faces, we reflected on the extraordinary showcase of game in the meal. We sampled a grand total of 7 different species of game:

  1. Kangaroo
  2. Emu
  3. Squab
  4. Duck
  5. Venison
  6. Hare
  7. Boar

Our smiles got even wider when we were handed the bill – the entire 6 course meal with matched wines cost a mere $95 per person! And from a 2-hatted restaurant! Astounding value for the food, wine and service!

And if Matthew Kemp’s intention was to have us understand and appreciate the diversity and flavours of game – he’s succeeded. When we got home, the Co-pilot and I started roaming the Vic’s Meat site in search of that amazing venison.



Restaurant Balzac

141 Belmore Road, Randwick, NSW

Open for dinner: Tues – Sat from 6pm; lunch is on Fridays only 12 – 3pm and they are open on the last Sunday of every month for a seasonal degustation.

Tel: (+612) 9399-9660; email:


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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lisa July 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Wow! What an interesting meal! I especially like the look of the hare and the venison dishes. I looove venison.
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2 Amy @ cookbookmaniac July 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Oh my! Everything looks so enticing. This is my kind of degustation dinner. I especially liek the look of the duck egg and truffled honey brulee. Yummy.
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3 SarahVino July 11, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Great photos, all the meat looks so tender!

4 Iron Chef Shellie July 11, 2010 at 11:53 pm

WOW… what a feast! …. and the desserts!!
*falls off my chair* 😛
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5 Steph July 12, 2010 at 8:12 am

Ooh it’s been way too long since I’ve visited Balzac, I can’t believe itw as only $95 including matching wines. That’s awesome value! Your description of the kangaroo tartare has my mouth watering
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6 Richard Elliot July 12, 2010 at 10:56 am

Looks fantastic! I love game, generally very under appreciated meats.
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7 Gourmantic July 12, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I love game. Venison is my favourite but I eat it all! Balzac really know how to put on a great degustation at a fabulous price. We’ve been going for years and we were recently there for my birthday. Loved it every time!

Since you’re an Asterix and Obelix fan, you might enjoy this :)
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8 angie July 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I don’t think I’d ever be game enough to eat game =D
Though I have eaten duck, venison and pigeon, but the buck might just stop there, for now anyway hehe.
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9 panda July 12, 2010 at 10:06 pm

wow – what an experience! and it’s actually not that expensive either for a degustation.
anyway, just letting you know i’ve awarded you with the ‘sweet blog’ award. when you get a sec, swing by my blog and pass the award along!!
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10 Trissa July 12, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Balzac has always been one of my favourite restaurants – I’ve got a lunch this July and after reading your post – I can’t wait. Matthew Kemp is amazingly talented.
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11 Anh July 13, 2010 at 10:21 am

Interesting!! I know I will love it
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12 Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella July 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I remember the first time I had wild boar. It was amazingly good and ever since then, whenever I’ve seen it on menus, I have to order it!

And lol at the pigeon story. How utterly gruesome! 😛
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13 Tangled Noodle July 14, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Another amazing meal! I have such a rich and deliciously vicarious life through you. 8-D
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14 Tina@foodboozeshoes July 14, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Ooh, I love Asterix, and Obelix – always with the wild boar!

I heard about this dinner, but couldn’t do it.

Loving the pics, especially the first two and the one of the sexy terrine…!
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15 Conor @ HoldtheBeef July 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I’m disappointed that you didn’t interrupt Matthew to explain your preferred method of backyard cookery with pigeon.

I’ve never tried beef tartare, as my only exposures to it happened after I stopped eating beef, but maybe I can embrace the red meat tartare experience through roo! I love roo, so now I have to hunt down somewhere that can whip me up such a dish.
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16 Forager July 29, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Hey Lisa – me too! I want a venison farm! Cute to look at, good to eat!

Hey Amy – the dessert was so fantastic and a match made in heaven. Gamey, rich, truffley. Could do with some more!

Hey SarahVino – It was & thanks for visiting my blog!

Hey Iron Chef Shellie – I know – I could do with a few more of those feasts a bit more often. And what a bargain!

Hey Steph – Amazing value huh? Just goes to show how much value can be had and perhaps how inflated some Sydney prices are..

Hey Richard – I agree, we should be eating more of the stuff. It shouold be in more butchers!

Hey Gourmantic – Well that venison was spectacular and you would have loved it. Loved your Asterix & Obelix blog too. I wish they made some new ones. Loved those books!

Hey Angie – Perhaps if we made a game out of it? :)

Hey Panda – thank you – that’s very sweet of you! :)

Hey Trissa – Ooh, even though I’ve just been I’m jealous and I want to head back for lunch too! Wanna take me?

Hey Anh – Oh, it was feast enough to satisfy anyone!

Hey Lorraine – Yes. Pretty gruesome stuf. Not proud of it. Well, maybe a little…

Hey Tangled Noodle – And I through you – trekking along on your awesome road trips..

Hey Tina – Asterix & Obleix were awesome – history, politics, food, magic and fighting. What’s not to love?

Hey Conor – Hahaha! Can you imagine Matthew Kemp’s face if I told him? The Co-pilot would have been mortified too – probably sat a little further from me..

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