It is with huge thanks to the lovely ladies at Papaya PR that I was invited a couple of weeks ago to attend a superb day at THE GARDEN. THE GARDEN is oddly located inside the The Wests Rugby Leagues Club in Ashfield. Preconceptions pictured some ludicrous football club B-Grade bistro (of sorts) that sold pizza. Instead I surprisingly attended one of my favourite venues of 2017 so far. A momentously large venue inside the club that is decked out nearly on par with the The Grounds at Alexandria.
A group of twenty of us were invited to participate in a pizza masterclass with the Pizza Master at The Green, Chef Joseph Abboud. A few of us would get hands on with the dough and the ingredients and the rest would sip bellinies and take photos. Caroline from Papaya led a fascinating continuous question line with the Chef and we learned so much about their venue and what they do. Did you know they actually have their own flour mill onsite and make their own flour. It’s incredible, and let me repeat, they are in a football club! They also source everything as local, as fresh and as organic as possible and are dedicated to farm to fork dining. The foraged salad for example often has mushrooms locally foraged from the actual locale of the venue.
Their buffalo cheese is sauced from a local Australian farm that make all their own cheeses with their own buffalos. Not many buffalo farms in Australia. You will need to ask the chef when onsite but if I can remember this correctly, the way the buffalo cheese is made is basically, or close to, lactose free. So you can cheese your head off and be AOK.
They have a page on their website dedicated to the farmers in Australia they work with – suss it out HERE.
Our morning was Pizza Masterclass followed by a long lunch sampling the new menu, it was an amazingly organised and fun day.
THE GARDEN VENUE:
The venue is in the upper level of The Wests in Ashfield. There is a couple of other food venues up there but I couldn’t visit any of the others after coming here. I literally want to drive my parents from Manly to Ashfield for dinner on their next Sydney visit. Now the venue has a few areas inside that fit all the 300 seats. Along the windows is what I will call the trellis section. Long tables with the roof covered in white trellis and lots of hanging greenery above the table. I am certain most of it is plastic greenery but it still looks spectacular and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Then there is the first pic in the article, for larger tables in front of a whopping closed fireplace – I can imagine how awesome it will be in front of this in winter!
Then further in is some more tables in front of the pizza kitchen and beyond that a somewhat more private area with more tables and a room great for standing, mingling, and having a few more bellinies. You would happy eating in any of the areas. We were in two long tables of ten in the trellis section in front of the windows for food photography lighting. It was fantastic. And for such a huge place, it filled mighty quick for a Sunday lunch.
Our pizza masterclass was a lot of fun. Chef talked a lot and showed a lot more. I did not get my hands dirty as was on the camera and sipping bellinies :). They went through everything from dough explanation to kneading, to doing the pizza throwing, which was a lot of fun, and finally to making their own pizzas with ingredients, and then the cooking. It was a great experience and if ever there again for the class I want to throw that dough.
Firstly the have some great drinks and a decent wine list. You will be happy. Do not drive – you will want to drink the delights while feasting on the fantastic. Then the food. It’s not a huge menu but they adhere to quality over quantity. There is a separate menu for kids, it too is a good one. You can enjoy their specialty, pizza, then there is salads, some great entrees and what I would then consider high-end pub styled food like schnitzels, roasts, and a few burgers to keep everyone happy. There really is something in there for everyone with even some dishes that will keep the gluten intolerant and vegetarians happy.
WHAT WE FEASTED ON:
Boy did we feast. I haven’t even included it all in the article as there were too many pics. We kicked off with all the pizzas and the foraged salad. The foraged salad is made with seasonal vegetables, halloumi, chickpeas, mung beans & hand-picked leaves. As such this one will change pending on the season. It will still be as yummy. At first I turned my nose up at salad, and chickpeas, I didn’t need to fart my entire way home hahaha #socrass, but it was fracking delicious and I went back for more. FYI – it is vegetarian and gluten free.
The first pizza we ate, not pictured, was a light Potato and Goat’s Cheese pizza and it was perfecto. Their bases are incredible and the toppings are the perfect compliment to the meal. The Potato and Goat’s Cheese pizza is roast potatoes, garlic, rosemary, goat’s cheese, shallots & mozzarella. I fell in love with that pizza.
Chef then brought us a surprise, not on our tasting menu, to try and it was the best thing of the day. It blew my mind and made me utter the words “f**k yeah.” The best cornbread I have ever eaten. It was a Blue Cornbread. Cornbread with a hint of blue cheese served with house-made jalapeño butter. I would have still rated this venue high if they brought me a plate with ten servings of this alone on it. I will return to this venue for that cornbread alone.
The pizzas were divine. We devoured the above mentioned Potato and Goat’s Cheese, then came out my favourite. The FROM THE FIELD Gourmet Pizza – Mushroom, capsicum, eggplant, olives, mozzarella and The Garden tomato sauce. Balanced, tasty, and so love worthy. Following on from this was AUSSIE PRAWN PIZZA – prawns, tomato, garlic, mozzarella and The Garden tomato sauce. This one went really quick – everyone there pretty much fought over this – who doesn’t love prawn pizzas? OK – excluding those with allergies.
Finally it was a delightful VEGETARIAN CALZONE to round out the pizzas. Folded pizza base filled with ricotta, roasted pumpkin, walnuts, mozzarella and The Garden tomato sauce. I am not usually a calzone fan, I tend to find them a bit dough heavy but I can happily say this one’s a treat. I should never have expected anything less, everything was made with such refined nuance at THE GARDEN and the dough balance was (of course) perfect.
Just when it was time to get out of jeans and into incredibly stretchy activewear they bring out the desserts. THE GARDEN is overseen by Executive Chef Oliver Heath, an incredibly talented international Chef in his own right who embraces Farm to Fork for the venue. But the best in management surround themselves with the best in their fields and Heath has done just that. He has Chef Joseph Abboud, a true master in the pizza field and then he has Chef Matthew Abbott-Williams as Head Pastry Chef in the kitchen – this guy is a genius – I am in love with his art.
Chef Matthew turned a simple lemon meringue into an artistic delight and then brought out a Seasonal Shortbread Stack. Poached seasonal fruit with honey crème fraîche ice cream and lemon shortbread. It was divine!! But he wasn’t even done with his winning dish yet………..
Our final meal at THE GARDEN was their CHOCOLATE SPHERE – a signature dish from Chef Matt. It needs to be noted – THIS DISH IS ONLY AVAILABLE FRIDAY AND SATURDAY!! White chocolate sphere filled with seasonal fruit compote, chocolate mousse, mint sorbet and melting milk chocolate sauce. Half the fun in this dish is the instagram porn of pouring the melting sauce over the top and seeing the globe melt open to reveal the amazing insides. It won’t be everyone’s favourite element but that mint sorbet set this one apart from other spheres I have had and I love mint so much so this was a definite highlight for me.
I score my venue reviews all a perfect five to start and then deduct points as I am writing for anything that didn’t sit right with me. Besides the fact it takes over an hour for me to get to THE GARDEN in Ashfield I cannot fault this farm to fork venue in any way. My experience was perfection and as such this sublime restaurant, again I repeat, in a Rugby League club, is awarded a perfect five spoons.
SCORE BREAKDOWN: 3/3 food, 2/2 service, 1/1 drinks, 1/1 venue & ambience, 1/1 cost, 1/1 toilets and 1/1 bonus
The Garden Deets:
PH: (02) 8752 2000
Sat-Sun: 12pm – 3pm
LOCAL DELIVERY: No
VEGETARIAN OPTIONS: Yes
GLUTEN FREE OPTIONS: Yes
KID FRIENDLY: Yes
*** JK (and any guests of Spooning Australia) were invited guests of the establishment. However, as always, if it was shite I would happily tell you as such.