du Fermier

July 25, 2014

42 High Street, Trentham
I was excited about du Fermier. Very excited. I’ll freely admit it, I was giddy with nerves all Saturday. Of course I’d read about Annie Smithers’ restaurant in Kyneton, and had heard murmerings of even better things in Trentham. Mr N had eaten here some time ago and became determined to bring me here, knowing how much I’d enjoy the food. Well, enjoy I did!
Du Fermier, which means ‘from the farm’, is chef Annie Smithers’ latest venture in Trentham, which is a small town near Daylesford that punches well above its weight on the food scene. In addition to du Fermier, there’s the fantastic Red Beard bakery, the Colliban foodstore and cafe, and a couple of good pubs, all on the main street. Istra Smallgoods (maker of that fantastic bacon you had with your eggs last Sunday) is also just around the corner in Musk. Needless to say, Du Fermier is in good company.
Mr N and I recently spent a weekend up in that area, and had booked du Fermier for the Saturday night some weeks in advance (they only do dinner two nights a week, so I’d recommend planning ahead). That Saturday was particularly freezing, with the two of us rugged up in puffer jackets and beanies while walking around during the day. As the afternoon drew to a close and the sky darkened, we drove to Trentham, both of us silent in anticipation.

Walking in, it was warm and felt like home; a lovely welcome from the cold weather outside. The other tables were full with a mixture of locals and weekenders from Melbourne, all chatting away quietly. The open fire place was also going, producing a warming crackle every now and then. It was everything we needed after a day out in the cold.

Smithers’ food is rooted in French technique and tradition, so it’s pretty homely food by nature. The focus is on local, seasonal produce and the food is big on flavour. It’s heartfelt, it’s delicious, and frankly, it’s everything I want in a restaurant dinner. Smithers also sells homemade jams, preserves and this wonderfully named ‘Breakfast in Paris’, which is a chocolate powder for warm drinks to have in bed.

The dinner menu is stupidly simple: a menu du jour of what’s best in season from nearby, served in three courses of shared plates. There’s something so appealing about leaving the decision-making to someone else, and we were more than happy to sit back and enjoy ourselves. Good value, you ask? Best I’ve seen in a while, at $55 per person and and extra $30 for a wine match. We each enjoyed a half wine match and thought the pours were incredibly generous.

Generous is probably the best way to describe the food here. It’s exactly the sort of food I most love to cook at home, and the food I most love to eat. Simple and unfussy, with a focus on flavour and good produce. Annie also made a point of coming out to each table to serve a particular dish and explain the provenance of some of the ingredients or why she decided on it for that evening.

As well as getting an entire loaf of freshly baked bread to ourselves (I’m ashamed to say we devoured it, slathering each piece in french butter), we also enjoyed a pair of ethereal gougères, which are choux pastry puffs with cheese. They were light yet creamy, and slightly warmed: like blissful, cheesy clouds!

To begin, we shared a salade composée en croute, which is a classic French salad of seasonal baby leaves with a variety of little additions, including grilled croutons with a sheep and goats from the Barossa Valley. This was served with a wonderful 2013 Domaine Bellevue sauvignon gris from the Loire Valley. It’s made from a pink skinned mutation of the sauvignon blanc variety, but has slightly more texture. We loved it.

Mr N and I tucked into our entree, searching through the salad leaves to find little gems like walnuts and cubes of beetroot. A lovely and well thought out way to start the meal.

Annie stopped by our table to say a quick hello and explained that the upcoming main would be a cassoulet with confit duck and roast pork belly, in honour of Bastille Day (which was the following Monday). Mr N had earlier speculated that the menu would involve either pork or duck, so you can imagine how thrilled he was to see his two favourite proteins in the same dish!

Let it be known that Annie Smithers’ cassoulet is phenomenal, and that the confit duck was honestly the best duck I’ve ever eaten in my life. Cornfed and free range, it was unbelievably tender and unctuous, with an almost sticky, meaty mouthfeel. Unbelievably delicious. The cassoulet, which also included white beans, tomato, garlic and breadcrumbs, was served with a side dish of sautéed kale and cavolo nero.

Our wine match for the dish was a 2012 La Ferme Saint Martin ‘Terre Jaunes’, a grenache and syrah blend from 60 year old vines in the southern France. The sommelier’s tasting notes for this one included liquorice, black fruit and spice. I’m not an expert on wine, but it was a lovely match for the food!

Nuff’ said. (Incidentally, Annie took a photo of this and put it on her newsfeed: check out the photo, and many other delicious images, at kittensmithers!)

And then there was dessert. Annie brought it out herself and hesitantly asked, “do you want to attempt half each?” A resounding “YES” was the answer, although I have to admit even I was defeated by this dessert, delicious though it was.

What was dessert, you ask? Oh, just a mere cocoa and chocolate chip meringue, complete with cream and a wicked salted caramel sauce. Nothing special. No biggie. Not bad, really.

Our dessert was matched with an apple and hazelnut liquor, again from France. It tasted like a heady combination of calvados and frangelico, perfect for the chocolate-caramel dessert.

Full. Sated. Replete.

As we pulled on our puffer jackets, preparing ourselves for the icy weather outside, I reflected on what a lovely meal it had been. At du Fermier, Smithers reminds you of the meaning of true hospitality and generosity. From the dishes we ate, it was easy to see how much she loves French cuisine, but also how much she genuinely enjoys hosting people and feeding them delicious food.

I said at the beginning of this post that I was excited about Annie Smithers’ du Fermier. Well, excitement doesn’t quite cut it anymore. It may even be more than Larissa Dubecki’s crush. I think it’s safe to say I’m infatuated, head, heart and stomach!

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