May 18th, 2020This Goat is all it’s quacked up to be
BEFORE COVID-19 some disasters overtook Melbourne restaurants, with places associated with former Masterchef judge George Calombaris and international celebrity Heston Blumenthal shutting up shop.
This left a noted duck farm at Port Campbell with a lot on their hands.
Enter COVID-19 and Hepburn’s David Willcocks, whose Surly Goat café/restaurant morphed into the Socially Isolated Goat. Through a chef friend in Melbourne, David heard about the ducks and, whoopee, here was one on our plates, delivered to the door and only in need of heating.
It had been blanched to tighten the skin and eliminate any nasties, then washed in a solution of Maltose, also called malt sugar, and vinegar, to crisp the skin and give a delicious lacquer effect.
Then the ducks are hung in a cool room for 10 days with some breeze. This makes the flesh both denser and more tender. Oven-roasted without a fan at a high temperature, the duck is a stunning meal, tasty, juicy and with a scrumptious texture.
A main course and sides for such a dish is $30 (three courses $45).
The duck came with a potato dish that lasted three nights. It’s called Pommes Boulangere. The spuds had been sliced and layered between caramelised onion, then baked with chicken stock, butter, rosemary, thyme and garlic. It could scarcely have been better.
David says one story has it that French bakers would cook this in the oven at the end of the night. Another is that people would get the baker to cook it for them, the “seal” of potatoes on top ensuring the baker didn’t pinch any.
The accompanying treacle and thyme tart was a ripper also, and was such a generous serve it lasted two nights.
Another little wonder is David’s self-saucing chocolate pudding, “just like Mum used to make”, except for the addition of cumquats and walnuts.
A further dose of bounty from the pandemic is the availability of Wagyu beef. Normally the price of this course is beyond reach (a single cow has brought $30,000). Its tenderness and flavour is no less than exquisite.
David also secured Oysters Appellation from the south coast of NSW. Truly succulent was our opinion on the dozen we bought for $40.
I could go on about the chocolate pretzel tart, but you get the picture that the Socially Isolated Goat is fired up in these trying times.
David says the pandemic has meant many personal things, such as spending more time with his family. Part of the restaurant resembles an abandoned classroom for his six- and nine-year-olds.
He had only run the restaurant for about 18 months before the pandemic hit. It was set up in mid-2016 by Simon Bevanda, himself a mine host par excellence.
As David puts it, he had no choice but to start again, helped by his 25-year-old cousin Morrison and a newcomer from Ballarat, Jake Gladman. Before COVID-19 he employed seven people, some of them part-time.
“The question was whether to run it normally or tailor it to home cooking. We’re not so much a pop-up and eat but prepared home courses, doing about 20 meals a day, Tuesday to Saturday.”
David, 41, describes the community support as phenomenal, considering his is not the cheapest place around. He predicts a difficult transition back to near-normality for many cafes and restaurants because some suppliers will be gone and some produce unavailable.
One big question is how will things go on (re) opening night? It may be a case of first in…because on a normal Saturday night the Goat just copes with in excess of 60 diners, coming and going. Before then, however, more duck is on the way. This time he will confit the legs and serve the breast separately. Please form an orderly queue.
“The duck came with a potato dish that lasted three nights. It’s called Pommes Boulangere. The spuds had been sliced and layered between caramelised onion, then baked with chicken stock, butter, rosemary, thyme and garlic. It could scarcely have been better.”
Words: Kevin Childs