Firstly, let me begin by saying: date night, wheeee! Thanks to the folks at Willow Dining Room who offered us a voucher to put towards our dinner because it made me get my a into g and book a night out. When nights out are few and far between it had better be good… and it was.
Willow’s one of those places I’ve been sussing out for ages and meaning to visit (when we finally get a night off). An interesting little local place on the lower Gold Coast Highway between Commune and Street Corner Espresso (also – side note, close to a great and reasonably priced boutique – Bird on a Wire). First impressions on our visit was an intimate and somewhat eclectic space with some vintage touches, it feels warm and comfortable as soon as you enter. They have some outside seating which will be lovely when it’s warm but it was a touch chilly on our visit.
We both started out our night with a glass of Shiraz (we are both fond of SA Shiraz, particularly Barossa). I had the Mr Riggs ‘The Gaffer’ Shiraz (McLaren, SA $10)and Sime had the Longhop ($9, Adelaide Hills, SA). The intention was to share but in the excitement of a night out I may have quaffed (read: gulped) mine a bit too quickly. We both enjoyed them, not the rounded fuller flavour of our favourites (St Hallett) but still lovely.
The lovely owner / chef, Ian, came out to introduce himself and have a chat. Ian started his career as an architect, changed careers to undertake culinary studies in Germany and recently bought Willow. So to be honest at this point, old hospitality cynic that I am, I became slightly concerned – change of career, recent purchaser… hmm. I have seen a lot of restaurants with good intentions that don’t deliver. Still, the proof is in the tasting. Plus, wait, there’s more:
Ian said his menu is tapas style with a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian flavours; he mentioned using local produce and cooking from scratch, not doing too much prep so everything is fresh. Ian also mentioned the pork belly which is cooked for 5 hours – a fact I immediately filed away as I planned to order it. Ian also updated the design of the restaurant using his architectural training. He is warm, friendly and very passionate about his food. So on to the point – what about the food?
First up came the Spanish Mushroom and potato croquettes w/ avocado and coriander mayo ($12). Perfectly crispy on the outside and full of flavour on the inside, I wondered how the Asian flavoured mayo would go with them but it complemented it perfectly.
Next up came the Spicy Patatas Bravas, a simple favourite of ours (best I’ve had so far was at MoVida Next Door in Melbourne, it was divine!) ($12). It really is just potatoes cooked with tomato and cheese, but it needs the spicy / sweet balance of flavours with the tomato based plus texture of the potatoes perfect. This was also a winner.
Ian sent out the Baked Mushrooms filled with Cream Cheese and Feta ($12) for us to try. My favourite approach to food – simple flavours combined well – earthy mushroom with creamy salty cheese. We felt it didn’t need the sauce as the flavours spoke for themselves, but we were glad he insisted we try it.
The Pork Belly (slow roasted in quinoa tabouleh with star anise maple sauce $16) also delivered. Falling apart slow cooked pork with a crispy skin (drool) with a dipping sauce that enhanced its flavour. I wasn’t sold on the tabouleh but I think it was because I was enjoying the pork and sauce so much. Also if I was being picky – don’t think it needed the garnish.
Last up came the Beer battered tempura zucchini flowers filled w/ Persian feta ($16). The sauce wasn’t needed as the flowers and cheese were great: crunchy fried soft flowers filled with creamy salty Feta.
By this stage I wasn’t hungry but Sime wanted to try a dessert so we went for the Salted caramel and chocolate tart w/ vanilla ice cream and mango puree ($12). We both felt the dish didn’t need the mango puree, it was great on its own. I love a home made restaurant dessert and it’s clear it was with a brownie like chewy chocolate topping on smooth caramel and shortcrust pastry base. I didn’t taste much salt in the dish but it was still lovely. Note: yes it was his dessert and yes I did eat half of it. Thank you for my lovely husband for sharing dessert with me and not getting (very) irritated that after many years together I continue to ‘not want dessert’ then ‘sample’ his (love you honey!).
OK so this was quite a long post – thank you for staying with me (those of you still here). Overall we had a great night and even started chatting to some friendly fellow diners who also loved their dinners. Where do you go for dinner these days that feels so relaxed and welcoming that you talk to total strangers about the food? That in itself is a selling point (but those of you who wish to sit quietly and enjoy never fear). So those of you who are still with me – yes we had a great night and would recommend you visit Willow soon to say hi to Ian and enjoy his food.