COVER STORY A heart­felt love let­ter to con­tem­po­rary Valen­tine’s Day din­ing.

Hold the oys­ters and cham­pagne. Mod­ern Valen­tine’s Day din­ing is about light yet in­dul­gent food and warm-weather wine pair­ings. LINDY ALEXAN­DER ex­plores a slew of ideas to get hearts racing

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents -

Valen­tine’s Day is an oc­ca­sion to pro­claim your ado­ra­tion, but it should also be a time to de­light in a sen­sory feast. That doesn’t mean heart-shaped sponge cakes and choco­late-dipped straw­ber­ries. In­stead, think sexy, deca­dent food in­fused with love.

“The best dishes for Valen­tine’s Day are ones that cap­ture the spirit of ro­mance,” says Ben Wil­liamson of the ac­claimed Gerard’s Bistro in Bris­bane. “Light, del­i­cate flavours with a touch of lux­ury and sen­su­al­ity.”

When prep­ping din­ner for two, start with the best pro­duce you can find. “There’s a plethora of choice be­cause late sum­mer is boun­ti­ful,” says Alla Wolf-Tasker, chef and co-owner of the iconic Dayles­ford restau­rant, Lake House. Given that there can be a lot of pres­sure to make the day live up to its prom­ise, we con­sulted a team of ex­perts to guide you from the en­tree to a can­dlelit night­cap. Who needs Cupid’s ar­row when you have food this ex­cep­tional?

SET­TING THE SCENE

Prepa­ra­tion is the key to en­joy­ing a re­laxed and in­ti­mate Valen­tine’s Day.

“The more that can be done be­fore your date ar­rives, the bet­ter,” says Wil­liamson.

“Think about cold-plated en­trees, easy to ex­e­cute mains and desserts that can be or­ches­trated in ad­vance. Un­less you want to get your part­ner in­volved in the kitchen for a bit of fun!”

STRONG START

Lob­ster tails are an ideal date night en­tree. They are best steamed or poached at home, but Wolf-tasker says freshly cooked ones from a fish­mon­ger also work well. “Just make sure they’ve not been frozen af­ter cook­ing,” she says.

A silky aioli, flavoured with fresh herbs and lemon juice, is the per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ment. Wolf-tasker adds a lit­tle yo­ghurt to lighten the dish. “Serve the aioli along­side the lob­ster tails to dunk the chunks in,” she says. “Bet­ter still, make this a shared dish and feed each other.”

THE MAIN EVENT

“The last thing you want is to eat is some­thing big and heavy,” says chef and restau­ra­teur Matt Mo­ran.

As a main course, Mo­ran sug­gests pan-fried John Dory served with roasted cherry toma­toes, beans and zuc­chini flow­ers. “It’s nice and light, but will give you some en­ergy be­cause you have a big night ahead of you,” he says, laugh­ing.

If seafood isn’t your thing, miso-poached free-range chicken with fresh Asian greens is del­i­cate but full of umami-rich flavours.

BOTTOMS UP

Amanda Yal­lop, som­me­lier at Syd­ney’s Quay restau­rant, of­ten pairs seafood with semil­lon. “But also con­sider the hero pro­tein, the method of cook­ing and the gar­nish,” she says.

For Mo­ran’s John Dory, Yal­lop sug­gests a mod­er­ate-bod­ied chardon­nay. “You want some acid­ity to cut through the fat,” she says. “The dark days of chardon­nay are over. I would sug­gest Stargazer from Tas­ma­nia.”

For those not want­ing to im­bibe, there are plenty of non-al­co­holic op­tions. “Iced tea, veg­etable juice and sparkling wa­ter with a dash of ap­ple juice are all good op­tions,” Yal­lop says. “Go freestyle with your choices and have a cou­ple of op­tions.”

THE SWEET­EST THING

Valen­tine’s Day is syn­ony­mous with dessert. “Go for any­thing that’s el­e­gant with a lux­u­ri­ous mouth feel,” says Wil­liamson. “Light-set cus­tards, creamy desserts or high-end cheeses are all things that can be shared and lend a spe­cial touch,” he says.

“There needs to be some­thing lus­cious and sen­su­ous about the meal,” Wolf-tasker says.

“Think of white peaches so ripe that the juice runs down your chin, ripe figs and sweet, plump rasp­ber­ries. Scat­ter some scented rose petals over the fruit to echo the rasp­ber­ries.”

MID­NIGHT SNACK

Lots of tra­di­tional aphrodisiacs might be out for non-meat eaters, but chef Shan­non Martinez of Mel­bourne ve­gan restau­rant Smith & Daugh­ters sug­gests fin­ish­ing off the evening with a latenight cock­tail and snack.

“You can make a gor­geous al­mond milk cock­tail shaken with co­gnac, Coin­treau and espresso,” she says.

And to nib­ble on, Martinez rec­om­mends choco­late pate with olive oil and sea salt spread on a fen­nel baguette. “It’s quite a tra­di­tional Span­ish dish,” she says. “The pep­per­i­ness of the oil to­gether with the salt and fen­nel give it a real savoury edge,” Martinez says.

The best way to en­sure your Valen­tine’s Day is one to re­mem­ber is to keep the food rel­a­tively sim­ple and cook within your ca­pa­bil­i­ties. “Don’t use this oc­ca­sion to ex­per­i­ment,” Wolf-tasker says. “Adding that spe­cial in­gre­di­ent – love – will make what­ever you pre­pare very spe­cial.”

RECIPE FOR LOVE Fin­ish the night with choco­late pate with olive oil and sea salt. Go to delicious.com.au for the full recipe.

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