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DESTINATION: Blue Mountains

By JOHN ROZENTALS

TRAVEL: 13 APRIL 2017

JOHN ROZENTALS spends an indulgent weekend with the Escarpment Group in the Blue Mountains.

I guess that I used to think of the Blue Mountains as an obstacle — one that I rarely stopped at and even more rarely enjoyed, but one which I had to confront on each of many trips over the years between Sydney and the Central West of NSW.

But certainly no longer. What used to be an impediment has become a much favoured haunt — an avenue lined with sumptuous food, fine accommodation and unforgettable scenery, both in dappled sunlight and swirling, sometimes quite eerie, mist.

That appeal was driven home a couple of weeks ago when myself and the Woman with Altitude were hosted by Ralf Bruegger, the general manager of the Escarpment Group, which has in its portfolio the Hydro Majestic, Lilianfels, Echoes and Parklands in the Blue Mountains, and has recently expanded to take on The Convent in the Hunter Valley.

It all started with a rather decadent High Tea in the Hydro’s Wintergarden restaurant watching the mist swirling around the Megalong Valley.

Ralf and his team are to be congratulated on their attention to detail in so tastefully and authentically restoring what is certainly a more-than-century-old Blue Mountains icon. They have done the region and, indeed, Australia a great service.

We opted to share servings of the traditional Wintergarden offering and the more radical Eastern High Tea, accompanied by flutes of French bubbly.

Both dishes were served on three-tiered stands laden with tempting savoury and sweet treats.

It was there that we abandoned the Woman with Altitude’s car, not realising that she had left on the lights and was rapidly flattening the battery, and shared my car to Katoomba, where, because accommodation at Echoes was booked out, we had to stay at luxurious Lilianfels. Damn!

Lilianfels was established by Sir Frederick Darley, sixth Chief Justice of NSW, as a family retreat after he purchased land at Katoomba’s Echo Point in 1888.

It epitomises accommodation in the grandest of manner. It is elegant and its silver-service restaurant, appropriately named Darley’s, delivers food totally worthy of the surrounds.

There’s absolutely nothing ‘mini’ about our Mini Mini Saddle Suite, with its elegant décor, absolute king-size comfort and separate lounge and bedroom.

The quality of the food at Echoes — and it really is next door, well within walking distance — certainly matched the luxury of our suite at Lilianfels.

We tried entrées of crispy soft-shell crab served with pan-seared scallops and som-tom salad; and pan-fried quail with kale, shimeji mushrooms, and tamarind-and-honey glaze … an absolutely delicious pair of starters eagerly washed down with glasses of crisp riesling from Bests in Victoria’s Great Western district.

These were followed by two of the best main courses we have recently tried: free-range chicken wrapped in jamon, and served with sweet potato and quinoa rosti, braised fennel, wild mushroom and truffle veloute; and char-grilled angus tenderloin, served with onion jam and baby vegetables grown in the garden of the Escarpment Group’s nearby Parklands property.

Both dishes were simply sensational, with the velvety veloute sauce an absolute stand-out.

I’m a great fan of reds from France’s Rhone Valley, which I reckon offers better value than the more esteemed Bordeaux and Burgundy regions, and the Perrin & Fils blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre certainly did more than justice to the exceptional tenderloin.

And similarly a glass of De Iulius chardonnay from the Hunter Valley to the chicken.

It was a very fine meal in a beautiful room, tended by the most efficient, friendly staff … and full marks to the Hydro’s handyman, who had no trouble jump-starting the Woman with Altitude’s car the following morning.

Live music … part of the deal at the Hydro Majestic High Tea.

One of the delicious entrées at Echoes … soft-shell crab with pan-seared scallops.

Gorgeous food … the Hydro Majestic’s Eastern High Tea (left) and Wintergarden High Tea.

View from the Hydro Majestic’s dining room … the mist rolls in … or is out?

The Escarpment Group’s General Manager, Ralf Bruegger, in the Hydro Majestic’s beautifully renovated Cats’ Alley.

A comfortable resting place … the Mini Mini Saddle Suite at Lilianfels.