Basking in the afterglow of his accomplishments as Head Chef at Spicers Peak Lodge, Ash Martin has embarked on the next challenge in his professional life.
"At Spicers Peak Lodge I achieved everything I wanted to achieve there. We received a Chef Hat two years in a row from the Queensland Good Food Guide and was also granted a One Chef Hat from the Australian Good Food Guide in 2013. I felt like a new challenge – so the opportunity came up and I moved across to Spicers Hidden Vale with my wife," said Ash.
"The restaurants of the two rural properties are different but they have essentially the same style. Spicers Peak has a five or seven-course degustation menu every night but the style of cooking here at Hidden Vale is the same - especially because we've just opened up the library, which is a 20-seater restaurant in the back of the historic homestead - that's much more Spicers Peak style, so smaller plates, fine-dining, locally-sourced produce. In Cotton's it's a little bit more relaxed but still with the finer twist. The food in Cotton's does fall into the library menu depending on what we've found during the week but they do work off each other. It's the quieter end of the restaurant, so it's more for the romantic couples."
The principle restaurant at Spicers Hidden Vale, which is named after Sidney Cotton one of the original owners of the estate who was the inspiration for James Bond as he was friends with Ian Fleming, features an a la carte menu that employs a paddock-to-plate philosophy using the freshest, local, sustainably-farmed produce.
As a new addition to the culinary offerings for guests and visitors to the beautiful estate only one hour's drive inland from Brisbane, the Hidden Vale team have recently created an intimate gastronomic space in the homestead's library. This degustation tasting menu that's designed by Ash comes in either five or seven courses - it's a delightful food journey through the freshest regional produce. To complement the meal, there are matched wines that create a wonderful holistic experience.
Having only been with Hidden Vale for three months now, Ash is determined to make contact with local suppliers to ensure that the creations he prepares in the kitchen are inspired by the region.
"There are so many good producers in the area but no one advertises on the internet. I'm working on building the relationships with the local farmers. Just through word of mouth I came across the Barnyard Quail Farmers; their produce is amazing. I put a quail dish - the Assiette of Pittsworth quail with pearl barley and wood ear mushrooms - on the menu about two weeks ago. I'm very much into changing things often with the seasons - so I'm now looking at redoing the quail dish because we're now heading into spring. It was great for winter because we put wood ear mushrooms from New South Wales with the quail and pearl barley which is very warming."
While Flight Centre understands that each of Ash's meals are his own inspiration, we couldn't resist asking for his favourites.
"I have a special spot for the braised local veal cheek with double smoked bacon, broad beans, potato puree and pork crackle. It's a simple dish to do but if you don't do it right it can be horrible. I can eat it every night. It comes with local root vegetables – I don't think I'll take that off the menu even in the summer. The pork jowl is also amazing. You get a couple of little quail eggs. It's the cheek of the hand chosen pork and that just melts in your mouth. You get the fattiness of the quail egg and some gentleman's relish. I love the rib eye also, it comes with some potato foam and charred cos lettuce. It's a simple but tasty dish," he said.
While Spicers Hidden Vale is putting a strong emphasis on memorable culinary experiences, this rural getaway also offers many other incredible opportunities.
Catherine Bone came over from New Zealand six months ago to manage the property that boasts 31 suites and cottages that have been faithfully restored in keeping with their heritage.
"Hidden Vale is relaxed luxury that expands your mind and your outlook. It can inspire many ideas whether you stay for a day, a weekend or longer. It's just so quiet here. I think it's good for the soul making the journey to the property," said Catherine.
"This is a 12,000-acre working cattle station but it's also classified as a nature refuge. We have a koala habitat. We've actually just planted additional Eucalyptus Trees and Queensland University, a couple of weeks ago, released 10 Eastern Grey Kangaroos to breed with the local kangaroo population. It's great to explore the scenery and admire the wildlife on a bike – there's 50 kilometres of mountain bike tracks. Complimentary bikes and helmets are available for guests and reception will give you a map of the property. Our activities team organise various cycling events throughout the year – the biggest of which is the Active Travel Flight Centre Cycle Epic. We started horse riding lessons about six months ago, so that guests new to riding can learn to ride before exploring themselves. We also have a four-wheel drive tour."
For guests who prefer to relax away from physical activity, Spa Anise offers a range of massages and facials and there are two swimming pools on-side – a rock pool and a heated lap pool. Every Sunday afternoon jazz musicians entertain guests on the croquet lawn and the restaurant can prepare a picnic basket for those who enjoy an al fresco dining experience. The kids will love the animal nursery with pigs, ponies, alpacas, goats and geese. Feed is available at reception.
I thought that mountain biking sounded fantastic, so I registered my interest with Clare at reception, grabbed a bike and headed off for some serious cycling. Three hours later I returned to the homestead, after I crossed creeks, climbed to the top of peaks and soared down the other side. I spoke to kangaroos, chatted with koalas and accidentally startled a sun-baking lizard. This was a thoroughly satisfying way to enjoy a glorious Sunday afternoon in the South-east Queensland bush.