Review by Brian and Patricia Mossop (Gold Coast Bulletin) | February 25th, 2009
The herb-crusted blue eye with summer tomatoes, potato fondant and veal jus, and chef Matt Jefferson and wife Amy, inset.
IF you’re planning a career involving an apprenticeship it’s a big help to align yourself with the best in the business. That’s what Matt Jefferson did and the move is on the threshold of paying dividends. Matt was nine when he moved with his parents from Sydney to the Gold Coast where he went to Merrimac State High School before leaving at 16 to annoy his mother with indecision about what direction he should take. “I had always enjoyed cooking at home so Mum drew up a list of restaurants and told me to approach all of them,” says Matt. “I saw a review of Michael Slayton’s Metro on Main and bowled in there.”
As it so often happens, fate stepped in. Matt was looking for an apprenticeship and one of Michael’s chefs had just injured his back leaving the kitchen short-handed. “Michael handed me an apron and said: ‘Get to it’,” he says. It was the start of a continuing love affair with cooking – an affair further nurtured by Wayne Fanning at Belvedere Thai, Christian de Valence at Kairo Cafe and association with the likes of Laurence Griffen.
When you’re cooking with and learning from some of the finest chefs in the business, something’s bound to rub off - and it did. Matt absorbed his lessons well and learned to appreciate the value of fresh produce, changing dishes, producing good food and presenting it well. When the premises at Broadbeach became available Matt and his wife Amy decided the time to take the plunge was ripe. Even difficult economic times can produce worthwhile opportunities.
Innovative, clean, fresh, modern Australian fare. “I call it bistro food with a twist,” says Matt. With his background it is hardly surprising that presentation is superb. It is as much about enjoying the food with your eyes as well as your taste. Visual dining is something that seems to come naturally to some chefs. Whether they are from the a la carte or the tasting menus, the dishes arrive at the table looking good. Most importantly, they taste good too. Tasting menus are becoming increasingly popular with the public as well as the chefs and they provide a canvas that the chef can, and does, paint delicious pictures. But it is the chef’s preparedness to do something just a little different and a little off-beat that decides whether the artwork is embraced or merely paid temporary lip service. Matt is putting in the effort and it’s tasty and worthy of support.
Formerly Element, the room has been transformed into a chic and slightly dark but modern space with a black stone wall section, the black and silver decor brightened by splotches of orange. Jazz is played softly in the background and filters through the room. An abstract enamel-like painting – it could be a lobster - adds to the colour as do cream banquettes complementing a cream padded bar, two chandeliers, wood-like tables and comfortable black chairs. A cream display behind the bar carries drinks and glasses, fairy lights wind around sticks protruding from a vase and there is also a tall vase of flowers. At the entrance, there are gas flares and glass doors fold back to open the room to the street. An additional touch is the curtained wall with a service lowboy beneath it. In keeping with the name, rock salt in a white dish on a black serviette and a spoon alongside it are on each table.
The second chef in the kitchen is New Zealander Graham Hensley, a young man with a philosophy that is similar to Matt. It helps when the team is headed in the same direction. Out on the floor Matt has managed equally to assemble a capable team. Sharm Schaffler is pleasantly attentive as is Ingrid Nichols, while Frenchman Nicholas Thuret has come from the Ritz in Paris and brings with him a Gallic charm. Barely two months into the venture, owner and staff are blending into a well-oiled unit with service as important to the overall success of the restaurant as the feel and the food.
The RockSalt bruschetta makes a worthy starter – the slices packed with tomato, bocconcini and basil and moistened with olive oil. As an entree, plump seared bay scallops arrive in the bottom of a soup plate with crisp-fried bread, lardons and herbs along with a small pot of potato and leek broth which is immediately poured over the scallops by your waiter. Flavour and texture abound, the soup is thick and the crunch of the crisp bread contrasts with the softness of the fleshy scallops. The dish appears on the tasting menu as ‘A Symphony of the Sea’, which offers the opportunity to sample the different tastes and textures of a most accomplished chef. Oysters are available in a range of styles, while veal carpaccio is a rarity on menus. In this case the rare veal carpaccio is a step in an appreciably different direction. It is served on potato rosti with truffle dressing, horseradish and baby cress, the combination providing pleasing flavour to go with the melt-in-the-mouth tenderness of the finely sliced veal. Perhaps much to the dismay of the crustacean itself, soft-shell crab has become established as a popular and frequently ordered item. Here it is Moroccan, crisp-fried, soft-shell crab, the whole small crab accompanied by mint yoghurt, tomato, rocket, lemon and chickpea salad. It’s flavoursome and satisfying. Among the salads is a fine appetite whetter with baby cos leaves, parmesan, pine nuts, shaved apple and verjuice – the fruitiness of the last combining perfectly with the rest of the ingredients. The fish of the day is the ever-popular snapper, grilled and served on a bed of lentils with baby potatoes and roma tomatoes. If there is a fish which never disappoints, it has to be the snapper. Chicken may not be uppermost in the mind of many restaurant diners but it is well worth considering here. The pan-roasted chicken breast with parma ham, gruyere and spinach stuffing is superb. The huge breast has been prepared in stock to impart an incredible moistness before being stuffed and roasted. Served with buttered cabbage, kipfler potatoes, bacon, spring peas and mustard creme fraiche, the tender chicken is a meal to treasure. So too is the dessert of dark chocolate and whisky date pudding with rum and raisin ice cream and hot fudge sauce. A 2007 Jules Taylor Pinot Gris from New Zealand’s Marlborough region worked well with the dishes.
A welcome addition to top-end Gold Coast dining by a chef with a commitment to excellence as strong as his passion.
RockSalt Modern Dining
Address: Shop 12 Aria Building
Albert Avenue, Broadbeach
Phone: 5570 6076