Imagine a world where you wake up to sounds of the wind rustling through the leaves and the early morning calls of birds talking to the rising sun.
Where there is no long commute. No sounds of cars driving, horns tooting, garbage trucks clanging or street sweepers swishing about their business.
A world, where each day you step out the back door and wander through an amazing garden overflowing with fruits, vegetables and herbs and wonder what to do for dinner that night that will truly celebrate the freshest offerings of the day.
For formidable hospitality couple Ash and Andrea Martin this dream has become a reality – but not without a lot of hard work and a few curly challenges along the way.
The duo, who hold the titles of Executive Chef and General Manager respectively at Spicers Hidden Vale retreat in Grandchester (about 30km south-west of Ipswich) came to the property from Spicers Peak in 2013, excited by the potential to make their mark.
They landed at a 12,000 acre property steeped in history, with beautiful natural grounds, restored colonial cottages and a near 100-year-old classic homestead offering an exclusive range of luxurious accommodation for customers looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of every day life.
They also found a restaurant in need of an update.
“When my wife Andrea, GM of Spicers Hidden Vale, and I moved from Spicers Peak around seven years ago, we promptly transformed the conservative Cotton’s Restaurant to an innovative restaurant by utilising modern and wood-fired cooking techniques, embracing the stunning local produce - supported by our newly created market garden, redesigning the menus and sourcing experienced staff,” Ash said.
“We then decided to rename the restaurant to Homage to show respect to the land, the people, and the produce.”
Homage is a sentiment that Ash takes seriously. The food for the restaurant, if not produced on site, is all sourced from local farmers and producers known to “In the late afternoons, our chefs conduct guest tours of our Market Garden, smokehouse and fermentation room; it’s such a simple, direct connection to their experience in the restaurant”.
For Homage, described by Spicers as providing “farm to fork Australian cuisine”, the menu is a mix of customer favourites and seasonally inspired creations.
Spicers Hidden Vale Gallery
“Similar to many regional areas in Queensland, our seasons can be quite extreme therefore we know which staples that work well plus we constantly review and experiment with new plantings which are also influenced by our pre-seasonal menu planning,” Ash said.
“In winter, it’s all about root vegetables, brassica and herbs – all perfect for roasting, and various citrus and rosellas which appear on our menus in various creations.
“I like to call our menu progressive-regional with a focus on sustainability, provenance, seasonality and fire. Our own 89-bed market garden provides us with an abundance of produce which is another great source of creative inspiration.
“I cook with what’s seasonal, what’s available here, right now and I try to capture it at its peak, and then preserve every bit of that goodness we can naturally, through smoking and preserving.
“Our menus are constantly being tweaked to showcase what’s daily harvested by our chefs from our market garden and what is provided by our local growers.
“Although we retain some favourite dishes and the menus are more radically changed every couple of months - menus could be tweaked daily or weekly to include the fresh gatherings.”
“Everything we have on the menu has a story of provenance whether it’s pork we produce, or roosters from next door, or beef from a neighbouring family cattle property with a history of over 100 years,” Ash said.
“I really like this current dish - ‘Next door’s heritagebreed rooster, soured cream, heart, garden lime, sugarloaf’.
“One of our farming neighbours provides us with approximately 15 roosters per week, and once they have gone that’s it! They have amazing flavour and it is great to cook with something so local and unique.”
“We are immersed in supporting those ethical local farmers who are working with nature to deliver seasonal treasures from across the region - Scenic Rim, Darling Downs, Granite Belt, Lockyer Valley and Ipswich.”
SPICERS HIDDEN VALE - GALLERY IMAGES
Across the seasons. Ash estimates they source from at least 25 local producers to supplement the produce they generate on site.
The journey has not been without its challenges for the chef and his team. In 2018 a fire tore through the property, destroying the restaurant.
“As the result of a fire in 2018 that burnt our 100-yearold homestead to the ground, we had to promptly re-invent Homage in our historic 100-year-old-barn where we worked with more traditional methods of cookery – open-air-fire, wood oven, smoking, coal pits, preserving etc – all done visually, outside, in front of our diners – and just steps from our market garden,” Ash said.
“We had to strip back our techniques yet elevate the menu and experience.”
In February 2020, Homage re-emerged in the newly constructed Hidden Vale Homestead and Ash said the experience had made them stronger.
“Simon Furley, Head Chef, our team, and I have elevated the culinary experience to a new creative level however our style has benefited greatly by the traditional open-fire discoveries from our time cooking at the Barn.
“The Barn and the external cooking are still very much-loved extension of Homage as it is fully utilised for our popular casual weekend lunches and private celebratory occasions. More recently, with COVID-19 restrictions, the venue has benefited from its size and space.
“Because the new Homage dining areas flow across a series of large airy rooms, adjoining verandas and a private dining room / board room, we have been able to space the tables beyond the government recommended guidelines,” Ash said.
“Also, The Barn and its surrounds, being in open air, have allowed us to broaden our area for dining especially for weekend lunches.
“For drinks and relaxing, there are a plethora of wellspaced choices – a stunning Spotted Gum bar, several alluring lounge spaces – two of which face floor to ceiling rock fireplaces, multiple verandas and gardens, one of which frames an inviting fire pit.
“Of course, we have implemented many other practices to ensure the wellbeing of our guests.”
One by-product of people being locked in at home in recent times has been their desire to explore the property when they arrive.
“We have found that our guests are much more active exploring our 12,000 acre property – walking, running, taking mountain and e-bike tours, koala safaris, visits to our Wildlife Centre, and cycling through our Hidden Vale Adventure Park’s 110 plus kilometres’ of world class trail networks which means their appetites are much greater than normal, and the majority seek very healthy menu and beverage options - therefore we constantly tweak the menus to ensure all needs are generously met,” Ash said.
Asked to pick a few favourites from the current menu, Ash said he hoped guests would find temptation in a collection of dishes inspired by the property, region and season and suggested a mix as follows:
- Rosevale beef brisket, sugarloaf cabbage slaw, citrus (local beef, with cabbage from our market garden, citrus from our orchard),
- Coal roasted pork collar, stone fruit, mustard (with pork from Goombungee’s ethical 5th generation Schultz Family Farms),
- Lamb cooked over olive wood, pickled heirloom carrots (fuelled by coals from local Mulgowie pruned olive trees, carrots from our market garden and fermentation room)
- and for dessert, Rosella sourdough doughnut, ice cream (plump rosellas from our market garden, and our own old well-nurtured sourdough mother).
Put on the spot to give away a secret or two for other chefs out there reading this story, Ash had this tip:
“We source the majority of our beans and corn from the local Mulgowie Farming Company who have set an extremely high benchmark in best farming practice. Their broccoli and pumpkin are also outstanding.”
Another was the restaurant’s use of the Mibrasa Grill in the kitchen, an imported grill fuelled by the coals of the local Mulgowie pruned olive trees “which weave delicate charry primal flavours into any grilled produce.”
“The base is lined with refractory bricks which gives maximum heat efficiency and resistance to pure fire, and the easy-to-use elevating system allows us to control the grill over the fire to vary our cooking techniques.”
As the year ticks closer to the Spring you can bet that the team at Homage are busy experimenting with new menu ideas to entice and delight their lucky guests.
Spicers Hidden Vale and Homage Restaurant is at 617 Grandchester Mount Mort Rd, Grandchester, Queensland.
Phone 1300 179 340.