DRIVE through the gates of Spicers Clovelly Estate near Montville and you'll likely want to shout “c'est manifique”.
This small patch of Provence on the Sunshine Coast was all the more manifique on our visit: the sun shone radiantly in a clear blue sky and just a hint of cool tinged the autumn air as we drove along the gravel driveway to the handsome chambre d'hôte (delicious French word for B&B).
However, Spicers Clovelly Estate is much more than a B&B, it is an elegant manor in true French style with 10 luxurious suites in manicured grounds overlooking the lush Sunshine Coast hinterland.
The drive from Noosa had put us in an expectant mood. While there were no Provence vineyards or fields of lavender, compensation was more than generous with a myriad tropical plants.
The welcome at Clovelly was all beaming smiles and convivial gestures.
Maitre 'd Sam Giles waited to lead us to our suite, patient in the lounge area with its stylish French furniture and terrace foyer bar, while we watched a small wedding taking place on the lawn among a carpet of delicate petals. Only when the couple had finished their vows and the champagne corks popped did we let Sam take us up the timber staircase to our spa suite.
After champagne (we thought about slipping into the spa; its window views over the flourishing countryside were tempting, but we were too lazy to change) it was a glide down the staircase to The Long Apron, the estate's intimate dining room with its immaculate white table cloths and gleaming glassware, for (and we admit to some timidity here) a 10-course dinner.
We'd previously had anxious thoughts of asking chef Cameron Matthews if he could halve the number of courses to a less gluttonous five, but he wanted to show off his prodigious talent and who were we to stop him?
I won't give you detail of each bold course otherwise you'll be reading this until tomorrow, but this was food we had never encountered before.
The sirloin, sliced and cunningly hidden among mushrooms, onions and piquillo, came served on a thick slab of burnt cedar wood.
The biodynamic potato – it warranted a complete course on its own – was coated with cream-infused hay ash. What is hay ash you might well ask, as I did when chef Cameron came out to sit with us at the end of the meal. “It's ash from burnt hay,” was the straight-forward reply.
Then came the carrots, they too given their own place on the menu. From Sandy Creek, they were presented with icing, persimmon, honey and bourbon. The palate adjusted again, and gave silent congratulations to chef Cameron's audaciousness.
A huge Mooloolaba prawn (the palate was comfortable with this one) came with snails farmed in the Glasshouse Mountains along with a little kiev ball scattered with nasturtiums. Challenging.
In between courses, we stopped to gingerly delve spoons into sherbet with gin and tonic jelly cubes drizzled with juniper-lemon syrup.
Then it was on to something less risky but exquisite: Jamon from Iberico draped over buffalo mozzarella with peas, mint, celery and chef's own vinegar. Cameron Matthews means it when he says he makes everything on-site.
We ended with an Earl Grey tea cake with lemon, rose, pine nut and musk which looked more like an artwork hanging in a European gallery than a cake.
Every course came with a matching wine, each carefully explained by maitre 'd Sam and poured from a newly opened bottle: a Clare Valley Riesling, a Pinot Gris from Mornington Peninsula, a Savignon Blanc from the Adelaide Hills, a fruity Pinot from NZ, a Cab Sav from Clare Valley, a Petersons Botrytis Semillon from Griffith.
Spicers Clovelly Estate's cellar is in-keeping with the exceptional standards throughout the property.
After a deep sleep in our big bed on French linen, it was up in the morning for breakfast on the sun-drenched veranda overlooking the swimming pool and pea-green lawn: a frittata, a pot of Kenilworth yogurt, chocolate croissants, coddled egg and grilled ciabatta with caramelised marmalade so sweet and sticky I dreamt about it for days afterwards.
Later, we made our way down the gravel driveway in the morning sunshine, more than a little gleeful despite the extra couple of kilos around our middles. Talk about unlimited “joie-de-vivre”.
Ann Rickard was a guest of Spicers Clovelly.
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