The first thing that hits me after I get out of the car is the wave of heat, a hot summer's day - unexpected and uncharacteristic for the Blackheath area of the Blue Mountains. The second thing is the intense perfume of the flowers, lavender is the strongest but there's a whole jam medley of them together producing a heady fragrance that lulls me to relax. There's no street noise, no construction. Just the background score of insects and that incredible, intoxicating smell.
We walk into the welcome cushion of air conditioning for Parklands estate on Govett's Leap Road. The name describes the 28 hectares of lush park area with pines and cypress trees. We are invited to take a seat in the drawing room. Hot tea with unfurling flowers is provided as are ice cold lemongrass scented towels-a most welcome greeting after a two hour drive. We are given our keys and they offer to help us to our room but we are fine. We are away for the weekend with Louise and Viggo and they are arriving later that evening and staying in a loft room near ours.
There are two types of rooms at Parklands: suites and loft rooms and four rooms are clustered in one building. We have a suite, #125. The whole resort has 28 rooms and it's a popular place for weddings. Our suite opens out onto a lounge room with a fireplace. There's a chair and tables on the outdoor deck area with chairs and tables.
A work desk stands next to the mini bar and there's a three seater lounge, a one seater and two single chairs. Mr NQN eyes the fruit bowl that has plenty of fruit. Internet is free but has a very small download limit and there are internet packages that you can pay for but these too have small limits. What I'm trying to say is that you can forget watching Netlix while here although they do have cable tv available.
The bedroom has a king sized bed and a window seat. The bed is very comfortable and it's easy to slip off into the land of slumber. There's another television in here as well as bathrobes and slippers for two in the cupboards as well as a laptop sized safe.
The bathroom has a double shower heads, one regular and one monsoon, as well as a good selection of Appelles Apothecary toiletries including body lotion, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, shower cap, vanity kit and soaps. Whatever is used is replenished daily.
Dinner is at a sister property. Echoes boutique hotel and restaurant is part of the Escarpment Group that also own and manage the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Parklands, Lilianfels, Echoes and The Convent in the Hunter Valley.
The boutique hotel has just 14 rooms while the restaurant has incredible views over Jamison Valley as it is perched high on the escarpment.
On Saturday nights they have a pianist playing and everyone takes the chance to go out onto the patio and have their photo taken with the jaw dropping view as a background.
We have drinks in the bar area: an Echoes mojito for me and a ginger martini for Mr NQN, a Long Island Iced Tea for Viggo and a Casablanca by Night for Louise.
There are two main dining areas, on the covered patio under a glass canopy but given the heat of the day we retreat to the air conditioned comfort of the indoor dining room. On Saturday nights there is a 3 course minimum for $115. The chef is Thai Australian chef Manit Mangornchai and many of the menu choices reflect his heritage.
The amuse bouche is a salmon and avocado mousse filled piece of rolled sushi.
They set down a loaf of warm house baked bread, butter and balsamic and olive oil. I haven't eaten since breakfast so it is devoured with much gusto.
House made Windsor duck liver pate with smoked asparagus, apple, freshly baked crisp bread and Parmesan snow
We are that group of friends that share all the dishes so they set the four entrees down in the centre of the table so that we can try everything. I start with a rich duck liver pate with lightly smoked asparagus spears, round of crisp bread and Parmesan snow. It's very rich and I usually like a sweet counterpoint to pate but it's a smooth pate.
Gaulston Heights pan-fried quail, kale, shimeji mushroom, tamarind & honey glaze
The quail comes with a tamarind and honey glaze and is served with kale and shimeji mushrooms. Some dishes do need a bit of seasoning to them and this particularly benefits from salt. The quail is very tender and juicy though especially with the sweet sauce.
Tempura zucchini flowers filled with Australian prawn and dill mousse, rocket, mango and avocado salsa
Hands down my favourite entree and one that I would order again and again is the deep fried zucchini flowers that are filled with a divine prawn and dill mouse. The batter is very light, not quite like a tempura but more coated in a delicate netting and they're crunchy, light and moreish and served with a fresh mango and avocado salsa and rocket leaves.
Crispy soft-shell crab and pan-fried Australian scallops with Som Tam salad
Another entree with its origins in Thailand is the soft shell crab. It is deep fried until crunchy and served with a spicy som tam salad and scallops. The som tam salad is spicy and refreshing against the crunchy soft shell crab.
Pan-fried Cone Bay Barramundi fillet, Thai sour curry broth with fresh Parklands vegetables finished with lime leaves
The kitchen keeps up a good pace and we aren't waiting long for our mains. The mains are substantial in size and the barramundi is a large serve with plenty of Thai aromas. The flavour is perhaps not as bold as the aroma, it feels like they've gone gently gently with the spices here but it's a nice dish with the fillet moist from the sour curry broth.
Free range Bannockburn chicken wrapped in Jamon with sweet potato and quinoa rosti, braised fennel, wild mushroom and truffle veloute
What we liked about this is the absolute tenderness of the chicken. It comes with a layered sweet potato and quinoa rosti square with half a braised fennel and a wild mushroom and truffle veloute (quite mild in truffle alas). And just a note this goes superbly with the roast pumpkin and feta side dish.
Char-grilled Hunter Valley Angus tenderloin, onion jam, Parklands baby vegetables & Red wine glaze
My favourite main is the steak. The buttery soft beef tenderloin is topped with an onion jam alongside baby vegetables and a red wine glaze and a layered potato square. The star is the steak which is wonderfully tender.
Cashew nut crumbed grass fed Riverina lamb racks with parsnip Skordalia, Swiss chard, pencil leek and lemon thyme jus
Mr NQN and Louise like the lamb rack perfectly trimmed and served with a cashew nut and herb crumb. The lamb is from the Riverina region and is served with a parsnip skordalia, pencil leeks and lemon thyme jus. I would have loved a bit more seasoning on this dish but the lamb is well cooked.
Dessert trio for 2
The dessert is really a four parter rather than a three and we could conceivably have split this among four because the mains were such a generous size. The Belgian chocolate mousse has a layer of blackberry coulis and a whipped vanilla yogurt cream on top. There is also a hazelnut chocolate filo roll. Next to this is a deconstructed Eton Mess with meringue, chantilly cream, mango and lychee. Last but not least is a creme brulee with kaffir lime and lemongrass with lime and pistachio biscotti. There are also two scoops of sorbet in coconut and mango. My favourites are the kaffir lime and lemongrass creme brulee and the deconstructed Eton Mess but I can only manage a spoonful of each.
Breakfast the next morning is served between 8-10am in the conservatory. There is a choice of two options: $25 for the buffet breakfast with continental selections and $35 for the full breakfast with one hot a la carte selection. Although if the house is full, there is only a hot buffet selection on a Sunday morning so that the kitchen can accommodate guests. For me, I adore hot a la carte breakfasts and buffets hold much less appeal, especially of hot items.
On the Saturday morning we help ourselves to the fruit, cereal, pastries and 4 types of juices. On Sunday it was a hot buffet breakfast.
The big breakfast is just that, an enormous plate laden with scrambled eggs (eggs of your choice, in my case scrambled), free range bacon, button mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and chicken and thyme sausages on a slice of toast. I think I overestimated my appetite because I could barely make a dent in this.
The eggs benedict has a good amount of ham and hollandaise but the egg yolks are cooked through.
Mr NQN orders the pancakes, two pancakes stacked on top of each other and studded with fresh strawberries with whipped cream on top.
The pick of the breakfast selections is undoubtedly the French toast, a wonderfully thick wedge of bread with plenty of maple syrup and Viggo upsizes his with bacon. It's just the right start to another day in the Blue Mountains...
So tell me Dear Reader, how often do you go away with friends? And do you do the sharing thing even if there are four of you? And do you prefer a la carte or buffet breakfasts?
NQN and Mr NQN were guests of Parklands and Echoes but all opinions remain her own.
132 Govetts Leap Rd, Blackheath NSW 2785
Phone: (02) 4787 7211
3 Lilianfels Ave, Katoomba NSW 2780
Phone:(02) 4782 1966