Stefano Manfredi has now enjoyed three decades of service to the Australian hospitality industry and as part of that celebration, Manfredi at Bells is offering a degustation menu that showcases a few of his best and most popular dishes from his restaurants, The Restaurant Manfredi, Bel Mondo, Balla and Manfredi at Bells.
We felt very honoured to be a part of the celebrations and had a 7pm booking at the restaurant on a Saturday night. When we arrived the restaurant was fully booked with the tables filling up fast and there was a wedding in full swing in the function room so the kitchen certainly had a busy night ahead. We were shown to an outdoor table on the timber verandah which is definitely the pick of the places to enjoy your meal as the setting is beautiful and you look out across the lawn to a water feature and landscaped grounds covered in mature trees.
It’s a very tranquil and serene setting and there was gentle and soothing instrumental piano music playing in the background. As soon as I sat down I started to feel relaxed. The tables are set far enough apart for you not to have to shout over the top of anyone’s conversation but not so far apart that you feel you’re in a chasm.
The tables are all set with white linen and I noticed the boutique resort’s starfish logo is etched onto the wine glasses. We sat down on cane chairs that are cushioned and place you at a good height to the table. There’s a touch of blue on the tables too with pretty cobalt blue water glasses that can be filled with either sparkling or still water and we chose a bottle of sparkling water that’s sourced from a local business. It appeared the restaurant is well staffed with plenty of waiters who are all neatly presented and full of smiles. Our waitress suggested we begin the evening with a pre-dinner drink and I selected the Bellini Champagne cocktail while Carl chose a Little Creatures Pale Ale. The Bellini was very refreshing and not too sweet with a pretty pink hue.
The head-chef at Manfredi at Bells is Cameron Cansdell. When Cameron was 17 he did work experience at Manfredi’s Bel Mondo Restaurant. When he finished school at 18, Manfredi offered him an apprenticeship and he has worked with Manfredi ever since. Karina Barry who owns Bells told me that before Manfredi became a chef he was a teacher and is therefore an excellent mentor to all the staff in his kitchens. Karina said that since Manfredi took over the restaurant in 2008 there has not been a single outburst in the kitchen and no bad language. How refreshing!
The philosophy of this one-hatted restaurant is to create modern Italian cuisine that is authentic while using mostly organic ingredients that are increasingly grown on the property. Currently 20% of all produce in terms of eggs, fruits and vegetables are produced on-site and this is set to steeply increase with the recent establishment of a third, large vegetable garden.
The amuse-bouche arrived soon after our drinks and it was house-made parmesan crackers with a selection of olives of different sizes and varieties. The parmesan cracker was crisp yet it melted in the mouth and the parmesan flavour wasn’t overly powerful.
House-made sourdough arrived and we dipped it into an extra virgin olive oil from Sicily that had a very gentle flavour.
The degustation menu consisted of five courses made up of antipasto, pasta, primo, secondo and dolci.
The antipasto dish arrived as a trio and was served with a glass of Prosecco. The deep-fried zucchini flowers were filled with four cheeses; taleggio, parmesan, la tur and gorgonzola. It was one of my most favourite dishes of the evening and I could easily have eaten a plate of them.
The wood-grilled octopus with kipfler ptoato and olive salsa definitely had a wood flavour to it. The octopus was dense without being chewy.
The oxtail was cooked with an Italian sauce, agrodolce which is a sweet and sour sauce traditionally made with sugar and vinegar. This was another favourite dish of mine with the tenderness of the oxtail and the rich, sweet and sticky sauce.
The pasta dish was served at room temperature and was a cured ocean trout lasagne, something I’ve never seen before. It looked very pretty with all the layers of colours and the glossy caviar beads on the top. For a pasta dish the lasagne was surprisingly refreshing rather than comforting which is the word I normally associate with lasagne. It was served with a crisp Pinot Grigio from Italy.
The primo was grilled cuttlefish with eggplant and salsa piccante served with a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. The cuttlefish certainly had robust flavours and was tender and cut with ease. Carl doesn’t normally warm towards cuttlefish but this dish pleasantly surprised him. He said the spice made the dish ‘magical’.
The Secondo was grilled lamb shoulder with anchovie, olive and herbs. It was served with a full-bodied Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz. The lamb dish was glorious and another favourite of the evening. The lamb was so tender you didn’t need to cut it, all that was required was an effortless gentle nudge.
By now the twilight had turned to nightfall and the resort’s gardens were lit up with twinkling lights. However, it was a fairly cool evening and with my bare legs I was starting to feel a little chilled, out there on the verandah. I mentioned this to a waitress and she was quick to turn on an overhead heater and bring me a blanket.
We had also had more than enough to eat but one can’t leave without dessert and so we welcomed the dolci that was strawberry mascarpone cream puffs served with a moscato from Italy. The cream puffs were more dense than I was expecting but I loved the mascapone with the strawberries. After a filling meal it was lovely to end it with something refreshing.
The degustation menu at Manfredi at Bells is priced at $120 per person or $180 per person with matching wines. The a la carte menu is also available. It is definitely advisable to book, especially for weekends as the restaurant is extremely popular and was filled to capacity the night we were there.
This is not the sort of meal that most people can afford to eat once or twice a week however if you have a special occasion to celebrate, this is definitely a place to consider. We thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience at Bells. The setting is gorgeous, it’s peaceful and relaxing, the staff are pleasant without being familiar and the food interesting and exciting.
Verdict: We’ll definitely be back.
Hotly Spiced and Crew dined as guests of Manfredi at Bells.
Manfredi at Bells: 107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights NSW 2257
Ph: 61 2 4349 7000
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