Treating yourself to something special in winter appeals to your emotions like a warm hug or a good belly laugh. In this instalment of Local vs Mainlander, Matthew Evans and Poh Ling Yeow experience the breathtaking sights of Eagles Nest retreat and get treated to a couple of dream chefs.
Mount Roland looms large in the landscape around Eagles Nest Retreat. This enormous conglomerate stone landmark is like the exclamation mark on the end of a beautiful sentence; the crowning glory in a part of the world where pretty rolling hills and pockets of native bush give way to incomparable rugged wilderness. The nearby town of Paradise is called that for a reason.
At Eagles Nest in Kentish Town, Mount Roland looms even larger through the giant windows, the edifice framed like an artwork. Tucked on a former dairy farm, the part of the retreat I’m in has a pond (I’d call it a farm dam) outside the window. This is one of the three self-contained holiday houses on the property. At Eagles Nest II, the soaring ceilings and reflection in the pond outside give even more majesty to the view. Each of the three retreats represents a generation of the owners. Eagles Nest I is the original, a folly pursued by one-time dairy farmers and visionaries, Des and Dianne Brown. Number II is the inspiration of his daughter Sheree Kent and her husband Stuart. And number three had their young daughter Grace influencing the design.
This is no ordinary getaway. It’s exceptionally private and remarkably quiet. If you sit still for a while at dusk, a glass of cool climate Tassie pinot in hand (that bit isn't essential), you may spy the local platypus as it feeds in the pond. Then head inside, sit near the open fire and open a book. With four enclaves, there’s room for up to eight adults (if they’re on intimate terms with at least one other), in this particular Nest. In my wing, there’s an outdoor shower, inspired by the facilities of the owner’s time working in Africa. The whole building is dressed with artefacts from their years spent teaching abroad. One wing is more Asian. One more African. And the view is 100% Tasmanian.
In the kitchen, you can concoct dishes reminiscent of whatever nation on whatever continent you like. Appointed like a pretty well-equipped foodie home, you don’t even have to cook. At Eagles Nest, for an additional fee, the room can come with a Dream Chef, one of the local cooks who can knock up a meal for you, while you bathe, get a massage or are taught yoga on site, hike, kip or chip in. Once you’ve arrived, you don’t need to leave to pick up supplies, because the Dream Chef can bring them all.
There’s a choice of chefs; Nick, who cooked for Poh on our visit, and Cynthia, who cooked for me.
Cynthia is like the grandma you wished you had. She grows much of her own food, some of which makes it into the dishes she cooks at the Nest. She preserves, makes jams and pickles and relishes. With her partner and kids, she’s living the dream, growing food for her table and for yours just a few kilometres away in, you guessed it, Paradise. She is like an earth mother of food and bubbles with the joy of cooking, the promise of food with elegant simplicity. It’s like home cooking of a style you don’t get at home. I was particularly taken with her pumpkin pie, sweetened with honey from her own bees (of course), encased in a flaky pastry enriched with snappy hazelnuts that she’d grown and cracked herself. Oh, and that she did the washing up.
The Dream Chef allows you to forget the world for a while. To recharge in any season. But, for those who are ready again to venture out, nearby Sheffield has a couple of gems for dinner, too. T’s Chinese does cracking, proper pork dumplings made from the owners free range pigs. And Basilico makes a scorched, thin based proper pizza that wouldn’t look out of place in Italy. Then it’s back to Eagles Nest, for the sleep of your life under a doona of impossible lightness, and up late for a winter sunrise to watch that platypus.
When you enter Eagle’s Nest Retreat, the first thing that strikes you are the lush rolling hills and the remarkable view of Mount Roland. Every one of the three nests has been designed to frame this breathtaking panorama. The story of its inception is inspiring - Des Brown, a farmer with a vision beyond the 117-hectare dairy he bought almost 45 years ago.
Each nest has been designed by different members of the family, reflecting unique personalities. Common to all the interiors, however, is a love of travel and adventure, decorated by a treasure trove of cultural artefacts from all over the world as well as many odes to the Apple Isle - bespoke furniture made with local materials by Tasmanian craftsmen. Floor to ceiling windows take centre stage at each of the nests, and immediately outside, a private lake which serves as a looking glass for the mountains beyond, so you can fully immerse yourself in the calm. Dotted through the outdoor areas are opulent spas and fire pits. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than being able to soak in that pristine Tasmanian air, while submerged in warm bubbly water.
It doesn’t stop there. I find out there are resident platypuses that are frequently spotted, gliding through the pond of Eagle’s Nest II and I sit by the window with bated breath hoping to fulfil a childhood dream for a real-life encounter with one. Sheree, Des’ daughter and our gracious host is hopeful. Outside, bordering the nests are personal touches, sensitive details in the landscape that I find out are the design of Des. It’s revealed by Sheree that Des is, in fact, responsible for nearly all the creative conceptualising, including the architecture, furniture and lighting.
One of the more unusual offerings of the retreat is an option to have a personal dream chef for your nest. Mine is the lovely Nick Sallese. As he prepares a sumptuous meal inspired by his Italian heritage, we nibble on local delights and the curious cook in me is wondering what I can transform. I’m drawn to the Ashgrove ‘Vintage Cheddar’ because it’s one I often buy in Adelaide - full-bodied and robust for adding a touch of indulgence to otherwise ordinary soups, and how fun would the ‘Wild Wasabi’ flavoured one be for a surprise kick?
A favourite at the café and at home is a base recipe of two onions sweated in butter and olive oil, with sage or thyme. Add whatever vegetable your heart desires then cover it mostly in milk and a small amount of stock. I find pumpkin, cauliflower, broccoli, Jerusalem artichokes and celery all delicious options. When the vegetables are tender, whisk in the grated cheddar to taste then blend it all together until smooth. A fresh grating of nutmeg will finish it off nicely.
The other local ingredient I’m really taken by is the chocolate; Fortuna No4 manufactured a stone’s throw away. Nick’s got the best idea and baked a chocolate fondant, intense and perfectly gooey in the middle. I have a cheeky thought to make a luxurious hot chocolate for a nightcap by the fire. Stir in a pinch of cinnamon and salt, or cayenne if you’re adventurous…
I wake up in Aladdin’s bed…. pink organza draped around four posts and with Mount Roland bathed in the warm light of the rising sun right in front of me and I actually wonder if I’m dreaming.
As we pull away from Nest II, my eyes are glued to the surface of the lake right to the very last minute, searching for those tell-tale ripples. I feel like a deflated eight-year-old – damn you elusive Mr Platypus, I hoped we could be friends….
Don't miss the next instalment of Matthew's and Poh's Local versus Mainlander four-part video series from June to July 2019.
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