One of the best culinary travel books is The Lord Howe Island Cookbook »

Full of delicious food, great stories and laughs from Pinetrees Lodge

By Robyn Lewis
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Kingfish, Quinoa, Tabouli and Tahini from The Lord Howe Island Cookbook

Kingfish, Quinoa, Tabouli and Tahini from The Lord Howe Island Cookbook [©Nikki To]

Lord Howe Island - from the water
Zucchini Fritters from the Lord Howe Island Cookbook
Lord Howe Island - endemic woodhen
<i>The Lord Howe Island Cookbook</i> by Dani Rourke and Luke Hanson

 

If culinary travel ever needs a poster cookbook, this is it. Hospitality and good food ooze from every page, enticing you to rush to the kitchen, invite some friends around for what can almost be a guaranteed success, and to book your next holiday as well!

The Lord Howe Island Cookbook has what many others lack: real soul. It’s not a tricked up celebrity-chef money spinner (a.k.a. ‘brand extension’) cookbook, nor a cobbled-together ‘get a recipe from every chef in the region who pays to be in it’ mish mash, but an invitation to sit down, explore, salivate, dream, and even laugh. It’s a long time since a cookbook made me laugh out loud at some of the stories (and not at blatant errors in the recipes!).

Why? For starters, it’s written by Dani Rourke, fifth generation host at Pinetrees, where her family have been serving food to guests for over 125 years, making it one of the oldest hotels in Australia. Dani is a natural raconteur, and together with her husband Luke Hanson – “a blow-in from Sydney” – they run Pinetrees Lodge with obvious flair, humour and consideration for guests’ unspoken needs (fifth serving of Duck Summer Rolls, anyone?)

I haven't been to Lord Howe for years, but with this book in hand I want to go back right now. Since 2010 when they took over, Dani and Luke have transformed Pinetrees from a relic of the 80s – albeit with relatively good food of the day (although one visiting journalist described it as “the tinned beetroot capital of the world”) – into a genuine culinary hotspot, if these recipes by current Executive Chef Alasdair Nicholson are anything to go by.

Dani and Luke realised that food had to be a major attraction, and “that Pinetrees had to evolve to keep younger guests engaged with the place and attract new guests”. They brought the longer-term repeat guests along with them on their culinary journey, sidestepping Australian fusion and heading straight into authentic tastes gathered from their and their chefs’ travels around the globe.

And what a collection it is. It’s also a long time since I got excited by breakfast recipes, they usually seem so much the same. Even the Pinetrees Bircher has a new twist, and who will be saying no to Vanilla and Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes, or a Chinese-style Omelette with Lord Howe Kingfish and Sea Herbs, contributed by David Chlumsky, Head Chef at the nearby Anchorage Restaurant? Certainly not me.

Dani introduces each section with her breezy, matter-of-fact style – no tricked-up chef talk here. Peppered with statements like “willpower is pathetic at Pinetrees” (and you can see why!) and a deep knowledge of what satisfies and makes guests happy – from barbecue hampers and drinks dropped off (and picked up again) at scenic lunch spots, to the perfect sundowner beer and snacks spot – she weaves Nicholson’s excellent recipes together seamlessly and amusingly, like I have not seen a chef manage to do in his or her own cookbook (and it’s a big ask; after all, they are chefs not storytellers, and somehow ghostwriters don’t seem to get it).

Past chefs’ contributions are also recognised, including names like Warren Farrugia, Paul Brown, Leigh Laird, Ben Wells, Ione Paiva and Joshua Eastman, who have all contributed to Pinetrees’ repertoire of dishes, kitchen culture and reputation.

Dani says holidays at Pinetrees “are about that second course of brioche and poached eggs at breakfast, and (not or) the marinated lamb at lunch, and the flourless chocolate cake at afternoon tea, and the confit duck with duck fat roasted potatoes at dinner, and the lemon tart followed by a soft smelly cheese with quince paste.

Add a glass of white wine at lunch, a couple of sunset beers and a bottle of pinot with dinner, and you’re daily calorie intake is in the red zone. And so what? You’re on holidays with your partner (and perhaps your kids, friends or extended family), and you’re happy. Maybe even happier than you’ve been all year.

The trick, we now know, is to balance the calorie credit with calorie debit, so guests at least feel a bit better. You’ll still put on weight. We’re not a health farm. But if you at least walk to Kim’s Lookout for one of Australia’s iconic views, or swim along a Blinky Beach with schools of salmon, or snorkel Erscott’s Hole over dazzling coral gardens, or ride a bike to Cobby’s Corner for a BBQ lunch, you may just earn your next meal. That’s the secret.”

With returning guests’ weight in mind (apparently QANTAS weigh you as well as your baggage on the flight, being a light aircraft) the recipes are (mostly) simple, healthy and aromatic, whilst also remaining authentic, reflecting the food journey that started at Pinetrees over 125 years ago.

Dani writes: “We’ve introduced ‘lighter options’ at lunch and dinner (which most people say they should have ordered, but didn’t), and we run Wellness Weeks with wholefood options at every meal, plus healthy cooking classes, and organic wine tasting. But you know what? Even during those weeks, with a dozen serious yoga mums looking kind of intimidating in multi-coloured lycra, the crowd wants chocolate and cocktails. We can’t win.”

Clearly, you can leave your willpower on the mainland as you board your flight, although the book includes many healthy dishes including ayurvedic Indian Trevally Kitcheri and Thai-spiced Red Lentil, Chilli and Lemongrass Soup.

Yellowtail kingfish also features heavily, being the signature food of Lord Howe Island – there’s Kingfish with Buttered Leeks, Dutch Carrots and Verjuice; Kingfish with Chorizo, Braised Octopus and Harissa; Kingfish with Quinoa Tabbouli and Tahini; Kingfish and Sweet Potato Cakes; a Smoked Kingfish Chowder with Sweetcorn, Crab and Prawn… the mouth-watering list goes on.

In the past the island was self-sufficient in food, and many vegetable are still grown locally and organically, although obviously on an island of less than 15 km2 – much of which is national park – there’s a need to import produce as well (and hey, they need wine to wash it down, and cocktails to watch the sun set!)

I have so many sticky notes in my review copy of The Lord Howe Island Cookbook it’s hard to pick standout recipes. Many can be made from ingredients easily sourced anywhere. The recipes are divided into:

  • Breakfast

  • Lunch on the Verandah

  • Island Picnics (what a great idea!)

  • Afternoon Tea

  • Boatshed Canapés

  • Soups and Starters

  • Fish and Seafood

  • Meat

  • Desserts

  • Bread and Basics

Lunches include Lord Howe Island Paella; Lamb and Spinach Rolls; Rare Beef Salad; and Beetroot Curry (vegetarians are not forgotten). Lunch picnics are obviously a treat, and include barbecue fare such as Shawarma Lamb with Zucchini Salad; Raddicio, Witlof and Goat’s Cheese Salad; and Butternut, Wild Rice and Enoki Mushrooms, with house-made breads like Green Olive Foccacia or Sesame Buns.

Anyone in need of afternoon tea after all that will enjoy treats like Spiced Pineapple Sponge with Finger Lime Frosting; Brown Butter and Cardamom Biscuits; Pecan, White Chocolate and Blueberry Cookies or Fig and Almond Tartlets.

Better go for a jog or walk before sundowners and canapés in the boatshed, including Cheddar Cheese Shortbreads and Balsamic Onions; Sichuan Spiced Quail with Lime Yoghurt and Fried Eschalots, and Zucchini Fritters with Saffron Aioli and Dill.

Standout starters for me include Seared Scallops, Cauliflower Puree and Green Tomato Salsa; Peruvian Sashimi with Crunchy Potato, Finger Lime and Eschalot Oil; and Spanner Crab Tortellini with Shaved Asparagus Salad and Lemon Beurre Blanc.

If you can’t get kingfish, other fish recipes include Blue-eye Fish Pie; Flame Snapper with Ginger Broth, Shallots and Rice Noodles; Tuna with Broad Beans, Asparagus and Peas, and Whole Redfish Baked in Banana Leaves.

For suckers for duck like me, there’s Confit Duck Leg with Nectarine Tarte Tatin and Beetroot Relish (serve with pinot noir, of course); those irresistible Duck Summer Rolls; Duck Breast with Soused Vegetables, and more. Meat lovers are well catered for with recipes for pork belly, lamb, beef and spatchcock. Mmmm.

After all this magnificent food, Dani writes that they keep their desserts relatively simple, which also means they are achievable in your home kitchen: there’s their Christmas Pinetrees Pavlova; Lemon Curd Tart with Raspberry Caramel; Poached Apricots with Pistachios and Brick Pastry; Chargrilled Peaches with Basil and Lemon (fruit is healthy, right?!), ice creams, sorbets (Blood Orange, Campari and Mint sounds especially refreshing) and of course chocolate in several forms including a Chocolate Mocha Gelato.

The book ends with some kitchen basics that will set you up for some easy entertaining, from your own Nuoc Cham to Sable Pastry and Piccalilli. Honestly you could cook from this book for a year and not run out of inspiration or recipes. And you’ll certainly need to spend at least a week at Pinetrees to do the menu justice! 
 

The Lord Howe Island Cookbook by Pinetrees Lodge is self-published (Mar 2016, NSW; A$55 plus $15 shipping Australia-wide). It can be purchased via Pinetrees here »

Read more about Pinetrees, Dani Rourke and her family’s history here »

And more about holidaying on Lord Howe Island here » 

Regions

  • Lord Howe Island (NSW)

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June 11th, 2018
 
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