With a fusion of passion and creativity, Matty Roberts and Cassandra Wallace, new owners at Eschalot, are creating an exciting new chapter in the story of this iconic restaurant.
As we enter Eschalot’s famous stone cottage restaurant on a sunny Friday afternoon, maître d’ and co-owner Cassandra Wallace gives a warm welcome, seating us in one of the Berrima restaurant’s newly renovated, intimate dining rooms.
We are here to meet Cassandra and her husband, chef Matty Roberts and savour an eight-course degustation menu with matching local wines. Renowned for exceptional service, innovative cuisine and impeccable wine pairings, this celebrated restaurant has been attracting foodies to the Southern Highlands for more than a decade. When former owner and head chef Richard Kemp decided to hang up his apron last year after 12 years, he entrusted Eschalot to Matty and Cassandra. And in just a few short months, the couple have injected a new vitality into the place, while remaining loyal to Richard’s legacy.
Our first course has serious wow-factor, setting a high precedent. We devour a flavoursome dry aged sweet potato with cashew cream, wild rice dukkah and pickled brillig carrots, matched with local vineyard Tertini’s Sparking Blanc de Blanc. Our other culinary highlights are pork ar jard with a spiced kimchi in a chrysanthemum broth, paired with Cherry Tree Hill Riesling 2018; and l lavender-smoked duck breast, kohlrabi kimchi, carrot, panisses and burnt honey, paired with Artemis vineyard’s Pinot Noir.
My favourite course is the almost-too-pretty-to-eat wild mushroom harvest of exotic varieties (from Mittagong’s Li Sun Exotic Mushroom tunnels), set on a bed of truffle polenta that I matched myself with an Eden Brewery Pale Ale. We complete our degustation with a sensational salted chocolate delice with honeycomb, ginger sponge and buttermilk gelato matched effortlessly with a Joadja Pedro Ximénez from Joadja Distillery.
Matty’s dishes are wonderfully creative and expertly executed and his passion for his craft is evident in every dish. He says his grandmothers were responsible for sparking his interest in food.
“My dad is Anglo-Indian and my grandmother made all her curries, rotis, breads and naans from scratch and would spend all her time in the kitchen,” he says.
“On my mum’s side, Nan was involved in catering and she played a big role in me developing an appreciation for food and fresh ingredients.”
Matty worked with high-profile chefs including Enzo Leone at La Bella Vita in Camden and Tom Laws at Relish on Addison in Shellharbour, and more recently he and Cassandra headed up Violets and Vinegar, a local wedding and events caterer. Since moving to the Highlands five years ago, his food is all about fresh, local and seasonal. “My philosophy on food is ‘work with what you have because the ingredients are going to be at their best when they are in season’.”
To this end, Matty and Cass worked hard to invigorate the existing kitchen gardens and to develop strong relationship with local producers. “These producers, they’re not just farmers or growers, they’re small businesses passionate about their food, just like us, so we work to support each other,” he says.
“What I can produce in my kitchen is pretty much dictated by the success or failure of their harvests, which can be challenging but it keeps me on my toes.”
Settling into their new life with two-year-old daughter Odessa, Matty and Cassandra are enjoying being a part of Berrima’s vibrant, supportive community.
“I had complete confidence in Matty and I to make this work,” says Cassandra. “I knew he would come into this kitchen, and just shine. But what was daunting is we didn’t know how we’d be received but we’ve had a great deal of support from the community and overall, the reception has been very positive. We intend to let the restaurant organically evolve along with us. It’ll be interesting see where it takes us.”
Details Eschalot Restaurant, 24 Old Hume Hwy, Berrima Open Thursday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday lunch only. Keep an eye out for BYO Thursday nights and ‘Quick Lunch’ on a Friday (lunch time) 2 courses and a glass of wine for $45. Also a new shared plates menu is on offer to give lots of opportunity to share, try and taste.