Ave Restaurant chef Robert English won this year’s Signature Dish competition.
Ave Restaurant chef Robert English won this year’s Signature Dish competition. Bruce Thomas

Squid dish garners top prize

SQUID has snatched this year's signature dish award for Bellingen chef Robert English, the joint owner of Ave Restaurant.

Robert is the winner of this year's annual Signature Dish Competition for the Mid North Coast.

To win the competition, he created an assiette of local squid, serving sautéed local squid with saffron mussels, alongside local tomatoes and broad beans with local smoked pork foam and squid ink risotto with crispy squid tentacles tossed in orange paprika salt and local wild violets - all served with Cassegrain 2010 pinot noir.

The two-year-old Ave Restaurant is located in the 100-year-young Old Church building in Bellingen and the name reflects not just the building's ecclesiastical heritage but also the initials of partners Amanda Vindis and Robert English.

Robert said he entered the competition to promote both local ingredients and his restaurant, and had chosen to feature squid prepared three different ways because few people were using this particular marine delicacy.

His winning signature dish is now on the spring menu at Ave.

Originally from Queensland, Robert moved to Bellingen from the Hunter Valley two years ago and has been working to establish a network of local suppliers who grow commercial quantities of specialty vegetables and fruit for his restaurant, which involves planning menus seasons in advance with the growers.

"It is not easy - we can be wiped out in a second with a heatwave or lots of rain," he said.

Ave Restaurant has a European-inspired menu and has already featured in the Australian Good Food Guide.

Located at No 8 Church St, it is open for lunch and dinner from Friday to Monday.

For more information, go to www.averestaurant.com.au.

The Rydges People's Choice Award in the Signature Dish Competition went to Kien Nguyen from the Rendezvous Brasserie in C.ex Coffs for his supreme of Gaian duckling pocketed with lemon oil-infused local king prawns on a chutney of garden fruits and Lakeview fresh mushrooms, with black truffle shavings and a Cassegrain Edition Noir 2008 durif reduction, with a timbale of green apple jelly and a crisp rice paper garnish.

The suggested wine was Cassegrain Edition Noir 2009 pinot noir.

The judges agreed the competition this year was fierce, with a very high standard.

"All dishes were innovative, creative, delicious and used a wide variety of fresh local produce," said Sonia Fingleton from event managers the Good Company Group.

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