Phillip Searle and his partner Barry Ross run the best restaurant in the Blue Mountains. So what makes Vulcans the restaurant you should hop in your car or brave the country train and travel two hours out of Sydney to visit? It's the skill, the finesse and the care that goes into the food. Vulcans is BYO only, so you'll want to organise yourself before you leave for the Mountains and take it from us – it's no bad thing to overcater (we always like to pop an eighth of whisky in our coat pockets for the train ride home. But you didn't hear that from us). A pioneer of food in the 80s and 90s, Searle taught and influenced many of Sydney's top chefs, such as Universal's Christine Manfield and the Bentley's Brent Savage.
Before it was a restaurant, Vulcans was the Blackheath Bakery - which went from finger buns to fancy sourdough. The old bakery oven has remained, however, and many of the dishes that come out of the kitchen are made in it, such as the special of aromatic, soft and yielding roast duck breast, spiced with star anise and pepper, steamed slowly in the oven then crisped up in the pan for service. It's served on the bone with a side of spicy smashed potatoes, a scant scattering of coriander leaf and a tiny curl of green onion. Glazed duckling sausage sees rounds of this super-tender sausage piled over slices of roast beetroot and the finest chiffonnade of mint.
The Searle also does some of the best vego food in the land. Though the offering changes from year to year, there's often a similar through-line. There's usually some sort of lentil/chickpea number and there's always a veggie main. At the moment it's a rotolo of spiced pumpkin, goat's milk ricotta and lentils. For dessert, there's the classic chequerboard ice cream - alternating squares of pineapple sorbet and vanilla ice cream bordered with liquorice. The upside down caramelised pear cake is essential - a moist, yet rough, irregular cake batter of hazelnut and almond meal covered in sticky roast pears and roast pear syrup.