Operated by celebrated chef Bee Satongun and her Mittagong local husband, Paste’s Southern Highlands venue follows Michelin-starred and otherwise successful ventures in Thailand and Laos. While I would argue that the vast majority of Asian restaurants in small rural towns in Australia are mostly visited by accident, Paste holds a distinction for being not merely an afterthought, but a destination.
The Tropical Pomelo Salad ($45) is an somewhat misleadingly named but delicious dish consisting of two slipper lobsters (I believe them to be Moreton Bay Bug) and a few wedges of pomelo in a deliciously rich citrusy sauce. While much of the promotional material for the overseas version of this dish shows the bugs deshelled, our bugs came split in half with shell on, somewhat hurting the appearance of this dish, but at the same time providing diners with the valuable choice of picking their own saucing coefficient. The protective layer of shell meant that the bugs could not possibly come oversauced, but that we were able to decide exactly how much of it we wanted – a touch we found very thoughtful. The de-albedod pomelo portions were fresh and mildly sweet, however they alone were not enough to make this a salad. Given the dominance of sauce in the dish we would consider this more of a regular main than a salad, and would recommend an order of rice to go along with it to soak up all the flavours. Ultimately though I longed for more bug meat at the end of this dish.
I’ve been on a bit of a duck hunt recently, and Paste’s Half Crispy Duck ($44) was my latest attempt at capturing a juicy, meaty duck with crispy skin. While not all of these criteria were fulfilled (I think I just need to go to a standard Cantonese BBQ restaurant), Paste’s duck was truly quite special in its own way. This half duck came bathed in a sweet, clear broth of herbs and aniseed, and while the broth itself soaked through what might have otherwise been quite crispy skin, the interesting and complex flavours imparted by it were more than worth it. The citrus flesh and rind were delightfully fresh, and I particularly enjoyed mouthfuls with them and the contrast they provided against the otherwise herby broth.
The Smoky Southern Crab Curry ($43) was again interesting and unexpected. Unlike the pomelo salad, the shellfish of this salad was completely deshelled, with Australian blue swimmer crab meat on show in the bowl, making it an ideal dish for people who are generally too lazy to excavate for their own crab meat. The placement of the crab meat was again surprisingly thoughtful, with it all lumped together so that not all of it was submerged in the sauce. Not only this, but the meat was even layered so that it was not lost in the sauce as flakes, but safely secured and edible in whole spoonfuls. Magic. Truth be told though I thought that they yellow curry sauce was pretty standard, no more than well-executed, but not so special. It was all in the construction.
Rice was rice but expensive.
The Tamarind Cheese Cake ($23) with jasmine cream was very good. The cheese cake itself was a densely packed bar, again with a lot of citrus flavour. The biscuit crumb was just a little bit salty, and the dessert overall was not too sweet. The jasmine cream, unbelievably light and delicate, contrasted well with the heavy cheesecake. Each spoonful of the jasmine cream was an absolute delight.
These chairs were something else entirely. Excellent comfort with a reclining feature.
I admit this was probably a bit rambly. I wrote it over the course of two night shifts, surrounded by pinging alarms and with inadequate rest. I haven’t proofread it, but if you take anything home from this review it should be that Paste’s food is not only very good, but thought and care goes into not only the cooking but also the plating every dish. Though their prices seem to have increased 30% since they opened six months ago, they remain worth a visit.
Paste Australia (Southern Highlands)
105 Main St, Mittagong NSW 2575
(02) 4872 2277