"It's been a really, really tough time lately," Cory Campbell says, laughing. He’s the head chef of Barangaroo House. "Trying Grange and thinking what I'm going to do with it… yeah, it's been some hard times."
The source of Campbell’s “difficulty” has been coming up with a unique pairing for arguably Australia’s finest wine – Penfolds Grange. Officially listed as a heritage icon of South Australia, Grange is quite literally the wine that sets the standard for every other bottle made in Australia.
"It's just one of those things where you have that smoothness, the richness, the whole story behind the label. You're drinking an Australian icon," says Campbell. "I think it's one of those ones where a lot of people buy one for their birthday and open it up several years later. All those elements come into play and make it seem such a beautiful moment."
The problem, though, is that wine's pretty useless when it's sitting in a cellar. It's much better in your mouth. So the considerate folk at Smoke Bar at Barangaroo have come up with a plan to bring Grange to the masses. For two weeks only they’re marrying it with another Australian icon: the steak sandwich.
Pairing a fine wine reserved for special occasions with comfort food like a steak sandwich was appealing to Campbell. "You have the top-tier wine with the Grange,” says Campbell. “Then a steak sandwich is just one of those weekend go-tos. What better way to bring Grange to everyone?"
Campbell's take on the steak sandwich begins with beef. The cut he's chosen comes from Wagyu cattle farmed at Mayura Station – a farm in the Penfolds’ neighbourhood. Apart from being a local, the steak itself accentuates the particularly savoury character of the 2014 vintage. “Mayura's one of the two best Australian Wagyus out there,” he says. “It was pretty easy to decide what to do with it."
Naturally, that's grill it over a flame. "We cook the steak over a wood fire to give it a really beautiful crust,” says Campbell. “We're not looking for smokiness but that umami effect of roasted meat. You have crust on the outside and a beautiful briny, juicy middle part. I think that's a perfect match for Grange or any of Penfolds’ 2018 Collection wines."
While the steak itself hasn't been crumbed, Campbell has dialled up the umami by creating, “a sweetbread emulsion to give it something extra. They're beautiful sweetbreads we cure and turn into a mayonnaise served on the side."
The tomato sauce used on the sandwich also has an Asian influence – a punch-up from that miraculous ingredient: fish sauce. "During tomato season last year we took a lot of tomatoes and treated them with a fish sauce, then cooked them down [and] extracted all the juices," says Campbell. "From there we had this beautiful liquid we use to brush out meats, treating it like a seasoning. Then we have the actual tomatoes themselves left over. We dry them out and make tomato puree. It's a really unique sauce."
The preserved tomato sauce is smeared on freshly baked ciabatta bread and then topped with onion done three ways: pickled, roasted and reduced into a jam. "You get this nice little zing from the onions and sweetbread emulsion," says Campbell. "That indulgent creaminess matches with the Grange – it's not super rich, and there's a little bit of grain to it – it's a beautiful, juicy red wine."
The dish isn't complete without a glass on the side. For two weeks only in October, Barangaroo House is serving the latest Grange release by the glass – unusual for such a high-profile wine. "It's rare you get that opportunity," says Campbell. "You can come in and have the Grange and steak sandwich, try a beautiful wine that you would like to put away for a few years. I'll be looking to do that myself."
Smoke Bar at Barangaroo House will serve the Penfolds Grange Steak Sandwich alongside glasses of the 2014 Vintage of Penfolds Grange for two weeks only, from Friday October 19 to Wednesday October 31.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Penfolds.