Sunday, April 4, 2010

Victorian Adventure part one

We decided to let you have this post in three parts because it is so damn long, here is part one:

Gather around children we have a tale to tell and it’s not for the faint-of-heart. In this story our two heroes, Iain and Elysia, travel to a far-away land called Victoria to eat and drink everything they can see…
Our tale begins late on a Friday night at a little restaurant called Piccalilly. The trip to Victoria was focused around the wedding, in the little town of Daylesford, of one of Iain’s oldest friends. The newly-weds, being normal (not Hospitality types), had decided to have the wedding on a Saturday and Iain, who was not going to miss it for the world, had to hand over the reins of Piccalilly to the rest of the team for an evening.
Now, Iain felt it necessary to stay at work late into the evening planning, detailing and checking everything for the following day. He even produced a large poster of detailed, 1-1 scale diagrams on how each dish should be plated!
By the time we got home it was 2:00 am meaning only two hours of sleep before we had to be up (at 4:00am) to get to the airport for the “Red-Eye” to Melbourne. We decided that if we were making the effort to go to Melbourne we should make the effort to go to all the restaurants we have been hearing so much about recently and see for ourselves. The task was set!
We arrived and picked up our little white Hyundai Getz and headed north along the Calder Freeway towards Bendigo. We had the GPS with us, the same one that we had taken to France late last year. It was able to guide us through every tiny lane in rural France but was very confused by a major highway in Victoria (only a few hundred kilometres from our house) Luckily we had the option of Google Maps on the iPhone. So despite a little bit of stress we were back on track!

Our little white car.

Misty rain on the road north

We headed to Hanging Rock (it was still only about 8:00a.m) and were the only people there at the time. There was a light misting rain that was clearing rapidly with the rising sun and it added to the eerie feeling of the place and the mystery that surrounds it. We took the track around the base of the rock - it’s pretty impressive! - vast turrets of basalt and plenty of wildlife not used to people being about that early. 
Hanging Rock

After the Rock we headed for our favourite vineyard in the area, coincidentally called Hanging Rock. They make a fantastic sparkling, that we have on our list. Going to the cellar door was a good opportunity to taste the whole range and see the origin of the wine.  Hanging rock is located in the Mount Macedon region, Australia’s coldest wine region. Every year they get snow on the vineyard during winter. Strangely it is only 50km away from the Heathcote region, one of Australia’s hottest wine areas! Gotta love Vicroria!

Car park at Hanging Rock Vineyard

The Hanging Rock selection

We left the vineyard after an hour or so of chatting to the staff and headed towards Daylesford and our lunch booking at the very famous Lake House. The Lake House is owned and run by its head chef, Alla Wolf-Tasker, and she was there to greet us as we arrived. We remember reading an interview with Alla a few years ago, where she stated that she would like Lake House to be the establishment that prompted the Michelin Guide to come to Australia - not an unreasonable claim having now been there. 
The building encompasses a function centre, day-spa, accommodation, cellar, the vast restaurant and its kitchens and is spectacular! Beautiful and well-established gardens and of course the lake itself. The dining room, that seats around 150, is simply stunning. Beautiful linen, cover plates and glassware with immaculately turned-out waiters buzzing about. We were asked if we would like to sit outside on the deck, and opted to do so because it was such a beautiful day. 

The massive Lakehouse wine list

The view from the deck is of the lake with its complement of plump squabbling geese, ducks and native hens, as well as a constant stream of sightseers. Lake House offers an “express Lunch” menu that includes an entrée, main and glass of wine all for less than $40 per person! The food seemed to be a bit more simplified so we opted to choose from the a la carte menu.

People enjoying Lake Daylesford 

The bread arrived in a beautiful curved bowl - white sourdough, soft white rolls and ciabatta rolled in golden and crunchy polenta! Superb bread, we were excited for what was to come. We also ordered a bottle of Clonakilla viognier from just outside Canberra. It’s quite hard to find so we were excited to see it on the list.
Gooooood bread!

Food arrived - soft, silky smoked eel with no trace of a muddy flavour, rolled in paper thin bacon, warmed through in the oven and sitting on a smear of local organic beetroot, a beetroot slaw and baked beetroot. We both agreed that it was the best eel we had ever had.
Eel wrapped in bacon and beetroot

The eel was surpassed however by the charcutier plate. All based on birds, there was a tiny quail giblet salad with boudin blanc; a fired quail’s egg; a chicken galantine with sauce gribiche; and unbelievably smooth duck liver parfait with brioche all on the same plate rimmed with hand painted ducks. The second part of the dish was contained within two tiny flip-top preserving jars - soft duck rillettes and fantastic sweet and sour Italian-style pickled vegetables. Stunning presentation and all tasted just as good as they looked.

Part one of the poultry plate

Part two of the poultry plate

Part two being enjoyed
The wine was pretty good with the dishes too!
Mains: Roast lamb rump with rolled lamb breast, boulangere potato and a nicoise sauce. The lamb rump was amazingly tender and cooked perfectly; and the breast (mostly delicious fat) was a real treat. The sauce however was the most interesting part of the dish. Comprising all the ingredients you would usually find in the classical nicoise salad, it was very tasty and very nice to look at with tiny spheres of zucchini, and golden squash, olive cheeks, a tiny dice of tomato and a spinach puree. There was also a zingy, lemony chickpea puree to bring it all together and cut the fat from the belly.

Lamb rump with nicoise sauce
Again the second dish surpassed the first however: Western Plains free-range pork. Rolled and slow-cooked belly and perfectly smoked loin arrived under a glass cloche, the view of the food obscured by a dense cloud of white, sweet smelling smoke that was released as the cloche was lifted. This aspect of the dish was a little bit lost due to the breeze that was wafting across the balcony. The dish also comprised a little side (also under its own cloche) of cured sauerkraut-like cabbage with caramelised pears. The pork was of best quality and very well cooked. It was topped with some paper-thin slices of cured watermelon that had wilted but were still crisp.

Pork with smoked pork
We sat and looked at the lake and contemplated whether we could fit-in a dessert. We decided that we couldn’t and asked for the bill so we could check into the hotel and have a shower and snooze before the wedding. By this stage the inside dining room had filled up so service on the outside became a little bit slow but we got out of there with plenty of time to spare, and walked to the Getz past various Ferraris, Aston Martins and Jaguars in the car park.
It is at this point where things went a little bit pear-shaped. We had booked accommodation via the Wotif website and were excited to see the hotel. Photos on-line made it look great and, according to Wotif, it was only five minutes from The Covent Gallery where the wedding was to be. Not the case. We put the details of our beautiful hotel (Campaspe House) into the GPS and were dismayed to find that it was about 45 minutes away in the town of Woodend. We raced there in our little white car and were running so late that we were barely able to appreciate the sweeping gravel driveway as it snaked up the grand house past giant trees and well-kept lawns. We checked-in and raced to the room and got changed in to our finery with the speed of trained catwalk models before dashing back to the car and re-tracing our steps, back to Daylesford with 40 minutes to go and 45 minutes of driving to do!
We strolled up the driveway of the towering Covent Gallery as if we had not just been more stressed than the secret service when the president has been kidnapped, and made it up the stairs with two minutes to spare before the start of the ceremony! 
The view ad dusk from The Covent Gallery

We won’t write too much about the wedding, however it was beautiful. Morgan cried a lot more than Rachel, but we have never seen him so happy, or relieved when it was all over. We wandered the gardens of the gallery and waited for canapés to start before we were asked to sit for dinner.

The food was surprisingly good. Being in hospitality we see a lot of very average function food, but this was far above average. The best-cooked function beef we have seen in years!
We heard heartfelt speeches from old friends and made our excuses at around 10:30 with the 4:00am start becoming ever more heavy on our eyelids and another drive to Woodend still to come. We rolled into bed and slept like babies!

Part Two tomorrow!


  1. I love that you guys went wine tasting at near 8am. Brilliant.

  2. Hahah! Thanks! It was probably closer to ten and that's near mid-day...

  3. Indeed. I like your attitude.