It’s been a while since I’ve actually been out of Melbourne so when I learnt that it was going to be a glorious 20 degrees on Saturday, I decided to grab the boy and take a drive down Geelong way. Of course, none of us particularly enjoy driving just for the sake of driving so we had to have a reason why we’d bother driving to Geelong and – well, you know where this is going, right?
I made a 1:30pm booking for two at Pettavel Winery and Restaurant, located in Waurn Ponds which is a suburb on the outskirts of Geelong. Pettavel, a one-hatted restaurant, was an easy one-hour’s drive from Footscray (where I was to meet Adam that morning) that offered a $75 five-course menu for lunch which sounded like a good deal to us. The fact that they were also listed in the Entertainment Book (25% off the total bill) also aided our decision to go there over all the other restaurants in the area. Although taking a shortcut through Geelong City was probably the quickest way of getting there, driving all the way along the M1 was the easiest option for the two of us who had never ventured down this end alone (yeah, you could probably tell from the first few paragraphs that we are such ignorant city-dwellers, heeh).
We arrived at the entrance of the winery at exactly 1:30pm on the dot and were instantly led to the bar where we were given a list of 20 different house wines to sample for free, starting from the light, fruity Rieslings to the richer, bloodier Shirazes. My favourite was the Evening Star Riesling (2007), a youthful combination of fruitiness and acidity which I ordered a glass of to have with my meal ($7). I probably would have stood there for half an hour sampling all the wines on offer, but I didn’t want to get drunk before lunch even started so I asked the maitre’d to show us to our table which was located right next to the window overlooking the West-end of the winery. Lovely.
Look how green everything looks!
The restaurant’s own garden
We received an amuse bouche of braised goat meat cooked in star anise topped with an artichoke puree. At first glance, Adam told me that they looked suspiciously like char siu and indeed, they tasted exactly like the famous Cantonese pork dish albeit less sweet and less heavy. I thought it was a bit of a strange amuse bouche for a winery but I did like the creamy artichoke puree.
We were given a slice of bread to nibble on (a choice between white, wholemeal and molasses), plus some home-pressed olive oil, sea salt and a five-spice pepper mix, while the waitress explained the five-course menu. Basically there were three separate entrees, which we would eat after the other. We were then free to choose a main and a dessert from a list of about six mains and six desserts. There were some strange words on the menu such as “marron” which I did not understand but the waitress was able to cheerfully explain these terms.
By the way, a marron is a large freshwater crayfish, not dissimilar to a yabby.
Before I go on, I need to mention the fact that the waitress said that the whole point of the lunch was to relax, take in the views and give a few hours to eat all the food. While it could be said that the reasoning behind Pettavel’s take-your-time motto is because they know that most of their diners are from Melbourne and hence, should stay for a long lunch to make their trip worthwhile, the pessimist and the Type-A personality in me couldn’t help but wonder whether this was simply a license for the kitchen to be a little lax with their cooking and also avoid diners demanding where the heck their food was. Probably a bit of both.
First entrée: polenta with quail egg, nasturtium and hazelnut. My initial reaction upon seeing this presented to us was ‘WOW! How pretty does it look?’ Indeed, it was obvious that the chef paid great attention to detail but while it looked good, it tasted… weird. The texture of the polenta was hard and almost rubbery, the mint sauce added nothing to the overall taste of the dish and the quail eggs just tasted like they didn’t belong. I did think that the rocket leaves and fried garlic chips on top were a nice touch though. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what a nasturtium is … it’s those orange flowers you see on the plate – they were tasteless and only served to make the plate look pretty.
I would like to say that at this point, I was actually full. Whether this was because of the polenta or the wines we sampled earlier on … or the fact that we ate a plate of dumplings at Footscray for breakfast is uncertain. Nevertheless, I soldiered on.
Second entrée: fish broth. Our waiter came out of the kitchen carrying two bowls, both containing one lightly seared scallop, a piece of salmon gently cooked at 45 degrees for six minutes and a thick jelly-like disc made with creamed pea topped with a crispy fish skin. He then proceeded to pour the fish broth from the saucepan and into our bowls at the table for us. The result was a visually stunning pond that resembled a Renoir painting. While scallop et al were fine, I felt that the fish broth (the star of the show) lacked in taste so the whole dish was pretty boring to eat.
Third entrée: Pettavel’s interpretation of traditional roast pork – pork belly with apple and pickled onion. While I loved the little apple balls that accompanied the apple puree and the beautifully crunchy salty panko breadcrumbs mixed with crumbed pork skin, I found the pork belly a tad too try for my liking.
It was 3:45pm (!!) when we received our mains so the next few pictures are going to be over-exposed no thanks to the sun that was now directly in front of our window.
We were given a bowl of fresh salad greens with a light mustard dressing as a complimentary side, which I thought was really nice of them. The salad wasn’t bad either.
My main: kingfish with marron and avocado. I was glad to say that my main was slightly better than my entrees, despite feeling that the avocado sauce didn’t really go well with the beautifully seared kingfish that had the slightest tinge of raw flesh in the centre. And while molecular gastronomy may be passé in Melbourne, I thought the apple foam was a delightful ‘cover-up’ to the warm maron, salmon roe and baby chive salad underneath which was beautiful.
Adam’s main: sher wagyu rump with tomatoes and mustard. We were told that the chefs preferred to cook the wagyu rare and that was fine with Adam. The meat was beautifully cooked and the pink flesh awesomely tender. Unlike the other dishes though, the supporting cast (i.e. the tomatoes which were pureed and shaped into balls) actually tasted really good with the wagyu rendering it the most successful dish out of all the ones we tried.
Before we go on to dessert, let me say here that there was literally a 30 minute wait between every single dish which, I thought, was pretty excessive and would be deemed unacceptable at a Melbourne restaurant but hey, perhaps this was the norm at Pettavel and besides, no one else seemed to mind. After all, it WAS a lazy Saturday and why not relax and take in the views? Plus, the lovely waitress did come around to top up our bread so I was kept reasonably happy munching on a piece of molasses bread dipped in olive oil (it was DIVINE).
My dessert: citrus with olive oil, vanilla and ice cream. Apart from the fact that the ice cream was melting underneath the sun, I liked this dessert – very light, refreshing and excellent use of olive oil combined with vanilla as a sweet dressing-slash-sauce. Props for the slightly tangy blood orange jelly cubes but I can’t help but wonder where they managed to find ridiculously fresh mandarins as I’m pretty sure they’re not in season any more (?)
Adam’s dessert: A competent cheese plate, consisting of a wedge of brie (the name of it escapes me and it’s not on Pettavel’s website) and accompanied by a poached pear, quince paste and toasted raisin bread.
Finally, a cup of not-too-bad espresso and petit fours.
Let’s be honest here: I’m not sure if I enjoyed Pettavel’s set lunch. Not only could most of the dishes be best described as a “confused grapevine of fresh produce who were awkwardly trying to mingle at a speed date function”, the entire lunch dragged on for a bit too long – three hours in fact. Sure, the scenery was nice, sure the service was genuinely warm and friendly, sure, the total bill was reasonable ($162, down to $132 with the Entertainment Book discount) and sure, we had some of the loveliest wines we’ve ever tasted but at the end of the day, the food remains the main benchmark for any restaurant. Thus, even if all the non-food elements were brilliant, they can never compensate for lacklustre food. I will, however, give Pettavel kudos for trying as there were some instances where I tasted one thing and went “WOW!” – unfortunately, these moments were very rare. Indeed, the people at Pettavel do have the potential for producing sensational dishes – they just need to do some fine-tuning before I can honestly say that their one hat is justified. In hindsight, I reckon an hour’s drive is a bit excessive for food like that. But if anything, the drive to Pettavel has at least cured Adam’s aversion to driving long distances, thus you can definitely expect more regional foodie adventures from us in the near future.
One last photo before driving back to Melbourne.