Review: Merricks General Wine Store (Merricks, VIC)

3460 Frankston-Flinders Road
Merricks VIC 3916
+61 3 5989 8088
http://mgwinestore.com.au/

Whenever I’m visiting my folks in Melbourne, I like to set aside a day to do a trip out of the city with my friends Aaron and Cathy. Sometimes we’ll hit the Yarra Valley wineries and other times, we’ll head west and end up in Bendigo, Ballarat or Daylesford. The last time we did a day trip, we ended up down the Mornington Peninsula to check out some markets and do a coastal walk.

For lunch, we stopped at Merricks General Wine Store. Although I’d heard so many things about this place (and it’s always getting write-ups in various food guides and what not), I’d actually never been so I was curious to see if it was really that good. The venue itself began life as a general store in the 1920s before becoming a cellar store and bistro for Baillieu and Elgee Park wines – and not to mention, a popular foodie destination.

Merricks General Wine Store: interior

Although Merricks is open all year ago, I recommend coming during the cool autumn months. They’ll crank up the fireplace so the dining room is nice and cosy. Plus, nothing beats enjoying a charcuterie board filled with the region’s freshest produce and a glass of local wine (read: expect to find lots of Pinot Noir on the menu). French inspired, the menu is full of seasonal dishes all designed to share. Of course, you can order one-plate dishes too if you dislike sharing plates or if you’re here on your own.

Aaron insisted on ordering a burger. Out of all the dishes on the menu that day, the burger was the one that least caught my eye – and quite frankly, I think $28 is steep for a burger and fries. Granted, it came with an Angus grass fed beef patty and we all know that that ain’t cheap. Everything else (caramelised onion, tomato, cheese, lettuce, pickles, mustard and mayo) was fairly pedestrian. That said, Aaron said it was nice – but in the same way manner one would describe a cheaper-but-delicious burger from any decent Melbourne burger restaurant.

Merricks burger ($28)

The grilled king prawns were Cathy’s suggestion – and we’re glad it made its way to our table. The prawns were cooked in a lovely garlicky tomato sauce that had a hint of spice. Ramping up the protein quota for the dish were some olives, chickpeas and chorizo; all played a significant role in adding some lovely flavour to the dish.

Grilled king prawns with spiced tomato, olives, chickpeas and chorizo ($25)

The charcuterie platter was my idea and in hindsight, the board was definitely enough to feed the three of us – especially when I added some yummy salted cod croquettes with aioli ($10) to the mix. The board comprised cold cuts such as Prosciutto Di Parma and salami along with some pickles, olives and crispy bread. My favourite bits, however, were the duck liver parfait with toasted brioche as well as the house made country terrine with local pickled mushrooms. Add a glass or two of Pinot if you’re not the designated driver and you have yourself a lovely meal.

Merricks charcuterie platter ($30)

There is no doubt I’ll stop by at Merricks General Wine Store the next time I do a Mornington Peninsula road trip. I’d like to see what sorts of delicious things would appear on the charcuterie platter on my next visit – and perhaps see if I can convince my dining buddies to enjoy a cheese platter with me.

Merricks General Wine Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cliffy’s Emporium (Daylesford, VIC)

30 Raglan Street
Daylesford VIC 3460
+61 3 5348 3279
www.cliffys.com.au

After beers and pies, it was off to Daylesford. We didn’t stay for too long but we did manage to make a fun day out of cideries, random trinket stores, Welcome Back, Kotter board games and lots and lots of bookstores. We also managed to squeeze in some afternoon delights at Cliffy’s Emporium, a one-of-a-kid destination that anyone visiting in Daylesford MUST visit.

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Oh, hi Tim.

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Cliffy’s is nothing like anything you’d find in Melbourne. It’s a quaint little place that’s part-café and part-store, excluding that old world charm that you can only find in a regional town. Stepping in was like walking back to last century – hell I felt like I could be in a Mem Fox storybook if it weren’t for the iPhone-toting patrons and the earth-shattering hums of the V8s outside.

Cliffy stocks local and seasonal produce, with a heavy emphasis on all things organic. Here, you can buy anything from Mt Zero olives to Istra smallgoods to fresh pasta. You can imagine how excited I got – I wanted to buy everything, dammit! Thankfully, sensibility prevailed and I left my credit card in my wallet and left without buying anything to take back to Melbourne.

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We did enjoy a few sweets at the table by the window, though. The dishes served at Cliffy’s are made using the fresh produce sold at the store. I wouldn’t have minded a serving of bruschetta and splitting a charcuterie plate but we were still buggered from the pub grub we enjoyed at Woodend so we could only squeeze in drinks (of the non-alcoholic kind) and desserts.

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While most of the table enjoyed several manners of hot beverages, Dave and I broke into several bottles of Daylesford & Hepburn Mineral springs organic LLB (seriously man, that stuff is awesome!). We also nibbled on some egg custard tarts while Aaron and Cathy shared a flourless chocolate cake. Because both treats had been sitting at the counter all day, they obviously weren’t the best that they could be. I would have preferred my tart warm, for example, and the cake was getting a bit hard. That said, they both tasted delicious and I particularly liked my tart’s smooth and thick custard filling.

Cliffy’s is a place that I could stay in for hours if I we didn’t have more cideries to visit. I like its friendly service and its overall charm. Next time, I think I will tuck into some lunch and take home two bags of goodies. Mmmm.

Cliffy's Emporium on Urbanspoon

Holgate Brewhouse (Woodend, VIC)

79 High Street
Woodend VIC 3442
+61 3 85427 2510
www.holgatebewhouse.com/restaurant.html

From Box Hill, we drove to Sunbury. And from there, we ditched Aaron’s Civic and into Tim’s dad’s Navara, that was taking a break from the mines of Western Australia while Tim’s dad was in his ‘FO’ stage of his FIFO roster for the month.

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It wasn’t long before we got hungry so we ended up pulling over at Holgate Brewhouse in Woodend for a hearty meal, never mind the fact that most of the group had breakfast not too long ago. Aaron and Cathy had been there before and loved it but for Tim, Dave and I, it was our first time.

Holgate Brewhouse is, to a few of my friends who grew up and/or live in the area, probably the only thing worth stopping for in Woodend. While I’m not sure how true this statement is, it’s fair to say that this place gets its fair share of visitors from Melbourne on weekends in addition to the local crowd. Their motto is ‘real beer, no bull’ which is (probably intentionally) ironic given that its logo contains a crazy-arse bull.

A few of us were keen to order the Holgate tasting paddle, which is essentially a wooden plank that holds eight 90ml glasses of Holgate beers from the tap. Unfortunately, they ran out of like, five of the beers so they weren’t able to serve the tasting paddle to us. While I was thinking WTF kind of brewery runs out of beer, Tim was secretly glad because, as designated driver, he didn’t want to sit there feeling left out while his mates were slamming down beer shots!

Instead, we ordered a glass of beer each. The beers and ciders are locally produced and at $7-8, they’re a bargain given their microbrewery statuses. For those who are driving, sparkling drinks from the very good Daylesford & Hepburn range are available, as well as hot chocolate and coffees. However, please note that Holgate Brewhouse ‘only use[s] full cream dairy!!!’ (for this, I give them props because seriously, screw skim milk!).

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The food here is obviously pub grub and the dishes include favourites such as chicken parma and burgers of all sorts. I ordered the ‘world-famous’ Holgate dark ale beef pie with chips, salad and house relish ($20), the perfect meal for my Temptress chocolate porter, a seductive dark brew with strong chocolate and coffee flavours, and hints of sweet vanilla.

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The food might have taken a while to arrive (it was the weekend, after all, and the restaurant was short-staffed) but my pie was worth the wait. The puff pastry top was perfectly crispy and flaky and the filling was rich with flavour and tender chunks of beef. Props were also given to the chips which were super crunchy and the relish was equal parts spicy and sweet without being too overpowering. Loved it.

While it was a shame that they didn’t have most of the beers available on tap to make a tasting paddle and while their service wasn’t the fastest, I still thought my experience at Holgate Brewhouse was a positive one. The good food in a charming casual environment made for a wonderful lunch and we’ll be sure to stop by again for an hour or two the next time we’re on our way to Daylesford (unless someone can convince me that Woodend is worth staying overnight for).

Holgate Brewhouse on Urbanspoon

Lake House (Daylesford, VIC)

4 King Street
Daylesford VIC 3460
+61 3 5348 3329
www.lakehouse.com.au

Every now and then, Adam and I like to get out of Melbourne for the day. We both love our proud city but I must say that, as a city-worker, seeing trams every 30 seconds and walking down Swanston Street does get old. In the past, Adam used to HATE driving due to sheer CBFness and his less than stellar navigation skills. He’d try and get a lift from his dad, or he’d PT it in; driving was a last resort. Now that he works a job that requires a LOT of (manual) driving, he loves it. Okay, so his sense of direction still sucks but at least he now has both a GPS AND a girlfriend in the passenger seat who, despite not holding a driver’s licence, is a pro at directions and has a voice that’s sexier than TomTom’s Kiwi Kevin.

Several public holidays ago (we’re talking somewhere in January), Adam decided that it would be a nice day to drive out of Melbourne. He didn’t care where we were going, as long as it was out of the 30XX and 31XX  postal boundaries. Naturally, as the one who holds the pants in this relationship, I said that we were going to Lake House which was open on most public holidays and so off we went, up the Calder as directed by Kiwi Kevin. In my opinion, taking the Western Hwy would have been slightly quicker but who was I to argue with the all-knowing TomTom?

An hour and a half later, we arrived at Daylesford, a town north-west of Melbourne that is famous for its natural springs mineral spas, restaurants and laid back vibe.  After exploring some of the little shops on Vincent Street and checking out an antique bazaar, we drove to Lake Daylesford and realised that we were a tad too early for our 12pm lunch booking.

The award-winning, two-hatted restaurant called Lake House (jeez, who would have thought?!) also doubles up as a cozy hotel and spa. Its tranquil location by the water and away from the noise makes it the ideal destination for those who just want to get away from it all. And even better, you get the added bonus of having an acclaimed restaurant and spas only minutes from your front door.

And ducks.

More ducks than our Ashes team? Probably not.

Adam then started chasing the ducks away just as I got close to them, meaning that he’s not a very nice person. It also meant that he was hungry and restless so I took it as a cue to leave the lake and walk back up to the restaurant. It was empty when we reached the reception of the hotel/spa/restaurant so I took in a moment to admire all the painting that were done by Alla Wolf-Tasker (executive chef)’s artist husband, Allan. My favourite one was ‘Rousseau’s Sleeping Chef‘ which obviously took cues from French Impressionist Henri Rousseau. It highlights Alla’s devotion to her craft, illustrating the chef sleeping and dreaming about cooking. A poodle instead of a dalmatian would have made it ten times more awesome though, tee-hee!

I didn’t do it.

Finally, someone came out of the shadows and when we told them that we had arrived for lunch, we were led to the steps on our right and into the airy dining room that captured the light that reflected off the glistening waters of Lake Daylesford.

We we led to a table right next to the window, where we had perfect viewing of the lake.

Well, okay, Adam did. I, being the bossy one, called shotgun on the cushy banquette  with its 10 billion cushions and its back facing the window so instead of being able to see the lake, I was facing the restaurant it all its purple glory. Go the Storm.

Lunchers at Lake House are asked to choose two courses from the menu, for $70 or three courses for $88. If you want to go all out, however, the 8-course degustation is available for $130. Adam chose the two-course option, while I went for the three-course option (intending to share the dessert with Adam). If I had known that the scrumptious tray of chocolate fudge and caramel corn in the middle of the dining room were for diners who chose the degustation option, I would have gone with THAT instead.

Slices of rye and hot crusty white bread rolls with lots of butter and pink sea salt. Mmmm.

Ferris Bueller Ohhh YEAAAAAAHHHHHH…

We shared some crunchy grissini which were coated in local extra virgin olive oil, and rosemary and accompanied by olives. All from Kyneton, which is about half an hour’s drive away from Daylesford. In fact, everything that lands on your plate is either grown or made in Daylesford, or are sourced from nearby towns and farms. No blueberries from New Zealand here! (*cough* Costco *cough*).

We had a glass of red each: Adam, the Lake House Shiraz ($12) which was supplied by Sutton Grange in Bendigo while I got a glass of isole e Olena Chianti Classino from Tuscany ($18) to go with my lamb main.

Adam’s entrée: smoked Skipton eel in pancetta, shallot confit, beetroot remoulade, mustard crème fraiche. Adam loves his unagi so his choice of entrée was a bit of a no brainer. Despite being a bigger foodie than he is, I must say that I’m not a big fan of eel. I practically squirm every time I bite into a spoonful of rice and teriyaki-glazed unagi, not because eels are such horrid-looking creatures (though I suppose they have NOTHING on lampreys) but because I had the slimy film of fat that’s sandwiched in between the meat and the crispy skin. Plus, its naturally sweet flesh doesn’t really do it for me. But this dish! Oh man, this dish I LOVED. The flesh was sweet, but not terribly so thanks to the smoke and the pancetta that was wrapped around it like a sheet of nori wrapped around a sushi roll. The sweet yet earthy flavours of the heirloom beetroot complimented the smoky eel meat and edible flowers made the dish look more the prettier.

My entrée: Quail tempura, wasabi mayonnaise, baked egg custard, shiitakes. This dish just screamed out, ‘Brendan McQueen!’ and given how much I enjoyed Matteo’s Bento Box lunch last year, I knew I had to order this entrée. And thank goodness I did. Two perfect rolls of quail meat were wrapped lightly-battered nori sheets, cooked tempura-style. Each roll was an amazing textural firework of crunch and succulence, punctuated by sweetness and gaminess. Little blobs of wasabi mayonnaise with the slightest hint of fresh horseradish provided some lovely creaminess when needed. And when it was all over, there was a tiny cup of baked egg custard (chawanmushi) that held the silkiest chawanmushi I had ever tasted, and it was topped with a simple yet aromatic mixture of shiitake mushrooms and star anise.

Adam’s main: poached grass-fed Angus fillet, silverside, smoked tongue, oxtail dumpling, pickles, marrow brioche, salsa verde, anchovy aioli. In the background, you can see the creamy and salty anchovy aioli, a beef consomme and a lovely, buttery sweet brioche that’s filled with a gorgeous marrow paste.

Here’s a better photo of the main dish. Adam loves his beef so he gleefully attacked his plate with gay abandon when he saw that there were many different cuts of beef all served on the one plate. Adam couldn’t decide whether he liked the juicy piece of Angus fillet, or the thicker piece of silverside that was full of flavour or the delicately piquant smoked tongue.

Me? I liked the oxtail dumplings which were filled with soft shreds of tail. How’s that for oxtail dumpling pr0n featuring salsa verde! (hands up if you think Salsa Verde could be a legit pr0n star’s name?)

My main: Summer lamb Provencale – roast loin, crisp breast, sweet peppers, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant and rosemary. Sam Kekovich tells us to eat lamb and well, there’s no arguing with that fella. Like the other dishes we ate, this one conveyed the message that all the produce in the region was top-notch. The lamb (both the loin and the breast) were perfectly cooked and  was teamed up with the freshest vegies that were reduced to beautifully, soft and squishy – and almost pureed – forms of themselves, including a Jenga-like potato finger that was not quite soft as mashed potato but getting there. The milk foam didn’t really do much for my tastebuds but it made the plate look prettier anyway.

This is why I can never be a vegetarian.

Dessert: amaretto parfait, apricot clafoutis, sorbet, quinoa, curry. I asked the waiter if I could have the famous ‘Gaytime Dessert’, only to be told that they weren’t doing it today. I was disappointed because I had heard a LOT about this supposedly legendary dessert which may have been the result of head chef David Green tapping into his diners’ yearn for all things old skool or  a nod to Daylesford vibrant and mellow gay population, or both. The waiter DID tell me that that there was a SIMILAR dessert on the menu, the amaretto parfait which came with an apricot clafoutis instead of one giant parfait covered with almond pralines. Fine with me. I thought the Gaytime Lite was pretty good – it achieved the right combination of tartness, sourness and sweetness with only the slightest hint of curry showing up in the apricot sauce. I thought the random sprinkles of quinoa was an odd addition and would have preferred pralines instead though.

And that was Lake House. We were extremely full after our meal, so much so that I probably wouldn’t be able to fit a chocolate fudge in my mouth. As we went for another stroll around the lake to burn off those calories, the two of us could not stop talking about the meal. And how fantastic it was. And how it was worth the money. And how it was worth the drive. And how it was worth being stuck in the car with Kevin the Kiwi (and in Adam’s case, also a whiny Libby) for 1.5 hours both ways. And how it was worth being stuck on a table next to a bunch of brats from Jakarta who kept complaining about how ‘small’ the portions (uh, they weren’t?).  And how attentive, friendly and knowledgeable our waiter was – it was a shame we didn’t get his name. Best country-diner for a number of consecutive years? I can see why. Although you will not find a hunky Keanu Reeves in this Lake House, you will find some of the best food in the state if not the country. And lots of ducks.

Lake House on Urbanspoon

Rolling Pin Bakery & Yami Yami (Box Hill)

Rolling Pin Bakery
40 Hesse St
Queenscliff VIC 3225
+61 3 5258 1533
Yami Yami
Somewhere on Bank St
Box Hill VIC 3128
Phone number unlisted

So I had a pretty rough week and needed to take a few days off work so that I could clear my head. When the world’s about to collapse, all you want to do is to huddle under the doona and stay there forever, not wanting to talk to anyone. Linda, however, convinced me to come out with her on her day off so I met up with her in the city, thinking that we were just going to sit around and talk.

Well, things didn’t quite happen that way.

She decided, at the spur of the moment, to drive all the way down to Queenscliff, 104km south of Melbourne. Naturally, I was shocked to think that one could randomly decide to drive that far without any sort of planning. I’m one of those people who like to meticulously plan EVERYTHING and a drive out of Melbourne would warrant at least a day’s planning (looking up stuff on the net, working out a budget, calculating petrol costs etc) so this was a bit out of the ordinary for me. Nevertheless, I thought, ‘hey, why not?’ and besides, Linda is pretty scary behind the wheel so who was I to argue with her?! haha.

We had lunch at a bustling bakery cafe on Hesse Street, Rolling Pin Bakery. We weren’t planning to have lunch here but we were lured into the cafe by the flashy “Award-winning pies! Best in Australia!” signs on the window that we couldn’t resist. Linda had a bacon, cheese and steak pie while I had a beef burgundy pie ($5.45, if I remember correctly). To our disappointment, our pies were nothing extraordinary. In fact, we may as well have had a microwaved-heated Boscastle-brand pie from any one of the nameless cafes that dot Melbourne’s city streets. The only things worth talking about my pie was that the crust was NOT flaky and I was kinda perplexed to see huge chunks of capsicum in my gravy…After being refreshed by watermelon and pineapple juices at a grocery store across the road ($7 may have been a bit steep for a “large” juice cup but damn, it was soooo good), we decided to head 30kms into Geelong city where we meandered around Westfield playing ‘Spot The Asian’ and ‘Count How Many Gweilos Stare At Us’ before heading down the beach.

We drove back to Melbourne just in time to suffer through peak hour traffic on the Western Ring Road. Just as we were about to turn into Bulleen, we decided that yep, we were hungry and yep, korean food sounded good and so we did a 180 and drove to Box Hill to eat at Yami Yami, a modest Korean-slash-Japanese restaurant in Bank Street, Box Hill. Now, I’m not overly fond of Korean food but Linda’s been telling me about this place for ages and so this was a good time as any to give it a crack.

Despite the fact that it was still hot outside, we could not resist downing several cups of complimentary corn tea as we tucked into our Korean dumplings, called mandoo ($8 for 8 pieces). I had never tried these dumplings before but I was amused to find that they had more in common with the Eastern European pierogi instead of dumplings of the Asian (Chinese, Japanese) kind. They were fried, potsticker-style, and filled with not just meat but vegetable and vermicelli threads. They were crispy and not overly oily too, and tasted fantastic with the vinegar and soy dipping sauce that came with it.
We also received complimentary pickle/salad items which they gladly refilled once we finished everything on the rectangular plate. My fave was the compartment containing the orange matchstick shaped fishcakes.

Our haemul chongol, a seafood stew cooked on the table over a hotpot stove ($34 for two people). A very spicy broth was filled with fresh seafood (blue swimmer crab legs, mussels, pipis, prawns, squid), vegetables and tofu pieces. It was presented raw on our table but as soon as the crab shell turned a vivid shade of orange, we were free to dig in. It may have been hot outside, but we were surprisingly okay when eating this and although we may have sniffled and sweated a far bit thanks to the spices, we were surprised to find that it was a relatively filling yet light meal. It was the best meal I’ve had at a Korean restaurant so far and I guarantee you folks that I’ll be back again to try the bibimbap that seemed to dominate every second table at Yami Yami.Post-script: A special shout-out to Linda who took me out yesterday. I may be Ms Organised and enjoy planning things right down to the littlest detail, but Linda reminded me just how important it was to also be spontaneous once in a while .

Pettavel Winery & Restaurant (Waurn Ponds, VIC)

65 Pettavel Rd
Waurn Ponds VIC 3216
+61 3 5266 1120

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?

Lunch.

Surprise, surprise.

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.

See?

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.