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Darriwill Farm Cafe Restaurant

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by Lionel (subscribe)
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Published January 28th 2013

Melbourne is not the only city with popular good-to-great European and Australian restaurants like Michelino's Trattoria, Cumulus Inc., Carlton Espresso, Comme and PM24. Nestled in the humble region town of Hamilton in the Southern Grampians is a chef hat-deserving but less known gourmet store-restaurant that consistently delivers delicious European-inspired food to residents and visitors.

Darriwill Farm Cafe Restaurant started from the success of the gourmet farm gate produce from Darriwill Farm in Bannockburn, off Geelong, owned by Dougal and Nellie Ramsay. The produce was originally sold at farmers markets, shows, and then into mail-order and the internet.

As demand grew, co-owner Andrew Richards initiated the store-restaurant concept of supplying their customers with quality meals from their gourmet produce in addition to products such as wines, beers, jams, chutneys, relish and artwork designed tea towels, place mats and note paper.

Darriwill Farm is a strong supporter of local produce and embraces the paddock to plate philosophy. They also source some of the best farm gate produce throughout the world for the store and restaurant. Hamilton was selected for the original outlet as a large percentage of customer orders came from the town and surrounding areas. Another outlet was opened in Werribee Mansion, 30 minutes west of Melbourne.

Heading the retail store-restaurant is career chef John Hedley who has 20 years experience in leading the kitchens of Hamilton. He started with managing the kitchen in 2005 while his wife Jacinta ran the store. As fellow food and wine enthusiasts, we became fast friends in an upmarket trendy and restaurant surrounded with quality gourmet produce and regular customers who love to show off the spacious venue to their relatives, friends and tourists.

John explained that his team delivers contemporary cuisine inspired by Australia's multicultural influences using the gourmet produce in the retail store and the fresh produce in the gourmet delicatessen. The menu certainly reflects John's traditional French training with Italian, Thai and Indian influences.

John has a personal love for anything duck so I decided upon the confit duck. It arrived with a generous portion of risotto and wild rocket salad. The slices of duck were pink, tender and succulent unlike the over-crispy and salty versions I had to endure in some French restaurants. The Italian risotto bursting with flavour from the mushroom, spinach and sheep pecorino was a meal onto itself.

Another personal favourite is the crispy-skin salmon, accompanied by generous portions of crumbed calamari, risotto and mixed salad. I enjoy the taste of all the supporting cast but the star for me is the clean flavour of the soft flaky medium-rare fish.

I also indulged in a slice of John's French bourdaloue baked pear, almond and apricot tart with a side of crème anglaise and double cream, which was his modern take on a classic French dessert.

Customers' favourite for the nearly 2 decades is the aged fillet of beef with barbequed tiger prawns, oysters lilpatrick, croquette potato, vegetables, red wine jus and béarnaise sauce with French tarragon.

A great restaurant needs a great team and John is one of those rare leaders who supports and showcases the talent in his kitchen. He encourages passion, enthusiasm, ideas and energy in his people. One of his prodigies include local lad Jordan Lanigan, who grew into the head chef role allowing John to focus on growing the business.

As a local lad himself, John loves living and working in Hamilton. He and Jacinta have 2 young boys and they relish what Hamilton has to offer a young family including fantastic schools, clean country feel, safe living environment, strong employment opportunities and amazing natural surrounds. In addition to growing the Darriwill Farm business, he is also working hard to make Hamilton and the Hamilton region recognised as a 'go to' area for fantastic food and wine.

Today, the Darriwill Farm Cafe Restaurant has gained notoriety as a must-visit for food and wine enthusiasts. If you're planning a foodie weekend, a 50 minute flight from Melbourne by Sharp Airlines or a 3-hour scenic drive will take you into Hamilton. Located right in town, Darriwill Farm Cafe Restaurant is just minutes from the Comfort Inn Botanical Hotel.
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Why? A Hamilton favourite of quality dining and gourmet products to rival what's available in Melbourne
When: Mon to Wed 10am-5pm; Thurs and Friday 10am-10pm; Sat 9.30am-10pm
Phone: (03) 5571 2088
Where: Hamilton, Victoria
Cost: From AUD6.90
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