Jessica-Lee Hirst is a freelance writer based in the Yarra Valley.
Published January 22nd 2012
With its contemporary, vibrant atmosphere and fresh, local inspired menu Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps is a restaurant that has mastered modern dining. In the Yarra Valley finding a good place to dine is not difficult, there seems to be an endless amount of wineries, restaurants, cafes and gourmet pubs. Healesville is a small but bustling town that hosts many fine dining experiences in the heart of the Valley.
It's hard for a restaurant to stand out amongst the hive of activity. But Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps has managed to do just that – stand out and be outstanding. The building itself is modern with high ceilings, exposed steel beams and walls of glass (can get a little loud with background noise if busy). On a warm day, the timber decks outside are full of happy customers sipping on beers and wine or having light lunches. If you plan on visiting on a weekend make sure you book, especially if the weather is nice.
Indoors there are sitting booths for large groups and smaller tables for couples and you can watch the chefs work their magic in the open plan kitchen. They make their own wine and you can enjoy tastings everyday from 10am to 6pm, with winery tours also available daily at 11am and 3pm. Here you can experience the wonder of their gravity flow system, fermenting tanks and barrel hall. Their two wine labels are very different from one another, the 'Giant Steps' label focuses on using the blend of single vineyard grapes from in the Yarra Valley. 'Innocent Bystander' is their other label that allows the picking and mixing of grapes from other great vineyards within the Yarra Valley and further.
Ask for advice on wine and a passionate waiter will help you navigate the wine list. A popular choice is also their boutique beers, well known labels such as 'Little Creatures' and 'White Rabbit' on tap. The ladies favourite is 'Moscato', naturally sweet and effervescent, made from old vines and Muscat grapes, also on tap.
The menu changes from time to time depending on local ingredients and the season. There are always wood fired pizzas, old-Italian style with thin crusts and delicious toppings. Other options include fresh salads, duck and mushroom pie, pan fried ocean trout, slow cooked lamb and red curry of rockling. There is something for everyone, even the kids, with a selection of meals catering for the littlies.
They have a range of quirky tapas and fresh sour dough bread for starters. The service is faultless; the staff members are chatty and passionate. They love what they do and are experts on wining and dining. When having dinner with my family of four a few nights ago, we ordered the Tomohawk Steak, a new addition to the menu. It's one kilo of rib eye beef, quickly grilled and then slow cooked for an hour. I am personally not a red meat person, but after hearing rave reviews of the Tomohawk I had to give it a shot. It was melt in your mouth delicious; the meat was tender, full of flavour and easily fed four adults. It came with slow cooked veggies and you can order it with a bottle of Mule Shiraz for a little bit extra. The Mule Shiraz is their latest wine using grapes sourced from a biodynamic vineyard in conversion in McLaren Vale. It is a smooth young Shiraz, perfect accompaniment with the Tomohawk Steak.
It would have been nice to have dessert, maybe a goats milk cheese cake (my favourite) or a French pastry bread and butter pudding (my mum's favourite) but we were too full! So we settled for a coffee. They roast their own beans and source from countries including Columbia, Brazil and Indonesia. On busy morning the restaurant fills with the aroma of sweet coffee while people utilize the free wireless connection. They serve their coffee strong so be sure to ask for a weak coffee if that's how you prefer it.
If you're after a casual dining experience with a special someone or are heading out with a group consider Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps, you won't be disappointed. You can even just pop in for a coffee and pastry. Laze around in the sun on the deck. Enjoy the simple pleasures that the Yarra Valley is so proud of.