Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe to my articles. I'll update you with lots of fun and often free adventures in your home town.
Published March 27th 2015
6 gourmet out of town meal experiences
This probably has to be the most amazing thing I have ever tasted. Yellow fin tuna with a crust of black sesame seeds, oyster cream quinoa, mustard and tiny melon balls that just went perfectly. And I don't even normally like fish.
We travelled to country Victoria for this experience. If you did something like this at the Flower Drum in Melbourne it would set you back $265 a head with matching wines or if it were Attica (Melbourne's top restaurant) it would be $305 a head with matching wines.
Little box like parcels of organic pork belly with equal size cubes of soft tofu. Completed with shaved scallop apple lemon jus beetroot and an edible flower.
Our night at the Mountain View's (known locally as the Whitfield pub's) fine dining room cost less that half of what it would have cost in town. For a couple the total was $265 (with a six course degustation menu, with matching wines including French wines) but this price also included a night's accommodation!
Okay, so we got lucky. Good scouring of internet deals on my part and by staying midweek and out of season we nabbed an extraordinary experience at a particularly good price.
But even if you drove there tomorrow and walked into the dining room it would still only cost you $120 a head for the beautiful degustation menu, some of which I've photographed here, with matching wines which is about half the price of some of the fine Melbourne degustation equivalents.
Free range duck breast on a bed of parmesan risotto, morello cherry sauce.
You could argue that this pub wasn't quite in the same league as some of Melbourne's top-notch restaurants. But that is up for debate. Chef Ben Bergmann, has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants all over Europe and was recently awarded one chefs hat in the 2015 Australian Good Food Guide. And he's pretty much only just started out here.
I could go through the amazing dishes and wines but that would be a lengthy procedure so I've put in a few photos with lengthy captions of ingredients so you can get the gist.
King Valley berry consommé- jelly, yoghurt ice cream and fresh berries
The service was impeccable. Our young waitress, Sonja, was from Germany and had an incredible knowledge of each of the fine wines she poured and the ingredients and cooking techniques in all of our dishes. Her partner, who works behind the bar, is a trained sommelier. So one can imagine their pillow talk about poached Victorian venison and the best matching wine from the King Valley.
Unfortunately we did not have time to do much in the King Valley, beyond a game of golf (the links were at the back of the hotel and a round was included in the package.) But we went home totally happy because we had such a memorable fine dining experience.
For further details on this experience, click here.
It got me thinking about other country meals that are also worth the drive.
The Grande Hotel, Hepburn Springs
This place is well worth the drive out of town. Go for the whole weekend if you can. The food is divine, the views worth-while and they have some great entertainments including Friday burlesque nights and movies for the kids (during school holidays.)
Dining is out on the balcony looking over the Wombat State Forest or in the atmospheric 1920s dining room with its high ceilings, leather couches and walls adorned with whimsical paintings. The chef, Andrew Dennis, works within a tradition associated with food writers such as Greg Malouf and Kurt Sampson (with whom Dennis worked) that emphasizes a modern spin on Middle Eastern cooking.
This incorporates elements of the cuisine rather than entire dishes. So you might, for example, as you do at the Grande have an entrée of baharat spiced crispy quail with cauliflower tabbouleh and tahini yoghurt, a main of cinnamon and sugar cured grilled duck breast, harissa baked pears with a crunchy Lebanese cabbage salad and pomegranate molasses and for dessert a chocolate and Turkish delight brownie with rosewater strawberries, vanilla bean ice-cream crowned with a cloud of Persian style fairy floss.
Dennis picks ingredients from his own garden and makes everything from scratch including the complimentary soda bread (served with a dipping bowl of Mount Zero olive oil).
A great local wine list.
Vanilla and orange blossom pannacotta, local biodynamic berries, pistachio Persian fairy floss
The menus is also quite English with homemade pies, fish and chip and hearty soups served with cobb bread. But there are also contemporary dishes such as potato & beetroot gnocchi and asparagus and mushroom risotto. The bar also serves thick chips known as "fat boys" which are particularly memorable especially with a side serve of home-made aioli.
Don't let the unassuming outside of this hotel fool you. It is next to the famous cathedral and this food has has definitely been blessed. This is another country pub in the Age Good Food Guide.
The secret to the incredible food here is a method of cooking called sous vide technology. Sous-vide is French for "under vacuum". Meat and some vegetables are vacuum sealed and and then cooked in a water bath at precise temperatures that are exacting up to one tenth of a degree. The results are perfectly cooked foods that retain all their juices.
The bistro has a strong emphasis on local ingredients and an extensive list of local wines that you rarely see in Melbourne.
Dishes include Thai lasagne, a red chicken curry with layers of crispy Asian greens and crispy wantons, steaks, fish chicken and so on. But everything is amazing because of the way it is cooked.
For dessert I can recommend the banoffe pie a beautifully presented dish of a home-made pastry case, filled with creamy toffee filling and decorated like a flower with petals of fresh banana.
For location details, prices and my fuller review click here.
Jack and Jill, Geelong
Another award winning restaurant. Jack and Jill had pulled off the National Golden Plate Awards and was in The Age 2012 Good Food Guide. Leonie Mills has had more than 17 years experience in some of Melbourne's better known restaurants.
Moroccan lamb paste with pea puree, pomegranate seeds and coriander and cucumber salad.
The menu is based on a clever concept. They don't serve huge burdensome meals that you struggle to get through. Rather they offer a selection of entree-sized portions or mini-meals. Eat them by yourself or collect them in the middle of the table and share with your party.
As you can see from the photos and captions the meals are stunningly original .
Comprehensive wine list and huge list of over 50 boutique beers and ciders. They also have blackboard specials highlighting local vineyards.
Local snapper ceviche with mango jelly and a Thai sour dressing.
For location details, prices and my fuller review click here.
The Terminus, at Flinders Hotel
The pub food here is fairly standard but the fine dining restaurant is totally worth the drive. Terminus gained an Age Good Food Hat in the 2014 Age Good Food Guide for the second year in a row.
The chef Pierre Khodja was born in Algeria, grew up in the south of France and then studied to be a chef in Paris. So the food is exquisitely French but is also accompanied by North African baked delights, flavours and spices.
You are given complimentary anise bread rolls with local olive oil and a side of black butter (blended with black olive tapenade.) This is followed by a complimentary broad bean soup, served delicately in a small glass with a tiny borek standing sentry next to it. We opted for a main and dessert so had to forgo entrée indulgences such as roasted pigeon, crab bastilla, artichoke salad, west australian king prawns with cinnamon gnocchi and salted cod scallops to name a few.
One main was lamb roasted three ways, with cinnamon and chermoula and sides of sweet potato, butternut pumpkin, prunes and ras el hanout and the other was spiced brussels sprouts with chestnut and shanklish (a sheep milk's cheese.)
Other mains, on the menu, included baked hapuka onion and cinnamon oxtail borek, wagyu brisket with Jerusalem artichokes prunes and pea puree, roasted duck with lentils , pearl barley chestnuts orange and cardamom and baked snapper with a smoked pepper crust, chorizo,pearl couscous, preserved lemon and chermoula. There was also a vegetarian couscous and raisin chutney.
For dessert, Turkish delight soufflé which was worth the 20 minute wait while it fluffed up in the oven. It was a dainty pink colour from the rosewater and bejewelled with with globs of semi-melted Turkish delight. It was served with halva ice cream and blossom-scented creme anglais. I had Moroccan doughnuts which were tiny balls of bliss served with a dried apricot and prune compote. Again it was the superb attention to presentation that added so much to the experience. My dish was encircled with tiny piped flowers
There is an extensive wine list with an emphasis on Mornington Peninsula wines but also wines from all over the world that would match the gentle spiciness of the food.
great places thanks for the list
may i suggest the royal mail dunkeld has 3 dinning options
also the chef from the royal mail has a new diner
http://braerestaurant.com/about/brae/ although not a budget meal.
another i tried in launceston tasmania (i know a bit far away)
is stillwater and its sister the black cow.