A sandstone mountain range, dramatically thrusting upwards from the fertile farmlands of the Wimmera Plains, its copper brown flanks bursting forth here and there with flashes of ochre along the exposed cliff faces. A very dramatic setting to be eating lunch. It was lucky that I had been looking at this landscape for the past two days or the scenery may have caused me to be entirely oblivious to how good my piadina was.
I was at Millstone Café on the Mt Zero Olive Farm on the fringes of the Northern Grampians, approximately 3.5 hours from Melbourne. Everything here is at one with the nature that surrounds it. The farm is biodynamic and supplied by renewable energy. It is tucked away, a few unsealed roads off the Western Highway. You will probably need to stop for kangaroos and lizards as you make your way here.
We had been climbing at the Summerday Valley area, a short walk from the Hollow Mountain Carpark. We were hungry, thirsty and somewhat grubby. The vegemite and cheese sandwich I had prepared for lunch was not holding its form too well amongst my climbing gear when the thinker of our group suggested we deserved better. After a five minute drive from the carpark a quaint red roof sprang into view against a craggy outcrop, and soon the form of a perfectly manicured, squeaky clean white farm cottage appeared. It might be the most visually inviting cafe I've ever seen and the charming staff who were climbers themselves didn't look twice at our dusty boots and chalky hands.
Stepping inside took us to the farm store and café with many olive related products on offer. Large jars of black, green and wild olives, oils, tapenades, relishes and soaps, many available for sampling. A chalk board displayed a selection of fresh lunch meals ranging from soups to pastas, generally all under $20.
My piadina was hot and crispy, filled will juicy grilled vegetables, mozzarella and olive tapenade and came with an unannounced quinoa and pomegranite salad. One of my climbing partners had a generously sized lentil and vegetable soup accompanied by sourdough drizzled with delicate lemon pressed extra virgin olive oil. My other climbing partner had a fettuccini carbonara with another suprise rocket and herb salad, picked from the garden. The dishes were fresh and seasonal and prepared with a lot of care. We took advantage of the landscaped outdoor seating area, bordered by retaining walls and absorbed the picturesque views of the red and yellow soils, the native plants and the hulking outline of the Grampians.
The service wasn't particularly fast, but if you were in a hurry you probably wouldn't have bothered coming here in the first place. Keen as we were to return to climbing we managed to share a few delicious pastries and cakes which were baked onsite. Expertly made coffees are hard to find in the wilderness but we found it here, along with a range of teas. Even if you don't have time to linger I highly recommend grabbing a sweet to take away… you'll thank me for this tip after you finally send that route on Wall of Fools or return from the Mt Stapylton Loop Walk feeling peckish.
Mt Zero Olive Grove is a little secret among climbers, hikers and foodies in the region. If you happen to be in the Northern Grampians and are about to commence eating a vegemite and cheese sandwich retrieved from the bottom of your backpack you really need to think again.