Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Royal Croquet Club, Melbourne

Sofia in Wonderland 

“Get to your places!” shouted Broadsheet in an authoritative tone, and Melbourne began running about in all directions, tumbling up against each other; however, they got settled down in a minute or two, and the game began. Sofia thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all Pimms and pendant lights; the fare was Miss Chu’s, the lobster rolls from Mr. Claws, and D.O.C and Meatmother had to work in fast-forward to keep up with demand for pizza and lamb chops. 

The chief difficulty Sofia found at first was finding a place to sit: she succeeded in skipping over the raised referee chairs, obstructed by children, leaving the shady tables to those already there, and just as she was about to give up, found a Yalumba decking up some secret stairs that gave her not just a view of the red and yellow-striped circus tent below, but of the entire, glorious, sparkling city: besides all this, there were far too many people laughing in the sunshine and listening to music, and, the desire to feast on all the food was getting in the way of her standing up and walking off to other parts of the ground. 

Sofia soon came to the conclusion that the Royal Croquet Club was a very wonderful way to spend a sunny day indeed. Sofia began to feel very uneasy: to be sure, she had managed to consume a small ocean of Pimms, savouring the fizzy cucumber slices that refused to be captured, but she knew that at any moment, the sun and food and drink might all get too much, “and then,” thought she, “what would become of me? They're dreadfully fond of people here; the great wonder is that there's any one left anywhere else in Melbourne!” 

She was looking about for some way of escape, and wondering whether she could get away without being seen, when she noticed a curious sign in the distance: it puzzled her very much at first, but, after watching it a minute or two, she made it out to be a menu, and she said to herself, “It's the Cheshire Can: now I shall have somebody to talk to.” 

“How do you fancy peanut gelato with Oreo custard, lashings of cream cheese mousse and pretzel crunch waiting at the bottom?” said the Can, as soon as she popped open the lid.

Sofia waited ‘til she hit the first Oreo chunk, and then nodded. “It's no use speaking to it,” she thought, “it doesn’t have any ears.” 

In another minute, the Can was empty, and then Sofia put down her spoon and began an account of the day, feeling very glad she had someone to listen to her. “I don't think they play at all fairly,” Sofia began, in rather a complaining tone, “and they all eat and drink and dance so constantly one can't hear oneself speak—and they don't seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them—and you've no idea how confusing it is all the food being so tasty; for instance, I had to go back and order beef wrapped in betel leaves after my buttermilk ranch lobster roll—and after February first, the whole thing simply goes ‘poof’ and disappears!” 

“What are you ever going to do?” said the Can in a low voice. 

“Nothing at all,” said Sofia, “I suppose I’ll just have to come back,” and she hurried off to write about it. 

Where: Birrarung Marr, by the Yarra River 
When: Until Sunday Feb 1 
Hours: Mon-Thu 4pm-11pm; Fri 4pm-1am; Sat 12pm-1am; Sun 12pm-11pm 
Jan 25-26 (Australia Day weekend) & Feb 1 (closing night): 12pm-12am

Monday, January 19, 2015

Code Black Coffee Opens in North Melbourne

“Let’s meet somewhere new.”

That was my girlfriend’s response when I told her I needed to pick her brains for an upcoming trip to Sri Lanka. I hear that same sentence all the time: when I catch up with old mates, meet my family for Sunday brunch, interview someone for an article or hit the town to console a friend post-breakup.

The beauty of it is that there is always somewhere new to eat in Melbourne, but as a result, the café regular is becoming somewhat of an endangered species. On this particular, mid-week occasion, we decided to exchange Sri Lanka itineraries at Code Black’s new café in North Melbourne. It was fantastic – ticked all the boxes, if you will – but I feel like I can't go back unless someone else suggests it; my to-eat list has been reshuffled, and Code Black Coffee is now at the bottom behind the plethora of cafes I'm yet to vist.

The coffee, roasted at Code Black in Brunswick, was immaculate, but good coffee isn’t enough to win me over. The menu, which is half car manual and half existentialist wank (“PERSPECTIVE IS UNAWARE OF INFINITY,” preaches the double spread), is more my thing. It features favourites such as ricotta and apple hotcakes spruced with salted apple caramel sauce and avocado toast pimped with pickled cucumber and sesame nori salt.

When asked what was good, the friendly-but-awkward young waiter replied, “You could get the bircher, because, like, it’s pretty cheap,” before suggesting the salmon, apparently a best seller already. We ordered the generous slab of hot smoked salmon resting on a handmade potato cake with watercress, poached eggs, a generous avocado smear and horseradish hollandaise, as well as smoky black beans with jalapeño cornbread, a fried egg and grilled lime (Yes, I added the pork belly. Yes, there was crackling). Both were a hit, but unfortunately the horseradish in the hollandaise and the jalapeño in the cornbread were barely detectable.  

Code Black looks good, too. We sat on wide, Scandinavian-style stools surrounded by blonde-wood finishes, forest-green steel beams and pastel-painted walls. Strangely, metal beams both hold up and divide the tables attached to the banquette, making it awkward for two to sit comfortably and cramped for parties of four. You’re better off at the round or raised tables, or perhaps upstairs looking down from the modern mezzanine, the latter of which makes one want to reenact Titanic's 'I'm flying' scene, or yell "I'M KING OF THE WORLD".

A lot of care has gone into Code Black. The entire experience at North Melbourne feels designer, from the lofty warehouse building with an interior worthy of Pinterest to the crowd-pleasing menu that scores points for originality, even if it is a little abstract. Just as I painstakingly extracted every travel tip I could from my friend, Code Black has scrupulously considered every detail. At the end of the day, it's a café-eat-café world. If someone were to suggest meeting at Code Black I'd be back in a heartbeat. Until then, I have other places to tick off the list. It’s a cruel place, this Melbourne cafe scene.

Code Black Coffee

119 Howard Street, North Melbourne, Victoria

Open daily from 7am until 5pm

Code Black Coffee on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Food in 2015: Restaurant Trend Predictions

A Year of Culinary Contrasts 

The year 2014 saw brunch menus soaked in almond milk and saturated with coconut everything, raw desserts battling it out with doughnuts and trendsetters drinking green smoothie breakfasts before downing fried chicken dinners. It’s been a year of juxtaposition in the food world and as we approach the end of 2014, I see Indian, urban booze and upscale comfort food on the horizon.

At this time of year the average person panics about unbought Christmas presents. In my world, people start talking food trends. What will be hot in 2015? What did we eat in 2014? What will it take to banish pulled pork to a dark cave in Middle Earth? Like fashion, technology and art, food is driven by fads.

Let’s not forget that foodies are the minority here. While we tend to eat out with like-minded people, the edible trends we subscribe to – including our appetite for free-range this and no-waste that – do not extend to the entire population. Most of Melbourne is content with Domino’s Pizza on their doorstep and coffee from 7/11. Self-proclaimed foodies are on the rise, but many would sooner defrost dinner than read this blog post.

As Jay Rayner recently wrote in The Guardian, “Food fashions are no different to any other. They aren’t a mark of increasing sophistication. The whirligig merely turns... Here then, is my prediction for 2015. There will be food. Some of it will be horrible. Some of it will be really nice.”

I agree with him. Defrosted dinners aside, people are undeniably interested in food. One of the reasons I adore eating is because humans have taken a basic survival requirement and turned it into something utterly gratifying. Freud would blame it on the ‘id’, the force that drives our pleasure-seeking instincts. It’s for this reason that I encourage discussion of food trends present and past, rather than take an eloquently sarcastic stance like Mr. Rayner.

Last week I popped into ABC Studios to record a segment on food trends with RN First Bite. It airs this Saturday at 9.30am in what will unfortunately be the last instalment of the program in response to Federal budget cuts that have affected the ABC. Jill Dupleix and I talked trends with presenter Michael Mackenzie for half an hour. When we were done, I was barely a bullet point into my notes. Thanks to the power of self-publishing, I can continue that conversation here. The remainder of this blog post is a personal, educated wrap-up of food trends in 2014, followed by 2015 food trend predictions.

If there’s one thing I learnt in 2014, it’s that there’s no such thing as too much fried chicken. At the other end of the scale, we bought into superfood smoothies and raw food concepts, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to balance the grease. Maybe George Calombaris opened Mastic, his health food café in Kew, to counter all of those souvas at Jimmy Grants? Almond milk laughed in the face of dairy while the word ‘coconut’ was written on so many brunch menus I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d single-handedly destroyed a tropical habitat somewhere offshore.

Thankfully the trend to locally source and seasonally serve looks like it’s here to stay, which means we’re increasingly eating in a way that supports nearby producers and lessens food miles. But offer me caviar and Champagne imported from France and I wouldn’t hesitate – eating is relative. In restaurant kitchens everything was made in house, by hand – gravlax, chilli sauce, protein bliss balls, bacon, sausages – and will be again in 2015. BBQ isn’t quite done with us yet, nor is smoking and fermenting.

Those with Italian roots helped Melburnians to get over the fro-yo frenzy and come to terms with the fact that nothing beats proper gelato. In fact Italian popped up all over town, from cafes such as 5 Lire and pasta bars like Tipo 00, to Gradi at Crown, Artusi in Southgate and Heartattack and Vine on Lygon Street. Aussies are taking to aperitivo more than ever (any excuse for a Negroni before dinner).

Food trucks stepped it up and refined their offerings in 2014. There’s no more room for burgers and Mexican on wheels, but the same can’t be said for jaffles and ice cream sandwiches. The transition from pop-up to permanency is also trending. Concepts such as Place Holder, Milkman Café, Pop-Up Scrolls and Mr. Claws are all testing the waters with plans to stick around if all goes well. While eateries were popping up, top chefs were toning down. Fine diners have undergone segregation –for example, The Press Club into a smaller version of itself and Gazi – and will continue to do so in 2015, starting with Scott Pickett’s Estelle.

As we leave 2014 behind, some food trends will be left behind with it. Diets such as paleo will give way to more wholesome eating with a focus on balance and pleasure (as opposed to sadness and starvation); sliders, bao and pulled pork will disappear; Mexican and Korean have had their fifteen minutes of fame; people will realise that kale isn’t actually seasonal 12 months of the year and that broccoli is more beneficial for the body; and doughnuts can’t get much tastier or OTT than those at Doughboys, so why bother?


Now for the fun bit: the predictions. First up, craft beer will reach a new level in 2015 with urban breweries (and wineries) setting up in town as young brewers and winemakers demand an urban lifestyle to complement a traditionally rural trade. Beverages will become artisan, starting with booze and seeping through to syrups. In terms of cuisines, Southern American food will make way for South American food (think Peruvian, Argentinean, Brazilian) and Indian will be the Korean of 2015.

Upscale comfort food will debut in the form of upmarket steakhouses and rotisserie chicken, while more restaurants will see the value in delivery service, and offer it accordingly. Chefs will continue to locally source and seasonally serve, but aesthetics will give way to more rustic, wholesome presentation that enables premium produce to speak for itself.

If 2014 was the year of Southern American concepts (po’boys and fried chicken) then 2015 will be the year of the deli. Expect bagels and all the glorious fillings that accompany them. Brunchers will continue to have their smashed avo and eat it too, but cafés will begin to cater for those who have learned that no one does smashed avo like Bluebird Café in Collingwood, anyway, so impress me with something unique.

Good riddance to Scandinavian and industrial décor. Spurred by oversaturation, new establishments in 2015 will strive to differentiate themselves based on appearance. Operationally, restaurants and cafes with space and funding will continue to invest in environmentally conscious waste solutions, from industrial composting machines to innovative relationships with suppliers. Restaurant staff will become savvier when it comes to the new EFTPOS system (where tips are awkwardly and electronically entered) driven by a lack of tips, while more restaurants will embrace the ticketed booking system, like Prix Fixe. 

Finally, Melburnians’ ever-insatiable appetites will see the rise of culinary tourism, where vacations are organised around dining out and food experiences as opposed to traditional sight-seeing and cultural activities. This will stem from home soil, where restaurants – through introducing people to new cuisines and hosting special events – will educate customers and inspire ‘hungerlust’ (it’s like wanderlust, but for food).

The above predictions are based on educated guesses and discussions with professionals in the food and beverage industry. It is by no means to be taken as gospel, but don’t be surprised if it comes to light. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you have an interest in food. So tell me, what do you think we’ll see in 2015, and what are you happy to leave behind?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Rae's Restaurant, Balgownie Estate, Yarra Valley

Wined and Dined in the Yarra Valley 

Brought to you by Nuffnang and Flexicar. 


Last weekend I was invited to Balgownie Estate in the Yarra Valley. Of course I made the most of the opportunity, dragging my father around this beautiful part of Victoria, from TarraWarra Estate to Yarra Valley Chocolaterie (you can read my Yarra Valley dining recommendations here). The dinner at Balgownie Estate coincided with the opportunity to put Flexicar to the test. 

You may already be familiar with Flexicar from mistakenly thinking you’re about to score a parking spot directly outside where you need to be, only to realise it’s reserved for Flexicar. Prior to my Yarra Valley road trip, that was the extent of my experience with the car-share company. Aside from the reserved parking spot, it’s as simple as signing up, booking a car online, picking it up nearby and eventually dropping it back in that conveniently located parking spot. 

I drive too far and to too many different locations across town to continue to use Flexicar, but if I were ever stuck without a vehicle or wanted to try something different on a road trip, I’d definitely do it again. I have friends who live in the CBD and rent out their apartment car park because they didn’t use their car often enough to justify keeping it. Whenever they need to drive somewhere, they turn to Flexicar. If you’re keen to give it a go, Flexicar are offering all new members who join by the end of the year a $15 credit towards a booking in January 2015. 

Flexicar took us around the Yarra Valley on a gourmet roadtrip, but our major destination was Rae’s Restaurant at Balgownie Estate. The dinner was held to promote a new menu, the ever-knowledgeable head winemaker Tony Winspear and head chef Graham Taute, who came on board in the middle of 2014 after spending the last 25 years in Tasmania, most recently as executive chef at Wrest Point Casino. 

The media dinner, like all media dinners, aimed to impress. Although you’re unlikely to experience the same seven course degustation as I’m about to describe, you can order two courses for $60 or three for $72, which is on par with prices from surrounding wineries in the Yarra Valley. For lunch you won't pay more than $20 for an entree and $32 for a main. Think of me as a guinea pig, so when you visit Balgownie Estate, you can use this to decide what to order. 


Dinner started small with pale green cucumber foam dainty enough to pass as dessert, if it weren’t for the addition of salmon roe. The same child-like pleasure people experience when popping candy hits their tongue, I get from attempting to pop tiny roe against the roof of my mouth. The bubbles in the Balgownie Estate NV Premium Cuvee Brut mirrored the airiness of the foam. 

The second course also mimicked dessert, this time in the form of a panna cotta. Instead of vanilla or seasonal fruit, this one was flavoured with goat’s cheese. We spread the creamy base onto garlic sourdough crisps, dispersed the Parmesan wafer and reset our palates with tangy tomato and fennel salad. The 2013 Black Label Sauvignon Blanc cut through the rich panna cotta, although I still found myself unable to manage the whole thing. 

When two bulging scallops scattered with corn and coriander salsa arrived, the immediate reaction was to ask where they came from. Later we found out they had been imported from Canada, because Canada had the best the chef could find in the face of Aussie scallops being pumped with water and drained of flavour. I’m all for importing ingredients and clocking up food miles if it’s A) the best produce out there and B) balanced with local ingredients. During this course we had a glass of wine per scallop, both Balgownie Estate Chardonnays but one from 2011 and the other, 2012. The former was my favourite wine of the evening, extremely elegant with clear butterscotch notes. 

I was just about through the 2012 Chardonnay when the 2013 Pinot Noir was poured – the first from the Yarra Glen estate, as opposed to the estate in Bendigo – to accompany the salmon tasting plate. The presentation was simple, nothing to write home about as I’ve read in other reviews. But as we were repeatedly told throughout the evening, Rae’s Restaurant is not a fine diner – it simply focuses on quality and consistency. Back to the salmon, of which there were three varieties: house cold-smoked salmon wearing a buckwheat blini whose dryness wasn’t saved by a feeble spurt of crème fraiche, “Asian-inspired” gravalax with soy mayonnaise and house hot-smoked salmon with salsa verde. The latter was the clear victor, the smoky aftertaste putting the more subtle salmons to shame. 

Just when we truly believed we couldn’t manage another bite, a hunk of seared eye fillet shimmering in thick brown sauce spiked with blue cheese turned up. It’s always a challenge to control oneself around perfectly cooked meat – pink in the middle with the outside seared to keep in the flavour – especially when it comes with two glasses of Balgownie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from 2010 and 2012. I preferred the latter, which was not only fruitier but had me sipping it repeatedly in what turned out to be a failed attempt to grasp a faint memory. 

The Balgownie Estate Sparkling Shiraz came next. I’ll spare you wine wankery terms such as ‘ripe’ and ‘smoky’ and be completely honest – it tasted like an R18+ version of Ribena. Never being allowed to drink the stuff growing up, it was a given I took to the Shiraz. It accompanied a velvety chocolate parfait with kirsch cherries and roasted hazelnut praline (more like crumbs or ‘soil’). There was also a splodge of coconut gel, which I could have done without. 

After chocolate came cheese, a whole board of the stuff with muscatels, fruit and nut bread and candied walnuts. King Island brie, Roaring Forties blue and smoked cheddar were matched with Balgownie Estate Old Vine Shiraz, a glass from 2008 and another from 2009. It was the final course and the final glasses, but by this stage, I was so full I could barely appreciate them. 

As I lay awake in bed after dinner, too stuffed to sleep just yet, a thought popped into my head: it doesn’t matter how wonderful the food is or how highly James Halliday rates a bottle, if the company is unbearable, the meal will be also. It works in reverse, too: average food and wine in good company becomes something much better than it is in reality. On this particular evening I was lucky enough to have already spent a beautiful day with my dad, had treated myself to a massage and was surrounded by people with similar interests who made for great conversation. And if that wasn’t enough already, Mother Nature sealed the deal with an incredible sunset. 

Even though we were spoilt with a stunning meal at Balgownie, I still would have enjoyed the experience if my tastebuds were disappointed. The best way to eat and drink – regardless of whether you take a gourmet roadtrip or chow down on a rotisserie chicken picnic while being attacked by mosquitoes – is in the company of others. 

Until the end of January, you can purchase a Balgownie Estate Summer Indulgence package that includes a bottle of BG cuvee, a $100 voucher to spend at Natskin Spa Retreat onsite, breakfast and complimentary wine tastings in the cellar door, for $349 per couple, per night.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Yarra Valley Dining

A Gourmet Roadtrip in the Yarra Valley 

Brought to you by Nuffnang and Flexicar. 

One minute Melbourne is visible in the rear-view mirror, the next you’re surrounded by vines. It's as if you set cruise control moments ago and yet the Eastlink has turned into picturesque country roads bordered by blue mountains that melt into the horizon. Welcome to the Yarra Valley, a stunning region just an hour out of Melbourne known for its cool-climate wines, produce and walking tracks. It’s an easy day trip, but you need at least two days to fully appreciate the Yarra Valley – more if you plan on eating your way around it like we did. 

Our gourmet road trip started like all road trips do: at home. We hired a zippy little Suzuki Swift online using share-car company Flexicar. His name was Hopskotch, and he was chilling out in his allocated spot a breezy five-minute walk from home. We unlocked Hopskotch with a single swipe of our membership card in time for a 9am booking and not a second earlier (we tried). The whole thing was incredibly convenient: petrol is included thanks to the petrol cards in the vehicle and we simply dropped him back in the same spot when we were done.

Hopskotch got us from A to B to C, assuming those letters represent wineries, produce stores and restaurants. Along the way the Yarra Valley unfolded before us – where vines were absent, verdant fields dotted with hay bales took their place. Cottages perched atop hills with cows, goats and black-faced sheep meandering below. The weather could not have been better for our drive, or as we watched the sun set from Rae's Restaurant at Balgownie Estate. 

If you’re keen to take a roadtrip this weekend, Flexicar is offering 15 per cent off hourly bookings up to four hours in length. If you have an appetite and the Yarra Valley tickles your fancy, here are the places you should be eating and drinking. 

Where to Eat 

Also good for: the whole family 
336 Maroondah Highway, Healesville | (03) 5962 6111 
Book ahead before rocking up to Innocent Bystander; this restaurant in the centre of Healesville is extremely popular. Choose a couple of items from the grazing menu to complement your wine of choice (perhaps some salumi, chicken, date and pistachio kofte, or salted cod and potato fritters?) or dig into one of the wood-fired pizzas with regional toppings. There are also banquet menus at $40 or $60 per head if you can't decide. There’s also a bakery, coffee roasting, hand-selected cheeses and wine tastings onsite. The comprehensive wine list is divided into a diplomatic 'Our Wine' and 'Their Wine', showcasing both the best of Giant Steps and wines from other producers that inspire them. 

Also good for: cooking classes 
874 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream | (03) 5962 6161  
Belle Vedere doesn’t use the term ‘seasonal’ lightly. Here, locally sourced produce is not a publicity stunt, but a necessity. The menu changes regularly based on what producers are producing. Vegetables are plucked from the organic garden, bread comes straight from the Bella Bakehouse and the rustic dessert table will make your eyes pop. Dishes such as lamb sweetbreads fried in molasses butter are available in the cooler months, while fluffy ricotta gnocchi with fresh peas is perfetto when the sun is shining. Make yourself at home in front of the open kitchen, surrounded by olive-coloured walls and native flower arrangements. 

Also good for: lovers of modern architecture 
864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream | (03) 9738 9900 
The rolling vineyard view at Oakridge is worth a million dollars, but a two-course lunch will only set you back $50 ($17 for the kiddies, or $60 for three courses). Starters might include spanner crab and Parmesan gratin with pickled cucumber, or beef carpaccio with bone marrow croquette, white anchovy, succulents and black salt. Local produce is flaunted in mains such as the Yarra Valley lamb back strap with bay leaf-infused mousse, as well as heirloom beetroot, Yarra Valley Dairy goat's cheese and spinach raviolo with candied walnuts. Save room for the ginger panna cotta with rhubarb compote and biscotti at the end. 

Also good for: art aficionados, visit the gallery after lunch 
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Yarra Glen | (03) 5957 3510 
There is so much to love at TarraWarra Estate: the monolithic stone and glass contemporary architecture, a downhill view of the vines and a willow overhanging a bubbling pond, a neat cellar door and an art gallery that’s worth a visit alone. Book ahead and ask for a table outside. Once you’re seated, order from entrees such as hot smoked Yarra Valley trout or specials like yabbies three ways, caught from the pond below. Mains range from salt and sugar-cured duck breast with cannelloni of shredded and confit leg, to barbecue baby chicken with dolmades and flawlessly cooked kangaroo fillet. 

Also good for: weddings and private functions 
14 St Huberts Road, Coldstream | (03) 9739 0900 
The Stables is the epitome of country chic with high, red-brick walls and timber finishes contrasted against fine glassware and leather seats. The building dates back to the 1800s, the former stable hand quarters of a local farming community. Come for the regional dinner on Friday or Saturday (from $60 for two courses through to $125 including five courses and matched wines), or pop in for a tapas-style lunch on the weekend. Dishes such as buttermilk chicken with sweet corn veloute appear on both menus, but you can only order marron with compressed peach, crackling and sorrel as part of the set dinner. 

Also good for: high-flyers (request the helicopter package) 
38 Melba Highway, Yarra Glen | (03) 9730 0100  
Slow cooked duck egg with truffle and Parmesan on toasted brioche. Roasted quail with pork stuffing, apple and shallots. Crispy skin barramundi with beetroot risotto, smoked mussels and baby leeks. These are just some of the dishes at Yering Station's superb restaurant. The team certainly makes it hard to save room for desserts such as butterscotch mousse with spied rum doughnuts and lime sorbet. The food is some of the best in the Yarra Valley, to the point where it’s almost enough to distract you from the magnificent vineyard beyond the expansive glass walls. Almost. 

Also good for: impressing the in-laws 
42 Melba Highway, Yering | (03) 9237 3333 
The dimly-lit dining room at Eleonore’s might remind you of the wealthy grandmother you never had – courtesy of plush maroon chairs and ornate green carpet – but the food is ahead of the times for the region. Five courses are a hefty $125, but you get what you pay for. The menu has an Asian spin, with dishes such as Moreton Bay bugs paired with chicken dashi, kombu and avocado. All the bells and whistles are there too: amuse bouche and a palate cleanser before dessert; perhaps the cardamom panna cotta with poached rhubarb, strawberries and rosewater granita? 

Also good for: cheese to go 
58 Pinnacle Lane, Dixons Creek | (03) 5965 2271  
Locale at De Bortoli is a taste of Italy in the Yarra Valley and a nod to the family’s heritage. The menu sticks to the theme with antipasti, from a salumi selection to kingfish carpaccio. In true Italian style pastas such as pumpkin ravioli with burnt butter and spanner crab risotto come before mains. Larger dishes range from crisp suckling pig to baby snapper fillet with Sicilian caponata and salsa verde. Don’t forget to pick up some Stilton blue from the cheese shop inside the cellar door to enjoy with your De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon. 

Also good for: making ‘Sunday School’ fun 
727 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream | (03) 9738 9245  
Although you’re better off eating a full meal at one of the above Yarra Valley restaurants, it is essential that you stop in at Chandon’s Greenpoint Brasserie for a charcuterie board or Yarra Valley tasting plate. That way you can sip the afternoon away at the immaculately manicured grounds, overlooking rows of vines flanked by rosebushes. Try the 2009 Blanc de Blancs made from 100 per cent chardonnay, or for something summery, the sparkling pinot shiraz is a best seller. Be sure to stroll around the grounds and take advantage of the self-guided tour. 

Shopping for Local Produce 

35 Old Healesville Road, Yarra Glen | (03) 9730 2777  
Parents be warned: as soon as you enter Yarra Valley Chocolaterie there are three oversized, stainless-steel bowls piled high with white, milk and dark chocolate pastilles for sampling. When visitors stop thinking with their stomachs, they head to the glass window through to the chocolate factory, where French and Belgian choclatiers are busy crafting everything from flavoured truffles and blocks studded with fruit and nuts from the property’s orchard, to edible native Australian animals and fudgy condiments. On warm days, sit on the deck and lick house-made ice cream. If it’s cooler, go for one of the indulgent hot chocolates. 

70-80 McMeikans Road, Yering | (03) 9739 1222 
The pungent perfume of a bona fide cheese factory is the first thing you’ll notice when stepping out of the car at Yarra Valley Dairy. Thankfully the smell doesn’t follow you into the cheese shop, located beside the factory in the property’s original, century-old milking shed. Inside you can sample the goat's cheese range including marinated, matured and fresh varieties. Ask staff to match local wine to your cheese and charcuterie platter while you take in the view, or browse the shelves heaving with homewares and regional and specialist produce. 

38 Melba Highway, Yarra Glen | (03) 9730 0100  
Stop in at the stunning grounds of Yering Station on the third Sunday of the month between 9am and 2pm for Victoria’s oldest farmers’ market. Producers selling everything from pies and preserves to pasta and chocolate are more than happy to chat. Free samples abound, so visit on an empty stomach. Purchase a pastry with your coffee and explore the beautiful property. 

What to do while you Digest

Make friends with the natives at Healesville Sanctuary 
Admire the Yarra Valley from above in a hot air balloon 
Catch a summer concert at Rochford Wines with A Day on the Green 
Sharpen those kitchen skills with a class at Al Dente Cooking 
Treat yourself to a spa treatment here, here or here.  

Where to Sleep between Meals 

Chateau Yering, for rooms with period charm in a historic homestead 
Balgownie Estate, for luxury without the snob factor and a restaurant and spa to match 
Myers Creek Cascades, for a romantic spa cottage getaway
Lyrebird Cottages, for a girls’ weekend away