Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Amongst the Vines at Warragul's Wild Dog


Wild Dog Winery


Address: Warragul Korumurra Road, Warragul, Vic, 3820


Phone: (03) 5623 2211

Open: 

Wednesday to Friday, 11.30am until 2.30pm
Saturday to Sunday, 10am until 3pm
And Friday and Saturday, dinner from 6pm


Just over an hour from Melbourne is the beautiful Wild Dog Winery. Grape vines align in perfect rows on green manicured hills, olive groves pepper the landscape, and the Strzelecki Ranges rest majestically in the background. Perched over the stunning scenery is the Wild Dog Restaurant. Last weekend we stopped for my mother’s birthday lunch on the way to the Gippsland Lakehouse in Paynesville.


We had our own ‘wild dog’ with us and the restaurant was kind enough to let us leave her on the vast wooden decking surrounding the restaurant. The rest of us were unable to face the chill and so Inca ended up with the best view. But on cooler evenings the oversize fireplace on the deck will warm you from the outside in, while a glass of red will warm you up from the inside out.


Now for a drop of history: the winery and vineyard were established in the early ‘80s, named after the Aboriginal word ‘Warragul’, which means wild dog or dingo. Located 3km south of Warragul, the vineyard is one of the oldest in the area with the vines covering over 30 acres. The estate features Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, with more varieties expected in the future. All are available from the Cellar Door, which is open every day from 10am until 5pm.


While the open-air feel of the restaurant was fantastic, unfortunately the RSL style décor did nothing to add to the ambiance. There’s just something about icky maroon carpet and function centre chairs that detract from such organic views. But you can’t deny that Wild Dog Restaurant is doing something right – they are the only restaurant in West Gippsland to snag a chefs hat in the Australian Good Food Guide.



All the way from Queensland is Head Chef Ed McDowell. With 25 years experience you certainly feel like you are in good hands. With a passion for local produce, McDowell makes the most of ingredients from the area. Since you are in a winery, try at least a glass from the comprehensive wine list. If wine is not your thing, leave. Just kidding… you can always try a Gippsland Gold Pale ale or a local Grand Ridge brew.


The wait staff, while friendly, were lacking in wine knowledge. Furthermore, when we asked at the end of our meal about an order of mustard that failed to arrive, our waiter explained he had ‘got caught up’ at the cellar door so hadn’t been able to inform us. An apology would have sufficed, as opposed to an excuse (a big ‘no-no’ for waiters).

To whet our appetite, a bowl of warm, assorted bread rolls were placed on the table, complete with olives in extra virgin olive oil from Wild Dog’s olive plantation of 600 trees.


The entrées on the menu were a gastronomic affair. Take the wild Koo Wee Rup asparagus with blood orange sponge, mozzarella ice cream, tomato seed salad and Hollandaise for example. One member of our party decided to sample the popcorn sweetbreads with beetroot meringues, Drouin goat’s feta espuma, blood orange and rocket. The sweetbreads arrived as deep fried caramel nuggets interspersed with miniature deep pink beetroot meringues, plump segments of blood orange, fluffy blobs of goat’s cheese and young, green shoots. The presentation was as striking as the vineyard views. The only criticism was that the dish was overly salty.


Half of our group ordered the Wagyu burger from the light meals section of the menu. Other choices were the fresh pumpkin cannelloni filled with spinach and ricotta, a leek tart with Drouin feta, Estate Dutch cream potato, or a roast chicken Caesar salad. The boys were happy with their thick Wagyu patty, which came wedged between a soft Turkish roll. The patty was neither the juiciest nor the most flavoursome I’ve encountered, but it did the job. The lush mache lettuce blanketed the juicy semi-dried tomatoes, which added a tang to the sweet caramalised onions. The bacon would have been better had it been cooked longer, however the crunchy golden chips were deep fried to perfection. 


I ordered the most difficult to pronounce pizza from the menu of seven: the “patate affucmicato” [sic] with roasted Dutch cream potato, Wagyu bressola, red onion and smoked mozzarella. It arrived with a generous amount of cheese, just like a pizza should. The bresaolo was crisp, salty and moreish – I only wish there had been more scattered on top. The main disappointment of the meal was that the pizza had been undercooked. The base was doughy without a hint of browning or crunch. Not good enough.


That being said, the main menu looked innovative. The combination of ingredients in the Brandy Creek quail with pork and chestnut farce, mushroom ragyu [sic], wild asparagus, mushroom omelette, and blueberry jus left me curious. The goat lasagna with creamed porcini mushrooms, house smoked baby beetroots, matchstick potato with truffle salt and mushroom espuma would surely have been a genius take on a homely meal, while the Atlantic salmon with a 65/65-degree egg, fennel, pickled shallots and Hollandaise sounded enticing.

We ordered some coffee to keep us awake for the rest of the drive. The lattes had too much foam and the waitress who placed it clumsily on the table failed to mop up the resulting spills. The short black was far too large to be classified as such. Luckily the desserts compensated for the caffeine. 


We ordered four of the six desserts on offer. I quietly requested that the Valhrona chocolate cake arrive with a candle, and my request was graciously met. After singing Happy Birthday the sweet orange anglaise with visible specks of zest was poured over the moist square of cake. The milk sorbet had the subtlest flavour, a contrast to the syrupy candied cumquats. 


The yellow squares of passonfruit gelée were arranged on the dish with white chocolate clouds (fluffy marshmallow cubes), sharp basil foam, white chocolate buttons and a drizzle of passionfruit pulp. The combination of textures was divine. 


The trio of pannacotta dessert was the most aesthetically pleasing. Three piles of miniature artworks were served side-by-side on the rectangular plate. The first, a pink blood orange pannacotta, was perched on a pile of chocolate soil resembling crumbled chocolate biscuit. Two blood orange cubes of jelly added another component to the dish. Next in line was the lemon pannacotta, topped with mini sherbet meringues and lemon balm. Finally the lime pannacotta was dotted with wild lime pearls and a wig of Persian floss, which melted on the tongue.



But the tastiest dessert was the peanut butter parfait, complete with caramel popcorn, a salted caramel sauce and a generous smear of chocolate ganache. The frozen peanut butter parfait was presented in scoops and contained chunks of peanuts throughout. Call us gluttons, but I know you’re just jealous.


For something more casual, The Dog House is just across from the restaurant and offers pub meals from 11am until late. Featuring a pool table, jukebox, courtyard garden and beer on tap, the only other thing one could have asked for was a talented musician playing acoustic renditions of The Beatles, Eric Clapton and David Gray… and they had him there too.

Although there were a few loose ends that could be improved upon (such as the menu spelling), the overall experience was enjoyable. When you have the whole family together it’s hard to put a damper on a meal, especially one with such outstanding desserts in such a spectacular location. I would recommend visiting on a warm, sunny afternoon: sit on the deck with a glass of wine and nibble on a Gippsland cheese platter and a selection of charcuterie. Bliss.


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