Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Monday, September 04, 2006

Lunch amongst the Vines

Now that A and I have a car in Melbourne, we are ready to explore more of Victoria and Melbourne's surrounds. A couple of Saturdays ago, we took a day trip out to Victoria's famous wine country, the Yarra Valley, to load up on vino for the rest of the year. Make no mistake, the corner bottle shop has proved sufficient so far for all our libations at dinner, but with the Yarra Valley just a short 45 minute drive away, we had been looking forward to a day out visiting the vineyards.
First stop - Moet & Chandon's Australian vineyard, Domain Chandon at Green Point, for bubbly! We don't take long as Domain Chandon is primarily known for their sparkling wine (under the Green Point and Chandon label) and we leave the cellar door with a box-load of their best-selling 2003 Vintage Brut and 2003 Vintage Brut Rose.
We visit a couple more vineyards before lunch, including Oakridge and Dominique Portet, and the car boot fills rapidly up with yet more bottles. But with the prospect of a delicious lunch ahead of us, we skip the remaining vineyards on the Maroondah Highway and gun the car in the direction of Healesville.
Having read that the Healesville Hotel Dining Room had been awarded "Country Restaurant of the Year" and 2 Hats (the only restaurant in the Yarra Valley to receive this accolade) at the illustrious 2006 The Age Good Food Guide Awards, we had decided to lunch there that afternoon. What followed was a decadent Saturday afternoon lunch lasting close to 3 hours with all the works!

After perusing the Specials board and the menu, here's what we had for lunch that day:

A enjoying his freshly shucked Tasmanian oysters with a classic shallot vinaigrette

A had half a dozen freshly shucked oysters from Tasmania with a classic shallot vinaigrette while I had a chorizo-stuffed squid with a warm salad of white beans, potato and mint. Nothing quite like fresh produce to whet the appetite although I felt that the chorizo-stuffed squid seemed a tad mismatched albeit tasty.


Eye fillet with anchovy butter, rosemary fried 'taters and a watercress salad

I toyed with the thought of paprika roasted Yarra Valley rabbit but in the end A and I both opted for the char-grilled eye fillet with anchovy butter, rosemary fried potatoes and a watercress salad. The meaty aroma of the eye fillet preceded its arrival and our first bite was accompanied with sighs of delight. Very nicely done, the eye fillet paired well with the anchovy butter, the salty tang of the butter offsetting the richness of the meat. The watercress salad proved to be an effective palate cleanser for the next bite of the fillet.

A enjoyed a lovely shiraz (I forgot which one it was though) with his meal but having gotten a little heady with the bubbly at Domain Chandon's cellar door, I decided to skip the wines for that afternoon.

Desserts and Coffee

Chocolate Brulee , spiced poached pear & quince with ginger shortbread

By now, we are nicely sated and if possible, a little too stuffed to order any of the delicious-sounding desserts. But after a short interval, greed gets the upper hand and we rouse ourselves to order some coffee and the Rich Kennedy & Wilson chocolate brulee with spiced poached pear & quince on a slice of ginger shortbread. Done in a similar fashion to the classic crème brulee, the dark chocolate slice was topped with the pre-requisite caramelised sugar topping which made for a lovely combination of bitter-sweetness. The pear & quince compote allowed us a respite from the intense chocolate flavour of the brulee, with the ginger shortbread providing a nice hint of spice.

The Healesville Hotel is located smack on the main road of Healesville and not in any of the surrounding vineyards. The Dining Room overlooks a small courtyard and does not have any of the spectacular views of the typical winery restaurant. It does however, come with a whole lot of charm in its old-world ambience complete with soaring ceilings, open fireplace and French wicker chairs. Seated by the window with the sun shining in on us, A and I enjoyed a lovely dining experience at the Healesville Hotel Dining Room. Portions were generous and service was professional, unhurried and unobtrusive allowing us plenty of time to linger over our lunch that afternoon.

Although the Dining Room was only half-full for lunch that day (but fully booked for dinner as we overheard the staff telling a couple in front of us that the only dinner sitting was at 6pm and they had to leave by 8pm), reservations are highly recommended particularly for dinner as you wouldn't want to drive all that distance not to get a table. If you prefer not to tie yourself down, it is definitely easier to walk-in for a table during lunch and if you come after the main lunch crowd leaves at about 2pm. One caveat though - this is unlikely to be the case during the summer months when hordes of tourists and Melburnians alike descend on the Yarra Valley for sunshine amidst the vines.

We are almost too full to continue on our drive but we continue on our way to Rochford Wines, Tarrawarra Estate (where A purchases a couple of bottles of the excellent 2003 Shiraz and 2004 Pinot Noir under their Tin Cows label) and finally to De Bortoli wines for the sweet wines. I have a field day at the latter, getting gloriously high on their "Sticky Experience" (comprising tastings of 5 dessert and fortified wines for A$5, including Noble One) before buying several bottles of sweet wine (Black Noble, the Show Liqueur Muscat and a Windy Peak Spaetlese Riesling). We still have many more vineyards to visit but decide to leave that for another weekend and a further excuse to come back to Healesville for more great food!

Some useful links:

Healesville Hotel
256 Maroondah Highway
Healesville 3777
Tel: (03) 5962 4002

Visit the Yarra Valley information website at

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