Red Hill South, Victoria
Having always been scared off by the dollar signs that invariably come with dining at estates in the Mornington Peninsula, I finally conjured up the courage to ignore my head/wallet and follow my heart/stomach. Boy, was it a bet that paid off.
Driving into the car park, my girlfriend and I were instantly met with the majestic views of your typical stunning vineyard, which almost made it seem like we were being set up on a soppy date from The Bachelor. (Was too busy admiring the views to take photos – sorry.)
Being the poor uni students that we are, we were dreading the prospect of sticking out like sore thumbs in the restaurant. But to our surprise, the setting was unassuming, with only around 15 tables, a beautiful view of the vineyard and the right balance of class and fun; with one wall of the room being covered by a series of photos of the owners’ pet geese. (I’m guessing that goose won’t be on the menu?)
The wait staff were all incredibly lovely, as we were kindly shuffled over to our table with a view (per my request). Not only did they have an adept understanding of wine – as one would expect at an estate winery – but they were also personable and incredibly attentive. Okay, enough of setting the scene, let’s get down to the food.
Despite having delicious house-made breads, locally sourced EVOO and anchovy infused butter staring at me in the face I bit my fist and decided to wait for the main dishes – wise decision, Will. I ordered the charred octopus, which was accompanied by mirin, eggplant and nettle. The Japanese flavours did the trick in terms of providing a kick-start to my palette but it proved to be a bit overpowering once you reached past halfway; creating an unpleasant Vegemite after-taste (not a huge fan of Vegemite but hey, to each his own). Nevertheless, the octopus was cooked to perfection and its texture was ‘melt in your mouth’ rather than the ‘deep-fried tyre’ texture that you can get when it’s overcooked.
The star of the entrees however was the suckling pig, of which the chef assembled with all of the juiciest parts of the pig (thank you little piggy). The crackling that topped the mound of pork gold wasn’t your obligatory chewy and tough pork crackling that usually comes with suckling pig but rather the cherry on the icing of the cake which added the important crunchy texture to marry the rich flavours of the pig. It is safe to say that the octopus and the pig led incredibly happy and healthy lives.
Just when I thought it couldn’t have gotten better, the Flinders Island milk-fed lamb appeared before my eyes. This dish proved to be the main event, and was made even better by the fact the lamb was presented in four scrumptious ways: a gourmet sausage infused with fragrant herbs; a warm fillet encased by crunchy lining; an ingeniously reassembled cube of lamb (akin to the pork suckling – see above); and of course, a lamb cutlet. All four parts accompanied with crispy Asian-style grilled lettuce, savoury rum-ball like confit potatoes, light pea puree, sharp jus, and spicy Paringa Estate Shiraz played a concerted effort in providing a salivating and memorable dish – as well as creating my newfound adoration of milk-fed meats. (The other dish you see was a nicely cooked roasted duck, with notable Asian flavours, it was good, but it was no milk-fed lamb.)
Just when I thought it was all over, my girlfriend and I decided to relish (or more like succumb to) our prematurely aging lives by ordering sweets and coffee; on one plate we had Petits fours, consisting of miniature cakes that you would find at your usual patisserie, which were good but nothing out of the ordinary. The lemon parfait, on the other hand, was out of sight. The delicate fluffs of rich mascarpone were intertwined with the zest of the fresh lemons (think rich dollops of thick whipped cream and summertime lemon gelato from your childhood). To add a bit of crunch pistachios were peppered throughout and the Sichuan-infused meringue (yes Sichuan, as in the peppers) played its role by tiptoeing in the palette to ensure its presence was registered. Hands down one of my favourite desserts.