HOT: Olivigna, 54-56 Brumbys Road, Warrandyte South

olivigna

Love the idea of sunning yourself in Tuscany but can’t afford the airfare? Believe it or not, a little bit of Italy can be found at Olivigna at Warrandyte South, just 30 minutes from Melbourne.

olivigna

Drive up to Olivigna, surrounded by tall cypress trees, and it’s like driving up towards the Tuscan hills. The 20 acre property contains olive groves, a vineyard, orchard and garden, with a rustic stone restaurant, La Sala, at its centre.

olivigna

olivigna

The restaurant is large and bright and provides stunning views over the rolling hills of Warrandyte/Tuscany. I particularly loved the enormous gothic chandeliers presiding over the massive fireplace and the dining hum full of families and celebration.

The site is a dream and work in progress for the owners, Black Salt Catering’s Anna Gallo and developer John Di Pietro. Their love of the place is evident from all the small touches in the restaurant, such as the wooden shoe lasts picked up from France to use as coat racks.

olivigna

As part of Olivigna mission to be an Italianate food and wine destination, they hold regularly Italian cooking classes on site. I was invited to a pasta making class at Olivigna which took place on one side of La Sala with Piera Benini, the restaurant’s pasta chef and a native of Bologna (a city known for its food and has the nickname ‘Fat Bologna’). I’ve previously sampled Piera’s pasta magic at Ladro Greville so she knows her stuff.

olivigna

olivigna

olivigna

Over 2 hours Piera showed us how to make pasta from start to finish, from combining the dough to rolling it to cutting it.

olivigna

olivigna

After our morning’s instruction the kitchen, headed by chef chef Colin Swalwell (ex Yering Station), made our lunch while we were ushered to enjoy our handiwork in the private dining room, a space inspired by a traditional wine cellar/cave.

olivigna

To start we enjoyed some freshly sliced prosciutto and house grown olives and fresh bread from the enormous wood oven accompanied by housemade olive oil (bottled just 3 days before).

olivigna

 

Our feast continued with three different types of pasta – the tortellini we made, pappardelle with traditional napoli sauce and a surprise third dish, the restaurant’s signature Scaliatelli alle Vongole with clams, sweet zucchini and a touch of chilli. Our meal was served with a glass of Olivigna‘s own wine.

olivigna

If you enjoyed your meal you can even take some of it home from the Olivigna food store. There you will find award-winning olive oils, caramelised onion jam and preserves that are all made on site plus the estate’s wines.

olivigna

After your meal have a stroll around the gardens, sit by the open fire pit with a hot toddy or try your hand at the bocce court.

olivigna

Olivigna is such an unexpected find in Melbourne and it truly does bring a sense of Italy to  our city. Get away from the city on a sunny weekend and bask in stunning scenery straight out of Under the Tuscan Sun while dining on fresh, local and home-grown produce from the estate. If you want to get hands-on with your Italian cooking, sign up to one of their masterclasses – a perfect Father’s Day outing or gift perhaps?

Olivigna, 54-56 Brumbys Road, Warrandyte South (03) 9844 4676

Upcoming master classes on desserts, pasta, salami, gourmet sausages. $120-$130 including lunch and a glass of Sangiovese

La Sala Restaurant

Wednesday to Sunday 11:30am – 3:30pm (4:30pm on Sunday)

Wednesday – Saturday 5.30pm – 9.00pm

 
Olivigna on Urbanspoon

HOT: Isabella’s at Rochford Wines, 878-880 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream

rochford winery
The Yarra Valley is one of the favourite destinations for Melburnians in search of a country drive and I always like to combine a day trip there with a delicious long lunch.

On my most recent excursion to Coldstream I visited Isabella’s at stunning Rochfords Wines with an invitation to try their new autumn menu by head chef Ciaran Butler.

The restaurant is enormous but is divided into a bar, cafe and restaurant. All the windows are floor to ceiling and offer panaromic views of the vineyards and the surrounding countryside. Ask for a window view if you can!

rochford winery

At lunch time Isabella’s offer a la carte as well as a two course ($55) or three course ($63) lunch where you can choose your dishes. We opted for the two course option – it was an easy decision as none of the five entrees particularly appealed to me but many of the desserts did! So we started off with oven baked fillet of salmon with Port Phillip Bay mussels and local Mallard confit duck leg with smoked duck breast.

rochford winery

On first glance both portions were very large and artistically presented. My fish was cooked right to the point of doneness, so it was still juicy and not dry and flaky. The delicate Rochford Chardonnay Marinières sauce was frothy and lightly fragrant and balanced well with the delicacy of the fish. I also enjoyed the detail of the potato ‘stones’ – potatoes boiled or steamed and coated with fine grey ash. My only very minor quibble was that the skin of the ocean trout was not crispy and I think it was intended to be, but all the other elements were excellent and outweighed this detail.

rochford winery

Both cuts of the duck was also cooked perfectly to retain the moisture of the rich meat with no hint of stringy dryness. The confit leg in particular forked off the bone with little effort. The accompanying pickled red cabbage was unexpectedly sweet due to the addition of blackberries and its rich burgundy hue gave the dish a luxurious look.

My highlight was the dessert. RM’s ‘Death by chocolate’ was described as chocolate sponge, Belgium chocolate ganache, griottine cherries, hazelnut praline powder. What appeared was a moderately small slice of rich chocolate delice scattered with berries. A delicious but fairly run of the mill ‘fine-dining’ chocolate dessert.

Isabella’s at Rochfords Wines, 878-880 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream (8)

In contrast, my tiramisu could have easily been a dessert for two or three people and the presentation of it in a flower pot was cleverly whimsical. The contents of the terracotta pot were just as delightful – marsala soaked sponge, lashings of mascarpone and a top layer of chocolate ‘soil’ to lend textural interest to the mix. I think the tiramisu in a pot is, or will become, a signature dish!

rochford winery

Our experience at Isabella’s at Rochford Wines was excellent, from the food to the service to the ambience. To work off your lunch you have a ramble in the vines or do some shopping in the cellar door and produce store of local goods.

rochford winery

It’s a great stopping point for a day out in the Yarra Valley which affords scenic skylines, fresh air and great wines just an hour from Melbourne.

Isabella’s at Rochford Wines, 878-880 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream 03 5962 2119

Open 7 days
Cellar Door: 9am – 5pm
Isabella’s: 9am – 5pm every day
9am – 10pm Saturday

Rochford Winery Restaurant on Urbanspoon

HOT: Bridge Road Brewers, Old Coach House Brewers Lane, 50 Ford St, Beechworth

Bridge Road Brewers, Old Coach House Brewers Lane, 50 Ford St, Beechworth

When in Beechworth, drink beer.

Bridge Road Brewers is one of Australia’s most popular craft beer producers and is one of the foodie destinations to visit in Beechworth thanks to their brewery operations in a 150 year old coach house, the kitchen’s famous pizzas and a convivial beer garden which is particularly family-friendly.

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I was invited to visit Bridge Road Brewers by Tourism North East and we rolled into Beechworth just after lunch opening on a weekday. Being unseasonably warm already the beer garden was starting to fill up so if you’re coming with a large group or want to be assured of a spot during a busy period then book ahead.

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For colder climes the beer hall is spacious and filled with beer-making paraphernalia, decor and furniture as well as a cosy wood fire.

The Bridge Road Brewers kitchen makes pretzels and pizzas influenced by brewery co-owner Maria Frischmann, who grew up in the Tyrolean Alps. The kitchen bakes pretzels daily and they come plain ($3) or with a choice of cheese sauce or chocolate sauce ($4.50).

Bridge Road Brewers, Old Coach House Brewers Lane, 50 Ford St, Beechworth

These crusty, salt-speckled twists are the perfect beer snack – thirst-inducing and easy to hold. Perhaps only a busty girl and a stein are missing for the true Tyrolean experience (and the brewery does host Oktoberfest celebrations in mid-October every year).

The kitchen is most famous for its extensive range of pizzas though you can order other beer-friendly plates such as nachos, ribs and pie or a lighter soup or salad.

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Bridge Road Brewer’s pizza bases are made in house using their Bavarian Wheat Ale and it creates a crispy, bubbly base for a range of toppings. We tried the classic margherita punctuated with big dollops of Shaw River Buffalo Mozzarella and fragrant basil leaves ($17.50) and for contrast, a non-traditional “Morrison Street Butchers” Sausage Pizza with bocconcini, caramelised onions, tomato, sausage and mustard sauce ($19).

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Both pizzas were bursting with hearty flavours and very filling – I think one large pizza between two would be sufficient. My only criticism is that I thought there could have been less topping so as to retain the crispiness of the base and to prevent ingredients frequently slipping off into a messy puddle (onto my lap, invariably). But in general Australian pizza eaters tend to prefer more toppings, not less, so I can understand the slightly overladen approach.

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To match your food you can try a pint of any of their craft beers or go with a beer flight of up to ten tastings that arrives on its own special board.

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Bridge Road Brewers, Old Coach House Brewers Lane, 50 Ford St, Beechworth

You can also conduct your own tasting by taking home a mixed six-pack ($19.50) and for his taste RM’s pick of the beers was the Beechworth Pale Ale. He was particularly impressed that each bottle showed the ‘malt profile’ and ‘hops profile’ so you can judge the flavours for yourself.

Bridge Road Brewers, Old Coach House Brewers Lane, 50 Ford St, Beechworth

Finally, if you’re exploring Beechworth Bridge Road Brewers is a convenient starting point because they have free town bikes for hire. The “Town Bike” is a collaboration between Bridge Road Brewers, Larder Fromagerie and Provisions and Pennyweight winery and Beechworth’s wide quiet bike-friendly streets and access to Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail give visitors another way to explore the town and its surrounds. The town is currently holding events as part of North East Victoria’s inaugural Cycle Salute cycling festival (18 October – 5 November 2013).

And if you’re going further afield, Bridge Road Brewers is one of the stops along the High Country Brewery Trail where you can cycle parts of the scenic 100km Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail and visit craft breweries in Glenrowan, Beechworth, Bright and Mount Beauty for a recovery drink.

Bridge Road Brewers, Old Coach House Brewers Lane, 50 Ford St, Beechworth +61 3 5728 2703

Kitchen opens lunch 7 Days a week, 12 – 3pm and Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 6pm. 

Bridge Road Brewers on Urbanspoon

HOT: Giant Steps Innocent Bystander Winery, 336 Maroondah Highway, Healesville

A sunny weekend saw us taking a trip out to the Yarra Valley, armed with a recommendation for lunch at Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander.

Unlike most of the other wineries in the Yarra Valley, Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander isn’t located on an expansive piece of green land – it’s just a straight turnoff from the Maroondah Highway into the carpark. The huge steel building is hard to miss, particularly as it’s located in the same vicinity at the White Rabbit Brewery and an outpost of Beechworth Bakery.

The website describes Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander as a ‘grown-ups’ playground’ and it’s a very apt description for the complex. Under one roof you’ll find a bright, buzzy bistro, a bakery and patisserie, a temperature controlled cheese room and cheese tastings at the counter, a coffee roastery and a selection of gourmet provisions for sale.

As a result of the many activities happening under this cavernous space, just be aware that it is very noisy. The concrete interior bounces all of the music, chatter and sound of kids running around to quite high levels.

The bistro menu covers tapas, pizzas, non-pizza main courses with a comprehensive selection of sides, kids dishes, breakfast, baked goods and desserts thrown in the mix.

After watching the pizza-maker working the organic sourdough dough with his well-practised elegant economy of movement and show-stopping throwing technique, our table of 6 decided to share five pizzas and two salads for lunch.

Very quickly we received  our pizzas on ceramic pizza stones 
– roasted 
eggplant, 
barrel-
aged 
feta, 
red 
peppers
 and parsley ($21), roast 
mushroom,
 asiago, 
black
 truffle 
oil, 
roasted 
garlic and 
parsley ($23), spicy 
pork 
sausage, 
buffalo
mozzarella,
 San Marzano
 tomato and chilli
 ($23), Calabrese
 salami,
 San
 Marzano 
tomato, 
oregano
 and 
buffalo 
mozzarella
 ($24) and prosciutto,
 San
 Marzano 
tomato, cravero 
parmesan and parsley ($24), plus two bowls of iceberg, 
witlof
 and 
chive 
salad
 ($8.50).

 The mark of good pizza is the base and these bases were thin yet held the toppings well and had been wood-fired to bring a hint of smokiness. Everyone agreed that the roast mushroom pizza was particularly outstanding. Earthy, juicy mushrooms enhanced by the heady twin aromas of truffle oil and garlic and topped with melted cheese – a culinary perfect match.

For dessert we each had a spoonful of the bread and butter pudding. It was a huge bowl of wintery comfort food satisfaction for just $10.50 and was made with french pastry, marsala soaked sultanas and vanilla bean custard.

My only complaint was that the custard had split by the time the dish arrived at our table. It didn’t affect the taste but seeing a pool of oil in the pudding (and knowing it was going in my stomach shortly) wasn’t very appealing.
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While individually the prices of each pizza were high (when you compare it to say Ladro, Queen Margaret or Espressino), our total bill plus a beer/soft drink per person only divided to $30 a head. A bargain I think for the quality and quantity of food.

If after your meal you’re still up for wine tastings it is available everyday between 10am and 6pm and  if you dine in the bistro you’ll receive 10% discount off any take-home wine purchases. You can take also winery tours daily at 11am and 3pm.

Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander, 336 Maroondah Highway, Healesville +61 3 5962 6111

10am to 10pm weekdays
8am to 10pm weekends & public holidays

Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander Winery on Urbanspoon