When people who love food and going out have a little one, does that diminish the future experience of food and going out? It is a question we are yet to definitively answer, but we are doing our best to accommodate each into the other!
Like most parents, we are very proud of our little 20 month boy, Sydney. He is energetic, cheeky, and beautiful. Those three characteristics do make our regular dining habits interesting though. We have never been shy of putting an over-the-top amount of thought into our next meal, and having Sydney takes it to the next level. I’ve separately written about some of that need for preparation, as well as what works for us, in “Combining our love of food and our little boy!” In saying all of this, I honestly believe our choices, and dining experiences while based in Rye, are very good for anyone.
If you add in a trip to the Peninsula Hot Springs, one of the amazing golf courses, beautiful calm bay beaches like Blairgowrie, and energy charged surf beaches like Flinders, you have a terrific array of adventures. There are picnic (or professional) horse races, the Mornington to Moorooduc train from the preservation society, the Arthur’s Seat Lookout and Eagle “Gondola”, heaps of wineries, craft and farmer’s markets, and so many other attractions to this area. Last year, Sydney particularly enjoyed picking strawberries in Red Hill too.
Panda is a place that feels as if it is calling out to you as you pass. Across the road is a beautiful calm bayside beach called Blairgowrie, that at this time of the year is pristine, with clear blue shallow water. Panda is on a corner after the main village, with green grass meeting an alfresco area of a white building that metaphorically says beach all over it.
We had a light dinner with some prawns from the specials, and shared a cheese burger. The burger was delicious, almost surprisingly so, with plenty of pickles and the right amount of sauce, in a brioche bun, with a nicely charred juicy meat pattie. The prawns were tasty too, with a salsa verde, and a thoughtful garnish salad.
What made Panda even better was the service. From the initial greeting at a busy venue, throughout our meal, to the end, the staff really were enjoying their shift. It was so great we had to comment on it, and we realise it is something you shouldn’t take for granted when it is above and beyond like that.
We haven’t been to T’Gallant together, and the last time we had been separately was several years ago. Personally, I feel it is a bit simple to go to a winery for pizza when there are so many other options. With our little boy, we couldn’t be too choosy, and in the end we have a new take on T’Gallant.
Again, the welcome, and accommodating nature of the front of house, made an enormous difference. We didn’t have a booking so we were quite happy to continue on if the winery was full. They went out of their way to make us comfortable, allowing us to choose which table out of the couple that were left.
The set-up here has changed over the years and it is perfect now. There are views to the vineyard and plenty of shady umbrellas, which was necessary on this hot day. The grounds are good looking and well kept. The pizzas are rectangular and I must say huge! You can order “half and half” and the whole translates into a very large board. Quality is maintained even with the large size. It might not be D.O.C. quality, but it is the next best thing, and the wines such as the Pinot Gris are excellent for their style.
One quality you need with a little energetic boy is patience. The same is required for many of the T’Gallant staff. I realise this is a very tough time for restaurants with much of the workforce having left Australia for their own homelands. But we did see some bickering amongst staff, and we did overhear one had been there since school (for over 5 years), but that didn’t make her any more attentive than the rest. You basically had to run after someone to order (and we did, twice). If you are here for a quick lunch order immediately once seated, or just hold your breath and be patient.
I’ve written before about places that we go back to, and how it is an immediate sign we really like a restaurant, because often our preference is to try something new. At Donna Maria we enjoyed the food enough that Catherine was back with her Mum, and sister Steph, only a couple of weeks later.
There are several distinct areas to sit and having started dinner early, we enjoyed sitting on the veranda facing the street, feeling the final rays of the sun for the day. Sydney was not in his best form tonight, so dinner was a little difficult, but the staff were great and they ignored the commotion very politely indeed.
To begin we shared the Capresse salad and the special truffled arancini. The generosity of the key ingredients, and the quality of the mozzarella, made this simple salad something to behold. Equally impactful, but with a lot more richness, was the arancini. For main we shared a serve of the crab pasta. Again, this was outstanding, with quality al dente pasta, plenty of crab, and the right amount of crumb to provide texture, but not overpower the star ingredients.
Given our unfolding situation in the highchair (we had to bring one by the way) we took away a serve of tiramisu for dessert. It is a very nice rendition of this Italian classic, and enough for the entire population of one of the neighbouring islands to enjoy! We bid arrivederci to Donna Maria, but Catherine would be back soon after to enjoy another great meal.
Despite a little confusion between finding The Little Kitchen, and The Kitchen, we found the actual cafe on a dreary Australia Day morning. The Little Kitchen is charming as a take away joint, with apparently excellent options across the board, but the outside is not comfortable for a family on a rainy day with no high chairs available either. Gladly we realised we were not where we planned just before ordering!
The Kitchen Bistro, Bar & Courtyard on the other hand is equally very busy this morning, but far more comfortable, as the main cafe / restaurant of the two sister eateries. On the other side of the main road, but close to the beach at Tootgarook, it has plenty of space inside and out, but we took the indoors option given the occasional showers.
The coffee is great, and the egg & bacon breakfast burger is full of flavour – the perfect start to a day that would lead to the Balnarring picnic races. We even got a taste of Sydney’s kids breakfast “The Smashy” which was pretty good.
In an area rich of options, Nordie has the right balance to satisfy a diverse cafe crowd. On this bright and sunny day, the back courtyard is the perfect setting, but the interior is almost as inviting.
The dishes from the kitchen are attractive and tasty, with my Red Hill Rosti Benedict beautifully composed. While not as attractive, Catherine really enjoyed her smoked salmon bagel, and Sydney enjoyed his fruit toast and jam. The coffee is good too.
I quite like the idea of starting off at Nordie before a few cellar door visits, and then perhaps a late winery lunch. It was a very nice way to end our trip down to Rye, enjoying some Arthur’s Seat views on the way back down to the freeway.
Some takeaway options
Johnny Ripe, Main Ridge – while we have actually dined here before for lunch in the outdoor courtyard, lately we have been taking food away from Johnny Ripe like it is going out of fashion! The vanilla slices are special (you can get them a few other places too, like the Blairgowrie IGA), the lasagne is exceptional value (and delicious), and the pies and sausage rolls are terrific. A great option on a nice day is to take your own picnic blanket to eat on the expansive lawn, or stock up on provisions for your next trip on the Peninsula.
Cornell Seafood, Blairgowrie – we ordered a few serves of snapper, a Greek salad and minimum chips, and we were happy with our dinner.
16 Beach General Store, Rye – on the ocean side, this cafe has a terrific business going for a small general store, smashing out hundreds of coffees a day. They are friendly and have a lot of nice options packed into a tiny space, but the coffee (and chai) is a real winner.