Frank and Connie’s Kitchen – Hepburn Springs – Sunday 1 January 2017 – Dinner

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Lamb ribs with chimichurri

New Year’s Day started much like many other years when you enjoy a few drinks to celebrate the beginning of a new year. In fact, Catherine had to cancel poached eggs and Istra bacon at Lake House! Somehow I managed to enjoy mine, went for a quick run later in the day, and encouraged her to venture out to try Frank and Connie’s Kitchen in Hepburn Springs.

The night before we had been lucky enough to sit next to owner and head chef, Caliopi, and her other half who works the floor, Abby. Hearing about the newly started venture we wanted to try for ourselves, and having some excellent (and familiar) restaurants on the CV, there was little doubt changing our original plans was a good idea.

A stone’s throw from Daylesford, Hepburn Springs has plenty to offer with quality accommodation and a growing quality of eateries, with Frank and Connie’s a testament to this. The restaurant is homely, with a very open kitchen overlooking a small number of tables inside and out. The comfortable feel translates to the menu, which focusses on good quality ingredients, big on flavour, but not over-embellished.

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Southern fried chicken with coleslaw and relish

Having been recommended the lamb ribs the previous night we had already locked them in, and also ordered the fried southern chicken wings, and sides of roasted potatoes and a leafy salad. The lamb ribs duly arrived first, along with a chimichurri sauce. The punch of flavour in both the slowly cooked ribs, and green sauce, make for a classic combination that is done beautifully.

The wings are simply presented like the ribs, but are also packed with flavour in the crumb and are well cooked. The coleslaw is generous, and between those two aspects and the relish, there is a growing but pleasant heat. The roasted potatoes are delicious and certainly their inclusion on the menu is not as a filler, or an afterthought – they are a great dish in themselves. We were too full for dessert, but took the “Nana’s biscuits” home and were glad we did!

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Roasted potatoes

The fact that Frank and Connie’s is growing a great reputation is not surprising in the least. The food has the depth of flavour that only experience can achieve, served by surprisingly ‘with-it’ staff considering it is New Year’s Day, at very reasonable prices. The wine list is influenced by France, with a good spectrum of locals too, providing interesting drinking.

This is the type of place that must have locals thanking their lucky stars. There is a good chance they’ll be competing with plenty of spa country tourists going forward though. Given the restaurant is almost full early this evening we will be making a booking when we next visit!

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Oakridge – Yarra Valley – Thursday 15 December 2016 – Lunch

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A few weeks ago, a group of us visited Rochford Winery for their “A Day On The Green” which involves a casual Saturday on the lawn in the beautiful Yarra Valley watching great bands. As I drove towards Oakridge Winery our main concern from that day was answered – the stage is kept broadly intact between gigs!

That was a momentous day, but today is no less momentous. I have my Mum in town and I’ve finally secured a lunch booking at Oakridge. In recent times, Matt Stone has stamped his class on this heavenly patch on Maroondah Highway near Healesville. The long, glass dominant, streamlined building, with more than a flourish of red making it stand out from the leafy vines, is impressive.

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Like most wine regions, the Yarra Valley is full of excitement. There are some glorious vineyards, the quality of restaurants is continually growing, and the area is bordered by green hilltops and mountains. On days other than today, it takes only a little over an hour to get here, but alas, there are roadworks galore today.

One of the great things about winery restaurants is the ability to make the most of the view. Being outside the city means there is less expense for an incredible fitout, and the abundance of land available means any shape can be used that accommodates the scene. Here the long rectangular building runs lengthwise to one of the vineyard blocks. From my vantage point I can see right down between the trellises down to the irrigation lake. It is gorgeous.

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Another great thing is the incredible wines on offer. Usually back vintages are available, along with the reserve styles, often at no real mark-up. Here is no exception with the 864 (Reserve) Pinot Noir available by the glass, and a 2009 Chardonnay also by the glass. To begin the Chardonnay is surprisingly fresh for a seven year old, made in a high quality fashion, with great subtlety and softness.

It combines well with my entrée of pastry with caraway seeds sitting alongside a medley of ocean trout, thinly sliced vegetables, dill and caviar. The presentation is immaculate, but surprising, with the pastry completely separate. Keeping it separated does assist with the texture, each bite crisp, softened by the fresh trout cream, and complimented by the other fresh ingredients.

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While first course was lovely, I had high hopes for the dry aged duck breast. Here, again, the presentation is simple and inviting. The duck breast is beautifully cooked, adorned by a delicious sauce, and classically matched with beetroot and berries. It is the type of duck dish that you would use to convert a non-believer. Expertly prepared, but not confronting.

The 864 Pinot is ridiculously good, especially when enjoyed alongside the duck. The whole cliché of duck and pinot is one of the best clichés in my book. The pinot noir fruit from nearby higher altitude Yarra vines is exceptionally made into a quality wine, but it is costly as a result.

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Mum also enjoyed the wines and her couple of courses. She began with the Spring vegetable tart, and while it sounded simple, the staff said it is a great dish to try. They were not wrong, with a novel composition of flat (but flakey) pastry topped with fresh cheese, vegetables and leaves. As pretty as it is a nod to the produce available in the valley.

It is always a point of difference when the main courses are even better than the entrees. For a time I was often ordering two entrees because mains were used more to fill an appetite and less to provide interest, and show technique. That has changed at more and more restaurants. Here, Mum’s lamb was not just beautifully roasted, but was presented with flair, the croutons providing texture, and the puree depth.

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The service we received was nice, without being a talking point. Later in the meal we found the sommelier to have excellent knowledge of the wines and the vineyard, as you would hope for, and his explanations to some of our questions provided the cream on top of this fantastic experience.

Driving away from Oakridge was hard. We had enjoyed a fabulous lunch but found some late afternoon traffic back into Melbourne that was pre-Christmas crazy! Luckily the driving had been more than worth the effort. Dining at Oakridge is memorable for many reasons – if only we had time to get out to the Yarra more often.

Oakridge Wines Cellar Door and Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato