Ten Minutes By Tractor – Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula – May 2017 – Lunch

Catherine, and her Mum, Sandra, in the garden

Is it possible to feel like a regular when your second visit to a restaurant is eight years apart? Perhaps that is a KPI for Ten Minutes By Tractor. Without any facade, the staff have you feeling completely at ease in an instant.

Looking around the room, the recent renovation has been nicely undertaken, not making a big statement but certainly leaving a very comfortable dining room to spend three hours over lunch. The seats in particular are the perfect choice, both well designed, and like your favourite couch. As you can imagine, there is plenty of emphasis in having a good view of the vines in this beautiful part of the world.

Notwithstanding first class service, and a terrific newly renovated dining room, I want to talk about one dish. Offal has never been the flavour of the month. It has been lauded for reason over a long time, but has never escalated to the heights of true popularity. Perhaps it never will be. When you look at a “balanced” restaurant menu you would ordinarily expect certain main star ingredients, some choice of secondary stars, and then something surprising. I’m afraid while beef, chicken, and fish take that staring role, offal has always been kept to the “surprise” meaning it gets a gig only on occasion.

Veal sweetbreads, mushrooms, charred baby leeks, chestnuts

While livers take the cake, sweetbreads (which actually sound like a cake) must be the second most unsexy ingredient going around. I mean they actually gave them a name that tries to confuse the customer into having a go! Ten Minutes By Tractor are serving veal sweetbreads for entree, and like a kid in a candy shop, I’m excited. To serve offal, you need to honour the flavour, but present it looking delicious (in spite of itself) and with complimentary accompaniments (more than other dishes).

Slow cooked goat, beetroot pasta, pickled beetroots, Main Ridge caprinella goats’ cheese

That is why I’m focussing on this dish. It came out on a black plate, showing off fabulous presentation skills of the chefs, but not hiding the sweetbreads, and actually highlighting them. The visual sear on the sweetbreads translates to the taste. Soft but deep gaminess, cooked in balance, and enhanced with the sauce and complimentary earthy mushrooms. I was not completely sold on the chestnuts in the dish, but this was close to perfection.

Cauliflower and mushroom, mushroom and cauliflower royal, black pearl barley

There are some choices to be made on the menu with a tasting menu, and a prix fixe option of two or three courses. We chose to have three courses ($99). It is best to not have any plans following the meal, with an amuse to begin, and a pre-dessert, making for a long and enjoyable meal. As well as having the sweetbreads, there is good diversity in the menu. Catherine’s Mum Sandra tried the roasted cauliflower to start. With a variety of mushrooms, a flavoursome theme on the menu, black pearl barley, and a “mushroom and cauliflower royal”, this is a nicely executed vegetarian dish. For her entree, Catherine opted for the slow cooked goat with beetroot pasta, pickled beetroot and goat’s cheese. Again, presentation is superb, and backed up by the taste.

Smoked breast of Great Ocean Road duck, mushrooms, celeriac, walnut crunch

Not easily put off by rich gamey dishes, next I was trying the smoked breast of Great Ocean Road duck. The duck was nicely cooked, and as I got further into the dish, the sweet walnut crunch dulled, starting to combine and balance the richer flavours of the mushrooms and celeriac. Both Catherine, and Sandra, tried the roasted hapuka which is a fish I’ve always loved. Here it is cooked with skill, and combined with both a persillade (mainly parsley) and lovage puree. The cauliflower is thinly sliced on top and it all makes for a delicious dish.

Roasted hapuka, lovage puree, heritage cauliflower, persillade

There is some serious flair here. A meal is more than a simple three courses. When the blood orange sorbet refresher comes out we know we are being spoilt. The flavours are as intense as you would like for a refreshing, but indulgent, interlude between mains and dessert. Then there is dessert itself. The colours, textures, tastes, and look of these dishes shows why it is a good idea to limit options on a menu. Make every dish exceptional and choice is not so important. Probably the only critique is the length of time it took for dessert to come out, meaning my 3.30pm conference call was a bit of a rush.

Poached pear, cashmere ice cream, candied chestnuts, slow roasted grapes

Michel Cluizel chocolate pave, cassis mousse, beetroot and creme fraiche ice cream, chocolate cake

Poached estate quince, candied ginger, sable, verjuice gel

Sandra’s came with the classic acknowledgement of a special day, but the combination was hard to beat. Quince from out the back seems healthy enough, but when combined with the sponge, crisps, gels and sorbets it is something else! My chocolate everything with cassis was its equal on the richer side. I’ve never rated food based on size, but this was a classic dish for sharing. Then there was Catherine’s poached pears which is not as popular as a few decades ago, but is a classic for a reason. Modern desserts have similar balance, texture and composition, but they don’t get much better than these.

Blood orange sorbet

I knew Ten Minutes By Tractor was a great place to dine. Though it had been several years since I’d had the experience first hand. At this stage of the day, albeit running out for a work call, I couldn’t quite believe how good today’s lunch actually was. It is still sinking in.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Port Phillip Estate – Red Hill, Victoria – Monday 8 June 2015 – Lunch

Barbara pumpkin angolotti, lemon, Amaretto, sage

Barbara pumpkin angolotti, lemon, Amaretto, sage

The first time I walked into Port Phillip Estate I was stunned with the modern architecture. It stood out from the rest of the more rustic, traditional, Red Hill wineries at the time. While it created a trend in the area, it is still unique in its scale.

That day was not the day for fine dining but inspired me to one day return and enjoy the incredible view over lunch. Years have passed, but several positive reviews illustrated the dining room had settled into a high performance groove. I was eager to say the least to have a try for myself.

Pan seared scallops, lentil salad, parsnip puree, bitter leaves

Pan seared scallops, lentil salad, parsnip puree, bitter leaves

It is not cheap to eat in the dining room, especially on a public holiday, with a prix fixe for two or three courses. Thankfully there are many exciting options, and the descriptions of the food have the potential to live up to the expense. Catherine and I both order the Kooyong flagship Chardonnay (the Farrago) which has only just begun to be offered on the menu by the glass. It is an elegant, high quality expression of a local vineyard that shares the cellar door with Port Phillip.

Aylesbury duck, organic beets, almond, quince, Earl Grey

Aylesbury duck, organic beets, almond, quince, Earl Grey

It is time to start eating and I have done an extremely gentlemanly gesture and ordered one of the two dishes that Catherine couldn’t choose between. The “Barbara pumpkin angolotti” consists of one large piece of al dente filled pasta, simple but delicious pumpkin, with balance to the creaminess provided by lemon, and a nice infusion from sage. Catherine was torn but ordered the pan seared scallops. Large, beautifully seared scallops, slightly translucent, are served with a lovely parsnip puree. The lentil salad seems an unusual accompaniment but it works alongside the bitter leaves which are a more regular compliment.

After a terrific start, our main courses took it up a notch. My Aylesbury duck, the breast in particular, was incredibly well cooked. The beetroot sauce combining with the duck like a classic should, and the quince providing the slight sweetness that is so well married to game. Presentation stood out, but the taste was an escalation.

Catherine was taken by the sound of the ricotta salata gnocchi. Another delightfully presented meal, with the puree of Chanteney carrots a highlight on the plate in more ways than one. Everything worked nicely together with the gnocchi. There is a great deal of thought that has gone into each of the elements.

Ricotta salata gnocchi, roasted Chantenay, barley, nettle vinaigrette

Ricotta salata gnocchi, roasted Chantenay, barley, nettle vinaigrette

Normally after such tremendous savoury courses you could forgive the desserts not being as intricate or well thought through. Forgiveness was not needed as I tasted my first mouthful of the roasted Red Hill figs, rice pudding infused with more fruit, and chunks of honeycomb. Huge on flavour and while rich, not a dessert that overcame me by the end with too much creaminess.

Caramelised honey panna cotta, poached estate quince, roast almond ice cream

Caramelised honey panna cotta, poached estate quince, roast almond ice cream

While enjoyable, the caramelised honey panna cotta probably missed the mark a touch on the star component which was presented in a flat circular dish, rather than in the usual pyramid form. It was set, but you couldn’t get the usual creamy mouthfeel from each taste. However, the poached quince was amazing, meaning a reconfiguration could be all that is needed to take the dish to the level we found in the rest of the menu.

Roasted Red Hill figs, aromatic rice, honeycomb

Roasted Red Hill figs, aromatic rice, honeycomb

Expectations are sometimes the most difficult element to meet. The food had well and truly exceeded my expectations even though Port Phillip Estate is recognised as one of the best on the Mornington Peninsula. The clean lines of the restaurant and amazing architecture naturally lead you to believe the service is going to be equally classy. It has many fine dining features, even including a small stool being brought out for Catherine’s bag.

While the maitre’d did an excellent job, and on more than one occasion pinch-hit for the floorstaff, it was not enough to overlook some of the oversights. When your waitperson has said more than twice “thank you for your patience” normally it is regarding the food. In this case the kitchen was keeping up with a three-quarter full restaurant on a public holiday, but our waitperson was not keeping up with the simple things. As an example, while we waited quite some time to order dessert, eventually Catherine had finished her sparking water, and the rest of which was in a bottle a little while away to keep the table uncluttered. We sat there for several minutes waiting for her to notice that we needed to order and/or have our water topped up but to little avail. The same happened with the bill and we actually took it up to the maitre’d on our exit. At these times when we patiently waited, our waitperson was on the floor clearing plates, or getting drinks for the larger tables; just not ours.

Service faults aside, we had an excellent meal. The food was fantastic and the view impeccable in this dining room that was purpose built for the surrounds. The experience here is exceptional whether for a day trip or while holidaying on the Peninsula.

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Gertrude Street Enoteca at Avani Winery for Gourmet Traveller – Sunday 4 January 2015 – Lunch

IMG_3251Earlier today my favourite magazine joined forces with an Enoteca I’ve known about for years, but had never experienced, in the glorious surrounds of Avani Winery. There is not much more euphoric settings for drinking great wine and eating great food than a winery!

This is part of a month long pop-up venture for Gertrude Street Enoteca which judging by the full house, is a fantastic idea. You buy your ticket in advance, and rock up to find the three course blackboard menu on offer for the day.

It’s a casual type of event, but as we know in Melbourne (and surrounds), fashion here is thankfully more of the shirt variety rather than the tank top. Everyone is well dressed including the many children (who are made to feel welcome), and the floorstaff too. While they too are casual, and have a relatively easy task today with only drink orders necessary, they do a nice job while still enjoying their day.

Mezze selection

Mezze selection

There’s a good vibe all round and this must flow out of the kitchen because everything we tasted was good to very good. To begin we had a selection of mezze. The highlight for me was the halloumi and zucchini fritter which combined the ingredients harmoniously. When adding the nice and thick tzatziki it had an even greater flavour kick. The marinated calamari was nice, but from a flavour perspective the salty kalamata and green olives, and the vinegary dolmades, had a bigger impact. The dolmades had a touch of sweetness through the rice with the addition of currants.

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Grilled chicken in ras el hanout, skordalia, cabbage and mint salad

I tried a glass of the Hindhirst* Riesling 2012 with the mezze and was impressed with the balance of fruit and acidity – a great food wine. For main I tried the Philip Pedley* Pinot Noir and again it worked well with the food. It isn’t as funky as some of the Pinot I go for, but there’s finesse and even some elegance.

The main course starred. Beautifully grilled chicken rubbed with ras el hanout which could be nicknamed razzle dazzle such was the flavour it provided when rubbed into the skin. It is in fact a North African spice mix that I’ve rarely seen but look forward to the next rendezvous. It was served with skordalia which is basically garlic mash potato Greek style with a texture like a Paris mash, maybe even thicker, and a cabbage and mint salad made like coleslaw. There was a little lemon to add some acidity too.
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Next was dessert but in the meantime one of the floorstaff offered a glass of the T’Gallant Muscat. It is a light enjoyable dessert wine. The torte to finish is delicious. Described as a German meringue with cream and berries, the especially gooey parts of the meringue are particularly amazing with the sweet cream and berries. While we had a good serving, we could easily go back for some more!
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Pop-up is not a new concept anymore, but when you change the setting of a great restaurant, to that of a beautiful winery, it is a concept that will never get less exciting. The floorstaff seem excited and the restaurant had the volume you associate with good times. What an afternoon in Red Hill!

* Apologies – yet to confirm exact names of the wines which I didn’t note down!

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