Thursday, April 24, 2014

North East Victoria - World's Longest Lunch, Taste of Rutherglen, El Dorado Moving Feast

I live in this big brown land called Australia, and I'm only starting to see how diverse and wonderful so many places are. Through this food blog that I started on the insistence of my friend Kevin, I've managed to be invited to all sorts of wonderful places that I would never have dreamed of going myself initially. But since going on those invited trips, I have been back to all those places and I really enjoy getting away from the city for a short break nowadays. I used to question why people would go out to rural towns when the city has everything, but now I'm slow starting to understand the allure. Rural getaways provide a level of peace, serenity and just a slower pace that city living doesn't always afford you. It's not often that I look up at the stars or just sit and watch a sunset, but when I'm away on rural getaways, I find myself doing all these things and marveling at just how pretty this country is. If you think what I've just written sounds too cliche and rather romanticised, I think you've yet to experience a relaxing getaway. I highly recommend you change that and book yourself a trip, maybe to North East Victoria for instance.

Once again, through this blog, I have been lucky enough to be invited by Tourism North East to experience some of North East Victoria during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, where a number of events were occurring. I got to go together with my fellow Cake Squad member Michele. We were ready to enjoy ourselves while at the same time taking it easy.

Our journey started with a commute from Melbourne to Wahgunyah (on the outskirts of Rutherglen) at St Leonards Winery for the High Country's World's Longest Lunch. From Melbourne to Rutherglen is about a 3.5 hour drive, or 4 hours if you're me as you need to make multiple pit stops. It's probably bordering on being a bit too hard to do in one day so I'd recommend staying for the night.

Lunch for the High Country's World's Longest Lunch was to be prepared by four restaurants from the area. The menu read beautifully and we were really excited to try everything.

Slow braised pork terrine & spiced blood plum jelly
by Nikki Kennedy, Dal Zotto Trattoria – King Valley
Dalzotto Winery Rosatto 2013 & Baileys of Glenrowan Winery Frontignac 2013

Slow cooked porterhouse, salad of local vegetables & nuts with a Beechworth honey mustard dressing
by Kin San, Alfresco Dining Restaurant – Alpine Valley
Chrismont Winery Petit Manseng 2011 & Feathertop Winery Vermentino 2103

All Saints Winery Estate lamb, slow cooked lamb shoulder, roast saddle, shallot puree, Gooramadda olive oil
by Simon Arkless, ‘one chefs hat’ Terrace Restaurant - Wahgunyah
St Leonards Winery Shiraz 2010 & Brokenwood Winery Nebbiolo 2012

Roasted plums, ganache (Bright Chocolate 72% Equador), miso cream, dehydrated chocolate mousse (Bright Chocolate 72% Madagascan)
by Michael Ryan, ‘two chefs hat’ The Provenance Restaurant - Beechworth
Pfeiffer Winery Late Harvest Muscadelle 2006 & All Saints Estate Rutherglen Muscat NV

In terms of the food, I enjoyed the terrine and it was a solid start. Things really kicked up a gear with my dish of the day with the slow cooked porterhouse with the honey mustard dressing. Kin San really outdid himself with the sous vide pork and the combination of flavours he achieved in that dish. He was also a delight when he was speaking about his dish, such humility and accidental laughter. The lamb dish again made me sit up and notice how wonderful lamb can taste, with the shoulder cut being my preferred part over the saddle. Lastly, we got to meet Twitter food royalty in Michael Ryan and taste his really delicious dessert. I'm not a huge fan of chocolate desserts generally as they tend to be quite boring, but this chocolate dessert was stunning. So many textures of chocolate and the miso cream was a real winner.

The settings in which we had the meal was superb, so relaxing and beautiful. The wait staff at St Leonards were top notch, and they even moved the tables into the shade for us half way through the meal as it was quite a hot day. Now that's service. The fun meal ended on a massive high when there was a rolling contest down the hill which resulted in free wine being distributed. Overall, a most awesome meal that I'd go back to for sure.

After a very fun, delicious and filling lunch, Michele and I went to our accommodation in El Dorado, Yellow Cottage. Yellow Cottage is owned by Don and Vera, who seems to be on every committee in town and are also active garlic purveyors. That explains the whole shed of the most beautiful and fragrant purple garlic in the backyard of the cottage. Initially I was wondering what was going on and half expected some vampires to pop up. I've tasted the garlic as they gave us some and it is the best garlic I've personally eaten. So fragrant without that sharp bite to it. If you stay at the cottage, make sure to buy some garlic from Don. You won't be sorry.

The cottage itself, was a small self contained accommodation, nicely furnished with two rooms that can sleep 4 people, so perfect for a group of friends or a family. There are comfy beds and a fully equipped kitchen, where we cooked our one and only meal of Indomee as we ate so much on the rest of the trip. The lounge room had some relaxing couches and a large dining table and a TV if you want to watch something. The surrounding areas are really vast and so beautifully photogenic. There were so many things to look, touch, feel, eat. There were peaches, pomegranates, figs, garlic, rosemary and a vista of the sunset that will keep you entranced for a while. I hope I've managed to capture some of that beauty on film.

On Day 2, we started the day by participating in the Taste of Rutherglen festival. It's basically like Taste of Melbourne, but spread out amongst different wineries. You buy a glass and some vouchers and then off you go, heading to whichever places you want to redeem a glass of wine and a dish they were serving.

Michele and I studied the provided map carefully and worked out an itinerary that helped us eat all the things we wanted but also fairly close so we weren't driving huge distances as we would rather relax. In the end, we chose the six places below and their dishes.

Lake Moodemere Winery
Estate grown lamb, slow cooked and served with pepperonata, faro salad, capsicums sott’olio, rocket, and a caper and olive dressing.
Wine match: 2012 Hazard Shiraz

Cofield Winery
Succulent slow cooked beef cheek with a roast carrot & avocado salad, citrus, caraway & chilli.
Wine match: Sparkling Shiraz

Pfeiffer Winery
BBQ butterflied leg of lamb, blackcurrant dressing, faro and mint salad and organic leaves.
Wine match: 2012 Pfeiffer Merlot

Valhalla Winery
A pulled and pressed Murray Valley pork belly terrine simmered with aromats, stock, fresh herbs and wine accompanied by pickled blood plums, dressed greens and crusty Milawa bread.
Wine match: 2012 Grenache Shiraz Mourvdre

Campbells Winery
The King River Cafe spiced pork belly with fennel & marmalade set on a braised ratatouille with grilled scallops and rocket.
Wine match: 2012 Viognier

Scion Winery
Hazelnut affogato (Gundowring hazelnut ice-cream drowned with fresh espresso coffee and roasted Mt Buffalo hazelnuts) and Renaissance Chocolates’ luxurious dark chocolate brownie.
Wine match: 2012 After Dark (Durif)

The wineries in the area of Rutherglen are so varied in size, appearance, atmosphere and the wines and food they serve. Each had it's own unique charm but there were some standouts for me. In terms of appearance, I loved the Campbell's winery the most. It definitely had the best vibe for me and the jazz band playing also helped. In terms of the best food, I loved the Lake Moodemere lamb with that yummy pepperonata, the Valhalla Winery terrine which was perfectly balanced in flavour and the Scion Winery affogato and brownie combo was stunning. In terms of wines, I liked the Valhalla Grenache Shiraz Mourvdre, really liked the Campbells Viognier and liked the Scion Durif. Not every dish of food and wine match was perfect, but overall it was really good and a great way to spend a really fun day. There was live music at many of the sites and the guy singing at Valhalla wines had Michele I singing along and really enjoying ourselves for quite a while.

We went from the Taste of Rutherglen directly (almost directly, we did go have a shower first to be presentable) to the El Dorado Moving Feast. The feast was a moving meal where we had a course in a different location. The rain spoiled what was already a great meal as we didn't get to eat in an orchard, or atop a hill overlooking the lake and the Dredge but what can you do about rain. I'm amazed at how they managed to change the locations so quickly so that the feast went ahead uninterrupted. This year was the first year the feast was held, under the umbrella of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. The amazing Sandy and her team helped to make it all happen. It was such a great event and I really hope that they can hold it again next year, and hopefully in the orchards and on the hilltop this time.

The food at the feast was catered by Cate Hardman, using local ingredients for everything. For me, the canapes were amazing and really as good most restaurants canapes I've had at many events. The mains were solid, albeit not at the same amazing level of the canapes. And desserts were really good, with the dacquoise a real crowd pleaser served on a massive platter where you helped yourself. I *may* have gone back for seconds on that dessert.

As I mentioned, I really loved the canapes and also that part of the meal best. It was before the rain came and we experienced the feast as it was intended. We were all outside the local pottery studio and eating and drinking and enjoying the weather. The two Bens from Beechworth Cider and Bridge Road Breweries made sure we were all hydrated with beers the whole time. I also loved the inclusion of the Archer's Aim. Basically we all got to shoot some arrows at some target, with the person scoring the most points winning some wine. OK, so letting people drink and shoot is *maybe* not the best idea, but it was still early in the night so no one was heavily intoxicated and the team at Archers Aim made sure everything was safe. I'm happy to report that I actually hit the target twice with two of my three arrows, and with my third arrow I was getting rather cocky and hit my own arm with it, leaving a nice bruise. The archery Gods have spoken.

Goats Curd Tartlet, Burst Cherry Tomato, Thyme Oil
Organic Egg, Hot Smoked Trout, Radish and Fennel
Dolmades, Almonds, Currants, Saffron Labne
Organic Beef Tartare, Lemon, Creamed Garlic, Spelt Bread
Beechworth Cider
Bridge Road Brewery Golden Ale

Mains were served in the local hall as it had rained by this point. It was still lots of fun as our MC/tour guide/entertainer Paris was not only super funny, but had the most sensational voice. If he was 20 years younger, he could easily win X-Factor. One song he sung was Nessum Dorma and he hit THE note in his full voice, not in falsetto. It was utterly spine tingling stuff. Paris also massaged my head, so I have fond memories of him. The food was on shared plates and we helped ourselves to as much or as little as we wanted. I met some great people around me and we've even made plans to catch up again.

Grilled Harrietville Trout Fillet, Rhubarb, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
Bayleaf scented slow cooked Rutherglen lamb, spiced cherries
Pumpkin, black olive and rocket rustica tart
Warm roasted local vegetables, spinach leaves
Mt Pilot Estate Wines 2012 Viognier Chardonnay
Mt Pilot Estate Wines 2012 Shiraz

El Dorado Road 2013 Nero D'Avola

For the desserts course, we moved to the local museum. So we got to look at all the old heirlooms from the region while tucking into a host of goodies. I made sure I sampled everything and also had a bit of the Muscat.

Chestnut honey spice cakes, rosemary syrup
Caramlised orange and chocolate dacquoise
Lemon curd and fennel seed tarts
Amulet Vineyard Red Bollicine
Baileys of Glenrowan Muscat

Dumbo Feather Coffee

All in all, the feast was an absolute triumph and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I sincerely hope it can happen again next year as it would be such a shame to not have the full vision of this year put into effect.

On our last morning, Michele and I went and walked the El Dorado hiking track to see the suspension bridge. It was nice out there while we absorbed in the fresh air and took lots of photos. It was a great trip and I was really surprised by the high level of the food and wines and we only scratched the surface of places to visit and eat at. The North East Victoria area has a lot to offer and I can't wait to go back to see more of it. I'd love to thank everyone who has hosted me on this trip and especially Sally Brown from Tourism North East who helped organise it all.

I attended this trip courtesy of Tourism North East and all the other companies and people who hosted me on this trip.


  1. Some great photos there modest Do. Can't wait to do it all again next month! :D

  2. Really nice pictures T.Do. Clap clap.