Oh I’d been before, day trips mostly while living in Melbourne a few years back. But this time felt different .. and I reckon it was more than just heightened senses on a weekend away without kids.
Such a short skip from Melbourne and long a go-to destination for beach side relaxation, Mornington Peninsula has in recent years become known for all manner of tasty little industries.
Sure there are wineries – loads of them, many award-winning names with Pinot and Chardonnay being the “known for” styles (lucky me; did I mention my cool climate Tasmanian roots?).
So many cellar doors, restaurants and cafes, dotted along main roads and tucked around bushland bends.
But what I really loved was the sense of Farm Gate; signposted from the road, up a gravel driveway, tucked around back – commercially run businesses set up alongside an orchard or an organics farm. It felt a bit like you were popping over to visit your cuz.
Pared back polish in a district that can be a little lavish. A sneak peak of earthy real.
I didn’t have a lot of time to really immerse in the stories, but I did get some good food and some good pics. I’ve included links to all the places I got to, just in case you get the opportunity and urge to go.
(Oh, in case you are wondering, this was not a sponsored trip/post).
Food On The Hill Cafe
A quick breakfast stop that was so incredibly worthwhile – the friands looked great but I went for the home made fruit loaf. It came as a thick wedge of moist, dense, ever-so-slightly crunchy-edged awesomeness, drizzled with a little maple syrup and fresh blueberries piled alongside. I will definitely attempt this one at home.
Main Ridge Dairy
I popped into Main Ridge Dairy for a taste of their handcrafted and award winning goat cheeses. It’s a welcoming space; they do cheese platters, tastings, tea and coffee, as well as having some interesting bits and pieces for sale. You can also see through into the rooms where cheeses are made and matured. I had a tasting plate, with a jar of the Red Hill Kitchen Quince Paste (sold separately) and green tea. I loved the delicate and teensy sweet curd ‘Cashmere’, as well as the more robust Normandy style Camembert ‘Cilia’ with it’s lightly blackened rind. The goats looked on; part curious, part bemused, but overall pretty happy with their lot.
This place was a real treat. The restaurant was closed for lunch on Saturdays, but you are welcome to eat on the lawn out front or there was also a park bench. The restaurant currently does a $65 per head fixed choice seasonal menu – BYO – which focuses on high quality seasonal produce cooked simply and well. Most of the produce used is grown on their property, from apples to eggs. The farm gate offers a range of pastries and salads, as well as home style sauces, relishes and pickles. I came away with some delicious looking sweetcorn pickles and a jar of homemade tomato sauce. The warm 3-bite-size apple pie I scoffed on the lawns. It was ridiculously good. Oh to have had time to dine here.
Red Hill Epicurian
I imagine it’s pretty hard to turn an old apple storage warehouse into a warm and intimate space, but they’ve done it at the Epicurian. So much on offer – from long table style seating to the small and close, from function rooms designed for dining or wine tasting; open kitchen with different serveries around the room including an open Wood Fired Pizza Oven area and a wine tasting section at rear that included Enomatic Wine Tasting options to sample some of the more premium wines of the region. I parked myself in the leather chairs by the fire and just soaked up the room. Loved it here.
Red Hill Kitchen
This was another amazing little farm gate business, with a classically trained chef at the helm of some pretty tasty looking pastries and preserves. A small little shopfront tucked at the back of a house and I wasn’t sure I had found it until I got up close. A small room, small commercial kitchen behind, and all pastries are rolled and made by hand. And it shows. Duck Confit or Rabbit Puttanesca pie anyone?
This is a small family owned vineyard, with Cellar Door, Restaurant, and Accommodation onsite, a picturesque and still lake at it’s heart. The family were one of the first to plant vines in the region (in 1982) and they have played a lead role in establishing the premium reputation of the wine producing region. You can read some reviews of their stable of wines here. Stillwater Restaurant won a Victoria Tourism Award in 2013 and has a beautiful outlook over the lake. We visited the warm and inviting Cellar Door as the Restaurant was booked that day for a wedding (vermillion red carpet being rolled out ready while we were there). We had also unsuccessfully tried for one of the Lakeside Villas for our stay; these are literally built out over a small lake and each include their own balcony and wood fire. So no surprises for us given our short notice. But its a must for next time.
We visited another well established winery Paringa Estate (1985) – also with a formidable reputation. You can read some reviews of their wine here. I couldn’t take my eyes of the amazing double trellised vines. Done, we are told, to help combat excessive leaf growth (and encourage fruit) in the face of such lush conditions. The ‘cellar door’ offers a polished tasting experience, set within the small, white cloth laden fine dining room. Wine tasting only for us on this visit, and it was a lovely experience in itself. But their restaurant also would be worth the trip, receiving a hat in the Age Good Food Guide this year. The floor to ceiling glass at one end gives an extraordinary view of sloping farmlands and hillside vines; a view that was breathtakingly beautiful. Pretty much summed up the whole trip.
3. Johnny Ripe