There are not many ways more wondrous to while away a wintery day in Victoria than to wine and dine at the Lake House restaurant. Inextricably linked to Daylesford – which it undoubtedly helped put on the map – the Lake House is the Wolf-Taskers' enduring masterpiece that spearheaded the farm-to-table movement several decades ago, and which continues to assert its dominance in an ever-expanding landscape of regional fine diners.
We arriving on a bone-chilling, six-degree afternoon, the cracking fires, plush couches, and busy bookshelves filled with treasures and trinkets in the Argyle Library bar at the entrance to the Lake House, feel like a warm and welcome embrace. One can’t help but imagine that this must be what the Wolf-Taskers' living room feels like.
The dining room is all crisp white tablecloths and plush carpets. Coats are taken, napkins are laid on laps. Knowledgeable and diligent, formally dressed waitstaff, enthusiastically guide us through the menu. The sparkling rosé produced by Cope Williams for the Lake House, enjoyed alongside a few memorable Merimbula oysters to start, proves to be an excellent choice from an intimidating 42-page wine list. While you expect nothing less, it still stirs a smugness within to be treated to such luxury; perhaps even more beguiling in a post-lockdown world.
As we deliberate over the menu, and take in the personal recommendations and amusing anecdotes from the waitstaff, we get the sense that the rest of the world could end, and the Wolf-Taskers and their team could carry on. Such is the sustainable nature of their operation with their Dairy Flat Farm just ten minutes down the road, abundant with five acres of productive vegetable gardens, olive groves, an orchard of 300 trees, a vineyard and a bake house. We should all strive to be so self-sufficient.
The winter four-course set menu, created by culinary director Alla Wolf-Tasker and head chef Brendan Walsh, is built around the seasonal produce cultivated at the farm – in some instances being harvested that very morning. Such is the focus on, and deep respect for their farm-fresh produce, that the plant-based dishes that pop up as an option for each course are termed the “the art of the vegetable”.
Our difficult decisions locked in, the chicken liver parfait arrives as two spheres coated in a deep cherry-red Madeira glaze, with sliced red grapes, shallot cream, and marbles of lolly-like plum gel, gracing the edge of an enormous white plate. The glazed, caramelised brioche, is its perfect, pillowy partner. Not only is the parfait the standout of the first course, but it is one of the best dishes of the day.
The glazed Murray cod for the second course soars to the star quality standard set by the first. Turnip and caramelised koji cream, white miso and a viscous mirin sauce poured tableside match the cod in delicacy and sweetness, and hark to the subtle Japanese influence evident in a handful of the dishes on the winter menu. The “art of the vegetable” second course option, a slow-cooked duck egg yolk with local mushrooms, truffle, and a bemusing crouton sauce, is opulent and lush; a dish not for the faint of heart.
Taking a breather between courses, we pop out to the balcony overlooking the lake, and breathe in a magnificent view. The fresh country air and the picturesque surroundings feel like a therapeutic antidote to the pent-up stress of the past few pandemic years.
For the main event, the special of the day, a confit ocean trout lightly pan seared with colourful cauliflower florets, proves not only a joy to look at, but a light, refreshing change of pace. The playful and tangy roe and finger lime sauce bursts, like sophisticated popping candy, with every bite. In stark contrast, the Black Berkshire pork main is a power-punch of richness. While the pervading sweetness found across the pork glaze, the onion Soubise and the mustard jus is partially offset by the bitter confit swede, an acidic element would have really rounded out this dish. Luckily, the Lome for Lake House Shiraz, is a sturdy match, heftily holding its own against the porky plate. The four courses are plentiful themselves, but we wouldn’t go back for the sides, with the triple-cooked potatoes not delivering on crunch or flavour.
The season’s signature dessert, an Blumenthalian trick of a realistic-looking green apple perched on a nest of brick pastry and tiny apple cubes (so tantalisingly tart they still make our mouths pucker) is a vanilla-y and vivacious way to round out the four courses.
You feel as if everyone has gone above and beyond to elevate your experience at the Lake House. The kitchen team in particular treat their diners to considered and playful extras along the way, such as a kangaroo sausage roll to start and a surprise pumpkin cannolo served alongside the “art of the vegetable” first course. And of course, the irresistible petit fours that you somehow make room for even when you just said you couldn’t possibly eat one more thing (the miniature black sesame madeleine being one of the best bites of the day). It’s these kinds of special touches and generous add-ons that make forking out a fair sum for a meal a lot easier to swallow.
It's clear why the Lake House has continued to hold its place not only on prestigious awards and titles lists but also in the hearts of Victorians, for so many years. It consistently ticks all the boxes that somehow so many others seem to miss: impeccable service, which only serves to enhance the dining experience; a sophisticated yet approachable atmosphere; an expertly crafted menu of inventive dishes; deep respect for produce of the highest quality; and most importantly, beautiful and undeniably delicious food.