Update: We attended this venue in January 2019 and some details may have altered since then.
Winery dining is a bit of a ‘thing’ right now. You only have to look at all the young folk colonising tables at Pt Leo Estate and Tuck’s Ridge and Oakridge to realise there’s something in the water.
And the signs are that winery restaurants are following their demographic cues. Stuffy winery fine dining (you know, with the linen and Escoffier-style sauces) is going the way of the dinosaurs, replaced by food that gently interrogates the wine, food and terroir nexus.
Which brings us to Oakridge in the Yarra Valley. A typical architectural monument to mammon surrounded by sloping hills of vines and an impressive kitchen garden, it’s the home of some spectacular wines (hello, 864 Funder chardonnay) and a buzzing cellar door. But make sure you step inside to the broad-boned dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows afford David Attenborough-worthy views of galahs flitting past a magpie as it scoffs a worm lunch on the lawn. It’s no less locavore inside the kitchen thanks to the combined, non-hierarchical cheffing talents of Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, who have spent the past four years honing their location-sensitive craft into something approaching peak deliciousness.
Take the sourdough, made with biodynamic wheat Barrett mills each day. Her unwavering commitment to superior carbs is repaid in a caramel-crusted loaf served with the gentle tang of buttermilk curds from a small herd of Jersey cows who live nearby. It’s a not-so-humble start to a meal that covers plenty of bases (Euro, Asian, mod-Oz and all bases in between) but always keeps its feet on Valley ground.
Seize your chance to eat our national emblems. Gently peppery swatches of kangaroo salami need just a drizzle of fruity local olive oil to reach perfect appetiser status. Velvety cured emu tastes like gamey beef and gets sparked up with the citrus pop of the green ants hiding in a salsa verde. Going by this, predictions that insects going mainstream is not such a terrible prospect, especially when you add cultured cream and the umami hit of cured egg yolk into the equation.
More baking excellence materialises in the form of the snail-like whorls of a caraway croissant, the flaky handmaiden to smoked trout served with a kind of haute hedgerow salad and cultured cream. Smoked quail and lap cheong smashed into a farce and cooked inside the bird’s golden skin takes a gutsy Canto line, bedded alongside silken tofu and tiny yet punchy local shiitakes in an XO the kitchen makes with local trout trimmings instead of prawn heads in deference to Oakridge’s distance from the ocean. Finish with a Christmas pudding-y allspice ice-cream that will warm you all the way to the cockles – or gooey brie made in-house (thanks again to those Jersey cows) and old bread that Barrett pulps into a porridge and fries into giant pappadum-sized crackers. It’s a worthy afterlife for that best-in-show bread, and a gentle, zeitgeist-worthy interrogation not only of winery dining but of the way all restaurants should be looking to minimise waste while maximising taste. Young and old, we can all agree on that.