seriously impressed by the central goldfields area – in particular, Daylesford, Castlemaine and Hepburn Springs.
I took a couple of days out in the area. We began with lunch at Moor Please, a new venture for the ebullient and canny Jason Jones (also owns Prix Fixe, off Collins Street http://prixfixe.com.au/) and Joseph Abboud of Rumi and The Moor’s Head http://rumirestaurant.com.au/. It’s on the Daylesford-Hepburn Road, and does Middle-Eastern accented food, with pizza. Recommended dishes: the hummous with Tuki spiced lamb, the eggplant cooked with peppers and tomatoes, and the salad with burrata and tomatoes. Terrific lunch. Add a glass of beer (Lebanese, if you prefer) or wine, and coffee to follow. I thought the coffee was rather bitter, and found (too late) that there are lovely squares of Turkish delight available.
It’s closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and is open from morning to dinner on the other days.
That night we went to Lake House, which never fails to impress me. I’ve known it since it opened 30 years ago, and I love the way it has grown and expanded and turned into one of the most important hotel-restaurants in Victoria. The dining room is now white-painted, with big windows that look out on to the gardens, so the impression is of light and grace. Big trees, birds – including resident kookaburras – nothing too contrived. We had the degustation. I’m now wary of degustations – so many courses! so much explaining! – but this was about as good as I could have wished for, presented without distracting fanfare. A succession of dishes, flavours, textures, techniques, each building on the other, and very well matched wines. Some very clever combinations: the veal tartare with a bonito cream, which I thought was the cleverest and most delicious version of vitello tonnato. I love the details – the breads, the Salus mineral water (local, on-site even), the ease of the waiters, the range of the wine list. I love the feeling that a meal is a special occasion. It was that night. It will always be. http://www.lakehouse.com.au/
The next day, it was lunch at Castlemaine’s Public Inn, where one of the owners, Hayden Winch, started his professional life as a young waiter at Lake House. It was an old pub of no particular distinction, and a couple of years ago was reworked, renovated, and still kept its country pub identity. There’s a bar, a restaurant, a courtyard, which is wonderful in summer. It’s shaded, there are tables and places to lounge. The two-course lunch is great value. Mine turned out to be vegetarian, since I went for the non-meat options. First course was spiced cauliflower fritters with various sizes and shapes of beetroot, some goat’s cheese, broad beans,and tiny sorrel leaves. The main course of spelt risotto with kale and carrots, with a couple of fried artichokes – was particularly good – imaginative, satisfying. No photographs – risotto from any grain never looks gorgeous.
The a la carte menu is small, but cleverly chosen. The pub favorurites are there – steak, and fish and chips, along with duck, that spelt risotto, and so on. The fish and chips were as they should be: crunchy batter, moist fish, crisp chips, nice salad on the side.
Lots of local wines available, as well as beers and ciders.
Open daily. http://www.publicinn.com.au/