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Heading down to the Mornington Peninsula
Sitting in the Qantas Lounge before my recent trip to the Yarra Valley, I had time to read the latest edition of the Qantas in-flight magazine. I usually go straight to the restaurant reviews, looking for inspiration of some kind. I was in luck with the latest round of reviews as two of the featured restaurants were located in the areas we were about to visit.
The Innocent Bystander we visited one evening for dinner.
Everything is so close in the Yarra Valley, and seeing as though we are used to driving, the hour and a half drive down there was no big deal. We left Dixon’s Creek in the Yarra Valley and followed the East Link toll road down to Mornington. It was another gloomy, rainy, typical Melbourne morning. Our primary objective today was to have lunch at Ten Minutes by Tractor, the other restaurant that I read about.
But first, time for a stop at Mornington. The cold and rainy weather chased us indoors again, which wasn’t a bad thing as it allowed us to find another little cafe. I’m not quite sure about the name, but inside it was toasty, if not a little too squeezy.
Surrounded by a huge wine rack and overseeing the tiny kitchen, I thought I had better try the nutella doughnut that I had seen on the way in. It seems in Victoria and South Australia that the nutella doughnut is causing quite a sensation. The doughnuts have been so popular that the country had run out of nutella.
Oddly this isn’t the nicest thing I’d ever tasted but then I’m not a big nutella fan. The doughnut was good though, baked not fried. Washing it down with a superb hot chocolate, I’d probably had my sugar fix for the day.
After foregoing a stroll through the town due to the inclement weather, we were off to our lunch venue, via Martha’s Beach. It’s always worth a visit to a Victorian beach, if only for the little beach huts though, resembling those that you find in England. It was here the grey clouds disappeared and the third season of the day appeared.
But, let’s talk about lunch.
Where do I start. The venue is delightful. Set inland on the Mornington Peninsula, the restaurant sits on the top of a hill with magnificent views over the rolling green paddocks. I was quite taken by the quirky name, originating as they say from the fact that the vineyards that supply the grapes for regional wine are only ten minutes apart by tractor.
We were met at the door by the host and from that moment, the service didn’t wane. I’ve been lamenting of late the decline in customer service at cafes and restaurants, and the fact that those serving often fail to understand much about their own restaurant and the food they serve.
Whilst I don’t expect everything to be five star, it would be nice to be able to have a conversation about where the food comes from, or what something on a menu is, without the response being a non-committal “don’t know” (and sometimes “don’t care”).
Not so at this fine establishment. From the origins of the wine, to how it should be drunk, to explaining the menu, to telling us at every course what was on our plate as they served it, the level of detail was a welcome change.
As we sipped our Ten Minutes by Tractor Pino Grigio, I remembered back to my first time on the peninsula where I tried this blend of wine for the first time. I remember them saying that it was one of their specialities due to the cold climate. I also remember adding Pino Grigio to my list of wines I love and have enjoyed drinking it ever since.
Now the time for decisions…..do we have the degustation? Do we have the matched wines option as well? Or do we just settle for the stunning a la carte, with a choice of two or three courses. So many options and no expanding stomach to go with it. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that doughnut?
We settled on the two course a la carte. Now came the tough part. I could quite literally have ordered almost one of everything. Whilst we were going back and forth over the menu, our first opportunity came to sample something from the kitchen .
As you would expect, the bread rolls were homemade (and warm) and served with local olive oil, Murray River pink salt flakes and hand whipped butter, The butter had a delightful nutty taste throughout it. Absolutely delicious.
Spurred on by the arrival of the bread, our decisions for entree and main were made. It was time to get to see what the team of six or so out in the kitchen could surprise us with.
In the meantime, the staff on the floor did their absolute best to look after everyone in this small dining space, offering just enough attention when you needed it.
Amuse Bouche, another sign of amazing things to come, arrived in the form of a prawn croquette and a delicious spoon of celeriac, apple and proscuitto. I know these little nibbles of yum are meant to be a teaser, but it is times like this when you wish you had ordered ten entrees! All I can say is “keep ’em coming”
Entree is served
It’s not very often that in the midst of so many yummy alternatives that I select a vegetarian meal, but that’s what I did this time. I wasn’t disappointed. Actually, I spent most of the time wondering how they made the beetroot gnocchi. It was not at all what i had expected. I thought I would get potato gnocchi, flavoured with beetroot.
Not so. I don’t really even know how to describe the texture. Perhaps more like a jelly. I was so taken by it that I think it was the only question I didn’t ask our wonderful wait staff.
Working nicely alongside the gnocchi were an assortment of beetroot, celeriac, green beans, salsa verde and parmesan. My husband and I are always swapping meals and sharing in both food experiences, but I have to say this time I was a little reluctant. However, the plus side was that I also got to taste his delicious offering as well.
Quail. The tiny little bird that you order not to fill you up but to enjoy because it’s normally not something that you would cook at home. Not unless you are a sadist anyway and enjoy spending forever deboning them. This quail was accompanied by a rhubarb gel, kaiserfleisch, hazelnut and buckwheat polenta and a crispy quail egg.
Now for the main event
The first main to come out was my husband’s duck. We have a love affair with duck. Ever since eating duck cooked properly in France, we’ve been won over. We eat duck regularly at home but it’s still always enjoyable to eat duck that someone else has prepared as well.
This duck was roasted perfectly with crispy skin and sitting on a bed of delicately spiced red cabbage. If ever there’s a marriage made in heaven, it’s duck and red cabbage. Sweet potato, cider apples and a very tasty pepperberry jus brought the whole dish together. Now where’s that bread to mop up the jus!
And finally, my pork meal. I also love pork, and this dish offered it up in three ways. A croquette of soft, slow cooked pork shoulder, with smoked ham hock. Then a square of melt in your mouth pork belly, crispy on the outside. Finally, a moist piece of pork loin, all piled up on a parsnip puree, prune gel and broadbeans. How I love broadbeans.
And, as we continued to ooh and aah over these amazing meals, and thank our lucky stars that we’d read about this wonderful restaurant, out came the final piece of this magnificent food puzzle. The mignardises. Sort of like Amuse Bouche but after your meal has come to an end. I think my mind has become a little foggy now.
Perhaps it’s a food coma? I hope I don’t let these gorgeous little treats down by calling one of them a gin flavoured marshmallow and the other a little apple cake. An unexpected but equally sensational way of bringing such a great lunch to a close.
Would we come here again. You bet. I’d come back just to have the lovely gentleman at the door bring me my coat from the cloakroom that had clearly been warmed for us. What a way to treat your customers as though they are the most important people you’ll ever meet.
Well done Ten Minutes by Tractor. You are a standout in a sometimes mediocre eating environment. And while I’m at it, well done to the Mornington Peninsula as well. You’re a beautiful place to visit in Victoria.
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Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.