The Lakes Entrance
"Prawns, prawns, prawns, prawns" I chant to Mr NQN who grips the steering wheel smiling. He's used to these outbursts of food related happiness. I know we're about to reach the Lakes Entrance and waiting for us are fresh prawns off the boat for our lunch. If there's anything that can distract me, it's food and today we're heading towards the end of our Sydney to Melbourne road trip!
"Look a snake!" Mr NQN points out and I immediately contract in fear. He's pointing at the road below where we've just passed a black snake sunning itself in the middle of the road. Then a bit later he says "Oops that brown snake wasn't so lucky". "Is it...dead?" I ask and Mr NQN says in his characteristically straightforward country-boy way "Nah but it's got to be in pain". We've taken a little detour to Bemm River which is a little fishing village where locals are friendly and resident pelicans bob up and down on the water.
We drive along the main esplanade of Lakes Entrance. There are signs displaying "Fresh local prawns off the boat" which is just what we have been dying to see. We enter one shop called "Ferry Seafoods" where there are local fresh prawns and imported South Australian frozen prawns as well as fillets of fish and huge lobsters.
We take half a kilo of the local prawns and a tub of seafood sauce. Then walking down a little further we spot a boat where a woman greets us and shows us the two types of fresh caught prawns from this morning's catch. There are king prawns for $20 a kilo and medium prawns for $15. We ask which is nicer and she says that people like the taste of the smaller prawns but find them a bit fiddly. As both expert prawn eaters and peelers we go for the smaller ones.
Weighing the prawns
The prawns from the boat have a stronger prawn flavour and we both prefer them as the school ones are a touch bland. A woman walks past and cheerily says "A nice day for a picnic!" and we couldn't agree more. We hit the road with our bellies full of fresh prawns and head towards our next destination.
We take the drive to Bairnsdale and once we reach there we take the 40 minute drive in the forest to reach our accommodation, a luxury guest house called Waterholes. The road is windy and full of trees and quite narrow and we really feel like we're getting right into the country. There are "W" signs along the way to show us that we are headed in the right direction (thankfully the GPS knows exactly where it is).
We finally reach there and it looks like an oasis. Bob greets us and shows us around our room which is lovely and spacious and well fitted out. These are luxury rooms and there are so many nice touches like apricots and Lindor balls (Lindor ball freak here).
Yes we made a deal, I got the Lindor balls, Mr NQN got the apricots
He shows us the large three acre grounds where they have all sorts of trees planted including chestnut trees and a large pear tree which is 130 years old and has been classified by the National Trust and still produces abundant fruit (only now it is eaten by parrots). On the grounds there are samber deer, kangaroos and wombats.
Can you spot the kangaroos?
There is also a vegetable garden where some of the produce is grown. The river that the property runs along is pure water as they is no human habitation above it with the nearest neighbours 4kms away. While I do some work (there is limited wireless access in the main house) Mr NQN goes for a swim in the nearby river and comes back excited. "Feel my skin" he says and proclaims that it feels very smooth. I offer him one of the home grown strawberries that Kay has given me. It's beautifully sweet and just like you always imagined a strawberry to be.
Asparagus with lemon butter
Later that evening, we have our dinner in the main house. Kaye cooks what she describes as "simple but healthy cuisine". We start with aspragus with lemon butter.
Blue eyed trevalla with vegetables
Our main is blue eyed trevalla with green beans, potato, pumpkin, cherry tomatoes and olives. The roasted pumpkin is deliciously sweet and the fish is cooked simply but it is lovely and fresh.
Salad with cucumber, tomato and fennel pollen
Close up of fennel pollen
The salad accompanying it has salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumber and fennel pollen with a delicious dressing. We're intrigued by the fennel pollen which has been featured on overseas blogs, particularly in the U.S. These are little fennel flowers that impart a strong aniseed flavour-much stronger than fennel has ever tasted by itself with each bud giving a strong hit of aniseed.
Lemon Delicious Pudding
Our Lemon Delicious pudding comes with a little jug of cream. We cut a hole in the centre of the fluffy as a souffle pudding and pour the cream inside and dig in. It's light and ethereal and lemony.
Fruit salad and bircher muesli
I've mentioned this before but the advantage to staying out in the country is the absolute silence. As a frightfully light sleeper I relish the idea of not wearing earplugs and whilst my friend Miss America can find the quietness and stillness confronting (he lives in the busiest area of Potts Point so it's understandable), I love it. We sleep like babies out here and wake to a gorgeous morning and remark how we've really lucked out with the weather on this trip.
Mushroom and cheese omelette
Breakfast is a combination of bircher muesli, fruit and toast along with a delicious mushroom and cheese omelette. It's sustaining fills up just right and throughly refreshed and recharged we set off on our last day of our journey. With a hug for our gracious hosts Kaye and Bob we're on our way. It's the longest stretch of drive we've had thus far and we arrive at Max's Restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula where Max Paganoni greets us.
He's a lovely host and shows us the amazing view that stretches out in front of his restaurant and winery. He points out Seal Rocks where a building blew away, the Nobbies and French Island where Kylie Minogue recently bought property.
He is a proud member of the Mornington Peninsula Gourmet which is a group of food producers and businesses in Mornington PeninsulaHthat focus on foods grown and produced in the region. His proudest moment is the Morello Cherry Balsamic vinegar which he learned to produce on a trip to Modena, Italy where the best Balsamic is made. Aged Balsamic is a true treasure with bottles being ages for 20-25 years at a cost of a few hundred dollars for a single bottle. "Have you tried some?" he asks and generously brings us the bottle of the Ferrari designed bottle of "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale" Modena made Balsamic. It's heady, gorgeous stuff indeed. You can really see why it commands such prices as it's syrupy and rich.
Max's theory is that balsamic, which is usually made from scraps from cooked grapes would be even better if they made it out of the local Mornington Peninsula cherries. So 10 years ago, he started the process and this year he is releasing his first batch of Morello Cherry Balsamic vinegar. With a glass of Red Hill Estate Mornington Blanc de Noirs and a glass of Red Hill Estate Mornington Blanc de Blanc we try some of his aged morello cherry balasmic with some fresh oysters and it's sublime, a distinct flavour of cherries witha viscous syrupy texture.
The Ferrari designed bottle
Oysters with Balsamic dressing
An amazingly generous host, Max then gives us a canister of their Dukkah which is delicious with sesame seeds and pistachio (I find some dukkah's can be sawdusty but this is not with a nice nutty mixture), a bottle of their extra virgin olive oil and their table balsamic and the prize is a bottle of his treasured morello cherry balsamic vinegar which he is designing a box for and will retail for $60. Max points out his grandfather in the corner who at aged 92 dines every week at the restaurant and sits in the designated "Pa's Corner".
We take a little drive around the area checking out various farm gate businesses and see that there are PYO strawberries, and farmgate apples and tomatoes although a flight back to Sydney the next morning isn't very conducive to these so we have to pass these by.
Montalto's working garden
Our next stop is dinner at Montalto Winery which is a place that proudly boats a chef's hat in the new The Age Good Food Guide. We meet Heidi one of the owners along with her parents and she shows us around the vast 50 acre grounds through the working vegetable garden that grows corn, tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, tamarillos, passionfruit, pumpkin and sorrel and we see the olive trees that border the property. Usually pine trees border vineyards to help keep out the wind but they make use of as much of the property so that it all "works". She shows us past picnic sites where for $70 a person plus wine, you can get a picnic lunch and the rose garden. Mr NQN asks "Can people go for a walk on the estate with a glass of wine?" and she answers of course and right on cue, a couple walk past talking and holding glasses of wine. There's also some amazing sculptures on display here too as part of the sculpture prize and exhibition.
One of the sculptures
_I wonder what your postman would do if you had this by the gate
Afterwards we take a seat at the Montalto restaurant which is a beautiful glass fronted building. Service is deferential and top notch, when you leave the table the napkins are folded on the side and when you return a waitress or waiter magically appears to place it in your lap.
We start with an olive bread with their signature olive oil, a lovely strong, grassy oil.
Amuse Bouche: creamy cauliflower soup
Our amuse bouche is a sublimely creamy cauliflower soup "I could just eat this for an entree" I tell Mr NQN. The waitress comes to collect our cups and asks how we found it and we tell her that we like it. She then remarks "Some people just want to order it for an entree" which we can understand.
Duck: Asssiette of duck $21
The first entree is a terrine of duck, pork and foie gras, orange glazed duck leg on celeriac remoulade, brandy currants and liver parfait and duck consomme. I am very partial to an assiette plate as it allows me to try lots of different tastes. My favourite of this place is undoubtedly the tenderly gorgeous orange glazed duck leg. The rich liver parfait is lightened by the brandy soused currants and the terrine is good but I'm all terrined out by this stage of our trip. The only item that I don't fall in love with is the consomme which tastes more of celery and onion than duck.
Pan fried scallops with proscuitto, Red Hill Summer "soft" goat's cheese, figs and a walnut baby cress dressing $20
If I were to design a dish it would have fat scallops and the ripest, most perfect figs, a rich soft goat's cheese and bacon or proscuitto. When I look down a smile spread across my face in pleasure, it's just to my taste and I happily devour all of it.
Pork trotters on a de puy lentils $40
The very super rich trotters are filled with a mince and sit on a bed of de puy lentils that still have a little bite to them. Mr NQN likes these and finish it off but as I'm in the mood for seafood, I go for the other main.
Veal rib $44
Absolutely enormous, the veal rib is stuffed with minuet vegetables and is nicely charred on the outside. Alongside it is linguine tossed with scampi and crayfish bisque which is my favourite portion. One might call it a classy surf and turf although surf and turf isn't something I'm usually a fan of as I usually just prefer more seafood which I find myself doing here.
I'm too stuffed to contemplate dessert but Mr NQN can so he asks the waitress for a recommendation and she recommends either the chocolate or the panna cotta. As the chocolate is a little too rich to end this meal with he goes for the panna cotta which comes out in a glass. It's a personal thing but I don't really go for panna cotta in glasses. I like to see it wobbling in front of me in all of it's voluptuous glory - it's a bit of rated R theatre before ingestion. The vanilla bean panna cotta is a garden lemon verbena yogurt panna cotta with fresh, local raspberries and Shoreham honey jelly and isn't quite as soft as I would like and it's a little hard to control the ratio of jelly and raspberry in a glass.
And we couldn't imagine a better way to end our fantastic trip than with a glass of bubbly Montalto Moscato dessert wine!
So tell me Dear Readers, are you a surf (seafood) or a turf (beef or lamb) person?
NQN and Mr NQN travelled from Sydney to Melbourne as guests of Sydney to Melbourne Touring.
Main Esplanade, Lakes Entrance, Victoria
Waterholes Guest House
540 Archies Road, Bairnsdale, Victoria
Tel: +61 (03) 5157 9330
53 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South, Vic
Tel: +61 (03) 5931 0177
Montalto Vineyard & Olive Grove
33 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South, Victoria
Tel: +61 (03) 5989 8412
NQN and Mr NQN travelled as guests of Sydney to Melbourne Touring.