Yarra Valley’s Oakridge one of the country’s most interesting restaurants

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THEME: SUNDAY DRIVE

★★★★½

OAKRIDGE

864 MAROONDAH HIGHWAY, COLDSTREAM, 9738 9900

LICENSED AE MC V EFPTOS

THURSDAY-MONDAY 11.30AM-3PM

ENTREES: $18-$19; MAINS $38-$45; DESSERTS: $16

I’m eating compost for dessert and I couldn’t be happier. Shiraz lees (a yeasty debris of the wine-making process) have been repurposed as a heady purplish granita. Grapefruit peel is blitzed into a powerful citrus paste. Coriander stems and roots are the flavour base for an insistently herbaceous ice-cream, and egg whites are whipped and baked into crisp shards of meringue. It’s a curious, pretty, highwire balance of sweet, tart and fragrant. I’d love it even if it wasn’t an environmental statement.

There are other delicious proclamations at Oakridge, an intertwined winery and restaurant on a beautiful property barely an hour from Melbourne, overlooking vines, hills and constantly shifting Yarra Valley weather.

The food is a true representation of the region. The only fish is local trout, kangaroo is wild-shot big red and a 100-square-metre on-site garden provides much of the produce in a rolling tumble of bounty and all-gone that’s much more dynamic than the three-month procession of the seasons. Thirteen local dairy cows provide milk for the creme fraiche and fresh curd. Wheat is milled daily in a bespoke plywood contraption (it’s on the right as you walk in, steam-punky but proud in the wine library).

Chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone have been here nearly two years, growing in confidence and attunement, creating one of the most interesting restaurants in Australia. As much as the local, it’s the Indigenous skew of the menu that compels. When the idea of native produce clicks, it is head-smackingly obvious. Why actually wouldn’t you eat the food that grows here, that belongs here, that has sustained Australians for tens of thousands of years?

So that kangaroo. The fillet is seared and sliced: it’s lean, tender and served with a “kimchi” of coastal greens (collected by Barrett’s mum at Point Lonsdale, then fermented), a spicy nasturtium emulsion and a crunchy Aussie dukkah with macadamia and sandalwood nuts. It looks beautiful, the flavours have depth and sparkle and it tells a great story.

Barrett is a brilliant baker. Her savoury caraway pastry is an Oakridge classic, an intricate pinwheel whorled like a tree trunk but way better to eat. It comes with a smoked trout salad that’s so pretty I forgot to breathe for a second. Duck is dry-aged for two weeks, which intensifies the flavour. The leg is brined and steamed (think of it like a birdy corned beef) and the breast is roasted. It’s served with various forms of pumpkin: a roasted puree, and a pumpkin seed ”risotto” that’s cooked out in duck jus. It’s cut with sunrise lime, a hybrid of native lime, and immigrant mandarin and cumquat: how’s that for a great multicultural story?

Oakridge has all the winery restaurant tropes: the glass-walled dining room with postcard views, the tasting zone where wine can be rolled around the mouth in knowing ways, the easy getaway’s permission to feel on holiday. But this is so much more than a nice restaurant. It’s a place of inspiration and connection, an energised laboratory delivering delicious experiments in what’s possible when optimistic eyes stay open to heritage, the here-and-now and the ever-shifting horizons of the future.

ALSO TRY:

CAPTAIN MOONLITE, 100 Great Ocean Road, Anglesea, 5263 2454. Fri-Mon breakfast and lunch,Thurs-Mon dinner

Tucked away in the Anglesea surf lifesaving club, the Captain and his team serve classy coastal eats with great views.

FOXEYS HANGOUT, 795 White Hill Road, Red Hill, 5989 2022. Fri-Mon lunch

There’s so much good food and wine on the Mornington Peninsula but there’s nowhere quite like snack-happy Foxeys, where lunch is an informal affair to be enjoyed with wine and views of the vines.

TARRAWARRA, 311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Tarrawarra, 5957 3100. Wed-Sun lunch

For the complete package – lunch, wine tasting and a perusal of the lovely gallery – Tarrawarra ticks all boxes. The next exhibition, opening May 27, focuses on 20th century Australian artist William Dobell.

MASONS OF BENDIGO, 25 Queen Street, Bendigo, 5443 3877. Tues-Sat lunch and dinner

There’s so much happening in Bendigo, not least here at Masons, where Central Victoria’s excellent produce is treated with creative love by owners Nick and Sonia Anthony.

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