26 August 2008

Milawa Gourmet Region

Our guest blogger Janice tripped up the highway to the North East to sample the delights of Milawa.
* * *
Restaurant Merlot
Milawa-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa
Ph: 03 5720 5777
Open: Buffet breakfast every day, Dinner Thurs – Sun from 6pm, Lunch Fri – Sun

Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre
239 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Road, Milawa
Ph: 03 5720 5540
Open: 12 – 3.30pm daily


THERE'S saying that everything tastes better in the country. Well, in a little town about 2.5 hours Northeast of Melbourne, this saying certainly rings true.

We decided to escape dreary Melbourne for the weekend, and head up to the well-known foodie town of Milawa. Our first stop when we arrived in town was at the renowned Milawa Cheese Factory, which also conveniently incorporates a restaurant, café, chocolate shop, cellar door and art gallery.

After devouring a sumptuous pizza topped with 3 of the finest local cheeses, we loaded up the car with armfuls of local produce and headed to Lindenwarrah Resort, where we would be spending the night.


We allowed ourselves a brief recoup before we headed down to dinner at Restaurant Merlot, the in-house restaurant at Lindenwarrah(below right). Admittedly I was sceptical at first, after having less than favourable experiences with in-house restaurants in the past, but I was soon relieved to find Merlot could definitely hold it’s own in the restaurant stakes. Beautiful décor, a picturesque view overlooking their private vineyard and a menu proudly driven by local produce certainly set the scene for a memorable dinner.


For entrée I had decided on the twice cooked soufflé (again with local cheeses), and my partner the parpadelle with roasted beetroot and confit duck. Mains for me was a beautifully tender slow cooked lamb, although my fork was also spending a lot of time in my partner’s dish, who had the fillet steak with a broad bean & potato mash, merlot jus and topped with an onion jam pastry round on top. In a rare moment of unity we were both agreeing that it was one of the best steaks we had tasted in a very long time.

A lack of ambience was the restaurant’s only real downfall; however this could be partly attributed to the fact that it was only approximately a third full whilst we were there.
The next morning, after a hearty hot country breakfast at the hotel, we headed out across town to sample the local produce and stock up the boot even more. The small town is jam packed with local produce suppliers, including an Olive Grove, Apiary (honey farm), Mustard Shop and several boutique wineries.

However the pinnacle of our weekend was undoubtedly lunch at the Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre, which was established as a food complement to the winery in 1994. Warm and cosy, you can easily get lost for several hours grazing your way through the inspiring menu.

The menu diverges slightly from your stock standard model. It focuses around showcasing Brown Brothers varietals through pairing with a selection of seasonal dishes (again dominated by local produce). The menu is separated into two sections – savoury or sweet. Pricing is straightforward - $42 per person for 2 courses and matching wine, $14 for each subsequent course.

Our waiter was extremely helpful and accommodating, and when we suggested we would like to share dishes between us, he offered to bring out half glasses of the matched wine for each of us so we could both participate in the “true” experience.

After much deliberation, we ended up settling on 4 savoury dishes - Crispy Cod Cake served with Jerusalem Artichoke Skordalia and Pan Fried Murray Cod (2008 Pinot Grigio), House made Ricotta and Bread Gnocchi served with Roasted Goat’s Curd and Chervil Pesto (2007 Everton White), Char-grilled Pork Kassler (a.k.a. smoked and salted pork steak) with salted cabbage and a potato puree (2005 Barbera) and a Traditional Cassoulet with Lamb, Italian Sausage and Pork Belly (below, left) with the 2006 Nero D’Avola.



We somehow managed to also squeeze in a couple of mouthfuls of the sweet dishes we ordered, Quince Bavarois and Walnut Bread with (more!) Local Cheese, before squeezing ourselves back into the car for the drive back home.

If you’re looking to escape the rat race for a day or two, venture up to Milawa and be inspired by the amazing produce available in our own backyard.

Restaurant Merlot 7.5/10

Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre 9/10

- Janice (guest blogger)

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