152 Yarra Street, Warrandyte, Victoria

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Altair is comfortably decorated with earth tones and timbers.
Altair is comfortably decorated with earth tones and timbers. Photo: Eddie Jim

Larissa Dubecki

Lesson for the week: it does not pay to underestimate the outer suburbs. Jeff Kennett discovered something similar when he lost the 1999 election, although his mistake related to ignoring rural Victoria. Restaurant reviewers, conversely, are rather enamoured of the regional hero but struggle with those pesky bits of metropolitan Melbourne beyond the tramlines.

Once upon a time there were solid reasons for the prejudice. I think I can get away with saying that without attracting any more Twitter haters. But we've reached a point where it's no longer necessary to give special consideration or a scoring fillip simply for the bravery of opening outside of Zone 1.

Our case study for the affirmative is known as Altair, a restaurant opened six months ago by a hospitality couple stepping up to have a go for themselves. For all the celebrity chefs hogging the limelight, these people are the industry's lifeblood.

Tortellini with celeriac, basil and confit tomatoes.
Tortellini with celeriac, basil and confit tomatoes. Photo: Eddie Jim

You won't have heard of Kelvin and Michelle Shaw, not unless you're a diehard follower of Elwood's Sails on the Bay, where he headed the kitchen and she waited on the tables. But that's beside the point. They've taken their not inconsiderable experience and gone inland to a spot with views of gum trees and parrots, the bright blur of Lycra-clad cyclists and the slightly unsettling need for a fire plan.

It's a smart move - a little short of the Yarra Valley's winery restaurants yet still far enough for day-trippers. Their roomy eyrie, perched above Warrandyte's main road on a lazy curve of the Yarra, is comfortably decorated with the earth tones and timbers that bring the outside in, enlivened with splashes of citrus-green on the cushions and water glasses. There's linen covering the tables at night that comes off for lunch service. And weekend breakfast. These guys work hard.

It's the little things that reveal the hands-on nature of the operation. The kind of service that shows ownership pride; being asked if you want butter or organic olive oil with the bread; the bowl of spicy roasted almonds and pepitas that arrive unbidden.

The menu is broadly contemporary, thoughtfully composed, and reveals the chef has a handle on indigenous ingredients. There's lemon myrtle and wild pepperberry in the dry spices crusting the sashimi tuna, for instance, which help beef it up to match the chewy strips of veal jerky - think of a really aged bresaola (air-dried beef), then add more chew - with a citrusy squid ink emulsion, braised mustard seeds and little pops of finger lime doing their bit to bridge the gap. The venison terrine is less inventive but sustains the hum of satisfaction. There's a nice offaly whack to the farmhouse-style slab of lunchtime goodness, with slices of blood plum, tiny dark grapes and a smear of rum-and-raisin paste. A classic, done well.

The pick of the mains is a pasta dish that shucks off any rustic connotations and shoots for elegance. Fat tortellini pouches stuffed with a smooth celeriac and basil filling; a technicolour splash of confit heirloom tomatoes that taste how tomatoes used to taste; a perfect basil-sweet consomme with the heady nose of parmesan, and little value-adding extras including fried sage leaves.

The pork loin, on the other hand, is simply pork loin roasted nicely, subordinate to a support cast that includes sticky little bitter-sour bush apples with braised lentils, and a convincing bit of house-made blood pudding.

The only thing that didn't really grab me was the dessert, one of those gussied-up granolas that despite some nice touches (poached peach, Earl Grey sorbet, soft meringue) is still too much like - yes, granola - to really sink into. Silly me for ordering it. But you can trust me on the wine list, which is a smart mix of ''names'' and boutiques with a generous selection by the glass. They let you BYO wine, too.

By way of postscript, lunch at Altair was followed by excitement at spying an early David Bromley painting in the nearby bric-a-brac shop. Bargain? Erm, no. Like I said, it doesn't pay to underestimate the outer 'burbs. People there know when they have a little gem on their hands.

The best bit
An accomplished all-rounder
The worst bit Pre-cracked pepper
Go-to dish
Celeriac and herb tortellini, $32

Twitter: @LarissaDubecki or email: ldubecki@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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152 Yarra Street, Warrandyte, Victoria

  • Cuisine - Contemporary
  • Prices - Typical entree $18; main $36; dessert $13
  • Features - Licensed, BYO, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access
  • Chef(s) - Kelvin Shaw
  • Owners - Kelvin and Michelle Shaw
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Wed-Fri, 11.30am-10pm; Sat-Sun, 8.30am-10pm
  • Author - Larissa Dubecki
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9 comments so far

  • Its 2014 and we still have this inny versus outy thing....if it were 1980, then anything past South Melb, Trak, or even the CBD was pretty much a barren wasteland with the only offerings being, Fish and chips, Chinese Australian meals, a pub or pizza joint...but in this day and age, can someone point me to a suburb or area that does not have a few decent cafes, and restaurants etc and usually at much better prices than those hip and happening joints that pay the high rents......

    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 9:44AM
  • My personal favourite was Cranbourne. Between the McDonalds, KFC and LaPorchetta you could eat anything you wanted.

    Actually, Racetrack Cafe was excellent (and probably still is). The rest of the place was rubbish. Also, it takes over an hour in peak to get there. Sitting in frustrating, slow moving traffic isn't my idea of pre-dinner entertainment, which is why the suburbs may as well be in another state from a dining perspective.

    Tim the Toolman
    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 12:23PM
  • You can even do the outer 'burbs thing by public transport! Breakfast in Oakleigh, lunch in Springvale and dinner in Dandenong. Exquisite food from the Mediterranean to South East Asia to Central Asia/Middle East. And delight in your travels between destinations on the moving global village that is the Dandenong Line :) This is where some of the most exciting gastronomic experiences in all of Melbourne await you.

    the hills
    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 12:57PM
  • I love reading about city restaurants, but seriously many of us live outside of the city and would love some reviews for outer Melbourne.
    Come to the Mornington Peninsula, we have some amazing food.

    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 1:24PM
  • What a joke.. pre cracked pepper.. you surely run out of things to comment on..

    pre cracked pepper
    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 1:41PM
  • No No....you foodies please keep to the inner city.
    We in the burbs are more than happy to be able to rock up to the local joint, to get a table easily, not to have to find/pay for parking, not to have some condescending tattooed Gen Y hipster in too tight clothing offering bad service, and not to have to pay through the nose.
    Please keep reviewing the same try hard formulaic restaurants and cafes....keep those blinkers on...and stay away

    Wastelands of suburbia
    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 2:41PM
  • One that flies under the radar (apart from with the locals) is Fresh Chilli at Aircraft in Laverton. Just off the freeway. You won't be disappointed but remember to book otherwise you won't get a seat!!!

    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 2:44PM
  • Most of the comments miss the point -Everybody seeks a political dimension these days!
    Altair presents brilliant food. Creative and with a deftness of touch,humour and sophistication that sadly is not really available anywhere to the east of the city. Refreshingly, the chef employs correct techniques- not a smaaaashed anything in sight. Each time we dine there we are are always find a fresh and exciting menu. The staff are great and the wine list is very well structured. It is great to find such a fantastic restaurant in Warrandyte.

    Alain Ducasse/Kevin
    Chirnside Park
    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 6:54PM
  • Altair is an outstanding restaurant that has lifted the standard of dining out in this part of Melbourne. For those living in the outer suburbs it is an absolute delight to have restaurants of the quality of Altair on our doorstep. The food is innovative and served in a highly professional manner often missing neighbouring restaurants. To those living in the inner suburbs, you won’t regret the trip to dine at Altair. If you’re coming to enjoy a lunch make time for a leisurely walk along the Yarra River afterwards … absolutely bliss.

    Date and time
    March 06, 2014, 4:41PM

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