Du Fermier's dining room features an open fireplace. Photo: Simon Schluter
It was a dark and stormy night. No, truly. Rain lashing, wind howling, central Victoria buffeted by all the elements that make it a hundredfold more challenging in winter. But it turns out Du Fermier has its own microclimate. The open fire helps, but this singular little restaurant glows with the warmth of genuine hospitality and real, honest-to-god cooking steeped in the culinary certainties of yesteryear.
Maybe I should spell it out: Du Fermier is my latest food crush. It's almost rudely simple. So simple there's no menu. Yet I can't imagine going home dissatisfied with whatever turns up for this French farmhouse-style dinner, made on the run from whatever's good that day and served up to the table as a shareable feast. Value, you ask? Three courses for $55. Boom. Right out of the park.
Be patient, my pretties. It might be hard to get a table. Du Fermier does dinner only two nights a week. There are a handful of lunches and a couple of breakfasts as well, but Annie Smithers is a one-woman show. She's owner, chef (note, singular), baker and farmer. Since selling her eponymous Kyneton bistro a few years back she's refocused on what was born as her second-string operation in neighbouring Trentham.
Roasted eye fillet on a bed of wilted cavolo nero. Photo: Simon Schluter
It's slow food minus the posturing. The biggest hint of the hard-working acreage in Malmsbury connected umbilically to Du Fermier is a quirky retail sideline of the chic-est gardening tools this side of Toorak. Get stuck too hard into the worthy little list of French village wines and you might find yourself waking up the following morning next to a handsome $165 copper garden hoe.
The menu won't go raising any eyebrows, but this is food that doesn't need to jump up and down to draw attention to itself. The baking is superb, from the epi loaf, a clawed branch of tearable rolls that come out of the oven just before dinner service, to the chicken and leek vol-au-vents that make you wonder why the 1970s went out of fashion. The frizzy pile of mizuna, aka Japanese mustard, and purple coral lettuce gives it a bit of modern accessorising.
''Dinner'', as the middle course is called, is roasted eye fillet served on a copse of wilted black cabbage. If that sounds ordinary, try roasting eye fillet to this level of rosy perfection with silken gravy that leaves the whole table fighting over the last epi roll, and get back to me. To go with it there's salsa agresto - a punchy mix of walnut and parsley, garlic and oil - and another platter of gnarly parsnips and baby carrots, the feathery tops crunchy and delicious. There's potato dauphine, too: profiterole-like puffs of battered crunch made with creamy mash and choux pastry. Carb dodgers best make themselves scarce: no diet would be safe with these bad boys in the room.
One-woman band: Annie Smithers. Photo: Simon Schluter
Do you think dessert is going to rock the boat? Of course not. Dessert will be something like rhubarb and apple under a sugar-dusted pastry dome. Or a chocolate marquise, the original template for those countless death-by-chocolate imitators. It's fudgy and stonkingly rich, with not so much as a garnish (OK, there's a bit of whipped cream on the side) to get between me and its purely indulgent proclivities.
Du Fermier takes quite a risk running such a pared back non-menu, but it doesn't falter. It's the added extras that help - the warm plates, the warm staff - but it's the palpable connection with the kitchen that makes dinner here so memorable.
Notwithstanding Smithers popping by tables to ask if anyone wants more potato ''footies'', Du Fermier is about heart and soul. Pardon the cliches. I can't imagine anything being sous-vided in this kitchen.
Actually, Smithers was a little wary of the added pressure all this unrelenting positivity will have on her little business. As I mentioned earlier, she's a one-man band. So book well ahead, and repay Du Fermier's generosity of spirit in kind. You won't be sorry.
The best bit… The lack of choice
The worst bit… Getting a booking
Go-to dish… Roast eye fillet, cavolo nero, potato dauphine, parsnips and carrots
- 03 5424 1634
- Cuisine - French
- Prices - Three course set dinner menu, $55; children under 12, $18.50
- Features - Accepts bookings, Licensed, Wheelchair access
- Chef(s) - Annie Smithers
- Owners - Annie Smithers
- Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Fri-Sat 6pm-late; Sat-Sun 9am-3pm
- Author - Larissa Dubecki