864 Maroondah Hwy Coldstream, VIC 3770
|Opening hours||Thu-Mon 11.30am-3pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Events, Bar, Cooking classes, Food shop, Green-eco focus, Groups, Licensed, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly, Views, Wheelchair access, Gluten-free options, Family friendly, Degustation, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9738 9900|
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.
Rating: Four and a half stars (out of five)