Coonara Springs review

Sage-stuffed quail with bacon and jus.
Sage-stuffed quail with bacon and jus. Photo: Wayne Taylor

129 Olinda-Monbulk Rd Olinda, VIC 3788

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Opening hours Fri-Sat 12-3pm, 6.30-10pm ; Sun 12-3pm
Features Cooking classes, Accepts bookings, Green-eco focus, Groups, Open fire, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9751 1043

When we visit the Olinda restaurant the entire state is being blown off its axis. Huge gusts are flipping the power. Just before dessert, a giant branch snaps off the tree outside and neatly pierces the ceiling. But sometimes it comes down to how well you walk through the fire. 

"We're terribly sorry, your tea will just be a moment," says our smiling waitress, moving off to wipe debris from a banquette. And if the kitchen regrets a double billing of souffles, it doesn't show. There's a beat, followed by the sound of whisk on bowl.

If this is the restaurant walking through hell, I'd be putting it top of your hit list pronto for your next fussy family reunion and wedding party.

The interior of Coonara Springs in Olinda.
The interior of Coonara Springs in Olinda. Photo: Wayne Taylor

But then, sturdy is how you'd always describe this restaurant, minor natural disaster or not. Chef Adrian Upward has done a lot of time in whites – in Melbourne back in the '90s but most recently running the gigantic operation of the Intercontinental in Bahrain. Coonara Springs' restaurant, refurbished over three years by Adam and Sally Whitford, has a 70-year history of serving daytrippers.

And now, the hills are alive again with the sound of smooth jazz and crackling fires, and the Sunday drive crowd are flocking back in droves. On that, the restaurant is playing firmly into the hands of those who worship the old school. Seats are plush beneath pink walls. Hills and garden fall away on either side. Music is classical, explanations about potentially exotic dishes forthcoming.

An EMD deal gets you two or three courses for $75 or $95 including house-made bread and sides. It's three courses including wine for $50 on bistro Wednesdays.

Go-to dish: pineapple tarte tatin.
Go-to dish: pineapple tarte tatin. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Menu-wise, the envelope isn't so much pushed as nudged. These are dishes of deeply classic bones draped in local produce.

So there's a silky and vaguely sweet veloute of jerusalem artichoke washing around crisp slips of radish and a rocket emulsion for kick, all signs pointing to an allegiance to technique over thrills. Special mention here also to the ham hock terrine and other meat work – something that will get a boost when the house smoker arrives.

And credit where it's due, if you're going to make your vego option a mushroom pappardelle, give it the guts of Upward's luxe buttery party of field, enoki, king and swiss brown 'shrooms sparkling with thyme and madeira and braced by eggy straps of pasta.

Coonara Springs in Olinda has had a three year makeover.
Coonara Springs in Olinda has had a three year makeover. Photo: Wayne Taylor

I'm not convinced the cooked, compressed and rewarmed tranche of corned beef with a cabbage puree is a peasant dish improved, aside from a creamy veal veloute. Two entire sage-stuffed, deboned quail bedded in creamed corn, however, presents strong comfort food game, the stuffing soaking up sweet corn and sticky jus, though it's an impressive undertaking for one.

It's also curious to see an appreciation for wines – Canberra's Sassafras sparkling and William Downie's 375ml pinot noir on offer by bottle – but just two of the reds, whites and one sparkling come as by-the-glass options at a restaurant where someone is almost certainly driving.

Still, there's always the tarte tatin which sees vanilla ice-cream sinking into layer upon layer of light puff pastry curling around the edges of a golden pineapple round.

All up it's a go hard then go home and nap situation. Old school, meet new school. I think you'll get along fine.

The lowdown

Old school rules in Olinda

Pro Tip: Wednesday is Bistro Day – three courses plus a glass of wine for $50.

Go-to Dish: Pineapple tarte tatin.