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|
In some ways this is the last place you'd have expected Matt Stone to sprout up. He's the young chef who's made a name for himself as the green-thumbed, flour-milling, butter-churning, right-hand man to sustainability architect Joost Baker at places including Silo and Greenhouse. He's all about ethical and educational cooking, but also about fun. This is a chef, remember, whose last noteworthy outing was in Sydney where he championed the virtues of meal worms and ants as the sustainable protein of the future.
So to an extent, a Yarra Valley vineyard, where on any given weekend you'll find a scream of hens, a snatch of Asian tourists and a panic of wine enthusiasts all packing out an austere dining room where tables are perpetually moving like parts of a giant game of Tetris, doesn't seem the ideal platform for a chef with bold ideas.
On the flip side, Oakridge came to Stone and partner Jo Barrett's rescue when their slated Brunswick bakery project delayed one too many times. Oakridge has allowed them to plant a 300 square metre garden of radishes, pumpkins and herbs. It grants access to the cheeses of Yarra Valley Dairy down the road; to the ethical meats from the Beef Joint butchery in Healesville and to the views of the vines from the dining room, spilling out in all directions.
The result is a Stone of the middle way. A Stone for all Sundays. That's not to say there won't be kombucha in your salad dressing or quandongs in your dessert, but the philosophies have been woven through the menu in such a way as to not scare the weekend warriors.
There's a classic entree-main-dessert format and a set menu on weekends of two or three courses. And while eagle-eyed eaters will note the signs of a no-waste policy (Stone repeats proteins to maximise use of beast) it's less nose-to-tail (no hoofs or snouts here) more cheek to cheek.
Perhaps there will be pork cheeks, panko-crumbed crisp, gelatinous meat soft, served with a zinging salad of fresh garden crunch – radish discs and chillies tangled with mint and quick pickle cucumbers – plus Stone's salty and mildly spicy play on XO sauce. This is based on trout rather than the scallops and dried shrimp that give Asia's favourite condiment its typical (some say essential) funk.
Trout gets a lot of airtime, part of Stone's determination to shun all food from an over-fished sea. There's carp coming too, which will be purified in a special tank he's built out back. But this week, it's the other river fish, gently smoked, broken over a thick swipe of creme fraiche, for loading onto Barrett's buttery caraway-flecked danish with fat roe orbs and fennel fronds. This is your better bet over the acid-wanting main featuring pan-fried fillets heaped with scorched broccolini and more of the XO.
Double back to the pig instead, this time for its roasted loin, capped with bubble-crisp skin. The creamy inch of fat could use a little rendering if only to assuage your guilt of sending it back uneaten, but here you can see Stone's stripes – in the wine-rich jus; in a fennel puree that has the licorice sweetness from using the greener offcuts, and in the smart native input of muntrie berries, peppered through the fennel slaw like tiny sour apples.
You'll find Oakridge's own pinot meunier up to the task of cutting through the richness with its berry bright, savoury edge. And that's a good thing since it's what's suggested and asking to try another option seems to cause to bit of a fluster from a waiter who indicates he's about to get really busy. Perhaps you're expected to try the wines at the cellar door in advance? Come to think of it – do that.
Either way, a little fluster and the occasional toddler scream are small jolting reminders that you're in a busy winery restaurant. Something you forget when facing the bizzaro-genius corn and chocolate custard that eats like a rich luxurious goo. And when there's creme fraiche ice-cream with strawberries napped in eucalypt, pickled rosella flowers and a quandong puree that tastes like star anise and 'Straya in equal measure. It's simple deliciousness. Sustainability that's really easy to swallow.
Pro tip Take the extra drive to the new Four Pillars distillery in Healesville
Go-to dish Smoked trout with a caraway danish
Like this? Ten Minutes by Tractor gives good vineyard-based snacking, 1333 Mornington-Flinders Road, Main Ridge.
How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor.
12 Reasonable 13 Solid and satisfactory 14 Good 15 Very good 16 Seriously good 17 Great 18 Excellent 19 Outstanding 20 The best of the best