1333 Mornington-Flinders Rd Main Ridge, VIC 3928
|Opening hours||Lunch Wed-Sun noon-3pm; dinner Thu-Sat 6pm-9pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Degustation, Licensed, Long lunch, Open fire, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Views, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 5989 6455|
Fire is a fickle beast; friend and foe, forger and destroyer. Australians have become far too familiar with its darker nature of late. But I wonder which side of the force was at play when Ten Minutes by Tractor was razed in 2017? No one was badly hurt but it has taken two painful permit-application-filled years for owners Martin and Karen Spedding to finally get the rebuild done.
Chef Adam Sanderson, a Noma and Fat Duck graduate who had just received the head chef baton from Stuart, was probably a little miffed to have his new workplace incinerated. But that fire gave him a chance to germinate his ideas in a fresh restaurant he can truly make his own.
So. Ten Minutes by Tractor is back. Finally. And it's looking the part. A new terrace expands your dining horizons, looking over newly planted vines. Inside, the soft green banquettes, stonework and tables wrapped in natural linen turn the dial to soothe.
It's a soft look, but those two years have been spent drilling down on details. Sanderson had a hand in choosing every hollowed stone bowl, every pretty petalled plate and fine-tined fork that supports his detailed prog-Oz menu.
Sanderson's pitch is in key with the rest of the high fliers of this region. He's singing the song of Mornington Peninsula produce, told through the medium of a waste-averse five- or eight-course degustation.
Curiously, some of the more interesting dishes Sanderson was spruiking on Instagram pre-opening (kangaroo en croute, roasted quail and eel dishes) have eluded the opening menu. He's come out of the gate quite cautiously with lamb, hapuka, duck, the main breakout being a dish using dense lion's mane mushroom. But if he's playing it safe until he settles in, he is getting those dishes right.
The snacks still establish the philosophical premise. Roe orbs and a dice of salmon, mellow and buttery with a distant woodsmoke signature, fill delicate pie tee shells made of would-be wasted carrot.
A minuscule crumpet loaded with a delicate dice of tender lamb tongue and pickled cucumber is an offaly British homage to whole beast cooking. It's chased by an equally on-trend bite of retired dairy cow tartare, sharpened with pickled watermelon radishes on a fizzing shiitake cracker made from their mushroom trim.
Next, the locally grown story lands in those bowls of hollowed-out stone as a riot act of spring: bursting pea pods, peppery rapa flowers, crisp radishes, with warming notes of smoked macadamia whip, rye crumbs and apple cider vinegar to give it an edge. It's up there with Brae's whole garden dish as a flag waver for this season's statement salads.
Sanderson has a command of his tools. His touch is light, so where there's smoke, it's just enough, and when there's a mountain of hand-picked blue swimmer crab, boosted by the perfume of lemon myrtle cream and the crunch of beach herbs, the crustacean still sings its salty-sweet song loud and clear.
The talent is equally apparent in the technically perfect wobble of butter-poached hapuka beneath a silky hollandaise duvet with fresh asparagus tips. There's no faulting slices of blushing lamb loin with a medley of beets and a bitter note from sicklepod; nor the diamond of rosy duck with an upright mohawk of fried potato galette dotted with garlic flowers.
That said, it's a surprisingly buttoned down mid-section, and when wine dining on the peninsula is basically a competitive sport, you hope it's not long before Sanderson takes the training wheels off and gives us all a baptism of those more fiery ideas.
But even as a restrained menu, it's a strong example of the form. Delicate glassware twinkles. Cocktails, including a strong bracket of non-alcoholic interlopers, get the pure Navy Strength Ice block treatment.
A private dining room features a stunning blackwood table built for long, lazy lunches, and sommelier Jacques Savary de Beauregard brings the wine party back to the yard. As before, you can reacquaint yourself with the estate's own buttery chardonnays, or they'll take you on a trip via the Loire, Lombardy and the depths of 2007 in the Macedon Ranges. It's estimated half a million dollars in wine was lost in the fire, but you won't know it.
And then dessert: the most ethereal take on a tuckshop jelly slice featuring a goat's cheese bavarois topped with a sweet-sour rhubarb gel, the whole thing evaporating on contact, and the alpine freshness of a buttermilk jelly with pine oil, sweet pea sorbet and a fresh frozen rubble of pine nuts and peas.
The phoenix is unfurling slowly, but it won't be long until it flies.
Correction: An earlier version of this review named Stuart McVeigh as the previous head chef of Ten Minutes by Tractor. This has since been corrected to Stuart Bell.
Pro Tip: There's a stunning private dining room if you want it to yourself.
Go-to Dish: Crab with lemon myrtle and beach herbs (part of set menu).