For my day time job, as part of a small team, I am responsible for organising some of our conferences. Luckily, because things have been so busy, we were allowed to employ a short term comms staff member to help out with the logistics, because otherwise, my other work would have suffered greatly. The nice part about conferences though, is that we usually have an off site dinner and my boss lets me pick where we go, and organise the whole evening. When I found out our conference venue was within reasonable distance from Daylesford, I immediately rang the very well known Lakehouse to see if they could cater for the number of delegates we had, and find out the per head cost was to hold a function there. I waited for my email with baited breath but unfortunately, (which I already knew to begin with, but just hoped for some miracle) it was way too expensive for our budget at around $180 per head for the package I was keen on!
I was sad and S, my boss picked up on it, telling me that just because everyone couldn't eat there, didn't mean that we couldn't find time to have a nice lunch there before the conference! I have to say, I was a little bit happier afterwards, but still wished that everyone else in the company could have had the opportunity to dine there too!
Fast forward three months, I was more excited for the lunch at Lakehouse than I was for the whole conference. Alla Wolf Tasker is definitely an inspiration, and I wanted to check out what all the fuss was about, and see if the restaurant lives up to their huge reputation. Lakehouse opened in 1984 so has a long history, and Wolf Tasker is credited with being one of the driving forces supporting and showcasing local and seasonal produce long before it was cool.
As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we ordered a cab to take us the 30 minute trip, telling the other people who had arrived with us that we were going for a site visit! Perhaps a bit sneaky, and I did feel bad. But... we couldn't ask everyone, and I had already asked most people who weren't really interested in paying for lunch when they could have it for free at the hotel. Obviously, they don't understand the drawing power of Lakehouse!!
It was slightly raining when we arrived, so although the lake didn't look as gorgeous as it would on a sunny day but the serene feeling was still there. It's hard to describe the atmosphere really, but definitely felt very familiar and relaxing, but relaxing in your lovely aunt's formal dining room, as opposed to putting your feet up on your ikea coffee table at your own house.
We were offered drinks, and I went with a Gin and Tonic whilst the Boss went for a glass of something recommended by the sommelier (I can't remember!!). Now, I know I should have had a glass of wine, but here's the thing. I LOVE wine, but it doesn't really love me back. It makes me 1. Sleepless and 2. a little woozy as opposed to being just relaxed like spirits! Seeing I technically had to pull everything together in the incredibly short time we had left after lunch, I thought I needed to be on my A-game, and I can pretty much do that with 2 gin and tonics, but definitely not with 2 glasses of wine.
The Lakehouse menu is something to keep for the duration of the menu and read, because they have a list of their local suppliers in the back. It gives you a lot of perspective and feel for the restaurant and it's amazing to see the great produce they have available to them in regional Vic. For lunch, there are two options menu wise. You can have two courses for $68 or three course for $85. You don't have to specify before hand either, so if you get to the end of your main and are dying for an extra taste of Lakehouse, you can easily order dessert or some of the sweet indulgences available for $8. There are of course the eight course tasting menus - $130 with +$70 for matched wines or the vegetarian option for $115 plus $70 for matched wines.
The entree menu proved to have some really good options, which of course made it a difficult choice. The couple eating next to us, had obviously ordered the shared plate for two with house made charcuterie, jellied rare breed pork, duck liver parfait, terrine, duck rillettes and some other awesome looking things like proscuitto and sausage. Normally, I wouldn't go for something like this, but after seeing the finished product, I was seriously tempted! Until I saw the five tastes of the sea, obviously I can't pass up anything that includes oysters and scallops, even if it was for parfait and terrine. The five tastes from the sea included a smokey bay oyster with nam jim, kinkawooka mussels 'Mariniere', scallop and black bean ceviche, crystal bay prawns in tempura with chilli aioli and last, and probably should be noted is my nemesis, some tuna sashimi with pickle cucumber and Asian salad.
What's that I hear you ask? Tuna- the nemesis? Yep. Hate the stuff. Particularly the tinned variety, the smell literally makes me dry heave. I am starting to tolerate tuna sashimi, but I really don't like any other type of tuna. Tuna mornay, tuna casserole, tuna on crackers, BBQ'd tuna steaks- all just yuk. I'm sorry, there aren't many ingredients I HATE, but this is one of them. EVERYONE always says, I can't believe you don't like tuna blah blah blah, but I don't and I probably won't and I'm fine with that fact. So please, if I come to your house, I will eat basically anything else (maybe not some offal) except tuna. Tuna, I will politely decline. Anyway, rant over.
The boss chose the white asparagus, ragout of locally foraged morels, soft polenta, and poached duck egg, which was also one of my top three options.
The five tastes of the sea arrived and I decided to tackle the nemesis head on, working with the motto of leaving the best till last. Ok- If I just squidge my nostrils together and close my eyes, I might not realise that I'm eating tuna....... In it goes... Ok yep, still tunaish, but no where near as bad as the cooked stuff. Actually the texture was fine, and the pickle cucumber and asian salad saved the dish from being too tunaish, and it was actually quite okay- for tuna.
Next onto the mussels, which were tender and delightful. The cream based sauce made a nice accompaniment, without being too heavy, which really worked in conjunction with the rest of the dishes. The scallop ceviche, which I obviously expected to be my favourite (as did you, admit it!) actually wasn't. The scallop was nice and tender, and the black bean was a different but welcome addition, but the whole thing just didn't 'pop' in my mouth.
The oyster was deliriously fresh, as was the nam jim. I could have ordered a dozen. The nam jim was simple and complex at the same time, with sweet and sour definitely coming through. I left the prawn until last, and I'm not sure why, because it was the only fried thing on the plate but it was amazing. The tempura was light, and the aioli was creamy, garlicky and chilli and pretty great. I almost licked the little container but remembered just in time, that I probably learn to refrain myself, particularly when I felt like some Aunty or older relative was just about to grab my cheek and teach me my manners! I know the Boss wouldn't have minded though, as she was looking at her finished entree bowl longingly too.
The boss loved her white asparagus and egg. The egg was perfectly poached and the asparagus was just on the beautiful cusp, between tender and too cooked. If I went back again, I would probably have the egg, because the way the yolk spilled into the polenta really made me want to steal the bowl and lick it clean too.
Choosing a main meal was also a debacle. We both spent time peering at other plates around the restaurant on a quest to see what looked best. Again there were three options that I really couldn't decide between, but when I saw the chicken come out to the table opposite, I decided I should go for it. The chicken was obviously free roaming, but came with a roast leg, breast and ballontine, served with spring vegetables, foie gras croquettes and morel sauce.
This dish looked somehow homey without being too done. Perhaps it was the delicious morel sauce that made it look so inviting. The ballontine caught my attention first, after eating the just cooked spring vegetables and the foie gras croquettes. The croquettes were supposed to be little pieces of luxury, and I suppose they were, but to me, the ballontine was the real luxury. The meat was soft and delicious and the flavours exploded into my mouth. The morel sauce took the ballontine to the next level, and before I knew it, I was swishing the leftover pieces around on the plate, to gather up any and all of that mushroomy goodness. I didn't even want to spare a piece for the Boss, but decided that I had better. My expectations for the rest of the dish had been set high, and although the other two pieces didn't disappoint, they weren't as tender and delicious as the ballontine. The breast had some good flavours packed under the crispy skin and the roast leg was juicy and tender, with the little bone pulling straight out, but the ballontine was just amazing. If I go back, I'm going to ask for three on the plate. Or maybe ten.
The Boss decided against the five spiced duck, and instead went for the Pork, brined loin, crisped rolled belly and trotter croquette - finished with a light smoke. A side dish was provided too- spring braise of savoy caggabe and peas.
The boss liked this dish and was taken by the trotter croquette, which she originally thought may be too much for her. The pork was tender, but in reality, it didn't live up to her entree! I didn't get to taste a bite, as I was too busy guzzling down the morel sauce and secretly trying out, once again, how to lick the bowl. Don't be put off though- she wasn't disappointed, it's just that she was jealous of my ballontine, even if she won't admit it!!
Knowing the week of eating ahead (conference food ... can be at times, well, horrid) we also ordered a side of broccolini for $8.5 so we could get some goodness into us!
After the chicken, I was well and truly content, but the boss was keen for something sweet to end with but didn't want a full dessert. She decided on the sweet indulgences, house made at Lakehouse which included spiced pop corn, melting marshmallows, Brownies, white chocolate fudge and Austrian shortbread. I snapped up a few pieces of the spiced pop corn, which were heavenly, and watched her eat the rest, which she thoroughly enjoyed, the shortbread being the stand out! Although I didn't want to leave, I knew it had come time. I was feeling very settled after my couple of gin and tonics (they have a good selection of Gin). I thought I should pop down to the loo, because we had a half hour drive ahead of us. I should have gone earlier. No, not because I needed to, but because heading down to the toilet is actually a treat! On the way down you can sneak a peek at the wine cellar and the chef's table, which is quite a lovely little area.
I wish I had more time to sticky beak around!
As we were leaving I got to see Alla in a meeting with all the chefs including head chef David Green. I tried to listen in, and almost had the courage to ask for an autograph, but didn't want to interrupt! I'm really not an autographs type person, but come on- It's Alla Wolf Tasker!!
I thoroughly enjoyed my whole dining experience at Lakehouse. The food was divine, without being too finicky, the service was swift and efficient, the Gin was good, and I got to see Alla Wolf Tasker! I will make the effort to go back to Daylesford, simply because I want to go to Lakehouse. This time, I'd love to go for dinner and have the tasting menu to get a really great selection of the food, but I may just have to ask for a ballontine for dessert. And some to take away.
In a place like this, it's the little touches that count- the lovely artworks all around the restaurant and on the plates, which were done by Allan, Alla's husband, the taking of your coat, the nice chairs to sit on whilst you wait to be picked up, in conjunction with the food mean this really does live up to it's reputation and is a really divine place to visit.
When to go: Whenever you get the chance- seriously, doesn't matter the weather or the time of day or night, it was actually nice to sit there on a rainy sunday afternoon and just indulge. If you do go, can you bring me back a ballontine and Alla's autograph!?
P.S - this is the perfect time to tell you guys, I am going to be doing a 'Month of Melbourne' ! I have been eating out in Victoria lots lately and thought I could pay homeage to our friends in Victoria by reviewing some of their restaurants!