Yarra Valley / Melbourne
Wanted to share our Melbourne experiences. Twards posts above dated Feb 28 describe our dining and wine tasting in Yarra Valley.
So...Melbourne. What a great city. We really had a wonderful time. In terms of dining/chowish experiences:
European on Spring St. Nice atmosphere, very busy on a Saturday morning. Melbourne in general has great coffee and we enjoyed ours here. Get a seat outside if you're visiting in the summer like we were.
-Little Creatures in Fitzroy. Really cool atmosphere, very light, open and warehouse-like. Our lunch here was on the light side - we shared a beet and feta dip with warm pita bread and lamb wrapped in phyllo dough (like small rolls). Really nice selection of beer - Aussie, Belgian and others.
-Being fans of Anthony Bourdain, we'd watched his Melbourne episode of "No Reservations" with interest. We hit one of the places he visited - A1 Lebanese Bakery in the Brunswick neighborhood. We hadn't eaten breakfast that day, so we feasted on a lebanese "pizza" with a gorgeously seasoned ground lamb and pine nut topping as well as a fairly large, light and airy folded pastry filled with spinach and feta.
-A few hours after hitting A1, our appetites had come back enough to try Hellenic Republic. This place was really good. We'd dropped in on a Friday afternoon - the place was bustling and we did not have a reservation; however we were seated and served promptly. We shared:
-warm pita bread
-olives (local and Hellenic ... all quite nice)
-Melitzanosalata - eggplant dip dressed with red onions. Had to have been the airiest, tastiest eggplant dip we've ever had. Fantastic.
-Calamari. So simple, but oh so good. Marinated (we think) in lemon juice, garlic and olive oil, perfectly grilled and dressed with fresh herbs.
Hako. Japanese cuisine. On Flinders La. in the CBD. We were a party of 5. Service was definitely on the poor side - disorganized, had to make multiple requests (overall, there seemed to be communication issues, as the waitstaff did not speak very good english and none of us speak japanese), generally slow getting anything to the table. Food was unoriginal albeit well executed, but portions were on the SMALL side and everything was quite pricey. Let's just say that later in the evening, a few of us hungrily hit up a random kebab place before turning in... Would not recommend this place.
Movida. Here, we were a party of 3. Everyone really enjoyed the food. We had:
-Croqueta - potato leek, I believe. Tasty.
-Viera (bay scallop with jamon and potato foam - very yummy)
-Braised beef cheek w/cauliflower puree - very good
-Spinach & chickpeas - larger portion than expected. Nicely spiced.
-One or tapas that were on special that night.
Server was very knowledgeable about the menu and wine list, and service overall was good.
La Luna in North Carlton. Quite a lovely dinner. We were a party of 4. This place was BYO - I am not sure whether we were charged corkage but we brought in a bottle of champagne we'd purchased at a great little bottle shop a few doors down and 2 Aussie Cabs. For dinner we had:
-oysters, with a side of mignonette sauce. Very briny and fresh, tasted of the sea. Perfect with the champagne.
-2 of us ordered the scotch fillet and the other 2 ordered the gnocchi with beef ragout. All mains were very good - I had the gnocchi, and they were heavenly ... probably the lightest and most pillowy I've had.
-Sides of spinach and roasted kipfler potatoes. Here in Los Angeles, we get similar potatoes at our farmer's markets - they are akin to a fingerling but had a slightly deeper/nuttier taste. These were great. Spinach was good, too. Perfectly cooked, with just a hint of crushed red pepper flakes. A good accompaniment to all the beef and starch.
Although not a restaurant, I recommend a stop into Meditteranean Wholesalers on Sydney St. in Brunswick. Primarily italian food products - everything from olive oils to pastas, beans, salumi, cheeses, fresh pastas, grains, salt cod, fancy canned tunas, sun dried tomatoes, etc. Prices were lower than what we'd pay here in Los Angeles and the selection was unlike any place I've seen here. Customers were mostly middle-aged Italian speakers. Go inside, look around, then close your eyes and listen to the folks around you, and you'd swear you were in Italy.
Oh, I'm glad you liked La Luna - its our favourite hangout mainly because of the BYO and the great steaks (its in my top 5 in my profile). I rarely recommend it to people visiting though. The 'little bottle shop' is Rathdowne Cellars, one of the top few wine shops in Melbourne.
I live near Meditteranean Wholesalers, it is is so Italian - fifteen aisles of pasta and no vegetables :-)
Melbourne - lots of stuff on the board, just do a trawl back and ask any questions, nothing's changed really since then, and if you are after specific cuisines just ask!
Yarra Valley - depends where you're going/ staying, but in general I would recommend Cheesefreaks at Yarra Glen for lunch, Bella Vedere at Badgers Brook winery, Giant Steps for a good pizza, Healesville Hotel for gastropub (you will be very full), 3777 for a beautiful view and good value, and Yering Station Wine Bar for linch in a big contemporary glass box! (Obviously the winery lunch tie-ins dependsn where you are and what you are doing)
There's a posher restaurant at Yering as well, Eleonore's, the food is good but not fabulous but a lovely setting with nce service etc - kind of place I take my mum.
I've heard good things about the Hargreaves Hill brewery in Yarra Glen but haven't been
Thanks to the Q & A above. We'll be in the Yarra Valley for a couple days next week, staying just north of Healesville.
When you mention the "winery lunch tie-ins" it sounds like many wineries offer lunch? Interesting. It seems many are only open weekends as well - can anyone confirm?
Does anyone have any opinions about favorite Yarra Valley wineries (esp. pinot noir)? We're not status-driven, point-seeking wine snobs, but we prefer to avoid the more mundane juice / tourist places.
'Cellar door' and 'top winery' don't go together that much. The wineries with big cellar doors and, indeed, most of the good food tend to be at the mid level. Nothing wrong with them at their price point.
Pinot noir is controversial. The Yarra Valley should be good, but the bulk of them are pretty ordinary. Yarra Yering is probably a consistent exception. (Mornington Peninsula is pinot territory). Try Yering Station, Rochford and Domaine Chandon for good wineries to visit. De Bortoli is a nice winery and does a good value pinot.
Mount Mary is the greatest wine in the valley - but no cellar door.
Basically, all the cellar doors are open at weekends and fewer during the week. But it varies... my advice would be to find a couple of keynote wineries and then hit the tourist information for up to date opening.
Can recommend Healesville Hotel Dining Room for dinner (have eaten there at least six time). For lunch have enjoyed visits to De Bortoli Wines , Domaine Chandon ,Rochford ( http://www.rochfordwines.com.au/webshop/?red=Silverlight.aspx ) , Tarrawarra (has art gallery as well), Tokar Estate, Yering Station, Yarra Valley Dairy ( http://www.yvd.com.au/home/Default.asp )
Thanks very much to you and the others on this thread. We depart in a few hours and your advice will come in handy.
Regarding Yarra Valley Pinots, I've since done some reading and it does indeed seem a bit warm there. It seems folks with some south facing slopes and cool pockets do best, but otherwise it seems like various other varietals do well there - Bordeauxs and Rhones including, as ya'll call it, "Shiraz" ;)
Some quick notes on our tasting experiences:
Yarra Yerring is now open (some) weekdays. Their wines are all outstanding and have a high degree of elegance, finesse, and clarity. However, most are about AUD 80 / bottle. We had a great tasting there.
Rochford is the former Eyton. We liked several of their wines, buying a pinot. This place is on the bus circuit and we were lucky to arrive 10 minutes before an cruise ship bus arrival.
We arrived at the end of the day to Tarra Warra so didn't see the gallery. The wines were all good, but not exciting, though we bought a pinot we quite liked.
Coldstream Hills is interesting and had some really nice wines. An odd and interesting aspect is that they are now part of the Fosters megacorp and pour both their local wines and those sourced from their French properties. I have to admit, most of the French wines outshined their local counterparts, but had higher prices to match. I'm torn on the concept and ultimately have to say I'm not in Australian wine country to drink French wine. (Let me finish by saying we did like some of their Yarra wines well enough to buy a couple.)
IMO the Medhurst 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is a hidden gem. Their other wines were all nice and we also bought their Shiraz.
Oakridge was OK, though we're not sure it got a fair showing as we arrived within 15 minutes of closing.
Overall we really enjoyed touring around the Yarra Valley and it seems many of the wineries offer great lunch opportunities.
We had dinners at Giant Steps and at the Healesville Hotel. We were in town on Sunday and Monday night and like many places outside the city, kitchens close between 8 and 9pm often. Both places were good and inviting.
Watch that iceberg salad at Giant Steps - it's Giant! We had a couple Pinots and some pizza. All good, satisfying, and relaxing.
At the Hotel we had oysters, green beans, and a sirloin steak, which was a bit overdone but had excellent flavor. We had good luck with the wines by the glass. A nice atmosphere.
Also, we had lunch one day at Balgownie Estate and tasted there. The lunch (risotto w/ rocket pesto and an onion, goat cheese tart and a cauliflower side) - all was very good and portions were large. The wines there were fine, but not interesting to us.