My friends and I had never had a meal at a winery before. We've been on many trips to Red Hill, Bellarine Peninsula and Yarra Valley. So for Paul's birthday lunch, we decided to try out a winery restaurant. I remember reading Stickyfingers post about Salix and how it wasn't the best. Hence we ruled that place out. In the end, it was a choice between Vines Restaurant at Helen's Hill or Pettavel, both in the Entertainment Book. After some research of both their websites, Pettavel's menu looked a lot more enticing.
We arrived a little bit early so took a nice look at the amazing view outside the winery. The sun was streaming down rays of golden sunshine whilst the wind was doing its best to counter act the effect of the sun and making it extremely cold.
We went inside and did some wine tasting first. We went through the entire white and red wine list, about 14 wines in total from memory. The flavours were very varied, and we settled on a Pettavel Platina Chardonnay and a Pettavel Platina Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc to have with lunch. Since there was still some time before we could be seated for lunch, the staff suggested we take a walk to the back and look at the vegetable patch. The patch contained a lot of herbs and vegetables that ended up being highlighted in the dishes we would eat later. I'm not sure if the vegetables they planted are enough to supply the restaurant, but definitely every herb that was featured in the food was planted in the vegetable patch.
There was a vine growing on the fence that had these yellow fruits. When I cracked open the fruit, it was like a passionfruit in that it had little edible seeds. The seeds were red, like those of a pomegranate with a seed in the middle. The red rubies were sour to taste. Does anyone know what fruit this is?
The only meal choice available is what main you want with the degustation menu. While we decided, the waitress brought out bread and poured our wines. The waitress was extremely energetic, very American cheerleader like, and I thought it was a bit put on. But to her credit, if it was put on, we never saw her slip and she kept that happy spark up the whole time.
The meal started with an amuse bouche of creamy soup with peas in a shot glass. It was very comforting start. The first entree with Local Cuttlefish with Spring Onion, Tomato and Chilli. It was presented so beautifully, and the taste was more than matched with the looks. The cuttlefish was so tender and full of flavour, with a hint of chargrilled smokiness. The spring onion and chilli added a freshness to it. The tomato was actually in the form of the foam, which was strongly infused with tomato flavour and sprinkled with paprika. The green trail tasted of garlic.
The next entree was a Risotto with Slipper Jack and Swiss Brown Mushroom and Artavaggio. The risotto was cooked well and tasted quite good, but it was a touch salty. The Chicken Boudin Blanc with Caramelised Onion and Truffle Jus was quite good. The onions worked well with the blander chicken, but I didn't taste much truffle flavour in the jus, just a slightly over salty sauce.
For mains, we all chose something different so we could try out more of the food. Paul chose the Hahndorf Venison Topside with Pumpkin, Cocoa and Brik of Slow Braised Neck. It was the best mains in my opinion. The venison was cooked fairly rare and was so soft. It was so juicy and didn't taste like some exotic steak. Jo chose the Gold Band Snapper with Harissa, Skordalia and Preserved Lemon Aioli. As usual, fish is never my favourite thing, but this snapper combined with the various flavours did taste good.
Kin chose the Lara Rabbit with Braised Red Cabbage and Pithivier of Confit Leg. The rabbit leg was the better part of the dish. It had much more rabbit flavour, whereas the Pithivier was much drier inside. I chose the Confit Duck Leg with Cavalo, Duck Sausage and Beetroot. The duck was as duck goes, not too bad. I really liked the sweetness of the beetroot with the duck. I think beetroot is an underused vegetable. It can really add an interesting flavour to dishes, not to mention the brilliant red colour.
For desserts, Kin, as usual, got the Ice Creams and Sorbets. The flavours, from memory, were chocolate, raspberry, coconut, five spice and campari sorbet. Paul got the Pear Puff with Five Spice Ice Cream and Cinnamon. This dish worked so well when you ate everything together in one mouthful. The five spice ice cream was awful by itself, but when it was paired with the pear (boom boom, get it, paired peared) the five spice wasn't overpowering and worked with the rest of the dish.
Jo got the Coconut Panna Cotta, Banana Mousse and Palm Sugar Sorbet. Again, this dish worked when you ate everything together. The coconut pana cotta was amazing by itself already, but when paired with the other things, this dish was amazing. The palm sugar sorbet gave this fragrance, while the praline was infused with chilli and gave it all a kick. I didn't think it would all work, but was amazed at the complexity of flavours that swam around in my mouth with each mouthful. Finally, as usual, I got the chocolate dish of Valrhona Chocolate Marquise with Cumquats and Orange and Campari Sorbet. Again, my dessert had to eaten all together. When the cumquats were eaten separately, they were very sour and slightly bitter. The Campari sorbet was also slightly bitter by itself. But when eaten with the deliciously rich chocolate marquise, they help cut the richness and gave it more flavour.
The meal was finishe off with some coffee and tea. Jo had a chai soy latte as usual, which she said was the second best she had ever tasted. Kin and Paul went for lemongrass tea while I had a very good cappucino. The petit fours consisted of very taste coconut cakes, chocolate and pistachio bars and finally, some really good marshmallows. We thought tea, coffee and petit fours were part of the degustation menu as it wasn't clearly indicated that it wasn't. But it turned out it was a separate cost, which we didn't mind, but just that it wasn't clearly written that's all.
I don't know what other winery restaurants are like, but this one was really good I felt. The service the whole time was wonderful. From when they opened the door for us, to the wine tasting and the vast amounts of information we received. Our wine and water glasses was never empty. The waitress offered bread throughout the meal and checked on us just the right amount of times. Our dishes were described and cleared promptly. There were jokes and casual banter with the staff about many things. This friendly service added to the overall relaxed feel of the restaurant where we could hear happy people talking and laughing throughout our 3 hour meal.
The food was very good, as good as any top restaurant in the city, but at a fraction of the price. The degustation menu was only $70, a bargain in my views. Everything was beautifully presented with taste to match. The produce all tasted extremely fresh, with the source of the produce all identified. As mentioned earlier, I liked how all the herbs and vegetables that were in the patch were featured in all the dishes. Either they really use those vegetables or it's a very good gimmick to make us think everything is really fresh. Either way, it really worked for me.
Overall Rating: 18/20, Food and service were both excellent.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.