Thursday, March 20, 2014

King Valley - Have An Awesome Time Cow Mustering, Fly Fishing, Pasta Making and Eating

During the Christmas break, I was looking for a place to go with my friends Elliot and Andy. Immediately, King Valley came to mind. I had enjoyed my previous trip so much and was surprised at how many things you can do in the area, along with the excellent food and wine. You can read about my previous trip Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 and see some of the things I did last time.

This time round, I wanted to do even more different things, in particular some outdoor activities. When I contacted the Rural City of Wangaratta to obtain more information about things I can do in King Valley, Emma Keith who I had met previously, was most helpful. We finalised an itinerary that consisted of lots of great activities and eating and Emma even arranged to subsidised some of my costs.

Below are the places I encountered, with some of my costs subsidised by the Rural City of Wangaratta:

* Forges Farm (my costs were subsidised)
* Dalzotto Winery
* King Valley Lodge
* Pizzini Winery (my costs were subsidised)
* Indulgence Fly Fishing (my costs were subsidised)
* Rinaldo's Restaurant (my costs were subsidised)
* The Plough Inn (my costs were subsidised)
* Pedal To Produce
* Snow Road Produce
* Walkabout Apiaries
* Milawa Cheese Company
* Milawa Mustards

Let me start by showing you the accommodation at King Valley Lodge. Initially we had booked somewhere else but then I heard from Ewen about this amazing place he had stayed at previously. And it did turn out to be an amazing accommodation. For $200 per night, you get a whole cottage to yourself that would easily sleep 10-12 people. There was only 3 of us so we got a whole room each. Beautiful wooden floors lined the whole cottage and every room was spacious and nicely decorated. The lounge was so comfortable and there was a super modern kitchen, which I loved. The whole cottage was down this gravel lane and was so secluded. Utter quietness surrounded the cottage so you can hear the tress rustle and we got woken up to the sounds of birds chirping every day. At night, it was so good to be able to see super bright stars while we sat on the deck and drank our Prosecco. I can't recommend this accommodation enough. Previously it was really hard to book as they didn't have an online presence and I had to ask Emma to help me out, but now you can book easily as all the details are on their website.

On the first day, we started off with some good old fashioned cow mustering. Yee-ha. We all wanted to ride horses as how often do you get the chance when you're in the metropolitan areas. Hence, it was perfect that the Forge family of Graham, Ann-Marie and Ellen were just starting to offer this cow mustering event. Instead of just riding horses around, you actually help to herd the cows they own from one paddock to the next so they can eat new grass. Graham told me all about his adventures in herding the cows and how wonderful it is to sleep under the stars in the field. I can't vouch for the sleeping under the stars part but the cow muster was so much fun. The cows were rather feisty and not necessarily the easiest to herd around. A few managed to run in different directions and we had to work as a team to herd them to the right places. It was rather hot work, but super enjoyable. Luckily we lubricated ourselves on some Prosecco beforehand and lots of delicious sandwiches (the smoked salmon one was great) and cakes (beautifully simple cakes). I don't know what the legal riding limit is but I may have exceeded it. Thankfully for me, my horse Bassy, was a true professional and did all the work. I even got to ride in a slow gallop, and that was pretty scary already. After 4-5 hours of amazing scenery and moving the cows about, we had finished our work and it was time to go to the accommodation and shower for dinner.

For dinner, I had booked in Dalzotto. I was previously extremely impressed with the simple but authentic food there. They also made my favourite Prosecco in the region. While we admired the beautiful scenery outside the framed windows, we sipped on some excellent Prosecco and browsed the menu. We decide to order the tasting entree sampler, a meat pizza and fettuccine with lamb ragu. The tasting platter of a lamb pie (excellent), asparagus with prosciutto, prawns with aioli (surprisingly good given I don't love prawns) and the meatballs (my favourite) were all solid and good. The pizza had a great topping and crisp base but the pasta with ragu was the highlight of the meal. Perfect al dente pasta with a rich ragu. Simplicity executed perfectly and at it's best. I convinced the others to have desserts and after seeing that it was pannacotta with wine jelly, everyone decided to get one. It was a good dessert but I'm still dreaming of that chocolate tart they did when I visited previously.

On the second day, it was off to Pizzini Winery to attend our pasta making class. Previously when I attended the class, we didn't have enough time to really learn how to make everything. This time, I absorbed all of Katrina Pizzini's instructions and wonderful tips and made sure I took lots of notes. The class included lunch and wines and I would highly recommend this pasta class, or another of the others in fact. Katrina is a great teacher and patient and you get all the recipes as well. That day we made spaghetti, cappelletti, gnocchi, ravioli and a ragu alla Bolognese. Elliot was the star pupil, cooking and stirring all the sauces. His spaghetti also turned out well, although his cappelletti, along with Andy's, were a bit fat. I made sure I didn't over-fill my cappelletti so I could bend them around to create the cap effect. Otherwise, everyone's pastas were looking great. The gnocchi was a whole other beast and harder to get shaped right. I'm happy to report that they all tasted great in the end, just didn't look so good.

With all the pasta made, Katrina cooked them up and plated them all for us to eat. The ragu alla Bolognese that she makes is freaking awesome upon second tasting. I've since gone on to make that recipe so many times to much applause from everyone's who tasted it. There was also pesto gnocchi (good) and the cappelletti were finished in the most amazing mushroom and sage sauce. The duck raviolis were a thing of beauty and any hatted restaurant would be proud to claim them as their own. I haven't made that duck filling yet as it is a bit more work but I will attempt it soon. After all the mains, we were treated to an awesome profiterole with home grown peaches and the famous Pizzini Rocky Road. If there's better Rocky Road out there, I'm still waiting to find it. As you can see from my enthusiasm, this was an awesome class/lunch. I'd pay just for the lunch alone so I'd definitely recommend taking any of the classes. When I'm back in the area, I'll be taking another class for sure.

While we were super full from the lunch, it was time to go fly fishing with Scott from Indulgence Fly Fishing. We practised casting the fly on the grass. It was a lot harder than it looked as I used to think you just flick the fly around like on tv. But timing is so crucial or else you end up with an awful cast where the line goes everywhere and would smack into the water scaring away all the fish. After about half an hour we were getting the hang of it and making some good cast. But you know what they say about putting things into practise, it's never as easy.

We walked over to the river at the back of the Pizzini Winery. It was absolutely beautiful wading into the river with our waterproof pants. The water rushed around you and it was both cooling and calming. We practised some small casts and they weren't too bad. However, once we moved further up the river and tried to put the casts into spots where the fish might be, it was terrible. Lines were caught in the grass, we snagged it on the tree, or just plain snapped the line into the water. Scott showed us the artistry you can achieve when you know what you're doing and put the fly in some impossible locations. I think we even saw a fish jump up but unfortunately none of them took the bait. It was still so much fun and I want to improve my casting now. It's a challenge in itself. Catching the fish would be the cherry on the cake. Scott offers all types of packages for all groups and I'm sure there's something that will suit your budget and tastes.

After we cleaned ourselves up from the fly fishing, we headed off to the highly acclaimed Rinaldo's in Wang (or Wangaratta if you're not local). The restaurant is a nice high ceiling room and it was packed already by the time we arrived at 7pm. We took our seats and started with some pesto chicken terrine bruschetta. The entree was not good. The chicken was unrecognisable in taste as it was covered in so much pesto. It was not a dish any of us enjoyed.

Unfortunately the meal didn't get too much better with mains. I got the twice cooked duckling, while Andy got the slow braised lamb shoulder and Elliot the surf and turf. My duck,cooked for 12 hours, was very dry, which made it hard to eat and not tasty. Andy's lamb was a quite tough and chewy, again quite a surprise given it was slow cooked. The flavour was quite good but not the texture. The surf and turf was again overcooked and dry. We all found the dishes rather heavy handed, with heavy sauces and heavy accompaniments.

At this point, we were disappointed as the restaurant was highly rated and there were awards everywhere. But we just found the dishes to be glorified pub meals at higher prices. Maybe we had ordered the wrong things and should have gone with pasta dishes. I still decided that I wanted to try desserts as I love desserts. I saw that there were crepes and creme brulee (my favourite dessert) so we ordered them to try. Finally, something that was really good with the creme brulee. It was silky smooth with a good sugar top. The crepes were pretty good too, until...... we found the biggest fly ever in the ice cream. Andy nearly bit into it and got such a rude shock he nearly spat out the food in his mouth. We informed the waiter (after trying to get his attention for 10 minutes) and he did apologise and offer to serve us the same dessert again. He brought over a new crepe but by that point no one really felt like eating anymore. As unfortunate as the fly was, these things happen and I understand it. The way the waiter dealt with it was also good. But in general I found the food to be quite ordinary and the service was rather confused and slow too. It seemed to be very popular with the locals so maybe I caught them on an off night. I would probably go elsewhere as the menu didn't read that well to me but you may want to try for yourself as there's lots of good reviews about the place.

On our last day, we did the Pedal to Produce activity. What happens is you pick up a bike (for free) from Brown Brothers. You then can cycle to a variety of food producers around the Milawa area. We visited a number of them, including Walkabout Apiaries where we learnt so much about different honeys and bought some, to Snow Road Produce where we looked at all the meats/cheese/wines, Milawa Cheese Company where we sampled and bought lots of cheeses and finally to Milawa Mustards to sample all twenty something mustards and buy a few. Who knew there were so many varities of mustard. I ended up liking the more standard flavours of the 3 seed or English mustard. The honey mustard was also really nice. It's such a great way to see Milawa and I'd recommend you do the Pedal to Produce ride.

Upon returning our bikes to Brown Brothers, we went to Plough Inn in Tarrawingee for lunch. From the exterior it looks just like your typical pub. And as you walk past the bar area, you'd think that was the case. However, once you go further into the restaurant, the area morphed into a beautiful industrial looking dining room with amazing polished floorboards. We were seated in the main dining room and when I was browsing the menu, I was instantly excited. The menu looked very fresh and exciting and as it turns out, it was. We started off with entrees of beetroot cured ocean trout, beef cappelletti and chicken terrine with pickled cabbage and croutons. All three entrees were excellent. The trout was beautifully cured with the beetroot and the dish looked so pretty too. The pasta was well made and cooked, complimented the vegetables on it well. Lastly, the chicken terrine was good by itself, but went even better with the pickled cabbage.

For mains we shared the lamb with lentils and duck cooked two ways. The lamb was so tender and had an amazing flavour and worked wonderfully with the acidic lentils. The seared duck was excellent, but I didn't care too much for the mushy duck rissoles. The sauce was really good and soft potatoes were nice too.

To finish the meal we tried two desserts. A classic Summer pudding and citrus trifle. The citrus trifle was a good idea with a granita, citrus cake and citrus cream but in execution it was too bitter and sour. The Summer pudding was far nicer with the beautiful taste of different berries. Overall the meal was really good and I was surprised by the quality. It just goes to show that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. If I saw the outside of the pub, I would never go inside, but I'm glad I was recommended the restaurant as I would definitely go back for more meals.

After lunch, it was time to head back home via a quick stop to Beechworth for a bit of a wander. We had such a great trip and it was definitely action packed as I wanted. I can't wait to visit again and do even more activities such as rafting, archery, more horse riding and water skiing. The King Valley area is such a superb place with great food, wine and people. It's also a lot cheaper to stay at compared to some other better known areas so that's even better. So get onto it and book yourself a short stay, or a long one, at King Valley.

Some of my expenses were covered by the Rural City of Wangaratta. A huge thanks to Emma Keith for helping to pull together the itinerary.

Dal Zotto Wines Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Rinaldo's Casa Cucina on Urbanspoon

Plough Inn on Urbanspoon

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