01 December, 2009

Lake House

King Street, Daylesford; 03 5348 3329

A peculiar coincidence occurred the day I finally dined at Lake House: reading 25th anniversary edition of 'Good Weekend' later that night, I came across an article from David Sedaris, a favourite writer of mine, in which he described a trip to Daylesford - parking across the road from our accommodation - complete with lunch at Lake House. It went further the next day, when I was offered a ticket to see his show in January...

But I digress from what was most certainly not a coincidental lunch occasion. I had hankered after sampling Lake House's renowned seasonal fare for some years. Alla Wolf-Tasker has run the venue for a quarter of a century, during which time the Lake House complex has expanded around its centrepiece restaurant - offering massages, spas, facial treatments, accommodation and conference facilities throughout the year - but the food on offer has stayed resolutely local and seasonal.

This is a restaurant that explains to every customer in a given sitting menu changes that include replacing a condiment - horseradish - which has 'just gone out of season' with something more current. They bake their own bread, and frankly a booking is almost worth it just for this sweetly spiced accompaniment.

I went the entree-main option, while SG chose the latter two courses. An amuse bouche of Mt Zero olives, white bean puree and wafer started proceedings.(Note the plate design in the photo - it's the work of Allan Wolf-Tasker, as are all those around the walls.)

My entree affirmed why seasonal dining is such a joy. Spears of white and green asparagus, lined up like pencils in a box, had been bathed in a citrus oil. An inkpot of sauce Maltaise - a smooth blend of egg yolk, butter and blood orange, apparently a traditional match for asparagus - sat to the side. On top is a crumbed poached egg, marvellously holding its egg shape and its runny yolk, beneath its decadently salty coating.

Our recent European adventures have exposed SG and me as unequivocal carnivores. Lake House's menu is certainly swayed towards meat eaters, though it points vegetarians to its longer tasting menu for more, meat-free options. We both went the whole hog, as it were, particularly in light of our dinner the night before. I went so far as to welch on my resolve never to eat veal. Lake House's is milk-fed, and I did feel that if anywhere in Victoria was going to care for their young meat it was this restaurant. And, it came with sweetbreads and artichoke. I couldn't say no.The poached veal on the left sits on a leek mustard. In the middle are the artichoke fritters, a cruelly tiny portion. The sweetmeats (yes, they are the thymus gland on the animal - don't retch, they're delicious) have a texture similar to a very firm mushroom, and like mushrooms form an excellent partnership with butter. On this dish they sit atop a garlic custard, which was far too much how it sounds to be enjoyable!

The pork dish is a veneration of this versatile meat.Crisped rolled belly sits to the left, crowned with apple and smearing a 'cider braised trotter sauce'. In the middle is a divine piece of pork shoulder wrapped in agnolotti, and lastly is brined fillet, again topped with shredded apple and hiding behind some apple foam. The piggie who graces the plate hails from Western Plains.

Because it was that kind of weekend, we indulged with a side of nicola potatoes cooked in duck fat, with rosemary and garlic. Pretty unnecessary, since we'd also accepted the offer of a bread top-up (such a rare thing, and such good bread, I wasn't going to turn it down!), but very worthwhile.

SG's dessert was certainly the visual highlight of the meal.
The centrepiece is a warm orange 'clafoutis' (their inverted commas). Dotted around are pieces of citrus and blobs of perfectly formed meringue atop dollops of tangy lemon curd. The sweet to sour balance of the plate is spot on.

While in some ways it would be nice to access local, well-respected food with a little less of the pomp and ceremony that goes with high-end dining, Lake House do make an effort at egalatarian dining. Most mealtimes offer a two-course fixed price, ranging from $39 for a mid-week lunch to $69 for dinner. Their wine mark-ups, on the other hand, salute the serious drinker: a glass of Galli Estate pinot gris is $12. (It's labelled as Lake House, so I can't be sure if it's the same wine they retail for $20.) And diners are very well cared for, by a legion of floor staff happy to answer questions.

For more information on the local producers Lake House uses, check out their website and go to Restaurant & Cellar > Regional Producers.

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