You know, it’s not all about wine here. Red Hill Brewery prides itself on offering a beer oasis, amid a sea of vines. It sells and serves a number of hoppy offerings through its cellar door (at the microbrewery) and adjoining bar-restaurant, which serves decent pub grub. Order a tasting paddle. The selection on the day we visited was the Golden Ale, Scotch Ale, Wheat Beer and Weizenbock. By far my favourite was the Scotch Ale, which was a special blend of English malts that ended with a caramel-y sweetness than lingered on the palate.
And look out for (relatively) new kid on the block Mornington Peninsula Brewery bottles and draught beers being served in the area.
If cider is your tipple of choice, then you will appreciate the three varieties (from sweet to dry) produced by Mock Orchards in Red Hill with fruit from their bio-dynamic apple orchard. Stop by for a tasting. It’s also worth stocking up at their organic farm shop, where you’ll find a range of yummy kitchen staples, super-fresh apple juice, snap freeze-dried apples, strawberries and pineapple, and plenty of fruit and veg.
You can’t come to Mornington Peninsula and not taste the region’s fantastic vinous offerings – we were bowled over by Foxeys Hangout (see part 1) and found similarly good tipple at Ten Minutes by Tractor (if on a slightly larger, more corporate scale),
but it was at Merricks General Store cellar door, under the incredibly enthusiastic guidance of Ed, that we really hit the jackpot.
We had visited this gorgeous country gem last year – when we headed to the area on a day trip with a Melburnian and visiting Sydneysider friend – at the time we feasted on coffee and cake (white chocolate and raspberry muffin and caramel slice had us vowing to come back for more), however, we didn’t realise the vast potential of the place. Now we’re hooked, and we still haven’t eaten a full meal here. Why? Because behind the counter, open and ready for tasting, are more than 30 local bottles, which are as interesting as they are varied. It’s a veritable something for everyone – from easy drinking pizza-and-pasta reds to complex white blends and a whole range of pinots that challenge the palate and push the region’s beloved grape to its limits. So how did we end up here? Well, it was that glass of local gal Kathleen Quealy’s vibrant Rageous label wot did it – we ate at The Long Table the night before and couldn’t resist trying the sangiovese, shiraz, pinot noir and merlot blend – a luscious affair that was one of the stand-outs on this thoughtful wine list. Actually, the food was pretty thoughtful here, too.
In the kitchen of this assured one-hat place, head chef Andrew Doughton serves arty creations and exciting flavour combinations. To start, an amuse bouche: tuna tartare on crispy pig’s skin with a smooth layer of mirin adding a satisfying savoury dash of unami and holding everything together.
Ash-baked celeriac, cauliflower ‘tofu’, cedar, kale and nashi pear. An adventurous veggie starter – we liked that they tried to make this dish as exciting and multi-dimensional as possible, and while some elements really worked in isolation, the plate ended up being a bit of a miss-mash of flavours and, in particular, textures. From fibrous celeriac to the crunchy kale and a spin on tofu – the consistency of thick-set natural yoghurt. Not convinced, but that’s certainly better then being presented with a boring, safe vegetarian starter.
Blue swimmer crab spring roll, fennel, sweet corn mayonnaise and chicken skins. Great – crunchy pastry, creamy crab filling, crisp chicken skins. A hit. Big fan of sweet corn mayo, too.
Grass-fed aged sirloin, shallots, king browns, radish pods and barbecue sauce. A joy to behold, perfectly cooked rare steak peppered with perfectly cooked vegetables and sitting in a thick, rich and unctuous sauce.
Otway pork belly and neck, black pudding, toffee apple and baby leeks. The holy trinity of pork belly – moist meat, gelatinous fat, teeth-sticking crackling. Hallelujah! Plus the added bonus of rich neck meat marbled with rich veins of fat and black pudding. Pig on a plate. Done.
Tarte au citron, salted oats and fennel pollen ice cream. One word. Deconstructed. And it worked without trying too hard or alluding us common folk who just love a good lemon tart. Great citrus flavour offset by the salty oats and smooth ice cream.
Handpicked berries, parsnip, hazlenut, basil blossoms and sorbet. Parsnip cream (wrapped in pretty much the same pastry as the crab starter) and tart berries with a punchy sorbet. Another beautiful dessert in which the savoury elements almost overtook the sweet – a great end to a meal without the sickening sugar rush.
This place runs like clockwork under the watchful eye of Samantha, and its welcoming spaces move from casual wine bar, to homely restaurant to smarter dining room with ease. Book a taxi and get stuck into that wine list. A truly memorable menu and gorgeous place to pass an evening.
The same couldn’t really be said for lunch the following day, at the Red Hill Estate, but that’s another story all together… Part 3 coming soon.
But first, when you are not eating and drinking, be sure to check out this gorgeous corner of Victoria – the coastline either side of Cape Schanck Lighthouse (one of the oldest active lighthouses in Australia) is stunning, as are the surf beaches, especially nearby Gunnamatta.
And if it is views you are after – drive up to Arthur’s Seat before taking the winding road back down and stopping off at various lookouts along the way.
On a good day you can make out Melbourne’s skyline looking very otherworldly and mystical as it looms up out of the water across the bay. If trudging along the Bushrangers Bay Walking Trail doesn’t appeal, then take it easy at the Mornington Peninsula Hot Springs – just a couple of pieces of advice – head for the adults-only pools and don’t drink too much wine beforehand – the water is hot and the temptation to stew in your own juices strong.