A DINING EXPERIENCE REVIEW
Type: Fine Dining, Winery Food: 7/10 Service: 6/10 Value for money: 7/10
- The menu here makes an effort to showcase local Yarra Valley produce, from local bergamot to native Australian pepper berry
It’s our two year Anniversary.
‘Two years…’ I hear Josh mutter on the phone bewilderedly.
‘Where did last year go?’ I respond, shaking my head in surprise. We’ve had a whirlwind couple of years separated by at least 5 different continents and alternating between every state in Australia. In fact, as we discuss anniversary ideas over the phone he’s in another country where the sheep population outnumber the human population.
But I’m sitting in my home office staring at a little card my partner Josh gave me roughly two years ago – from one of our most earliest dates I think. It has a series of hand drawn laboratory beakers with a message that read “you and me have chemistry”. A wave of recent conversations with friends and family flood my mind as I hear Josh starts making plans on the other end of the line. A colleague’s prying voice. What are you two doing for valentines day weekend? Not sure, we’re probably going to focus on our anniversary celebration instead. Your anniversary is on valentines day? No. Why is your anniversary on valentines day? It’s not…
‘Let’s make a weekend out of it. Valentines day falls on the same weekend of our anniversary,’ says Josh sensibly. It is logical, so I don’t snap at him. But if someone tries to bring up Valentines Day one more time I will not be responsible for what happens to them.
Despite how annoying it is to have a rather important life event constantly overshadowed by some bogus holiday, the brilliant thing about having your anniversary fall a couple of days short of Valentines Day each year is that no one will be annoyed at us for being unavailable… because the majority of our friends would be scrambling around preparing & saving up for their own dates, and the other half are out trying to get laid. It’s fool proof. Get on it.
Over the phone Josh suggests disappearing for a weekend getaway, and we plan it around Ezard’s second restaurant at Levantine Hill. We’ve wanted to try Ezard @ Levantine Hill for a while as the CBD establishment is one of our favourite local haunts, but being based in the Yarra Valley makes it harder to just pop down and visit. It is an excuse to take advantage of the getaway homes and cottages around the area.
Fast forward a few weeks later and we are sitting on a peaceful deck at a bed and breakfast, on a late Saturday morning with sweeping views of the valley, mountain ranges, and neighbouring townships. Our lovely hosts surprises us with a bottle of sparkling for the special occasion, along with a platter of the sweetest and juiciest fresh tomatoes from the farm next door – served with cheese and crackers of course. We sit on that deck for hours chatting and appreciating the calm of the countryside and each other’s company. It is a spectacular vantage point for the sunset. You can book the Linden Bed and Breakfast here.
If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to be in a relationship with a person and with food at the same time – this is pretty much it. You two will plan events, travel, special occasions, and even non-occasions around food. Deciding what to make for dinner is often a serious discussion one could easily mistake to be two people talking about corporate strategy.
We awake with a slight hangover the following day, mainly caused by a bottle of wine we chased our champagne with on the deck. As usual, Josh sleeps in and I’m up and about wide awake looking for Panadol. I hear a knock on the door and it’s our host Lynn with a breakfast trolley of goodies. My quest for Panadol is swiftly cancelled. I’m quite content with stuffing my face full of breakfast, and soon the smell of coffee stirs Josh and he is up and about too – diving straight for his coffee cup. We sit and eat slowly, still in hangover purgatory, and discuss how to better manage our stomachs for lunch at Ezard. It’s in about four hours time, and ideally I want to try a few wine pairings. What to do…Perhaps we eat all the fruit loaf to line our stomachs prior to lunch? Good idea. We eat all the fruit loaf.
With our stomachs prepped for wine, Josh and I move on to prepping our appetite. We have four hours left to be hungry again. Enough time. We fit in a walk around nearby art town Warrandyte, and an early swim back at the B&B before hopping into the car like excited children to make our way down to Levantine Hill.
It’s a stunning winery I must say. Levantine Hill Estate and Homestead is old school country club prep – grand and opulent. In contrast, the restaurant building is ultra modern and sleek, almost mirroring the Steiner Architecture style of our bed and breakfast dwelling. The space is bright and open, with light flooding the dining area via giant floor-to-ceiling windows. The views are endless rolling hills sprinkled generously with grapevines. There are wall booths for couples, and booths for large groups fitted into giant cylindrical nooks. We are seated at a large, double clothed table flanked by deep armchairs upholstered with tapestry.
Our waiter explains that the restaurant is doing an 8 course Valentines Day degustation menu for their guests as he presents our amuse bouche. It is deceivingly rich but oddly refreshing. The almond gazpacho is perfectly chilled and the whole dish reminds me of a really good glass of Meursault wine. They didn’t have any from the region but suggested the vineyard’s own Chardonnay which was quite lovely.
Excited by our starter, we speculate what the rest of the food will be like. From what is presented on the menu booklet, it’s easy to tell that the style of food served here is very different to the asian fusion we are used to at the CBD establishment – with the exception of the sashimi dish with miso and squid cracker that soon followed our amuse bouche. The sashimi is fresh but possibly not the most well prepared sashimi I’ve ever had (in saying that, the most well prepared sashimi I had was in Osaka, so those are big shoes to fill). The slices of fish are thick and vary in sizes. The flavours on the plate are clean, unmarred by unnecessary spices and they compliment the mild flavour of the kingfish so well.
Our next dish – the garden salad- blows me away. We both recognise the smoked cheese and fig combination from Ezard’s original menu, and this one is a step up. Using the smoked goats curd instead of ricotta gives the salad a cleaner flavour, and makes the saltiness of the jamon not too overpowering. No asian flavours like the shitake or the shallots in sight here, which leads us to suspect that the restaurant is aiming to take advantage of all the beautiful local ingredients surrounding them.
The waiter mentions cauliflower tofu as he presents the next dish to us, and we both raise our eyebrows curiously. What in the world is cauliflower tofu? Turns out, it’s actually quite delicious. Think soft Japanese tofu as opposed to dense firm Chinese tofu. The flavour is sweet but subtle, almost identical to the scallops that accompany it. Josh finds this pairing confusing as there is not enough texture to break up the dish, and I agree. However I like how the cauliflower is light enough so as not to overpower the subtle flavour of the sweet, perfectly cooked scallop.
For those who know me – foam just isn’t my thing. It really is confusion on a plate. It is 80’s, it is ugly, and it is incredibly unnecessary in my opinion. Foam doesn’t really do anything for me in terms of texture. The thought of bubbles in my mouth is unappealing. Flavour-wise, I find most foams to be quite mild and therefore not strong enough to make up for it’s odd texture. This foam is similar, and Josh laughs at me as I make a face. Underneath the foam however is absolute heaven. The John Dory is heavily umami, and the squid risotto is buttery and silky.
I opt for the suggested Pinot Noir pairing for the pork belly dish and we are transported into heaven. Honestly, I rarely see degustation menus that offer such a large chunk of meat as a main. We break the perfect crackling in all its pepper-crumbed glory to reveal succulent, sweet meat. It works well with the red wine garlic jam and the apple pudding. I can picture myself making a homely version of this firstly marinating the meat in a red wine garlic marinade then reducing the marinade to a sauce for serving. My mind is always ticking away planning new recipe ideas 😛
We are ridiculously stuffed by the time our second main comes. Again, Josh and I are curious about the large portions of protein. In saying that, we have noticed that most winery restaurants tend to be more generous. Perhaps it is because the produce is abundant and nearby? The wagyu melts in my mouth and we are silent up until the final scraping of the onion cream off our plates. Josh manages to mutter something about how well the steak is cooked and I almost ignore him, so intently focused on eating my meal. Mouthwatering.
Palette cleansers during degustations are fun aren’t they? Surprise! More food that you didn’t see coming! All jokes aside, our palette cleanser turns out to be quite lovely. It is light and refreshing, and not too sour despite a third of the plate consisting of lemon curd.
To end the degustation, a dessert very appropriate to the occasion is brought to our table. Each of us are presented with a plate of romantic red and pink hues scattered around a perfect chocolate and amaretto bavarois sphere. I hesitate at the chocolate ball, thinking it will be overly sweet and rich. To my surprise I take a spoonful of chilled, bittersweet chocolate covered silky goodness. The sorbet flavour – like most of the flavours I noticed throughout the degustation – is extremely clean. It is as if you are eating chilled berries with the texture of a sorbet. We finish off at back outside at the vineyard with a glass of wine, appreciating the weather that held up for us.
Overall, the dining experience at Ezard @ Levantine Hill lived up to it’s expectations and more. Competing against the other great establishments in the Yarra Valley is tough, but I feel that the team at Ezard have pulled through. Value for money is extremely reasonable and the food exciting and fresh. Unlike the original establishment in the city however, we did find the service impersonal and casual. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I’m not a fan of overly doting wait staff.
Happy feasting, and do mind your table manners.