Review: Source Dining, Kyneton, and a Weekend in the Macedon Ranges, September 2017

It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to say that in our previous pre-baby life, many of our getaways were planned around meals. Where we went for lunch or dinner, would often dictate our activities for the day. That was certainly true of our long weekend getaway in the Macedon Ranges this time last year. While we stayed in the picturesque town of Woodend, the one ‘fancy meal’ we booked was in Kyneton – and therefore, there was where we spent our Saturday. 

Source Dining came highly recommended by the Good Food Guide and Gourmet Traveller, regularly earning one hat for their dedication to using excellent local produce, with changing menus to reflect seasonal produce availability. Importantly for me at that point, the menu was also pregnancy-friendly with classic dishes that didn’t feature too much raw food! 

Located on iconic Piper Street in Kyneton, you can easily spend the morning browsing the gorgeous boutiques, antique and local makers stores before gradually making your way down to Source Dining for lunch. If you’ve got a later lunch booking, you can even duck into boutique Animus Distillery for a cheeky gin tasting before going for lunch (note – we didn’t do this, but K did try some Animus gin at lunch!)! 

We keep relatively early lunch hours – I think I would perish from hunger if I had to wait past 12.30pm for lunch! As such, we were some of the first diners into Source, but were rewarded with an excellent table by the window for people-watching as a result. 

Elderflower Cucumber and Lime Mocktail, Gin and Tonic with gin from Animus Distillery, Kyneton

Being seven months pregnant meant a mocktail for me – a housemade Elderflower, Cucumber and Lime Mocktail. Light, spritzy and utterly refreshing for a surprisingly warm September day (or maybe I just remember it was warm because I was running about five degrees warmer than everyone else in the latter stages of pregnancy!). K enjoyed a Gin and Tonic with local gin from Animus Distillery. 

I love house-baked bread and house-made butter – especially when it’s as soft and spreadable as this. I’m pretty sure I ate not just my own bread, but K’s too, with both slices absolutely slathered with butter. In my defense, I was pregnant and hungry. Let’s go with that!

A little complimentary appetiser to get us started – a few mouthfuls of an incredibly fragrant Thai soup topped with crispy crunchy fried shallots.

Pan seared scallops with cauliflower puree, pickled cauliflower, caper and currant beurre noisette, curry spice, $22

My entree – Pan seared scallops with cauliflower two ways. Lovely tender scallops that were beautifully caramelised in the pan, best eaten with the slight crunch of the cauliflower pickle. Scallops are a tricky ingredient to cook right – it’s underwhelming when undercooked, and chewy when overcooked. Finding that balance is difficult, but Source did it beautifully.

House made Ricotta Gnocchi with roast pumpkin, local walnuts, kale, sage, brown butter, crumbed hens egg, $20

I tried some of K’s Ricotta gnocchi with roast pumpkin before he cracked open the crumbed hens egg (uncooked yolks not recommended in pregnancy!) and found the gnocchi just beautifully light and fluffy. Pumpkin, gnocchi and browned butter is an unbeatable combination!

Market fresh fish with celeriac puree, remoulade, seaweed, fried Australian crab dumplings, sauce bisque, $42

Onto mains, and I stuck with seafood – the day’s market fish special of Salmon with crab dumplings. I loved the crispy salmon skin, the crunchy dumplings, and fresh salad, but the real highlight was the intense and richly flavoured bisque. It was simply to die for. I ended up asking our waiter for more bread so that I could soak it up and not waste any at all!

Eucalyptus smoked kangaroo with sprouted organic grains, sunflower, watercress, mountain pepper jus, $42

K opted to order the Smoked kangaroo for his main, a rare treat as we never cook kangaroo at home. I know we should – it’s lean, healthy, and a better choice of red meat when you consider the environment impact. But I do doubt our ability to cook it so it’s as tender and juicy as this kangaroo at Source Dining….

White chocolate mousse with rhubarb, strawberries, balsamic, hazelnut sponge, white chocolate and strawberry sorbet, meringue, $18

We finished with a shared dessert as we were already well-full by the time we finished our entrees and mains – even though I was eating for two! This White chocolate mousse was superb, with a real medley of textures and flavours to explore. My pick was the refreshing sorbet, a perfect palate cleanser after my rich seafood dishes. 

Source Dining is a fantastic destination restaurant if you’re looking for a special meal while in the Macedon Ranges. Kyneton is a lovely little town for a daytrip and we certainly enjoyed our time exploring the region. Other highlights of our weekend included:

  • Three varieties of award-winning vanilla slice from the famous Bourkie’s Bakery in Woodend – my pick is the classic vanilla!
  • Hiking to the top of Hanging Rock, seven months pregnant belly and all. I’m no Serena Williams winning the Australian Open or Kerri Jennings winning volleyball gold at the Olympics, but I did feel rather victorious by the end of it!
  • Visiting the Sand Art Gallery at Romsey
  • Our wonderfully cosy Airbnb accommodation, where we enjoyed some delicious breakfasts and BBQ dinners with local produce
  • Stopping by the Gisborne Olde Time Markets on our way back to Melbourne on the Sunday – one of the largest and most comprehensive markets I’ve encountered!

Unfortunately, our next weekend getaway in November will be planned less around excellent meals like Source Dining, and more around practical decisions like “do they offer a high chair and will a whinging baby disturb the other diners?” Any suggestions for child-friendly restaurants that still offer excellent food in the Daylesford area?

I’m (sort of) back

So nine months after my last published blog entry, I’m finally back. 

Why the unexpected hiatus? Put simply, real life took over and chronicling various meals devoured became less important. 

K and I took possession of my apartment again (purchased in 2010, rented out to tenants while I was living in Sydney) and did a pretty intensive DIY-renovation over a month and a half. This included:

  1. stripping back, patching, and sanding all walls and ceilings
  2. ripping up all carpets and replacing with floating floorboards
  3. replacing all skirting boards and trim around doors and windows
  4. gutting out both built-in wardrobes and building a new wardrobe system
  5. removing all existing blinds and curtains and replacing it with plantation shutters.

Once all that was done, we obviously had to furnish and decorate the apartment, given that we had given away or sold all our furniture when we left Sydney and went travelling. 

During renovations, there came news of another significant life change. Our little family of two and a cat is expanding – K and I expect our first human child any day now. Naturally, this has become all-consuming in the past nine months with hours of research, education classes, appointments and shopping. 

Combined with renovations and family planning, there came also a particularly busy period at work where I (pretty much) single-handedly planned, organised, and ran a 400 person conference on top of my regular work duties. This called for many late nights, and an overwhelming desire to not stare at another computer screen by the time I got home.

All that’s now over. However it does beg the question – what will become of this blog now that my goals in life have shifted and my lifestyle will fundamentally change?

Food blogger may not be the right term to use anymore. I won’t be eating out enough to justify that. I have purchased a new All-in-One slow and pressure cooker though, so there may be recipes to share as I learn to master the art of pressure cooking.

Yet I don’t think I’ll ever be a mummy blogger. However, there’s no doubt there will be parenting-related posts when this child is born and I’m left both pulling my hair out in frustration and consumed by maternal love. 

Let’s just call this a chronicle of life. In the meantime, I’ll try to finish off and publish the nine (!) drafts of blog entries that have been languishing in the back end since March.

Travel Tales: Sri Lanka Family Tour, December 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

I can count on one hand the number of family vacations I’ve been on. For most of my formative years, my family’s financial circumstances and the sixteen hour days, 362 days of the year that my parents worked in the takeaway shop meant that they couldn’t justify taking the time or money to go on holiday.

We took precisely two family holidays between 1991 when we arrived in Australia and 2004 when I turned 18. Once in 1998 when I finished primary school and my parents decided to go back to Hong Kong and Cixi to see our family. And once in 2004 when I finished high school and my parents decided to do the same thing again.

That was the last time I travelled with my whole immediate family.

Since my mother passed away, my father has been travelling more to see our family overseas – partly I think, to escape an empty house. What it does mean is that he’s become more comfortable with the idea of taking time off to travel and see different parts of the world.

Travel is of particular appeal to my father when he can do it with his loved ones. So not just myself, my husband and my brother but our extended family – my aunts, uncles, cousins. And so, before long, our planned family trip to Sri Lanka for my cousin’s wedding turned into a larger and longer family tour around the island in a big tour bus.

Our tour group numbered 23 people in all and included two sets of aunts and uncles, cousins, cousin’s partners, family friends, and our new Sri Lankan relatives. The logistics of travel with a group of that size will always be difficult as you try to cater to everyone’s preferences – which naturally, are very diverse. The difficulties are then amplified when you’re travelling in a country like Sri Lanka where everything runs on ‘island time’ and the travel industry is still very much in its infancy. Add in the fact that the tour guide will try to bend to everyone’s wishes to be polite rather than ruling the tour group with an iron fist as is usually warranted with a group of that size – and it’s a real perfect storm.

It would be fair to say that the first few days were not without their hiccups. Veteran travellers in the group wanted to have more street food and more authentic non-tour-group experiences. Trying to take everyone on that authentic journey is near-impossible when you’re eating at small un-airconditioned stalls that can’t cater adequately for a tour group of our size. On the flip side, the older members of our group really struggled with the oppressive heat and humidity of Sri Lanka, and found it difficult to stay out of air-conditioning for much more than an hour. You can’t see much of the country from air-conditioned hotel rooms and tour buses. Finding that balance between the two opposing dichotomies was an interesting experience.

While the logistical aspects of a big family group tour had its challenges, there were definite highlights to the trip as well. My own personal highlight was a twilight safari tour we did in Kaudulla National Park where we saw herds of elephants by the water, birds in flight, and even a fox feeding on a carcass. Interestingly, one of the herds of elephants was moving around and mingling with a herd of cows that had once been domesticated but had escaped into the national park years ago.

I also enjoyed the time spent on a train to Nuwara Eliya (motion sickness not withstanding) – an old blue train winding its way through lush green forests and jungles, past distant waterfalls and into tea plantation country with curved waves of tea plants lining the hills as far as the eye can see. The time in Nuwara Eliya itself with its beautiful Colonial-era architecture was particularly pleasant with the higher and cooler climate proving to be a nice respite from the humidity elsewhere in Sri Lanka.

I’m a big nerd for cultural and historical facts as well – so I enjoyed visiting temples and the ruins of ancient Sinhalese cities. I would have preferred more of that style of historical tour to be honest, but that kind of learning-based tour wasn’t to everyone’s taste so we cut short visits to some places where I would have liked to spend more time. There’s always next time!

One final highlight – visiting and climbing Sigiriya, the site of a former palace of a dictator Sinhalese king, Kashyapa I of Anuradhapura. It is breathtaking in sheer physical size and you feel a real sense of achievement when you manage to climb all the way to the top of the rock. What I enjoyed though was the history that you could see in every part of the grounds – from the foundations of the ancient water gardens and palaces to the crude wall paintings hidden halfway up the rock. Hearing the details of the story of this dictator king was a real highlight, and helped to bring some of Sri Lanka’s history to life.

Food-wise, after a few missteps with attempting to feed 23 people at streetside stalls, we ended up eating primarily at air-conditioned, hygienic and overpriced restaurants that could cater for large tour groups. While sometimes that meant Sri Lankan curries (some of my go-to favourite options were the stir-fried kang kong and an eggplant dish called Brinjal Moju), other times it meant having a slightly bastardised Western-style meal. Not ideal, but practical…and if I’m being honest, even in those tame tour-friendly restaurants, I found it hard to have a bad meal!

At the end of the day, whatever challenges we faced along the way are the same challenges that you might face with your family under any circumstances – no matter if it’s on holiday or at home. Finding that balance between generational and personal preferences is what family relationships are all about.

I wouldn’t give up the trip for anything. Looking back now, or in five, ten or twenty years time I know that there will be only one thing that comes to my mind – the quality time I got to spend with my extended family. As K and I start to look towards the next stage of our lives and the possibilities of starting our own family, opportunities for being with extended family will begin to fade away. I’m grateful for the time that I had with them – heaven knows I didn’t get to spend enough quality holiday time with my mother before she passed away.