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?

Review: Nora, Carlton

Late last year, I received an email from Sarin Rojanametin and Jean Thamthanakorn of the fine dining restaurant Nora in Carlton. Shockingly and disappointingly, they were announcing the closure of Nora.

“It is with great excitement that we announce the closure of our restaurant Nora. 3 years ago we had a 1 year plan to create a space to explore creativity through hospitality. What a ride.

We’ve evolved over that time, understanding more, making decisions to reduce sittings and guests but expanding the menu and the journey; less is more. More room to create, more opportunity to dig deeper into our roots, cuisine and ideas.

We’ve loved every bit, but we’ve also realised that to fully reach our potential, we need to get back to our land, our home, our roots. To be surrounded by limitless inspirations that will challenge us to uncover new possibilities.”

Broadsheet Melbourne covered this news, and I think they were as disappointed as myself. In saying “But for all our multiculturalism, some things remain challenging for the majority”, Broadsheet were able to explain the reason for Nora’s closure. The food was simply too foreign, too challenging for many palates when the usual Australian exposure to Thai food barely extends past the $10 Pad Thai at the local takeaway. 

Let me tell you now – if you didn’t get a chance to experience Nora in the past three years, you missed out. K and I were lucky enough to dine at Nora in April 2017 on the occasion of his birthday, and walked away raving about our experience and rating it on par with some of the best meals that we’ve had – and we’ve had a few! 

The titles of many of the dishes were mysterious and only very barely gave a hint of what we were to expect – what after all, is Tom Yum Prawn, add extra egg for $2? With quirky titles that hark back to traditional Thai street food, the dishes that show up on your table are uniquely elegant, playing with textures, temperatures and tastes in a way that would challenge any palate.

Some of my highlights include the Daft Punk Is Playing In My Mouth dish of pickled fish, served with chilli ice and black sesame paste. The concept of chilli ice is as mind-blowing as it seems, offering both heat and chill in the one mouthful.

Another highlight, one which we’ve vowed to try to replicate at home, is that of a drink from the matching non-alcoholic drinks menu. Lychee and brie mocktail…yes, brie, as in brie cheese. The strong creamy ripeness of the brie was brilliantly offset by the sweet fresh fragrance of the lychee juice. I think if we were to attempt this at home, we would have to use fresh lychees – no canned lychee could possibly provide that freshness. 

With the closure of Nora, Melbourne has lost a young and innovative dining experience. It wasn’t just a restaurant. It was one of the most extraordinary culinary experiences around, embracing the intricacies of a cuisine that most people under-rate and under-value. Give me Nora’s modern exploration of Thai over traditional stuffy French or Italian fare any day.

Nora was located at 156 Elgin Street, Carlton.

Review: Vamos, Melbourne CBD

If I was to ask you where you might find a great little Spanish/Latin-style tapas bar in Melbourne, Little Bourke Street’s Chinatown probably wouldn’t be your first guess. The hip enclaves of the inner North perhaps – Fitzroy, Brunswick, Collingwood. Or the yuppie South – Prahran, South Yarra. The top end of Little Bourke Street in the city would hardly figure on your radar.

Yet that’s where you’ll find Vamos, a busy tapas bar located on the first floor of a fairly non-descript building. K and I headed there for a date night one evening after getting a 50% off food offer through Dimmi and lucked out with a little table overlooking the street below near the solo guitarist who was playing that night. Talk about setting the atmosphere!

Coconut Mojito ($16AUD) and a Pineapple and Coconut Frozen Mocktail ($12AUD)

We had a coconut drink each – a Coconut Mojito for K and a Pineapple and Coconut Frozen Mocktail for me. With the Australian summer heat still plaguing us, both drinks hit the spot perfectly in terms of quenching our thirst and refreshing our spirit. 

While most of you will know that I tend to opt for mocktails over cocktails on most occasions, this was a very particular choice on part as we’d just made the decision to start trying for a baby and I was cutting out all alcohol as a result.

Patatas Bravas – Spanish spicy fried potato with bravas sauce and chipotle mayo

We opted to order from their $35 per person menu, which allows you to order one dish from each section of the menu – $9, $14 and $18 tapas. Between the two of us, that meant sharing six different dishes and only paying $35 as we had the 50% off offer. What a bargain!

First up on the $9 menu was the Patatas Bravas, a favourite tapas option for us when we were travelling through Spain in 2015. What’s not to love about crunchy chunks of deep-fried potato smothered in garlicky spicy tomato sauce? While they served it with chipotle mayonnaise on the side, you really don’t need anything other than the bravas sauce with these patatas.

Mexican black bean and corn salad, coriander. lime and chilli

Our second $9 dish was the Mexican black bean and corn salad. As much as a bean and corn salad is a staple in our household (side dish out of cans – easy!), we very rarely use black beans as they’re just that little bit harder to get hold of when compared to chickpeas or cannellini beans. After having this version however, I might try a bit harder to get hold of black beans – or at the very least, adding some Spanish onion and coriander to my bean salads, because this mix was superb!

Seared scallops with brown butter, fresh chilli, avocado, chive cream and traditional corn chips

My highlight dish of the night were these Seared Scallops off the $14 menu. Perfectly tender, a little bit caramelised, and wonderful with the fresh avocado and chilli. A simple dish executed perfectly. K could tell that I enjoyed it so much that when I (very generously) offered to split the third scallop with him, he told me to just eat it and stop pretending like I was ready to share!

Free range grilled chicken skewers with Mexican cacao and cinnamon sauce, sultanas and Spanish rice salad

Next up the Free Range Grilled Chicken Skewers, which unfortunately I didn’t love as I found the cacao and cinnamon sauce strange. I couldn’t quite make the mental leap from ‘cacao – it’s dessert’ to ‘cacao – it’s savoury’. This is more my own personal fault though, as K had no issues with this and really enjoyed the dish!

Twice cooked pork belly, celeriac and chipotle slaw, apple and basil puree

We could both agree on this dish though – Twice Cooked Pork Belly. In fact, K loved the crunchy crackling and tender pork so much that I generously offered the third piece to him rather than insisting that we share it. It was, I think, the herbed sweet apple puree that really made this dish stand out. Is there anything better than apple and pork as a combination?

Roasted mushroom caps with charred sweet corn duxelle, Manchego, salsa roja, sour cream and fresh herbs

We finished our meal with the Roasted Mushroom Caps – juicy mushrooms topped with a mix of cheesy, corny, creamy goodness. A lovely lighter vegetarian dish to finish on after the heavier pork and chicken dishes.

While we dined at Vamos on a 50% off voucher, we both agreed that the food was so good that we would definitely return to try some of the other tapas dishes. While we haven’t yet had the chance, I can definitely see us bringing my in-laws here next time they visit Melbourne. A top pick for tapas in the city.

Vamos is located at 37 Little Bourke St in Melbourne CBD.