It's not often you see a hand-written menu, or chefs in a garden picking what will soon be on your plate, but for me, those two small things told me exactly what I wanted to know: this is why the locals recommend Bella Vedere.
We were celebrating my wife's birthday, but had booked by chance, wanting to try something new while we were in the Valley for the weekend. Bella Vedere tries to separate itself from the big wineries, but being next door to Rochford on a concert weekend must have some advantages: it was full save for the medieval 14-seater in front of the service window.
On a Saturday, you don't get a la carte, or any choice of when you'd like dinner. Like Jerry Seinfeld's soup nazi (will I get in trouble for saying that?) Chef Gary Cooper and his very experienced team send out a set chef's menu at 8pm. Be there, or be hungry. For an eight o'clock start, we were instructed to arrive at 7:30pm for a drink and a tour of the garden. Given the rain and hail, we skipped the latter, but dived for the former: a cocktail of the night consisting primarily of local sparkling, triple sec and melon.
Suitably revived from our arduous stagger across the carpark, we perused the winelist (since there's no menu to speak of). It's a handsome two or three page selection of interesting but not expensive wines focussing on smaller producers. The occasional burgundy accompanied by the usual price tag will keep the Toorak set happy. Since there's no menu at this stage, we had no idea what we were going to be eating, so I held off ordering wine while we sipped our cocktails. Good thing too: each dish is paired with a by-the-glass option opened specifically for that menu.
At a little after 8, we were asked to move into the main dining room for the announcement of the menu. Each of the chefs (and one apprentice) had prepared one dish for the evening, which they described to the dining room. Between jibes about pronunciation and fornication, this performance-menu made one thing very clear: these were serious chefs, with serious food, but no bullshit. There would not be any foams tonight!
The food itself, was, of course, exceptional. Each dish presented a depth of flavour and technique that transported us between Tuscan villas and Loire valley Châteaus. All the elements are there: originality (what was with that amazing green tea dressing?) technique (soft, silky custard) and service (yes, we did want to share - how did they know to bring extra plates/glasses/whatever?). Downs? Maybe the confit was a little salty? The brioche a little variable from plate to plate? But I'm splitting hairs here. Without a doubt it's the best meal we've had in the valley for years, and will probably make it into the top ten, maybe even top five. So if you're in the valley for a weekend, drop in. Actually no - book first.
- Ocean trout carpaccio with parmesan and garden horseraddish cream; cucumber frizze & Japanese green tea dressing
- Brioche with oyster, mussel, scampi and whiting in cheddah velute with herb salad
- Confiture of duck cooked two ways with fried quail egg, spinach and beetroot gastric
- Crottin de Chevre "Soignon" with balsamic fig and Yarra Valley walnuts on fruitbread crouton & honey
- Bergies apricots slow glazed with apricot sauterus custard and almond biscotti
- 2008 Dog Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
- 2008 Dexter Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay
- 2008 Onanon Pinot Noir (Gippsland, VIC)
- 2007 Enzo Boglietti Dolcetto, d'Alba La Morra, Italy