Recently, Ritsy and I got to cross another The Age Good Food Guide one hatted country restaurant off our to-do list, Bella Vedere. It’s located at Badgers Brook Winery in the Yarra Valley, and is part owned by Gary Cooper and Timothy Sawyer.
We arrived at 7:30pm on a Saturday night for an 8pm start to the 5 course degustation ($95 each) – the only dining option on a Friday and Saturday night, and were quickly seated in the beautiful, cosy dining room. Our table (whose white linen tablecloth I would ruin later in the night) was decorated with a beautiful flower arrangement in a vase.
After some delicious house baked bread was placed on our table, we received the wine list, and were greeted by the exuberant Timothy Sawyer, who assumes the role of restaurant manager / wine guy extraordinaire. He offered some wonderful per-course wine matches, alongside some interesting insight into the production of these specific vintages, without giving away what would be our menu for the night. He bounded around each table with the same level of enthusiasm, and really looks like he enjoys what he and Gary Cooper have created at Bella Vedere.
Now, Gary Cooper – the executive chef – is a name that will sound familiar to anyone who has been interested in the Melbourne food scene over the past 15 years. He is probably best known for being the chef that founded another wonderful Yarra Valley restaurant – Eleanor’s at Chateau Yering.
Back in the day, his name struck fear into my mind, along with many other fellow chef-school apprentices – admittedly, this was not helped by the fact that one of our fellow chefs-in-training was his apprentice, and used to tell us some horrific stories!!!
Perhaps his Gordon Ramsay-esque reputation was due to the pressure of running a 3-hatted restaurant, which also won The Age Good Food Guide’s “Best New Country Restaurant”, as throughout the night he appeared to be the polar opposite of what I had heard about him.
During the “what’s for dinner tonight” announcement – where all the chefs and waitstaff line up in front of the diners, announcing in turn what each course is, where the produce came from (some arrives from their own organic kitchen garden), Gary glows with excitement when telling us about the leg of lamb that they have been injecting with mandarin juice for the past 3 days, which will feature as the main course of our meal tonight.
We ordered a couple of sparkling wine cocktails to get the night underway ($14), and soon after finishing those, our first matched wine arrived – a local Pimpernel Vineyard Chardonnay ($15).
The first dish of the night followed – a plate of porcini risotto was placed in front of us, while a few chefs walked around the tables with giant bamboo skewers of local quail that had been cooked over a brazier. The quail (still with all it’s bones) was amazingly tender, and we ditched the knife and fork quite early on in order to get all that succulent flesh off the small quail bones. The risotto was cooked perfectly and would have made for a successful entree on it’s own.
The next course was the Calamari on Squid Ink Angel Hair Pasta, which was coated with a fantastic sofrito, and was an absolute triumph. The calamari was exquisitely tender, and the sofrito was a perfect match for a glass of imported Vouvray ($15).
The last of the savoury courses for the night followed – the aforementioned Roast Lamb marinated (and injected with) mandarin juice for 3 days, and served with some good old fashioned Pommes Puree and Collard Greens.
The lamb was unbelievable!!! It really didn’t look like much on the plate, but the flavour of the mandarin was an absolute masterstroke. It was matched with a glass of Pimpernel Vineyard Pinot Noir ($15).
Feeling way too full (of alcohol), we decided that we’d only take one of the matched wines for the cheese course – a glass of Shiraz ($14). I can’t remember what type of cheese it was (I blame the wine!!!), but it was good, and the fennel salad that was served alongside it was crisp and refreshing.
The final treat for the night was a rich, dense chocolate pudding, flecked with sea salt and a dash of olive oil to bring out a bit of extra chocolatey goodness. We were offered a matched sweet red wine from Italy, but as I had just spilled half of my glass of Shiraz on the table, we declined. They very generously poured a free taster for both of us anyway, and it was a surprisingly good match for all that chocolate.
While Ritsy pondered whether or not she could leave her rather drunk husband in the hills for the night in order to get a good nights sleep, she had a cup of tea ($4), after which we grabbed the bill and made our way back home.
You can really tell that Gary and Tim love what they have achieved over the last 8 or so years at Bella Vedere. We love what they have created too, and will definitely be back the next time we are down that way. That is, of course, unless I have been blacklisted for my red wine “oopsie”!!!