Friday, September 3, 2010

Tearooms at Yarck - a trip worth taking

Every time we head off to North Eastern Victoria or I drive to Canberra or Sydney we drive out the back of the Yarra Valley through Yea and onto the Maroondah Hwy, passing through a series of little towns before eventually joining the Hume: Molesworth, Merton, Bonnie Doon and a "blink and you'd miss it" hamlet called Yarck. For several years now I've been hearing all sorts of good things about the little Italian trattoria which took over the Tearooms at Yarck (and which is now called, appropriately "The Tearooms at Yarck"). As we would sail through in the early hours of the morning or return at dusk on a weekday, I would always promise myself - I must come back when it's open!!

Well last weekend David and I drove to Euroa to test-drive a 1978 Holden ute ( it's a long story and involves neither food nor cookbooks, so I won't bore you with it). As I was plotting out our route (I'm a little OCD that way) I saw Yarck on the map, and made a snap decision that we were finally going to take the opportunity to eat at "Tearooms at Yarck". I booked for 6pm for what I thought would be a quick meal on the way home, and we rolled out of there at 8.45, groaning but satisfied. The lovely waitress offered us the option of dining a la carte from the small (but perfectly formed) blackboard menu or choosing the chef's tasting menu of 4 courses. Well at $79 it seemed like a good option to sample the Tearoom's wares so we settled down with a nice glass of Italian sangiovese and the dishes started arriving.

First up was a delicate dish of the freshest kingfish, raw, thinly sliced and served with a light vinaigrette. Then a procession of small antipasto samplers: marinated fresh octopus, white bean salad, two gorgeous sardine fillets, beetroot salad and more. After a short wait a small bowl of hearty artichoke soup, smoky and perfectly seasoned and garnished with slivers of deep-fried artichoke leaves arrived, accompanied as the earlier courses had been by a plate of house-baked sourdough. A slightly longer wait later was rewarded with two plates of 4 plump pumpkin and goat's cheese ravioli.

So if you, like me are counting, that's four courses right? fish, antipasto, soup and tortellini. For a moment I felt cheated - they had goat and suckling pig on the menu and I gave them up for ravioli? But wait here comes the waitress with fresh knife and fork. OK lets just go with the flow, Goat you say? yes please. Slow-braised and tender, but I have to say not as tasty as the ragu I make regularly, a couple of gristly bits in theres and not served with any other accompaniment so I pinch some of the soft polenta from David's dish of two snapper fillets, quickly grilled and apparently delicious.

Right that's it then - I'm happy, it's 8pm and it's a 1 1/2 hour drive back home so we should be in bed before ten. But then the waitress comes by with spoons and forks and I say - "There's more?" and she says "Yes Dessert!" A plate of semifreddo arrives, which we have almost finished when the waitress places a share plate of three desserts on the table: a lemon meringue tart, flourless chocolate cake and a tiramisu. How can we resist. With each mouthful we both swear we can't eat any more, but somehow finish it off; the chocolate cake is the star of the show, the tiramisu not quite as good as mine (if I say so myself!).

We ordered coffees to go and dragged ourselves up to the counter to pay. As I signed, I said to the waitress: "I thought I heard you say the chef's tasting menu was 4 courses" "Oh it is" she says, "but there were somethings not available so we gave you a few extras" A few extras!

In conclusion a wonderful meal, a welcoming venue (if a little chilly the night we were there) and knowedgeable wait-staff. The open kitchen was a treat to watch in the lulls during our meal, which was, with a couple of exceptions, near-flawless. Although bookings are highly recommended the restaurant was not full the night we were there. The diners were a nice mix: a local family having pizza (which I want to try next time, having watched the Pizzaioli at work all night), a well-heeled spring-autumn couple clearly down from the snowfields or their nearby weekend retreat; a family celebrating some family occasion. For me the bonus of eating a great meal at a great restaurant was also the knowledge that as far as possible the Tearooms sources much of their produce locally (very locally, given some of it comes from the farm owned by chef/owner Pietro Porcu). And having now finally experienced a meal there, I wasn't surprised to see it get a second hat from the Good Food Guide. We'll be back-possibly next week when we drive to pick up that ute!!

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