But there are still some gems to be discovered amongst the offerings from quiet country towns in regional Victoria. Take Warburton for example: it is home to one of the best kept food and accommodation secrets – Oscar’s, recently reborn beside the Yarra River with sparkling accommodation for 40, glamorous public spaces, enormous century-old oak trees, an actual babbling brook river frontage, and a star in the kitchen!
I was there with some other IFWTWA writers to have an exclusive preview of the Yarra Valley Food & Wine Festival. And from the first sip of the opening dish the chef had me. We dined on THE best Tom Kha I’ve ever tasted full stop. And having worked in Thailand over the past 15 years, and been feted around the Kingdom, I have swallowed my share of the delicious coconut and galangal soup, with and without chicken. Outside of Thailand the problem with most attempts at this Siamese staple is the lack of young coconut flesh, instead substituted by coconut cream in cans. The reason for the subtle yet distinct flavour balance Oscar’s executive chef, Mark Krueger achieves is soon revealed.
Mark calls his style “Meditterasian” – and his Tom Kha delivered wonderful flavours enhanced by unexpected elements such as sundried tomato. Another of Mark’s signature dishes, seared salmon featured tomato and basil hummus, crisp fried capers, smoked olive powder and bell pepper pannacotta.
By the time you read this the restaurant at Oscar’s may be taking bookings from an unsuspecting public – my suggestion is get in there before everyone’s talking about Mark’s culinary skill and you can’t get a seat (or a bed overnight should you indulge in one too many)
The other reason you might want to visit the festival in Yarra Valley, starting this Thursday April 11 through 14, is that the local winemakers predict the current vintage will be “spectacular in both still and sparkling” – a quote from Dan Buckle of Chandon who also said the local pinot was “deep in colour…smells fantastic”. Punt Road winemaker Kate Goodwin said that although grape quantities might be down 35-40%, the concentrated wines that resulted were fantastic and 2013 would be a stellar year for pinot and chardonnay – “the grape quality is so good we are trying to do more with the grapes themselves.”
Kate encourages visitors to cellar doors to speak up about what they like. “I meet a lot of customers who say, ‘I know nothing about winemaking but I know what I like’. They are too nervous to speak up front, but we like the authenticity and, actually, most people are pretty good judges.”
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