Frolicking in a winter wonderland.
Daylesford is an easy 90 minutes drive from Melbourne, this little town is charming, quaint and queer, and the whole Shire is forever frequented by tourists and weekenders because of its natural mineral hot springs. Whilst others come for relaxation and rejuvenation, I come for the food. Daylesford in no doubt is one of the best regional food destinations in Victoria with many award-wining restaurants to boast.
If I have to name a place that can capture my imagination, I think Daylesford might just be the one. It is a magical place to say the least, the Pom and I spent a full weekend playing Alice and White Rabbit (whichever role we might be) and had our first adventure in this winter wonderland.
Hanging Rock at Macedon
While driving to Daylesford from Melbourne airport, we managed to have a quick stop at Mount Macedon to check out the Hanging Rock. This distinctive volcano formation is best known as the site of the fictional story Picnic at Hanging Rock which was made into a film. The whole site does have a strange eerie feel to it, an easy climb to the top will offer you an expansive view over the nearby towns of Newham and Hesket.
There is a park at the bottom of the rock formation where you can throw a rug on the grass and have your own picnic at the Hanging Rock, but just don’t get lost. We decided to keep moving instead and find our lunch elsewhere.
Du Fermier – Trentham
We were now in Trentham, only 30 minutes away from Daylesford, this little town with a population of less than 1000 has also slowly creeping out of its burrow and becoming an artisan destination. The only main street in Trentham is stacked with art galleries, antique shops, artisan bakery and locavore restaurant, Annie Smithers’ Du Fermier in particular.
Sadly we arrived at Du Fermier a minute too late, and the kitchen was already closed for lunch. Hence we just had to settle with cakes and a cup of coffee.
The extra zesty flourless almond and orange cake was delightfully dense and moist, sweetened with a layer of marmalade on top with a dollop of clotted cream on the side added that extra luxury. But it was the double choc brownie that hit the spot, richly decadent with a crispy edges and a fudgey innards, simply to die for.
Peppers Mineral Spring Retreat
We eventually made it to Daylesford and checked into our accommodation at Peppers Mineral Spring Retreat. The retreat is actually located in Hepburn Springs which is a stone throw away from Daylesford town centre. Hepburn Springs often referred to as the ‘Spa Capital of Australia’ as it is situated in the middle of the largest concentration of mineral springs in Australia.
This retreat was formerly known as Mineral Springs Hotel, owners Chris Malden and Wayne Cross purchased this hotel back in 2000 and had gone over $1 million makeover to return it to its former glory. It is truly an opulent luxurious resort, a grand design of dark timber furniture, timeless artworks on the wall, and even the immaculate study room makes one feel like picking up a book, relaxing on the velvet cushioned lounge, with a glass of whiskey perhaps.
You simply can’t come to Hepburn Springs and not having a dip in a hot spring. The Mineral Spa at Peppers is a sanctuary of healing and relaxation. For $70 per hour, we had the access to ‘The Retreat’, where we could enjoyed the two heated open-air spas at a constant 36C overlooking the luscious country garden, a steam room, an infrared sauna, and a lavender-infused basalt stone sauna which was fascinating enough just to watch it operating. The spa is limited to 12 people at one time, so there are plenty of privacy and personal space where one can truly enjoy the royal treatment.
The Argus Restaurant
We didn’t have to go far for dinner and settled in at The Argus, the new-ish restaurant at the retreat open in March this year. It was very nice of Chris and Wayne to greet us and had a quick drink together before dinner. They have just appointed David Willcocks as their executive chef we’ve been told. Whilst David is still continuing with the existing menu at the restaurant but he will also slowly introducing a few new dishes of his own.
A former art deco meeting hall is now a sophisticated and elegant dining room; geometric motifs dividers offer privacy and intimacy to dinners, the earthy warm tone and sepia photographs of local farmers and landscapes make this fine dining room less intimidating but welcoming.
We were presented with an amuse bouche of oxtail and mushroom soup to whet our appetite.
The Pom ordered the crayfish for my entree, it was an elegant and refreshing dish with a hint of Japanese fusion, two fresh crayfish tails were simply stunning, sweet juicy flesh, served with slivers of grilled avocado and pickled zucchini. Everything just looked so vibrantly inviting and tasty on a black handmade earthware.
My mind was set on the caramelised fried chicken wing, crispy skin with succulent juicy chicken meat inside, pair with a scallop that has been cooked to perfection, and the most striking element on the dish has to be the streak of squid ink, which also lent its fishy-octopusy-flavour that worked marvelously with the sweet peas and the protein. A genius dish.
For the main course, The Pom was having a seafood phase and went for another fish dish, a butterfly-cut of grilled blue eye cod was beautiful, soft flesh and crispy skin, served with sweet corn puree and a garden of dutch carrots and radish with a couple of tender calamari curls that were well prepared and superb.
Suckling pig, nothing else could persuade me to order anything else from the menu. Nothing! The dish arrived at the table and not exactly what I’ve pictured. The square tile of Western Plains suckling pig was covered with a blanket of steamed savoy cabbages, then topped with a sprinkle of pork scratching crumbs. I immediately felt sad that the thin crispy tile of pork crackling had turned into crumbs…
…until I lifted the cabbage leaves up, revealing the glorious piece of crackling skin was still intact. My smile couldn’t be anymore wider.
Despite the crackling was chewy at parts, and how I wish they wouldn’t cover it up with the hot cabbage leaves that soften the crackling from the residue heat, but every bite and every crack in the mouth was sheer porky satisfaction. The portion was huge and I did struggled to finish all the tender belly meat.
I was glad to not finished the main and saved some space for the dessert. Just like an after dinner choc mint, but fancier; it was chocolate three ways – fudgy brownie, mousse and crumbs, served with a spread of mint sauce, toasted marshmallow and pistachio ice cream. A great dessert to finish off the meal.
But the best had to be the signature dessert at The Argue, an apple gratin with a thin caramlised top, served with honeycomb crumbs, topped with a quenelle of butterscotch ice cream, and a big dollop of salted caramel. It was a textural and flavours indulgence that you just kept wanting more.
So far our time around Daylesford has been unreal and loving every single moment of it. Our second day was just as eventful and more deliciousness to come in my next post.
Food & Travel Photography Masterclass in Daylesford
And, the good news is, I have teamed up with the multi award-winning photographer, Ewen Bell to bring you the most unique Food and Travel photographic masterclass where you will not only learn about food photography, but also the regional produce and the rural charms of Daylesford. As people always say, ‘Eat with your eyes first.’ However, before capturing beautifully presented food on a plate in one single still frame with your camera, we also believe in the appreciation of the food that we are eating by learning where it comes from is just as important.
We like to do things differently. This photographic masterclass will rediscover your senses by unearthing the essence of Daylesford, emphasises on regional produce, from paddock to plate. Within 4 days, we will spend some quality time in the kitchen, in the studio, at the market, cafe, restaurant and event the farm. And of course, there is always spare time for a dip in the natural hot springs.
We limit the group to maximum of 8 people so we can offer extremely personal levels of guidance. The workshop fee covers your accommodation and all meals, no additional to pay. Naturally you’ll want a taste of the local wine and bubbles, at your discretion. We want you to relax and embrace the charms of Dayelsford, fully. All arrangements are taken care of on your behalf once you arrive at the accommodation.
You can find out more about the masterclass on Ewen’s website – http://ewenbell.com/itinerary-food.php
Alternatively, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any inquiries, I will be able to answer any questions you may have.