Melbourne Day 4 – The Queen Vic, Lake House, and more

Melbourne Day 4

A day in the country

Saturday started with a busy morning on the agenda. Firstly, we wanted to go to the Queen Victoria Market, and then had a trip to the country planned for lunch and the rest of the afternoon. We got up and out nice and early and headed down to Flinders Street to catch one of the City Circle trams, which run for free and do a round trip of the downtown district. After waiting for nearly 45 minutes, we realized that they didn’t start running until 10, so walked back to the hotel and caught a cab to the Queen Vic.

Like many open markets, the Queen Victoria was packed on a Saturday morning. It has been a staple of Melbourne’s shopping for years, and is very nicely organized by types of merchants. First up were the vendors selling clothes, toy, souvenirs, and such items. We took a stroll up and down the long sheds and made a note of a few items to come back for later. (I can’t say what they were, as it will ruin the surprise).

We then headed into the food areas. What an array of vendors. All of the produce is in one covered area, organic separated from conventional. Similar to how the fish mongers at Pike place call out their orders, a few of the produce suppliers were proudly calling out the prices and offerings they had, both very boisterously and in the spirit of friendly competition. The quality of the goods looked great, as it is late spring here, and the first of the early potato varieties were presented, freshly dug from the fields, and there was an abundance of asparagus, spring onions, lettuces, and strawberries.

We crossed into the buildings where they sell the meat and seafood, and once again, all were in their own sections. There had to be 40 butcher shops, which only sell fresh meat, a similar number of seafood merchants, and about half the number of poultry providers. Interestingly, there is a high degree of specialization, as the butchers didn’t sell poultry or cured meats, and vice versa. After taking a few pictures and enjoying the bustle, we went over to the adjoining building where all of the deli products were sold. Here we found all of the cured meats, olives, cheeses, etc. Again, a busy, well displayed and organized place, with everything you could imagine. One of the cheese shops was cutting butter from huge farmhouse slabs, which caught my eye, as well as that of a couple from the UK who were walking past.

Running tight for time, we headed back on the tram with our purchases, and after deciding to take a shortcut, which ran us right into the middle of the Christmas parade, arrived at the hotel 2o minutes behind schedule.

Immediately, we were picked up and headed out for a drive northeast of the city to a country town called Daylesford. The scenery on the way there was very picturesque, as we exited the Melbourne area, which has been starving for rain and made our way into rolling green hills lined with eucalyptus and other gum trees. About an hour and a half from the city, we arrived in Daylesford, the spa centre of the region, where many city folks have weekend and summer homes. Originally built during the gold mining days around the turn of the century, it has now become a weekend holiday town, with spas, natural minerals springs, and a man made lake surrounded by little cottages and homes. Perched on the edge of the lake on a beautiful property sat our lunch destination: the Lake House.

The Lake House is one of those places that exude a personal dedication to a vision. Owned by Allan and Alla Wolf Tasker, the property is 6 acres of lush gardens, with 33 rooms and suites, an award winning waterfront dining room, wine cellar, and day spa. The walls and the custom charger plates feature large festive canvases with kitchen scenes, painted by Allan, and Executive Chef Alla oversees a brigade of capable chefs, lead by chef de cuisine David Green.

Lunch was offered in both a la carte and degustation menus, and we settled on choosing from the former. The menus were beautifully presented, and featured a few pages at the back dedicated to their local purveyors. To begin, I ordered the fresh white asparagus, in a very soft white polenta with parmesan, topped with a freshly poached duck egg. My dining companions had the soup, a carrot velouté with an orange foam, and a brandade croquette with chorizo respectively.

For main courses, I had the duck served in two parts: a sip of consommé and a sliver of seared foie gras to start, followed by the roasted breast. Others at the table had the lamb loin, smoked over pine needles and the tortellini stuffed with fresh goat cheese and served with a zucchini timbale and deep fried zucchini blossom. We all shared some freshly dug and roasted potatoes with garlic and steamed brocollini and baby zucchini.

We passed on dessert, as we had some poking around in the area to do, and headed down to the lake for a look around. After a stroll through the centre of town, we drove a few kilometres to the Lavandula Swiss Lavender Farm, where we had a coffee and some delicious lavender scones with berry compote and cream, as well as a look at the gardens and gift shop.

The drive back to the city took us through a few different small towns, and deposited us downtown fairly full and not wanting a big dinner. We had spied a few tapas places the night before and tried two to no avail, as it was the peak of Saturday night service. We elected to stroll back over to the City Wine Shop next to the European we had dined at a few days earlier, and had a lovely light snack and a glass of shiraz.

The three of us shared a plate of salamis, a bowl of olives and almonds, a nice piece of Delice de Bourgogne, (a triple cream brie), and a house terrine with homemade pickles. All were delicious and hit the spot after a day of roaming.