Michael recently and very generously treated me to a weekend away in Daylesford, including a meal at Lake House. This two-hatted restaurant takes pride in its seasonal menus that use local ingredients, and they impressed me as much again when I saw that their 'menu of small vegetarian tastes' is printed and presented to every diner alongside the omnivore's version. (There's one vegetarian entree and one main on the a la carte menu too.)
We loved the atmosphere here - not overly formal and really buzzing on a Saturday night, without any need to yell across the table to be heard. The featured paintings by Allan Wolf-Tasker (husband of Lake House's executive chef Alla), crowded with lusty folk on a night out, set the tone well. The service was a funny mix - professional and distant in one instance, then warm yet inexperienced from others.
We started with an amuse bouche of mushroom veloute. It was silky smooth, with nothing distracting from the earthy flavour of mushrooms.
Course number two kicked up the earthy factor, with a salad of heirloom beets. Combining roasted beetroot with walnuts, greens and creme fraiche is nothing new, but it's always a winner.
The crisp crumbed poached egg, peppers, olives and capers were a little more novel. Y'all know I don't care much for eggs at breakfast but if anything was ever going to get me there it'd have to be a crispy-crumbed shell. And it did! I loved the crunch, the richness, and the counteracting acidity of the tomato-based condiment underneath.
The mushrooms, in consommé and brioche, were more my style from the start. The brioche was all buttery toast with a soft, warm centre. In contrast to the creamy veloute, the consommé tasted deeper and sweeter, with flecks of herb (chives?) on top brightening it up.
It was most refreshing to see some inspiration from Asia when they brought out the Japanese custard, miso roasted eggplant and vegetable tempura. I loved the variety of textures and the sudden shots of saltiness and ginger in different mouthfuls.
For me, the spinach ricotta tortellini with pumpkin and walnuts that followed felt unnecessary. Not only was I getting quite full, but my taste buds were just not ready for these stodgy European flavours so soon after the salty soy. The cheesy pasta, pumpkin and lentils didn't work together quite so well as I would have expected. I suspect that Michael might disagree, but after the Japanese custard I was ready to wind down with something fresh and fruity.
More richness was to come! The cheese course featured two styles of blue cheese accompanied by pinot poached pears and black pepper crisps. Blue cheese is a pungent and pretty divisive delicacy; it's probably impossible to plate it in a way that's universally pleasing. I was very happy to alternate between the firm white-ish cheese and a sweet fresh fruit but the daubs of darker cheese (hidden at the bottom of the pictured mounds) absolutely floored me. It was strong stuff.
Finally, dessert; quince soup and honey icecream. Separately these items were both exquisite. The quince hadn't been interfered with too much, all soft and syrupy and fragrant. And the icecream must've been churned with the highest quality bee regurgitation in all of Hepburn shire. But together they were smack-in-the-mouth-sweet, a bit much even for this dessert fiend. (If I'd had my pick of the dessert menu, I would have loved to try the Lake House 'gaytime', an Amaretto parfait with almonds, dates, apricots and curry.)
While few dishes here score major innovation points (Japanese custard and the elusive gaytime dessert excepted), Lake House puts on a rather lovely vegetarian show. Given their loyalty to the seasons, I'd be most interested in returning in summer for a different set of flavours and a daylight-savings view over Lake Daylesford. But Victoria boasts some mighty fine regional dining, and we might tempted elsewhere before then.
You can also read about Lake House meals on blogs Crushed Guava, eat tori, Words and Flavours, Saucy Thyme, Food Rehab, Glampacker, tummy rumbles, doublecooked, The Gourmet Challenge, The New Epicurean and Winos and Foodies.
Address: King St, Daylesford VIC
Ph: (03) 5348 3329
Price: vegetarian tasting menu $115 per person, $70 for matching winesWebsite: www.lakehouse.com.au