Disclosure: I dined as a guest of Isabella's at Rochford Winery
It's truly a blessing to live in Melbourne. Great food, vibrant food scene, something always happening in town and fantastic wineries, simply an hour out of town.
I realised it's so easy to forget though and I definitely don't get out to the Yarra Valley as often as I should, as I sat in the car as mum drove us out to Rochford Winery, soaking in the open fields and lush greens, showered in rain on this particularly overcast day.
Upon arriving at Rochford, my mum comments that as a kid I used to come here a lot with the family, as my parents used to entertain guests here, when it was still Eyton on the Yarra. I have a terrible memory and don't remember a trace of it, but that's almost refreshing as we are seated in Isabella's for lunch, and I take in the beautiful views from the restaurant for the first time (kind of) which are filled with natural light.
I love taking my mum out, as she's dead honest about anything she eats (so can be a good counterweight to me who's a little happy-go-lucky about everything) and because, she's my mum. What else is there to say? (And yes, I get that we look like each other alllll the time...)
Isabella's is offering a two or three course lunch, $55 and $65 respectfully, with a carefully curated collection of dishes to choose from head chef Ciaran Butler.
We start off with some bubbles, as it's the only appropriate thing to do at a winery on a Saturday surely!
The bread came warm, a delight in winter, with a crunchy and flaky crust, meaning breadcrumbs all over the table is inevitable. The butter came light, sweet and creamy.
Mum opted to start with the blue swimmer crab and potato cakes with a lemon aioli and watercress. Elegant in plating and in flavour. The crab cake was soft, sweet and delicate in flavour, the salty seaweed adding a nice punch of flavour that complemented the crab cake well. The lemon aioli provided a nice citrus hit too.
Whilst I was initially excited for the Rochford classic chicken pate, a chicken liver pate with piccalilli, local walnuts and lavish, especially when it was first popped down in front of me, looking absolutely glorious, I was left a bit underwhelmed at the flavour. Perhaps lacking more alcohol, it wasn't particularly strong in flavour, and looked to be a bit aged and not as fresh as it could be. The piccalilli was very good though!
Rochford was busy that afternoon, with large groups moving in and out and the kitchen pumping out rather beautiful looking set meals. This meant it occasionally took a while to get drink top ups or the attention of the staff, but whenever they did tend to us, they were so delightful and friendly and never left us waiting for too long…I could only imagine the short temper I would get from having to deal with so many tourists and visitors on a weekend!
For the second course, mum opted for the ricotta gnocchi with Coldstream brussel sprout leaves, heirloom beetroot, sage butter and aged parmesan. We both marvelled at the bright pink of the gnocchi (which almost matched mum's nail polish colour), not expecting it to have picked up the colour of the beetroot. We did find though that the gnocchi was a bit dense and heavy, not as light and fluffy as we would have liked, so mum ended up picking off all the vegetables, which were delicious in the sage butter, and left quite a bit of the gnocchi.
My dish on the other hand, absolutely blew me away. The wild barramundi with winter clam chowder, smoked haddock, leeks and sweetcorn is an absolute stunner for flavour. The barrumundi was so sweet, and perfectly cooked, the thick and creamy clam chowder it sat in was rich with deliciously sweet clams, the flavour of the ocean permeating through. It was one of those dishes that I couldn't stop audibly commenting about, through oohs, aahs, mmhmms, and overall crooning comments. Mum was quick to get in her with her spoon to lap up the chowder as well. Possibly one of the best fish dishes I've had in recent memory and if I was ever in the area again, I would only be more than happy to pop in for this beautiful, beautiful dish.
Although I had been eyeing off the tiramisu, which looked like it was being served in garden pots, mum and I opted instead to share the Royal Delice, a cherry and chocolate delice with freeze dried raspberries, frozen chocolate and vanilla sphere with griottine cherries. Wow. Simply gorgeous. The delice was smooth and surprisingly light, the richness of the chocolate counterbalanced with the tart cherries. Mum loved that this was sweet, but not particularly sugary and I was quite surprised to see her go for more than a couple of bites.
Mum finished up with a latte, which she commented was very good (and believe me…she's very picky).
So although there were a couple of things that didn't quite hit the mark at Rochford, on the whole I was pleased with the experience we had. I provided my feedback earlier to Rochford, so hopefully the pate's looking fresher whenever you happen to visit! If you're here to get in and out quickly, I might not recommend it, but if you're keen for a lazy afternoon, to sit around and chat or lazily gaze out the window and take in the scenery, Rochford might be a good spot for you. There's also the cafe with simpler fare, but really, I know you want that Royal Delice…
878 - 880 Maroondah Highway
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