Lake House @ King Street, Daylesford
28 December 2010
Situated approximately 120 kilometres from Melbourne, Daylesford is a town famous for its mineral springs and more importantly, for its produce and dining. When it comes to dining, there is perhaps one establishment in Daylesford that draws more visitors to the town than any other – Lake House.
Like many of the restaurants that I have visited and reviewed of late, Lake House is, in every sense, an institution. It is, together with Stafano’s in Mildura, one of few restaurants in country Victoria to have earned two hats from the Good Food Guide consistently over the past decade. However, unlike in respect of those other institutions, my expectations of Lake House are fostered not by its reputation or its considerable critical acclaim but by my own experiences on each of my three previous visits. My eagerness to return for a fourth visit speaks volumes about my overall impressions on those occasions.
As I sit in the Lake House dining room, perusing the new summer menu – explained to me by the friendly and affable restaurant manager, Martin Fairhurst, winner of the service excellence award in the Good Food Guide 2009 – I am reminded of the elements of the Lake House experience that were responsible for my return. Having lunch rather than dinner ensures that I am afforded a picturesque view of the sundrenched Daylesford Lake and its leafy surrounds. The large windows which encase the dining room, allow warm sunlight to billow in and provide a bright, airy and spacious atmosphere – a spaciousness underscored by the generous apportioning of space to each table. The dining room is marshalled by excellent service staff, led admirably by Fairhurst, who are highly efficient, very knowledgeable and pleasantly friendly and humble. Lake House combines these elements to deliver an enchanting experience, one not found in the hustle and bustle of Melbourne. All this is before the food even arrives.
Our $130 degustation menu commenced with an amuse bouche of scallop with carrot puree and black bean. It was one of the more generous amuse bouches I have encountered - it is not often that an unlisted starter consists of an entire scallop – and it was superb. The scallop was perfectly seared and retained its natural delicate texture. The carrot puree worked well in place of the more customary cauliflower puree and provided a light sweetness to the dish while the black beans added a rich savoury note.
The first two official courses were cold items. A crab salad with gazpacho gelee and vinaigrette was, as expected from a country restaurant with access to excellent local produce, wonderfully fresh and vibrantly flavoured. My only gripe was that the crab salad did not materially contribute to the dish but was overpowered by the, admittedly terrific, gazpacho gelee. The next dish of sashimi mackerel, slow cooked octopus, fennel and smoky paprika crisp was highlighted by the fresh and delicate mackerel and the tender octopus.
A quail tempura with chawan mushi and shitakes followed the cold items. The quail was meltingly tender and was encased in light and crisp tempura style batter, which, unusually, contributed not only texture but flavour. However, the accompanying chawan mushi custard, while smooth and well complemented by the buttery shitake mushrooms, was ultimately overwhelmed by the quail.
A Lake House signature, the next dish of smoked Skipton eel with Istra pancetta and heirloom beets was a masterpiece. Although fully flavoured in their own right, the pancetta and beets played a distinct second fiddle to the eel which was delightfully smoky and delicately textured. It was a dish that epitomised the best of the over-quoted, but often poorly implemented, principle of allowing the ingredients to “speak for themselves”.
The final two savoury items were solid but unspectacular – a dish of free roaming chicken, summer corn, foie gras croquettes and Bois Boudran followed by a dish of summer lamb provencale with crisp breast, loin, sweet peppers and heirloom tomatoes. In each dish, the protein was well cooked, tender and succulent while the accompanying ingredients provided fresh and balanced flavours.
Preceded by an excellent palate cleanser of vanilla yoghurt with frozen strawberry puree was the Lake House dessert platter – an item which we expressly requested to be included on our menu. The platter contained honey panna cotta, chocolate fondant, lemon ice cream with lemon rind crumble, ginger and cinnamon granita, vanilla creme brulee and strawberry vacherin. Other than the fondant, which was slightly overcooked, the items on the platter were of unwaveringly high quality.
The meal finished with sweets from Lake House’s quaint “bon bon trolley” – a jumbled assortment of salted caramel popcorn, chocolate fudge, passionfruit marshmallow and home-made chocolate. All items were, in characteristic Lake House fashion, expertly prepared and, most importantly, thoroughly enjoyable.
Lake House appears to be in perfect working order. While Lake House’s food may not make my short list of the best or most innovative food, the overall Lake House experience consistently betters those offered by most of Melbourne’s premier establishments and is among the best that I have enjoyed. I recall my thoughts from my very first Lake House visit; they are thoughts which are reaffirmed on this occasion. I have consumed many excellent meals and enjoyed many superb dining experiences but I have seldom felt that I have been looked after at a restaurant - something I have always felt at Lake House.