Sunday, 14 April 2013

A Perfect Drop Wine Bar in the spa town of Daylesford

A few years back, we booked one of those special deal weekender trips online to have a mid-winter weekend break up in the spa town of Daylesford. We love heading up there and do so at least three or four times a year. This time, however, it was in the dead of winter. Our deal came with entry to the gorgeous Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, so we decided to head up on a Friday morning and spend the afternoon at the bathhouse.

tea and scones at the Hepburn Bathhouse

After a walk around the Hepburn Regional Park in the brisk cold, and some scones and tea next to the
fire, we were ready to head into the spa sanctuary. When we finally went in, we didn't come out until around 6PM. The aim was to head straight to the cottage and cook up dinner, ready to relax for the rest of the weekend. We had confirmed with the owner the day before and told him what time we would be arriving. It was easy. Too easy.

When coming out of the bathhouse I had 4 missed calls and a message from the owner of the cottage that there had been an emergency and we couldn't stay at the cottage any longer. I called him back quickly only to find out he had double booked the cottage, and even though we had booked first the other couple had arrived first, so he had given them our accommodation. Furious, I told him that we had paid him for the accommodation and would not be driving back to Melbourne that evening as we had taken time off work, plus, a thunderstorm had started while we were in the bathhouse. So he found us a small studio in town to stay at for the night. While it was nice, it wasn't the luxurious villa we had paid for, and he told us that he would pay for the studio and that would be considered that. I refused, contacted the lady who owned the studio, paid her for the weekends accommodation directly at half the price of the villa, and told the guy he would be putting us up another weekend of our choosing. And that, as far as I was concerned, was that!

Anyway, the point of the story is that we found ourselves staying in the town of Daylesford on a cold and rainy evening, rather than in a villa with a full kitchen out in the country. So, we needed to have dinner. We had driven past a quaint old house with a large front porch covered in tables and chairs on our way in, and thought we would give it a go. We had been there once before for coffee, and the food had looked amazing. So off we tottered to the Perfect Drop Wine Bar.

Chai Latte at the The Perfect Drop Wine Bar Daylesford Victoria

The Perfect Drop Wine Bar Daylesford Victoria

Bare wooden beams and haphazard lighting fixtures are draped with maroon velvet and diverse French, Italian, or vintage Australian posters or signs adorn the walls. The furniture is mismatched, tables strewn with old card games and antique chess sets. Waiters lean over diners to toss another log on the woodfire in the corner. Yet the Perfect Drop is not a down at heel restaurant - it is quite classy, with the sort of Australian fusion style food you would expect at ezard at half the price.

On our most recent trip to Daylesford, we returned, hoping the quality of the food had not changed. We were not disappointed. Crisp, fresh and made with local ingredients, each dish promised and delivered contrasts that were nothing short of amazing.

We started with a typical order for Eric and I - I went for the battered zucchini flower while he went straight for the chorizo.

Herbed Ricotta and Parmesan Stuffed Zucchini Flower, Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil Oil  at The Perfect Drop, Daylesford Victoria
Herbed Ricotta and Parmesan Stuffed Zucchini Flower, Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil Oil ($9)
The zucchini batter was crisp, giving way to a soft interior stuffed with creamy ricotta. The always impeccable pairing of tomato and basil was excellent in this dish, with the super-sweetness of the heirloom tomatoes cut by the tang of basil in the infused oil. Basil oil works so much better than the conventional fresh leaf perched atop a tomato slice - it ensured that the entire piece of tomato was evenly coated. I have never been a fan of edible flowers, but the nasturtium on top looked very nice. I, however, left it on my plate, until the waitress came and said: 'You can eat the flower you know.'

I did know, but I still had no intention of eating it. She picked up Eric's empty plate and looked back at me. 'Eat the flower.' Yes ma'am! It tasted like.... nasturtium. I'll pass next time. 

The house made beef chorizo, while good, didn't quite stand up to the Istra chorizo we had had only a few hours before, and was a far cry from the chorizos at San Telmo that we had had a three days prior. But where it did excel was in its pairing with the 'green mojo', a bed of green 'sauce', pungent and strong with the flavour of coriander seed I believe. This contrasted with the chorizo very well, as the chorizo itself was not heavily spiced. The beef cut through the intensity of the sauce nicely. 

housemade beef chorizo and green mojo sauce at The Perfect Drop, Daylesford Victoria
House made Beef Chorizo with 'Green Mojo' ($9)
As I had had corn fritters for breakfast I was hesitant in ordering the Corn and Sage Fritters, but these were quite different to the flat patties many restaurants have on their breakfast menus at the moment. Round and deep fried, these were crisp and more like hush puppies. Drizzled with a sweet and sour saffron sauce and covered with salted, crisped sage leaves, the flavour combinations were divine. 

Corn and Sage Fritters with a spicy sweet and sour saffron sauce at The Perfect Drop Daylesford
Corn and Sage Fritters with a spicy sweet and sour saffron sauce ($9)
But my favourite dish this visit was the Maharat spiced quail, stacked with chickpea battered eggplant, drizzled with honey, rosemary and on a bed of tahini. The spices coating the quail provided respite from the sweetness in every bite due to the honey, and the slight bitterness of the tahini provided drastic contrast. The chickpea batter was very crisp but fragile, pulling apart and melting in your mouth. 

Maharat spiced quail, chickpea battered eggplant, honey, rosemary and tahini at the Perfect Drop Wine Bar Daylesford
Maharat spiced quail, chickpea battered eggplant, honey, rosemary and tahini ($22)
Equally as good is the cinnamon and sugar cured duck breast with duck and almond bastilla and roasted nectarine. Although there are a lot of sweet ingredients, this dish is far off being too sweet - the cinnamon can be tasted right throughout the meat, meaning each bite of delectably soft duck is subtly spiced, perfect to dip into the sweet and tangy juice of the roasted nectarines. We had this dish on our first visit, and it has now been adapted to a large dish that serves two. The photograph is from our original visit so I am sure that the dish is now much larger as the price has gone up considerably. I believe we paid around $40, and the dish is now $65 with a range of sides.

Cinnamon and sugar cured duck breast with roasted nectarine, moorish rice, duck and almond bastilla and Lebanese Cabbage Salad at the Perfect Drop Wine Bar Daylesford
Cinnamon and sugar cured duck breast with roasted nectarine, moorish rice, duck and almond bastilla and Lebanese Cabbage Salad ($65)
We met a few friends up in Daylesford last time and recommended they also visit - if there is one place you HAVE to eat while you are in Victorian Spa Country, it is the Perfect Drop Wine Bar.

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