Over the Easter weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to take up an invitation from Isabella's at Rochford Winery to try their new Autumn menu.
Located just under an hour's drive from the city, Rochford Winery makes a great day trip out, with lots of blue sky, clean air and sunshine waiting for you.
Because we got there a bit early, Mr Strong and I took the opportunity to soak up the vista by meandering around the estate.
It was a good thing that we got in some light exercise, as we were soon to find out that they certainly do feed you well at Isabella's.
The tree-lined pathway to the restaurant, cellar and gift shop.
We were greeted by friendly, smiling staff that led us to our table. The dining area has an open space floor plan, that's divided up into a bar, cafe and restaurant area. It has ceiling to floor windows for you to take in the views while you dine and allows the sunshine to stream through.
While there is an a la carte menu, we were keen to try their two and three course lunch menu. Naturally, as you'd expect, the dishes are matched to wines. To start off, we had some warm bread.
As I was the designated driver, I didn't order any wine. However, Mr Strong did order a glass of Macedon Ranges Pinot Noir.
For our entrees, I got the Yarra Valley Blackmore Wagyu carpaccio with black garlic puree, deep fried bone marrow and green olive powder. This is easily the most decadent Wagyu that I've ever eaten - none of the Wagyu that I've eaten before comes close to the amount of marbling in this dish!
The marbling in Wagyu beef is graded from 1-12. This was a score of nine, which meant it was deliciously creamy. The wafer thin slices went really well with the tart cornichons and the very moreish black garlic puree. Although I couldn't quite taste the garlic, I really liked the umani flavour of the puree - it reminded me of Bovril, which complemented the Wagyu. At the time, I didn't realise that the little fried ball was actually bone marrow - I cut it open and this little pod-like jelly slid out. It didn't have much of a flavour but I liked the novelty of it.
Mr Strong went for the local beetroots, with Yarra Valley goats curd foam and pine nuts. A lovely, light entree of sweet, tender beetroots and the light-as-air goats curd foam. I especially liked the little dots of dark red puree - I think it was pureed beets but it had something else added to it to give it a really savoury flavour. The toasted pine nuts gave a nice earthiness that balanced out the sweet beets.
For mains, I got the wild mushroom vialone nano risotto, which was served with a cute pot of mushroom consomme and mushroom and aged parmesan croquettes. A lovely thick risotto with loads of wild mushrooms. I particularly liked the use of enoki, wood ear fungus and oyster mushrooms - which you don't usually see in a risotto. Throughout the risotto there were lovely wilted green leaves and lots of oozing parmesan. The croquettes had a yummy crunchy crust which hid a gooey inner.
While I liked my risotto, the standout dish of the day was the 220g Wagyu rump. Gorgeously beefy and seared. We asked for it to be served medium well, and it came out perfectly. As with the carpaccio, it had a marble score of nine. It was served with horseradish potato puree, baby leeks, pearl onions and Rochford Pinot Noir jus.
The Wagyu was meltingly tender and flavoursome, and the jus was also full of flavour. I also loved the onions which were burnished with balsamic vinegar (I think). There was a very generous serve of mash, which was smooth but I couldn't quite taste the horseradish. Mr Strong was very happy with his choice of dish.
To go with our mains, we ordered a serve of seasonal veggies. I loved the nice mix of vegs, which included samphire (locally foraged), kale, a colourful range of carrots, broccolini and peas. All were perfectly al dente and tender, and were drizzled with olive oil.
We were too full to order dessert. However, I did spy the table across from us order the tiramisu (served in a small terracotta pot), Death By Chocolate, and the apple pie (with lots of pashmak on top - this would have been my choice if I wasn't so full). Mr Strong ended his meal with a latte.
Food – 8.5
Ambiance – 7.5
Service – 9*
Price – 7.5*
*Scores are notional as we were guests of Isabella's.
Thank you to Rochford Winery, Head Chef Ciaran Butler and his team at Isabella's for taking the time to show us their estate and share with us their lovely food. I spoke to Head Chef Ciaran who explained that they source much of their ingredients locally and that their menu changes regularly.
The service is friendly and attentive, and the serves are generous - you'll definitely leave feeling full. Isabella's and Rochford Winery are well worth the visit. Certainly, there were plenty of people here sharing the same view - from large groups sharing a special meal, tourists, and young families enjoying the cafe while the kids and dogs play in the grassy field.
878-80 Maroondah Hwy
Telephone: 03 5962 2119