Sunday lunch – Max’s at Red Hill Estate
On a winter Sunday in Melbourne there are few better things to do than head out for a long lunch. An hour or so’s drive takes you all the way from the city to the Mornington Peninsula, a famed area for beautiful beaches and (more recently) delightful wines.
We headed to the hamlet of Red Hill and Max’s restaurant at Red Hill Estate winery. Founded by local entrepreneur Max Paganoni, the dining room has a spectacular view over Victoria’s Westernport district and across to Phillip Island.
Friends The Artist and Easily Pleased had taken the weekday special lunch there a few weeks earlier and were highly impressed with the quality of the food, wine, view and service. All good; we bundled into their car and set off with strong expectations.
First impressions are very, very pleasant. The dining room is in a smallish glassed-in extension at the back of the cellar door. The floor-to-ceiling glass affords a stunning view across paddocks, vines and the water. On a Sunday lunch, Max’s was rather busy but we were quickly shown to a table by the windows and settled in, with a bottle of very fine and easy-drinking local Pinot Gris from Foxey’s Hangout.
There is a ‘special’ available on weekends – three courses for A$80 – a $5 saving off the menu price buying each individually. The menu changes regularly (many of the dishes our friends had eaten just two weeks’ earlier weren’t available). Snacking on a very nice platter of freshly-baked bread with dukkah, olive oil, balsamic or a truffle butter we were very content.
The Artist decided she didn’t want a starter, but the rest of us indulged. Greedy Girl was taken by the idea of a venison tartare with herb emuslion, lotus root and wild rice. The menu description includes beetroot, which Greedy Girl asked to be served on the side, so that when she shared the plate with gluttonous husband he could enjoy that aspect. And here it is:
This is a stunning dish. The venison tartare was soft and full of flavour; the herb emulsion had a touch of horseradish and the crunchy lotus root was inspired. Absolutely delish.
Gluttonous husband started with an unusual combo – coffee-roasted potato served with whipped tofu, kimchi sprouts and fennel.
The dish was actually quite spicy and while it was interesting, it probably didn’t really stack up as a starter, not having enough variety.
Easily Pleased took a prawn dish. This was exceptionally pretty – it was a Hervey Bay prawn with an unusual fish curd (very soft), topped with roe and a sour apple glaze. He was more than happy with the dish.
And so to mains. Both Easily Pleased and gluttonous husband took the beef short rib with shiraz glaze, rainbow chard and heirloom carrots. The beef, again very unusually, had a pistachio crust. Flavour and texture were both excellent but the pistachio wasn’t quite Greedy Girl’s thing. She enjoys pistachio crumb on fish but it didn’t really go with the beef in her opinion.
The Artist had fillets of John Dory with potato, salt-baked kohlrabi, wood sorrel and a soy sabayon. Another beautifully-presented plate, the fish had crisp skin and was delectable.
Greedy Girl chose pork belly, served with caramelised fennel, fermented garlic, parsnip and pickled spinach. The pork itself was soft and flavourful, while the skin was slightly crisp. The pork was so good, the dish probably didn’t need half the ingredients on the plate.
We also devoured a large bowl of golden fries, although these definitely needed a hit from the rock salt on the table.
By this point, we were drinking one of the winery’s own offerings, a cab sav, which had plenty of oomph.
To finish, none of us fancied a large dessert. The boys shared a cheese plate, with a sheep’s milk and a blue, served with lavosh, chutney and muscatels.
The girls opted for a chocolate plate, including the restaurant’s own homemade ‘cherry ripe’ (if you’re outside Australia, Google it – a time-honoured Aussie chocolate bar). This was more than enough for us, but it was a little bemusing to be charged $20 for this quantity.
And we were done. For such a beautiful spot to sit, it was a cheap rent for the afternoon.
There’s obviously some inventive cooking going on here. Some of the flavour combinations may not have been really our thing, but there’s no doubt that there’s passion for food and incredible local produce on offer. The culinary and wine scene in this part of the world just continues to develop and Max’s is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Red Hill Estate
53 Shoreham Road, Red Hill