IT IS not often I arrive at a restaurant knowing exactly what I will have for dessert but my mind is made up as we step into the King River Cafe and wine centre at Oxley. Owner and chef Ben Bonwick has a reputation for his lemon tart, which has become an icon on the innovative menu full of fresh regional produce.
''I've been making it for years and a lot of love goes into it,'' he says. ''It's a favourite around here and I use everything local, from the eggs to the lemons.''
The King River Cafe, in the heart of the Milawa gourmet region, is housed in a pub built in the 1860s. Handmade bricks, timber-lined walls and wooden floorboards are reminders of the colonial days.
The rustic cafe with roaring fire is a favourite with the snow crowd passing through in winter and in summer you can sit in the shady courtyard, just a short walk from the King River, or cool off inside in the airconditioning on a hot day.
We start with a tasty capsicum panna cotta with roquette leaves and a walnut dressing ($10) and I am tempted by a double-baked goat's cheese souffle with a pickled spring vegetable salad ($12). A glass of Brown Brothers pinot chardonnay-meunier ($7.50) is a good accompaniment.
The hearty sandwich of black Angus rump marinated in red wine, garlic and thyme served on a buttermilk bun with red onion jam and beetroot fennel chutney ($19) is my husband's choice, while I skip the heavier lunch dishes of lamb and olive ragout ($24) and duck confit ($27) and settle for aubergine lasagne ($19) with a glass of La Zona pinot grigio ($6).
Reluctantly, I agree to share the much-anticipated grand finale: lemon tart ($6.50) with duck-egg rum and raisin ice-cream, which exceeds expectations.
Reviewed by Sue Wallace, who was hosted by North East Victoria Tourism.
King River Cafe and Cellar, 1143 Glenrowan-Myrtleford Road, Oxley, 5727 3461, see kingrivercafe.com.au. Open: Wednesday to Sunday 10am-late, Mondays 10am-3pm. To stay: nearby options include the King River Cafe B&B and two-bedroom self-contained house (kingrivercafe.com.au); Settlers Boutique Accommodation (settlerscottages.com.au).