THERE's a sense of fun as we walk through the gardens of the Bellarine Peninsula's Oakdene Restaurant with its whimsical artworks.
A tree is decorated with old kitchen graters and strainers and there's a rack of old-fashioned rusty bikes and bright teapots.
Once inside the revamped 1920s homestead, there are rooms of vivid colour, wonderful kitchen aromas and great vineyard views.
A decade ago, a neglected cattle farm caught the eye of world travellers Bernard and Elizabeth Hooley, who bought the property. They opened in 2003 and have spent the past eight years working with chef and manager Marty Chichester, a Welshman with a passion for fresh local and Victorian produce.
For lunch, there's a set price — $55 for entree and mains or $65 with dessert or cheese — while the grill menu costs an extra $15-$20. We nibble on bread dipped in Oakdene's home-grown olive oil, with a glass of home-grown Matilda Blanc de Noirs ($13). For entree, the cured local kingfish, avocado, dehydrated sushi rice, barbecued octopus and daikon salad and the pork, chicken and pistachio terrine with plum jam on toasted La Madre sourdough prove to be good choices. For main course, I can't pass by the free-range chicken, Drysdale goat curd, saffron fregola sarda, capsicum sofrito and Pedro poached tamarillo (pictured). A glass of 2008 Oakdene Pinot Noir ($11) goes down well with this.
The twice-cooked lamb shoulder has my husband hooked. It's served with heirloom carrots, smoked eggplant and parsnip and is cooked to perfection.
For dessert, we try the Wallington pear and frangipane tart and a tasting plate of lemon meringue and strawberry gateaux, creme fraiche sherbet, gingerbread pudding, orange caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice-cream. Indulgent? Yes — and they taste just as good as they look.
Reviewed by Sue Wallace, who was a guest of Tourism Victoria.
Oakdene Vineyards Restaurant, 255 Grubb Road, Wallington, 5255 1255. Lunch, Wednesday to Sunday from noon; dinner, Wednesday to Saturday from 6.30pm. The cellar door is open daily. See oakdene.com.au.
To stay: Oakdene Vineyards (oakdene.com.au); Vue Grand hotel, Queenscliff (vuegrand.com.au);
Ti-Tree Village, Ocean Grove (ti-treevillage.com.au).