MANY Victorian hamlets appear like mirages; are they really there or not? Ruffy is one such hamlet. What places it firmly on the state's gustatorial map is its produce store. While many localities lost their mixed-business shops yonks ago, Ruffy Produce Store was restored in a quirky, loving fashion six years ago by Helen McDougall and Doug Maclean, two former urbanites seeking old-fashioned peace and quiet in an off-beat location.
Arriving in Ruffy during a wandering Sunday drive, I expect nothing and am rewarded greatly. We are hungry. Prepared mentally for indifferent and plain toasted sandwiches at a boring cafe, we are delighted by Ruffy Produce Store's appearance. Two old bicycles with handlebar baskets parked outside reminded me of rural France. Flower beds under trees also spark Gallic memories.
A hand-written chalkboard menu gives me a heightened frisson of barely suppressed joy. Could this be the solution to the riddle: "Why can't country Victorian cafes cook decent, simply prepared food inspired by owners who know their ingredients?", which has plagued me during my travels in Victoria from Mallacoota all the way to Edenhope.
My first visit to Ruffy Produce Store begins with a bowl of creamy parsnip soup ($10) and crusty sourdough bread. With it I have a glass of local Elgo Estate Riesling ($8), which is elegant and citric, the perfect counterpoint to the sweet parsnip. My partner and I both devour Longwood lamb pies ($16) with Ruffy Produce Store chutney on the side. Glasses of Maygars Hill Shiraz ($9) lead me to consider my own tree change tout de suite. We finish with a dense slice of tarte tatin with double cream ($9.50) and head-clearing short black coffees. Well sated, we leave with bottles of local wine and Ruffy Produce Store's home-made preserves and pickles.
Surely this lunch isn't possible in tiny Ruffy?
As early spring leads to summer, Ruffy preys on my mind. We ring ahead this time, both to confirm that this mirage cafe does exist and that we would have a table; it's an equal bet both ways.
Tomato and feta tarts with spring salad greens ($15), more glasses of local wines from Dawson & Wills and Longwood Estate wineries and more scrumptious cakes and coffee that even Brunswick-based caffeine addicts would find satisfying.
Ruffy Produce Store does exist. Some dreams do come true.
Reviewed by Tom Neal Tacker
Ruffy General Store, 26 Nolans Road, Ruffy, Victoria 3666, 5790 4387. Open weekends and holidays from 8am until 6pm. Friday lunch. Other times and functions by arrangement. See ruffy.com.au. To stay: nearby options include Sunnymeade Bed and Breakfast (sunnymeade.com.au), Maygars Hill Vineyard and Cottage (www.strathbogieboutiquewines.com) or Saratoga Lodge (saratogalodge.com.au).