GRAPE-LADEN vines edge the road, a pair of wild ducks waddle across the driveway heading for the adjacent lake and roses bloom profusely at the end of vineyard rows (as in France, being early detectors of mildew).
It's a glorious drive leading up to the Vines Restaurant on Helen's Hill vineyards at Coldstream in the Yarra Valley. Ingram Road is off the Maroondah Highway before you get to Coldstream — and is the label under which the surrounding grapes are bottled. You can stop for wine-tasting before lunch — or call in afterwards to take some home.
We choose to head straight for the stylishly designed restaurant that sits atop a knoll with panoramic views of the 48-hectare vineyard through to the Yarra Valley floor and on to the Yarra Ranges. It's the view and the location with plenty of parking that makes it a popular wedding venue.
The wine list features estate-grown wines and a few other Yarra Valley and Australian labels with the odd New Zealand and French one for good measure. Several Helen's Hill estate wines are available by the glass; we choose a Helen's Hill Ingram Road dry rose made from pinot noir grapes ($32) and make a mental note to buy some from the cellar door.
My husband fancies the creamy ham and potato soup ($12) that proves a little thin but tasty, while I hop into a Chinese-style chicken clay pot with lap cheong sausage, shiitake mushrooms and crisp rice noodles ($17).
For mains, the recommended eye fillet ($31) is a good choice and is wrapped in sopressa, topped with tapenade and served on baked semolina, while my seafood-loving husband enjoys baked flathead tails on a potato-and- tomato bake ($30) with a saffron veloute sauce that seems to us unnecessary.
For dessert, a stack of chantilly cream and strawberries topped with a mushroom-shaped meringue drizzled with mango and passionfruit coulis ($15) satisfies the sweet tooth, but the meringue could remove fillings.
Reviewed by Tricia Welsh, who was hosted by Yarra Ranges Regional Marketing.
Vines Restaurant, 16 Ingram Road, Coldstream, 9739 0222. Restaurant open Thursday-Sunday, noon-3pm, 6-8pm; cellar door open Thursday-Sunday 10am-5pm, other times by appointment. See vinesrestaurant.com.au, Melway 281 D11. To stay: Ben Yering (benyeringcottage .com.au), Raynella Alpaca Farm and Bed and Breakfast (raynella.com.au/alpacas.html), The Gatehouse at Villa Raedward (villaraedward.com.au); for more options see experienceyarravalley.com.au.