Tea Rooms of Yarck, Alexandra review: Fine food and shelter

Read our writer's views on this property below

Jane Faulkner discovers a restored church a stone's throw from a long lunch.

Tell friends you're heading to Yarck for the weekend and they'll either be incredibly jealous, knowing an Italian feast is on the cards, or have no idea such a place exists. It does. Mostly this blink-and-you'll-miss-it town is a part of an extended farming community just outside Yea in north-east Victoria but for the past four years there's also been a gastronomic drawcard.

On weekends, city folk especially flock to this town for a seat at the much-lauded Tea Rooms of Yarck - recently awarded best country restaurant in the The Age Good Food Guide. Except for the distinctly Australian landscape of gum trees and too much native roadkill, it's easy to imagine you're in a noisy trattoria reminiscent of those dotted around Italy's countryside. No coincidence, really, as this is Sardinian-born Pietro Porcu's place (the other restaurant he co-owns is Da Noi in South Yarra). Tea Rooms is special, though. It is unencumbered by city demands, so no need to rush. Dining here is leisurely, relaxed, satisfying and occasionally boozy, so a place to sleep nearby is advised.

And that is the problem. A designated driver is essential, even if you manage to find accommodation in Yea or elsewhere. So the owners of the Tea Room bought a property across the road comprising two small identical weatherboard buildings, a former church and its hall. Hence its accommodation moniker, the Churches.

Opened just two months ago, each is similar in configuration, self-contained with an open plan and caters for couples or the lone traveller. Both have been renovated with a modern sensibility so they are uncluttered, functional and comfortable.

The option of staying two nights is perfect to make the most of what the trattoria has to offer, starting with sensational thin-crust pizza and a glass of chianti for Friday dinner.

On my arrival late that afternoon, my digs are already warm thanks to the double-sided faux-log gas fire - while in warmer weather, the welcome would be swirling ceiling fans and airconditioning. There's a long table with a pew for seating and a small sitting area in front of the fire.

The ensemble bed is firm and comfortable with all the promise of a good night's sleep. If you are a light sleeper, the only downside is the traffic, even if it is infrequent. The Churches is right on the Maroondah Highway so it can be a bit noisy; take earplugs. While there's a separate, neat bathroom with basics from soap to hairdryer, sitting adjacent is a deep, claw-footed bath. It's in full view of the bed, next to the open fire, so you do have to be rather fond of or used to your companion.

There's a radio-DVD player but bring some music as the few options are so-so. There is also a television, which didn't pick up any channels, although it plays DVDs. Again, BYO. One quibble: being an avid reader, stronger lighting would be welcomed.

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There are no cooking facilities but breakfast is ample. On this occasion, there's a loaf of freshly baked bread, toasted and spread with Vegemite or raspberry jam, excellent yoghurt and home-made fruit compote, Italian pear juices, mineral water, fresh milk, ground coffee, tea leaves and a bowl of fresh fruit. Besides, Tea Rooms is famous for its long Saturday and Sunday lunches.

It's a blessing to briskly walk across the road at 1pm and waddle back four hours later after savouring morsels of raw kingfish, octopus, bowls of fresh beans, frittata, thin slices of tongue, sensational tortellini with prawns, perfectly dressed salad of cos lettuce and fennel and pork cutlets, all complemented by a Livio Felluga pinot grigio and the excellent Sardinian red from Argiolas, the '04 Turriga. Oh and dessert to share. Enjoyed all the more, aside from the company of friends, knowing a nap is not far away.

VISITORS' BOOK

The Chuches at Tea Rooms at Yarck

Address 6585 Maroondah Highway, Yarck.

Bookings Phone 5773 4233.

Getting there There are two ways to get there from Melbourne (about two hours): take the Hume Highway to Tallarook, follow the signs to Yea and Yarck is about 20 kilometres further on the Maroondah Highway; or take the Maroondah Highway exit off the Eastern Freeway, bypassing Ringwood, and follow the signs to Yarra Glen then Yea.

How much $250 a night each self-contained cottage comprising continental breakfast; two or more nights and midweek stays cheaper.

Summary A work in progress but a comfortable and smart addition to Yarck.

Verdict 16

The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.

All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.