Restaurant Reviews

Rare Hare, Melbourne review

On the Mornington Peninsula, Jackalope Hotel's more casual diner is a standout example of winery dining done right.

By Michael Harden
Char-grilled squid with romesco nero and roast lemon

There can always be more devilled eggs. Chef Guy Stanaway hammers that home with his irony-free, straight-talking version of the classic at Rare Hare. A good egg, boiled to the taut but pliable sweet spot before the white turns rubbery, is crumbed, deep-fried and halved, the yolk then scooped out, seasoned and blended with crème fraîche to make a mousse that's piped back onto the eggwhite and topped with chives, dill and a tiny twist of sharp pickled shallot. Makes you pity vegans.

Not too much, though. There's plenty of plant-forward action on Stanaway's menu that's adaptable - abandon the anchovy here, lose the whipped feta there - to the vegan cause. And that's as it should be at Jackalope Hotel's casual diner. Rare Hare is the flexible, unbuttoned everyman to the more tightly scripted geometric art-house glamour of Jackalope and its tasting menu-only restaurant, Doot Doot Doot. The Hare aims to please and it does.

Rare Hare's outdoor section

Rare Hare doesn't neglect style on its relaxed, welcome-all-comers quest. The earthy brick, timber and glass interior by Projects of Imagination takes care of that, while the communal tables with bench seating offer views over the meticulously groomed vineyards of Willow Creek winery. Efficient service from a T-shirted young crew who don't break stride even as the room fills and the noise swells adds to the appeal. But it's Stanaway's deft combinations of top-notch ingredients, prettily arranged on rustic monogrammed crockery, that really seals it. It's food that syncs perfectly with the Mornington Peninsula's whole easy-going yet soigné seaside winery thing.

Rare Hare takes the ubiquitous "all our dishes are designed to share" path but, refreshingly, doesn't bang on about the seasonal and the regional. There's a practical element to the approach - local producers tend to be small-scale and supply can't always be guaranteed so chefs often need to source ingredients from further afield. But it also taps into the laid-back attitude and the confidence that the obvious attention to detail brings. Leave it to us, it says - ingredients will be carefully sourced, even if they're not from just down the road. They're right.

Chef Guy Stanaway

Many of the ingredients listed are local, though. Thrillingly sweet heirloom tomatoes, thin slices of just-picked peaches and baby basil, dill and red elk leaves are the local heroes combined in a salad with whipped feta and a chardonnay vinegar dressing.

The charcoal eggplant, meanwhile, is not to be missed. Eggplants are halved and slathered with red miso paste before being chucked into the wood-fired oven.The eggplant softens, the miso caramelises and the whole lot is topped with an invigorating combination of coriander leaves, fried shallots, furikake and red chilli.

A lot is grown and made in-house. The "Tabasco" sauce in an excellent roughly chopped beef tartare accented with pickles and chipotle, for instance, and the textural crumb in a roasted zucchini, anchovy and confit garlic salad made from ciabatta baked in the wood oven. The petals decorating the Negroni-cured ocean trout, meanwhile, come from the kitchen garden.

Heirloom tomato, peach, whipped feta and sourdough

The single-page drinks list keeps it mostly local, too. All the wine on the list is estate-grown apart from a couple of Mornington Peninsula classics: a 2015 Baillieu sparkling and the gently perfumed Quealy Muscat Rosé dessert wine.

There's Rare Hare-branded wine (the rosé, made from pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, is an elegantly dry winner), beer from local producers and thoughtful alcohol-free options such as the Sober One Sangria, a not-too-sweet raspberry- and apple-based quencher flavoured with char-grilled orange, smoked paprika and star anise.

Simplicity is the key here. Just as there are only 11 wines on the drinks list, there's a pared-back approach to the number of ingredients on the plate, too.

Squid, scored, char-grilled and dressed with lemon and olive oil, sits on a pitch-perfect romesco nero sauce, tinted black with squid ink and served simply with half a char-grilled lemon.

Milk chocolate and brown butter tarte with crème fraîche and citrus

A slice of rich, fudge-like milk chocolate and brown-butter tart is accompanied by crème fraîche dusted with a citrus sherbet, while a rose panna cotta gets great support from a raspberry compote and crunchy buckwheat crisps. It's elegant, successful stuff.

Sophisticated, relaxed and smoothly efficient, Rare Hare is another great example of how good Australian winery eating has become.