Restaurant Reviews

Review: one of Melbourne's most influential chefs is back with her own bistro

Tansy's has returned, this time in regional Victoria. It's all classics and class, and serving sardines so beautiful they could make a grown man cry. Time to set the GPS to Kyneton.

By Michael Harden
Chef Tansy Good and sommelier John Evans.
Is it wrong to get emotional about sardines? These are silvery, juicy, expertly butterflied numbers from Port Lincoln, laid out on an orange-rimmed plate, topped with a swirl of pink house-pickled onions and accompanied by a wedge of lime. Soused for four hours in a finely tuned combo of lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar and herbs, they're thrillingly firm and clean flavoured, a masterclass in the beauty of simplicity. Only the hard-hearted could remain unmoved.
But there's another excuse for getting choked up. These sardines are the work of Tansy Good, one of Melbourne's most influential chefs, master of classic French technique, inspiration to the likes of Karen Martini, Philippa Sibley, Matt and Andrew McConnell, Rita Macali and Gerald Diffey.
Herb and lemon soused sardines. Photo: Julian Kingma
It's been a while since Good has done her own stuff in her own kitchen. Now, in regional Victoria with sommelier partner John Evans in a weatherboard house with a garden on Kyneton's Piper Street, she's created the next incarnation of her eponymous restaurant, first spotted in Melbourne in the 1980s.
This latest, rural version of Tansy's is a small, hands-on, handcrafted business run by two industry lifers. They're not here to perform cartwheels for you. You might wait a while to be served or for the food to arrive. The opening hours are limited and the one-page menu changes according to the whim of the season, or the chef. But what you get in exchange is a precise distillation of hard-won knowledge, talent and experience, an essence that's both uncompromising and humble.
Chef Tansy Good and sommelier John Evans. Photo: Julian Kingma
Take the gravlax. Salmon is cured in vodka flavoured with dill, coriander and fennel seeds and a little black pepper. It's sliced to order and has a plump, buttery texture, a gloriously rich orange-pink colour and clean, lengthy flavour that neither ignores nor is swamped by the cure. It lands accompanied by caperberries and cucumbers pickled in sugar and cider vinegar. There's a quenelle of crème fraîche, mottled with fresh dill. This is textbook gravlax, doing its thing.
The same can be said for the pipérade, a feisty brick-red stew of caramelised onion, charred red capsicum and smoked paprika. It's studded with pieces of creamy, salty Meredith goat's cheese that sharpen the edges and lift the dish to the next, more ethereal, level.
The dining room at Tansy's. Photo: Julian Kingma
Then there's the goat's cheese and herb tart, a dish at home on the menu of a quaint-rustic country restaurant. One where mismatched crockery and tiled floors, fresh flowers on every table, walls whitewashed or patterned with European tiles and windows looking out onto a garden complete the setting. Of course there's a goat's cheese tart.
But, again, this tart knows its stuff: lots of cheese, herbs from the garden mixed with spinach or kale, pinpoint accuracy in the seasoning. The pastry is the kind of short, buttery, flaky ideal that encourages mere mortals to recommit to the quest of mastering pastry, because the house-made version tastes so good.
Fillet of beef with potatoes and red wine sauce. Photo: Julian Kingma
Good has always been a master saucier, so don't eat here without taking advantage. The red wine sauce accompanying a fillet of beef is made from veal and beef stock, red wine and a splash or two of port or Madeira. Its depth of flavour makes you close your eyes when it hits your mouth. The beef itself is precisely cooked, as are the accompanying potatoes and baby onions. It's expertly tailored comfort food.
John Evans' wine list is comforting too, starting with the fact the prices top out at $100. It's a meandering collection with nothing too oddball in the mix. There's Italian grillo and Heathcote shiraz, xinomavro from Greece and pinot noir from Coal River in Tasmania, Austrian grüner veltliner and New Zealand pinot gris, with a good number available by the glass.
Frangipane tart with vanilla bean ice-cream. Julian Kingma
Come dessert, sorbets might be flavoured with chocolate, berries, Piña Colada, cinnamon, asparagus or ginger. Order any of them – the texture alone is sublime – but if the ginger's on, get it on the side with one of the other dishes, perhaps a slice of frangipane tart topped with plums and peaches.
There are no boundaries being pushed here. It's an agenda-free space, aside from enabling talent, precision and simplicity to do justice to great ingredients. Tansy's is back. Time to set the GPS for Kyneton.
Outside Tansy's. Photo: Julian Kingma