We joined forces with Gertrude Street Enoteca again to put on a pop-up restaurant at Avani winery in Red Hill. This year's was bigger and better with an Italian twist, writes Michael Harden.
We had a blast again this summer when we teamed up with our friends from Melbourne's Gertrude Street Enoteca and Avani winery to produce our second pop-up restaurant in Victoria's Red Hill.
It was hard not to, really. The Mornington Peninsula provided an embarrassment of riches in produce, Avani winery supplied the beautiful, vine-stitched backdrop and sell-out crowds kept the energy levels high and happy.
And then there was the food.
Chef Brigitte Hafner sourced produce from all over the region - including from her own vegetable patches at her farm in nearby Main Ridge - for her weekly-changing menus, which had a distinctly Italian slant this year thanks to the assistance of Italian-born co-chef Francesco Rota (Tea Rooms of Yarck).
Suckling pig appeared with wild fennel, spatchcock was accompanied by a salad of sautéed peaches tossed with rocket and radicchio and a summer veal osso buco was complemented by a nettle risotto. All the four-course menus featured a course of handmade pasta - potato and goat's cheese ravioli with burnt sage butter one week or an amazing summer lasagne bursting with vine-ripened tomato flavour, say, the next. Desserts, like a white peach and custard crostata and a nectarine tart, made the most of the region's bounty of summer fruit.
"It was an awesome experience because you're collaborating with people you've never met or never worked with before and finding producers who you've never even heard of who bring such amazing ingredients to the table and then it somehow all comes together so beautifully," says Hafner. "Gourmet Traveller is very good at finding all these distinct elements and making it happen."
Major sponsors Cobram Estate and Infiniti Cars helped make the event a reality, while the dining room ("a dusty old cobweb shed when we first moved in", as Hafner put it) looked fabulous thanks to the creative talents of fashion designer Lisa Gorman, who supplied linen, napkins and aprons and dressed some of the waiters, and her husband, Dean Angelucci, who decked out the room with classic furniture from his Fitzroy boutique, Angelucci 20th Century. Beautiful plates and platters from Robert Gordon and the handiwork of Melbourne stylist Leesa O'Reilly added another layer of chic.
And then there was the wine list, compiled by Enoteca's James Broadway, which featured several vintages of Avani's excellent biodynamic syrah alongside Mornington Peninsula greats, and classics from the Old World.
Avani winemaker, Shashi Singh, and her husband, Devendra, were a regular fixture at the pop-up, too, not just chatting about their wine with customers but ferrying plates and helping out in the kitchen. "Because it's like an event rather than a regular restaurant, everybody has to think on their feet and do what needs to be done," says Hafner. "And that's what gives it the energy and makes it so much fun."