There's so much going on at Jackalope, the fancy new boutique hotel at Willow Creek Vineyard, halfway between Balnarring and Tuerong on the Mornington Peninsula. So. Much. Going. On. Apart from all that five-star accommodation (46 rooms of it), there are two restaurants - a bistro and a fine-diner - plus a wine-tasting room, a wine bar, another bar, a food store and a whole bunch of questing modern art and bespoke furniture. Into that list you can even slot the cloakroom, where the walls, floor and even the coat-hangers are fluffily lined with the softest grey rabbit pelts. The unwitting diner stumbles upon this unexpected scenario - a spot where that fictitious Alice might curl up for an afternoon nap - turning the corner to the bathrooms at Rare Hare bistro.
Doot Doot Doot.
But that's the thing about Jackalope, named after the mythical half jackrabbit, half antelope, which opened in April. It's not all style at the expense of substance. And when it comes to the food there's oodles to like, starting with Rare Hare, the vast brick-floored canteen where Projects of Imagination have conjured a ruggedly upmarket Boy Scouts sensibility with texture upon texture - brick, polished wood, an origami ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows with uninterrupted views over the vines - and crowned it with a wood oven that works as hard as anyone in the place.
Executive chef Guy Stanaway is a peripatetic kind of fellow - he's moved south from Noosa's Bistro C but spent the preceding decade with Aman Resorts in India and Indonesia - and his menu dips and whirls a bit around the two dominant poles of Spanish/Mediterranean and Asian without getting hopelessly lost. A whole wood-grilled snapper lavished with mussel butter, a thicket of herbs and a half a charred lemon is no culinary non-sequitur to a roasted cross-section of sambal-topped bone marrow with toast; there's burrata crusted with seeds and nuts and sophisticated slivers of tarragon, the sweetness cut by the acidic edge of pickled green tomato; there's Negroni-cured trout bright with horseradish cream and dill; and to finish a picture-perfect chocolate brown butter tart that cuts as softly as caramel.
Custard apple, walnut, yuba, miso at Doot Doot Doot.
Where Rare Hare is bright and breezy, the restaurant Doot Doot Doot goes dark and moody, crowned with a kinetic Jan Flook ceiling light installation of 10,000 amber globes that mimics the process of fermentation. Yes, really. To mirror Willow Creek the narrative-based global wine list emphasises producers of 11 hectares or less (opt for drink matching, however, and you might begin with a Bloody Mary smartly corrupted with clam juice instead of vino).
Strap in for a four- or eight-course dégustation. Thanks to Stanaway and his head chef Martin Webster, late of Montalto, you'll be greeting a whole array of Mornington Peninsula produce transformed with a light modern touch. There are vegetables - poached, raw, pickled - with fermented whey and orange blossom. Spanner crab and furikake on creamed potato with bottarga is improbably successful. Steamed King George whiting plumbs the marine depths with grilled urchin, a viscous uni sauce and slivers of raw macadamia; an Asian twist arrives courtesy of veal sweetbreads with Sorrento abalone, dressed in a dark Chinese-style sauce of the mollusc's liver.
Yuzu curd, matcha, sesame at Doot Doot Doot.
They've thought of everything. Gorgeous Cone 11 ceramics that change throughout the meal. Zalto stemware. There's even a four-course children's menu that can be paired with differently flavoured sparkling waters. Seriously. The more sensible (read: boring) among us could argue it's creating a monster but they'd be missing the point. Monsters are the Jackalope's raison d'être, in the best possible way.
Jacaklope Hotel, 166 Balnarring Rd, Merricks North, Vic, (03) 5931 2500, jackalopehotels.com; Rare Hare open for lunch daily and dinner Fri-Sun. Doot Doot Doot open for lunch Sat-Sun and dinner daily.