Published 8 September, 2017
The Yarra Valley, located just an hour from Melbourne, is renowned for producing cool-climate wine, with more than 80 wineries located in the region. These days the Yarra Valley has also become known for its culinary offering, attracting the attention of business events planners who are keen to add a food and wine experience in their program.
Matt Stone, head chef at family-owned Oakridge Wines, has become central to the region’s uptake in the farm-to-plate trend, becoming well known across Australia for his devotion to ethical food concepts like zero waste and using local produce that is free from additives and artificial substances. The ingredients found on the restaurant’s menus have been picked by Stone and his team from the restaurant’s private garden - one of the largest in the state - and foraged from around the Yarra Valley to create sustainably-sourced dishes that pair nicely with the award-winning wines on offer. And, thanks to an abundance of food and wine-themed activities, experiencing the best of the region’s produce couldn’t be easier on the Oakridge Wines estate.
Beginning with a guided tour of the grounds led by one of the winery’s chief winemakers is a great place to start. Groups are taken through the early stages of fermentation, from barrel to tank, before sampling the finished article during a tasting masterclass. While this has been happening, Stone has been foraging for ‘wild foods’, such as pine mushrooms and mountain pepper, and brought them back from the Yarra Valley countryside for a tasting session of his own.
There is also plenty to see and do inside the Oakridge Restaurant kitchen. Groups can embark on a private pickling class where they will get to take home their own jar of pickled produce harvested straight from the kitchen garden, while Oakridge Restaurant’s sous chef guides the group through a bread making tutorial using only native Australian ingredients.
Finish off the day in style, with Oakridge’s Feast of the Beast themed dining experience, offering groups the chance to taste the very best organic meat products that have been sourced from the Yarra Valley during a candle-lit barbecue. Amidst spectacular views of the vineyards and the distant hillsides, canapes and wine are served before the group gathers around to watch Stone ceremoniously carve up the meat that has been roasting above an open fire for hours.
For a more traditional experience of Yarra Valley cuisine, formal lunches and dinners can take place within three private dining rooms that are incorporated into the main restaurant, with each one able to host groups of 40-100 people. Larger groups of 250 can take over the venue in its entirety, while an outdoor space can be used for private gatherings, perfect for when the weather is at its best between October and February. For events in a more intimate setting, Maggie’s Tasting Room can seat 14 people for wine workshops and dinners.
The Bridge Room, located a short five-minute walk from Sydney Harbour, has become one of the city’s most celebrated venues for fine dining, picking up a variety of awards from Hottest Restaurant in Australia in 2016 (national newspaper The Australian) and Chef of the Year in 2014 (Sydney Morning Herald) to 2017 Best Restaurant for Lunch or Dinner in Australia (Qantas Business Travel Awards).
After working in award-winning restaurants around the world, top Australian chef Ross Lusted returned six years ago to launch the venue with partner and general manager Sunny Lusted, with the idea to create dishes using unique, seasonal Australian produce. In order to make the most of ingredients like cape gooseberries and hearts of palm, The Bridge Room alters its menu - sometimes creating new dishes from scratch - every week depending on what produce is available from its network of specialist suppliers.
This offers an exciting opportunity for planners wishing to add a personalised touch to their event by working with one of Australia’s top chefs to design a menu that can be tailored to their group. “Our role is to understand the client’s goals and then bring our expertise into the equation to create something really unique and different,” says Lusted. “Groups are very excited by that.” Previous examples of Lusted getting creative with clients includes making new dishes using pigeon that had been flown in specially from a small Australian producer, to creating a cheese course to match with a range of wines from a local winery.
The Bridge Room can create a bespoke menu for formal sit down dinners for groups of 20 to 66 people, as well as cocktail functions with a specially-designed drinks menu, including wines suggested by the restaurant’s head sommelier. The dining room is illuminated with natural light that shines through three large wrap-around windows that have been in place ever since the building first opened as a wool merchants in 1938. The specially-designed organic felt table mats and a felt sculptural wall designed by Ross Lusted himself that is hung by the entrance are a nod to the restaurant’s past.
One hour from the Gold Coast and 20 minutes north of the beaches of Byron Bay, Fleet invites groups to leave the city behind and experience fine dining in a relaxed coastal town. With space for just ten diners, the restaurant is warm and intimate and made all the more welcoming by the smiling trio of owner Astrid McCormack, head chef Josh Lewis and waiter and bartender Rob Mudge. Groups can observe Lewis as he plates up a degustation menu from his open kitchen, while the enthusiastic McCormack shares the origin of the produce she has gathered from local food suppliers.
McCormack purchases the majority of the restaurant’s produce, including native ingredients such as lemon aspen, finger lime and david plums, from a selection of farmers markets that come to town each week. Even fish from the local fisheries, many of which supply Sydney and Melbourne, have come straight off the boat, and they can be found in dishes such as yellow fin tuna with fermented peas and cauliflower mixed with sea urchins.
Groups dining at Fleet will quickly discover that ‘behind the scenes’ doesn’t really exist. Instead, Lewis invites them to watch him in full flow as he tastes and prepares a course of eight dishes, while Mudge pairs each one with a wine, beer or sake. As each plate is served on the large dining table extending from the kitchen, which can seat up to ten people along one side, McCormack gives a full introduction to the flavours the group are about to taste.
Neil Perry, one of Australia’s top chefs and restaurateurs, is behind Sydney’s latest restaurant, the Cantonese-inspired Jade Temple. The venue is a member of the Rockpool Dining Group portfolio and, under Perry’s guidance as culinary and brand director, the company’s philosophy of letting local, sustainably-sourced ingredients take centre stage is being brought to life. Free-range pork and chicken are sourced from farms just outside Melbourne and Brisbane, while beef is flown in from Tasmania. Even the scallops are hand-caught by an independent Victoria fisherman. “Cantonese food is very produce driven. When cooked well, with beautiful produce, [the dishes] sing,” claims Perry.
Known for his expertise in Asian dining, the signature for Perry’s restaurants is being able to do the classic dishes to perfection. With groups sat banquet-style across long tables, favourites such as dumplings, wok-tossed stir fries and sweet n’ sour dishes are brought out on large sharing platters, sizzling alongside plates of lobster and mud crab that have been plucked straight from the seafood tanks. Dishes are accompanied by wine pairings proffered by Jade Temple’s sommelier.
Groups arrive in style via the restaurant’s red carpeted stairs and the antique cast-iron guardian lions, oriental artwork, and custom-designed chandeliers create an authentic setting for this Asian fine dining experience.
For private dining, the restaurant offers ample space for groups large and small. An upper mezzanine level overlooking the restaurant can seat up to 28 people on one long table, while 36 people can be accommodated in a round table format. Larger groups can take over Jade Temple exclusively with capacity for up to 110 guests, with the mezzanine level providing space for pre-dinner cocktails, presentations, and musical performances.
The menu is full of interesting combinations of produce and flavours that will be new and exciting to most international groups. Plates of gunpowder salmon with green curry and black ants, emu tartare and burnt shallots, and pork belly with star anise can be combined with an array of choices from an all-vegan menu.
Event planners can work with the chef to pick eight dishes, incorporating Detour’s traditional plates with more inventive options. The wine list is reserved only for independent Australian wineries with an emphasis on varieties that are made organically and with minimal intervention. Detour’s cocktail menu is also full of surprises. Mixes of gin and ginger and apricot and sparkling wine can be enjoyed upon arrival before the feast begins.
Detour’s size and open-plan interior makes this up and coming venue an ideal option for private dining in a relaxed setting. The restaurant is available to be booked out exclusively, with total capacity set at 60 people, however, an outdoor space that can seat 30 guests is also available. Alternatively, the restaurant can create space for standing cocktail receptions for up to 120 people.