Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A trip to the Mornington Peninsula

Last Saturday was one of Melbourne's glorious early autumn days. The season seems to have turned overnight and there is now a chill in the mornings. A cardigan is a necessary accessory before 10am but once the early morning chill has been burned off by the sun's rays, the days are gorgeous.

Saturday was a perfect day for touring and the Mornington Peninsula was looking its best, with the sun warming the green paddocks (the drought doesn't seem to have bleached the landscape of colour here) and the sea shimmering deep blue in the distance. As we drove down Borneo Rd near Rye, we passed a small sign that said "La Campagna cellar door and olive farm". This was enough to arouse our curiosity, so we turned off onto the dirt track, expecting the cellar door to be just off the road. Instead, we followed a corrugated dirt road further away from the main road, through a lovely rural setting and alongside the Mornington Peninsula National Park. About 3km in, we came to the front gate and followed a track lined either side by beautiful olive trees, with grapevines growing in nearby paddocks. There was a real European feel, despite the Australian bush surroundings. The track led up to the osteria and cellar door, a two-storey sandstone-coloured concrete block building that sits on a slight rise looking out towards Bass Strait.

Owners Ted and Helen Ori make semillon, chardonnay, vin bianco, shiraz and a blended Tuscan red. Their olives are turned into a lovely, fruity olive oil, or bottled as oven-roasted or marinated olives. Ted has built a wood-fired oven in the osteria, out of which he produces Tuscan baked bread, made to his own, painstakingly perfected recipe. It has a crunchy crust, like a pasta dura, but the bread inside is soft and chewy and is a perfect texture to be dunked in olive oil. The oven also provides the osteria's lunch menu, which is offered on weekends. The menu is ever-changing but might include roast lamb or pork loin, trays of roasted vegetables, polenta, stews, soups, pizza, bruschetta and the osteria's famed lasagne. It is very popular and can book out weeks in advance. We leave with a bottle of Tuscan red, a bottle of olive oil and a loaf of bread and vow to return to sample the osteria's menu.

(I also vow to buy several loaves of bread next time I visit. Out of the loaf we bought, we produced a snack of chunks of bread to dip into the olive oil and dukkah, whizzed some pieces into breadcrumbs to mix with herbs to pile on top of fish fillets, and the rest was used as a base for bruschetta with the last of the basil and tomatoes from our garden. The bread was one of the best loaves I've ever eaten and certainly justifies Ted's many years of experimentation.)

Our tummies were now well and truly rumbling, so we headed to Mornington. Parking near the beach, we secured a table at The Boyz 4 Breakie. It's in a great location, across the road from the beach and the start of Mornington's busy Main St shopping strip. The cafe has a noisy, bustling, beachy feel to it and the sunniness of the day is heightened by the suede-effect bright yellow walls. The coffee machine is located in a centre bar and the kitchen at the back is kept busy churning out plate after plate of eggs and pancakes, which are swept out to customers by a large number of efficient staff.

The service is friendly and swift: we're escorted to a table, a highchair is quickly produced for our son, the stroller is whisked away for safekeeping, menus are produced and glasses filled with water while we settle ourselves. We're slow in deciding what to eat and are asked three times if we're ready to order. The breakfast menu is not extensive but it does offer the usual favourites of eggs several different ways, two different "big breakies" (the "boyz" with bacon and tomatoes, the "girlz" with smoked salmon), pancakes, French toast and muesli.

Once ordered, our choices, pancakes with fresh blueberries and strawberries, and French toast with strawberries and maple syrup, arrive quickly. The presentation is great but I'm a little disappointed with the wateriness of the strawberries and the pancakes are a bit flat. Adam finds the eggy wash on his two pieces of French toast is too much, so we swap plates and one piece of toast and one pancake each turns out to be a great combination.

This is a place that looks to be popular with the locals. There's a great buzz and the food, while not the best breakfast I've ever had, is definitely enough to fuel a good start to the day. A stroll up Main St to check out the various shops is a good way to work off breakfast.

La Campagna
Rogers Rd
Mornington Peninsula

The Boyz for Breakie
1a Main St

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