I’m not a stranger to the Dandenong Ranges, however a trip to the ranges is more often associated with a hike followed immediately by a large serving of scones slathered in jam and cream, rather than a fine dining experience. But recently I put my hiking shoes away and ventured to one of the oldest restaurants in the Dandenong Ranges (est. 1893) for a fine dining feast.
Coonara Springs has been beautifully transformed over an epic three-year renovation project by husband and wife duo Adam and Sally Whitford. Calling themselves ‘accidental restauranteurs’, one of their biggest coups to date has been securing Adrian Upward (Intercontinental Regency Bahrain and Fanny’s) to take up the helm of the kitchen.
A trip to Coonara Springs is definitely not your standard Sunday lunch fare, rather one to save for a special occasion, anniversary or if, like me, you wanted to spoil yourself a little. Upon entering the grand Victorian weatherboard property, you’re warmly greeted by a beautiful dining room with white and pastel hues. It’s intimate and cosy, with only 12 tables on the restaurant floor, mostly framed by leather banquettes on one side. It’s a little farmhouse chic, with a lot of style and sophistication. The verandah is the perfect spot to bask in the sunshine in the summer months, however a spot by the crackling fire on a chilly winter’s day is fine by me too.
Despite its massive transformation, Coonara Springs still retains snippets of its original history, from the antiques and original Aga stove to framed historic menus and previous owners’ portraits adorning the walls.
But the real beauty here is the gorgeous Edna Walling themed landscaped gardens set over seven acres (a garden party dream!). And the views over the Yarra Valley and the Silvan Dam aren’t bad either.
Upward has crafted a modern Australian menu which seesaws between contemporary and traditional techniques. Local produce is showcased here in all its glory, with most of it being sourced from their very own kitchen garden.There is a two-course menu available for $75, or you can indulge in three sumptuous courses for $95. If you’re a little strapped for cash, enjoy three courses for just $50 on bistro Wednesdays.
To start, you can feast on house baked bread (rye, olive and white sourdough) cooked on site and paired with smoked butter.
The entrees show off Upward’s impeccable techniques, driven from his international restaurant experience. Think twice baked goats souffle, hot smoked apple wood salmon, an elegant prawn stack paired with avocado cream and cucumber, or my personal favorite, the Vichyssoise a leek and potato cold soup teamed with egg and crispy smoked bacon. It’s playful and theatrical, full of textures and lingering flavour.
Moving on to the mains, harpuka is sweetened with saffron spiced yoghurt and avocado, while a teriyaki salmon is cooked to perfection, falling apart with the slightest of fork nudges. Meat is definitely a focus and you can’t go past the sous vide beef tenderloin or the saltbush lamb with chicken and pine nut farce.
Unfortunately there was no room for desserts on this occasion, but I hear they do a mean raspberry souffle. Perhaps I just needed any excuse to go back…