Merne at Lighthouse Photo: Tregan Borg
MERNE at Lighthouse
650 Andersons Road, Drysdale
First things first, thank-you to Ela Carte for giving this one up to me, it sure was a treat.
I'm not opposed on taking a little road trip for food. There is something great about visiting an establishment, whether a restaurant, café or cellar door where you know there focus on the local region. Whether it's the use of local produce, or the staff being part of the local community, there seems to be a sense of pride in the showcasing their little piece of the world.
This time my road trip took me to Merne at Lighthouse. Those local to the area will know Merne occupies the previous "Loam" site, a former two-hatted restaurant prior to it's closure in 2012.
Located in Drysdale on the Bellarine Penninsula the drive out of Melbourne is just under 90 minutes. Turning off just before Port Arlington, you travel down a dirt road, paddocks and farms on either side until and you reach an easily missed driveway to your dining destiny.
Merne at Lighthouse Photo: Tregan Borg
Upon entrance to the elevated dining room, you can't help but take in the picturesque scenery. The room itself is not large, and even quite plain in design, but it leaves all ambience to the beautiful views of a large olive grove, rural scenery and on the horizon Swan Bay.
The stunning olive grove services Lighthouse Olive Oil (thus the name "Merne at Lighthouse"). With a small retail shop/cellar door situated underneath the restaurant, which provides tastings of their olive oil, and wine tastings from Oakdene Winery which is located just down the road.
Merne is a collaborative effort of four local chefs with longstanding reputations for good food in Bellarine and greater Geelong. Caleb Fleet, previously Pettavel (Mount Duneed Estate) along with Matt Dempsey from also reputable establishments, Gladioli, and Tulip. Together they have designed a menu that is self-described as "contemporary" however personally I would place in a more fine-dining category with smallish serves and very pretty plating.
The menu is set at two ($55) or four ($75) courses with the choice of choosing your mains (one per person). Menu is designed to share, so smart ordering would assume you choose different dishes to give you a variety of dishes to taste.
House made sourdough with Lighhouse Olives hits the table first, FYI fresh soft and crunchy bread is the key to my heart.
Starting the "grazing" dishes, two oysters, freshly shucked oysters in a tangy, yet light, I almost want to say apple juice (but not apple juice)?
Merne at Lighthouse; Kingfish. Photo: Tregan Borg
Secondly, Kingfish tartare, daikon, nori, finger lime and lemon myrtle. Beautifully prepared cubes of kingfish, daikon and radish, aesthetically pleasing however, the kingfish to radish ratio was a little off (more radish than kingfish), leaving the dish to be slightly crunchy and missing the textural component and sweetness of the kingfish I would look for in a tartare.
Last for the grazing, Buffalo mozzarella, radish, caper and pumpkin, this one takes the award for the most beautifully plated.
For our mains, we chose the Lamb, goat curd, smoked beetroot and mint, along with the Pork, wild plum, turnip and mustard cress. The mains were accompanied by two sides, Cauliflower, kale, lentil and treacle and Parsnip, buttermilk, hazelnut and wattle seed. I enjoyed everything about the main dishes, but if I was forced to pick a favourite it would have been the pork. Assumingly slow roasted shoulder, as it was pull apart, with the natural fats cooked down into the meat to give that deep pork flavour. Alongside the sweet tartness of wild plum, it was a great pairing of ingredients and a joy to eat.
The lamp rump was cooked beautifully rare, but possibly erring on the side of underdone for some. In my view it was perfect, and the only way to eat well produced lamb providing a fullness of great flavour. The charred and blackened beetroot gave the dish a sweet smokiness, with a smooth goats curd giving a creamy texture to mop up the leakage from the lamb jus.
Sides were both on par with the mains when it came to flavours and textures, I want to say…sexy veg. This course was all about a little bit of this and a little bit of that, lots of care in each dish giving flavour in each mouthful.
Despite some of the servings being on the smaller side, the two course is technically over seven dishes, and for an extra $20 the four-course option gets you second grazing course (consisting of two more dishes) and a dessert. Without sounding like a broken record a well-rounded menu, that offers quite refined food at a reasonable cost.
The wine list is predominantly Australian producers, and all wines by the glass are Oakdene, which is literally a stone's throw away. The craft beer list is also impressive offering brews from local and international providers – with the Deschutes IPA (USA) at $14 a drop that is definitely targeting a specific beer lovers market.
Merne is open for lunch Thursday – Monday from 12pm and Friday and Saturday night for dinner, however I highly recommend for the full experience (views, road trip and a little tasting at Lighthouse Olive Oil) lunch is the winner.