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Kate Stevenson’s latest food reviews!

Ma Cave at Midnight Starling – 60 Piper Street, Kyneton – http://www.midnightstarling.com.au/

You can’t lose here really. The venue is Midnight Starling, a warm, cosy, French bistro in the uber-cool Piper Street in Kyneton. Gorgeous wood panelling, specials on blackboards, welcoming staff – you could easily pop in here for a top notch meal.

Or, you can book for a Friday or Saturday night, where you’ll bypass said charming bar/dining room, head down the stairs and into Ma Cave, the cellar where each weekend evening you’ll be presented with a five or eight course degustation in seriously cool surrounds.

The room is dark and a little moody, with shiny brick floors, and black walls, shelves of wine, and white tablecloths. This doesn’t feel like a provincial Victorian town.

We went for the five courses, though the eight was tempting. You can opt for matched wines too, although we decided to choose accompanying booze as we went.

An amuse bouche arrived first, rich celeriac soup with a shaving of fresh black truffle. Lovely.

The menu proper kicked off with oysters, in the shell, with a creamy soup/sauce Vichyssoise (leeks, onion, potato, cream, stock).

Next, a stuffed ballotine of quail – the bird is filled with minced pork shoulder and tarragon, rolled and poached, then served with a rich quenelle of parfait and sweet sliced grapes.

Oh but I do love a bisque, so I particularly loved the harpuka, roasted and served with leeks sautéed in butter, and a nantua sauce – or creamy crab bisque.

I think it was around this time things went awry downstairs. An errant plumber working in a nearby building had apparently not turned  a tap off quite tight enough and waters were rising. The polite and affable staff seems mortified at the decision that had to be made, but moved us upstairs through necessity. I was rapt, I loved the feel of the street level bistro when we walked through, and now I got to enjoy both dining areas.

Savouries concluded with a stunning piece of beef. “Boeuf a la ficelle” literally translates as beef on a string, so the trussed fillet steak is tied to a spoon and hangs down into a stockpot, meaning it gets no direct heat and ends up sublimely tender. This was served with stunning roasted baby beets, sautéed silverbeet, and a gorgeous sauce borderlaise – reduced red wine, stock and bone marrow. This dish just blew me away, I can still imagine the texture of the steak.

To finish, a spiced house-made French bread was pan fried in butter and served with vanilla bean poached quince and vanilla ice cream. Not too sweet, but still decadent.

I loved this meal, I loved the atmosphere, the staff were clearly well trained but had a lovely laidback-ness that seems right for a country town. I’d return to Midnight Starling in a heartbeat.

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