Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander
336 Maroondah Hwy
Expectations were high, this was hailed as “Winery Restaurant of the year 2009” by The Age Good Food Guide. That said I've learnt to take a lot of what The Age rates highly these days with a rather large grain of salt. I think the departure of John Lethlean and arrival of Larissa Dubecki has a lot to do with it. Nevertheless it does set some expectations.
Situated at the end of the Healesville main strip, Giant Steps looms on the horizon as you leave the town centre, it is pretty hard to miss.
First impressions of Giant Steps is it’s a pretty big setup. Giant perhaps? Walking inside, it is very much a steel and glass open dining area. As it was Australia day, it was very busy but they seated us on the time of our reservation and we acclimatised the busy, noisy environment. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn't too loud, but was more like St Kilda Rd lunch noisy rather than what one normally associates with a cellar door restaurant.
Giant Steps serves up a broad range of food and produce, it bakes its own range of artisan bread and also roasts its own coffee. The menu is quite lengthy, but it is clear that the specialty of Giant Steps is sourdough based woodfired oven pizza.
MUSHROOM & MANCHEGO ARANCINI
It was too hard to pass the house specialty so we ordered despite being advised of a half hour wait for pizza. This gave us an opportunity to enjoy some of the Giant Steps wines as we waited. While enjoying the Giant Steps Tarraford Pinot Noir, we grazed on some of their mushroom & manchego arancini balls. These are not your average arancini balls, the well formed spheres were cooked until they had a crunchy glass like surface with a light cheese and mushroom centre. Superb.
As the wait for the pizza stretched out closer to an hour we ordered a follow up glass, the staff apologised for the delay and gave us our next two glasses on the house which was nice. The Sexton Cabernet Merlot was my pick to match my pizza and it was a good match. Red blends are a bit of an unfashionable drink these days, but this was a very good example and worthy of a try.
L: CALABRESE SALAMI, SAN MARZANO TOMATO, OREGANO & BUFFALO MOZZARELLA PIZZA
R: HAM & CHEESE BAGUETTE
Pizza eventually arrived and it was pretty special, nice thin base that was crisped to perfection. Topping was simple - calabrese salami, san marzano tomato, oregano & buffalo mozzarella. The salami was some of the best I've had, nice rich flavour, lots of hot spice this blended out well with the tomato and cheese. This is certainly in the league of the Mr Wolf and Ladro, portions are very generous too and one will serve two people or one hungry person.
With a very full belly, the temptation of desert was not strong enough and it was off to taste the range of wines by Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps. The range is broad, highlights are the Pinot’s, Shiraz and Sangiovese. The staff knew their stuff and were happy to talk about the plots they source each wine from, their aspects and what makes each one different. They were not snooty and once they knew we were in to wine a but more than the average punter they became a bit more animated which was good to see.
Satisfied and with a boot full of wine, it was a nice way to spend Australia day. It is a great spot to eat, but don’t let the winery restaurant of the year title trick you in to thinking it is fine dining. Tables are communal, the service is friendly but stretched and for a more “special” occasion I would strongly recommend Bella Vedere.
As long as you go in with the right expectation, it is a great place serving excellent pizza and a range of wine that will cater to almost anyone. (If you don’t like wine, White Rabbit brewery is across the car park too)
Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander - Highly Recommended.
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