When an institution such as Monsalvat opens a new restaurant, it’s pointless trying to resist. Sooner or later you know you are going to succumb.
So on a summer Sunday there we were heading north to this famous artists’ colony for lunch. The new restaurant – well, it opened last year – is The Meeting Pool.
The name comes from a children’s book written by Mervyn Skipper, one of Monsalvat’s founders.
Chef Stephen Shing, formerly of Taxi and Lower House, offers French provincial dishes using locally grown produce and fresh herbs and flowers plucked from Monsalvat’s extensive garden. Shing is ably supported by Chilean-born chef Geo Tapia, who was in charge of the kitchen the day we ate at the restaurant. Tapia came to The Meeting Pool from the Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander restaurant and winery in Healesville the first choice was where to sit: in or out. The paved outdoor area, with marble-topped tables shaded by trees and umbrellas, was our first choice, until we decided it might get too hot, so we opted for the inside dining room. It turned out to be the right choice as it was cool and a feast for the eyes – even before the food arrived.
The building shows the influence of provincial France, which influenced Monsalvat’s early builders – lots of bricks, roughly plastered walls and heavy timber beams. It’s rustic without resorting to clichés.
Diners included many family groups – one a large three-generation family – young couples and older people. By 2.45pm a couple with a baby were just ordering their late lunch. Tables are well spaced so there is a sense of privacy, yet you can still take in what is happening around you.
White paper overlays cover white tablecloths; the tables are generous in size.
The menu changes each season. The staff is young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The extensive summer menu includes seven entrées, seven main courses, four desserts, a cheese selection, plus a couple of specials in each category and three different types
of side salads.
A wine is recommended for each dish in each category. We chose to go with the Innocent Bystander pinot gris from the Yarra Valley.
We began with three entrées: the leek-and-blue-cheese tart with nasturtium salad, a pork-and-spinach terrine and saganaki scallops. The scallops, served in shells on a bed of rock salt, were tender but the sauce swamped them and overpowered their flavour.
Not so with the tart where the gentle sharpness of the cheese came though. The country-style terrine came with quince chutney, tiny pickled gherkins and caper berries. This mix of flavours piqued the palate and had us ready for more.
The choice included Elizabeth David’s navarin of spring lamb shoulder, slowly braised in white wine, tomato, butter, herbs and served with baby vegetables; a risotto; sautéed chicken, plus pork cutlet with cider sauce and a hapuka fillet.
One of the group, a former professional chef, chose a chargrilled scotch fillet served with roasted chat potatoes and a cracked pepper and cream sauce, with braised baby endive and witlof on the side. It was rare, to her liking, and while she is not usually a fan of cream sauces, she said its robustness complemented the meat.
My King George whiting was equally impressive – simply pan fried, soft and fresh and sprinkled in fine herbs. Lily Jorgensen’s rabbit chasseur, served with spinach, and the roast capsicum and sage risotto with spring onion and marinated feta were two more dishes from this summer menu.
The dessert list ranged from fresh strawberries with cream to apple tart and lightly poached fruit. We opted for the special of vanilla panacotta with citrus fruit salad.
With delicate slices of orange and a sprig of tiny wisteria and pea flowers on the plate, it was a just the right way to end the meal. Would we come back for more? Absolutely.
We want to go through the whole four seasons.
The Meeting Pool is a welcome addition to the Eltham dining scene. It offers French provincial food with a seasonal menu based on local fresh produce and herbs grown in Monsalvat’s large garden. Perfect for a long, relaxing Sunday lunch, family celebrations and intimate lunches or dinners. Offers a choice of al fresco eating or dining room. The wine list includes four sparkling wines and 19 white wines – from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, South Australia, Western Australia and France. Red wines include Victorian pinot noirs and cabernet blends, shiraz and five French wines. There are also aperitifs, beer, cider and soft drinks.
The Meeting Pool
7 Hillcrest Avenue, Eltham
Phone \ 9431 2681
Chef \ Stephen Shing
Prices \ Entrees: $8.50-$16.50; mains $24-$35 desserts $10-$12.50
Open \ Breakfast: Saturday and Sunday 9-11am
Lunch: Tuesday-Sunday noon, Dinner: Thursday-Saturday 6.30pm
From its heavy timber beams and pitched timber ceiling, roughcast walls and terracotta-tiled floors, The Meeting Pool has a real French provincial atmosphere. Wrought-iron light fixtures and wall sconces with rose-coloured shades create soft ambient light and ceiling fans move the air around on a hot day. At the front of the restaurant large windows overlook the gravel forecourt and trees. A paved courtyard shaded by large trees offers true al fresco dining: casual, with iron chairs, marble-topped tables, umbrellas, brick paving and gardens. Close your eyes and think of France.