By Michael Harden
From the outside, Bella Vedere looks like a modest two storey house sitting amongst vineyards on the Maroondah Highway in Coldstream. The first clue that all may not be what it seems is the smell of freshly baked bread that hits you as you walk towards the big wooden front door from the gravel car park. Open the door and it is immediately obvious that there is something special going on here.
Through the door and to your left is the bakehouse, the source of both the delicious smell and of the variety of wonderfully formed loaves stacked on shelves further up the wide hallway. The hallway leads you past the bread and the open kitchen (complete with a tempting array of cakes sitting on the counter) and into the green walled dining room with its open fireplace and windows that bring the surrounding vineyard into the room. The kitchen has been designed so that there is a clear view into it from the restaurant and the cooking process – whether it is a rare breed pig being broken down, a fish being filleted, croutons being fried in a pan or an enormous pot of stock simmering on the stove – is all part of the experience here. It is a wonderfully warm and welcoming environment, obviously a restaurant, but with the relaxed atmosphere of being in somebody’s home.
Bella Vedere is owned by Tim Sawyer and chef Gary Cooper and is partly inspired by the philosophy and approach of Alice Waters at her famed restaurant Chez Panisse. Gary has been working in the Yarra Valley for about fifteen years and has built up a strong relationship with many local breeders and growers and is a staunch advocate of regional produce. He seems equally passionate about all aspects of Bella Vedere: his lovely airy kitchen, the degustation dinners they hold twice a week, the garden that increasingly supplies produce for the restaurant, the smokehouse and cooking school that are being developed and the box of globe artichokes that were dropped in by a local gardener the day before.
“I love the fact that we can dig in the dirt and grow things and that we can pull things out of the ground and they will be on the menu a short time later,” says Gary. “I love that I can have relationships with tiny growers where I can help them out with a bit of cash and a tart tartin and they can help me out by bringing me fantastic zucchini flowers. I never have to wait for a truck to arrive with my produce – I can go out and get it myself or the grower will come to the door.”
Though Bella Vedere is obviously a business venture, it also has a strong philosophical edge where the owners can practically demonstrate their approach to food and life. A place like this where you can taste the silverbeet you saw the kitchen staff pulling from the garden half an hour ago is a great way to demonstrate how much more flavour really fresh food has. An open accessible kitchen means that you can communicate directly with the chefs about the cakes sitting on the counter and become a little more involved with your food and where it has come from. But the fact that you can get skilfully cooked, simply handled and very delicious food is probably the best way for Gary and Tim to get their point across and the biggest reason why Bella Vedere is attracting so much attention both in and outside of the Yarra Valley.
© Michael Harden 2006
First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)
Bella Vedere, 874 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria (03) 5962 6161
- Yarra Valley (Wine) (VIC)
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