Set amongst the vines on a hillside that rolls away to reveal stunning views of Port Philip Bay and beyond, Jack Rabbit Vineyard offers not one, but two superb venues to while away an afternoon with a glass of vino.
Location: 85 McAdams Rd, Bellarine, VIC 3221 Ph: (03) 5251 2223
Ah, the lovely Bellarine Peninsula. It might not be (as yet) as popular as the Mornington Peninsula or as busy as the Great Ocean Road, but that’s a plus as far as we’re concerned. Because if more people realised how stunning this piece of Victorian coastline is and how excellent the wineries are, we’d be fighting other punters for our lunchtime table at the Jack Rabbit Restaurant.
As it was, we pulled into the entrance of the property just as lunch service was ramping up.
We considered grabbing a bowl of local Mussels or a Burger from the more casual House of Jack Rabbit and sitting outside where the view is – quite frankly – glorious. Even the chilly wind couldn’t dull the splendour of the winery’s bucolic setting. Wooden beer-garden furniture dots a lush grassed area which drops away to the twinkling waters of the ‘Bay. Across the spangled water, Geelong, the You Yangs and Melbourne – silhouetted like the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz – look back at us enviously.
But the attractions of floor-to-ceiling glass windows, warmth and a refined menu lead us into the sleek interior of the Jack Rabbit Restaurant.
For a winery with both art and great casual meals, see our review of Quarters at Hubert Estate
Jack Rabbit Restaurant
The open, elegant, dining room is inviting, despite being quite spacious. The palette is white – walls and table cloths – with wood features – organic, wavy, slatted ceiling, plus the bar and tables. Warm yellow accents come from a couple of large Parisienne-style posters and the muted glow of dozens of hanging lamps.
The ambience is sophisticated and serene. However, all of that comes a very poor second to the wonderful views.
One curved side of the Jack Rabbit Restaurant is given over to picture windows. Windows which frame idyllic scenes of knotty grape vines, oblongs of cultivated farmland, clusters of trees and the glimmering water at the base of the hill. Even on a mainly overcast day, the setting is memorable. And on the few occasions when the sun beats the clouds, we all sit transfixed and gaze out at the scenery.
Another great restaurant within the area that is a must-try is The Arborist Geelong – read our review.
At present, the Jack Rabbit Restaurant is only catering to the lunch trade. Fortunately for us, that was exactly what we wanted.
Whilst the Charred Watermelon, Pickled Rind, Miso Eggplant Puree, Tofu Cashew Zhong & Puffed Rice ($22) sounded so intriguing it almost made it to our table, we decided to go straight to the Mains. That said, I’m hoping to come back and give that Watermelon entree a try, along with the Marinated Quail, Zucchini, Mint & Chilli Chimichurri, Jamon & Pickled Onion ($24). I saw it carried past and wondered if I’d made an error skipping the Something Small section of the menu.
I needn’t have worried.
My Main of Rabbit & Pork Roulade, Pancetta, Pork & Potato Hash, Mustard, Radish, Chicory & Dandelion ($40) was more than enough. And delicious. The Pork and Pancetta kept the subtle Rabbit flesh moist. The bitterness of the Chicory, Radish and Dandelion could have been too much, but was balanced by a rich, glossy jus and zip of the Mustard. However, the real treat was the meaty, herby discs of Pork and Potato Hash. Honestly, a plate of those with a Poached Egg and dollop of Hollandaise would make a blinder of a brunch.
If you continue on to The Great Ocean Road, see our guide to the Best Restaurants in Apollo Bay
Another in our party went for the big hitting red meat option – Bellarine Beef Eye Fillet, Burnt Onion Puree, Potato & Shallot Jam Dauphinoise, Parsley & Red Wine Jus ($55). The Eye Fillet was divine and perfectly rested, the Dauphinoise a thing of many layered splendour. All that was needed was a suitably accommodating Side to lightened what would otherwise be a heavy lunch dish.
Happily, I come from a family of green veg lovers, so the selection of Broccolini, Lemon & Sesame ($12) was a no-brainer.
The final pair in our group doubled-up on the Pan Seared Market Fish, White Bean & Lime Puree, Poached Prawns, Fennel Gratin & Dill Oil ($48). All I can say is that when a fish dish announces its arrival on a waft of seafood-scented air, it can only be a good thing.
Crunchy, just opaque and super sweet Prawns graced the plate along with crispy-skinned fillets of Fish and a smooth, dense Puree. But that mouth-watering prawn-forward aroma came from the slosh of sauce ringing the plate. Someone had clearly taken those valuable Prawn shells and turned them into a Bisque-like dressing. When put with the soft aniseedy Fennel, the result was divine.
For dessert, we fought over the Orange & White Chocolate Cheesecake, Cardamom Shortbread, Toasted Milk, Passionfruit, Stonefruit & Blood Orange Sorbet ($18). It proved to be a clever blend of sweet and sharp, yielding and brittle. It also made me question why we don’t use Cardamom in desserts more often.
Not surprisingly, Jack Rabbit Wines top the Wine list.
We toyed with the idea of trying the Jack Rabbit Chardonnay (G $12 B $45) – ‘Vibrant, racy, refined’. However, as we hadn’t drunk a pink for a while, we went for the Jack Rabbit Rose (G$12 B$40) instead. With its Strawberry and Cherry perfume and Citrus finish it was a great pairing with our respective Mains.
I must give a quick mention to the Cider list. Although we didn’t sample any, it was great to see a local Bellarine producer – Flying Brick Cider Co. – dominating the section. Next time we are in the area we’ll be testing the exotic sounding Pachinga (B $10) – Pear, Ginger, Chilli & Lime.
The House of Jack Rabbit
More of a cafe than a fully fledged restaurant, the House of Jack Rabbit is perfect for more casual dining.
Open from 10am until 5pm, the menu moves from sharing plates to brunch favs and on to more substantial meals.
On a balmy afternoon, a spot outside on the lawn would be hard to beat. Particularly is you are working your way through a Cheese Board ($30). On the All Day Brunch Menu, the Pork Hock & Potato Croquettes ($26) caught my eye. Happy memories of those yummy little Pork & Potato Hash cakes from my earlier meal meant I’d certainly order them when next at the Jack Rabbit Vineyard.
For more great wine and cheese, see our review of Winespeake in Daylesford
Having said that, the Garlic Butter Prawn Linguine ($32) looked hard to ignore when it went by.
With a spectacular location and excellent food in 2 unique dining spaces, the Jack Rabbit Winery is totally worth the drive.
Add to this a broad array of delicious wines and pleasant service it is the perfect day out.
Our top tip? If you don’t feel like driving, check out the Port Phillip Ferries website. Not only is the ferry a relaxing way to get to the Bellarine Peninsula, but they also offer sightseeing packages. Including the Jack Rabbit Winery Long Leisurely Lunch.
Otherwise, you could drive a coastal circuit. To achieve this, you get the Searoad Ferry between Queenscliff and Sorrento on Mornington Peninsula. If you start in Melbourne, catching the ferry allows you to complete a perfect loop around the ‘Bay. It’s a beautiful drive giving you a snapshot of the varied countryside on our doorsteps.
But whichever way you choose to visit the Bellarine Peninsula, make sure that you do. And fit in a stop at the Jack Rabbit Vineyard.