Published on 28 June 2022
Open for lunch only from Friday through Monday, Louis Naepels and Tess Murray have something worth travelling for here: a stunning heritage-listed dining room that takes French country chic and makes it pop with exemplary local produce on elegant white tablescapes.
It’s a chef’s menu-only situation, so instead of what to order, here are the owners with something like a typical afternoon at Chauncy.
How about a drink?
Our hope is that the menu at Chauncy invites you to drink well. Grower Champagne is available by the glass to accompany the first snack; we’ve highlighted white wines from Burgundy since the beginning, but the energetic whites of the Loire Valley are also a great match for the first few courses. As you progress through the menu, more textural full-bodied whites and light, characterful reds come into play. Now, getting into cooler weather, we’re pouring a few local gems by the glass, including back-vintages of Syrahmi and Jasper Hill.
How do you write your menus?
The process of writing the menu starts a few weeks prior to its launch, with Louis chatting to the growers to understand what will be coming into season. It’s been challenging logistically, but we’re incredibly lucky to have the likes of Glenora Heritage Produce and McIvor Pork delivering to us, and a weekly trip to the farmers market in Castlemaine with a few farm stops along the way means we haven’t had to compromise on quality.
We take time to reflect on the progression of the menu and wine pairings, and we’re both very open to adapting and changing; that freedom to experiment has resulted in some very special dishes and wines to match.
What does that look like at different ends of the year?
During the colder months the menu is based around things like wild mushrooms foraged by Matt and Jo at Mushrooms Anonymous, Jerusalem artichokes from Glenora, Macedon duck, local quinces, chestnuts and foraged nettles.
Our first entrée is a mix of slippery jacks and pine mushrooms sautéed in butter with thyme and garlic, served on a nettle sauce and topped with sliced chestnuts. The next dish is Jerusalem artichokes with a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts. The Jerusalem artichokes are puréed, confit-roasted and served with a velvety velouté and thinly sliced artichokes, and can be topped with Oak Hill black truffles. For the main course, Macedon duck breast is pan-roasted and served alongside a confit leg, parsnip purée and roasted quince with a spiced duck jus.
Over summer, beautifully ripe tomatoes and aromatic herbs took centre stage. A favourite was tomato tonnato with puffed barley. A late-summer dish we adored was lovage emulsion with steamed mussels and salted cucumber. Our autumn main course was McIvor pork scotch with puréed pumpkin, lightly charred cime de rapa and a rich apple and cider jus.
What if I like tasty food but don’t eat animals?
The menu is easily adapted for vegetarians. In place of the duck, we serve a slow-roasted sugarloaf cabbage with miso butter, parsnip purée and black barley. We always try our best to keep the flavours aligned for most of the menus so guests can enjoy pairings and bottle recommendations together.
Name the dish that tells the Chauncy story best right now.
There isn’t one dish in particular, but we’re loving the combination of our snacks at the moment. We try to keep this part of the menu simple: a balance of comforting gougère with Champagne, bagna cauda, winter radishes and pork terrine, matched with the current release of Heymann-Löwenstein Schiefterrassen riesling from the Mosel. Everyone is happy.
If we’re visiting from out of town and we want to make a weekend of it, what else should we do while we’re in your part of the world?
You’re spoilt for choice for great places to eat and drink in central Victoria. We can’t wait to visit or return to, in no particular order: Tansy’s and Botanik in Kyneton, Bar Merenda in Daylesford, Bar Midland in Castlemaine, The Surly Goat in Hepburn Springs, Du Fermier in Trentham and Attwoods Wines in Glenlyon.
What would you serve a table that’s really keen to give it a nudge and go huge?
I’d recommend ordering a bottle of vintage Champagne to settle in. A delicious glass of riesling to go with the pork terrine. A bottle of 2018 Domaine du Pélican Savagnin Ouillé from Arbois in Jura with the mushrooms. Add the Oak Hill black truffles to the Jerusalem artichokes and match with the fragrant 2017 Thierry Violot-Guillemard Pommard. Follow with an older bottle of Emily’s Paddock to enjoy as the afternoon melts away.
What do you do to close your menus?
Classics. Café Calva. A French whisky. The nostalgia of a crème brûlée, and the decadence of eating it with a 1996 Sauternes by the glass.
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