Country Style

Garden Party
Chef Alla Wolf-Tasker has a childhood connection to this cafe in Wombat Country.

AT SOME STAGE THERE must have been a lot of wombats around Daylesford. The area, in Victoria\'s central highlands, was originally called Wombat Flat and was surrounded by the Wombat Forest. The ancient volcano overlooking the town is called Wombat Hill. And now there\'s another reference, right in the middle of the lovely 19th-century, botanic gardens on that hill\'s crest: Wombat Hill House.

This delightful café, store and kitchen garden was launched in 2011 by the acclaimed Daylesford chef Alla Wolf-Tasker, her husband, Allan, and their daughter Larissa.

The gardens themselves were laid out in the 1860s by Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, the botanist who was the first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Alla\'s parents, who migrated from Russia after World War II, had a summer house in Daylesford, and the gardens held a special place in her childhood memories.

Thirty years ago, she and Allan began building the restaurant and then the boutique hotel that together make up the multi-award-winning Lake House. Then Alla reconnected with her past by taking over the caretaker\'s house in the gardens, transforming a nondescript 1940s brick bungalow into an exciting and stylish care. \"The building needed a lot of input from us,\" she admits.

Produce for the kitchen is grown in a sunny courtyard; inside, shelves are devoted to Alla\'s cookbooks and gardening guides, her new range of A Wolf In The Kitchen preserves and condiments, and to cushions and other homewares.

The menu echoes the Lake House. \"It\'s all seasonal food, sourced as locally as possible, and a lot of simple cooking,\" Alla says. \"We do beautiful pizzas and cakes, and generally things I like to eat — like chorizo with fluffy scrambled eggs.\" The breakfast menu also offers brioche French toast, poached fruit with Meredith yoghurt, and great coffee. Lunch could be a slow-braised lamb pie, Moroccan pasties or filled ciabatta rolls, alongside salads ranging from an Asian chicken slaw to organic beetroot, rocket and fried haloumi.

A fitting accompaniment is a stroll in the gardens. \"I love it here, especially in winter when the mist comes in through the trees,\" Alla says. And as you pass down the paths, beneath the conifers and elms that are von Mueller\'s legacy, who knows — you might even encounter a real wombat!

Wombat Hill House is in the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens, Daylesford, Victoria. (03) 4373 0099;

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