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Country towns are alive and kicking – Echuca hits the spot

Local passion for food and wine proves a winning drawcard

By Jennifer Fearn
American Hotel Echuca - Yabby and prawn tortellini

American Hotel Echuca - Yabby and prawn tortellini

American Hotel Echuca - Fish tacos
For the Love of Grape Wine Tours
Echuca Madison spa resort
Ceres Echuca - Wild mushroom risotto

 

Located 215km north of Melbourne, Echuca provides the perfect destination for a short get-away – especially if you love food!

Never one to miss an opportunity, when Mum offered to take the kids for a few days, and the hubby was heading north for work, I tagged along. With no idea of what to expect and some slight trepidation, I was in for some pleasant surprises during my brief 24 hour visit.

Straddled either side of the Murray River and hence half in Victoria and half in New South Wales, Echuca-Moama is a foodie paradise. Catering to a range of tastes, Echuca is a bit like the Big Day Out. There’s something there for everyone, and a big day out was what I was there for!

Our initial goal was to check in to our accommodation. We stayed at the Madison Spa Resort on the Moama side of the river. The helpful staff managed to acquire us a delightful room complete with spa bath, gas heater and magnificent bush views.

Once I’d dropped the hubby at work, I ventured into town. My first port of call was Echuca and Farmhouse Cheese. The knowledgeable shop attendant gave me a tasting of their range and I walked away with a brie, ash camembert and a soft, oozy mild blue. Seriously good cheese at a very reasonable price (approx $8-$10 for a 200g slice).

It was lunchtime, and with a little prompting from Urban Spoon, I decided to eat at Ceres. Not normally one to dine alone, I felt less conspicuous once the staff had served me a glass of 2010 Little Goat Creek Sauvignon Blanc (from NZ).

I ordered the risotto of wild mushrooms, peas and mascarpone finished with truffle oil and shaved grana padano. The flavours complimented each other beautifully, however, the texture of the rice was a little soft for my liking. Firm, fresh peas lifted the dish. Crisp, aromatic and fruity, the wine extenuated the mascarpone flavour in the risotto nicely. A second glass went down very well and I was all set to head back to the motel to check into the Day Spa.

Without going into too much detail about my spa treatments, I must compliment the staff on their professionalism and attention to detail. It had been too long between visits for me, and as the beauty technician subtly pointed out, I had let myself go just a bit! With a little time to spare before my next treatment, she kindly waxed and tinted my eyebrows for me free of charge. “That’s better”, she commented. “We can see your eyes now!” The subsequent massage and pedicure were blissful!

Heading back to the room, I felt a million bucks. We enjoyed a glass of local drop 2010 St Annes Shiraz, or perhaps two, whilst we got ready for dinner. Hubby had called Oscar W’s (www.oscarws.com.au) earlier in the day and made us a booking for 8pm. Apparently that was all they had available (but when we were arrived, the place was practically empty, which we found disappointing). 

With a little time to kill before our reservation, we headed to The American Hotel (www.americanhotelechuca.com.au) for a pre-dinner drink. Given my reasonably significant alcohol consumption thus far, I decided to avoid one of their very tempting looking cocktails and stick to the white wine. This place was pumping for a Wednesday night and we could have easily settled in. Great décor, impressive looking menu and extensive drinks list… we would be back!

Oscar Wilde, womaniser, and sharp wit and namesake of this restaurant said “anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination”. That is not to be said of the chefs at Oscar W’s who created some unique dishes highlighting the wealth of local ingredients on offer to them.

Hubby ordered the eye fillet with a side of duck fat potatoes and roquette, blue cheese, pear and Spanish onion salad. All pretty standard fare really, until you saw my dish! I had yabby and prawn tortellini with corn puree, baby zucchini and yabby bisque. The bisque was rich and complex – just like Oscar – and the tortellini were firm and bursting with prawn and yabby.

Two glasses of sparkling wine had just about finished me off, and unfortunately dessert was out of the question.  This was a bit of a pity really, because they looked and sounded exquisite. The wine list was easily one of the most impressive I’ve seen for a while (despite phonetic spelling of the drink names – how patronising!), and to quote Oscar W again, “I can resist anything except temptation” and that was my downfall.

Waking up the next day with a somewhat fuzzy head, we enjoyed a continental breakfast and I headed back to the day spa for some more fun whilst Hubby took himself to work. Interestingly enough, facials work wonders for hangovers!

Sadly, it was time to head back to Melbourne and we were once again hungry. Thinking fondly of the American Hotel, we decided to call in for lunch on our way home. After our recent, exceptional dining experiences, my expectations weren’t particularly high. How wrong I was!

I ordered the fish tacos. Perfectly textured home-made tortillas with a crunchy fennel salad, fish fillets, sour cream, jalapenos and salsa. One word: impeccable!

Hubby ordered a Harlem Sub (pulled pork, bourbon sauce and ‘slaw) and we shared sides of mac cheese and corn. Mac cheese would have to be my favourite comfort food, and although this wasn’t as good as Mum makes, it certainly hit the spot. A little parmesan and breadcrumb topping would have improved the dish considerably. It needed that bit extra. The corn was sweet and buttery and I squirted myself in the eye when I cut it off the cob.

And so, with a corny tear in my eye, it was time to leave. I am not normally fond of surprises, but if they always turned out this way, that would cease. How lovely it was to get out of the city and see people with a passion for food and wine and customers lapping it up!

Country towns are alive and kicking, and there are plenty more adventures to be had.
 

You can get to Echuca from Melbourne and other Victorian cities via V/Line. Echuca hosts a number of festivals throughout the year, and some other wine and food-related attractions are listed below.

Regions

  • Murray Darling (Wine) (VIC)
  • Murray River (Tourism) (VIC)

October 28th, 2013
 
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