GET OUT OF TOWN
RURAL FINE-DINING OPTIONS WERE NON-EXISTENT IN AUSTRALIA WHEN ALLA WOLF-TASKER BOUGHT A PADDOCK IN DAYLESFORD.
Not many of Alla Wolf-Tasker’s guests believe her when she tells them there was no such thing as destination dining when she started her acclaimed Lake House restaurant 31 years ago in Daylesford in rural Victoria. “Things are so different now,” she tells WISH. “But back then, people packed a picnic if they went to the country. One never ventured out of the cities with the expectation of finding great food; a reasonable counter meal in a pub or a Devonshire tea perhaps. As far as regional cuisine was concerned, well everyone went to Italy or France to enjoy that.”
The culinary landscape across Australia has indeed changed dramatically since Wolf-Tasker bought a “denuded paddock overlooking a swamp” in 1979 because it was “extremely cheap”. She was drawn to the spa town, about 100km out of Melbourne, because it held fond memories — she used to spend summers there as a child. The chef had just come back from France besotted with the Michelin-starred regional restaurants and determined to set up the equivalent in her own backyard.
“In the 70s, Australia’s agriculture was largely monocultural. Food was grown on large farms and transported elsewhere. We missed out on a developing that ‘peasant class’ that grew food for local tables,’’ she says. “In France’s rural kitchens, on the other hand, I had witnessed just-picked local produce arriving early in the morning, often with the dew still on it, and delivered by a member of the farming family. I was totally smitten and wanted to replicate that sense of dedication and the whole experience here.”
The Lake House has not only been a success since Wolf-Tasker opened it in 1984 but has kept pace with the new entrants (think Brae and the Royal Mail Hotel in Victoria or Biota in NSW) and still tops best restaurant lists. “It’s taken probably a good two decades of our 31 years here, to develop the kind of networks we currently have around us of small-scale organic, biodynamic, rare-breed farmers, all within a few kilometres of Lake House,” she says. “It also coincided with a huge shift in public thinking and a concern about the provenance of one’s food.”
Wolf-Tasker also credits the restaurant’s success to its continual evolution; they have over the years added a day spa, a hotel, a cooking school, a café, and luxurious private accommodation. More recently, they opened up a new bar and a waterfront dining pavilion.
“We have more on the drawing board,” WolfTasker says. “The place continues to be a fount of new ideas and energy.”