Ten minutes by Tractor

Escaping the city for a gastronomic experience on Victoria’s stunning Mornington Peninsula.

As if anyone needed an excuse to get out and explore these days, Mornington Peninsula’s Ten Minutes by Tractor, is a compelling reason to leave Melbourne in the rearview mirror and take off for a taste of the country.

Pat Nourse

Jacob Heston

24 November, 2021

The finest tables in Melbourne are now matched by equally impressive offerings in regional Victoria

It’s worth remembering that the Guide Rouge, the world’s most famous guide to restaurants, was originally published by Michelin back in 1900 to encourage the motorists of France to get out and motor. By highlighting the culinary joys the country had to offer – especially outside the capital – the tyre-makers reasoned, quite rightly, that Parisians would want to hop in the car and get out and see these things for themselves (and, with any luck, burn some rubber while they were at it).

The restaurants of Paris were of course very good, but the true brilliance of the day’s food was to be found in the countryside. So it was that Michelin stars were awarded in part on how far you’d be willing to go for the meal. Two stars, for instance, would be given for a place that offered “table excellente, mérite un détour“: excellent cooking, worth a detour. Three Michelin stars, meanwhile – the ultimate accolade – would be awarded only to a restaurant that had “une des meilleures tables”,  exceptional cuisine that was “vaut le voyage” – worth a trip in itself.

And so it is with Victoria today. Melbourne brims with very good places to eat, but its finest tables are now matched by equally impressive offerings in regional Victoria, whether it’s in farming country, as with Dan Hunter’s Brae, at Birregurra, or something more citified, as with Aaron Turner’s Igni, a superb restaurant tucked away on a back-street of Geelong. Some look to the country traditions of France or Italy for inspiration, as with Annie Smithers’ supremely satisfying Du Fermier, in Trentham, while others, such as Michael Ryan’s Provenance, in leafy Beechworth, draw on the flavours and techniques of Asia. Diverse as they may be, they’re linked by offering experiences that are absolutely vaut le voyage.

The new incarnation of Ten Minutes by Tractor is poised to enter their ranks. A mere 90 kilometres from Melbourne’s heart, even as post-COVID traffic returns to ‘normal’ it’s a journey that can still be comfortably completed in under an hour and a half. But while the journey here from Melbourne is an easy cruise, the freeway melting into the pastures and wooded hills of the Mornington Peninsula, the road for the Ten Minutes team has had its challenges. Not least of these was the fire in the summer of 2018 that destroyed the winery’s restaurant, its cellar door and half a million dollars’ worth of wine, as well as several vintage tractors. The restaurant was rebuilt and reopened in late 2019, but only squeezed in a brief few months of trade before the pandemic came along, closing its doors to dine-in trade.

Now the vineyard hums with life, the vines in full leaf, rosellas singing in the eucalypts and the dining room ringing with the joyful sound of people on a mission to have a good time and savour the moment. The look could be characterised as comfort-luxe, light and bright, the chairs richly upholstered, the tables clothed in natural linen. Cox Architecture’s design has a retro-futuristic lean, the lines of dark stone and timber picked out with the curved chrome of the room dividers and drinks trolleys. A tight edit of kit for making (and drinking) wine, along with some vintage wine posters, references the business of the site without overplaying things.

Chef Adam Sanderson strikes a similar note with his food, taking combinations of flavours and ingredients that are for the most part classical in their elegance, and presenting them in a clean, crisply cut manner that feels very much of the now. 

Now the vineyard hums with life, the vines in full leaf and the dining room ringing with the joyful sound of people on a mission to have a good time 

It’s a touch that is strongly suggestive of his stint with the team at Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant often described as the best in the world

You could serve a tiny prawn tartlet topped with salmon roe just as it is, but if you’re Sanderson, you might choose to dial up the impact at the beginning of the meal and balance the tart instead on prawn heads set on bowls of pebbles. 

It’s a touch that is strongly suggestive of his stint with the team at Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant often described as the best in the world. The bread comes out hot on a bed of wheat in a wooden bowl, and even the butter is ready for its close-up, whipped to a point like a falling raindrop, dusted in ash and salt. It’s a striking start.

Beetroots from Mossy Willow form the first course of the menu proper, a riot of orange and purple played against the creaminess of goat’s cheese and macadamia, garnished with a peppery baby radish, leaves and all, and paired with a cup of a herbal infusion that Sanderson calls botanical tonic. It’s bright, vivid and persuasive.

This being Ten Minutes by Tractor, there’s plenty more to drink than botanical tonics, of course. Where some winery restaurants choose to serve the wines of their estate or their region to the exclusion of all others, here things are done quite the other way, the house’s superb chardonnays and pinot noirs complemented by a cellar that showcases the great cool-climate wines of the world. And boy, is it a cracker.

The bottle selection is deep, wide and considered, but so too is the selection by the glass, running to several pages of wines all offered by both 100ml and 150ml pours. The choice of names offered by the glass is impressive, with local heroes such as William Downie, Mount Mary and Bindi on pour alongside premier crus from François Raveneau and Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey. 

The ‘alternative’ section, meanwhile, lists the likes of the fine marsanne made in Heathcote by Place of Changing Winds, and Cobaw Ridge’s superb lagrein. Equal attention is given to beer and cider, and a full page of non-alcoholic options, including zero-alcohol wines and zero-alcohol gins from Victorian producers, is a win for the designated drivers of the world.

Flavour here is almost a religion, the menu changing along with the seasons. The sweetness of mudcrab is front and centre in an early course, framed by crab apple and yuzu, all topped with crisp crackers scented with shellfish. Sanderson presents a ‘low cooked’ slice of blue-eye trevalla laid across a pointillist pool of clam velouté bubbling with roe and quinoa, a splash of roast-kelp oil boosting every forkful with its savoury oomph. Pickled cipollini onions, meanwhile, provide a spark of acidity as a foil for the richness of dry-aged duck with baby turnips.

And then there’s the question of caviar for dessert. Would you like to opt for the $35 supplement to add a spoonful of oscietra to your white chocolate mousse? Said mousse, served in pale, perfectly geometrical lozenges with rhubarb ice-cream and cape gooseberries, is perfectly delicious either way.

For the three families who joined their vineyards to form the original cooperative estate here back in 1997 it took 10 minutes to travel from one property to the next. For Martin and Karen Spedding, the journey from buying the property in 2004 to rebuilding it in 2018 has taken commitment and more than a little bit of faith. Today, with the years of work and care that these various families have put into Ten Minutes by Tractor having come to fruition, the road ahead looks clear and bright.

Flavour here is almost a religion, the menu changing throughout the year to make the most of the finest seasonal produce