Published on 8 April 2021
Matt Wilkinson has cut a hot streak across the Melbourne food scene since he landed here from the UK a little over 20 years ago. The boy from Barnsley has grown into one of the city’s most popular figures in food, gathering a following from his early days co-heading the kitchen at Circa for Andrew McConnell, and then under his own steam, then opening Pope Joan in Brunswick East, a landmark in its day, with The Pie Shop, a city iteration of Pope Joan and a too-short run at Crofter at the top of Lygon Street to follow, and publishing three books along the way, and taking up a role as creative director of Made from Gin by Four Pillars.
Now in his latest chapter his love of fresh produce gets its fullest rein with a job overseeing food and hospitality at Montalto in Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula in the self-styled role of Culinary Captain.
"Mondays and Fridays we offer an à la carte menu, and on the weekends it’s a set menu,” says Wilkinson. “Both menus are totally driven by what’s happening in the garden, so with this in mind the veg dishes are the standouts."
Which of the dishes on the new menu best captures the vibe at Montalto right now?
My love for vegetables is no hidden secret so coming into autumn, I’ve just included a new braised, sautéed wild mushrooms on a little fried polenta as a beautiful snack to start. There’s also a braised beans with a hint of garlic and chilli, using several varieties of green beans grown in the estate gardens by our produce manager, Julie Bennett.
And you’ve just started doing Sunday brunch?
I love a cheeky boozy brunch. We’re doing a limited five-week season to see how it goes but the response so far has been incredible. For fans of Pope Joan, there are a few classic main dishes making an appearance on the Montalto brunch menu just for you.
How about a drink?
Given the weather is still so good I’d be starting with one of our ciders – made by our winemaker Simon Black with our own apples. If cider isn’t your thing then get straight into a glass of The Eleven chardonnay – our top chardonnay made from our best 11 rows from our home vineyard in Red Hill.
What if I’m here for a good time not a long time?
For a good time, order a couple of oysters from Flinders Oyster company, the bagna cauda with estate-grown seasonal crudités along with a plate of the end-of-season zucchini with ajo blanco sauce and dukkah. The perfect wine match: a glass of our Cuvée Sparkling and/or Pennon Hill Rosé made from 100 per cent pinot noir grapes.
Got anything light and fresh?
You can’t go past our new dish of cured kingfish, buttermilk, celery and fresh horseradish, or the Dromana mussels, currently served with a romesco sauce, aioli and toasted wedges of Miller’s ciabatta.
I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
You’ve come to the right place! We have a full Feed Me vegetarian or vegan menu – no faux meats or eggs, just delicious seasonal produce from the estate. My go-to dish at the moment is the miso eggplant, black-bean vinaigrette and seaweed – absolutely bloody delicious!
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
I’d come for the set menu on the weekend. It’s a relaxed all-day eating affair with three shared courses finished off with dessert. One of the dishes is my take on a marinara: cooked down tomato sauce served below crab, mussels and cuttlefish cooked in a crayfish stock. Mop it up with some Miller’s bread and kapow!
What about to close?
Me Nan, good ole Rita, always use to make me jelly and ice cream for dessert – the height of luxury. The gardens are full of produce that nods to Britain and the current dessert of elderberry ice cream, poached rhubarb and blackberries with a quenelle of basil ice-cream is stunning. Rita might even like it.
Something for the road?
Provisions for winter! I’d definitely load up on a case to take home – some for now and some to put away for later. My pick is our 2018 Tuerong Single Vineyard Pinot – drink it now or leave it alone for a few years. Our 2019 Pennon Hill Pinot is also brilliant, bright and good to go now, and our 2019 Montalto Estate Shiraz is perfect for the depths of winter.
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