I’m up early on a Sunday morning. I am not a big believer in doing so, but dangle a (glazed heirloom) carrot of a culinary getaway in front of me and I’m on that freeway faster than you can say ‘eight-course degustation.’ I’m heading to Lake House, on the edge of Lake Daylesford, about 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne. Famed for its restaurant, it’s a lush enclave where art, food and relaxation reign supreme.
My main motivation is to attend a culinary spring masterclass, but I also want to explore the new surrounds. It’s been a long time since my last deliciously memorable visit so I’m keen to see what the relentlessly creative Wolf-Tasker family have done recently. I know it’s going to be good.
On arrival, I’m offered a fortifying coffee under a wisteria-draped pergola, then my quietly excited fellow foodies and I are guided inside to the Cooking School, with a fully equipped demonstration kitchen and angled mirrors above the workbench so you can get a bird’s-eye view of the chefs at work.
Hosted by the fabulously charismatic Alla Wolf-Tasker, it’s a day of fascinating insights at the hands of hatted chefs. Ashly Hicks from Circa at The Prince in Melbourne extols the virtues of bottarga (salted, dried mullet roe). Dave Verheul from Town Mouse cooks the most pristine piece of rainbow trout and talks about making his own miso. Scott Huggins from Penfold’s Restaurant at Magill Estate, Barossa Valley demonstrates how to smoke asparagus using hay-filled foil cigars.
After class, I head to my suite for a little downtime. Ivy-clad and swathed in a squat hedge, it looks like a cute country cottage from the outside, but inside, this recently refurbished Lodge Suite (part of the estate’s original owner’s lodge) is so chic yet relaxed, luxe and spacious, you can’t help but twirl.
A fat jar of flowers from the garden, including sprigs of hypnotically tactile lamb’s ears, sits on the dining table. Light pours through the wrap-around windows, drenching the white wooden accents. Citrus-yellow velvet armchairs form a dappled reading nook in one corner, the feature fireplace is fresh out of North by Northwest, and an enormous, emerald velvet ottoman is worthy of the most photogenic lounging.
Everything is made locally and to their specifications, including the upholstered bedhead and the mattress, which feels luxuriously dense and feathery, as if rendered from a fairytale. There’s Elemis in the bathroom and Gosset in the minibar. When my bed is turned down, there’s an Elemis pillow spray or a temple balm waiting for me – part of the ‘aromatherapy night-time ritàual’. Although, for me, the biggest luxury is being spared notoriously bad hotel art. Here, thankfully, a rotating selection from the Wolf-Tasker’s ever-expanding private collection will watch over you.
It’s now late afternoon, the golden hour, and I think a little aperitivo might be in order, so I head to the intimate Argyle Library Bar, another new addition to the Lake House, for a refreshing Negroni. It’s a lounge-like, art-filled salon with soft grey leather couches, an open fire and an epic cookbook collection. It’s the ideal precursor to dinner in the famed restaurant just a few steps down on the next level. Service is warm – informed but not starchy. The menu acknowledges that it’s been a wild and unpredictable spring, offering bumper crops of some vegetables and underwhelming crops of others, so dishes riff on availability. There’s an eight-course degustation or à la carte. I spot a dish with white asparagus. I team that with the sparkling house rosé and dine under one of Allan Wolf-Tasker’s landscape paintings of the area. I’m in a sensory snapshot of spring, 2015.
The next morning, I relax on the terrace of the restaurant with the papers (quietly delivered to the coffee table on my suite deck before I’m awake) and a continental breakfast buffet – a jubilant spread of local produce and refreshing dishes such as orange, asparagus and goat’s cheese salad. Just below the restaurant is the new Waterfront Pavilion. A terraced lagoon foreshore, lined with local Castlemaine stone, extends down to the boatshed and lake. The Pavilion, a Hamptons-style room in cooling whites and recycled timber tables, has glass walls that can open out to water views and a mobile gin station. I can feel that sense of relaxed celebration already.
Gently caffeinated, I explore the grounds – rubbing herb bushes to scent my fingers, communing with Mishka the hotel dog. I visit Allan Wolf-Tasker’s painting studio – a thrilling, colour-smudged enclave of preparatory sketches, racks of paintings, pyramids of paint pots and an impressive vinyl collection.
I decide to round off my stay with a relaxing treatment at Salus, the on-site day spa. There is a range of wellness treatments, massages and facials available, but I opt for a treetop spa with filled with 100 per cent pure Daylesford mineral water. It is simply that – a small cabin in the treetops, where you can throw open the cantilevered wooden slat windows to welcome in the trees and relax in a warm spa. I look out through the bouncing leaves and take in the lushness below – daffodils poking up through ferns, a glimmer of the silver lake through the foliage, a posse of fat geese waddling.
At any one time, more than 25 per cent of Lake House guests are return visitors and there’s a reason for that. Lake House is so intrinsically entwined with the seasons, the land, the local producers and the local artists, that it never stops evolving, capturing time and place in fleeting, delicious moments or more permanent, painted ones.
Alla Wolf-Tasker | Lake House