Sault is one of the top five restaurants in the Daylesford area. Located slightly off campus along Ballan Rd, one is challenged to located the precise moment on the right turnoff while travelling at 100kmph under the cloaked darkness of night. Not that there is hidden treasure to be panned for, the romantically (read: hardly) lit signage marks the location of tonight’s dinner. Boasting views of its own lake, I can only image the brilliance of the view across the lavender fields in summer. Alas, it wasn’t a starry starry night, which would have only afforded a much prettier spectacle of Sault’s entrance.
I like the ambience of the place, with its spacious couches for waiting guests, to the lighting of the bar which certainly captures your attention whilst leaving the other diners in peace. I’m not sure how many floor staff there are, and I certainly didn’t see a sommelier. However, for a late dinner sitting, it was a little strange to be asked to wait when the restaurant was only 3/4′s full. This isn’t a complaint, more of a curious note-to-self. There isn’t any fancy dazzleware on display at Sault. The semi-circular design of the building allows a central floral display which doubles as a convenient drinks station for the staff. The table layout is kept simple with clean white table paper, and no-fuss cutlery. I found the menu folder (current Autumn 2014 menu) quite annoying with the slightly translucent pages requiring a slight strain of the eyes to read the offerings. I would have definitely gone with a clear transparent menu folder here.
The wine list is reasonably stocked and organised, with a good selection of whites and reds available by the glass. There is support of the local wineries, as well as some notable international wine labels. However, for a restaurant drawing inspiration from Sault in France, I would have liked to see more French wines from Vaucluse, Ventoux, Avignon, or/and the greater Provence region. I picked a Curly Flat White Pinot for the night, which sat at a robust 14% alc, with a restrained strawberry floral nose, but offered a generous mouthfeel and strawberry/currants flavours. The 2013 is a latest release, and it retails for $24. A white pinot isn’t an everyday bottle off the shelf. Given its broad palate coverage and moderate acidity, this was great with food, yet wasn’t too serious for the occasion.
The entrée list reads ten long, with marinated Camilo olives and fried salted almonds ($5.50), as well as San Simone and Manchego cheese. The wagyu beef croquettes were nice prepared with a light golden crunchy coat ($7.50 for 2), although the tender texture of the wagyu cut was engulfed by the creamy fill. Sault’s version of fish and chips ($16.50) was the most interesting entrée, using black coloured (beer-battered? probably not!?) barramundi chunks, dusted spuds looking like pebbles, with condiments of lime mayonnaise and pesto emulsion served in mussel shells. Visually captivating, unfortunately, there was no hint of the mussels or prawns as indicated on the menu.
The other starter of grilled octopus columned with confit potato marked by black garlic aioli ($17.50) was well prepared and tasty. The octopus was sufficiently tender and the aioli provided a good salty contrast to the creamier potato texture. One should note that there is only one vegetarian entrée option of a pumpkin and ginger custard which is rather disappointing to see. I would expect at least 2-3 solid vegetarian entrée options on a stellar menu.
There are six mains on offer with one vegetarian option (Roasted vegetables tortellini with hazelnut Romesco and Manchego cheese sauce), all priced to ~$40. My oddpick of the venison had me transported back to 2008 when I had a similar sweet-savoury sauced steak in Amsterdam. The venison was cooked very nicely, and I have nothing hugely negative about this dish. But it was underwhelming. The meat didn’t stand out against the rest of the dish, it all seemed like one big salad bowl of stuff going on…
By comparison, the Hopkins River fillet had much more going on for it. It was perfectly done rare, well rested and seasoned. There was sufficient company for the meat with potato mash, grilled leek and sautéed vegetables (incidentally, no extra mustard was offered).
I had Sault’s version of the deconstructed blackforest cake, which was, well how can I put this.. a good attempt. I am being harsh but I have had such a dessert numerous times in Melbourne and abroad. The sponge was soft and fluffy but was crying out for a light sauce to lift it up to contrast in texture against the cocoa crumble. Maybe a berry-flavoured sauce in keeping with the theme of kirsch and cherries. The meringue mushroom was flat, it lacked the crunch, which given its size was a major let down. (Readers can look to Brooks’ Nic Poelaert for a highlight version). However, I do have it on good word that the chocolate fondant with banana and salted caramel sauce was really enjoyable.
Overall, Sault is a good restaurant in the Daylesford that deserves patronage at least once. The comfortable and casual feel of the establishment that I got might be one rung below what the owners might be hoping to achieve, but it is sufficient to provide the diner a memorable evening. Quality of the food and preparation is spot on, with adequate wine offerings at reasonable prices. Perhaps a second bread option could be explored? It is in the finer details of service and dish assembly that there are several stumbles.
So what prevents me from making this a priority recommendation? Well there are several spots to the otherwise excellent business. Firstly, to have the wine poured around the table without first letting the person who ordered the wine inspect it… tsk tsk… Sorry, I’m a wine person and this is one of the most basic service utilities. Secondly, it would be good to establish whether the guests have dined there previously, and if not, a quick explanation of the menu would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps talk about the philosophy of the chef, and make a recommendation for a number of tapas for entrees. Thirdly, is it just me, or is the sight of $0.50 for most of the items on the menu just a little too annoying? It makes me want to do maths in my head to figure out how much the meal is going to cost, quite the distraction.
Sault will continue to be a choice destination for Daylesford visitors. Chef Santi leads a solid team with potential in the kitchen, and the owners have got a good thing going. I think it will be interesting to see how Sault progresses, if it continues to push itself to greater culinary levels. Sault also offers wedding packages, and in the warm summer sunshine, few locations could be more pretty than be amongst the bright purple lavender blooms.