It’s 11am and I’ve just arrived at helicopter company Microflite’s Melbourne office, in an unassuming bluestone by the Yarra. “Would you like some champagne while you wait?” an attendant asks, setting the tone for what’s bound to be a bougier-than-usual day.
Through the windows, my partner and I – along with Broadsheet photographer Pete Dillon – watch a red chopper land on the helipad, and just a few minutes later we’re hopping on board. We’re taking a bookable helicopter experience to see what’s changed at Levantine Hill in the Yarra Valley since lauded chef Teage Ezard departed. The estate’s new eatery opened in late June, promising more of a cellar-door experience.
It’s around 20 minutes by chopper (but our pilot gives us some extra airtime), and the flight is breathtaking. There are views of the city skyline, the bay and the changing streetscapes as we pass from the inner to outer ’burbs.
Then we come across Levantine Hill, its roof glimmering in the sun and black-steel framework curving to reflect the surrounding hillsides. Towards the back, a mammoth new winemaking facility is under construction.
It’s part of the estate’s renewed focus on winemaking; the restaurant offering has been redesigned with the drinks front of mind. “We’ve always been a wine business first, and the food is just a very tasty and well put-together companion to that,” chief winemaker Paul Bridgeman says. “Stylistically, because we’re making Yarra Valley medium-bodied, balanced-form wines, they’ve always had that food-friendliness.”
Here, wine flights are available as is, or as a precursor to a meal. Each one comes with three wines – you can choose a flight that’s all sparkling, chardonnay or pinot noir, or get a mix. And snacks can be added on, all curated to match your wine selection.
“Rather than creating a dish and then finding a wine from a list of things to match it, you first take the wine – drink it, enjoy it, think about it, drink it again – and then really go from there,” head chef Vinnie Robinson tells me over a plate of thick-sliced Wagyu with foie-gras foam, smoked yoghurt and dukkah.
We’re seated in a barrel-shaped booth in the combined restaurant and cellar door (under Ezard, the space was split into a fine diner and an all-day bistro). Little has changed with the fit-out, originally designed by architect Karl Fender, but the white tablecloths are gone and there’s a new, flexible seating plan, bringing in a more casual feel.
Robinson’s menu draws on the Lebanese heritage of the Jreissati family, which runs the winery – taking cues from the Levant in place of Ezard’s pan-Asian direction. The seasonal snack plate shows it off best: potato flatbread sprinkled with za’atar and sesame; chickpea crackers with hummus, black-garlic baba ganoush, and tahini labneh with pomegranate molasses; and lamb koftas (made using a Jreissati family recipe) with polenta chips.
Each item on the sharing menu is listed alongside the wine it pairs best with. The kingfish ceviche with bush-tomato baharat (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and macadamia goes with the estate’s 2013 Blanc de Blanc; while the rich truffled goat’s curd cappelletti with raisins and pine-nut burnt butter matches with the 2017 Katherine’s Paddock Chardonnay. And if you feel like splashing out, you can get 30 grams of luxurious beluga caviar (with traditional condiments) for an eye-popping $340.
“Because the wines are coming from similar estates, their breadth of expression from the individual terroirs is limited in some ways,” Bridgeman says. “By homing in on the broad spectrums of ingredients, flavours and aromas like the kitchen has been, I think we’re finding much more synergy between the food and the wine as we go.”
Levantine Hill’s helicopter experiences start at $645 per person for a group of four. Book online.
882 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream
Wed to Fri 11am–5pm
Sat & Sun 11am–6pm