The torchlight beams hop about the dirt path in front and then above, and occasionally, behind us, as our boys, Alex and Max, guide the way into Sassafras. The mountain dark and colossal cold presses down. Fern trees are all about, like extras in Avatar, for we’re in the Dandenongs. To our north a wooden building appears. It’s a church.
At least it was. Now, it’s a restaurant called Dine Divine. On the phone, a week ago, Janine was insistent.
“We must go to the old church Sunday for they have a brilliant pasta night.”
Mine host and restaurateur Trev punches our order into his iPad with one finger. He’s had a successful career, and splits his time between Southbank, his farm and this converted place of worship. He could be retired, but I know there’s nowhere he’d rather be. He likes a yarn.
Janine, Garry and I have the carbonara. It’s magnificent. Creamy and luscious, but possessing subtle flavours, while the pasta is bouncily solid, as it should be. The ham is salty and necessarily complementary, and the dish is equivalent to the food I had at Jamie’s Italian in January. Anyway, we know his restaurant juggernaut is a genealogical lie, for Mr Oliver was born in Essex.
Garry and I each have a Crown Lager, and I remember a time, back in the simpler, pre-globalised 1990’s when these represented a beery extravagance, and were something to be enjoyed at a Christmas function, when the boss was shouting- Quick! Davo! Get a couple more Crownies. We’ve still got ten minutes to go! Or you were on the lunchtime lash, at somewhere precariously bohemian, like Café Junction in the Adelaide Casino. Now, a Crownie’s unreconstructed flavour and nose seems as sophisticated as a night at the Dapto dogs.
When in Ireland on their honeymoon some dear friends ventured into a pub for lunch. Brett considered the blackboard menu above the bar, and asked the waiter, “What’s in the Guinness and steak pie?”
With unblinking eyes, the young local looked through and past Brett, and replied in an unironic monotone, “Guinness.” There was a pause. “And steak.”
So, my wife had the Guinness and steak potpie, and declared it the best she’s ever feckin’ had. A couple bowls of chips are inhaled. Folks sometimes forget that it’s easy to butcher a chip, to mix food industry metaphors. These are an ornament to the spud. We eat them as if we’ve been wandering the desert for over a month, except we’re in a temperate rainforest.
Is there a better soft drink than a Lemon, Lime and Bitters (LLB)? Of course not. I just read that it’s customary for Antipodean golfers to take it after their round, but I must rebut this as bald-faced nonsense. But Alex has one, and for a few minutes it’s the best event of his brief life.
The LLB is superseded by the arrival of his sticky date pudding. He is nine, and eating chocolate dessert inescapably descends into an unholy hybrid of unwatchable reality TV, horror schlock, and Animal House food fight scene. It becomes difficult to tell if he’s gobbling the pudding, or vice versa.
Again, I wonder at what age he’ll possess a fully-functioning mouth, and we’ll be able to throw out the drop-sheet. It seems a while off. Inserted between the almost medieval-black castle of pudding, and the elegant bathtub of ice cream, is a golden lattice of toffee. He makes a suitable mess of this too.
On the flight home, Alex announces it as a Victorian highlight. For me, it is too.
Dine Divine is warm and wonderful, and sits geographically and gastronomically at the centre of Sassafras.
We’ll be back.
Dine Divine is at 345 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras, and