• Stefano's (Mildura)

Stefano’s commenced in 1991 with Stefano de Pieri cooking rustic meals with his wife, Donata Carrazza. His cooking is strongly influenced by the area of Veneto where he grew up. The restaurant is located in the cellar of The Grand Hotel in Mildura. Stefano’s relationship with the restaurant that carries his name is now a little ambiguous. Stefano is now cooking in his own restaurant, The Mildura Brewery, a couple of doors down. But the evening I dined at Stefano’s, towards the end of the meal Stefano popped in with an interested and caring look in his eye. The new head chef is now Jim McDougall who is a former apprentice to Stefano.

The restaurant operates in a similar way to how it was run by Stefano: a six or eight course dinner which is based on seasonal produce and is left largely to the chef to organise. But the waiting staff are flexible in relation to allergies and vegetarians. I was intrigued to discover how the food was prepared and presented since Jim has taken over from Stefano as the head chef. The degustation menu is either 6 courses for $110 or 8 courses for $150. I opted for the 6 course menu. This turned out to be a sensible decision on a Tuesday night with an early start for work the next day. With the 6 course menu I was actually served 12 different courses. Each course was exceptional in its preparation, freshness of ingredients and presentation. It seems that Jim as the head chef has moved from the rustic to the refined and elegant.

Some of the outstanding savoury dishes were: almond gazpacho with snap peas (wonderfully creamy with a hint of garlic); miniature carrots in a Japanese lemon curd (the tiny carrots were sweet and crunchy which provided a lovely contrast to the tangy and creamy curd); agnolotti of smoked sheep’s cheese with black garlic and an eggplant puree served in a flavoursome broth.

Almond gazpacho with snap peas
Baby carrots in Japanese lemon curd
For the savoury courses I tried a Stefano 2011 Fiano; followed by an Olivers Taranga Viognier and then a Craggy Burn Syrah. The Sommelier was consulted over the most suitable wines for the dishes; the wines increased in flavour and weight as the flavours of the dishes intensified. The Fiano was a fairly uncomplicated dry wine with hints of citrus zest and fennel. The Viognier was  a delight: rich and silky with peachy nose and citrus on the palate (it was a perfect match with the lemon curd). The Syrah was a complex wine which had a powerful nose: hints of cherry, pepper and star anise with well balanced oak. The Syrah was a little big for the agnolotti, but it was such a wonderful wine it felt like a course of its own.

Stefano’s embraces dessert which presents some nice surprises. There was supposedly one dessert, but 4 different dessert courses were served as part of the 6 course menu. The first “post main” course was a “Michael Keenan Citrus”. This was more a palate cleanser than a dessert. It consisted of a citrus jube and 2 coco butter cases filled with citric juices. The flavours were intense and lingered on the palate.

The next serving was a rhubarb mousse and apple sorbet served with meringue and wild sorrel. This combined slightly tangy and sweet flavours and the creamy mousse provided a nice contrast to the crunchy meringue.

The next course was Pear, Chocolate and Red Wine served with a warm chocolate and olive oil sauce. This consisted of a chocolate dome which contained the sponge and poached pear. The idea was to spoon over the warm sauce to break down the dome and expose the contents inside. This dish had a lot of different flavours and textures which combined to create a memorable dish. It was also enhanced by a peanut praline.

The final serving was a blood orange doughnut, wattleseed tiramisu and mint and chocolate. These were all beautifully presented and each had a range of flavours.

I selected two different wines for the desserts. The first one was a Castano Dulce from a vineyard near Valencia. This wine was excellent with the first two dessert courses. It had flavours of raisins and dried figs but the acid provided a nice balance to the sweetness of the wine. The chocolate dome called for a bigger dessert wine. I chose the Valdespino PX El Candado. This had intense raisin flavours and nose and on the palate was velvety and smooth. I’ve always loved the richness of this PX and was delighted it was on the wine list as it was a perfect complement to the rich and complex chocolate dessert.

This was a wonderful meal. The preparation and presentation of the food was excellent. I was sitting at the “chef’s table” so had a full view of the kitchen and could see how the whole team of the cooking and waiting staff worked together. It was quite exhilarating seeing the level of team work amongst the staff. There were no big egos here just a whole team working together to deliver a wonderful dining experience for the diners.

About the author
Michael is passionate about food and wine. He worked in the wine industry for 3 years (a dream job) and learnt about food through cooking with friends from extremely diverse backgrounds. Michael enjoys cooking a range of European and Asian inspired dishes, but his main passion is creating cakes, tarts and desserts.

Quality Hotel Mildura Grand
Langtree Avenue
Mildura 3500
03 5022 0881
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