When I told a colleague that we were going on holiday to Port Fairy, she recommended Isabella's Cafe at the Cape Nelson Lighthouse just outside Portland, Victoria. It was an hour's drive from our holiday cottage but the food, the ambiance, and the service were excellent and made it well worth the trip. Just look at this amazing chocolate cake!
The cafe is in a small bluestone building that was once the stables for the lighthouse precinct. The seating and chandeliers are elegantly modern but the bluestone walls are a constant reminder of the history of the building and the view out of the huge windows makes the natural world seem so much closer. I took the above photo shortly before closing but most tables were full during our visit, adding to the friendly cosiness of the place.
On a wintery father's day with intermittent rain, sitting beside the large window was a perfect place to be. The staff were friendly and welcomed Sylvia despite the lack of a highchair. We had a great table just beside this couch. E and I took turns entertaining Sylvia on the couch while the other would sit at the table beside it and eat.
We spent our holiday looking for meals Sylvia might like. Bread is usually a fairly safe bet so we ordered the dips with ciabatta and cheese twists. The dips were an unusual but winning combination of blue cheese and caramelised onion, Thai coconut, and babaganoush. The ciabatta was both char-grilled and soft. But it was the cheese twists that Sylvia loved. E's favourite dip was the creamy blue cheese which was lightened with yoghurt or sour cream. I loved the intense, thick Thai dip with the tomato base.
As soon as I heard the specials, I knew I would choose the roasted vegetable and tomato soup. It was served with a slice of bread and grated cheese, plus a bread roll on the side. When a simple soup tastes so good, you know the food is excellent. It was so full of flavour, not swamped by the tomato, nor lacking in texture despite being a pureed soup. E also loved his chicken, mushroom and leek pie which came with a generous salad.
Upon coming in the door, we passed the front counter with all its curiosities. Sylvia loved the jars of lollies. "Lollies" is one of her favourite new words, though fortunately she just likes saying it rather than demanding them. The counter also had a small but inviting selection of cakes under glass covers.
I was tempted by the chocolate cake. Unlike many cakes on display in modern cafes, this one was even better than it looked. It had a dense crumb with a generous layer of creamy ganache on top. Every mouthful stuck to the fork like thick mud but it tasted soft and intensely chocolatey. The cake was served with an amazingly good vanilla ice cream, cream and strawberry sauce. Though the dessert was too rich to eat more than one helping, somehow I can't help but think that heaven would be eating the whole cake.
Good food, good service, a glass of wine for E, a cosy place to watch the rain outside and Diana Krall on the stereo all made for a very relaxing afternoon. At the end of our meal, we had a quick walk outside to see the lighthouse and the waves lashing against the cliffs. The area was so exposed to the elements that it is no wonder there were wind farms visible from the lighthouse precinct. For those wanting to really get away from it all, other buildings have been converted into tourist accommodation.
Having enjoyed our afternoon, we hopped in the car to drive back to our Port Fairy cottage. However it was not quite as straightforward as it should have been. We had left the lights on and had to call the RACV to recharge our car battery. Filling our petrol tank while keeping the engine running and encountering a police breathalyser made for an eventful drive home but couldn't take away from the warm glow of an excellent meal. I just wish it wasn't so far from home.
Cape Nelson Lighthouse Road
Portland West, Victoria 3305 Australia
P | (03) 5523 5119
E | email@example.com
W | http://www.capenelsonlighthouse.com.au/IsabellasCafe.php
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