Wednesday 8 September 2010

Isabella's Cafe - lighthouse gourmet

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.

Isabella's Cafe
Cape Nelson Lighthouse Road
Portland West, Victoria 3305 Australia
P | (03) 5523 5119
E |
W |


  1. What a lovely, lovely venue for a lovely, lovely meal. It's dreadful about the car and cop woes, but glad your memories are strong and beautiful. Thanks for sharing your travels.

  2. What a darling place!!! And the cake does look heavenly! Enjoy your vacation!

  3. Sounds like you had a lovely time. That slice of cake at the top of your post had me feeling very hungry - it looks wonderful!! And with raspberry sauce - mmmm.

  4. oh my - how gorgeous are those views!! And those cheese and caramelised onion, Thai coconut, and babaganoush - I would be in heaven!

  5. Oooh, you've almost made me forget that I don't care much for chocolate cake :D That blue cheese dip sounds amazing - and I'm so glad you could find things for Sylvia with a minimum of fuss! Must've made it more relaxing for you :)

  6. What a gorgeous vacation Johanna! I've stayed at a lighthouse and it is so atmospheric! :)

  7. Thanks Susan - the cops weren't a woe - just a surprise after driving in Melbourne for years that I had my first breathalyser encounter in a country town at 6pm on a Sunday!

    Thanks Madge - the cake was amazing

    Thanks Cakelaw - every time I see the cake pic I want another slice

  8. thanks Lisa - the dips were amazing - though we ordered them so there was something for sylvia they were a bonus for E and I (Sylvia didn't even try the dips but enjoyed the dippers)

    Thanks Hannah - I defy anyone to tell me they don't like chocolate cake when faced with this - E had some even though he was full and even sylvia had a little taste

    Thanks Lorraine - Lighthouses do have a mystique about them, don't they?

  9. Major chocolate cake envy going on right now!!

  10. Oh that all sounds incrrrrrrrrredible! That cake! A proper amount of icing on it! Swoon.

  11. I didn't just look at that chocolate cake, I oggled it! Sounds like a great cafe and a wonderful find. Shame about the car battery incident afterwards, but didn't sound as though it spoilt things for you. Hope you had a fab break.


Thanks for dropping by. I love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts and questions. Annoyingly the spammers are bombarding me so I have turned on the pesky captcha code (refresh to find an easy one if you don't like the first one)