Monday, 5 March 2012

the merry berries of gentle annie's

In most cases, the story goes “the journey is worth more than the end”. But not this time; this time the end well outweighed the long and arduous trip it took from Melbourne to the gorgeous Gentle Annie Berry Gardens and Café, hidden away in the natural beauty that is the Pennyroyal Valley, in the Otway Ranges of Victoria. If you’re already planning a day trip up to Lorne or Geelong, make sure you mark this delightful stop on your map, and by no means will you be disappointed.

If you’re a bit of a berry-fanatic like me, Gentle Annie really is the place to be. With not only a huge berry-picking farm out the back where you can pick to your heart’s content then buy your pickings by the kilo, but there is also the sweetest little café you have ever seen. 

A real darling, the Gentle Annie café sits among the backdrop of the berry farm itself, and the lush overhanging trees and old-school charm is just begging your inner romantic to sigh and swoon over the sights. And with the farm owners’ gorgeous Border Collie pup bounding around, you not only feel like you’re stepping into something special, but you truly feel as if you’re entering into a place with all of the Australian charms of a home-sweet-home. Whether you choose to tempt your taste buds before letting loose on the berry gardens, or indulge after having found your delicious bounty, the café boasts a delectable range in-house made treats all made lovingly with local produce. For me, anything made with the tender loving care that is obvious in the food at Gentle Annie, is a winner.

Picked up by new owners since my last visit over a year ago, I was wondering what the food would be like, but I most certainly wasn’t disappointed. 

Opting for the mixed berry smoothie (presented in tall milkshake glasses, evoking thoughts of the 50s-esque diners; cute!) and a yummy little quiche that was fluffy and all around delicious, my lunch was served with salad and the most delightful homemade chutney I have ever come across. I made a mental note to stop by the Gentle Annie shop and pick up a jar, already thinking about the tasty accompaniment it would make to – well anything! 

My grandmother, who you may remember from Nan-made treats are always best, opted for the most amazing looking plate of berry pancakes I have ever seen. Presented with fresh berry compote and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, while I confess I’m not a fan of pancakes particularly, I was drooling over this berry-delicious breakfast dish (yeah, we all knew that pun was going to emerge eventually!). 

With a Ploughman’s Platter to share, the spread of antipasto which was all equally happily received by everyone, it was clear that the marinated goat’s cheese was the standout, with all of us going back for seconds, thirds, and even fourth servings, which by that time had us longingly looking at the empty bowl and sighing with contentment, knowing that if more came out, it wouldn’t matter how full our bellies were.

The coffee they serve is organic (tick), not bitter (tick), and after a word with the owner of the place, I found out it’s a special blend made just for Gentle Annie’s by Captain Jack’s in Irregarra (tick tick tick!). Ladies and gentlemen, the cuppa they serve here is alone, worth the drive.

With lunch sitting happily in our tummies, it was time to explore the gardens, eyes peeled for berries. Armed with a wicker basket provided by the farm, I felt like Little Red Riding Hood, skipping along the orchard, picking berries for grandma. With the playful border collie running around at our heels, she was the cutest big bad wolf and a lovely companion when scouring the vines for berries. The farm has a huge range of berries to pick from, so make sure to go during the season of your favorites. With berry-stained fingers and hands that looked a bit like cacti from the little thorns (part and parcel of the experience!), I came back with a crimson and violet hoard of blackberries and loganberries, begging to be eaten, but that would require the Gobbler’s pass!

Keep in mind:
-The majority of Pennyroyal Valley Road on which Gentle Annie is situated, is a gravel road, so ensure you can handle yourself on a bumpy ride.
-Remember to take a cooler/freezer bag and plenty of ice-blocks, or your berries might be jam after the car trip home!

Gentle Annie Berry Gardens and Café
520 Pennyroyal Valley Road, Pennyroyal Valley
Ph: (03) 5236 3391
10am to 5pm – 7 days

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