Mansfield on a Sunday afternoon in winter is a busy place. On arrival there on the way south back to Melbourne from a weekend spent buying wine from cellar doors in Oxley and the King Valley, we planned to have lunch at the Produce Store. When we entered just after 2pm it was busy and nearly full, but we got a table. The menu looked good – a variety of baguettes, salads and a few hot dishes.
One of the staff approached us and told us that they were too busy to take more orders, the chef needed to see what the kitchen had left, and they would let us know when they would resume taking orders. So, an unknown wait before we could order from what sounded suspiciously like a ‘leftovers’ menu, then the wait for our food to arrive.
We were too hungry to face such uncertainty and, having learned in Koonwarra that optimism is not useful when assessing regional service standards, we went looking for alternatives. None of the pubs looked welcoming and their menus looked generic, but on the other side of the main street we found The Deck on High. From the street it looks more like a bar or the foyer of a hotel than a restaurant, and we were skeptical about what that implied about the priority of food at the business.
The pan Asian lunch specials menu looked tempting but also somewhat generic, but by now hunger and it being after 2.15pm meant we simply wanted food. We sat and ordered quickly – Sri Lankan beef curry for me and pork belly for my girlfriend. The open fire crackled in the background and we watched people arrive and depart with ski gear from the next door hire shop while we waited.
Our meals arrived promptly and we were immediately impressed. My curry (above) was full of tender delicious meat and came with steamed rice, raita and roti with a sweet tomato chutney.
The pork belly came with flat rice noodles in a soy based sauce with three sides – kimchi (Korean cabbage pickled with chilli), chogochujang (also Korean, a kind of vinegary chilli paste that you might also have with bibimbap) and oyster sauce. While perhaps not very authentic, it was very satisfying (though almost too salty).
It’s easy to overlook promising restaurants based on your preferences or prejudices for interior design and what you may think that communicates about the business. The Deck makes good hearty winter food at very reasonable prices (both meals we under $20). We departed Mansfield impressed by the vibrancy of the town and the quality of our lunch.