A Culinary Retreat at Lake House in Daylesford, Victoria

This rural escape outside Melbourne focuses on paddock-to-plate dining that celebrates its lush, bucolic surroundings

A 90-minute drive from Melbourne, Daylesford—located on the traditional lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung people—has been a spa town since the 1880s and in the 1970s became popular with the LGBTQ+ community, propelling its current status as the “gay capital” of countryside Victoria. Between the lush environment, mineral springs, farm-to-table eateries, galleries, gastropubs, design and antique stores, weekend markets and more, there’s plenty of appeal in this picturesque town located in the foothills of the Great Diving Range. One such spot is Lake House—a hotel, restaurant and spa located on the shore of Lake Daylesford—where luxury is balanced with a laidback energy that permeates the six-acre property, creating a tranquil oasis.

The family-owned hideaway started over 30 years ago, when award-winning chef Alla Wolf-Tasker and her artist husband Allan decided to open a destination for fine dining where guests could stay the night—an epicurean retreat. The daughter of Russian immigrants who escaped to Australia in 1948, Alla was drawn to cooking and had an affinity for the region. But before creating the Daylesford sanctuary, her daughter Larissa Wolf-Tasker (brand manager at Lake House) tells us, Alla did “a kind of culinary pilgrimage” which was especially pivotal in the countryside of France, where the legacy connection between restaurants and farmers was crucial.

Alla came home to Melbourne and wanted to recreate some of the experiences she had in Europe. She and Allan found the block of land for sale in Daylesford and decided to build a restaurant. “They built over a period of four or five years, when I was born, on weekends. My dad built the building and had friends come in to help. It was the ’70s so… no one needed permits. It was very a collaborative effort between them and their friends. My mom and my grandma planted what was a very significant orchard at the time, and pretty much every tree on the property.” While the dream seemed lofty to some, the Wolf-Taskers were pragmatic. “They decided that they’d give it a go as a restaurant,” Larissa tells us. “And if it didn’t work, it’d make a really nice house.”

While the locals weren’t immediately charmed (“Nobody could understand why you’d want to open a fancy restaurant in Daylesford,” laughs Larissa), Lake House flourished and grew over time. What started in 1984 as a restaurant with a few rooms is now a lush property with 34 guest rooms, a treetop spa, tennis court and solar-heated infinity pool.

Just recently, Lake House opened a new property, Dairy Flat Farm, which sits in the middle of the 38-acre sustainable farm. Much of the Lake House restaurant’s ingredients are from there, thanks to the fertile, volcanic soil. “There used to be large-scale one-crop farming systems—like carrots or potatoes or that kind of thing—not what we have now, which is this crazy plethora of small-scale sustainable businesses which focus on organics or biodynamics or root vegetables or edible herbs and flowers,” Larissa explains of the region.

While the Lake House team relies on local producers, they bought the farm to supplement what existing partners couldn’t supply. “It’s all based on a regenerative agricultural approach,” she tells us. “So as little intervention with the soil as possible, and obviously no sprays and pesticides and things like that. It’s quite labor-intensive, but at the end of the day the goal is around the nutritional value of the food. So it’s small quantities of really exceptional produce, rather than huge quantities of stuff that’s either flavorless or has zero nutritional value.”

Dairy Flat Farm is also home to the lodge, where up to 12 guests can relax in the hot tub overlooking the vineyard (where the once-neglected chardonnay and pinot vines are being revitalized), wander through the veggie gardens, sit inside ornamental hedgerows, walk around orchards and be woken up by the scent of freshly baked bread—thanks to the bakery’s location underneath the six-bedroom house. They are also welcome to use the lodge’s e-bikes, fishing rods, binoculars, telescope and various games.

The front door offers access directly into the open kitchen and living area replete with a wood-burning fireplace, and to the left is a cozy library decorated with rich colors and opulent textiles. All six bedrooms are bright and expansive, with king-size beds and en suites. Thanks to large windows in every room, guests might see kangaroos, wallabies or even wombats at dusk or dawn.

The flagship is just a 10-minute drive from the farm, and both properties benefit from the paddock-to-plate ethos. From edible flowers to just-picked tomatoes, honey and basil, Dairy Flat Farm is evident in every dish served at the lodge and the hotel. Also on the menu, slow-fermented sourdough baked at the lodge, and everything from Murray cod to yabbies, pork and more. There’s an eight-course degustation menu—omnivorous or vegetarian, but both with a focus on vegetables. As Alla tells us, “It’s not vegan, but we call it ‘the art of the vegetable.'”

While the food and decor are opulent and detail-focused, Lake House doesn’t feel like a museum. Before dinner, guests sip cocktails and lounge around, chatting in the living room style space that’s attached to the reception and the restaurant. The open-plan space generates a convivial, relaxed atmosphere that feels simultaneously very special and comfortable. As Larissa explains, “It’s an extension of our home.”

Images courtesy of Lake House Daylesford