Cool Down Summer Series: gourmet picnicing at the Abbotsford Convent

The Abbotsford Convent: scene of lazy summer days after bicycle rides along the Yarra, catching up with friends at markets or at Lentils — and now, host to the Cool Down Summer Series. Running over four Sundays in the summer months, it pairs guest chefs with a gourmet picnic atmosphere.

chefs getting into the fun

chefs getting into the fun

My +1 (and fellow The Plus Ones writer) Claudia went along to check out the January event, the second in the series. A crisply perfect sunny day saw us in the Mercator lawn, past the main buildings towards the Collingwood Children’s Farm. The setup was too cute: tables, umbrellas, and benches scattered throughout the grass. I nabbed the lone picnic blanket, which we jealously guarded — but of course, feel free to bring your own. A DJ spun great tunes: not too overpowering, just enough to help make it feel like the coolest garden party-slash-picnic you’ve ever been to.

the pop-up bar

the pop-up bar

The far end of the lawn played host to two tables groaning with food (included in the ticket price), along with an outdoor grill manned by a lively crew of workers. Another side of the lawn hosted a little pop-up bar, replete with beautiful wines and flavoured mineral water for purchase.

This is all the brainchild of a triumvirate of hospo talent: Josh Murphy and Drew Green, of the Builders Arms Hotel; and Campbell Burton from the eponymous Campbell Burton Wines. Cam was on hand to recommend wines — all natural, nothing icky. I picked a glorious rose (it’s summer, thus perfect), while Claudia went for a G&T. It might have been nice to tack on a bit more to the reasonable ticket price — only $40 — and include a ‘free’ drink, but the prices (glasses starting from $8) were reasonable by any Melburnian’s standards.

But first, the food! Each month the Cool Down Summer Series hosts a different guest chef or two. In January, that was Mike Bennie and Giorgio de Maria, the co-founders of festival Rootstock Sydney, who’d flown down for the occasion.

grilled skewers

to make the grilled lamb, the workers were on hand since the wee hours of the morning

We feasted on:

  • Arrosticini, grilled lamb skewers cooked over coals
  • Tomino al verde, a house made Piemontese style of ricotta with salsa verde
  • Heirloom tomatoes with Le Coste olive oil and vinegar made by Giorgio from zero sulfur wine and cantillon, two years old
  • Wood fire grilled zucchinis, lemon rind and Ramarro farm basil
  • Mike’s pickled red cabbage with caraway, paprika and chilli – his Oma’s recipe
  • Fresh white peaches and moscato
Claudia & Theresa

Claudia & Theresa

Claudia remarked that it was some of the best food she’d eaten all year. I concurred. Each ingredient was bursting with flavour and freshness. We hoovered it all up, then went back for seconds of all the sides. I’m still dreaming of the ricotta and salsa verde. By the time we’d had a couple of drinks, it was all we could do to have dessert. But who could turn down fresh peaches literally doused in moscato?
The food was divine; the setting memorable. The Cool Down Summer Series is the perfect place to take a date, a group of friends, your housemates. Just about everyone you know will love it.
Co-founder of The Plus Ones, Theresa loves exploring  all that Melbourne has to offer.

Visit for more information. $40 tickets cover entry and a main meal, with extras available for purchase on the day.
Upcoming dates:

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Cool Down Summer Series.
Photo credit: Claudia Bergsdorf.