East Gippsland’s new sexy adult wine bar with a Spanish touch

Words by Richard Cornish
Images supplied

Josh Thomas has one of the best palates in the state. As a teenager he was dragged around France on a cheesemaking tour by his famous uncle cheesemaker Richard Thomas. As a young man he was a private butler to the rich and famous in a stately old home in Ireland. He worked in the snow at Cilantro at Dinner Plain with legendary chefs Jimmy Campbell (ex Movida) and Nick Gardner (ex Quay) and was well known for his Spanish style feasts at his former childhood farm Rivendell, in Tambo Upper.

East Handy Store

Josh opened his latest project, East Handy Store, in Bairnsdale recently. This sexy, adult wine bar is housed in a former general store in East Bairnsdale. After single handedly renovating the dilapidated old store Josh has created a suave space with grey textured walls, plush furnishings, touches of gold and smooth dark timber tables.

There are gold stools at wine barrels out front and a courtyard outback overlooking the old train bridge over the Mitchell River. Josh has made sure that East Handy Store is not just beautiful, but also fun. “This where the locals got their fireworks, pints of milk, lollies and nudie mags for almost a century,” he says with a laugh. One of those mags found during the renovations now proudly hangs in the ‘thunderbox’. Its headline reads, “Risqué photos of royal on holiday romp.”

East Handy Store is also an exclusive affair with seating for just 20 and a set menu based on Josh’s time spent in Spain and France. Josh worked as a cheesemaker and has an affinity for fermented products making his own sourdough and saucisson sec. The Gippsland restaurateur is also an avid supporter of the European concept that dining, and drinking should express a sense of place.

So, his menu and wine list read like a local road map with food and drink almost exclusively sourced within Gippsland. “I want to be as parochial as the French,” says Josh with a laugh. “And bugger the rest! All the wines are local, as is the beer and gin. Apart from a few digestifs it’s all from here. Oh. And Sherry from Spain. I love sherry.”

Diners should dress for the weather as the incredibly good value $65 per person set menu meal starts outside in the courtyard under the bright Gippsland stars. Dinner begins with nine little dishes based on the Spanish concept of tapas but interwoven with some French classics like radishes and Josh’s own cultured butter made from Gippsland Jersey Cream.

Next could be Jones Bay pork chicherones, Spanish style crackling with pink lady puree from apples grown two kilometres upstream at Picnic Point. Grilled Lakes Entrance sardines with Josh’s own Catalan soft sausage called sobrasada follow with perhaps some house cured pastrami made from wild shot venison supplied by registered hunter Dominic Britten, who is also the bartender. Main course could be another Catalan inspired dish mar i mutanya, which means sea and mountains. Josh’s version is a rich rice dish of seafood, house made chorizo, and hickory-smoked chicken.

Bookings have opened and already tables are filling rapidly. “Local people travel a lot and have sophisticated palates. Demand that is not being met, apart from Northern Ground in the main drag,” says Josh. “We really want to take people on a little journey, a special night with really good food and drink. And experienced and passionate people out front. We promise something different.”


Where: 22 McEacharn Street, East Bairnsdale
What: Upmarket, Euro-style wine bar with set menu dining
When: Opened to the public Friday 23rd June
Why: Exceptional food from an experienced chef
Who: Hospo legend Josh Thomas and his ‘handsome’ front of house team
Bookings: bookings@easthandystore.com or 0418 358 777
More Info: East Handy Store

We wish to acknowledge the Gunaikurnai people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Tickets are now on sale for Sovereign Hill’s famous Winter Wonderlights

Words by Tehya Nicholas
Images supplied

Everyone loves a white Christmas, but we Aussies rarely get to experience it the way our European friends do. Unless you head to Ballarat from June 24.

Victoria’s most popular living museum, Sovereign Hill, is once again hosting its Winter Wonderlights Festival: a three-week bright, white Christmas-themed extravaganza.

Just 90 minutes from Melbourne, it’s the perfect spot to take the family for the school holidays – and don that daggy Christmas sweater you’ve been saving.

Christmas in July

Imagine cosying up by the fire, drinking a mug of hot chocolate while fairy lights twinkle nearby. Sound good?
Now add a brilliant light show illuminating a century’s-old Gold Rush museum into the picture.
You’re starting to get an image of Sovereign Hill’s Winter Wonderlight Festival.

Sovereign Hill

From 24 June to 16 July, the Sovereign Hill streetscape will transform into a snow and light-filled space, sure to dazzle visitors from young to old. There’s a bustling schedule of family-friendly daytime and night-time activities, opportunities to meet Saint Nicholas himself, and enough Christmas-themed treats to last the year.

With so much on offer, we thought we’d give you our pick of the activities. So you can worry less about scheduling – and focus more on merrymaking.

Bright lights, little city

We must begin with the hero of the festival: the light show!

Each night after sundown (around 5.30 pm), Sovereign Hill’s Main Street transforms into a rainbow of light and imagery. Designed in tandem with Electric Canvas – the team behind much of Melbourne’s White Night – these displays are nothing short of magical.

Candy canes twinkle above an antique sign. Neon bows loop and unloop on a tin veranda. Paired with the Christmas carols echoing through the street and faux snow pluming into the air, it’s a feast for all the senses.

The projections finish at 7 pm and can be very busy. So we recommend starting at the top of the hill and meandering through Main Street towards the exit rather than away. You’ll dodge the big crowds and enjoy a better view.

Winter Wonderlights

Warm up your winter with these old-school activities

A regular day pass will buy you all day and night access to the museum. That means you can enjoy plenty of daytime activities and the light show for one affordable price.

Famous for its Gold Rush character, Sovereign Hill has ample activities for the whole family. From candle-making and horse and cart rides to gold panning and lolly eating – you could easily spend three days at the museum and still have more to see.

If you’re travelling with children, you can’t miss the gold panning. We recommend bringing gumboots because things can get wet as you sift through the mud for the treasures.

Once you’ve exhausted the pan, stop by the lolly shop, Brown’s Confectionary, to taste its famous boiled raspberry drops. Handmade to a traditional recipe, these treats are especially sweet in winter.

Continue the shopping spirit with a stroll through the European-inspired Christmas Market. Grown-ups looking to imbibe can warm up with a mulled wine. And there’s gingerbread for the little ones.

Costumed characters walk around throughout all areas, performing pantomimes and interacting with guests. You can find Saint Nicholas and ask for a photograph if you’re lucky. These actors are the final flourish of a very immersive experience.

You can also head to the Victoria Theatre on-site to watch a scripted theatre performance, which we hear is Christmas themed too. A carefully created replica of the eponymous 1850s Ballarat theatre, the space and the stories told there transport viewers to a bygone era.

Winter Wonderlights

Our tips for a smooth stay

The Winter Wonderlight Festival is extremely popular, with tickets selling out quickly. So your best move is to plan your trip and book early.

Here are our top tips to ensure your visit is fun and friction-free.

  1. Book early: We can’t say it enough. Tickets are available now via the Sovereign Hill website. A wide range of access is available, from single to family passes.
  2. Rug up: It’s no secret that Victoria’s Central Highlands get cold. The days in Ballarat average 10 degrees, so be prepared for even chillier nights.
  3. Make a weekend of it: Because the light show is only visible at night, it’s a good idea to book an overnight – or weekend – stay. There are plenty of accommodation options in nearby Ballarat. And if you want to continue the historical theme, BIG4 just opened a holiday park next to Kryal Castle.
  4. Reserve a table: The restaurants inside Sovereign Hill tend to fill up early. So if you’re looking to eat on-site, call or pop in ahead of time to book your seats.
  5. BYO marshmallows: There are places to roast them, but sadly no places to buy them. You will be the envy of everyone there.

Winter Wonderlight Festival
Sovereign Hill Museum, Bradshaw St, Golden Point
24 June – 14 July 2023
Book your tickets here

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Mt Stapylton Wines

Farming is a hard business, it’s usually something you are born into rather than decide to take up by choice. The desire to stay with it comes from growing up within the landscape, its spirit creeping into the sinew of each generation. For Robert Staehr, continuing with grain and sheep grazing on the family farm set in the Wartook Valley was always a given, winemaking however was a matter of serendipity when the neighbouring vineyard came on the market.

The established rows of Shiraz were complimented by the planting of Grenache, and under the guidance of winemaker Leigh Clarnette (Seppelt, Taltarni, Clarnette Wines) bottling commenced under the Mount Stapylton brand, named in honour of the iron-rich sandstone cliffs that overlook the vineyard.

The vineyard is the most northern of the Grampians region, with the extra warmth resulting in a vigorous canopy and early picking without the loss of acidity while maintaining plenty of flavour. The results are an easy-drinking, approachable wine, and with extra fruit brought in from regions close by, the winery portfolio now includes a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc.

At the end of 2021, the old cow shed was converted into one of the tiniest (and cutest) cellar doors you are likely to come across. The bar is surfaced with pressed metal sourced from the property homestead, and here visitors can indulge in a wine tasting and gain deeper insight into the winemaking process and philosophy.

When things get chilly, the fire pit will likely get fired up, where visitors can soak in the views across the property and chat about all things farming. We love these down-and-dirty encounters with farmers that are void of pretension and rich in connection.

More details about the region can be found here.

Kryal Castle adds BIG4 Holiday Park — just in time for the school holidays

Words by Tehya Nicholas
Images supplied

Ever wished you could go to bed at night, gaze out your window and see a medieval castle haloed by the moonlight? What was once regaled to Lords and Ladies of the Dark Ages is now a contemporary, affordable opportunity with the opening of BIG4 Kryal Castle Holiday Park.

Set to officially open on Friday, April 7th—just in time for the autumn school holidays—the new BIG4 Kryal Castle Holiday Park will expand the attraction’s current accommodation offerings to include 57 powered campsites, 16 one-bedroom cabins, and four luxurious two-story loft tiny homes. With modern furnishings and comfortable proportions, these sleeping quarters are a far cry from those of a bygone era.

Kryal Castle BIG4

Families looking to drop anchor within arms reach of entertainment will be well-catered for at the holiday park. An onsite games room comes equipped with Xbox consoles and bean bags, and a large playground will keep the kids amused for hours. Grown-ups can seek refuge with a local drop on the lounge-style deck overlooking the stunning Ballarat cityscape. Even better, your four-legged furry friends are also welcome to stay with you.

For the first month of its opening, guests will receive a 50% discount on entry to the theme park. From jousting tournaments to archery, quirky characters, Knight School, and magical potions, Kryal Castle can fulfil (almost) every medieval desire.

The BIG4 Kryal Castle Holiday Park is conveniently located just a quick 15-minute drive away from Ballarat town centre. Not only does this freshly minted holiday park fulfil the growing demand for more accommodation options in the area, but it also aims to restore tourism to its pre-Covid levels. Upcoming hot ticket items on the Kryal Castle event calendar include the Unicorn Festival from 7th-21st April and the Smashing Pumpkins The World Is A Vampire Tour on Sunday 3rd of April.

Kryal Castle

“We’re thrilled to open the holiday park and hope that its unique location will attract more visitors to experience Kryal Castle while also increasing the accommodation offering in Ballarat. Our aim is to encourage visitors to explore all the region has to offer,” said Kryal Castle CEO Bart Hamilton.

The holiday park is part of a $5.6 million initial development, privately funded by Kryal Castle, with the option to expand a further 119 sites on the eastern side of the castle grounds.


WHAT: BIG4 Kryal Castle Holiday Park
WHEN: Friday, April 7th
FIND OUT MORE: BIG4 Kryal Castle Holiday Park

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Kin – Victoria’s new regional dining destination

Words: Richard Cornish
Images: Richard Cornish and supplied

Victoria has some excellent dining rooms worth the drive. Brae, Lake House, Stefano’s, Hogget, The Bunyip, Provenance, and now Kin. Kin is the Brown siblings’ new fine dining restaurant that replaces the old Terrace at All Saints winery near Rutherglen.

The roomy, warm, and comfortable dining room is the crowning glory of the Brown family’s next-generation refurbishment of the 1864 castellated winery by the banks of the Murray at Wahgunyah. The change is remarkable. Over the past 12 months, their former Indigo Cheese Room has become Bonnie, a casual pizza and fine wine diner. The cellar door has moved to a beautiful new space with a modern museum feel offering paid curated tastings. And now comes Kin.

Take a seat at a leather banquette looking out over the gardens, the vineyards, and the historic Chinese labourer’s quarters. The blonde wooden tables are set with fine Riedel stemware, an indication of the serious approach the Browns take to wine. At one end of the room are three round brick enclave booths. A major feature that could represent old fermenting tanks or the three Brown siblings: Eliza, Angela, and Nicholas.

Taking the reins in the kitchen is the relatively young Jack Cassidy, who has worked at Bistro Guillaume and Mornington Peninsula winery restaurants Jackalope and Paringa Estate. His style is modern, focusing on layered flavours without overworking the dish. There are four entrees, four mains, and four desserts. Choose between $75 for two courses or $95 for three. Spoiler!

The meal starts with a surprise plate of amuse-buches. Half cherry tomatoes with house-made ricotta, a gilda of house-pickled chilli and Mount Ophir olives, and dense lamb capocollo. Order the pillow soft three-day fermented focaccia baked with confit tomato oil to sop up the delicious sauces such as the black garlic puree under the grilled kangaroo skewers. There could be a succulent confit ox heart tomato sitting in a deep dark bowl of delicious tomato water with a fried saltbush crumb.

Jack knows fish and serves perhaps the perfect fillet of rainbow trout, briefly cured to make the flesh dense and the skin crisp; it is briefly pan-fried and served with an umami-rich foamed mussel and chardonnay sauce. The standout dish and a masterpiece in texture is a plate of plump, unctuous scallops crudo sitting with a silky serve of bottarga tarama draped with fine slices of rich, luscious guanciale topped with cured salmon roe.

The skill in the kitchen is all about developing flavour, with unfussed plating up, leaving space for the produce to tell its story and the wine to complete each dish. It is an excellent chance to see All Saints wines in their natural habitat and how they work with food. KIN sits on beautiful, historic grounds in a beautiful historic wine region. It’s worth the drive.

The Details

What: Modern, delicious produce drive menu
Who: Chef Jack Cassidy and the Brown siblings
Where: 205 All Saints Rd, Wahgunyah (10km from Rutherglen in Northern Victoria)
Why: Historic building, great food, excellent wine
When: Open Now
More Info: All Saints Estate

We wish to acknowledge the Yorta Yorta people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

New regional experience sees guests lunch, learn and reconnect with themselves

Words by Della Vreeland
Images supplied

Partners in life and business Gorgi and Simon Coghlan have launched yet another inspiring enterprise, set to allure lovers of nature, food and wellness.

Set amidst the stunning surrounds of the Coghlans’ Bermingham Farm (and aptly titled as such), the project aims to nourish the body, mind and soul through a series of special events that will “provide a space for people to be the best version of themselves. To be better connected to their own story and the stories of others”.

‘We’re doing this for people to connect with themselves and come home to themselves,’ Gorgi says. ‘It’s a magical place for people to reconnect with who they are.’

People have come out of the pandemic after so much self-reflection, thinking – I am in control of my happiness and destiny, and that’s where I want to spend my time and my money.

Located just outside of Ballarat, the Coghlans have lived on their property for 10 years and have spent a decade pouring time, love and energy into perfecting their home. Now, they are ready to share it with all those who would like to partake of its wonder.

‘We’ve been planning this unconsciously for 10 years,’ Gorgi says. We’ve had friends here for parties and events who have said this is exactly what they’ve needed – to be back in nature, to reconnect and have their loads lightened.

‘There is something special about this place and about simplifying your life.’

The initial events to be held at the farm include a series of Lunch and Learn personal growth and wellness workshops at the property’s stables – facilitated by leading health professionals who will explore the acclaimed works of Dr Brené Brown, and hosted by Gorgi herself.

The events are comprised of meditation sessions, tours of the perfectly-manicured Bermingham gardens, delicious locally-made fare, immersive presentations, and – ultimately – the chance to “come home to yourself”.

‘When you want to seek help, you don’t know where to start. But Dr Brown’s work is so relatable. She shares her own flaws and struggles, and we are so lucky to have her work and her facilitators coming to our farm and acting as an entry point.’

From next year, the space will also play host to the Bermingham x Chef series and Bermingham Farm Garden series which Gorgi says would be a ‘celebration of agri-tourism’.

‘The Garden series will be really cup-filling and feature nourishing country cooking and preserving techniques, bringing exciting people to Ballarat and also showcasing bigger names in exciting different ways.’

With the Coghlans’ award-winning boutique Ballarat hotel The Provincial now on the market, the duo now has more time to spend on this labour of love and other projects – including more on-stage performances and a return to broadcasting for Gorgi in 2023.

‘We love hospitality and entertaining and so we thought – how do we combine all those things together? That’s what Birmingham farm has ended up being.’


WHAT: Bermingham Farm
WHEN:  Events commencing in 2023
BOOKINGS: Bermingham Farm

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

The Blues Train just announced their fresh lineup for 2023

After a sell-out season this spring, The Blues Train is set to depart in 2023, with a host of fresh blues and roots talent on board.

Australia’s longest-running dedicated Blues and Roots venue, the iconic Blues Train, which runs along the Bellarine Peninsula, is turning over a new leaf and embracing the future of homegrown talent with their special Next Generation Concert Series, returning in 2023.

The series has been confirmed for several dates in January, February and March—with more to be announced soon—after its incredible success in the latter half of 2022. It’s the first time The Blues Train has turned its gaze towards up-and-coming local musicians, providing a platform for both established and emerging acts to play alongside one another; albeit it in separate carriages.

The Blues Train founder and curator Hugo T Armstrong said, “I was amazed at how quickly the Next Generation Concert Series sold out, proof of the appetite there is for Blues Train regulars and contemporary blues and roots lovers in general to hear emerging artists in the scene perform.”

Throughout 29 years of Blues Train rides, some of the best local and international blues musicians have played in the region, many of whom will be returning to accompany the fresh faces. Established artists back on the tracks for 2023 include Jimi Hocking, George Kamikawa, The McNaMarr Project, Damon Smith, Anna Scionti and Brian Fraser.

This season, however,  is all about the newfangled. Billed to perform are 2020 International Blues Challenge Finalist Aaron Pollock, Ocean Grove’s family of musicians The Von Robertsons, duo Miss Lou’s Blues, blues singer/songwriter and guitarist Jonno Zilber, blues guitarist and singer Jarrod Shaw and the mesmerising Willie J & the Bad Books.  For some artists, like blues guitarist Kathleen Halloran and Texas born/former New York local Bret Mosley, it will be their first time plucking strings on the Blues Train, though it’s unlikely to be their last.

“Finding the right balance of high-profile artists, while still providing the opportunity for emerging artists to gain employment and profile, combined with valuable gig experience is a real challenge – and I am so pleased to know that we have hit the mark,” Armstrong said.

Kicking off it’s journey in Queenscliff, the Blues Train meanders in it’s classic, steam-train style across the Bellarine Peninsula, skirting edges of the coast and through the country brush. As per tradition, four different acts—a soloist, a duo, a trio and a full band—bring their blues grooves to the carriage. Punters can sit, stand, or boogie as the iron horse journeys onward. Pit stops at stations allow the patrons to shuffle into the next carriage where the next act awaits.

It’s a full evening—the train pulls back into Queenscliff station at 11.30pm—so a layover is necessary. Just a short drive from Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula has plenty of quality accommodation options for a weary head. Why not make a weekend of it and discover all that Bellarine Peninsula has to offer: from tasting trails to panoramic views of the ocean. 

Tickets for the Blues Train shows are available now, and are strictly limited. The inspector is blowing their whistle; better hurry!

WHAT: The Blues Train: Next Generation Concert Series
WHERE: Queenscliff
WHEN: April 2023 now on sale (more dates to be announced soon)
MORE INFO: The Blues Train

A micro flower farm in Trentham to launch the latest book from Sharon Flynn

Words by Della Vreeland
Images supplied

Bestselling author and founder of The Fermentary Sharon Flynn isWild Drinks Sharon Flynn set to launch her second book Wild Drinks – once again sharing her incredible knowledge about fermentation with the world.

Dubbed “the definitive book on infusing, brewing, and fermenting delicious things to drink”, Wild Drinks is the perfect companion for anyone who’s curious about conjuring unique drinks – whether it’s the perfect sake or carrot ale, ginger beer or fruit vinegar, rose water kefir or kombucha.

Following on from her debut book Ferment for Good, Sharon says she’s excited to share a read which she thinks many people will find more “appealing”.

“Drinks – and the gorgeous, natural bubbles we all love – are appealing to so many more people,” Sharon says. “We can get bacteria into our bodies and lives very easily this way and most drinks don’t take that long to make.”

The Fermentary is the culmination of a life-long passion for Sharon.  Since 2014,  her business has (primarily) produced award-winning sauerkraut and kimchi, supplying some of Australia’s best restaurants and shops.

Having originally set up base in Daylesford, Sharon and her daughters opened up a space in Fitzroy North following the pandemic – a space which has now taken on a life of its own and is dedicated to education, creation and the sharing of some of Sharon’s favourite ferments from around the world.

“We ferment in small-batches, naturally culturing food and drinks, slowly and with minimal intervention,” she says.

“I will always be in love with connecting food and the simple, everyday things we do to our near and distant past. Fermentation brings a quiet magical transformation, traditional techniques – a relationship with the invisible – and (in the right environment) when left to its own devices, it will not only preserve, but make the flat bubbly, your dough chewy and light, most things more delicious, and bring life into your kitchen and body! What’s not to love?”

The Trentham Wild Drinks book launch will be held at Acre of Roses, the space where all the images from the book have been shot.
Acres of Roses

“The Fermentary was based in Daylesford for almost 10 years so Trentham and the surrounds hold a very special place close to our hearts,” Sharon says. “All of the images from the book were also shot at Acre of Roses and we would love to share this stunning location with you.”

The launch will feature small-batch brews, ferments and infusions from the book to taste, including Jamu, Tepaché, Kombucha and Shrubs.

Acre of Roses will also open up their garden, making it a perfect picnic-worthy event.

“There will be a scavenger hunt in the apothecary garden, where we grow many herbs and veggies that we use for our wild drinks and ferments (and) we will also demonstrate making our award-winning rose water kefir using the roses from the garden.”

Sharon says she hopes her work continues to raise awareness about the rare artform that is fermentation and the wonders inherent within.

“This is a lost artform – mostly done in a very practical way in a rustic environment,” she says. “Many people now imagine they need more experience, more equipment, less germs, so to share and connect – and inspire people to think a bit further about what they are buying and where we have come from – (that’s my aim).

“Also to comfort people in a sense – that we’ve only been out of touch for a few generations and we can bring back good flavour, real food and our connection to that really easily. There is enough food for everyone if we are allowed to tap into our ancient, pre-industrial knowledge.

“Not only are our guts depleted of the wide variety of life required for good health, but so is the soil.  Naturally fermented foods and drinks are really the easiest, very delicious and natural way to get a wide variety of wild bacteria and yeasts into our bodies now. We are now in a time where we are told that we need to get ‘pre-, pro- and post-biotics’ made in a lab into our guts and a lot of people don’t realise that the bacteria we’ve relied upon is stronger and better than any of that.”


WHAT: Wild Drinks book launch
WHEN: Sunday, December 18
WHERE: Acre of Roses, Trentham
MAKE A BOOKING: thefermentary.rezdy.com

We wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Bookings now open for Gippsland’s newest hot springs

Words by Della Vreeland
Images Supplied

Victoria’s much-anticipated Metung Hot Springs is officially opening this month, with bookings now welcome for those seeking a healing getaway characterised by serenity, luxury and tranquillity.

Set on 10 hectares of natural undulating land overlooking the magnificent Gippsland Lakes, this new wellness destination (the sister springs to the Peninsula Hot Springs) is set to welcome its very first guests on October 29.

Featuring geothermal mineral bathing, spa and massage treatments, and its very own glamping tents, Metung is a premium health and wellness experience that aims to refresh, rejuvenate and revitalise guests amidst the panoramic vistas that the Gippsland region affords.

Boasting a bathing valley with seven pools as well as a hilltop escarpment including cold plunge tub, stargazing pool and individual bathing barrels, the venue will have guests in awe at its natural surrounds and luxurious offerings.

A range of bathing, spa and accommodation packages are now available to choose from, including unique glamping lagoon-side and hillside options. Make sure to visit the website to find out all the information, and get set for a luxury escape nestled within Gippsland’s warming surrounds.


WHAT: Metung Hot Springs
WHEN: Opening October 29
BOOKINGS: Metung Hot Springs

We wish to acknowledge the Gunaikurnai people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Is Sorrento Victoria’s new dining capital?

Words by Richard Cornish
Images Supplied

Sorrento’s colonial limestone buildings look out over a half moon of Norfolk Island pines onto white sands framing the azure blue waters of Port Phillip. A community of seafarers, surfers, retirees, and tradies who co-exist with weekend and summer influx of visitors, it may be remarkably beautiful, but it has never truly been a dining destination.

While Bistro Elba has punched above its weight for years, offering great wines and excellent meals based on local produce, Sorrento has not otherwise had an overabundance of great food offers.

Come 2022, and the situation has been completely overturned. Sorrento is now almost overburdened by experienced, talented chefs with venues filled with some big culinary names. Scott Pickett opened Audrey’s, his seafood-focused restaurant at the Continental Hotel. Ashley Hicks, who cooked with Tom Aikens in London, moved to Sorrento to open the refurbished Stringers Store. This week the Hotel Sorrento reopens its bar and dining room with a menu overseen by George Calombaris. Down by the water’s edge is modern fine-dining pioneer Paul Wilson who is back in the kitchen at Morgan’s Sorrento.

“I love to fish. I love the beach. I love living in Sorrento,” says Paul Wilson. He is on the pans cooking French-inspired dishes in this historic village near the end of the Mornington Peninsula. Paul led the Brit-pack chef scene in the early 2000s making a name for himself at the Park Hyatt restaurant Radii with a dish of truffled polenta and soft egg. His oyster nights at the Botanical Hotel in South Yarra were infamous, and he bought the dodgy Newmarket Hotel in St Kilda back to a place of culinary worthiness.

Now he’s at Morgan’s Sorrento, a smart casual bistro, flooded with light with an enviable bayside view. “Being down here means I am close to my favourite suppliers,” says Paul. He buys directly from Torello Farm, Hawke’s Farm, Harry from Flinders Mussels, and Mock’s Orchards. To prove a point, he brings out a barley-fed beef rib, braised in stock for six hours, finished in the oven and served with a single slow-cooked carrot. ‘The carrot is from Hawke’s Farm at Boneo,” he says proudly. “I treat it like a good piece of beef and slowly braise it in stock.” He follows this with a stunning tarte tartin made with the bio-dynamic apples from Mock’s at Main Ridge, nestling on a golden buttery puff pastry base.

I have always chosen to open places where I could enrich the community, and I felt there was an opportunity to make a contribution here in Sorrento, close to a great food bowl and wine region. And it is so bloody beautiful.

One of Paul Wilson’s kitchen acolytes is Ash Hicks. He worked with Paul at Circa at the Prince in St Kilda. Now he is Executive Chef for the Darling Group overseeing venues such as Higher Ground and Dundas and Fausset in Albert Park. He is presently in Sorrento supervising the opening of Stringers. Set in the colonial-era limestone building and formerly a store.

Stringers is now a café, pizzeria, and providore set in the clean, lean, cool interior by architect Chris Connell. “I am absolutely in love with the limestone walls,” says Ash. “The courtyard has been opened up, and it is this beautiful limestone encased garden,” he explains. We have put a pizza oven in, Napoli style. It rotates and can do a pizza to perfection in two minutes thirty seconds.” While the bake is fast, the dough takes 72 hours to prove, developing a mass of flavour to underpin Ash’s scant three toppings. His favourite is That’s Amore fresh mozzarella and Mr. Canubi mortadella over a layer of San Marzano tomatoes. “At present it’s breakfast and lunch,” he says. “The offer is simple but very, very good. We are making our own brass die extruded pasta every day. For breakfast come and try the chilli eggs,” he says. This is a dish of folded eggs topped with whipped goats curd and what he describes as a fiery caponata laced with caper brine. “But this is a space for everyone,” he adds. “Like Sorrento, it is beautiful and casual.”

Up the hill is Hotel Sorrento. This beautiful 150-year-old building, with its iron lacework and Italianate tower, re-opened its dining room last week under the careful watch of celebrity chef George Calombaris. The former MasterChef star has teamed up with the Pitt family, owners of the 1872 hotel, to work on the new menu and the opening of a Cantonese-inspired restaurant.

The chef moved to a home in the Peninsula hinterland recently and told the media that he has been welcomed by the Mornington Peninsula community and is focusing on the ‘simple things in life’. While Calombaris is not hands-on in the kitchen, his role as Culinary Director sees a brand-new menu that borrows heavily from the Mediterranean with dishes like porchetta, swordfish, salt cod croquettes, and pub favourites like parma, schnitzel, and cheeseburger. In October, the old downstairs ballroom will open as Shi Hui Shi. At the time of writing, George had not yet finished the Cantonese-style menu, but we are promised an umami-filled offering with loads of old-school favourites given a modern twist.

Another big-name Melbourne chef who has taken digs down the pointy end of the Peninsula is Scott Pickett. He has a house near the newly re-opened Continental Hotel, a venture in which he is heavily involved. “When we first started work on the ‘Conti’, we wanted to make sure there was somewhere in this beautiful old hotel for everyone,” he says referring to the four-story 1875 pub. It was built by George Coppin, who also ran the steamships that bought visitors down the bay from Melbourne in the 1800s. He connected the ferry to the hotel with a tramway. In the 1880s Sorrento was a thriving place for Melbourne’s well-to-do leisure seekers. The historic building recently underwent a multi-million dollar refurbishment.

This includes 106 five-star rooms, now managed by the Intercontinental Hotel. Scott worked with property developer The Trenerry Group and Melbourne pub guru Craig Shearer to take on the food and beverage offer that extends to 12 different outlets within the expansive hotel. “I wanted to have an exceptional seafood restaurant but also make sure I could still have a place to go with my mates after a day fishing,” he says.

Downstairs in the public bar you can order pub dishes such as perfect fish and chips and Thai curries while in the expansive Atrium, there are more sophisticated dishes straight from the wood-fired Josper grill in the Atrium. Upstairs is the luxurious Audrey’s, a light-filled dining room looking out over the bay where you can enjoy the luxury of a lobster and caviar tartlet, then a nibble of eel with malt glaze or cured kingfish ham on a rye crisp washed down with a glass of premier crus blanc de blanc Champagne. “Sorrento has always been a place for leisure and holidaymakers,” says Pickett. “With this re-development and others around Sorrento, this beautiful town is regaining the glamour it had in its heyday.”

We wish to acknowledge the Bunurong people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.