Platypi Chocolate

Forrest,  in the Otway Ranges behind the Apollo Bay/Lorne stretch of coastline, is nestled amongst tall timbers in a cool temperate rainforest.  Note the spelling – it’s named after a state MP, Mr Charles Forrest – the name is not a statement of the blatantly obvious. It’s a gorgeous little place, close to Birregurra (Brae) and a stone’s throw from the coast.

The newest place to stop for coffee or decadent hot chocolate is Platypi Chocolate. It’s set amidst the treetops, with balcony views to the birds and wildlife almost close enough to touch.

Speaking of the hot chocolate, the menu calls it a ‘Bomb’ – a ball of chocolate containing a rich ganache that you pop into a cup and pour hot milk over. There’s a house-made marshmallow to complete the luxurious camp-fire experience. It’s a fun bit of theatre, with a good ‘Mmmmm’ to match.

The owners are passionate about the use of local produce, and the simple menu makes honest use of them. Coffee is roasted in Birregurra, just up the road. Their commitment extends to the flavourings in the chocolate selection, which is all made on-site. Instead  of manufactured essences, Platypi uses infused creams made on-site from ingredients like lemon myrtle from Mandy’s yard.

Cheeky Grog Cider Co

If you’re an apple grower, and you see the premium paid for cider apples and the further value-add from making cider, it’s really a no-brainer to have a bit of a look at selling your own stuff. Cheeky Grog have nailed the concept of grower-turns-brewer with their roadside cider house.  With orchards everywhere in the surrounding fields, it’s both no surprise and an absolute delight to find that someone is taking the fruit and turning it into the makings of a fab Friday night.

The list of ciders on taste is long, and there’s something for everyone’s palate. Some medal-winning drops are on taste too, and of course available for you to take home.

For anyone after adventurous flavours, they’re doing some funky things with brettanomyces (“brett”), much as beer brewers are doing. It’s not for everyone, but it’s interesting and a bit of fun.

The outdoor lounge area is fantastically created from old fruit bins, with sprawling timber lounge chairs and tables for group tastings, or for enjoying a few slow cold ones and something to eat. The kitchen has a short simple menu, which on the weekends includes wood-fired pizzas. Regular live music happens out there on the lawn too.

Of course, you can just pull in to the roadside stall and, old-school honesty-box style, pick up a bag of apples or pears.

Meigas

Spain calls like the voice of a food-obsessed friend. ‘Hey, we should do a tapas bar crawl!’ The friend makes a valid argument. When in Ballarat, the tapas begins at Meigas.

The idea of tapas is that you can put together an entire meal by eating a collection of small tasty things. The menu at Meigas fits that bill perfectly. The hung cured meats in a specialist fridge over the top of the bar, the Spanish beers, the details on the walls – it all adds to the Spanish vibe. It’s part of the niche food scene in Ballarat that’s exploded in the last few years. It’s like an off-Sturt St revolution. Meigas greets the revolution with a little bit of Spanish rock and roll: a proper bodega bar with its relaxed style, live music, and flamenco dancing. You can drop in late if you want to, and just do small plates and drinks. The latter includes a long list of Spanish beers, wines, and spirits, and when you imagine you’re in Spain, you must drink as you imagine the Spanish do.

Barca Love

It’s not clear what the people of Shepparton did for their smoky cuban sandwiches before Phil Barca and Tina Love opened their little cafe/bar. How they lived without 15-hour smoked brisket rolls, cubanos, or bourbon baby back ribs is a mystery. Life must have been dreary before the powerhouse kitchen team let their buttermilk chicken loose on the unsuspecting people of Shepparton. Where did they get layers of flavours upon bold flavours in sticky southern-style comfort food?

Barca Love is part of a food-led renaissance that seems to be happening in Shep right now. There’s a bunch of fun and interesting places to hang out and eat which have all popped up in recent times. It would do them all a disservice to say, ‘Just like what you get in Melbourne’, because places like Barca Love have got their own Shepparton flavour about them. It’s a killer combination of easy-going, unpretentious and bloody good food.

Oh, if that’s not enough to get you in the door, maybe the thought of a secret BBQ sauce will tip you over the edge. It’s an inherited recipe which is guarded like the nuclear codes.

Tooboorac Hotel and Brewery

Is there anything as country as a proper country pub? The Tooboorac is the genuine article. There’s a bar, a small dining room and a function room, but that’s not the story here, or even the reason to detour and spend a little time immersed in its rustic charms. There are two compelling arguments to stop here – beer and pies.

The beer is all brewed on site in the micro-brewery out the back (by an appropriately bearded brewer). With so many beers to taste, it’s worth putting some time aside. The names are intriguing invitations to try, such as ‘Cashed Up Summer Ale’, ‘Gunslinger’, ‘Blacksmiths’, and more. During warmer months the ‘Beerbulance’ makes regular trips to festivals, markets and food van parks with its kegs of delight. Try it there, then pop out to the hotel for a beer and a pie.

Oh, the pies. These are no ordinary pastries with a random meat reference. Lamb and Shiraz, Rabbit, Beef and Ale, to name just three.

Worth the detour.

Pickled Sisters

Rutherglen is part of a little cluster of towns right near the NSW border.  Within ten minutes’ reach you have Rutherglen, Wahgunyah and, just over the border, Corowa. So many producers of quality food are in the surrounding area that really, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find Pickled Sisters doing such fine fare, nor that they’ve been doing it for so long.

It’s fair to call the restaurant a shed – that’s what it is. There’s nothing wrong with that in OHO’s reckoning. Sheds are where some of the best stuff gets made. In this particular shed, chef Stuart is quietly turning out some stunning-looking and beautiful-tasting food. The approach is simple – take good produce, respect it, and serve it with local wines.

Although Pickled Sisters shares the shed with Cofield Wines, the wine list is not limited to that one label. It’s a real showcase of the region’s best. In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual to spot a local winemaker like Mandy Jones dropping off another case.

If you have a tendency to get pickled yourself, you could plan ahead and book one or two of the ‘glamping’ tents situated at the very edge of the vineyard. These are tents in the literal sense, if not the traditional. Yes, there’s canvas and a fire. But when was the last time your tent was fully carpeted, had a queen-size bed, air conditioning and a fully stocked wine fridge?

It’s worth keeping in touch with the Sisters event schedule. The cooking classes would make for a fab fun weekend in a shed.

Redbeard Historic Bakery

At the heart of this Trentham bakery is a 75-tonne masonry scotch oven, that rarely is left to go cold. It has sat in this same position since 1891, serving a long line of baking families over the years.

The current custodian John Reid, is a student of microbiology and chemistry, forgoing the use of commercial baker’s yeast for a wild culture to make their much sought after fermented sourdough bread. It’s nutty and hearty, with an attractive chew. Best friends with butter and vegemite.

Each month John runs a workshop for those interested in the process for making a natural, sourdough bread and the beauty of seeing one of the countries last remaining scotch ovens in action.

The cosy cafe space is an extension to the original bakery and is a mecca for coffee, hot chocolates, homemade-sausages rolls and an outstanding vanilla slice.

Come just before Easter and stock up on freshly baked hot-crossed buns.

Sally’s Paddock at Redbank Winery

For those who remember what they were drinking in the Melbourne restaurant scene a decade or so ago, Sally’s Paddock was a prominent feature at the premium end of the wine lists in some of the top eateries in town. Now, with the emergence of the next generation in the family, Sasha Fair is making sure that the wines from the Redbank winery are true to the reputation earned by her family – a reputation which includes the classification ‘Distinguished Winery’ from Langton’s.

The building that was put up to serve as the winery in the 70s now does duty as cellar door. Its remarkable timber shingle roof is a feature that takes your eye as soon as you come in. The cellar door is a great place to sit at a long table with a bunch of friends and kill a few hours with local produce platters and the truly amazing wines that Sasha is making.

In case you’re wondering about that gorgeous little mudbrick house as you come up the long drive to the winery, the answer is yes – it is available for rent for up to three couples at a time.

Sally’s Paddock is a stalwart of the Pyrenees wine industry, and plays host to local events (such as the Ballarat Winter Festival) when they pop up on the regional event calendar. It’s a spectacular spot, and events on the property are relaxed and fun.

Thousand Pound Wine Bar and Store

Eliza Brown needed somewhere to drink and talk with her wine industry pals, so she built a wine bar and restaurant. Best call ever. Named for the people of all different cultures who flocked to the area for gold in the 19th century to make their first ‘thousand pound’, this bar and restaurant is simultaneously like walking into a piece of small-town history and a slice of Melbourne chic.

Wines on the wall are all ‘friends of friends’ – made by locals, loved by local winemakers, or who have some sort of connection. At the moment there’s a lot of local and imported rosé in the rack, and we at OHO have no argument with that whatsoever.

Out in the kitchen, Dan is making stylish but relaxed food. You’ll want to Instagram these dishes, but they’re definitely not just a pretty plate. Scallops with little fingerling gems and a cauliflower purée are the perfect starter.

Eliza and her husband Dennis grow their own lamb, pork and some other produce such as figs. The restaurant is the perfect outlet. It’s known and loved for its steak – there are four on the menu. Out the back, Dan has his charcoal burning grill, hibachi-style, and the meat has that seductive, charred smoky flavour.

Of course, it started with a desire for somewhere to drink with friends. So there’s a long drinks list, and super-friendly staff to bring you the wine or cocktail of your choosing. Try the cocktail of muscat and soda – it’s a twist on the wine history of Rutherglen, served with a big smile.

Brother Pablo

The tunes grab you as you walk in. You know that this little urban-feeling joint promises to take you somewhere familiar and makes you expect amazing coffee.

You can spot the fussy coffee drinkers in any cafe. They often linger a little before ordering if they’re there for the first time. They watch the barista make the orders in front of them, and a few little tell-tale habits will make them smile. Measured and weighed doses of coffee into the portafilter, a consistency of pours from one order to the next, small milk jugs used for one coffee at a time – all these things matter. So it’s lovely to see a ridiculously young and talented barista take such fussy care of each and every coffee made.

The coffee is house-roasted under the Clockwork Coffee brand, the milk is 100% Biodynamic Jersey, and made with such pride that it’s easy to see why Brother Pablo is a local fave.