Sometimes a room just feels right. The worn timbers hugging your group at Bank Street Pizza are the remnants of the 19th century Avenel bank before it was converted in 2011 by hospitality old hands Callum and Janelle.
It seems every ingredient has a story here. The ‘Jill’ in ‘Jill’s pork and veal terrine’ was a work colleague from Callum’s Melbourne days. The rocket underneath is sourced from Yellow Box Growers in nearby Seymour. And Michelle Wilkinson drops off boxes of farm-grown mushrooms for the eponymous Michelle’s Magic Mushrooms pizza, laced with truffle oil.
‘The Faz’ pizza (tomato, fetta, charred peppers and pancetta, topped with pesto and mozzarella) is named in honour of wood fire oven expert Tony Fazio, who helped Callum get the oven up and running in the early days.
Being roughly halfway between Melbourne and Wodonga, it’s the perfect place to pull off the Hume for a quick, casual lunch. The extensive back garden is verging on magical and a great spot to stretch little legs.
Innocent Bystander is back, right across the car park from Giant Steps (where they were once housed under the same roof). It’s a familiar vibe, but like a great second marriage, it’s a bit more sophisticated. The wood-fired pizzas are there, the tapas are there, and the great wines are there. Only now the wines are on tap. Yes. Tap. It’s a revolutionary system developed to pour everything from chilled Prosecco or everyone’s favourite Moscato through to the Shiraz, which by the glass is a perfect foil for those wood-fired pizzas. By the flask, it’s fun to share.
There are loads of details to take in here while you’re spending a long lazy lunch with friends or a cheeky midweek dinner excursion. Take home your bread or pick up your coffee early.
This is one of those ‘you’d better sign up to the mailing list’ moments, because you’ll want to book early. The monthly lunches are a long-table affair, showcasing the local produce and, of course, Scott’s wine. We had the mainstay Chardonnay and Pinot. It’s an education in the influence of maritime conditions on the growing of grapes. These wines have a delicious complexity afforded them by the climate.
Honestly, if your best chocolate experience involved a mass-produced bar of something brown, you need to listen up.
Chocolate is like wine. Chocolate is like coffee. Chocolate is as seasonal as your tomatoes and apples. Speaking of apples, different places grow different tasting cacao. And this all adds up to single-origin chocolates which show all these variations in flavour. It’s exciting the first time you see it and taste it for yourself. There’s no better place than Bright Chocolate to have this experience. Here, the chocolate is made in front of you – from the cacao beans through to the packaged product. One of the few makers in Australia to commit to the whole process from bean to bar, Bright Chocolate gives you an experience every chocolate lover needs.
Something is happening in the tiny community of Pomonal. Pep, owner of Pomonal Estate, points to the neighbours in various directions and tells OHO, ‘The carpenter lives over there, the builder just there, the beekeeper over that way, and the guy who grows the salad greens, just there.” Almost on cue, the guy who grows the salad greens walks in the door with today’s box of salad greens. He talks about the horseradish-peppery flavour of the curly red lettuce.
The owners’ enthusiasm for all things local is infectious. The build is brand-new, and made by locals. The accommodation they’ve just opened on site is set right in the middle of the place they love. The Grampians are right there, changing all the time with the changes in light, and you can stay in a brand-new luxury home with picture windows to all the views.
What you’ve really come here to read about, though, is one or more of the following burning questions:
1. Can I get a good coffee? Yes.
2. Is there good food? Yes. Local, simple and fresh.
3. Is there a view? Yes. A damn good one.
4. Is the wine good? Yes it is.
5. Is the beer good? Yes it is, and it’s truly small-batch, made on site.
6. Is it far? No, not if you stay over. Otherwise, expect a 3-hour drive and a mix-tape.
We’d heard whisperings about The Independent since it opened. Carnivore friends had raved about the meat offerings. They were right, as it turned out, but what they failed to mention was the extraordinary vegan menu. We found this completely by accident after a particularly meat-heavy week. We were treated to one of the most extraordinary slow-cooked corn dishes we’ve ever tasted. It was slow cooked, but still had crunch. Chef Mauro Callegari is Argentinian, and proudly brings those flavours to his menu. The corn dish was a revelation in spices and flavours. Now, you’d never accuse us of being vegan, but that’s a menu I’d happily order from again.
Until the meat came out.
The lamb shoulder was generous to say the least. It was most of a lamb from the shoulder back, and came with some amazing carrots that had Mauro’s Argentinian flare for spice. Broccoli, chilli, walnuts, and tahini dressing made for a stunning salad. Desserts were the kind you’d travel across the state for. It’s only an hour away though, so there’s no excuse not to get a little Independent love.
Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth is one of those classic ‘Back Shed to Big-ish Business’ stories. Ben started brewing in his dad’s shed over a decade ago. Actually, there’s a lot of shed about the vibe at this Beechworth venue, and we love it. All of this is by-the-by, really, because the beer is awesome, and the food is casual and fun. It’s a great place to hang with a few friends making short work of a range of beers and pizzas. Tomato, taleggio, thyme, mushrooms and capers. These had a happy home on my pizza, washed down with a Bling India Pale. Delicious.
Tasting boards are a great way to try a few beers before committing to a whole pint or, if you’re like us, choosing which six-packs to take home. And if you like to get your beer-geek on, then every Saturday at 11am there’s a chance to tour the inner sanctum of the brewery with a tasting.
Bomboras has an enviable spot overlooking the beach at Torquay, and has the daytime vibe of a lazy beach party. It’s pretty chill here, nothing too fancy, nothing too cerebral. Local beers on tap, a menu of snacks and simple dishes. Good for a quiet recovery late breakfast or lunch the day after the night before. Do the Bloody Mary special – it’s got a kick from fire tonic that we loved. Speaking of the night before, that’s when Bomboras goes off. When the lights go down, it’s a buzzy summertime bar with great cocktails, great tunes, and a cool vibe.
Bomboras has other locations on the foreshore and at Point Roadknight (hip coffee kiosks), on the surf coast highway (rooftop bar), and look out for their pop-up beach bar in summer months.
The Bellarine Peninsula is home to some amazing little finds, most of them set away from the main roads and found by local knowledge or that article you read once somewhere. Basil’s Farm is a vineyard and restaurant at the end of a spectacular driveway, through the vines, and almost on the beach overlooking the water to Queenscliff. Getting out of the car and discovering where you are is just the start of a beautifully surprising adventure.
With an almost Royal Mail–like attention to the provenance of their produce, they are crafting tasty dishes with veg from their extensive garden (a small section of which you are free to roam). The wines made on the estate are equally as fine and detailed. Two styles of chardonnay are particularly interesting, as is the maritime influence seen in the pinot noir.
Walking into Little Prince in Traralgon was, to put it mildly, a surprise. You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon Chin Chin’s little brother. It has that busy, diner-esque vibe with bustling staff, tiles on the walls, and a bit of quirkiness. The quirk carries to the menu, with a solid hint of dude-food. Pinch yourself for the reminder that this is Traralgon, on the way to Lakes Entrance, not Melbourne or Sydney. Dishes like the crab sliders – with legs out the sides, about to walk off – bring a sense of humour to the place, as well as deliciousness. The salmon sashimi was fresh and clean, like it should be. Salted caramel and popcorn ice-cream was designed to kill, as it should.
The cocktail list includes proper alcohol-free alternatives, a welcome sight for some. The cocktail and wine list is extensive and well sourced.