Healesville Hotel

The Healesville Hotel is placed right in the middle of the town, built in Edwardian style c1920 and refurbished in the late 1990’s, it is a real social hub for the local town folk and a popular watering hole for visitors to the Yarra Valley.

Head chef Chris Toogood grew up on a sheep farm in SA and this background shows in the way he seeks out quality local produce. Timbarra chicken, O’Connors Gippsland beef and pork are cooked over red gum with simple garnishes and light sauces that allow the natural flavours to take a front seat.

The beer garden has got to be one of the best in the state; the dining room: dark, warm and filled with nostalgia. The original front bar is perfect for sampling subregional Valley wines in front of a warming fire.

No matter where you take a table, it’s about relaxed dining, not fussy, just sharing dishes, swapping sides, stealing chips — while in the background the kitchen staff pick herbs from the garden and keep the coals burning under the wood-fire grill.

Fowles Wines

Sitting down with four glasses of wine, each matched to the perfect food companion, might be the new definition of awesome. This is the Fowles Wines ‘Gamekeeper’s Lunch’. You get the impression that there is a tweed-wearing employee out the back who’s handy with a 12-gauge shotgun and skilled in the art of delicate food preparation.

Smoked eel has one of those flavours that when you speak of it, your memory plays tricks and you feel as though you’re tasting it. The fellow out back has paired it with a riesling which is focused and acidic, with balanced fruit. Rabbit rillette is meaty and flavoursome, matched to a fresh zippy chardonnay.

Duck and pinot noir are best friends – maybe even lovers. In this pairing the confit duck is crispy and full of flavour, and the pinot is elegant, savoury and beautifully rounded.

The finale is beetroot chutney and kangaroo. It’s the OMG moment. Earthy, sticky, charred and delicious. The shiraz is jammy and generous to match.

 

Watts River Brewing

We love a good bromance at One Hour Out, and nothing spells bromance better than two mates making beer in a shed. Aaron and Ben (ex-White Rabbit) and their families have built a brand new brewery in Healesville’s industrial estate, a literal stones-throw from Four Pillars Gin. The place has a funky industrial chic thing going on, with green velour couches, mismatched decor (in a good way) and a kind of a share-house lounge room vibe. The shiny new brewery is a dominant feature of the backdrop, and the sound system pumps out the kind of music I’d want at my parties – it’s a Beiber-free zone.

The beers by Aaron and Ben are worth travelling for. If you love Bridge Road Brewers, you’ll love these too. It’s a smaller range and a smaller scale, but we loved that about them too. My personal fave is the IPA – I’m a sucker for hoppy beers that are light on the malt. For the non-beer drinkers, theres a select range of stellar local wines by the glass. My drinking buddy had a chardonnay from Tarrawarra Estate.

Keep an eye on the social media pages for these guys – they pop up at all sorts of events, and are not averse to hosting a big southern beer and bbq event at the shed.

Bill and Beat’s

‘Where did you get the name?’ The first and most obvious question about Bill and Beat’s has the most wonderful answer. Owner Jenna’s grandparents, William and Beatrice, were an inspiration for hospitality. The shed was always open for beers, and the kitchen was always open for food. Yay for Bill and Beat – what a great tradition to pass on!

The coffee here is a standout. OHO’s old friends at Mansfield Coffee Merchant supply the sacred beans, and they’re handled with a care and consistency that makes us smile.

Don’t be fooled by the small shopfront. Bill and Beat’s is big enough to do three- to four-hundred covers on a Sunday. There’s a big room out back with a kind of communal beer-hall vibe that’s heaps of fun, and a function room upstairs.

All the cakes are made in house; if you’re lunching, try the house-made gnocchi with its little bit of crunch from finishing in the pan with butter.

Saltwater Phillip Island

Saltwater Phillip Island opened a while back in an incredible waterside position at San Remo on the Phillip Island side. The water dominates 270 degrees of the view, from the bridge to the mainland around to the waters of Westernport. It boasts a wood-fired pizza oven, inside or outside dining, and an impressive bar.

Of course, sitting in a place like this, looking across the water to the fishing boats moored under the lee of the bridge, you’d expect seafood to be local. It’s exciting when the chef points to the boats and says, ‘That’s where the calamari came from today.’

The beers are a good mix of local and from further afield, as are the wines. A seasonal menu makes use of local produce, like Archie’s Creek rib-eye, and Koo Wee Rup asparagus.

If you’re a fan of Innocent Bystander in the Yarra Valley, then this is a no-brainer for you. The warehouse vibe, the casual fun food turned out to very high standard, combined with that view, make Saltwater an easy sell.

Phillip Island Winery

Here’s a reminder to people who might wonder what on earth a tiny coastal hamlet has to offer the wine lover. Phillip Island is nestled just next to the Gippsland coast. So, all those things you love about the flavour of Gippsland wines apply here. The wines are complex and full of character. But that’s not the whole story.

The owners of this place have form putting together the kind of venue where you want to spend a lazy afternoon with friends, having made a success out of the Westernport Hotel. The experience shows. Decor is considered and comfortable, dining choices from inside, to the outside open fire, to the expansive lawns are all beautifully put together without being fussy. Food is casual, from local produce. It’s for sharing, or for keeping to yourself, depending on how much you love your friends. The wines are on taste in the cellar door, so have a look before you order with lunch.

The venue is perfect for larger events, with a couple of spaces designed for the purpose. But don’t let that thought put you off an intimate lunch here, because that stunning view across the paddocks to Westernport is the prettiest way to spend a quiet foodie afternoon with wine and the person you love.

There’s a quirky bonus in visiting the winery, in the form of a little farm-gate style shop/studio for floral designer and stylist Bec Newman.

Warmer months here are ideal for a venue that boasts so many outdoor options, including the atrium, bean bags, live music, and a menu for your dog.

The Waterboy Cafe

Heading to Phillip Island is a nostalgic experience for most Melbournians. The trip down the South Gippy Highway brings back memories of being piled into the car late on Friday and staying in a friend of a friend’s family holiday shack, on dreadful vinyl bunks. There was one option for food, and it was a good one, but there were only so many hot donuts you could eat from that little foreshore caravan.

Well, things have moved  on down on the Island. You need to go back on a nostalgia trip of your own, spend a couple of days there, and remember the relaxed pace that your parents used to talk about. ‘We should get a place here, it’s so relaxed,’ they’d say.

We do understand your anxiety about venturing over the San Remo Bridge to the sleepy seaside hollow though, so here are your top three questions answered.

  1. Will there be good coffee?
    Answer: Yes. The food scene has matured significantly in the last couple of years. The Waterboy Cafe is part of a growing movement prioritising local produce and simple, high quality dishes. The coffee revolution has not passed The Waterboy by. They’re using Five Senses coffee, which is a reassurance of a good roast, and pulling shots expertly. They’re also pouring Prana chai, which will be the perfect match with your divine organic blueberry pancakes.
  2. Is the accommodation OK?
    Answer: Look, it’ll be fine. Air BNB is pretty good on a little island with such a high density of accommodation offerings. The family holiday home has had a make-over and the beds are good. Or, if you like your luxury, there are expensive new places. Just get out and enjoy that coffee at The Waterboy. Try the pancakes too. They’re to die for.
  3. Will I abandon my diet?
    Answer: It’s completely up to you. The Waterboy is known for its fresh produce and healthy dishes – but let’s not forget those blueberry pancakes. They’re worth abandoning the diet for a couple of days.

Yabby Lake

You might know Yabby Lake for its wines. The wines from winemaker Tom Carson are exquisite, and the subject of many a wine review containing rapturous hyperbole. The 2014 pinot noir quite famously won the Jimmy Watson Trophy – Australia’s most prestigious wine gong. It was the first pinot noir to do so.

The cellar door is a welcome breath of casual air, despite the lofty reputation of the wines. It’s a nice place to stand and taste a few of the award-winning wines while staring at either the sculpture collection, the view across the vineyards, or that Jimmy Watson Trophy in the cabinet. Take a little time to try the single block wines if you have the opportunity – they are a stunning lesson in terroir*.

The tasting is a lovely prelude to a long lunch. The menu is casual but sophisticated, the plates generous but refined.

There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than sitting in front of a view drinking some of Australia’s best wines, eating good food, and pondering the artworks. The Kirby family are well known patrons of the arts in Australia, and the collection at Yabby Lake is significant.

The attention to detail extends right to the end (or the beginning, depending on your preference) with expertly made Market Lane coffee.

* a French term which roughly translates as ‘the influence of all things local to a place upon the end product’.

Deirdre’s

All good destination food venues have something unique. It could be the view, the remote location, or the proximity to something else amazing. All have one thing in common. Someone had the audacity to stick an unmissable culinary experience in a location that’s off the beaten track.  Deirdre’s is the definition of all of that. Literally in the middle of an olive grove, up a track, somewhere in the wilds outside of Horsham at the base of one of those stunning rock escarpments. It’s also unmissable.

Everywhere we went in Horsham, people asked us if we were going to Deirdre’s, and how much time we’d allowed. Deirdre defines hospitality in the true sense of the word, not as an industry. Food comes when she’s cooked it. She brings it out to you. It’s bloody fantastic. So are the wines, the majority of which are local. You don’t come here for a quick bite to eat – and why would you. The location is enough to slow your world right down. Drink a few vinos, munch on the bread with the property’s own olive oil, and just chill.

Deirdre’s food is simple, full of flavour, and beautifully executed. She uses great produce, and just lets it do the talking. Confit duck and cauliflower puree is just that, and sublime. Vegans are well catered for with a dish of lentils and many garden veg, pickles, and herbs. This accidental chef knows how to turn up the natural flavours. (Deirdre says she kind of fell into it, because she liked to cook a bit.)

Deirdre’s, the quirky shed in the middle of an olive plantation, is well worth the detour. Just book, and allow some time to relax and go with the flow.

Yea Peppercorn Hotel

Something is going on in Yea – something good. In this little ‘on-the-way’ town, we stumbled upon a couple of gems. Among them is the 1860s-built Yea Peppercorn Hotel. It sits a little off the main street, bathed in sun or fog, depending on the season. Both are spectacular, though the former is better for making use of the shade of the spectacular peppercorn tree in the rear garden.

There are a couple of noteworthy things at this pub, apart from the fact that it’s just over an hour from Melbourne, and has a closed-circuit TV that displays your food as it’s prepared. Most notably, the menu is good honest pub food. Good steaks, generous serves and a beverage list featuring local highlights. You’d expect good steaks from a pub in the heart of cattle country, and it doesn’t disappoint. The notable surprise for a place in that country is the seafood platter. These guys have managed to get fresh seafood up the highway, and deliver it cooked and laid out to feed a horde.

Keep in touch with the social media channels of the Peppercorn for info about their regular foodie events and live music.

For those staying around, the accommodation is spacious, comfortable and quiet.

Oh, I nearly forgot another notable. The limo out front is available for tours. It’s a 1987 stretched Jaguar with its own special charm, and you’ll feel like some kind of rock-star as you’re driven about.