There must be something in the water in Shepparton. In the last few years, breweries and a distillery or two seem to have emerged from nowhere, and this is a good thing. Wild Life Brewing Co is the most micro of micro-breweries. The Aussie Session Ale and the Dry Lager are familiar styles to Australian beer drinkers. They’re made in a larger craft brewing facility down the road for consistent high quality for ridiculously easy drinking. (The guys call this “Gypsy Brewing”). Craft beer is sometimes criticised for pushing the fruity and floral hoppy flavours too far, or dicing with the bitterness of over-toasted grain. None of that in these two core-range beers. They’re proof that craft beer doesn’t have to push the envelope of good taste just to get the “Craft” label. Smashable and delicious. Smaller limited released are available in cans too, online or in the cellar door.
Speaking of the bar, walking into the tiny bar/shopfront, it’s all about those stainless pots with super-small experimental special beers. The guys here, all mates who grew up in country Victoria, are walking the talk. They’re all super-passionate about their beers, and are always pushing to make something new, and the good news is we get to share in the ride by drinking the small batches brewed on-site, put to keg, and served only from the small bar/cellar-door in Maude St Shepparton. These limited releases are only available from the first Friday each month and when they’re sold out, they’re gone.
The former Milk Bar on the corner of Fryers St and Corio St in Shepparton has had a few guises over the years, and it has to be said none feels quite so comfortable as its current incarnation as The Milk Bar cafe and restaurant. Owned and run by Chloe Innes-Irons and supported ably by her always energetic father Mat, the place is lively, bustling, and welcoming. If you recognise Mat Innes-Irons, it might be from his time owning the Australia Hotel, or Friar’s Cafe. The experience shows at The Milk Bar.
Chef Bronson is genuinely passionate about his food, and his love for south-east Asian flavours really makes some of his dishes sing. The hot tip is to keep an eye on the specials, because Bronson always has something on the go!
The Milk Bar opened post-lockdown and became an almost instant community favourite. No doubt the quality of the food made from as much local produce as possible and locally sourced drinks list has a large part to do with that, but as Dennis Denuto says, “It’s the vibe” too. There’s no one thing that makes a great venue great. The Milk Bar has the enthusiastic owners and staff, the passionate chef, the attention to detail in a local cafe/restaurant that makes the experience complete.
Not the kind of family to sit still, the Innes-Irons have always got events planned for The Milk Bar; specials, new ideas, music. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for all of those opportunities to be part of a fun and interesting experience – there’s bound to be something on when you’re visiting over a weekend. Look out for things like musicians in the back yard, Vietnamese themed dinners, Mother’s Day stalls, and Friday Tapas Knock-offs.
When you picture your idyllic tree-change, off-grid, post-corporate life, it pretty much looks like this place, just outside of Seymour. It’s perched on a hilltop, it is totally off-grid, and has a freakin’ cantina. Loaded with all the words you wrote down in your tree-change wishlist, Blue Tongue Berries boasts a straw-bale boutique accommodation, ridiculous rural views, a seasonal cafe, and 20 acres of farm. You’ll be forgiven for feeling like Nick and Cynthia are living the stylish off-grid life you had always planned.
The cantina is a seasonal thing, when the blueberries are ready to be picked there’s an abundance of them, so they make tarts, cook dumplings, and put on the tastiest lunch. It’s only during the season, though, so check their socials (links above) to make sure they’re open.
The cantina and hacienda are also available as an event space, and here is where your imagination can run wild. Book the accommodation, have friends over for a celebration, and when they’ve all gone, wake up in the serene surrounds of a hilltop haven.
If live music is your thing, Nick and Cynthia run events with local talent too. Again, staying appraised of the socials is the key.
By the way, when it comes to fulfilling the off-grid tree-change dream, Nick and Cynthia will be the first to ask, “What are you waiting for? Get out and do it!”
For the coffee snob, passing through country centres suffering lack of caffeination used to be the subject of dread and the topic of longing conversations. OHO has seen those days pass by, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of good coffee houses all through regional Victoria like the one we’ve found in Seymour, The Brewers Table.
There are signs, both literal and figurative, that the coffee will be good here. For the former, the chalk lists your coffee options, blends or single origins, made to your liking. To the latter, the presence of Mansfield Coffee Merchants coffee packaging attests to the excellence of the product. The names of locals and travelling regulars adorn the back wall as testament to loyalty from both sides.
Like most businesses who survived the lockdowns, and given the opportunity to reevaluate priorities, The Brewers Table have returned to their core strengths: Breakfast, Brunch, Coffee, local produce; Support the locals who supported them; Cook great food from local ingredients; Be excellent to everyone.
The crowd is diverse – some travellers in the window, excited by recognising Mansfield Coffee Merchant on the pour, a crew of workers meeting over a table laid out with big breakfasts, two local wine makers discussing the upcoming vintage over espresso. Eggs bene’s are flying out to the late breakfast crowd, and beef salads to the early lunch crowd. The staff know people, calling out names, asking after family.
“Hi Stuart, hi Judy. How’s your mum Tiffany? Thanks Chelsea!”
It’s all personal, local – even if you’re passing through. Oh, and if it’s a nice day, do sit out back in the garden. It’s a slice of heaven.
The team behind Kensington’s Rumble Coffee Roasters is bringing its brews to Ballarat in the brand new venture that is Cobb’s Coffee.
Located on an historic corner of town, the cafe will serve up a smooth brew along with a selection of sandwiches and Noisette pastries.
The coffee house is located on Cobb’s Corner – given its name due to the fleet of Cobb and Co Coaches that would pull up in front of the building in the mid 19th century.
Owner Brendan Wrigley, who owns the cafe along with the Rumble crew, says the coach company was renowned for speed, quality and efficiency – qualities he thought were synonymous with great coffee shops.
“It seemed an obvious name to revive for our humble enterprise,” Brendan says.
The building which currently stands on the corner was designed by John James Clark, the architect behind some of Victoria’s most prominent buildings like the Melbourne Baths and the Old Treasury Building. It’s a beautiful old thing and we’re stoked to get to add our touch to it.
As well as serving up a quality cup of joe, Cobb’s will provide customers with complete transparency in its coffee sourcing – publishing the price paid to farmers for every coffee purchased.
“We think that’s really important if the term speciality coffee is to mean anything,” Brendan says.
“We believe in doing the basics right. Serving an excellent product, in a beautiful, welcoming space, with genuine hospitality.
“It’s not about overwhelming folks with complex jargon about the coffee, it’s about using the coffee as a vehicle for a great experience.”
WHAT: Cobb’s Coffee
WHERE: 2 Lydiard Street, Ballarat
WHEN: Opening December 21
FIND OUT MORE: cobbscoffee.com.au
With the ‘Ring of Steel’ dismantled, the 25km rule dropped, and our favourite destinations open for business we’re ready to head for the hills, beach, or valleys to celebrate our newfound freedom. There is a palpable energy in the air both in the city with people looking forward to a road trip, and in the regions, with kitchen crews preparing to welcome back long separated city guests.
We spoke to some of our top chef/owners in regions around the state about their COVID19 lockdown, what they did to survive, and what they plan to serve up to us when we arrive to dine with them.
Mornington Peninsula #onehourout
Brigitte Hafner baked us our daily tarts and made us our daily vitello tonnato when she and Jamie Broadway ran Gertrude Street Enoteca in Fitzroy. It closed forever over winter, preceded, thankfully, by the opening of the bucolic dream that is Tedesca Osteria. Perched on the spine of Main Ridge on the Mornington Peninsula, overlooking flowing creeks, stringybark forest and vineyards beyond, Tedesca Osteria is reminiscent of those classic European Michelin star restaurants with set menu dining.
When we spoke, Brigitte had just finished her second service since reopening after lockdown. “We were a bit anxious,” says Brigitte. ‘But what happened during lockdown was that we became a team. We only opened in March and did not have time, really to prepare,” she says.
With lockdown, she and her team, including Broadway, went to work preparing food boxes each week to keep Tedesca afloat. They contained comfort food, including bread and baked goods, her German mother’s strudel and Eccles cakes with cheddar cheese. “We were able to keep most of our team, including our visa holders, together except one, who got a job as a nurse,” says Brigitte cheerily. “We all worked chopping wood, gardening, preparing the food. Skills that we learned and shared. I now have a great orchard planted with amazing citrus and nut trees.” Being in a beautiful part of the world made it easier for Brigitte and her crew, with daily walks along deserted country lanes and long strolls along the beaches of Westernport. “We were also able to have a smokehouse built in which we will smoke our smallgoods when we start getting our whole pigs in from a local farmer.”
This week she has been serving dolmades made with her own preserved vine leaves, mud crab with fresh pasta, tarragon, and garden peas. There is also Great Ocean Road Duck with chickpeas, spinach, and west Indian limes and a Paris-brest to finish. “We learned so much over lockdown about being a team,” says Brigitte. “Now it’s time to put those skills to work.”
“We are here, and we are open,” says Dan Hunter of Brae at Birregurra. The internationally acclaimed chef has worked around the world and has watched as the pandemic raged through the places in Europe where he worked in his earlier years. “The international imagery of hospitals in Italy and Spain was devastating,” says Dan. “There are worse places being in lockdown than here,” he says of the masterfully converted farm cottage perched on a farmlet, surrounded by acres of orchard and kitchen garden.
“In early April, I looked around and saw a vegetable garden full of late summer produce, and it gave us a feeling of safety. We were comforted being out of the city on a rural property surrounded by produce that could feed the family,” says Dan. “We have the skills to grow the vegetables to feed us.” Dan and his team harvested fruit and vegetables from the kitchen garden and sold them to the local community. This connection with the local people continued with a series of international-themed dinners that took residents to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and beyond. “We also made picnic boxes with our bread and terrines so people could take themselves away,” says Dan. Dan and his family were able to escape to the seaside area of Skenes Creek near Apollo Bay. “Spending time with the family was so important,” says Dan.
After good spring rains, the dams are full, and the surrounding countryside is verdant with lush pasture that Dan describes as ‘money paddocks’ for the local graziers; Dan looks to his gardens for inspiration for his late spring menu: asparagus, peas, broad beans, lettuce and radicchio to cook dishes like “rainbow trout and broad beans from this season and last, anise myrtle, roe and citrus, radicchio brushed with treacle and black garlic.” With customers back, Dan and his wife Julianne wrestle customer expectations and government COVID capacity rules. “You know what gave me great joy this spring?” asks Dan rhetorically. “The black swans who came to stay on the dam and the evening chorus of frogs. Simple things.”
“From here in Beechworth, I knew just how devastating the lockdown was for the industry,” says Michael Ryan. He speaks from Provenance, based in a solid-granite, former bank in the heart of historic Beechworth, where Michael cooks his unique Japanese influenced style of cuisine.
“When it first started, it was the unknown. And that is terrifying,” he says. Michael and his team suffered the triple whammy, first the fires over summer, then lockdown one, a brief awakening, then lockdown two. “In the first lockdown I tapped the bounty of the season and made sugo, chestnut jam and lime marmalade and some amazing grenadine,” says Michael. “I pulped 60kg of pomegranates for that grenadine. Not something I need to do again in a hurry.” It was a mild winter in the North East, and Michael spent hours on his pushbike, walking the dog around Lake Samball and time with his wife and daughter. “The biggest decision I had to make every day was what to make for dinner,” he says with a laugh.
Michael also received funding to explore making sake and delved into the arcane art of making amaro, the bitter Italian style digestive. He has extracted over 90 different botanicals. He will soon get his licence so he can buy alcohol and make, he hopes, three different styles of amaro early next year. “But now it is so green, so lush,” says Michael. “The days are long and warm and the nights cool. His garden is amok with shiso, the fragrant Japanese herb almost becoming a weed. He salts it down for six months, ready for the autumn menu.” He is currently serving a set menu of a four-course meal made of 18 small dishes. He is particularly proud of his lup cheong pork sausages he made in the first lockdown and potato chips cooked in beef tallow dusted with a little seaweed salt. He also takes great pride in a dish of cauliflower slow-cooked in lots of butter served with white fish floss and coloured pink with beetroot juice and served with cherry tomatoes marinated in sweet dashi. Off the grill comes flat iron steak, served with miso butter and braised onions. “Delightful with a local Beechworth Gamay,” he adds.
Now he is looking forward to the berry and cherry season. “Cherries for the extracts for the amaro,” says Michael. “And with the raspberries, I will make some old school sable, some yuzu cream, and finish it with some fresh lychees.” He pauses. And says, “You know what, that lockdown will be the long service leave I was never going to get.”
“Mildura went quiet,” says Stefano de Pieri from Stefano’s Cantina at the Grand Hotel, Mildura. “The city went eerily quiet during lockdown. But we were ringed by a hive of activity because the farming never stopped. COVID or no COVID, Australian agriculture never stops. The trucks kept on taking food down to Melbourne,” he says with his usual energy.
Stefano spent a lot of his lockdown walking along the locks of the Murray River. “It is so beautiful, so tranquil, there are so many birds. It all helps me to contemplate where I am in my life. I realised I will be 80 in 15 years! I can not think of that many chefs still behind the stove at my age,” he says. “So I raged against the ‘dimming of the light’ by renovating the dining rooms,” says Stefano with a laugh. He also successfully campaigned to become a Mildura City councilor, hosted the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, made 22 Youtube episodes of a children’s cooking show, and shot a ten-part food television series with SBS. “So, as you can see, I have not been idle,” says Stefano.
He has also been working on his menu, freshening it up, putting on more seafood and vegetable dishes. “What I cook reflects what is grown here as much as possible. So this has been the season for asparagus and artichokes. We have been making our own ricotta, which I use with bullhorn peppers stuffed with smoked eggplant.” Stefano has also got his hands on some locally made ‘nduja, which he is serving with baby calamari. “It is 35°C outside each day,” says Stefano. “We need to serve food that reflects the climate, not just the season.”
Hidden throughout central Geelong are some truly drool-worthy restaurants and bars; we’ve spoken to some locals and compiled a list of our favourite spots to check out on your next trip to Geelong.
Mavs Greek Restaurant
73B Little Malop St
Mavs Greek restaurant is the brainchild of the Mavromoustakos’ and holds the title of Geelong’s only authentic Greek restaurant. At Mavs you’re able to sample the best Greek cuisine Geelong has to offer with a number of smaller dishes designed to share, with bigger meals if you’re not keen on sharing (the food is so good I wouldn’t blame you). The fresh and homemade Greek food goes hand in hand with the extensive wine and cocktail list at Mavs. Hidden behind the bustling Little Malop street, Mavs is well worth the find if you’re on the hunt for authentic Greek food.
Sitting above the restaurants along Little Malop sits one of Geelong’s most well-hidden gems. The small door and dim staircase almost conceal the award-winning 18th Amendment Bar. Situated upstairs, the bar offers an abundance of cocktails that are not only delicious but also incredible to look at. Think dry ice, edible flowers and beautiful glassware. The bar aims to capture the feel of a Chicago speakeasy bar, transporting you back to the prohibition era. 18th Amendment bar houses an extensive cocktail and spirit list, with expertly trained bartenders ensuring there is always something for everyone.
Sober Ramen is helping to quash central Geelong’s craving for delicious, authentic Ramen with a modern twist. Sober offers ramen, dumplings, sake and natural wines, alongside speciality cocktails. The tiny restaurant offers the creature comforts of a traditional Japanese ramen restaurant, with an extensive menu and a number of fan favourites including a spicy ramen with three different levels of heat! Open Tuesday through Sunday for eat-in or takeaway ensuring delicious, quick ramen is always on the cards for those in central Geelong.
To get your hands on some ramen head here or follow their socials.
Tomodachi Izakaya and Bar
85A Little Malop St
Tomodachi Izakaya and Bar brings casual Japanese dining to Geelong. Located on little Malop in the heart of Geelong Tomodachi has numerous Japanese dishes designed to share alongside bigger, heartier main meals. Tomodachi also hosts a number of classic cocktails with an imaginative Japanese twist. The meals are quick and delicious with beautiful presentation making it a perfect destination for a quick bite with friends. Open 7 days for lunch and dinner Tomodachi is a venue not to be missed.
Valhalla Brewing and Taproom is a go-to spot for ‘seriously drinkable’ beers. Valhalla is a taproom and microbrewery located in the centre of Geelong on Union Street. Valhalla prides itself on producing quality, handcrafted beer. The taproom has a number of taps, some featuring Valhalla’s own brews and other taps reserved to showcase other local and independent breweries. Valhalla regularly hosts live, local music, adding to its cruisy and casual vibe. Open 7 days Valhalla is available at all times to provide excellent quality craft beer and bar snacks.
For bookings or inquiries suss the Valhalla website.
King of the Castle Cafe
24 Pakington St
King of the Castle cafe offers Instagram-worthy brunch that tastes even better than it looks. The award-winning cafe is no stranger to being one of Geelong’s favourite breakfast and brunch venues. The cafe has won multiple awards with its extensive range of menu options, alongside great coffee and bakery sweets. The cafe has customers sitting in a rustic, industrial feel dining hall lined with plants making it the perfect space for a delicious brunch and a coffee surrounded by greenery.
To keep in the loop with King of the Castle head to their website or follow their socials.
Pistol Pete’s Food and Blues
93 Little Malop St
Pistol Pete’s Food and Blues aims to bring the authentic taste of America’s Southern states to central Geelong. With food inspired by places such as Memphis, Clarksdale and New Orleans the authentic taste of Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi are just a short walk away from Geelong’s CBD. Offering live Jazz and Blues performed by international, national and local artists. Along with gumbo, waffles and PoBoys, this fully licensed venue is bringing Southern American comfort food to regional Victoria.
To discover what all the fuss is about and to book a table of your own head here.
10 Union St
Lipari is a Geelong fan favourite, often fondly regarded as one of Geelong’s best Italian restaurants. The homely space offers authentic Italian food, handmade pasta, homemade sauces and fresh bread. The fully licensed restaurant also boasts a great local wine list and a number of imported beers to accompany your meal. Open six days for lunch and dinner Lipari is always available for your authentic Italian fix.
To satisfy those pasta cravings book via the website.
Courthouse Cafe and Gallery
40 Gheringhap St
Courthouse cafe and gallery offers a range of wholesome, healthy food and has become a must-stop for local business people in central Geelong. Their huge range of takeaway sandwiches, focaccias and wraps quite often sell out so be sure to get in quick for a pre picnic stop. Courthouse also offers in house dining with a range of homemade meals and sweets sure to satisfy every customer. Courthouse is the perfect place to grab a quick and healthy bite to eat in or takeaway for a picnic in the park just a minute’s walk away.
For catering inquiries or to book a table head over to the website.
Sweet Cheeks Cocktail and Dessert Lounge
Level 1/71 Yarra St
Sweet Cheeks cocktail and dessert lounge is Geelong’s newest late-night haunt for the sweet tooth. With a Palm Springs inspired aesthetic and an in-house pastry chef the brightly coloured space offers plenty of pancakes, desserts and cocktails. Sweet Cheeks is sure to have something for everyone, including cocktails inspired by everyone’s favourite childhood choccy, the curly-wurly. Situated in the heart of Geelong it’s a must-stop for anyone looking for a sweet treat. Open late Wednesday through Sunday Sweet Cheeks is sure to cure those late-night cravings.
For a full menu of sweet treats and to secure a spot suss them out here or be sure to follow their socials for live updates.
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.
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.
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. Basils 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.
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