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.

Wine by Sam

Visiting Seymour in years gone by honestly didn’t hold much promise for those on the food hunt. It was, to be frank, a bit of a foodies’ black hole. Wine by Sam is part of a small, savvy group of operators representing a changing of the guard. They’ve just taken up residence in the old Seymour dye works building, which they’ve expertly fitted out.

Sam Plunkett is passionate about the potential for stellar wines in the Strathbogie Ranges. It gets cold up there, so you can expect quite different flavours from the nearby Heathcote vignerons. There’s a beguiling fine quality about cold climate shiraz, and Sam plays with it masterfully.

The kitchen is serving simple charcuterie, cheese and locally made goodness. The coffee is excellent too.

Taltarni Vineyards

Here at OHO, we do love an impromptu celebration. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to break out the sparkling wine and maybe a few good oysters. Taltarni Vineyards can certainly supply the former. It’s a fine drop, in case you’re wondering. You should really try it for yourself, though.

The cellar door is a fresh renovation, with loads of room for groups to spread out for a long lunch, and some quiet spots for couples to hang out with a platter and a couple of glasses from the extensive list of wines made on site.

For people wanting something completely different, get a group together and organise a unique function in the T-Bar. It’s a cellar cut into the side of the rocky hill, replete with long table, huge old doors, a picturesque dam to look over, and back-vintages of the estate’s wines.

The estate has a public lookout that’s worth driving up to. At sunset (or sunrise for the super-keen), the Pyrenees are a stunning little part of Victoria, and this is a great spot to stand with a glass of bubbles.

Mitchell Harris Wines

The Mitchell and Harris families grew up in the Ballarat region. You could argue that they were early instigators of the food revolution off the main drag (Sturt St) in town. The last few years have seen the likes of Catfish, Meigas and the Mitchell Harris cellar door/bar open up and make Ballarat a foodie destination.

The Mitchell Harris style is of relaxed industrial and historic chic, and is at once familiar and fun. It’s a place you can spend a whole Friday night getting lost in a detailed exploration of your friend’s holiday recommendations over several bottles of whatever it takes to make that sound interesting.  It’s a place for meeting up with your best friend to laugh about that time you couldn’t remember that thing you did together, and order the Sabre sparkling, complete with the actual sabring of the bottle. All the Mitchell Harris wines are of course made in the company’s own winery. They’re good. Really good. There are some fabulously sessional wines in there, perfect for the formerly referred-to Friday evening.

If you’re not content with just drinking the wine someone else made for you, you could enrol in the Curious Winemaker workshop. Over the course of several visits through the season, make your own wine: from grapevine to bottle. Don’t worry, you’re not left to your own devices. You’ll be under the expert guidance of winemaker John Harris, and with him make all the critical decisions along the way to produce a decent drop you can call your own.

Mitchell and Harris is also a place to eat. A bloody good one. The food is comfortable and brings on all the requisite ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’.

Harvest Halls Gap

You know on a road-trip, you see all these other sub-50’s non-grey road-trippers and you think “Where the hell are all these other people like me getting their coffee and decent food??”

In Halls Gap it’s at Harvest. Simple delicious food from locally sourced produce. Their little providore section is filled with local stuff too.

We had breakfast here, having stayed the night in the accommodation attached to the restaurant. Friday nights go off (best to book!), and the vibe during the annual music festival (also run by the owners) is epic.