Australian Pumpkin Seed Company

Like most amazing simple things, once you’ve tried the real thing, you’ll never look at another imported pumpkin seed again. “Pepitas” as they’re sold in health-food shops, are mostly a cheap imported product, often made from the wrong pumpkin. Owners of the Australian Pumpkin Seed Company, Jay and Sharan, have set themselves a huge task of educating an oblivious market. We were fortunate to step on to their property with them, and see first hand what it takes to grow a simple product to a level of excellence like this.

For starters, this is not an eating pumpkin. It’s awful. It really is grown for its seeds. And there are thousands of them in perfect rows in front of us at harvest time! Then there’s the processing. Obviously, most of the pumpkin is not the seed! And without the help of an established industry, these guys have had to build or import (but mostly the former) the gear required.

The result is worth it. Honestly, the crunch and flavour of such a simple little thing is one of life’s joys – like the perfect apple or the best peach.

You can visit the farmgate store and sample their various seeds, from plain to flavours of all kinds, as well as other products like the oils. There are health benefits which are best explained by the proprietors, but the flavour is king. Jay is an ex-chef who knows a thing or two about flavour, and it shows.

Your breakfast cereal toppings will never be the same again.

Round Bird Can’t Fly

Holy mother of baby Jesus, I think I found the Holy Grail. High-end food that’s accessible and casual enough to be a daily, local proposition.

Laura Webb-James’s approach to food at Round Bird Can’t Fly is as uncompromising as ever since leaving Yering Station. She and her partner Evan James have literally hand-crafted a comfortable, casual every-day diner with dishes that would look (and taste) at home in any of the high-end places the pair have worked in previously.

Sourcing ingredients, meeting producers and stepping on to farms is all just the start for Laura. Her recipes are developed and honed, sometimes for months, before they make it to the menu. Don’t be shy about your veganism either – Laura has a menu for you too. Keep an eye on their social media pages; the menu changes regularly with seasonal produce.

It’s this commitment and attention to detail that sets Round Bird Can’t Fly apart, and delivers the Holy Grail to diners.  High-end food within your reach, in a comfortable local venue. As a bonus, a take-home deli for all your faves occupies a good portion of the shop front.

Mansfield Coffee Merchant

Something that our research for One Hour Out has taught us is that it’s wrong to stereotype passion for quality food (coffee, in particular) as a ‘city thing’. Mansfield Coffee Merchant, 180kms from Melbourne, does great coffee. You get that impression from the moment you walk in and see the Roastmax roaster right up the front of the store. While it’s still operational, we are told this one is now mostly decorative. Indeed, off the strength of wholesale orders all over the northeast of Victoria (and some into Melbourne), they have largely moved the roasting operation to another facility.

Another of our benchmarks is chai. We are as fussy about it as we are about coffee. No powders, no syrups. And that’s what made us fall for the Mansfield Chai (we had almond milk). It was a wet spice mix, made properly. The chai tea was pretty mean too – just one of a good range of teas on offer.

Though we were somewhat preoccupied with the coffee and tea, the food here is good too. Simple menu, well executed.

The Last Straw

In the city we’re used to post-industrial spaces popping up in what was once a drab jungle of production and necessary services. We are used to passionate people filling these spaces with their own blend of ideas, not driven by high-street expectations. We are used to these spaces being goddamn awesome. So the Last Straw is one of those goddamn awesome little post-industrial businesses, cutting their own path with fresh, real Thai flavours from a small daily menu. Think ‘street food goes bricks and mortar’.  Or in this case straw. Fresh food. Tick. Flavour. Tick.

Coffee? The Has-Garanti roaster in the corner should set your fears aside. They roast their own, and pull shots on a Faema E61, complete with naked portafilter. It’s bloody good.

Merricks General Wine Store

It’s been a while since the last visit to Merricks General Wine Store. I had fond memories of a great long lunches with a bunch of day-tripping friends. We’d seen a few wineries, walked on a wintery beach at Shoreham, and sat around a long table swapping dishes, tasting everything and sharing some great wines. The ownership has changed since then, but my memories are accurate. This place is just a perfect pause in the middle of a long weekend or just a long day out.

French chef Patrice Repellin’s food is seasonal, from local produce. We’d been to a farm-gate store where they were growing mushrooms earlier in our day out, and it was fantastic to then eat the king brown mushrooms in a dish a few hours later.

Wines are mostly local, showcasing in particular the wines of the Baillieu vineyards and other “friends of the wine store.”

Don’t miss the art gallery next door. It has a regularly changing exhibition. Also, if you’re on an early run and just want a coffee, they have a hole-in-the-wall style cafe too.

Bendigo Wholefoods and Kitchen

Sometimes the quest for awesome simple food leads you to an unexpected destination. A combination of plant nursery, wholefoods store and a cafe actually makes sense, if you think about it in an eclectic ‘why not?’ kind of way. Bendigo Wholefoods and Kitchen does nothing the expected way, but it all makes sense. Of course you’re going to open a kitchen if you’ve got amazing produce available from your store. Of course you’re going to open a nursery if people start asking, ‘How can I grow this at home?’

So, from right to left as you approach the sprawling store from the street, let’s take a look at what Bendigo Wholefoods and Kitchen is doing to spread the love of awesomeness.

The nursery is a love affair with all things growable and edible. It’s literally a plant nursery dedicated to things you can grow to eat. Amazing!

The wholefoods store is a really good organic and ethical food supermarket. It has its own lines of sauces and preserves, and local seasonal produce is plentiful. The honesty of labelling is laudable – if it’s not organic, but produced ethically by a small local producer, the ticket says so.

The cafe is a gem in Bendigo. You can get a quick healthy lunch from produce available in the store, prepared fresh, with a menu that changes as the produce comes in season. The servings are generous, the dishes simple and delicious. Look out soon for the ‘good to go’ take-home meals, and the pre-order lunch and picnic boxes.

The Woodhouse

If you can’t recall the last time you were in Bendigo, perhaps it’s because there was nothing memorable on the food scene until a few years ago. Well, let OHO be your guide here, because something happened and Bendigo woke up one day to a host of stunning food options. Like The Woodhouse, where they’re not trying to transplant a city-side idea. Instead, somehow the Bendigo food scene has defined itself,  successfully making a unique regional food experience from local produce and local talent.

Owner/chef Paul Pitcher is proud of the fact that everything is cooked over wood at his restaurant. There’s a wood-fired grill, oven, and pizza oven, each using woods suitable for their tasks. Only pan-work is done on the gas top. Everything else carries the heady aromas of the woods that were used in their cooking.

Woodhouse is famous for its steak. The finest Wagyu is aged on site (hanging cuts of meat are there in dry-ageing cabinets as you walk in). The cooking of the steak is to absolute perfection. Google the Maillard Reaction if you want a studious read, or just eat Woodhouse Wagyu steak, with its perfect crust and gloriously pink and juicy interior.

Paul’s chimmi-churri is the perfect friend to the steak. The OHO chorus might just have sung like angels for that green sauce. The heirloom cauliflower dish is cooked in the wood oven, and takes on all that smoky red gum flavour. Take a close look at the sides menu –it’s all carefully considered, and each a worthy dish in its own right.

Desserts are also prepared in the wood oven, but are by no means rustic. The pastry chef knows her stuff, and the ever-popular dessert sampler comprises a large plate of several dessert menu items for a mini degustation.

Stay tuned to The Woodhouse’s social media pages for their small events, like the Wagyu dinners, where produce from different cattle growers highlights the difference in various cross-breeds and approaches to farming.

Balgownie Estate Bendigo

If you’re familiar with Balgownie Estate Yarra Valley, going to the Bendigo side of the family is like visiting that cousin in the country who has the lifestyle you’ve always dreamt of. Laid-back, casual, super-relaxed about being incredibly lucky to live in a beautiful place. This cousin is the envy of its slick sister.

The Bendigo property was the first to bear the name ‘Balgownie’, planted in 1969 by Stuart Anderson. It’s 33 hectares of mostly red grape varieties, producing powerful and intense wines, but which still show restraint in alcohol.

Food by chef Travis is French inspired, and makes the most of the region’s stunning produce. Particularly noteworthy is the Wagyu beef, grown by an old school mate of Travis’s. Fresh boxes of local food come in from producers, inspiring the classically trained chef to create new dishes. There’s beauty and finesse in the food, but the atmosphere is relaxed and very ‘country’.

The property also has accommodation. There’s a newly renovated set of suites, joined in the middle by a large common area with kitchen, perfect for a big group weekend away. The popular ‘glamping’ tents are a must-do experience, set in the bushland adjacent to the restaurant and winery, overlooking the spectacular vineyard. Each is equipped with air-conditioning and a fridge, and the deluxe tents even have bathrooms. It’s still camping, but definitely on the glamorous side!

Nicol’s Paddock

Owners  Katherine and Jake are inspiring. At a ridiculously young age, they have set up Nicol’s Paddock (formerly Saint Regis Winery) as a sophisticated but laid-back little venue, turning out some of the best produce-driven food we’ve had down this way. Take in the whole deal, spend a lazy afternoon chatting with these guys and eating chef other-Kate’s awesome food from her simple but focussed menu, paired with smart estate-grown and -made wines. It’s just good, and it’s fun.

Swell

Jan Juc is off the highway, just a stones throw from Torquay. It’s a tiny hamlet, a reprieve from the summer madness that Torquay generates. Swell is in its second incarnation now, and after 12 years it’s almost fair to call it an institution.

The front of the cafe has local makers and producers on display and for sale, and there’s summer seating down the side on a neat little deck. The stool-high communal table is perfect for the one-person escapees who’ve just ducked out for some sanity on a busy day.

Dave the chef showed us the generosity of the dishes here – large servings of quality produce turned into simple and delicious dishes. He turns a few cheffy tricks with some of his presentation, but it’s really all about those simple flavours.

Oh – best juices and smoothies on the Great Ocean Road, for sure. Not just milk and fruit, these are the real deal.