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’.

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.

Mitchelton Wines

When you make your way up the long driveway into Mitchelton Wines, it only takes moments to be struck by the large tower that looks out across the vineyards. The driveway cuts through the coincidentally named vineyard, Airstrip, which echoes the airport control-tower aesthetic of the property’s iconic building. It’s a coincidence that makes you smile.

Students of architecture will spend the whole day smiling out here, not just because of the wines and the stunning food, but because of the great Robin Boyd’s recognisable building design. Sadly, Boyd passed away before the completion of the project, but Ted Ashton finished the build and the tower to complete Boyd’s vision.

Wines from this region of Central Victoria are typically powerful and full bodied. Expect lush fruit flavour for days, to go with your architectural smiles and your lunch of seasonal Goulburn River Valley produce from Muse Restaurant.

If a lighter option or cheeky breakfast is your preference, the Ministry of Chocolate Cafe is worth a visit in its own right. Speaking of chocolate, where’s the emoji for drooling? Some of the finest Belgian couverture chocolate is crafted into all kinds of things you’ll want to take home, but will probably just eat on the way.

The Criterion Hotel

It takes fortitude of a wardrobe-changing kind to take on a crumbling old building destined for demolition, and turn it into a hub for the community. That’s exactly what Ferg and Andrew have given the people of Sale in Central Gippsland – a pub to be proud of. It came as the result of a passion for heritage; ably guided by Heritage Victoria, they have turned a wreck that had barely survived since it was built in 1865 into the kind of local establishment where you’ll want to spend hours with your mates.

The hospitality side of things is looked after by Ferg Horan, a former chef at places like the Tinamba Hotel, amongst others. His team is turning Gippsland produce info the kind of pub food that brings a smile to your face. Nothing too wanky, just beautiful flavourful dishes that actually make you smile when they arrive. Yes, there’s a parma for those who are on that quest for the perfect one, but the steak is amazing too. It should be – Gippsland is beef country.

The hotel has some stunning accommodation as well, for those on the way somewhere.

All pubs should be a collection point, a place for people to meet, unwind, and put aside the cares of the day over a pint of the finest. The fact that the kitchen turns out some damn fine food is the best of bonuses.

Payten and Jones

The Yarra Valley’s rock and roll bad boys have gone and opened up a cellar door. Best mates Behn Payten and and Troy Jones have never done things the conventional way. The cellar door is just as likely to have a food truck parked out front as it is to be sporting some new graffiti artwork on the side walls. Don’t be fooled by the deliberately urban vibe, though. These wines are sophisticated. Behn is happy to have a play with skin contact, whole-bunch, and SO2-free, but the range cleverly spans the gamut from fine elegant chardonnays to beautifully weighted savoury pinot noir, to outright ball-tearing funky shiraz. Look for the gorilla if you’re into the latter.

This is no picturesque vineyard-side cellar door. You’re in the heart of Healesville, across the road from the Four Pillars gin distillery, in a sharp fit-out with picnic tables out back for sitting and drinking a glass or three of the good stuff with whatever offerings the food trucks have on the weekends. The OHO trip coincided with a damn tasty BBQ from The Cypriot Grill – a caravan resplendent in yellow livery turning out awesome accompaniments to Behn and Troy’s booze. So far three significant pieces of graffiti art adorn the walls, and are in themselves worthy of a drop-by.

Giant Steps

Giant Steps quickly became the stalwart of the Yarra Valley winery and restaurant scene when Phil Sexton first opened it over a decade ago. The structure has become a reassuring symbol of always-available quality wines and food situated in Healesville’s east end.

Winemaker Steve Flamsteed has an unwavering commitment to making quality wines that express the place they’re from, whether it’s one of the single-vineyard series wines or a regional blend. His commitment to excellence is exemplified in his path to winemaking. First he was a chef, then a cheesemaker, but it was wine that caught his attention. While studying oenology, he paid his way as a chef with Maggie Beer. It’s unsurprising that he emerged with a passion for local expressions of produce.

Steve’s uncompromising attention to detail yields results, from the vineyard to the wine glass, and the experience at the Healesville cellar-door restaurant is a reflection of this same approach. Staff are knowledgeable and genuinely love talking about the wines they’re selling. It helps that the tasting room is behind the glass wall, right in the barrel hall where you’re immersed in the workings and glorious smells of a winery.

After a recent refurbishment, the place is looking as fresh and contemporary as ever. It’s a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the food, and definitely to appreciate the good work of Steve and the team in the winery.

Boat O’Craigo

With a name that harks back to the Scottish ancestral roots of owners the Graham family, Boat O’Craigo punches way above its weight for quality wines. Indeed, Halliday named it as ‘Dark Horse Winery of the Year’ in 2018. The cellar door on the high side of Healesville heading out of town is a perfect place to sit and lose a couple of hours trying wines and eating platters of local produce, or the simple traditional pizzas expertly turned out of the tiny kitchen.

Wines are made by the legendary Rob Dolan at his Warranwood facility, from fruit grown on the two estate sites at Kangaroo Ground and Healesville. Quality is high, with an emphasis on wines made for drinking and enjoying. Rob is known for his generous winemaking style, and Boat O’Craigo wines definitely fit that bill.

The deck outside shares the close panorama of Mt Riddell with the dining area inside the building. For people who might be heading up to Marysville or just on a drive up the Black Spur, stepping out of the car and encountering the stunning view across the lush vineyard to the foot of the mountain comes as something of a surprise. It’s easily overlooked as you head up the highway, but with the triple threat of great wine, food and a surprise view, it’s a must-stop venue.

Six Acres

The name could not be any more literal. Six Acres is truly six acres of vineyard producing estate-grown (vegan-friendly) wines in small batches on site. The Zuccaro family has tended this plot lovingly, subscribing to the adage that all good winemakers say: ‘Good wine is grown in the vineyard.’ It’s a prime little patch of Yarra Ranges dirt near Silvan in the Upper Yarra region of the Valley. Here the soils are deep and volcanic, and the fruit yields wines of density and structure. Some of the greatest wines of the Yarra Valley come from up this way; we’re not far from Seville Estate, Hoddles Creek, Thousand Candles, and vineyards growing fruit for Giant Steps, De Bortoli and Oakridge. So the area has some kudos.

Six Acres is a smaller affair, located in a modest (cute) shed with a great view. However, don’t let size fool you. The Zuccaros are focused on quality in their pinot noir, merlot and cabernet. They pride themselves on minimal intervention wines, using none of the usual animal products (like eggs, which are traditionally used for fining). The cellar door is a fun and super-personal experience with a passionate family sharing some stonking wines. You’ll need to allow a budget for take-home wines, but nothing is super-expensive, so don’t be shy!

The Duck Inn

Marysville hadn’t had a pub for a while when Ashraf and Christine decided that they would answer the call of the community and build one. It has been a ground-up build of a brand new business from the former owners of the famous Marysville Patisserie.

The heart of any good local pub are the locals who frequent it. Head here to have a fun dinner out with the folks of Marysville. Stand around the fire or at the bar and share a drink or two –  there are regional beers on tap and wines from nearby on the list. The menu is classic pub, handled with precision by the international chef. With her passion for pastry, desserts made by Christine are worth travelling for. Be warned though, it’s worth booking your table ahead if you’re coming up on a weekend.

Ashraf and Christine describe The Duck Inn as their gift to the community that stood behind them and supported their business for so long. It’s certainly a well-appreciated one among tourists and locals alike. Music nights are a hoot, with some great bands on the bill. Stay tuned to the Facebook page for information about these.