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.
So, you left the city early, nothing was open when you left, and the first stop has to be a great coffee. Found it. The coffee here is from Toby’s Estate, and expertly made. Let’s face it, that’s what matters at your first stop on any road trip.
‘Bom Gosto’. It sounds awesome, and it means ‘Good Taste’. After nine years running Smith St mainstay Deelish (now Rockwell and Sons), the location has shifted to Lilydale, gateway of the Yarra Valley. Dee runs the restaurant, and her partner Geoff runs the 16-acre farm where they grow much of the produce on the menu.
We had the smashed pumpkin with feta, dukkah, greens from the farm, poached eggs and earthy spices, and also the mushrooms with kale, seeds, feta and poached egg. The accompanying breads were multigrain and sourdough respectively. The french toast is a rich, eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup. The bacon is to die for, with additional smokiness from the wood-fired oven, which the chefs tend as if it were a needy child. This is balanced with freshness from local strawberry slices, raspberries, dusky blueberries, and tart apple. There was also a fresh minty taste with a lingering depth that we couldn’t identify. “It’s chocolate mint – we have a plant out the back”, Paul, the barista, tells us.
One thing is for sure, you will not leave hungry.
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.
Clyde Park is one of those jaw-dropping moments in wine touring. You step out of the car behind the winery, walk around to the restaurant and cellar door, and find yourself looking over a balcony across the valley. It’s a stunning view across the vines. Pinot lovers will have a field day here. It’s a study in terroir – the impact of local conditions, soils, etc on specific sites. Here they craft single-block wines of such different refined character that it’s hard to believe they come from the same property.
The real bonus here is that the food is amazing. Great wood-fired pizzas cooked in front of you (weekends), and a seasonal al la carté menu with what owner Sue humbly calls “home-style” food. It’s the kind of home I’d like to live in, if this is what’s cooked there. It’s so easy to spend half a day here, tasting extraordinary wine, eating Sue’s food and staring out at that view. Wow, that view.
Oh, if you’re planning a special event, while you’re standing at the tasting bar, turn 180 degrees and stare at the awesomeness that is the barrel-hall event space. Long table dinner or lunch in a working winery. Perfect.
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.
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.
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.
Owners Katherine and Jake are inspiring. At a ridiculously young age, they have set up St Regis Vineyard and 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.