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.

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!

Saint Regis

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.

Wines Geelong

Words by Mike Emmett
Photography by Mike Emmett and Bec Smith

Here’s what I knew about the area around Geelong: it’s the home of the Cats, Ford used to build cars there, and up the road is the Bells Beach Surfing Classic. I have travelled there a bit more recently, specifically to the Surf Coast, because I love Jan Juc and Torquay. But I honestly had not much knowledge of the region as far as wines go. A day making short hops across the three areas (yes, there are three sub-regions) was an eye-opener.

We started our day at Basil’s Farm in Portarlington, in the Bellarine region. There’s a view here across to Queenscliff that I’d always imagined might exist, but never really sought out. From our table looking across the potager kitchen garden to the water, we enjoyed a late breakfast from the seasonal menu. Most of the produce here comes from the farm’s own gardens or nearby. The wines are typically maritime, which seems obvious from the proximity of the vines to the sea, but it’s a difference in flavour which is particularly noticeable in delicate varieties like pinot noir. The estate is a stunning property – animals, the garden and the cafe restaurant all make your time sitting and wandering a truly delicious one.

It’s only a skip from Basil’s Farm to the wonders of cidery goodness at Flying Brick Cider Co. I had no prior knowledge of this place and, hence, no idea what to expect. I think I was waiting to pull up a narrow driveway to a dinky shed where a couple of mates squished apples. Ah, no. This place is proper. If you’re a fan of Innocent Bystander or Little Creatures, you will love Flying Brick. It’s got a similar, large semi-industrial aesthetic, with loads of bustling staff. The cranking kitchen turns out what I think is fair to call ‘big friendly lunch’ food. Pork belly and its perfect cider match – that kind of thing. If you come for a weekend, pop out here for a night with some mates. The ciders are great, the food is great, and it’s just great fun.

We were lucky enough on our one-day adventure to coincide with an opening of the cellar door at Austins & Co. It’s a large winery producing excellent wines from its Moorabool Valley home. We have discovered other gems out here, like Clyde Park and Wines by Farr, certainly waving the banner for quality. Austins & Co. are no different in that respect. What they do do differently is hospitality. If you have an event to host and want something different, this place is amazing. If you want a one-off, dare I say ‘quirky’, food and wine experience, then get on the mailing list and come to one of their special days.

The folks at Austins & Co. put us on to our lunch spot. They suggested we try one of the new wunderkinds, St Regis at Waurn Ponds. I’d only known of Waurn Ponds because it’s where I turn off to go to the Surf Coast. These guys are the kind of talented people who made me wonder what the hell I did with my twenties. Owning a winery and running a restaurant certainly weren’t amongst my pastimes. Oh well, it’s to our benefit that it’s the passion of Katherine and Jake and their chef Kate. The kitchen is turning out some stunning produce-driven food from a simple menu. Please, set this spot as a must-do for a weekend lunch.

Our day ended up on the Surf Coast, with a lazy afternoon at Bellbrae Estate. On weekends this place pumps with live music, lawn picnics and wine tasting. Throw the blanket on the lawn, take a bottle of their Longboard Pinot Noir and a platter of cheeses, and kick back. It’s the perfect sunny afternoon thing to do. November to February there are live bands most weekends. James took us through a complete and knowledgeable tasting, and we learnt a lot about what makes the Geelong wine region so special. Tastes good too: we’ll be back to continue our education in this region out west.

Bank Street Wood Fired Pizza & Garden

Sometimes a room just feels right. The worn timbers hugging your group at Bank Street Pizza are the remnants of the 19th century Avenel bank before it was converted in 2011 by hospitality old hands Callum and Janelle.

It seems every ingredient has a story here. The ‘Jill’ in ‘Jill’s pork and veal terrine’ was a work colleague from Callum’s Melbourne days. The rocket underneath is sourced from Yellow Box Growers in nearby Seymour. And Michelle Wilkinson drops off boxes of farm-grown mushrooms for the eponymous Michelle’s Magic Mushrooms pizza, laced with truffle oil.

‘The Faz’ pizza (tomato, fetta, charred peppers and pancetta, topped with pesto and mozzarella) is named in honour of wood fire oven expert Tony Fazio, who helped Callum get the oven up and running in the early days.

Being roughly halfway between Melbourne and Wodonga, it’s the perfect place to pull off the Hume for a quick, casual lunch. The extensive back garden is verging on magical and a great spot to stretch little legs.

Innocent Bystander

Innocent Bystander is back, right across the car park from Giant Steps (where they were once housed under the same roof). It’s a familiar vibe, but like a great second marriage, it’s a bit more sophisticated. The wood-fired pizzas are there, the tapas are there, and the great wines are there. Only now the wines are on tap. Yes. Tap. It’s a revolutionary system developed to pour everything from chilled Prosecco or everyone’s favourite Moscato through to the Shiraz, which by the glass is a perfect foil for those wood-fired pizzas. By the flask, it’s fun to share.

There are loads of details to take in here while you’re spending a long lazy lunch with friends or a cheeky midweek dinner excursion. Take home your bread or pick up your coffee early.

Austin’s & Co.

This is one of those ‘you’d better sign up to the mailing list’ moments, because you’ll want to book early. The monthly lunches are a long-table affair, showcasing the local produce and, of course, Scott’s wine. We had the mainstay Chardonnay and Pinot. It’s an education in the influence of maritime conditions on the growing of grapes. These wines have a delicious complexity afforded them by the climate.