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.

The Royal Mail Hotel

So much has been written already about the extraordinary food at The Royal Mail. We know that it’s a save-your-pennies experience at the famous Two Hat restaurant – and that it’s worth it. But less well known are the other stunning gems also part of the Royal Mail Experience. The wine cellar attached to the business is, as you’d imagine, goddamn amazing. Here’s the awesome bit though – you can get into it for a rare tasting and tour. It’s literally a warehouse full of wine racks. And you can pay $25 for the most extraordinary flight of wines. This is the way to learn about the great French wines, and our local equivalents.

Also part of the Royal Mail’s DNA is the attention to produce. Most of it is sourced from the business’s properties – the beef and lamb from the farm, the olives from the grove, the fruit from the orchards, and the veg from the garden. You can take a complimentary tour of the garden as a guest of the hotel. Well worth it. We were inspired to make things grow in our own dirt back home.

Of course, it all comes together in the dining room, with the famous degustations. But if you’re just passing through from Port Fairy or Hamilton, try the Parker St Project. This is the Mail’s laid-back experience, but none of the attention to detail is lost. As the name implies, this is a work in constant progress, where menu items are tried and tested, and we get to sample in a casual, country pub-like setting. Worth the detour.

Sandra Bardas Gallery

We could tell you the facts about the Sandra Bardas Gallery – the opening times, the address, the fact that there is the most amazing collection of indigenous Australian artwork from both well known artists and up-coming students from Worowa Aboriginal College. We could say that it’s only five minutes out of Healesville, that the view to the nearby ranges is stunning, and that the people are amazingly friendly, knowledgable, and helpful. We could say it is named for Sandra Bardas OAM, who worked with the College founder in the establishment of Victoria’s only Aboriginal school.

We could write all these things, and we’d only be touching on the full story. It’s not just the fact that we’d have failed to describe the astonishing food experience we had, nor the amazing learning experience we had courtesy of staff and students from Worowa College. We’d have failed to convey the significance of this place.

We were welcomed on to the land that was part of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve, honouring the ancestors and all who have walked the land.

We were told the story of this place. It is Coranderrk. It is home to peoples of the Kulin nation, who sought a safe place to live when European colonisation threatened to end their civilisations. It was where governments herded groups of indigenous people from all over central Victoria. It was the home of Simon Wonga, who was the ngurunggaeta of his clan, a title which passed to his cousin William Barak. That huge face rendered in wobbly stripes on the side of the building on the old CUB site in the city – that’s William Barak. You need to come here, to be part of this place, to begin to understand why he’s on that building, why he’s so important.

Come here to see part of the story of the people of this land, to immerse yourself in the experience of the land, culture, art, and food, learn from the people of this land, and begin to understand.

Book a group and make a day of it.

Trofeo Estate

The word “Amphora” conjures up images of the Romans to me. It turns out that’s exactly what Trofeo Estate have here – ancient-looking clay jars used to ferment wines without imparting flavours from wood (such as with oak barrels) whilst still letting in that crucial slow leak of oxygen which ages and softens the wine (unlike stainless steel.)

Winemaker Richard Darby says that the huge clay pots allow the truest of fruit flavours to shine. We did a head-to-head of the same Syrah as fermented in clay vs. fermented in oak. We could see his point. Beautifully focussed and delicate fruit flavours.

The estate is also a restaurant, set in a former passionfruit cannery from the 1930’s. The food is local where possible, always seasonal, and matched nicely to the wines as you’d expect.

Join the mailing list and follow this place on social media. The music nights are epic, and there are plans to host movie nights and more.

Healesville Hotel

The Healesville Hotel is placed right in the middle of the town, built in Edwardian style c1920 and refurbished in the late 1990’s, it is a real social hub for the local town folk and a popular watering hole for visitors to the Yarra Valley.

Head chef Chris Toogood grew up on a sheep farm in SA and this background shows in the way he seeks out quality local produce. Timbarra chicken, O’Connors Gippsland beef and pork are cooked over red gum with simple garnishes and light sauces that allow the natural flavours to take a front seat.

The beer garden has got to be one of the best in the state; the dining room: dark, warm and filled with nostalgia. The original front bar is perfect for sampling subregional Valley wines in front of a warming fire.

No matter where you take a table, it’s about relaxed dining, not fussy, just sharing dishes, swapping sides, stealing chips — while in the background the kitchen staff pick herbs from the garden and keep the coals burning under the wood-fire grill.

Herd Bar & Grill

The Herd space has had a few incarnations, but this one seems to hit all the spots. The basement of a main street building is the perfect place for an establishment like this. It’s reminiscent of some of Sydney’s best cocktail bars. The outdoor space is fun, and you can descend progressively into the underground as you push further into the restaurant. Owners Sean Lee and John Knoll have done wonders turning the one-time wine cellar into a funky place to hang out, drink and eat mezze style food.

Head chef Trevor (Giant Steps, Gigi Baba’s) serves up a table full of delicious things made for sharing. The winelist is dominated by local (as you’d expect), but only the good stuff. The cocktail list is dominated by awesomeness.

Definitely one for a group of friends who’ve rented an Airbnb for the weekend and want a walking-distance bar to hang out at, with great food to match. If you’re lucky enough to be in town when their regular theme nights happen, don’t miss it. They go off!

Watts River Brewing

We love a good bromance at One Hour Out, and nothing spells bromance better than two mates making beer in a shed. Aaron and Ben (ex-White Rabbit) and their families have built a brand new brewery in Healesville’s industrial estate, a literal stones-throw from Four Pillars Gin. The place has a funky industrial chic thing going on, with green velour couches, mismatched decor (in a good way) and a kind of a share-house lounge room vibe. The shiny new brewery is a dominant feature of the backdrop, and the sound system pumps out the kind of music I’d want at my parties – it’s a Beiber-free zone.

The beers by Aaron and Ben are worth travelling for. If you love Bridge Road Brewers, you’ll love these too. It’s a smaller range and a smaller scale, but we loved that about them too. My personal fave is the IPA – I’m a sucker for hoppy beers that are light on the malt. For the non-beer drinkers, theres a select range of stellar local wines by the glass. My drinking buddy had a chardonnay from Tarrawarra Estate.

Keep an eye on the social media pages for these guys – they pop up at all sorts of events, and are not averse to hosting a big southern beer and bbq event at the shed.

Barangaroo Wines

The wine industry in Horsham is small. Barangaroo is one of two wineries in the area. They grow everything they make on the property: principally cabernet, merlot, shiraz and vermentino. The rustic barn is set next to an expanse of manicured lawn, which is a comfortable space for a picnic on warmer days.

Speaking of picnics, the large platter on offer at Barangaroo is possibly the single largest collection of small goods, cheeses, relishes and preserves ever laid on a single plank. Enough for a group of peckish road-trippers until dinner at one of the excellent new places in town.

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.

Bright Chocolate

Honestly, if your best chocolate experience involved a mass-produced bar of something brown, you need to listen up.

Chocolate is like wine. Chocolate is like coffee. Chocolate is as seasonal as your tomatoes and apples. Speaking of apples, different places grow different tasting cacao. And this all adds up to single-origin chocolates which show all these variations in flavour. It’s exciting the first time you see it and taste it for yourself. There’s no better place than Bright Chocolate to have this experience. Here, the chocolate is made in front of you – from the cacao beans through to the packaged product. One of the few makers in Australia to commit to the whole process from bean to bar, Bright Chocolate gives you an experience every chocolate lover needs.