We’d heard whisperings about The Independent since it opened. Carnivore friends had raved about the meat offerings. They were right, as it turned out, but what they failed to mention was the extraordinary vegan menu. We found this completely by accident after a particularly meat-heavy week. We were treated to one of the most extraordinary slow-cooked corn dishes we’ve ever tasted. It was slow cooked, but still had crunch. Chef Mauro Callegari is Argentinian, and proudly brings those flavours to his menu. The corn dish was a revelation in spices and flavours. Now, you’d never accuse us of being vegan, but that’s a menu I’d happily order from again.
Until the meat came out.
The lamb shoulder was generous to say the least. It was most of a lamb from the shoulder back, and came with some amazing carrots that had Mauro’s Argentinian flare for spice. Broccoli, chilli, walnuts, and tahini dressing made for a stunning salad. Desserts were the kind you’d travel across the state for. It’s only an hour away though, so there’s no excuse not to get a little Independent love.
Next door to the Food Store (held by the same owners) is the more formal dining experience of the Teller Collective. It lives in a slick fit-out of polished timber and polished concrete. It’s still laid-back and comfortable, but the menu is refined and the food style carefully considered. Pretty dishes like the house-cured salmon with horseradish and Ras el hanout are delicate and stunning. Gin-cured snapper with blood plums melts in the mouth and shows off local stone fruit.
Speaking of local, “These figs came off my tree at home” – it doesn’t get much more local than that; the figs and whitlof are the heroes of a delicate salad also featuring Jamon.
The smashed pavlova and the rice pudding look spectacular: such that they surprise and delight, belying their simple names. The wine list is short but really well curated – a mix of very local and imported gems.
Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth is one of those classic ‘Back Shed to Big-ish Business’ stories. Ben started brewing in his dad’s shed over a decade ago. Actually, there’s a lot of shed about the vibe at this Beechworth venue, and we love it. All of this is by-the-by, really, because the beer is awesome, and the food is casual and fun. It’s a great place to hang with a few friends making short work of a range of beers and pizzas. Tomato, taleggio, thyme, mushrooms and capers. These had a happy home on my pizza, washed down with a Bling India Pale. Delicious.
Tasting boards are a great way to try a few beers before committing to a whole pint or, if you’re like us, choosing which six-packs to take home. And if you like to get your beer-geek on, then every Saturday at 11am there’s a chance to tour the inner sanctum of the brewery with a tasting.
The Bellarine Peninsula is home to some amazing little finds, most of them set away from the main roads and found by local knowledge or that article you read once somewhere. Basil’s Farm is a vineyard and restaurant at the end of a spectacular driveway, through the vines, and almost on the beach overlooking the water to Queenscliff. Getting out of the car and discovering where you are is just the start of a beautifully surprising adventure.
With an almost Royal Mail–like attention to the provenance of their produce, they are crafting tasty dishes with veg from their extensive garden (a small section of which you are free to roam). The wines made on the estate are equally as fine and detailed. Two styles of chardonnay are particularly interesting, as is the maritime influence seen in the pinot noir.
Walking into Little Prince in Traralgon was, to put it mildly, a surprise. You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon Chin Chin’s little brother. It has that busy, diner-esque vibe with bustling staff, tiles on the walls, and a bit of quirkiness. The quirk carries to the menu, with a solid hint of dude-food. Pinch yourself for the reminder that this is Traralgon, on the way to Lakes Entrance, not Melbourne or Sydney. Dishes like the crab sliders – with legs out the sides, about to walk off – bring a sense of humour to the place, as well as deliciousness. The salmon sashimi was fresh and clean, like it should be. Salted caramel and popcorn ice-cream was designed to kill, as it should.
The cocktail list includes proper alcohol-free alternatives, a welcome sight for some. The cocktail and wine list is extensive and well sourced.
Shepparton is not blessed with street after street of stunning gold-rush architecture like, say, Ballarat. So the enterprising and stylish types here have to take a different approach. At Noble Monks it’s the semi-industrial bare brick and steel vibe. It works. You’re instantly reminded of your regular Yarraville haunts. The coffee here is from Bean Around – roasted locally by John at the Last Straw. The menu is driven by fresh local fruit and veg.
We had corn fritters made fresh – this is generous country hospitality. Big fritters with a soft poached egg.
Local seasonal fruit is the kind of fresh and easy breakfast you want in the country. When you go to the ocean you want fresh fish. When you go inland to the state’s food-bowl you want fresh grown produce.
A selection of humorously named, deliciously fresh juices keeps the morning healthy and clean. There are good beers on tap and a respectable wine list if you have other ideas.
The King Valley is home to some of Victoria’s oldest vineyards. Settled by Italian migrants, it’s probably fair to call it ‘The Home of Italian Wine Styles’ – if you don’t count Italy. Chrismont wines boasts a stunning new cellar door and restaurant, with a menu designed for sharing. It’s inspired by Italian flavours, and goes well with the classic Italian varietal wines on offer. The Sangiovese is particularly gorgeous. For those who enjoy the stunning views and long lunches more than most, the option to rent the guest house is an attractive one.
If you’re new to wine, this is a must-visit for a lesson in the history of wine in Australia. If you’re a seasoned wine-lover, then this is a pilgrimage.
Best’s is like walking into a piece of Australia’s post-goldrush past – a time when wine growers had little idea what would grow well or what would make a good wine in a country so far from the indigenous soils of grapevines, so they planted one of everything.
Now Best’s is a modern wine-making facility owned and operated for four generations by the Thomson family after a series of Best family splits, deaths and sales. It is a complex history which Viv will gladly regale you with. The property is set on the flat land of Great Western, at the foot of the Grampians. Beneath the rustic log-cabin cellar door there are the original dug-in storage vats, lined with years and years of paraffin wax. You are free to walk down to explore among the museum stock, the old barrels and vats, and the ancient wine-making machinery.
The wine here is a happy place for this author. Old cabernets so fragrant they could be worn as cologne, and intriguing white blends worthy of the high scores given by revered wine writers like James Halliday. The museum tasting experience of six old wines is a rare treat. It’s not often you’ll get to taste a 1999 cabernet at a cellar door. For beginners, it’s a treat to see how wine ages, and the virtues of cellaring.
Go for the history lesson, stay a while for the wine.
Note: Gladioli is now known as Inverleigh Cellar and Kitchen.
On a road trip, there are places you come across on your way somewhere. Indeed, that’s part of why OHO exists – so you can find good stuff on the way to where you’re going. Then there are places that you take a road trip to get to. They are the destination.
Gladioli in Inverleigh is a destination. It’s food experiences like this, in this sleepy highway town, that make you want to drive around Victoria on a quest. Awarded two Chefs Hats in the 2015/16 Age Good Food Guide, Gladioli is helping turn what was already one of Victoria’s best food-production regions into one of Victoria’s best eating regions. Other passionate people are being inspired to open up nearby, and the little hamlet of Inverleigh is turning into a must-go place for food lovers.
Mandy Jones is a fifth-generation winemaker. She’s been making wines in her self-described “modernist” style in Rutherglen since she and her brother Arthur took over the business from their uncle in the late 90s.
The history lesson begins as soon as you walk in to the cellar-door building at Jones Wines. The handmade bricks and bark slab roof hint at the legacy carried on by Mandy and her brother.
The wines here are rich in full-fruit flavour, but show balance with acid and tannin. Look for the ‘Correll’, named for their mother. It’s a vermouth-style aperitif, with beautifully fragrant botanicals. We also had a pannacotta made with this drink, which blew our minds.
The restaurant opens for French-style lunches, but also provides picnic hampers for the romantic.