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!
The perfect olive is the ideal accompaniment to a long afternoon on the deck – still a little salty from the brining, still a little firm from just the right amount of time in the brine, kept in fresh extra-virgin oil. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures.
Manzanillo Grove started as a gardening project for Renate and Len – something to do in their retirement. It grew rapidly into a business processing well over 100 tonnes of fruit each year. The little shed which once served as a processing facility now houses their farm-gate store. There’s a range of other local produce amongst the infused oils and Manzanillo Grove oil products, but it’s the pure flavour of a simple table olive or a new season cold-pressed oil on bread that carries the day. If you’re planning a Bellarine picnic, start here.
Or, if you’re planning a quiet weekend away, stop at the farm-gate store at the end of the day and grab a big jar of olives and a bottle of oil. Be sure to bring the best sourdough and a couple of bottles of your favourite wine. Then you can sit out on the deck of your accomodation at Manzanillo Grove whiling away the evening. Len and Renate have recently built stylish, self-contained studio apartments right in the middle of the grove overlooking the large dam.
There’s a particular rush that comes from discovering somewhere new to get great coffee. The rush is compounded with no small amount of glee when you discover said coffee on a road trip a long way from home. Badger and Hare was a discovery of great joy for the OHO team. It’s the cutest little corner store on the highway in Stratford. You might know Stratford as one of the small towns you pass though on the way to Lakes Entrance. Now you have a reason to stop.
Old school buddies Liz and Mary are serving up simple, honest dishes that they love to eat. They’ve paid as much attention to the interiors as they have to the menu, and have gone to great lengths to ensure that their experience from time spent hanging out in inner Melbourne cafes is reflected in what they do at Badger and Hare. There are local goods and coffee to take home too.
Look for the yellow door on the right-hand side as you come into Stratford. Totally worth stopping.
The Alex Hotel is one of those iconic country pubs that you pass on a trip as you slow to 50kph through a small town, and wonder ‘Should I have stopped there for lunch?’
Yes, you should have.
The hotel is a grand old white building which has established a bit of a reputation under successive owners – fun in the evenings if you’re staying nearby, and a solid option for breakfast or lunch if you’re passing. The new owners have introduced a clever take on old-fashioned pub dishes like fish and chips, with the welcome addition of crispy capers and a twist on the choice of fish.
The owners have pedigree in running hospitality businesses, and it shows. They’ve been quick to step the menu and wine list up a notch, and the range of their own farm-gate produce on sale looks inviting.
Worth the stopover.
You’ve got to love a venue that has you smiling before you step out of the car. Oakdene will have you tilting your head and chuckling. It looks like a huge wind pushed it over, and they just decided to run with a cellar door on its side! There’s so much to look at, and the experience you have will vary according to how much time you’ve got on your hands and what kind of food you feel like. Honestly, you could start with breakfast in the cafe, spend some time in the garden walking through the sculptures, and squeeze in a full wine tasting before a lazy lunch in the restaurant.
The restaurant is decorated much like the entire property, in living technicolour and with liberal splashings of artwork. It’s a quirky place to sit and eat food as sophisticated as these chefs present. Dishes like the lamb, for example – slow-cooked for ages and falling apart in glorious stickiness. The Oakdene William Shiraz is perfect with it. The house-cured trout has just the right texture. All produce is local where possible, and it shows in the freshness of the dishes.
Definitely worth a detour if you’re in the area.
OHO has been to loads of small cellar doors that started out in sheds as a way of selling the small-batch boutique wines the passionate owners make. As venues go, Avon Ridge is best described as a shed conversion that got out of hand – in a good way. It’s been transformed into a stylish open restaurant that accommodates casual diners and event-goers alike. The sprawling lawn, which flows into the very vines the excellent wines are taken from, is a wonderful place to sit on a blanket or lawn chair and lose an afternoon.
The local produce that goes into the food at Avon Ridge is treated with care and imagination. The food is simple, subtle and tasty. The menu is cleverly marked with the best wine matches, and dishes are perfect for filling a table and sharing with others. If you’re overstocked with bounty from your own garden, drop by and swap it for something from their produce wall. The chefs love to make specials from the local, seasonal stuff that people bring by!
Great restaurant names are like rings on a stranger’s fingers – they all have a story, and you need to find out what those stories are. Lipari is a little town off the coast of Sicily, and chef/owner Joe’s mother was from there. She was also the inspiration behind the opening of this place. Joe was a latecomer to commercial kitchens – following a dream, he quit his job of many years. Little Lipari is a labour of love, a passion for food and a show of humble hospitality, inspired by his mother.
Little Lipari is classic Italian generous hospitality, and it’s goddamn awesome. Joe takes seasonal produce (and the stuff his adoring customers bring him) and packs flavour into simple Italian dishes. The gnocchi is iconic, a true classic. Joe makes a light lemony hollandaise for his take on eggs Benedict with bartered lemons from a customer.
Coffee at Lipari is a classic Italian thing too – a typically dark and luscious roast.
The fit-out was inspired by local legend Tank, whose artwork adorns the town of Shepparton, most recognisably in the form of colourful fibreglass cows.
French brandy giant Remy Martin established the vineyards just out of Avoca in the 1960s. It’s an area that was named the Pyrenees in the time-honoured colonial manner of new places that reminded the explorer (in this case Mitchell) of somewhere in the old world. The area is classed as a cold-climate region, and wines from here display those sought-after characteristics. Shiraz has a fragrant peppery note, pinot noir is powerful but still elegant.
The estate has a casual easy-going cafe, with outdoor areas that are perfect for losing a few hours with friends. The simple fare is, of course, the perfect foil to the wines. It’s pretty easy to get lost in a bottle of the excellent sparkling Midnight Cuvée, sitting in the shade on a sunny day.
Wines are really reasonably priced. A visit to the cellar door is a great opportunity to stock up on a cheeky dozen.
OHO is as much about the little guys as we are about the headline acts. We love to find the not-so-well-known places doing excellent things and share them with you like little secrets. Mandala Wines was one of those finds. Yes, it’s on the Melba Highway outside of Yarra Glen, but you were probably distracted by the bigger vineyards over the road. Yes, it has a stunning corten-steel building, but you were probably looking at the larger constructions and wineries on the other side too. So, Charles Smedley’s Mandala Wines is like this little gift hidden amongst some of the well respected larger players. But, don’t be fooled by the size; the wines punch well above their weight, and the venue will delight and surprise guests who planned on a quick stop but find themselves staying a while.
There’s a substantial restaurant on-site too, and it is well respected in the region for good Italian-style food inside or on the huge lawn overlooking the vines. However, lets stay focussed here and talk wines. They are all made from grapes grown on the estates at Dixons Creek and Yarra Junction. Everything in the vineyards is about maximising the potential for quality wines. The vines are hand-pruned, the grapes are hand-picked. In the winery, batches are small and carefully tended by winemaker Don Pople. The Yarra is known for Pinot and Chardonnay, and Mandala does not disappoint. Perhaps the aromatic and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon in all it’s inky gloriousness is the surprise, but serves as a wonderful reminder that Cabernet was here before Pinot or Chardonnay. The clever Coravin system of preserving open bottles of wine means that the reserve wines are available for tasting too.
Just off the Maroondah Highway, tucked up against the Warramate Hills, sits the winery, restaurant and cellar door of Medhurst Wines. The long driveway winds up the hill, past the red shed on the dam, past significant sculptures perched elegantly on the lawn, to the architecturally designed building which overlooks the picturesque close view. This part of the experience alone is worth the trip.
Medurst is the ‘retirement project’ (if you could call such hard work retirement) of ex Southcorp CEO Ross Wilson and his wife Robyn. It’s a family business, executed in a thoroughly professional manner. Every detail on the property is carefully considered: from the wave of the vast front glass on the cellar door, to the way a winery of considerable size is perfectly nestled into the hillside.
Speaking of detail, winemaker Simon Steele is all about the details. The Yarra Valley Pinot Noir is a fine expression of the fruit; bright cherry balanced with weight and complex spice notes. The Rosé, a perennial fave and often on the ‘Pink List’ at the Healesville Hotel, is dry, savoury and so so drinkable.
With the newly renovated kitchen and dining area comes a new chef. Robin Sutcliffe brings his quiet, uncompromising passion for doing simple things right to Medhurst. The pickles, which provide a delicate acidic balance on platters and other dishes, are all made by him in-house. Simple dishes like arancini are elevated with his deft touch. Grazing food, dishes of deliciousness, and damn fine wines mean that a long slow lunch under the shade, overlooking the vines, makes so much sense.