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.
Those who are lucky enough to have grown up with family food traditions that include sausage making, preserving and so on can understand the simple pleasure of making foods that have become commoditised and sanitised by commercial production. There is enormous satisfaction in taking the best produce, like organically farmed pig, and turning it into succulent, delicious sausages.
James is certainly passionate about his pigs. There’s genuine appreciation for the life of the animal, and a sampling of products made from pigs that have had variations in feed is a revelation. He’s also experienced with other livestock, but pigs are a particular interest. He and his wife Cathy run workshops in making sausages for people looking to turn their hand to the art of this simple staple.
Classes run regularly, and the best way to stay in touch with the schedule or any new classes is at themeatroom.com.au. James says the return of the salami classes have been hotly anticipated.
Returning to this establishment was like coming home to the open arms of beautiful old friends, even after the passage of several years, a change of ownership, and a change of name.
The former Annie Smithers Bistrot of Piper St, Kyneton, is one of those revered country establishments. We found the wonderfully understated dining room just as we left it; the wine list has only improved, and the food from chef and new owner Tim Foster is truly worthy of its Good Food Guide hat.
We had the best hospitality experience here: greeted warmly, waited on with joy and professionalism, given stunning wine suggestions – and all before we’d had any food.
The same ‘Source’ refers to the provenance of the food. It’s definitely a seasonal produce–driven menu. Much of that produce comes from Tim’s garden, planted and grown with love at his home in Sedgewick. The small potager garden at the restaurant serves as a reminder of this, as well as being a practical place to fetch herbs during service. In summer months, long dinners in the garden would be stunning. Everything we ate – risotto, duck, ice-creams – it was all just so goddamn beautiful. Stunning to look at, and delicious in every way. Kyneton is lucky to have a local like this. Go there.
Horsham has a small wine industry. Norton Estate is, by headcount, half of it. It’s fair to say it’s a small subregion of the Grampians. Hardly what would qualify in French terms as an appellation, but Norton are punching above their weight for quality and flavour.
The cellar door is a small one, set right in the heart of the vineyard. It’s a family business, and it feels like you’ve been invited into the home of some people who are really passionate about wine – while you try and buy some pretty smart gear. In the warmer months the lawn is the best spot to sit and relax with a bottle or two amongst friends. Picnic platters are available on request, and are the perfect way to enjoy these wines.
One of the best things about touring regional areas is finding random food places that make you smile. Piper St Food Co. is one of those places. It’s a little providore just off Piper St in Kyneton with the kind of local produce your dreamy-eyed Insta-loving self imagines they will find when they visit the country.
Inspired by a picnic in Paris in 1999, owners Damian and Dee have worked hard to give you everything you need for that perfect afternoon in the sun on a blanket somewhere picturesque. They certainly are passionate about their ferments, preserves, curing, and small goods. The quality really shows just how passionate they are.
On top of the produce, you can learn to make all manner of amazingness at their cooking classes and workshops. Picture an afternoon making sausages, a few hours making fresh pasta or fermented foods, or an entire weekend on a whole-pig class where you’ll make cured meats, hams, sausages, and terrines.
One of the coolest things to do from here is take a hamper of small-goods – the house-made terrines and pork pies… oh dear lord, the pork pies. It’s no surprise to learn that people travel here just for the pies.
Definitely make this a quirky insta-worthy lunch option by grabbing a picnic box and a blanket. It’s only an hour or so from the CBD.
All good destination food venues have something unique. It could be the view, the remote location, or the proximity to something else amazing. All have one thing in common. Someone had the audacity to stick an unmissable culinary experience in a location that’s off the beaten track. Deirdre’s is the definition of all of that. Literally in the middle of an olive grove, up a track, somewhere in the wilds outside of Horsham at the base of one of those stunning rock escarpments. It’s also unmissable.
Everywhere we went in Horsham, people asked us if we were going to Deirdre’s, and how much time we’d allowed. Deirdre defines hospitality in the true sense of the word, not as an industry. Food comes when she’s cooked it. She brings it out to you. It’s bloody fantastic. So are the wines, the majority of which are local. You don’t come here for a quick bite to eat – and why would you. The location is enough to slow your world right down. Drink a few vinos, munch on the bread with the property’s own olive oil, and just chill.
Deirdre’s food is simple, full of flavour, and beautifully executed. She uses great produce, and just lets it do the talking. Confit duck and cauliflower puree is just that, and sublime. Vegans are well catered for with a dish of lentils and many garden veg, pickles, and herbs. This accidental chef knows how to turn up the natural flavours. (Deirdre says she kind of fell into it, because she liked to cook a bit.)
Deirdre’s, the quirky shed in the middle of an olive plantation, is well worth the detour. Just book, and allow some time to relax and go with the flow.
At the base of a spectacular Grampians escarpment is an olive grove that plays home to the Grampians Olive Co. It’s reminiscent of old Mediterranean groves, with gnarly weather-worn trees planted into rocky soil, fighting the elements to survive. The result is flavourful olives producing bright peppery oil of exceptional quality.
Greg Mathews, in the second generation of his family to run this grove, tells us that this plantation was put down in 1943. It’s a small operation, though 28 000 trees does sound like a lot. All the fruit is processed on site: pressed and bottled. The farm gate is a nice way to sample some of the fresh oil from the most recent harvest. Wow, what a difference in flavour there is from fresh oil! It makes a great substitute for butter, just poured over good bread.
Definitely worth a visit to stock up on high-quality oil for your road trip picnics.
Nourish’d is the kind of place that we go searching for in the hippest parts of Melbourne when we’re on that health kick, but still need really tasty food. It’s terrific to find that a place so far from the health-conscious restaurants of inner Melbourne is walking the walk.
The Sensory Lab coffee here is great, and the daily selection of treats to go with it are the kind of palette pleasers you’d expect at a good Melbourne cafe. At Nourish’d though, there is a reason for everything. The menu is loaded with items that have a purpose in supporting your daily dietary health. Smoothies are a blend of goodies to refresh you, detox you, or give you energy for the day ahead.
Breakfast plates are a balance of ingredients designed to sustain you through the day. The days of the big fry-up breakfast are gone, as we search out options to sustain us as well as make a positive impact on our health. But carnivores need not despair – if you want pork at breakfast time, then the pulled-pork with egg and superfood toast will delight. It is no surprise, given their proximity to the grain- and pulse-growing centre of Australia, that lentils and quinoa feature on the menu. The gluten-free porridge with turmeric poached pear is pretty damned tasty.
Other local producers feature prominently. Nice to know that the farms you drive past on the way are the sources of your breakfast and lunch.
How do you describe a place that defies description? You give it a go. So, here goes. Stockroom, set in an ex-industrial space in Kyneton, is a contemporary art space. No, it’s a maker space for one-off designer pieces. No wait, it’s a gallery. Or it’s an artisanal fashion retailer, or maybe a gallery shop. Hang on, it’s a working studio and artist workshop space. Actually it’s all of these, and none of these. In every respect of these inadequate descriptions, Stockroom is different from what you’d expect. There are works on show from world-famous artists like Cameron Gill and lesser knowns alike. It’s a working studio for artist and co-owner Jason Waterhouse. There is a teaching space for a diversity of masterclasses. There’s a cafe, and you can buy stuff. I think that’s covered about half of it. For the rest you need to get in a car and go see for yourself.
Visiting Seymour in years gone by honestly didn’t hold much promise for those on the food hunt. It was, to be frank, a bit of a foodies’ black hole. Wine by Sam is part of a small, savvy group of operators representing a changing of the guard. They’ve just taken up residence in the old Seymour dye works building, which they’ve expertly fitted out.
Sam Plunkett is passionate about the potential for stellar wines in the Strathbogie Ranges. It gets cold up there, so you can expect quite different flavours from the nearby Heathcote vignerons. There’s a beguiling fine quality about cold climate shiraz, and Sam plays with it masterfully.
The kitchen is serving simple charcuterie, cheese and locally made goodness. The coffee is excellent too.