Merricks General Wine Store

It’s been a while since the last visit to Merricks General Wine Store. I had fond memories of a great long lunches with a bunch of day-tripping friends. We’d seen a few wineries, walked on a wintery beach at Shoreham, and sat around a long table swapping dishes, tasting everything and sharing some great wines. The ownership has changed since then, but my memories are accurate. This place is just a perfect pause in the middle of a long weekend or just a long day out.

French chef Patrice Repellin’s food is seasonal, from local produce. We’d been to a farm-gate store where they were growing mushrooms earlier in our day out, and it was fantastic to then eat the king brown mushrooms in a dish a few hours later.

Wines are mostly local, showcasing in particular the wines of the Baillieu vineyards and other “friends of the wine store.”

Don’t miss the art gallery next door. It has a regularly changing exhibition. Also, if you’re on an early run and just want a coffee, they have a hole-in-the-wall style cafe too.

Masons of Bendigo

In the last Good Food Guide, Masons was thrilled to retain its One Hat status. But honestly, OHO would happily spend the last of the office pennies on lunch at Masons, regardless of hats. Sure, the award is a great accolade; but like all great chefs, Nick Anthony is not focussed on hats – he’s focussed on great food and a great experience. Masons delivers in spades.

Masons opened in 2012 in the former Masons Stained Glass building right in the heart of Bendigo. Steeped in the history of Victoria and its architecture, the former life of the place is still evident in the internal fittings.

The food pays homage to local producers in the region surrounding Bendigo. Nick and Sonia pay extreme attention to detail, ensuring that the beauty of the produce is respected, crafted into beautiful dishes, and delivered in a formal but fun environment.

There’s so much to love in the care Nick takes with his dishes. The presentation delights as well as adds to the way the food eats. It’s a lovely dance along the line between simple and complex. The kitchen is right there in the dining room, so you can spectate as all this happens right in front of you. More so than in the average open kitchen, this adds intimacy and connection to the careful preparation of the food. Staff on the floor are friendly and efficient, in keeping with the kind of casual formal dining that we love for special occasions or just a fun long lunch mid-week. And don’t forget the wines. The staff know their stuff, and the list is fabulous.

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.

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.

Captain Moonlite

Walking from the car park to the top floor of the Anglesea Surf Club, we had no idea what to expect. We’d heard rumours about what chef Matt Germanchis and his partner Gemma Gange had done up here, but nothing solid. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition – surf-club memorabilia with super-professional service from a ridiculously experienced crew. (Gemma comes from a portfolio career of high-end postings at Pei Modern, Jacques Reymond and Stokehouse.) So, even as we sat down, we still had no idea what was coming.

Matt started at the Healesville Hotel years ago, and moved on through a career littered with more Chef’s Hats (Pei Modern, MoVida, Pandora’s Box). The food reflects all that experience, but it’s somehow made the sea-change and relaxed with him. It’s seasonal produce, a daily menu changing with what’s available. Don’t worry about missing a favourite we guarantee each visit will garner a new one.

Visit again and again. Make a Captain Moonlite pilgrimage a regular thing. It’s not that far to go for food this good.

Did we mention the view?

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.

Hogget Kitchen

When a chef and two winemakers conspire, it’s usually a good thing. It usually means food+wine=good. Hogget Kitchen is no different. In the winery, Bill Downie and Patrick O’Sullivan. You might recognise those Reg Mombassa labels Bill is famous for. In the kitchen, Trevor Perkins with brother Steve.

Trev is quietly spoken, passionate about food and provenance, but in a way that just gets the job done. No fanfare. Just, “Oh, I picked the tomatoes from Mum’s garden”, and “Yeah, we grew up cooking, hunting for meat, that sort of thing”,  and “Yeah, I built the hot smoker from scratch, to get one I liked.”

The food is a simple, beautiful, produce-driven style, not overly presented, and it’s all from around here. We had Trev’s mum’s heirloom tomato salad, (best tomatoes ever), flathead and Dobsons potatoes (perfect), Bresaola and radishes (sublime, cured in-house), and a simple little dish Trev called “Steak and chips.” OK, it was a steak and potato chips, but what you need to know is that the beef is dry-aged in the cabinet at the front of the open kitchen. It’s cooked carefully in the pan to get that golden crust on the outside and be gloriously soft and pink on the inside. It’s finished with Trev’s mum’s own Worcestershire sauce, and served with the crispiest golden potato chips ever.  O. M. G.

The Independent

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.

The Teller Collective

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. 

Basil’s Farm

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.