Pickled Sisters

Rutherglen is part of a little cluster of towns right near the NSW border.  Within ten minutes’ reach you have Rutherglen, Wahgunyah and, just over the border, Corowa. So many producers of quality food are in the surrounding area that really, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find Pickled Sisters doing such fine fare, nor that they’ve been doing it for so long.

It’s fair to call the restaurant a shed – that’s what it is. There’s nothing wrong with that in OHO’s reckoning. Sheds are where some of the best stuff gets made. In this particular shed, chef Stuart is quietly turning out some stunning-looking and beautiful-tasting food. The approach is simple – take good produce, respect it, and serve it with local wines.

Although Pickled Sisters shares the shed with Cofield Wines, the wine list is not limited to that one label. It’s a real showcase of the region’s best. In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual to spot a local winemaker like Mandy Jones dropping off another case.

If you have a tendency to get pickled yourself, you could plan ahead and book one or two of the ‘glamping’ tents situated at the very edge of the vineyard. These are tents in the literal sense, if not the traditional. Yes, there’s canvas and a fire. But when was the last time your tent was fully carpeted, had a queen-size bed, air conditioning and a fully stocked wine fridge?

It’s worth keeping in touch with the Sisters event schedule. The cooking classes would make for a fab fun weekend in a shed.

Sally’s Paddock at Redbank Winery

For those who remember what they were drinking in the Melbourne restaurant scene a decade or so ago, Sally’s Paddock was a prominent feature at the premium end of the wine lists in some of the top eateries in town. Now, with the emergence of the next generation in the family, Sasha Fair is making sure that the wines from the Redbank winery are true to the reputation earned by her family – a reputation which includes the classification ‘Distinguished Winery’ from Langton’s.

The building that was put up to serve as the winery in the 70s now does duty as cellar door. Its remarkable timber shingle roof is a feature that takes your eye as soon as you come in. The cellar door is a great place to sit at a long table with a bunch of friends and kill a few hours with local produce platters and the truly amazing wines that Sasha is making.

In case you’re wondering about that gorgeous little mudbrick house as you come up the long drive to the winery, the answer is yes – it is available for rent for up to three couples at a time.

Sally’s Paddock is a stalwart of the Pyrenees wine industry, and plays host to local events (such as the Ballarat Winter Festival) when they pop up on the regional event calendar. It’s a spectacular spot, and events on the property are relaxed and fun.

Wine by Sam

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.

Harvest Halls Gap

You know on a road-trip, you see all these other sub-50’s non-grey road-trippers and you think “Where the hell are all these other people like me getting their coffee and decent food??”

In Halls Gap it’s at Harvest. Simple delicious food from locally sourced produce. Their little providore section is filled with local stuff too.

We had breakfast here, having stayed the night in the accommodation attached to the restaurant. Friday nights go off (best to book!), and the vibe during the annual music festival (also run by the owners) is epic.

Talbot Provedore and Eatery

Christopher and Jayne are both ex-photographers, although one is never really an ex-photographer. One merely becomes preoccupied with other things. The ‘other thing’ that fills their time is a slice of a stunning country town in the form of Talbot Provedore and Eatery.

Christopher was once the chef at the Avoca Hotel and part of a team that won numerous industry accolades. His commitment to excellent food from sustainable, local produce continues at his own venture here in Talbot.

The town plays host to one of the biggest farmers markets in country Victoria every 3rd Sunday of the month, when thousands of people descend on the streets looking for produce straight from the people who grow it. The Provedore and Eatery is designed to be a showcase of the best of the farmers market and other producers from the region. It’s situated right next to a community garden, where the chefs regularly gather whatever is growing and include it in the menu. Fresh produce from the farmers around the district comes in daily, and the menu reflects this.  The wine and beer list contains mostly local heroes, all worthy of the best lists, and all doing something interesting.

Christopher and Jayne are not loud or brash entrepreneur types. They are enterprising, no doubt. But they exude a quiet and passionate commitment to their craft. Saturday nights are a real stretching of the legs for the chefs. It’s a simple degustation of three carefully crafted and exquisitely prepared dishes for pretty short money. Talbot is lucky to have the Provedore and Eatery. Get out there for a weekend, do the Saturday night and the market next day. Good times.

James and Co. Wines

Town-based cellar doors are becoming a thing. In the Yarra Valley there’s Mac Forbes’ little Graceburn Wine Room; Payten and Jones have opened across from Four Pillars. In Rutherlen James and Co. are making Beechworth wines and selling them out of their brand-new and rather stylish shop.

People who love recycled timber made into gorgeous things will love the fit-out. But really, you’re coming here for the wines, so let’s talk sangiovese. Ricky loves sangi. Around Beechworth, people are growing some stunning examples of it. Ricky combines his love of sangiovese with the stunning examples grown around Beechworth to make some excellent wines. His sparkling rosé is dry (minimal residual sugar) and beautiful. I’m sure more-established wineries looked upon a sparkling sangiovese rosé with more than a little curiosity, but far out it’s good. In fact, all the wines are flavour focused, elegant, and finely detailed. You’ll walk away with a collection of beautiful wines that really demonstrates Ricky and Georgie’s passion for what they are doing.

You’ll love the Cheese Your Own Adventure fridge, too. Build your own platter of produce from the fridge at the back of the room, take a board, and make a beeline for one of those beautiful recycled wooden tables.

It would be remiss of us to fail to mention Georgie’s photography, which adorns one side of the space. She’s got talent, and it’s on display as you sit and take in both wines and imagery.

Yea Emporium and MannaFest Cafe

Yea has had a few good little providores and cafes over the years, and the Emporium is a delightful continuation of the trend. True to the name, there are all manner of goods stocking the shelves – local produce, organic foods and cosmetics, bric-a-brac, and of course, food from the MannaFest Cafe.

The menu is homely and dishes like vegetable curries and soups are welcomed on cold days. Most of the produce is grown in the substantial garden on the property. There are local wines from the likes of Philip Lobley and Sedona Estate, as well as beers from Napoleone and Hargreaves Hill.

Of course, by committing to growing most of their food, they are also committing to changing menus regularly. There’s loads of preserves, pickles, and ferments too, ensuring there’s always something delicious from the garden.

Coffee is from the always excellent roastery of Mansfield Coffee Merchant, an OHO fave from the region.

Oakdene

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.

The Little Mussel Cafe

What’s the next best thing to fresh mussels taken from the boat and served hot with just the right amount of your favourite flavours, and maybe a lager or two? How about sitting in a sweet little garden next to the shed where those mussels arrive just minutes after they come off the boat, doing exactly the same? Sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it.

The Little Mussel Cafe is a cute little shed and garden right next to the processing shed of Advance Mussel Supply in Portarlington. They cook mussels just right – so they are the soft little balls of perfection that they should be. Advance Mussel Supply are mussel and oyster farmers. You can get the latter from them too, when the timing is right; they’re also as they should be.

If you have in your group someone who struggles with shellfish, the menu has them covered. There are also ways for you to bring them around to the goodness of these ocean-found molluscs of joy. Purists always wince at the thought of any kind of cooking or overpowering flavours, but beginners will love the introduction. It’s only one or two steps away from getting into the heaven that is au naturel.

Healesville Hotel Cellars and Harvest Coffee

Michael Kennedy and Kylie Balharrie have made something of a foodie haven precinct in Healesville. It’s anchored by the lasting favourite, Healesville Hotel, with food by Chris Twogood still kicking goals as he continues experiments with local produce and cooking with fire. (Hint: weekend BBQ – get on it!)

The headline here, though, is the recently renovated alleyway and new wine bar. Harvest Coffee serves Genovese coffee at the hole-in-the-wall counter from 8am every day. The selection of house-made pastries, toasties, cakes and slices is simple, and everything is made to be delicious, first and foremost. If you want lunch, don’t fret: the entire Healesville Hotel lunch menu is available to order from the hole in the wall, too. The poached chicken Asian salad is a standout for the health-conscious, and the seasonal beetroot and lentil dish is an earthy bomb of beautiful flavours.

The Cellars are a new venture. Michael says it’s a mix of local and imported wine, and even some of his own cellar stocks. We spotted some rare gems like a vintage bottle of Wantirna Estate chardonnay on the shelf. You can order by the glass; or, for a corkage fee, take a retail-priced bottle and a couple of glasses into the garden for a lazy afternoon in the shade.  There are some true undiscovered winners in the extensive wine selection. Three standouts would have to be the Scope Fiano (light, bright, zingy: summer in a glass),  Aller Trop skin-contact pinot gris (the ideal rosé that isn’t rosé), and One Block chardonnay (funky and interesting, by Jayden Ong). Of course, by the time you read this, these wines might not be on the list anymore. That’s the joy of a boutique cellar like this one – wines come and go, and there’s always something new.

There’s plenty of room for you and your friends, and dogs are welcomed on-lead in the garden. There are choices for non-meat-eaters, as well as the food that comes off that stunning wood-fired BBQ. On weekends the garden caravan bar opens up too, and with three places to place your order, it’s never a long queue at the bar for a beverage.